Last week saw the first air raids by the United States Air Force, backed by a number of Arab states, on ISIS targets in Syria, hereby adding a new facet to the quagmire of the Syrian conflict.
The United States carried out military operations on Syrian territory last week in an expansion of its campaign against ISIS, which had previously been restricted to Iraq. Beginning on Monday with strikes against training compounds and command facilities, mainly in the ISIS-controlled city of Raqqa, the campaign had spread by Thursday to the targeting of oil refineries and thereby the financial muscle of the organisation.
A number of Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan, have formally joined the campaign in alliance with the Americans, an enlistment no less symbolically than militarily significant.
US President Barack Obama, having previously denounced ISIS as “not Islamic, and not a state”, declared that ISIS “must be degraded and ultimately destroyed.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled parliament in order to secure approval for his country’s participation in the campaign, while the Dutch government confirmed on Thursday that it had deployed six F-16 fighters.
In France, public support for the campaign is set to increase after the kidnapping and subsequent beheading of one of its citizens by ISIS-affiliated rebels in Algeria. Obama also reiterated that he would not be sending ground troops to the region.
Approval, not permission, from Syrian regime
Western participation, as well as results—with both ISIS retreats in Raqqa and al-Nusra Front evacuations in Idlib reported—appeared at first to be gathering steam.
Meanwhile, initial reaction to the Syrian air strike campaign has focused on its taking place without the approval of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which nevertheless told Reuters that the strikes were going in “the right direction” by targeting “terrorists” rather than Syrian military targets or civilians.
Over the long term, though, the foreign powers’ intervention is likely to be aimed at benefitting the moderate Syrian opposition. In all cases, air strikes alone are largely not thought to be enough to defeat ISIS.
Analysts such as Fawaz Gerges of Al-Jazeera have suggested that support for local military forces will be fundamental to any success of a process that looks set to last well beyond the rest of Obama’s term in office, whatever its outcome. They have also discussed the need for engagement with local populations in order to prevent ISIS regaining support from marginalized Sunni sections of society.
U.S. approves Lebanese reinforcement
The new US approach to the Syrian situation fits with recent developments in its foreign policy in Lebanon. After the Lebanese army fought against ISIS and Al-Nusra Front inside Lebanese borders at Arsal last month, clashes in which over 36 Lebanese soldiers and policeman were initially captured and three subsequently killed, the U.S. pledged to support the Lebanese army.
This pledge of support includes logistical assistance as well as congressional approval for the sale of 18 upgraded Huey II helicopters to the Lebanese Army.
These developments, echoing those in Syria, suggest that the US is willing to provide support to any Arab country that finds itself in confrontation with the ISIS threat. While ground troop involvement remains out of the question, the uncertainty remains firmly planted within the region.