The Long War Against The Islamic State Compared to the Kosovo air campaign of 1999, the current US-led military effort is very modest. At this rate, it will take years to "degrade and destroy" ISIL

WASHINGTON – President Obama, now acting in conjunction with a newly formed Arab coalition, (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar), just expanded the war effort against ISIL. There have been strikes against ISIL targets in Syria. Most likely many more will follow.

Attacking Syria

It is certainly good news that the US is attacking ISIL in its Syrian stronghold. And we know what the end game is: degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL in both Iraq and Syria.

Given the magnitude of the strategic objective, it is certainly very positive that America now has the support of important Arab states.

It will take years

That said, it should be clear that this war effort conducted mostly via an air campaign will take a very long time, given the very low intensity of the military effort thus far.

Indeed, prior to the just announced Syria escalation, the US had conducted about 200 air sorties against ISIL targets in Iraq. If this sounds substantial, please think again.

The Kosovo air campaign was far more intense

In March 1999, NATO, with the US Air Force in the lead, began “Operation Allied Force” aimed at forcing Serbia to relinquish Kosovo, a small region inhabited mostly by ethnic Albanians. Over a period of 78 days, US and other air forces conducted 38,000 sorties against Serbia, of which 10,484 were strike sorties.

The Kosovo campaign was also a “no US boots on the ground” war. But the magnitude of the effort was truly significant. If we switch to the military effort against ISIL currently underway, after weeks of operations, we are talking about only 200 sorties. Compared to 38,000 in the Kosovo operation, 200 is nothing.

And do keep in mind that US air strikes often hit minor targets. For example: one machine gun position, one vehicle.

How long will it take to defeat ISIL?

And here is my point. Even without any “US boots on the ground”, the Kosovo air war was a relentless campaign that mercilessly pounded Serbia until then president Slobodan Milosevic gave up, and agreed to let Kosovo go.

Given the much more relaxed tempo of this air war against ISIL, now extended to Syria, how long will it take to defeat the Islamic State?

Years, not months

I have no idea. But, unless the effort is significantly increased via a much more intensive air war and –yes, “boots on the ground“– we are talking years, not months.

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