ISIS May Scare, But How Long Can it Last Under Daily Bombardment?

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A Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II launches from the San Diego-based USS Boxer in the Arabian Sea. Marine Corps photo

By Chris Jennewein

God is in the details, and that includes the hellish enterprise of waging war.

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You wouldn’t know it from the Republican political rhetoric, but for 771 days through Tuesday, a largely American air armada has been pummeling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, better known as ISIS.

Navy jets from carriers in the Mediterranean Sea, Air Force bombers from Qatar and Turkey, Army attack helicopters from Iraq, and Marine fighter-bombers from assault ships in the Arabian Sea are pounding the enemy daily. Joining us are allies from all over the world.

Every day the Pentagon releases a detailed list of airstrikes. It’s usually around two dozen, sometimes more, sometimes less. In the antiseptic jargon of the military, a strike is “one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative, effect.”

A typical excerpt, from Nov. 16, is: “Near Abu Kamal, one strike destroyed 116 ISIS fuel trucks.” And another from July 7: “Near Manbij, 11 strikes struck five separate ISIS tactical units and destroyed five ISIS fighting positions and two ISIS-used bridges and damaged a separate ISIS-used bridge.”

It’s important to remember who our enemy is. They’re certainly cruel, and maybe resourceful, but they’re not a country. They don’t have an industrial base. They don’t have an economy. Every tank, humvee, oil tanker, refinery, bulldozer, bridge, machine gun, oil well, trailer or tent is one they’re not likely to replace.

It’s a war of attrition. We’re spending money on weapons and aviation fuel, and our aircraft are suffering wear-and-tear. But the enemy is losing lives and equipment every day.

Marines aboard the USS Boxer prepare to load bombs onto an AV-8B Harrier II jet. Navy photo

If there’s an analogy, the fight against ISIS is an echo of the final years of the American Civil War. After Gettysburg and Vicksburg, a largely beaten Confederacy fought on for almost two years against the overwhelming industrial power of the Union. The South staged a raid here or there — like ISIS’ terrorist attacks — but the effort was futile. As Confederate soldier William A. Fletcher wrote of the Battle of Chickamagua in his memoirs, “One of the greatest raids of the war was a failure, for we could hear the rumble of the [Union supply] trains, as usual.”

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It wouldn’t be surprising if ISIS is essentially defeated before we vote in November for a new president. The battle to retake Mosul, the largest Iraqi city still under ISIS control, is near. And all it would take is one slip by the caliphate’s self-declared leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and a Hellfire missile would be headed his way from a drone built in Poway.

“Thanks to our global coalition, our clear and deliberate military campaign plan, our dedicated local partner forces, and the hard work and sacrifices of our countries’ military personnel, we now have momentum in this fight and clear results on the ground,” said Secretary of Defense Ash Carter last Friday.

In fact, he talked about what will be needed after ISIS is defeated: there will be towns to rebuild, services to reestablish and communities to lead. The international coalition, he said, must ensure that the Iraqi and Syrian people have what they need to hold, stabilize and govern their territory.

ISIS and its historically bankrupt idea of a fundamentalist Islamic caliphate will very likely go down to defeat soon under the daily rain of American bombs.

Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.

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