A grunt's-eye view of Obama's anti-ISIS coalition

While the headline-news chatter is all about which big-league global players have, or have not, expressed interest in joining the coalition against ISIS, what about the grunts we’re counting on to do the actual fighting?  The Administration is adamant that American troops won’t be handling front-line combat operations.  We’ll drop bombs, and U.S. special operators might just be lazing a target or three, but the clash of arms will occur between the Islamic State and our proxies.

The most reliably capable of those proxies is the Kurds.  No one doubts their fighting spirit or martial skill, but they’re mostly on defense, and dealing with some major refugee problems.  The head of Kurdish intelligence, Masrour Barzani, told CBS News last week his people are eager to receive more heavy weapons from the United States, and supported more American air strikes against ISIS, but sounded dubious that air power plus Kurds would be enough to get the job done by themselves:

The U.S airstrikes against ISIS are “very useful,” he told CBS News. Kurdish fighters are thankful for U.S. support, but he adds: “but I don’t think it’s enough to defeat ISIS.”

“ISIS is still very intact in Syria. ISIS still feels secure in areas like Mosul and Tal Afer,” Barzani said. “We believe the strikes should target the nerve system and the leadership of ISIS wherever they may be.”

And by that, he said, he also means Syria, where he would like to see U.S. airstrikes against ISIS.

Barzani told CBS News the Kurds are talking to the White House about major support for the Kurdish Military, known as the Peshmerga.

“We are asking the United States for they should help the Peshmergas with heavy armament,” Barzani said. “Tanks, helicopters, heavy armaments, MRAPs especially, you know, because they are very important.”

How about the Iraqi military?  Despite billions spent in training them up, and the confident assurances of someone named “Barack Obama” (according to White House rhetoric, an entirely different person than the current occupant of the Oval Office, who has completely disappeared and should never be discussed again) the Iraqi army broke and ran during its first encounters with the ISIS savages.  The emergency re-training we’re doing now, coupled with some American command-and-control, and perhaps a dash of desperation that they can’t afford to lose any more turf to the “caliphate,” are supposed to combine and transform the Iraqis into a more effective fighting force.  ABC News had some thoughts on that score from the man who was once presented as one of the greatest soldiers in American history:

Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. will stand by the Iraqis as they deal with the threat of ISIS and said the country needs an inclusive central government that can lead Iraqi national forces against Islamist militants.

He said it was important that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi???s new government stand up new Iraqi National Guard units that will protect their home regions, because the Iraqis can???t rely on U.S. airstrikes against ISIS alone.

???It will not just be reserved to bombs or direct military assistance. It will be comprehensive, with Iraqi forces on the ground in Iraq with an army that will be reconstituted and trained,??? Kerry said.

Iraqi troops largely folded when ISIS first invaded the country during the Mosul invasion back in June.

???This is a fight that the Iraqi people must win, but it???s also a fight that the rest of the world needs to win with them,??? Kerry said.

Well, “the rest of the world” evidently won’t be going toe-to-toe with the people who treat their prisoners of war to mass graves, crucifixion, and beheading.  Kerry’s description of our expectations of Iraq make it sound like their troops will mostly play a defensive role, too – “Iraqi National Guard units that will protect their home regions.”  So who’s going on offense?

That would be the Syrian Moderates, those fabled white-hat fife-and-drum rebels mixed in with the scurvy crew of Islamist nutjobs who have been trying to depose the equally scurvy Bashar Assad of Syria.  Lately Assad and the Syrian Immoderates have been throwing chemical weapons at each other.  It’s getting hard to spot the white hats through those billowing clouds of chlorine gas, but rest assured the Syrian Moderates are ready for duty, and eager to start pumping ISIS full of hot American lead.

Well, except for the Syrian Moderates who have already made peace deals with the Islamic State, that is.  Several groups that already received American arms have signed truces and cease-fires with ISIS.  Black flags have inconveniently sprouted at a few of their gatherings, as they discuss the urgent need to ignore whatever the hell the Obama Administration is doing and get back to deposing the dictator they were rebelling against.

As for the rest of the Syrian Moderates, you’ll never guess who they’re in league with: good old-fashioned Classic al-Qaeda!  Patrick Poole writes at PJ Media:

As I???ve reported here at PJ Media over the past week, the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army is operating openly with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qaeda affiliate, in certain areas. I also noted an L.A. Times article last Sunday where a reporter traveling with fighters from the U.S.-backed and armed Harakat al-Hazm, one of the first groups to receive U.S. heavy weapons, was told that the group fights alongside Jabhat al-Nusra. And earlier this week I reported on a statement by a Free Syrian Army commander admitting his group is in an alliance with ISIS fighting near the border with Lebanon.

As Congress takes up a bill to fund Obama???s plan to arm and train so-called ???vetted moderate??? Syrian ???rebels,??? even some analysts are beginning to admit that finding the right allies in Syria will be difficult. With the State Department???s disastrous record so far of identifying ???vetted moderate rebel??? groups who refuse to ally with al-Qaeda and ISIS, and ISIS leaders openly bragging about the U.S. arming and training rebels groups that have now defected to ISIS, some prudent caution on the part of Congress is in order before throwing more money and weapons into Syria and Iraq.

Wonderful.  Well, at least those Nusra guys hate ISIS, because everybody knows Classic al-Qaeda hates new Turbo Evil al-Qaeda, right?  Not so fast, according to an L.A. Times roundup of the Syrian opposition, which also mentions that the vaunted Free Syrian Army is cooperating with the Nusra Front despite its official denials:

NUSRA FRONT: The Syrian Al Qaeda branch has pledged its allegiance to Ayman Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden, and in 2012 the U.S. formally designated Nusra Front as a terrorist organization. The group fights alongside both moderate and more extremist rebel groups against Assad. Its participation against Islamic State is less dependable, with many Nusra fighters unwilling to take up arms against forces they regard as fellow Muslims. On Thursday, Nusra released 45 United Nations peacekeepers in the Golan Heights who had been captured at the border crossing between Israel and Syria. Nusra dropped several demands for the peacekeepers’ release, including the group’s removal from a United Nations terrorist list.

Then you’ve got the Islamic Front, which is also allied with the Nusra Front, and the YPG, which is also holding an armed rebellion against Turkey, which just happens to be a NATO member, and is suspected of being somewhat more committed to fighting Turkey than fighting Assad.  Things aren’t looking too good on the ground in our vital northern front against the Islamic State.

Who’s left?  Well, we could always try to sign up Bashar Assad.  He’d probably love that.  It would be a staggering defeat for U.S. foreign policy to rely on the unreconstructed red-line violating gas-bombing Syrian dictator Obama said had to be knocked out of power just a year ago.  That would also be a big geopolitical win for Assad’s patrons in Russia.

And then you’ve got the Iranians, who found themselves with tickets to the usual embarrassing clown show from the Obama Administration.  After Secretary of State Kerry roundly denied that the U.S. was holding any talks with Iran on fighting ISIS, the White House admitted that yes, there have been some “back channel” conversations with them.  Kerry then changed his tune while attending a conference in Paris, saying that while the U.S. officially opposed any role for Iran in degrading-and-ultimately-destroying the Islamic State, it’d be just swell if the Iranians would offer to get involved, perhaps in the context of spontaneously abandoning their nearly-complete nuclear program and becoming American proxies like all the cool kids are doing.  From the New York Times:

Both King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and top officials from the United Arab Emirates had informed the United States that they would not attend the meeting here if Iran was present, said Mr. Kerry, who also stressed that the United States would not coordinate militarily with the Iranians.

But Mr. Kerry also said that American officials were still prepared to talk to Iranian officials about Iraq and Syria, including on the margins of the negotiations over Iran???s nuclear program, which will resume in New York on Thursday.

ust because Iranians were not invited to the Paris conference, Mr. Kerry said, ???doesn???t mean that we are opposed to the idea of communicating to find out if they will come on board or under what circumstances or whether there is the possibility of a change.???

Mr. Kerry said that ???having a channel of communication on one of the biggest issues in the world today is common sense.???

Still, Mr. Kerry acknowledged that previous attempts made by Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns to draw the Iranians into a discussion of regional issues on the margins of earlier rounds of talks had not been productive.

???The confidential discussions never got to that sort of substance,??? Mr. Kerry said.

I know I just denounced you and this is crazy, but here’s my number, call me maybe.  For their part, the Iranians claimed the Administration has been secretly begging them to join the fight against ISIS, but they told Obama and Kerry to go fly a kite.  They were total jerks about it.  Not even having a prostate operation kept the Supreme Leader from being a complete tool:

In Tehran, the tone was quite different. Iranian officials gave out flurries of statements to local reporters on Monday, saying they had rejected multiple invitations by the United States to join the coalition. Never, they asserted, would Iran consider working with the United States to cleanse the region of terrorists, who the Iranians asserted had been created and nurtured by the West.

The country???s highest leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicated that no matter who had invited whom, Iran would sit arms crossed and watch as the coalition tries to bomb ISIS away.

On Monday, as Mr. Khamenei was discharged from the hospital after a prostate operation, he said that he had enjoyed his time as a patient, since he had ???a hobby,??? which was ???listening to Americans making statements on combating ISIS ??? it was really amusing,??? a statement posted on his personal website read. ???Of course,??? he said, such statements are ???absurd, hollow and biased.???

Mr. Khamenei, who has long argued that the United States and other Western countries have had a hand in the creation and swift expansion of ISIS, gave details on what he said were several instances of outreach by American officials, asking Iran to participate.

Although some Iranian officials wanted to consider the offer, Mr. Khamenei vetoed it. ???I said we will not accompany America in this matter because they have got dirty intentions and hands,??? he said. ???How can it be possible to cooperate with the United States in such conditions????

ISIS, meanwhile, has between 200 and 300 percent more men under arms than previously believed.  Hopefully they won’t get too much bigger before we can round someone reliable up to fight them on the ground.