Whereas discussions have recently intensified about the possibility of a ground intervention against the Islamic State, military experts believe that the airstrikes that have been staged by the U.S.-led international coalition for more than two months are likely to surround the Islamic State group and stall its progression, but will not destroy it.
The U.S. political website, “The Hill,” which covers Congress, quoted Rob Wittman, Republican lawmaker and member of the House Armed Services Committee, as saying that the U.S. and its allies are currently discussing the possibility of deploying ground troops from Arab nations to combat the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, but local defense experts believe that despite warnings on the participation of Arab ground troops, there is a concurrent danger facing the countries of the region, and these countries are involved in fighting against this threat.
Wittman refuted recent news that confirmed the presence of Arab and Jordanian ground troops in Syria and Iraq, calling it baseless. “At the current time there are no Arab-country forces on the ground in either Iraq or Syria. There are discussions on how to do that but right now it’s the Kurds or the Peshmerga that are fighting,” Wittman said.
Wittman recently returned from a trip as head of a Republican delegation to Jordan, Qatar and Afghanistan. The group met with King Abdullah II last Monday in Amman, in addition to U.S. military commanders in Jordan, Qatar and Afghanistan. The delegation also met with non-U.S. forces and leaders.
Commenting on the potential Arab ground intervention, Retired Gen. Mahmoud Irdeisat, director general of the Economic and Social Association of Retired Servicemen and Veterans, said he believes the necessity for a ground intervention exists, despite the fact that the U.S. strategy has been, until now, focused on reinforcing the Iraqi army, the Peshmerga, and supporting the moderate forces in Syria. There are no discussions in Arab countries that indicate any public or specific preparation for a ground intervention.
Gen. Irdeisat, in a discussion with al-Ghad newspaper yesterday said: “This urgent matter didn’t crystallize until now; things will not be solved without — ground intervention in the war against the Islamic State group — regardless whether Iraqi, Peshmerga, or moderate forces in Syria, or other entities execute this ground intervention; the airstrikes will not destroy the Islamic State group; they might surround it and limit its progression, but will not destroy it.” Whereas Irdeisat acknowledged that warnings about, and the danger of, an Arab ground incursion exist, the fact that it will be a lengthy battle causes one to question which country is prepared to send forces to fight outside its borders for two or three years. He believes, however, that at the end of the day, this issue should be confronted.
As for Jordan, Irdeisat concluded the discussion by saying, “We as Jordan and other Arab countries face danger, and the policy of distancing ourselves doesn’t deem useful anymore. Therefore, and despite the warnings, danger in the countries in the region does exist, and these countries are concerned about confronting this danger. An example on this is that the Islamic State group is currently fighting in Anbar; a land open to Jordanian territory.”
U.S. Congressman Wittman confirmed earlier during the same interview with “The Hill,” after returning to America last week, that “Jordan has provided air support and some assistance but no boots directly on the ground.”
Wittman said military commanders with whom he met in the region told him the air campaign is indeed degrading the Islamic State group's capability, but that there is a need for more boots on the ground, though not necessarily U.S. forces.
"There is a sense that we need to look at a broader perspective about what the strategy is going to be to fully defeat ISIS and I think there's a strong consensus that there needs to be more than airpower," he said. He added, "The key though is this: you won't displace ISIS from these areas unless you have boots on the ground [to] retake those territories," he said. "Airpower has been successful, but its success is limited."
In addition, Hassan Abu Haniya, an expert on conservative groups, believes there is consensus that a ground intervention is a must because the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces don’t seem qualified to execute the mission by themselves. In a discussion with al-Ghad newspaper about needed ground intervention, he referred to what U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said: that there is a need to deploy 80,000 ground troops from the Iraqi forces. As for the Syrian side, which Dempsey described as complicated, he said that moderate Syrian forces, consisting of 5,000 to 10,000 units, had been trained in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
There is agreement that the Islamic State group will not be destroyed without trained and prepared ground troops since it is progressing despite the airstrikes.
Abu Haniya talked about strong leaked information that indicates there is preparation for, or a direct attempt underway for direct Jordanian ground intervention, but such talks didn’t amount to more than rumors. He pointed to what he called a change in Jordan’s tone in this regard, and the affirmation that “this is our war.”
Abu Haniya believes there is no difference between a ground intervention and an air intervention, and anyone who intervenes with air strikes will not hesitate to do so on the ground.
Another informed source told al-Ghad newspaper that data confirm the Arab army will not be sent to Syria to fight, but that they may provide assistance to ground troops.
The al-Arabiya website this week reported that the Pentagon has decided to send a fleet of A-10 Warthogs, known as the “flying tanks,” to support the international coalition’s war against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, a matter considered by the same website as “the biggest proof that an American ground force will, late next month, start the fight against the Islamic State group.”
In addition, the White House announced earlier that President Barack Obama was to discuss “efforts to fight the Islamic State group and finding a political solution in Syria” with King Abdullah II.