In an interview on the CBS TV program “60 Minutes” Sept. 28, Obama said his administration had underestimated the capabilities of Islamic State, which he once described as a “junior varsity” team of jihadis, compared with those who remained allied under the al-Qaeda umbrella.
“America leads. We are the indispensable nation. We have capacity no one else has,” he said in the interview.
While Obama insists he’s opposed to putting U.S. boots on the ground, the Pentagon announced Sept. 25 it will dispatch 500 troops from the 1st Infantry Division in Fort Riley, Kansas, to Iraq “and the region” this month, bringing the number of U.S. troops in the war zone to some 1,600.
The administration’s war moves have broad bipartisan backing among the propertied rulers’ two parties, the Republicans and Democrats. At the same time more and more government officials, including within the Obama administration itself, are pushing for use of more ground troops.
“There has to be a ground component,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a Pentagon news briefing Sept. 26. “We need 12,000 to 15,000 to reclaim lost territory.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the news briefing, “No one is under any illusions … that airstrikes alone will defeat ISIL [Islamic State].”
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner told ABC News Sept. 28, “At some point somebody’s boots have to be on the ground.” Asked if he would recommend U.S. troops, he replied, “We have no choice.”
The Islamic State has an estimated 30,000 combatants, according to a recent assessment by the CIA.
The forces aligned against Islamic State comprise overlapping and conflicting interests. Washington says it’s opposed to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria but its actions have helped to strengthen it. The U.S. government has informed the Syrian government about plans for airstrikes there, which Assad backs.
The Assad dictatorship, which has been fighting massive popular mobilizations and a more than three-year-long civil war against its rule, has taken advantage of the U.S. bombings against Islamic State to escalate the regime’s military attacks against other rebel forces — the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, a coalition of seven Islamist groups that split from the FSA in November 2013. Both have been battling the Assad regime, as well as Islamic State, and have condemned U.S. airstrikes for not also targeting Syrian government forces. Assad’s forces have targeted working-class areas for bombing and starvation sieges, killing more than 190,000 people and displacing 10.5 million, according to U.N. figures.
Gulf monarchies are US ‘partners’
While joining in bombing Islamic State in Syria, the Gulf monarchies — Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia — have funded some Islamist militias and steered clear of involvement in attacks on al-Qaeda groups like the Nusra Front, an affiliate of which the Pentagon bombed Sept 22.
Tehran and Moscow oppose Islamic State and are strong backers of the Assad regime.
The Turkish government is moving toward joining military action against Islamic State, but are foremost concerned about the growing fight by the Kurds on the Turkish-Syrian border around Kobani.
An oppressed nationality of some 30 million people, Kurds live in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.
The Kurds are the most motivated and capable combatants fighting Islamic State as they simultaneously assert their control over Kurdish regions in both Iraq and Syria, to the chagrin of governments in Baghdad, Tehran, Ankara and Washington. The U.S. military has provided limited arms and training to Peshmerga forces in Iraq, but not Kurds in Syria.
Peshmerga, the Iraqi Kurdish army, drove Islamic State fighters out of Rabia, a strategic border crossing with Syria, Sept. 30. Members of the Sunni Shammar tribe in northwestern Iraq joined the Kurds in the fighting, reported Reuters. “Rabia is completely liberated. All of the Shammar are with the Peshmerga,” Abdullah Yawar, a leading member of the tribe, told Reuters.
Kurds fight to defend Kobani
In northern Syria, fierce fighting continues as Islamic State forces close in on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kobani. On Sept. 26 U.S. warplanes carried out airstrikes against Islamic State fighters near the city. More than 160,000 Kurds have crossed into Turkey, seeking refuge.
On Sept. 22 Abdullah Ocalan. imprisoned leader of the Kurdish Workers Party of Turkey (PKK), called “on all Kurdish people to start an all-out resistance against this high-intensity war.”
“Supporting this heroic resistance is not only a debt of honor for the Kurds, but for all of the Middle East people,” the PKK said in a public statement. “The youth of North Kurdistan must flow in waves to Kobani.”
Hundreds of Turkish Kurds have joined Syrian Kurdish fighters in Kobani, overcoming obstacles put in their way by Turkish authorities. Turkish troops shot tear gas at crowds by the border Sept. 26 in an effort both to halt refugees from entering and to prevent Turkish and Syrian Kurds from crossing the other way to fight the Islamic State.
The same day on both sides of the border, Turkish and Syrian Kurds pulled down barbed wire and mesh fences, as well as concrete posts around the border crossing of Mursitpinar, Turkey, reported Agence France-Presse.
Australian gov’t assaults rights, joins US war in Iraq
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