Nameless Non-War update: ISIS threatens Baghdad

It’s surreal, and alarming, to see the last wave of Obama spin doctors claim that his strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State is working.  That’s not even arguably true, which is saying something in this era of murky close-quarters ground combat and antiseptic air strikes.  I’m sure what Obama expected was a quagmire, a stalemate, just enough to get his Party through the midterm elections with a few stale talking points: see, the President is on this, ISIS is being degraded, it’s going to take years to wipe them out but we’re satisfied with the progress we’re seeing.

What’s actually happening is ISIS on the move, taking ground and expanding its influence even as American bombs rain down on them.  The fate of the vital Syrian city of Kobani remains in doubt, but at least the Obama Administration seems to have abandoned its campaign to portray the city as expendable.  It really is an encouraging sign when they stop pre-spinning failure.  The latest news is that “intensified” U.S. air strikes are helping the Kurds hold out in Kobani, but that’s not quite accurate.  What happened is that ISIS, which now holds about half the city, was prevented from making a checkmate move that would have cut the city off completely and spelled its doom.  As CNN reports:

A fighter from the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit, or YPG, told CNN’s Arwa Damon that the battle in Kobani concerned the main border crossing into Turkey. If ISIS took control, he said, “it’s over.”

The fighter said the Kurdish fighters had pushed back an attempted advance by ISIS on Monday morning but that it would be “impossible” for them to hold their ground if current conditions continued.

Should they take Kobani, the militants would control three official border crossings between Turkey and Syria and a stretch of the border about 60 miles (97 kilometers) long.

Monday has been one of the most violent days in Kobani since ISIS launched its assault on the Syrian city, with sounds of fierce fighting, including gunfire and explosions, CNN staff on the Syria-Turkey border said.

CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh described seeing a mushroom cloud rising about 100 meters (nearly 330 feet) above the city in an area targeted by at least four blasts, generally after the sound of jets overhead.

“However, it remains unclear who is gaining the upper hand,” Walsh said. “Distribution of the airstrikes does not immediately suggest the Kurds are retaking the center so far.”

The Turks are still sitting in their tanks and watching the show, although supposedly they’ve agreed to let the anti-ISIS coalition use their bases.  That’s nice, but what we really need is for somebody else to put their boots on the ground, and the Turks seem more interested in putting their boots into any Kurds who try to flee across their border from Kobani.

The UK Daily Mail offers a gruesome, if sadly unsurprising, glimpse of what ISIS has in mind for the people of Kobani:

Refugees who made it to Suruc, just across the border in Turkey, tell of witnessing appalling horrors in hushed tones, as if they can barely believe it themselves.

Father-of-four Amin Fajar, 38, said: ‘I have seen tens, maybe hundreds, of bodies with their heads cut off. Others with just their hands or legs missing. I have seen faces with their eyes or tongues cut out ??? I can never forget it for as long as I live. They put the heads on display to scare us all.’

It worked. Mr Fajar, a floor fitter from Kobane, and his wife and children aged three to 12, ran for their lives.

‘The children saw the headless people. They saw them,’ he said quietly, sitting cross-legged on a rug in his tent in a squalid refugee camp in Suruc.

Ahmed Bakki, a farmer from a village near Kobane, said his cousin, a 48-year-old father of seven, stayed behind when the rest of the family fled. ‘We phoned my cousin and IS answered his phone.

They said, ‘We’ve got his head, and we’re taking it to Jarabulus (an IS stronghold)’.’

He added: ‘An English teacher in our village tried to reason with them, but they just called him a kaffir (non-believer) and tied him to their car and dragged him away. We heard they beheaded him later.

‘My neighbour was beheaded because they said he was ‘delivering vegetables to the kaffir’. They burned his farm, livestock, even his bees ??? they destroyed everything.’

And all this is happening while a NATO member sits and watches.  Great job with that “smart power,” President Obama.  I wonder, when the tell-all books are written in a few years, if we’ll learn Obama and his brain trust figured there was no way the Turks would let atrocities happen on their doorstep, if nothing else because they’d be worried about the madness of the Islamic State leaking across their border.  The Administration seems almost completely oblivious to how Turkey views the Islamic State, the Assad regime in Syria, and the prospect of Greater Kurdistan becoming an independent nation.  It’s like nobody even bothered to Google “Turkey Kurds.”

Attention is ominously shifting from Kobani to… Baghdad, where ISIS doesn’t look “degraded” at all:

Despite airstrikes by the United States and its allies in Iraq over the weekend, reports suggest ISIS has continued to gain ground in Anbar province and has encircled Haditha, the province’s last large town not yet under its control.

Provincial security force sources told CNN on Monday that Iraqi forces had abandoned a strategically important base in Anbar after heavy fighting with the militants.

The base outside Hit was one of the Shiite-led government’s few remaining military outposts in Anbar, a predominantly Sunni province. It is a key control point for roads running through the region.

The Iraqi military still controls the Ayn al-Asad military base, which helps defend Iraq’s second-largest dam and the provincial capital of Ramadi.

On Sunday, the leader of U.S. military efforts to fight ISIS in Iraq said the terror group came within 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) of Baghdad’s airport.

Other reports say ISIS got considerably closer than that, but he’s probably talking about major military units, rather than skirmishers.  The problem is that ISIS skirmishers are reportedly carrying man-portable surface-to-air missiles, which could cause big trouble at the airport.  Anbar province is now 80 percent under ISIS control, which gives the terror state contiguous territory from Syria all the way down to Baghdad.  Terrorist attacks via improvised explosive device and suicide bomb are being carried out inside the Iraqi capital.

At this point, keeping the Islamic State 25 miles away from Baghdad is looking like a best-case scenario.  If the terrorists can mount a credible assault on the city, the whole game will change overnight.  Along with the possible fall of Kobani, it would be a huge boost to the caliphate’s image, which is already far too lofty in the more bloodthirsty quarters of the Middle East.  For example: Libya.  That’s right – ISIS is recruiting among the ruins of the previous Obama foreign policy disaster, and apparently having some success at getting Islamist warlords to swear fealty to them.

Also, that Daily Mail article about the atrocities perpetrated by ISIS in the Kobani theater mentions that the savages are quite cosmopolitan – the “most brutal members” of the jihadi army “seem to be Europeans.”  One Kurdish eyewitness tells of ISIS fighters boasting that they were British citizens.

A real “degrade and ultimately destroy” strategy would be preventing the spread of ISIS influence, but instead Obama has enabled it, by getting the United States into a half-hearted non-war.  Obama thought that would shore up his poll numbers by making it look like he was taking the threat seriously, without the political risks entailed by ground troops.  ISIS saw it as an opportunity to say they had taken the Great Satan’s best shot, and they’re still on their feet.

Update: NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel complained the Islamic State does not “seem to be degraded at all,” or even slowed down very much, revealing “enormous contradictions in the U.S. strategy that are being more apparent every day.”