Joshua Landis: Why Syria is the Gordian knot of Obama’s anti-ISIL campaign

ALJAZEERA AMERICA (9/15/14) – President Barack Obama’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) relies entirely on allied forces on the ground doing the work that can’t be done by U.S. airpower. That formula may have made some progress in Iraq in recent weeks, but in Syria it lacks ready partners on the ground.

ISIL currently controls approximately 35 percent of Syrian territory, according to opposition-aligned human rights monitors, and fights against both the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian rebel forces. The question facing U.S. military planners is which forces on the ground will move in to clear and hold towns after ISIL positions have been bombed into retreat. Without such a partner, the U.S. will simply be repeating the Israeli approach to Gaza, cynically dubbed mowing the lawn by Israeli officials — an approach that not only fails to eliminate adversaries but can even work to their political advantage.

Obama has ruled out cooperating with Assad, whose forces control a bit less than half of Syria’s land mass (although a lot more than half the population lives in areas under government control). Instead, Obama informed the world that he would work with Syria’s “opposition.” Tellingly, he named no names.

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