The U.S. airstrikes will not be enough to defeat the Islamic State without ground forces in Syria and Iraq capable of fighting the terrorist group, several analysts said.
“I do think that air power alone is not going to be decisive. Air strikes themselves don’t tend to produce lasting political results. Air power tends to not succeed in the absence of a powerful ground component,” said Benjamin Friedman, research fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.
The attacks, which included 47 Tomahawk missiles and air strikes from F-22s, F-15s, F-16s, B-1B bombers and drones, targeted IS training facilities, command and control facilities and military equipment, Pentagon officials said.
Friedman maintained that the absence of a credible friendly ground force in Syria creates real limits to the effectiveness of the air attacks.
“The bombing is a perfectly sensible tactic given the objective of going after ISIS and degrading their capability. However, this may be a tactic in search of a strategy,” he said.
Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank, also said air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria may have little effect on the group’s operations.
“Six weeks of air strikes does not seem to have had an effect on ISIS in Iraq. The target set looks to be limited. Also, until we get battle damage assessment, we don’t yet know what we hit,” Goure said.
Goure said the Pentagon would be well served to consider some of the lessons from the bombing effort in Tora Bora, Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
“We learned after the fact that the U.S. Army begged Rumsfeld to put in a ground force so we could secure the area. Instead we relied on indigenous forces,” he said.
In addition, Goure said it may be several years before a credible, U.S-friendly ground force can function effectively within Syria.
“The only choice we have between sending boots in on the ground or relying on almost non-existent indigenous forces, is airstrikes,” Goure said.
Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. would not be committing ground troops to the effort in Syria. He added that the Pentagon was working on an initiative to train and equip friendly Syrian Forces.
The Free Syrian Army, however, may at the moment be more of a political organization than a legitimate functioning military operation, Friedman argued.
Friedman contended that the attacks will wind up helping the Assad regime, despite the fact that the Pentagon explained that there was no coordination or military-to-military communication with the Assad regime.
“The most plausible outcome of the strikes is that Syria remains a chaotic place that is hospitable to ISIS in some places -- or the strikes wind up helping the Assad regime regain power. The third alternative that we’re hoping for – which is the emergence of a government or force that is not loyal or hospitable to ISIS or Assad – is exceedingly unlikely,” Friedman said.