The numbers portraying how many square miles ISIS controls across Iraq and Syria, how many towns and villages it has captured or put under siege and how many fighters it commands all continue to rise. ISIS’ tentacles continue to sweep out across the region, even as National Security Adviser Susan Rice says again that the real fighting will begin when the Syrian moderate opposition is ready, Iraq’s security forces are ready and the Kurds are ready.
Everyone has to get ready. Everyone except ISIS, that is. They’ve shown they’re already “ready.”
Last month the CIA vaulted its estimate of ISIS’ size from around 10,000 fighters some months earlier to 20,000 to 31,000 fighters. That’s a broad variant, but whatever the numbers are, they’re sufficient to do the job, as ISIS is showing.
And now, with well over 8 million willing or unwilling conscripts under ISIS’ control, all of them subject to its brutal hand, the number of fighters has in all likelihood increased well beyond the CIA’s estimate of only a month ago. Added to that, some analysts believe foreign fighters are pouring in at the rate of no fewer than 1,000 a month. Each victory, heralded as it is by ISIS on social media, causes those numbers to surge.
Now, with ISIS on the verge of victory in Syria’s Kobani and with reported control of at least 80 percent of Sunni-centric Anbar Province, those numbers may rise even more dramatically.
Even in the past two days, the Iraqi town of Hit and an adjacent Iraqi military base, both just west of Baghdad, are reported to have fallen. Baghdad’s International Airport (BIAP) is under threat, and no one should be surprised to hear of mortar or artillery strikes there in the near term.
One needs only to realize the scope of ISIS’ current operational activities and tempo to understand the inherent power it possesses. From Kobani in Syria to Baghdad in Iraq is nearly 500 miles – the same distance as from Washington to Detroit or from Sacramento to San Diego. But in the case of ISIS there aren’t any airlines or railways to move people or weapons or supplies.
It’s 500 miles of generally open land over crumbling, potholed roads. There aren’t any sophisticated telecommunications systems or microwave towers to immediately transmit orders or messages.
In sum, those 500 miles dramatically demonstrate ISIS’ ability to command over long distances and to logistically support forces spread out and fighting in numerous engagements, at least two of which are major. ISIS is showing itself to be many things. A “JV team” isn’t one of them.
President Obama is on record saying he wants to “degrade” and “destroy” ISIS. His words are cheap and totally disrespectful to the military men and women who are prepared at this moment to engage fully and deliberately in the fight, but who instead are ordered to run a paltry few airstrikes here and there.
Frankly, it’s embarrassing.
Instead of striking fear in the heart of the enemy, we’re showing ISIS and the rest of the world that the best we can do under this president’s lackluster leadership is half-hearted.
ISIS is well aware as it continues its rampage of killing and beheading. At some point, like it or not, we’ll be forced to respond more decisively.
Bill Cowan is a retired Marine, Fox News military analyst, and founding member of the Intelligence Support Activity. He has been to Iraq 13 times since U.S. forces withdrew in 2012.