Officials from the Obama administration said this week that the U.S. has already begun working to create an international coalition to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, work that resembles discussions during the beginning of President Bush’s global war on terror.
After almost 13 years and hundreds of billions of dollars spent fighting in Iraq, a war he declared officially over, and Afghanistan, where he is winding down the U.S. presence, his successor, Barack Obama, is in the beginning stages of planning for a fight that may take American armed forces back to the region in a combat role. This is despite the difference in the threat that ISIS and al Qaeda pose; the Islamic State, as it now calls itself, is not capable of directly attacking the U.S. "homeland," said Janine Davidson, an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations.
After the 9/11 attacks, Bush said: "The attack took place on American soil, but it was an attack on the heart and soul of the civilized world. And the world has come together to fight a new and different war, the first, and we hope the only one, of the 21st century. A war against all those who seek to export terror, and a war against those governments that support or shelter them." Several countries joined the U.S. in fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of that war, including Australia, Britain, Canada, Belgium, France, Italy and others.
Now, the U.S. is “working with our partners and asking how they might be able to contribute. There are a range of ways to contribute: humanitarian, military, intelligence, diplomatic,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing Wednesday.
Psaki's description of what the international coalition could do to help in the fight against ISIS aligns with the strategy Bush adopted in 2001 to fight al Qaeda. His policy included a coalition that would fight terrorists diplomatically and militarily, and would work to stop finances from flowing to the terrorists.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that Britain and Australia were potential candidates to include in the new coalition, as well as Turkey, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Germany. The coalition would most likely include countries that could help quell the ISIS threat not only militarily, but also by cutting off aid or ramping up efforts to secure border crossings.
Out of all the countries that could possibly join the U.S. in fighting ISIS, Saudi Arabia is one of the most important and most likely to contribute funds and weapons, analysts have said.
The U.S. is already coordinating with the Saudi government to support the moderate opposition in Syria. Both countries are training and arming groups fighting in the Free Syrian Army that have been vetted in order to ensure that aid sent them does not end up in the hands of extremists.
The Obama administration may need to enlist other countries to help fight ISIS.
According to a report published Thursday by the Institute for the Study of War, U.S. airstrikes in Iraq have not managed to stop the ISIS momentum. The report says that since the fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, on June 10, the “insurgent army has continued a successful and spectacular offensive in Syria.”
U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, though, were not necessarily meant to affect ISIS operations in Syria. The airstrikes had two immediate, declared objectives: to stop ISIS advancing on Erbil, where American diplomats are stationed, and to stop the potential genocide of the Yazidi people, whom ISIS had forced to flee to the Sinjar Mountains.
So far, it is unclear how ISIS coordinates its operations between Iraq and Syria. In June, the militant group bulldozed the border between the two countries to allow for the free flow of soldiers and weaponry, but no one has been able to confirm how often the group utilizes that crossing. According to the Institute for the Study of War, ISIS needs to control the Euphrates River valley in Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor province to link its stronghold and de-facto capital in Raqqa, Syria, to the territory it seized in Iraq’s Anbar province.
As the U.S. and other Western governments continue to debate how to intervene in Syria, ISIS is advancing in northern Aleppo, taking suburban towns close to the Turkish border crossing of Bab al-Salama.
It is unclear when the U.S. would officially announce the formation of an international coalition to fight ISIS. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem said this week that his country was ready and willing to work with the international community, but warned the U.S. that any intervention should first be approved by his government.