We are at war with extremism. It is a long war, and will continue well past my 50th birthday. The debate centered around the efficacy of force and cries for transparency into how it is used invariably create more problems than they solve. Going forward, it will be necessary to be far more secretive about the scope, location and duration of coalition actions throughout the region. The enemy gets a vote, but our objective should be to ensure he votes "not present."
The enemy's usage of urban fortification and human shields ensures airstrikes will result in civilian casualties. Both ISIS and Shiite militias are criminal networks masquerading as an army and make remarkably poor terrorists. These groups are no match for the full power of the United States Armed Forces. "The U.S. Air Force is the best in the world at close air support," Air Force Col. Robert Spalding III, a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, remarked recently. He's right, and the coalition should provide immediate close air support to any force capable of slowing ISIS's advances. Fly, fight, win, as they say.
While previous counterterrorism campaigns relied heavily on drones in Yemen and Pakistan, Syria and Iraq require unbridled, unrestrained warfare.
In the aftermath of one air strike that went viral on social media, cement was vaporized and transformed into a fine mist versus the foundation it used to be. This illustrates the raw power of modern airpower and the utility of using all available resources to confront and destroy the enemy. It should continue.
For the last 13 years, we've been fighting with one hand tied behind our back. Even when the United States had black sites, a fully constituted Blackwater, and a growing Joint Special Operations Command, figures in and out of government have worked tirelessly to limit and constrain the United States with rules of engagement and laws not our own. The era of restraint has now drawn to a close, and we must enter a new phase of the long war on extremism.
Today's enemies do not communicate in ways susceptible to intercept by the National Security Agency, an organization that while extraordinarily capable has never been utilized to its full potential. Today's transnational networks regularly outfox our intelligence community with deceit and deception, and their use of urban camouflage complicates targeting them from the air. Therefore, future coalition efforts must include an aggressive effort to identify and cultivate human sources on the ground as Dan Senor, a former top U.S. government official, has suggested publicly. This effort will be critical to mission success.
Iran cannot be considered a credible partner — by Kurds, by moderate Sunnis and most importantly, the coalition. Iran's Shiite militia proxies control Baghdad and exercise significant influence over Iraqi military operations. The international coalition should launch, with select assistance, an aggressive counterintelligence operation to identify Shiite informants and logisticians working for Iran across Iraq. Simultaneously, the coalition should establish air corridors originating from Erbil and begin conducting daily airstrikes in Kirkuk, Mosul and into Syria. This requires up to three dozen airstrikes per day.
Over time, the coalition should establish a significant presence behind Kurdistan's borders, replete with barracks and storage depots — and ultimately, headquarters of the various coalition task forces operating in Iraq. There is no need to reinvent the wheel: There is a proud history of the U.S. military repurposing airfields as makeshift military command and control centers. Ultimately, it may be wise to center the coalition's center of gravity in Erbil.
To counter the tactical advantage held by ISIS and the Shiite militias, moderate Sunni and Kurdish groups across the region should be armed and trained and equipped by special operations forces. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's new government in Baghdad is not inclusive and will not garner the support of Iraq's Sunni Arabs. Additionally, because Iraq's security apparatus is a veritable extension of Iran's military, there is an impassable obstacle to Sunni inclusion. Iraq's military — what little that remains after ISIS's looting — should, henceforth, be regarded as Iran's military and treated accordingly, politically and tactically.
All these efforts require coalition troops, but the bulk of this effort can be handled by moderate Sunni and Kurdish groups across the region. Coalition special operations forces and quick reaction forces arrayed across the region can play a pivotal role capturing and killing foreign fighters coming from Iran, Syria and, yes, Turkey. Additional coalition forces may be required temporarily to establish austere bases in Erbil, and along the Syrian border with Mosul.
Coalition task forces should be formed to provide battlefield medical services, interrogate detainees, process intelligence, and build helicopter pads and landing strips for propeller planes. Ultimately, the critical enabler will be Kurdish forces from across the region. Vetted groups should be provided with Javelin anti-tank missiles, Mine Resistant-Ambush Protected trucks, RPGs and night vision equipment to provide an unfair tactical advantage at night.
Partner forces across the region require extensive technical assistance. It cannot wait any longer. The international community must act before it's too late. Noninterventionists like Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulTrump flexes new digital muscle Republicans question Trump's trip to Scotland Hate TV customer service? So does your senator MORE (R-Ky.) have given enough excuses and have needlessly endangered our friends and our military in doing so.
It's time to stand tall in the Middle East and we must stand beside anyone who is at war with our enemies — past, present and future.
Caruso served in the Department of Defense and Department of State in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.