Iraq vet general warns against airstrikes on ISIS

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A retired Army general who served three tours in Iraq is warning against immediate U.S. airstrikes to beat back the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, who served more than 46 months in Iraq, said that airstrikes now would be "relatively ineffective in producing the desired effect of seriously degrading the ISIS network."

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"As we have learned in the last decade of fighting insurgents, they obviate our superior firepower by dispersing into small, highly mobile targets and by living and operating among the population," the three-star general wrote in an op-ed last week for the Lexington Institute.

"And we have also learned that the decisive way to defeat an insurgency is to attack its entire network: its leaders, financiers, suppliers and key operators. We can hope that this is what the President meant when he said 'we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action,' " he wrote.

Barbero, a career infantry officer who retired in 2013 as the head of the Pentagon's improvised bomb fighting agency, said effective airstrikes would require a robust and effective intelligence effort over time.

In addition, he said, "one needs to have air controllers on the ground to call-in precise strikes and to control the effects."

"The Iraqis do not possess the capability to serve in this role," he said. "And no amount of isolated airstrikes will turn the current tactical situation in Iraq and produce decisive effects," he said.

Barbero also said cooperation with Iran, or even discussion thereof, "is a strategically bad idea."

"ISIS thrives because it can operate within the Sunni population and tribes. The Sunni population in Iraq is deeply mistrustful of the Shia-led Baghdad government and its security forces. These disaffected Sunnis see a Baghdad regime that is dominated by Shia and controlled by Tehran," he wrote.

"Our very public discussion of cooperation with Iran further validates this Sunni view. If the strategic aim in this crisis is to separate the Sunni population from the ISIS fighters, any perceived cooperation with Iran would produce the opposite effect."