(CBC.ca) – By vowing to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State militants, U.S. President Barack Obama has laid out a goal that will certainly face a series of daunting challenges and could take years to accomplish.
“Degrading is relatively easy,” said Austin Long, assistant professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and a former adviser to the multinational force in Iraq, “It’s the destruction part that’s very difficult.”
“You can continue with airstrikes. That would certainly be effective over time at degrading the organization over time, particularly as your intelligence picture gets better,” Long said. “But there’s a real limit, particularly on how much damage you can do to an organization that is well institutionalized and as large as ISIS.”
ISIS is thoroughly embedded in northern and eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq. It has thousands of combat-experienced fighters, is very well financed and well armed, and gains more adherents every day, said Peter Mansoor, the former executive officer to then general David Petraeus during the period of the Iraqi surge in 2007 and 2008.