Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

“Syria’s Stalingrad;” The Hunt for a Submarine (?) in October

by Janine Davidson Friday, October 24, 2014
Smoke and flames rise over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, October 20, 2014. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Courtesy Reuters) Smoke and flames rise over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, October 20, 2014. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Courtesy Reuters)

Your Weekend Reader, parsing the best stories of the week:

Kobani: “Syria’s Stalingrad?” Although, according to Pentagon officials, the Turkish-Syrian border city of Kobani does not play a significant part in broader anti-ISIS operations in the region, it appears to be assuming a significant strategic value due to the fierce media battle now being waged by both ISIS and Kurdish forces. Although ISIS forces have reportedly lost momentum in the past few days, the Pentagon concedes the town could still fall.  More broadly, the United States announced that it killed 521 ISIS militants and 32 civilians in its first month of Syrian bombing. And more broadly still, the outlook for Syria has darkened considerably in the past few months. A RAND Institute “Alternative Futures” study now suspects that operational momentum has shifted back to the Assad government—with grave consequences for the region.

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The Air Campaign Against ISIS (II): Military Partnerships Will Be the Deciding Factor

by Guest Blogger for Janine Davidson Tuesday, October 14, 2014
F-16 U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly in formation over Hudson river in New York, August 18, 2012. (Eduardo Munoz/Courtesy Reuters) F-16 U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly in formation over Hudson river in New York, August 18, 2012. (Eduardo Munoz/Courtesy Reuters)

By Clint Hinote

This commentary comes courtesy of Colonel Clint Hinote, CFR’s U.S. Air Force fellow. He discusses the role of military partnerships in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, drawing on his own experience as an Air Force weapons and tactics instructor. According to Col. Hinote, international participation—particularly by Arab partner nations—will prove a critical component of the strategy to dismantle ISIS. This piece follows Col Hinote’s previous discussion of the utility of air strikes.

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Weekend Reader: Untangling the Human Cost of ISIS Occupation; The A-10 Warthog Rides Again

by Janine Davidson Friday, October 3, 2014
Syrian Kurdish refugee children wait inside a temporary medical facility after crossing into Turkey near the southeastern Turkish town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province October 1, 2014. (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters) Syrian Kurdish refugee children wait inside a temporary medical facility after crossing into Turkey near the southeastern Turkish town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province October 1, 2014. (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters)

With ISIS’ advance into Iraq, a policy of ethnic cleansing and mass slavery of women and children. As Column Lynch reports in Foreign Policy, the U.N. documented the abduction of 2,500 civilians from occupied Iraq by the end of August. Women’s marriages have been forcibly annulled as they are re-”married” to ISIS fighters. Likewise, young girls and boys have been systematically sexually assaulted. As the U.N. report concludes, “The array of violations and abuses perpetrated by [ISIS] and associated armed groups is staggering, and many of their acts may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.” As the report outlines: Read more »

The Air Campaign Against ISIS: Understanding What Air Strikes Can Do—and What They Can’t

by Guest Blogger for Janine Davidson Tuesday, September 30, 2014
A U.S Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft prior to strike operations in Syria in this September 26, 2014 photo released on September 29, 2014. These aircraft were part of a strike package that was engaging ISIL targets in Syria. (Russ Scalf/Courtesy Reuters) A U.S Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft prior to strike operations in Syria in this September 26, 2014 photo released on September 29, 2014. These aircraft were part of a strike package that was engaging ISIL targets in Syria. (Russ Scalf/Courtesy Reuters)

By Clint Hinote

This commentary comes courtesy of Colonel Clint Hinote, CFR’s U.S. Air Force fellow. He assesses the use and utility of targeted air strikes against ISIS, particularly against their Syrian base of operations, in the context of evolving air power targeting doctrine. He argues that the debate over whether or not U.S. air power will “destroy” ISIS largely misses the point as to the function and intent of these strikes. Disrupting the organization’s infrastructure and assets will refute its claim to “statehood,” blunting its momentum in the process.

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The Anti-ISIS Campaign Has Expanded Into Syria. What Comes Next?

by Janine Davidson and Guest Blogger for Janine Davidson Tuesday, September 23, 2014
isis-syria-cruise-missile A Tomahawk cruise missile is launched against ISIL targets from the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke, in the Red Sea September 23, 2014. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez Ii/Courtesy Reuters)

By Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking

On September 22, the air campaign against ISIS expanded into Syria in a coordinated attack that included 47 Tomahawk missiles and nearly 50 coalition aircraft. This action had been all but inevitable since the commencement of overflight reconnaissance in Syria on August 26. Significantly, these strikes also included targets of the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate unrelated to ISIS. Also significantly, five Arab militaries—Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Qatar—participated in the operation. At this stage, there are three important questions to address: the targeting of the strikes, the implications of this action, and potential challenges that might await the operation moving forward.

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Weekend Reader: Poroshenko Speaks from the Floor of Congress; Australia Foils an ISIS Terror Attack

by Janine Davidson Friday, September 19, 2014
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko (C) gestures while addressing a joint meeting of Congress in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, September 18, 2014. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) listen from behind Poroshenko. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko (C) gestures while addressing a joint meeting of Congress in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, September 18, 2014. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) listen from behind Poroshenko. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks to the American public in a rare joint session of Congress. “Don’t let Ukraine stand alone,” he said in the September 18 address, pleading for direct military supplies. In a U.S. aid package announced the same day, such armaments were noticeably absent. Meanwhile, new Russian mobilizations on the Ukraine-Crimean border suggest that they are prepared to open a new front. And in Russia, BBC journalists have been injured in a coordinated attack by unidentified individuals following their investigation of the death of a Russian soldier, killed “in military exercises on the Ukrainian border.”

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The Air Campaign Against ISIS Is About To Get A Lot Bigger

by Janine Davidson Thursday, September 18, 2014
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey look at a map showing Islamic State ambition as they testify during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State on Capitol Hill in Washington September 16, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey look at a map showing Islamic State ambition as they testify during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State on Capitol Hill in Washington September 16, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

It has now become a question of when, not if, the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will expand into Syria.  As I wrote at the beginning of August, the Islamic State has enjoyed a strong and unmolested base of operations from which to coordinate its offensive in Iraq.  If not attacked on that turf, the terrorist organization will continue grow and strengthen. Effective military operations against ISIS—even those short term efforts to stop ISIS momentum—must include operations in Syria to eliminate ISIS sanctuaries.

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As Mission Against ISIS Widens, Three Points to Guide U.S. Operations

by Janine Davidson Tuesday, August 26, 2014
A U.S. F/A-18A+ Hornet prepares to launch off the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Gulf south of Iraq in this photo released March 6, 2005. The same aircraft has been employed with increasing frequency in operations against the Islamic State, begun August 7, 2014. (Airman Ryan O'Connor/Courtesy Reuters) A U.S. F/A-18A+ Hornet prepares to launch off the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Gulf south of Iraq in this photo released March 6, 2005. The same aircraft has been employed with increasing frequency in operations against the Islamic State, begun August 7, 2014. (Airman Ryan O'Connor/Courtesy Reuters)

Last night, President Obama authorized both manned and unmanned surveillance flights over Syria as a potential precursor to air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS). This action suggests that U.S. policymakers have come to the conclusion that the border between Iraq and Syria will no longer be a barrier to U.S. operations.

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Weekend Reader: Strategic Fishing Vessels, Russian “Invasion” of Ukraine and ISIS Articles Worth a Read

by Janine Davidson Friday, August 22, 2014
A Vietnamese sinking boat (L) which was rammed and then sunk by Chinese vessels near disputed Paracels Islands, is seen near a Marine Guard ship (R) at Ly Son island of Vietnam's central Quang Ngai province May 29, 2014.  (Courtesy Reuters) A Vietnamese sinking boat (L) which was rammed and then sunk by Chinese vessels near disputed Paracels Islands, is seen near a Marine Guard ship (R) at Ly Son island of Vietnam's central Quang Ngai province May 29, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

Fishing vessels have become pawns in the South China Sea. China is using fishing vessels strategically—by creating blockades and moving into contested waters—without the risk of culpability that accompanies military movement.  This tactic isn’t new—dating back to the 1990s—but it is ratcheting up tension in the South China Sea, where other states have very few options available and the fishermen themselves will potentially pay the price.

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In Iraq/Syria Conflict, the Islamic State Leverages International Community’s Self-Imposed Boundaries

by Janine Davidson Tuesday, August 12, 2014
isis-iraq A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa, June 29, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

President Obama’s recent military action in northern Iraq to protect American personnel and provide humanitarian aid to civilians besieged by Islamic State (IS) forces has likely achieved its limited tactical effects.  Airstrikes have restricted IS’s freedom of maneuver on the ground, and provided a bit of space for Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who appear to be the last best hope to face IS on the ground.

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