Wars, by their very nature, are brutal affairs; none more so than the conflicts currently raging in the Middle East.
The trail of human carnage and infrastructure devastation left by Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL) fighters continues to grow in Syria and Iraq, and displaced populations in the region are spiking to numbers not seen since World War II.
Sadly, this black veil of destruction claimed another victim recently in Iraq. The target this time was the ancient ruins of Nimrud, an Assyrian city that was flourishing hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The loss of this cultural wonder is not only a loss for the people of Iraq, but for humanity.
However, what is most distressing about the loss of Nimrud, the ransacking of the ancient cities of Dur-Sharrukin and Hatra, and the burning of priceless manuscripts in Mosul, is that it is the continuation of a methodical, brutal campaign focused on the elimination of anything that doesn't adhere to the puritanical strain of Islam professed by ISIL.
This includes the beheading of unarmed men, the subjugation of women and children into slavery, and forcing Christians and other minority groups to convert to Islam, flee their home, pay a jizya (Christian poll tax) or be put to death. In short, this repugnant and nefarious activity is cultural genocide and is evil in its most crystalline form.
This year, President Barack Obama submitted a draft authorization for use of military force (AUMF) to Congress, which was meant replace the 2002 authority for military action in Iraq and augment the 2001 AUMF against terrorists. The measure has languished on Capitol Hill with both Democrats and Republicans criticizing it for various reasons, either pertaining to the scope of the mission or the duration of the authorization.
In the meantime, the US continues to work with partner nations to conduct targeted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and it claims that 25 percent to 30 percent of Iraqi territory has been taken back from ISIL. Unfortunately, the terrorist group still controls large swaths of territory in both countries and will do so for the foreseeable future.
This dynamic won't change anytime soon unless the United States decides to lead a ground coalition against ISIL from both the ground and the air.
The decision to put ground troops in harm's way is one that can never be taken lightly, especially when this nation has already spent trillions of dollars in the region and lost thousands of young men and women in combat. Having served in the surge during 2007-08, I know full well the cost of sending troops back into Iraq and Syria.
Unfortunately, airstrikes and special operations alone will not drive ISIL out of their locations and only ground troops can take and hold territory. Even recent public opinion polling recognizes this fact as Americans support sending ground troops to take on ISIL by a two-to-one margin.
Some may say that it is too late for the United States to send in troops and or that it is not the right time. When will it be the right time?
Our inaction as already enabled the Quds Forces, the elite Iranian special forces unit, to gain a significant foothold in Iraq. This is very troubling since the Quds Forces have long been associated with training Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Even more troubling is the fact that Quds Forces are now teaming with Iraqi forces and Shia militia groups in attacks against ISIL strongholds while simultaneously providing weapons, training and financial assistance to the Shiite Houthi militia, an organization that recently overran much of Yemen and its capital. This type of activity only emboldens Iran to pursue other destabilizing activities around the globe.
Many years ago, while receiving an honorary degree from Harvard, Winston Churchill stated, "The price of greatness is responsibility." The context of his comments was that a nation as great as the US couldn't afford to ignore problems elsewhere in the world. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, it was purportedly done in the interest of the Iraqi population and stability of the region. That mission hasn't been completed.
After eight months, it's time for the US to end its "limited war" and try something bold. Now is the time for the US to lead a coalition ground force that will relegate ISIL to where it belongs, the ash heap of history. If we fail to do this, the calamity unfolding before our eyes will only grow and tens of thousands more people will suffer in the process.
Todd Johnson is a national security affairs instructor at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. These views represent only those of the author.