Commentary: How a Coalition Ground, Air Campaign Could Mostly Defeat Daesh
By Mahmood Sharief Mahmood
The Arabian Gulf region is facing a number of significant threats, led by the Iranian influence in its internal affairs. When the globally imposed sanctions on Iran are lifted, the Islamic Republic's grip on Syria, Iraq and Lebanon will intensify in 2016.
However, Yemen will be the exception. Expectations are that the Iranian influence and support in the country will de-escalate due to the strong military engagement of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia-led operations in which the United Arab Emirates plays a primary role.
The Islamic Republic of Iran will have to assert its role as the main regional player. To do so it will have to pursue a policy of a balancing scale toward its Arab neighbors. On one side, it will have to deal with the containment of its activities, and at the other side it will have to play as a positive influencer.
In 2016, the KSASaudi-led coalition will seal Yemen's fate toward its own advantage. The victory will translate into a political settlement dictated by them. The indicators for a coalition victory is attributed to the fact that it now controls 70 percent of the Yemeni geopolitical map. Furthermore, the advancement made by UAE land forces — accompanied by the Sudanese Armed Forces — has resulted in the besiegement of the Houthi-controlled capital, of Sanaa, from three directions: Ma'rib in the east, Taez in the south and Al Hudaiba in the west.
Militant groups sympathetic to Daesh [another name for the Islamic State group or ISIL] are hoping to fill vacuums left behind by the coalition in al-Qaida-controlled-southern Yemen. However, serious joint Saudi and UAE nation-building initiatives are taking place jointly by KSA and UAE to counter that.
In Syria, the international coalition against ISIL is expected to intensify its operations in 2016. This will result in the weakening of Daesh positions primarily in Syria but will also strengthen the Syrian regime's hold on power.
It's highly unlikely that a credible, enduring substitute for the Syrian regime will emerge in 2016. The regime will be the dominant power next year, backed by the sturdy Russian force and Iranian determination reinforced by the lack of military and political support for the Free Syrian Army.
The fight against Daesh will evolve to include a high-intensity air campaign, western special forces on the ground plus ground troops from states including Jordan, Iran, Russia, Sudan and possibly Egypt. A coordinated group of international special forces composed mainly of western troops will be deployed in northern and southern Syria. The operation will aim first at cutting all supply routes on the Turkish-Syrian border that are providing manpower, military supplies and ammunition as well as economic means to Daesh.
Ground forces from Jordan, Sudan, Egypt and some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council will be stationed in Jordan near southern Syria. Other ground forces comprising Russian and Iranian troops will be stationed in Latakia.
As the military, financial and manpower capability of Daesh is exhausted, the ground invasions will start. The invasion will start simultaneously from the south from Jordan, headed by the Arab coalition, and from the coastal areas, headed by Russian and Iranian forces.
Such an operation will significantly reduce Daesh's military and security threat, but it will not eliminate them completely. The most important gain won't be on the military front but on the political front as Daesh's political agenda of establishing an Islamic Ccaliphate will end.
Mahmood is head of research and constancy, Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.