With Russia’s military strength building daily to protect the Assad government, while the U.S. expands special operations activities to support the Syrian rebels, it looks as though ISIS has become an afterthought. Despite the deafening calls for the defeat of the Islamic State, realities on the ground reflect alternate priorities. Although Russia and the United States claim the focus remains directed at ISIS, the latest bulk of casualties have been the result of fighting between the Syrian army and rebel forces.
If ISIS is and always have been the focal point in Syria’s civil war, they couldn’t have grown so powerful. If ISIS was the focal point from the minute they appeared on the battlefield, they couldn’t have grown so popular. If ISIS was the focal point when Bashar al-Assad started screaming that ISIS was a regional crisis in the making, they couldn’t have spread so fast. If ISIS was ever the focal point, they should have been significantly degraded by now.
If independent reports of 80 percent of Russian air strikes have been targeting the Syria’s so-called “moderate opposition” and not ISIS can be substantiated, this could be a problem. If independent reports of 80 percent of U.S. air strikes targeting ISIS have proven to be ineffective can be confirmed, this could be an even bigger problem. If the U.S. and Russia can’t focus on anything beyond their own ambitions and objectives in Syria, ISIS can not only continue their campaign of regional terror attacks, but expand them worldwide.
This weekend, ISIS took credit for taking down the Russian passenger jet over Egypt. Confirmed or not, somebody will believe the boast. ISIS took credit for a car bomb killing 6 in the Sinai yesterday. ISIS posted video, claiming responsibility for killing two activist in Turkey recently. The New York Times reported 5 killed at prayer in a Saudi Shiite mosque by a new ISIS branch linked to ISIS crews in Bahrain. ISIS claimed responsibility for a series of attacks that the took the lives of 56 people in Iraq last month. And the list of ISIS’ daily killing sprees is growing by the minute.
So far, ISIS is in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern Africa in a big way with sympathizers and supporters throughout the region. If one considers how many people around the world are trying to make their way into the kill zone to join ISIS and or ISIS affiliates, their bench strength could be staggeringly impressive. Hence, all the more reason many observers are concluding Russia and the United States have undeclared agendas other than the Islamic State.
Bottom line: Whatever is really going on in Syria seems less to do with confronting ISIS than the United States and Russia appear to be willing to confront each other. While Russia wants to expand its foothold in the region, the United States is desperately trying to maintain a strong presence, as its influence dwindles. Since this Syrian civil war is being played like a zero sum game, it won’t be long before observers can start picking the winners and losers. Until then, the biggest losers to date are the Syrian people.