Almost since the formation of the international coalition to counter the Islamic State (ISIS), the Arab members of this coalition, and in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have questioned the effectiveness of airstrikes in defeating this organization. Following ISIS's execution of the Jordanian pilot, Mu'adh Al-Kasasbeh, this criticism escalated, and found expression in articles in the Saudi press, which attacked the coalition's policy and called upon it to dispatch ground forces, either Arab or international, against ISIS, in addition to the airstrikes. Some articles also slammed the Middle East policy of U.S. President Barack Obama, calling it "strategic cowardice."
The following are excerpts from some of the articles:
Saudi Editorials: Airstrikes Alone Are Ineffective, A Ground Campaign Is Necessary
An editorial published in the government daily Al-Sharq on February 4, 2015, one day after the burning of the Jordanian pilot, stated that this event was "further proof of the need to eliminate this organization [ISIS], militarily and ideologically." It also stated that "placing troops on the ground, especially in Syria, has now become a pressing necessity, in order to eliminate [ISIS] along with all the elements that caused it to emerge and to spread." An editorial published one week later, on February 10, in the government daily Al-Watan, also complained that the numerous airstrikes against ISIS were ineffective and called for boots on the ground: "The predicament of ISIS's presence and expansion cannot be solved without a military ground intervention, accompanied by ongoing airstrikes... ISIS members have managed to infiltrate cities and regions and hide among the residents of the areas they control. Airstrikes alone are useless in eliminating this organization, since the coalition tries to avoid [harming] unarmed civilians in these areas, and [therefore] makes do with attacking key [ISIS] targets. That is not enough in a war of this sort..."
Tariq Alhomayed: There Is Need For A Sunni Arab Ground Force To Eliminate ISIS, Curb Assad And Iran, End Obama's Cowardice
Some Arab writers presented more detailed proposals for a ground campaign against ISIS. For example, Tariq Alhomayed, formerly the editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and now a columnist for the daily, wrote that the war against ISIS must be a Sunni Arab one, and called to form a coalition of Sunni Arab ground troops to fight this organization in Syria and Iraq. He added that the war must be aimed not only at eliminating this organization but also at preventing Iran and Bashar Al-Assad from taking over the areas from which ISIS is expelled. Attacking Obama's "spineless" regional policy of "strategic cowardice," he said that the present international coalition was no more than a cover for the reluctance of the U.S. administration to take action in the Middle East.
The following is an excerpt from this article, as published in the English edition of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "Today we have before us a US president who has adopted a policy of 'strategic patience' in dealing with a phenomenon like ISIS, a policy he plans to practice until the end of his term in 2016... [But] our region simply does not have the luxury of Obama's indolence. For this reason, a full-scale but balanced Arab military mobilization is needed right now. This will include sending in a coalition of ground troops made up of Arab countries, as well as funding and arming the Free Syrian Army (FSA), putting them in Jordan and unleashing them from there once ISIS is being elbowed out of the areas it currently controls in Syria and Iraq. Crucially, Assad must not be allowed to benefit from ISIS's becoming weakened as a result of this offensiveÔÇª
"A military offensive of this kindÔÇª would [also] help lay the ground for serious political changes in the region, especially in Syria, and set the stage for a climate free of Obama's 'strategic cowardice'ÔÇª
"It has become clear that airstrikes will not be enough to defeat ISIS. They will not bring about peace and security in the region either, or strengthen the FSA. Ultimately, everyone knows the international anti-ISIS coalition is just a cover for the Obama administration's spineless reluctance to make any lasting decisions or take any real action in the Middle East. It is, then, our war, one that will at last truly take the battle to ISIS. But there is only one way to do this: Arab troops on the ground, full support for the FSA, and reining in Assad and Iran."
'Al-Jazirah' Columnist: A Ground Campaign Will Be Costly, But It Cannot Be Avoided
Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh, a columnist for the government daily Al-Jazirah, called to form a coalition of armies similar to the one formed in 1990 to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. He argued that the war against ISIS must take place not only in Syria and Iraq but also in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and criticized Obama's plan to rely primarily on the Iraqi army to defeat ISIS. He wrote: "The international coalition against ISIS and its ilk, and [against] its culture, has not achieved what is expected from a coalition of 60 countries, [especially considering that it is fighting] gangs that are primitive in terms of their gear and their size, and also in terms of their culture, which is drawn from yellowing history books. This situation requires the coalition to rethink its strategy in this conflict, after nearly four months have passed with very few achievements on the ground.
"ISIS is a threat not only to Islam and the Muslims but to all of mankind, and especially to the countries of this region, their security and their stability. Clearly, airstrikes alone are in sufficient, and there is no choice... but to fight [ISIS] on the ground with a coalition of armies, like the coalition that liberated Kuwait [in 1990] and expelled Saddam and his army from it.
"But the Americans, who are leading the [present] coalition, do not want to recognize this. U.S. President Obama is reluctant to send in any ground troops, for various reasons. Instead, he is trying to support the Iraqi military, arm it and train it. At the same time he is looking for a political solution to the civil war in Syria. But clearly, the Iraqi army, which is fragmented and exhausted, morally weak and ethnically divided, will not meet this difficult task, at least not in the foreseeable future...
"There is no solution but a ground war, not only in Syria and Iraq, but also in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and in every place where the Salafi-jihadi movement is present and its culture has spread... True, a ground campaign is costly, financially and politically, but the world will no doubt be forced to undertake it, just as it once had to fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan... In my opinion, evading a ground war would be a pointless waste of time and a stubborn [attempt to] cling to illusions. Today it has been clearly demonstrated that an airstrike campaign will not achieve what is required in order to defend the world and the countries of the region from this dark plague, which [purports to] speak in the name of religion..."