By Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- U.S. air campaign in Iraq is expected to continue for some time, with no endgame in sight as Iraq battles advancing Islamic extremists.
Fighters from the Sunni group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have in recent months swept through the country's north, beheading victims while taking territory in an orgy of violence, and have vowed to attack the national capital city of Baghdad.
In a bid to thwart ISIL and prevent the group from eventually launching an attack on the United States, Washington on Friday conducted its first airstrikes against the militants, followed by additional strikes over the weekend.
President Barack Obama said it may be some time before the air campaign concludes. "I don't think we're going to solve this problem in a few weeks," he told reporters in Washington on Saturday.
Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East Intelligence Office, echoed those sentiments, telling Xinhua it would take quite a long time for Iraq's government and the Kurdish forces to recover vast swaths of territory lost to the militants.
Although the Kurds have sufficient weapons to fight back effectively against ISIL forces, the past week has shown they do not have the required resolve. As with some other infantry units in past conflicts, the Kurds seem to want airpower to severely degrade or cause local enemy withdrawals before retaking territory.
Farther south, "Iraqi" forces -- now a mixture of Iraqi Army and various Shiite militia elements -- are even less coherent. It is their lack of determination rather than any major ISIL military advantage that has led to a series of victories by the militants, White said.
At present, U.S. airstrikes are functioning more as a stopgap aimed at only hitting ISIL forces -- especially their heavy weaponry -- in spots where they pose an especially serious threat.
This does not constitute a major air campaign aimed at weakening the militants' military capabilities overall. In fact, a more sweeping air campaign now might be of little value in terms of recovering a lot of territory because neither Iraqi government forces nor the Kurds are in a position to follow up on the ground in any large-scale fashion, White said.
Indeed, experts said air strikes without a ground contingent would not be very effective, and that air power would have to be accompanied by Iraqi forces ready to stand and fight. Without a partner on the ground, many airstrikes could be carried out against ISIL without stopping its advance.
U.S. forces launched airstrikes on Friday in northern Iraq aimed at thwarting the killing of Yazidi minorities by the militants. U.S. forces also undertook humanitarian airdrops there over the weekend in a bid to get much-needed aid to members of the Yazidi religious minority, who are trapped by the militants on a mountain near the Syrian border.