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As airstrikes continue, how intense has the Syria campaign been so far?

The U.S. has continued to strike the Islamic State at various headquarters in Syria, but how intense has the campaign been so far? And what's next? Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    To try to give you an overall picture of the situation on the battlefield throughout Iraq and Syria, we're joined now from Washington by Anthony Cordesman. He is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and was the Director of the Intelligence Assessment in the Office of Secretary of Defense.

    So let's start in Northeastern Syria, where the U.S. has been striking Islamic State positions near its headquarters in Raqqua and where intense fighting has occurred this week between Kurdish forces and ISIS in Kobane, near the Turkish border. What's the latest from Syria?

  • ANTHONY CORDESMAN:

    Well, actually the number of the strikes has been relatively limited. This is not as yet an intensive air campaign — probably around 250 strikes, and a little over 40 cruise missiles.

    The area in Turkish border is a particularly troubled area, because the Islamic State is pushing hard to essentially push the Syrian Kurds out of the area to take control of the border areas with Turkey. That gives them leverage over Turkey — it's pushing out an opponent which had been allied with the Iraqi Kurds.

    At the same time there have been strikes inside Syria which have attacked key command posts, refineries the economic lifelines to the Islamic State. But these are still early days. It's not yet an intensive or sustainable campaign that is going to make a critical difference.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    How about the situation in Northern Iraq? A lot of Americans are familiar with the rescue operation that we participated in to try to help the yazidis get out of the Sinjar mountain area. But ISIS still controls Mosoul and much of that region.

  • ANTHONY CORDESMAN:

    No one has suggested at any point in the administration or in the U.S. Joint Chiefs that these airstrikes are going to drive the Islamic State out of Northern and Western Iraq. So far the airstrikes, when they've been successful in Iraq, have largely been close air support, support really helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces that were threatened by Islamic State.

    There only have been two very minor attempts that are counter-offensive to drive inside the areas occupied Islamic State, and both of these have really failed. And in areas where there've been some gains in holdings the offensives, you still see the Islamic State finds other ways to go on the offensive in other towns and places.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    ISIS also controls several cities within 50 miles of Baghdad, and this week, we heard new reports about their fighters defeating Iraqi government troops even closer to the capital. So my question is: Is Baghdad itself in any danger?

  • ANTHONY CORDESMAN:

    Most of what we're seeing are attacks of small towns along the river that were held by small isolated Iraqi army garrisons; some of these had 400, some of them had 800 people. They are not in the Shiite areas. They are not in the urban areas and Baghdad. They are not dealing with the larger Iraqi forces.

    But it is disturbing that these have been gains that are to the West, to some extent, to the immediate south and a few areas to the Bagdad. Yes, they are still in rural areas, but in each case, whether it's been a push against the Iraqi forces, they haven't been supplied areas or attempts to relieve them under pressure haven't work. They appealed support from Iraqi forces; they've been given all kinds of promises, and nothing has been delivered. And this reflects a much broader issue.

    The U.S.'s assessments are that there are about 26 brigades– that's a large force — still left in the Iraqi forces. It's also that about half of those are sectarians; they are Shiites. They are not really supporting the national forces, or they're simply not militarily effective. And virtually all of the others are going to require advisory support, arms supplies, better command of control to be effective.

    So yes, we're holding, but the airstrike are not really quibbling Islamic State in any meaningful way.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Anthony Cordesman joining us from Washington. Thanks so much.

  • ANTHONY CORDESMAN:

    My pleasure.

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