The war on ISIS: How effective can Jordan be in its vow to ‘wipe out’ terror group?

Read the Full Transcript


    We turn now to our continuing series of conversations about the war on ISIS.

    This week brought more news in that fight. On Monday, the Islamic militant group released a video showing the killing of a Jordanian pilot held captive since December. ISIS also claimed that Kayla Jean Mueller, an American woman it had also been holding, was killed in a Jordanian airstrike.

    And, today, John Allen, the retired Marine Corps general who heads the U.S.-led coalition fight against ISIS, had this to say:


    International Coalition Coordinator: ISIL is at an entirely different level than al-Qaida was. It's better organized. Its command-and-control is better.


    To help us analyze these developments, we are joined from Washington, D.C., by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Cordesman previously served in the State Department and was the director of intelligence assessment in the office of the secretary of defense.

    Mr. Cordesman, I would like to start with Jordan, where there has been significant action, first the execution of two members of ISIS, and, of course, King Abdullah saying that he will continue to use his military until — quote — "they run out of fuel and bullets."

    Please, tell me, what is Jordan's capacity in this manner to fight ISIS?

    ANTHONY CORDESMAN, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy, Center For Strategic International Studies: Well, it's very effective air force. It flies the F-16.

    It has modern air-to-surface ordnance. It can carry out precision strikes. And it has the capability to get targeting information from U.S. intelligence capabilities. And targeting is absolutely critical to this kind of operation. So, when Jordan commits a large number of aircraft, it really does mean something.


    Tell me why targeting is critical.


    Well, one of the problems you have at any time is, when you have a dispersed nonstate actor, a force that doesn't wear uniforms, that doesn't need a lot of heavy military equipment, you need very advanced intelligence assets to know where they are.

    And then you also need to know, if you are going to strike at them, you're not going to strike at civilians. Your target is really going to be the enemy. There also is the problem of, how do you locate the most important targets? And that requires the kind of satellite data, the kind of intelligence collection capability that really only the United States can provide.


    Knowing where the leadership is, do we know, how do we know, and, if we don't, how do we find out?


    We use a process which some people call fusion.

    You're not relying simply on things like unmanned aerial vehicles. You're not relying on photo or imagery satellites or any other one indicator alone. You're looking for patterns. You're looking for a slip, when they send a message they shouldn't send. You're tracking movements in and out.

    And you're tying these together in near real time, so you can provide the targeting data for aircraft or for these unmanned combat aerial vehicles.


    I can remember being in a background session with a military analyst who once said about al-Qaida that you can't think of it the way you think of an army. You have to think of it as a movement.

    Is ISIS the same?


    I think it's always difficult to describe. It's not a regular fighting force.

    But, unlike terrorist groups, it can fight. And it could defeat the Iraqi army. So, it is somewhere in between an army and a terrorist force.


    We talked about Jordan's effectiveness. How about other players in the region?


    Well, at this point in time, when it comes down to the threats that the Islamic State, or ISIS, faces, it's largely airpower.

    You have some good air forces. It isn't just Jordan. It is the United Arab Emirates. Most of the Arab forces are quite capable. Certainly, our NATO allies, forces like Australia, are very effective. But the key problems are that the Iraqi army is still very weak. It has not recovered from the dictatorship or almost dictatorship of Maliki.

    It's going to require at least months more before it can have even limited offensive capability. When we come to Syria — and we need to remember a lot of the fighting is there — the fact is that it isn't just the Islamic State. The force that defeated the rebels that we had backed most and shipped arms to was the al-Nusra Front, which is allied to al-Qaida.

    And almost all of the movements now that are rebel movements that are active in the field have some kind of Islamist character. So, the problem there is, it isn't just the al-Nusra Front. It's both the rebels and, to some extent, of course, the Assad forces. It's not just one threat we're dealing with.


    Anthony Cordesman, thank you so much for your analysis.


    A pleasure.

Listen to this Segment