Today’s Guardian reports possibly the most pathetic and desultory news in the history of war: two British Tornado aircraft destroyed an ISIS pick-up truck. Two jets that cost $27 million each managed, between them, to blow up a battered Toyota pick-up truck, that ISIS probably scored for free but will probably cost a maximum of $5000 to replace. Fortunately the pilots of these two hyper-sophisticated jets made it back safely to their base in Cyprus without being shot down and beheaded. All in all, a good 6 hours’ work!
This story is so full of pathos and futility that it is hard to stop laughing. Is this our contribution to the protection of Kobani and the hundreds of Kurds fixing to die there? We fly two planes for six hours, and use a $50,000 bomb to blow up a pick-up truck? This is how the mighty West is going to stop ISIS from executing every Kurdish soldier in Kobani?
Media reports that hundreds of Kurdish Peshmerga have crossed the border into Syria to fight thousands of ISIS soldiers who have captured many villages in the area and are closing in on Kobani. Assuming those thousands are actually 1000, and that they are all in pick-up trucks, how many missions will the RAF have to fly and what will it cost? Sky news reports that the cost of operating one Tornado on one mission is 210,000 pounds, without dropping a bomb. A single paveway bomb costs 22,000 pounds. So for two Tornadoes to blow up one pick up truck cost 442,000 pounds. Of course, they might have dropped all four of their paveways, and two Brimstone missiles (105,000 each), destroying six pick-ups at a total cost of 708,000 pounds.
If we assume that those 1000 soldiers are all in pick-ups, and all the pick-ups have a weapon on, we could guess 4 dudes in the back (around the gun) and 2 dudes in the seats. Assuming that the Tornado hit the pick-up truck in tandem, that kills 6 men. With 6 men per truck you need about 150 trucks to get to Kobani, and at 6 trucks per mission (assuming full use of all those super-cool weapons) then you’re looking at 40 or so missions, minimum. That’s 28 million pounds to blow up 150 pick up trucks and kill 1000 ISIS soldiers. Of course this estimate is ludicrously optimistic, and if the report is to be believed (and previous reports in which the RAF flew 5 missions without finding a target) then probably it’s more likely that one mission= one pick-up truck, on average. So 150*444,000 pounds, or about 70 million pounds.
Of course, those pick-up trucks had weapons mounted on them. News reports suggest that ISIS captured 50 or so M198 Howitzers, which cost $500,000 each. If we assume that 10 of them are being used in Kobani then the attacks might cost them $5 million. So for 70 million pounds, we can degrade $5 million worth of weaponry and maybe $1 million worth of pick-up trucks. It appears that the RAF is flying a couple of missions a day, so even at its most optimistic this task will take 7 days (more like 10 or 20, assuming it’s possible at all). Will Kobani still be standing in 7 days’ time?
ISIS are rumoured to have $1 billion in reserve, and 30,000 soldiers. If they capture Kobani they will replenish all the pick-up trucks the RAF destroys (newsflash! pick-up trucks are ubiquitous, and Tornadoes are not). It’s probable that all those Kurdish fighters coming into Kobani are bringing weapons, probably heavy weapons supplied by the Australian army to the Kurds in Mosul. So ISIS will win back everything they lose without expending a cent of their savings. Once they’re in the city bombing them will be impossible. Meanwhile ISIS are said to be at the gates of Baghdad, even attacking a prison and the HQ of the Badr militia two weeks ago. It seems pretty obvious to me that air strikes are not working, troops on the ground are the only solution, and the Iraqi army is either sympathetic to ISIS, or not willing to stick around to be executed after they lose. So long as ISIS keep moving, and US and British air strikes are being launched from bases many hours’ flight away, it’s going to be impossible to seriously impede their combat ability. Two tornadoes fly out, locate a squad of ISIS trucks, blow up the best target, return home; three hours later two more Tornadoes turn up, but they have to look around to find the targets, because the trucks have moved. It appears that they frequently fail to find a target, and return without firing a shot. If air war is going to work, it is going to need close air support weapons – A10s and helicopters – but no one dares to deploy a helicopter near ISIS since they captured US anti-aircraft missiles, and the only country capable of deploying A10s in range, Turkey, was denied access to them. So we have high speed jets at the limit of their range scouring empty desert looking for pick-up trucks. This is how we are going to stop ISIS from killing a couple of thousand Kurdish men (and any civilians without the means to escape).
This is so pathetic. The journalists reporting on this intervention are so chuffed about all this hardware and blowing-up-stuff. My god, the Europeans even have a cruise missile named after a GI Joe character (Storm Shadow! What’s not to like?!) How can they not be devastating? But the sad fact is that ISIS have pick up trucks, and dudes with attitude. Spending a quarter of a million pounds to blow up a battered technical and a dude with attitude is not efficient. Nor is it going to help the people fighting those dudes. ISIS are fighting a classical war of movement, and given their numbers and the tools they’re using, it’s ridiculously inefficient to try and destroy them using modern air warfare. Boots on the ground, or go home!
The sad reality is that there’s nothing we in the West can do from afar to stop this monster. ISIS is the Middle East’s Khmer Rouge, and they have arisen from the same hellish swamp: just as the Khmer Rouge seized power violently in the aftermath of the US destruction of Cambodia, ISIS are seizing power violently in the aftermath of the mess created by the US in Iraq, and by the US and Europe in Syria. It’s an object lesson in failed states: create them, and the psychopaths will come. The best way to stop ISIS was to stop the second Iraq war, but our leaders (of all political stripes) were so stupid, vain and cruel that they thought the second Iraq war was a grand idea. ISIS is the brainchild of Tony Blair, John Howard and George Bush. They made it, and their inheritors cannot stop it unless they are wiling to expend the lives and blood of western soldiers that they were so loathe to shed in the past war. Of course that’s not going to happen, so instead they’ll spend millions of dollars blowing up pick-up trucks for a year, until they have trained a force of rebels who will enter Syria just to die. This is what our “civilized” society created, and what our leaders refuse to commit to fixing.
So what should Barack Obama do? I think he should take the $70 million required to defend Kobani, and invest it in a time machine. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have any idea how to build it, so long as the money is put down, and a law passed to guarantee a million bucks a year until the thing is made, everything will be fine. Eventually (maybe a thousand years from now), someone will finally make the time machine. Then the first thing they will do is go back in time and deliver the plans to Barack Obama, at the opening ceremony of the research project. Brilliant! Then someone can go forward in time far enough to get a mind control machine; then they can go back in time to 2003, and stop the second Iraq war. Then ISIS will never happen, and everyone will be happy.
Or we could spend $70 million blowing up second-hand Toyota pick-up trucks, at half a million bucks a pop. Which do you think is the more cost-effective strategy?