The Obama administration's top coordinator for its campaign against the Islamic State indicated on Wednesday that it may still take many months or even years before coalition forces can begin destroying the Islamic State.
The administration's plan to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the terrorist group appears to have two main parts, as the broad description suggests. The first part is U.S. airstrikes, which have been happening for weeks now against vehicles, infrastructure and other targets the that group controls.
John Allen, the U.S. special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State group, declined to say when Syrian ground forces might be trained up and ready to fight the Islamic State. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
But the "destroy" part of the plan appears to rest on the development of local ground forces in Syria, forces that so far don't exist. The plan is to build and train those forces in Syria, large chunks of which are controlled by the Islamic State, and have them push back against the group that is also known as ISIL or ISIS.
The military has admitted that this phase of the campaign will require ground forces, and so far has said U.S. ground forces won't be involved. But in a Wednesday briefing, General John Allen, the special envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, dodged a question about when Syrian forces might be ready.
"At this point, the intent of the coalition is to build a coherence to the Free Syrian Army elements that will give it the capacity and credibility over time to be able to make its weight felt on the battlefield against ISIL," he said. "It's going to require the build phase, it's going to require a training and equipping phase."
Allen said the coalition wants the moderate Syrian opposition to also create a "coherent political superstructure" that will give them political power to back up their military force. But that process could take a while, if it's possible at all, given that these moderate forces are also fighting the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad.
"It's not going to happen immediately," Allen admitted. "We're working to establish the training sites now, and we'll ultimately go through a vetting process and begin to bring the trainers and the fighters in to begin to build that force out."
Last week, Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby admitted that without ground forces, U.S. airstrikes will have a very limited effect against the Islamic State.
"The ground forces that matter the most are indigenous ground forces," he said. "And we don't have a willing, capable, effective partner on the ground inside Syria right now."
Kirby also admitted that until a ground force is up and running, airstrikes might not be enough to save towns like Kobani, a town on the border between Syria and Turkey. Additionally, Kirby said airstrikes alone won't be able to regain territory already lost to the Islamic State.