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Who Won the Battle of Sinjar?

Battle of Sinjar

Exactly who won the year-long battle of Sinjar (making, of course, the huge assumption that it is over)? Since the emergence of the Islamic State, one pattern has become increasingly clear: the more closely you look, the more difficult it appears to figure out which side is winning not just the war but even the individual battles.

The U.S. spokesman claimed the U.S. struck Sinjar 250 times in support of the Kurdish attack, killing a couple hundred people. If the best the U.S. air force can do is fewer than a single enemy casualty per aerial strike, then the cost-benefit ratio would suggest that Sinjar was an IS victory.

Alternatively, this evidence is consistent with the interpretation that there was no battle…because IS had departed before the attack began. If IS could conquer a city in the full light of global attention, commit massacres, drive out the population, and hold the city for months, but then give up the city with almost no casualties, then does it not sound as though the IS is very much in charge of the battlefield?

The end result of a year of fighting around Sinjar appears to be as follows:

  • IS destroyed the homeland of a sect it decided to attack, teaching all others on the sidelines a very nasty lesson;
  • IS then walked away from the mess at very low cost to itself, leaving its enemies with enormous fatalities and uncountable financial cost;
  • IS demonstrated impressive freedom of movement on the battlefield;
  • The forces of civilization, moderation, and economic development suffered a huge defeat;
  • IS meanwhile stands tall, rapidly recruiting from the globe’s many, many dissatisfied Muslims;
  • And, yes, the U.S. did show that if it concentrates enough high tech power in one tiny corner of the battlespace and has reliable local partners on the ground, it can A) persuade IS to undertake a tactical retreat and B) capture a ruined town (that it probably will not be able to hold).

If I wished to be pessimistic about the state of affairs, I would point out that the name “Sinjar” in the above analysis could be replaced with “Kobani” or “Ramadi” with hardly a comma shifted, but I am trying to see things positively, so, “Congratulations to the Kurds on their victory.”

Now, who is going to protect those Yazidi who remain alive while they restore their homeland, and how are the Yazidi and local Sunnis going to learn how to live together again?

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