The United States is back at doing what it does best; bombing enemies. The United States and five Arab allies launched an extensive air campaign against the Islamic State (IS) positions in Raqqa, Syria. As the fight against IS begins in earnest, we need to ask two questions: Firstly, what actual strategy exists behind opaque terms such as “degrade and ultimately destroy IS”? Secondly, by choosing to bomb targets in Syria, how will the US deal with the thorny Assad question?

Rudimentary military sense, and past experiences in Afghanistan, Yemen and North Waziristan tell us quite clearly that bombing insurgents is of little avail. It can destroy their compounds, ammunition and hideouts, but the militants and their control over the land remains intact. A physical presence on the ground is needed to root out hidden militants and insure future safety. Mr Obama is adamant to not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor; he has ruled out a full scale US invasion, instead he hopes to delegate this work to a revitalised Iraqi army, a rearmed Kurdish force, and other smaller groups that oppose IS. It is nice and simple on paper – devilishly complex on the ground. Help from Tehran has been rejected. The Kurds have little appetite for war other than securing their own territory. Looking at the abject failure of the Iraqi army at Mosul, how much of a fight can be expected from them? Assuming that the Iraqi forces dislodge IS’s tanks, artillery and conventional troops, dealing with insurgency is a completely different paradigm. Without a long-term policy articulated, can Iraqi forces hold the fort alone? Even if the IS is hounded out of Iraq, it can fall back to its safe havens in Syria. However Saturday’s airstrikes on the Turkish-Syria border have sent a strong message from the US and the refugee Kurdish population seems supportive.

Which brings us to Assad. Without Syrian consent or a UNSC resolution; any intervention in Syria will break International Law. However the law regarding ‘clinical airstrikes’ is under flux, under the rubric of ‘Self-Defence’, unilateral drone campaigns in Yemen and Pakistan have been tolerated to an extent. Yet, Russia is already bristling up, calling the strikes a severe breach of international law. How will the Russian-backed Assad respond? No conclusive statement can be made. The coalition may mange to destroy the IS’s tanks and armoured Humvees, but it can’t defeat them.