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War with Isis: to Defeat the Jihadists the West Needs a Local Ally
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The aftermath of terrorist attacks such as the massacre in Paris are a bad time to produce new policies, but they provide ideal political conditions for a government to take radical, if ill-thought-out, initiatives. Leaders are carried away by a heady sense of empowerment as a worried or frightened public demands that something be done in response to calamity and to prevent it happening again. The moment of greatest risk is not when the bombs explode or the guns fire, but when governments react to these atrocities.

Terrorism is, in the first instance, aimed at showing defiance, exacting revenge and demonstrating strength. But, to be truly successful, it needs to provoke a poorly considered overreaction by those targeted. This has always been true. The greatest success of the 9/11 hijackers was not destroying the World Trade Center, but tempting the US government into launching wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in which it failed to achieve its ends and which are still going on.

Britain blundered into the Afghan and Iraq wars behind the Americans and blundered out again without much idea of what it was doing there, aside from showing solidarity with its ally. Debate in Britain over military intervention in Syria against Isis is a bit better informed than it was over Iraq or Afghanistan, but there is almost the same ignorance about the battlefield we are about to enter. Of course, Britain’s proposed military contribution in Syria would be minimal, but putting one toe in a snake pit could be as dangerous as jumping into the middle of it.

One commentator described the conflict in Syria as being like three-dimensional chess played by nine players and with no known rules. He might have added that Iraq is even worse. But, at one level, it is not difficult to understand the dilemma facing the US, Britain, France and other Western powers launching air strikes to degrade and eliminate Isis. They know that more than 8,000 air strikes by the US-led coalition against the self-declared caliphate since last year have failed to contain it, as has been horribly demonstrated in Ankara, Beirut, Baghdad, Sinai and Paris. They know that there are limitations on what air power alone can achieve unless it is in partnership with an effective military force on the ground.

Those who seriously propose “boots on the ground”, the horrible cliché that suggests the introduction of American, British or French ground troops, have evidently not been reading the news for the past 15 years or noticed what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. In any case, public opinion in the US and Britain is unlikely to let their leaders send any more expeditionary forces to the Middle East. More likely is the use of drones and special forces to assassinate Isis leaders, whose demise, going by past experience, will do nothing to weaken the movement as a whole. The main purpose of these killings and tales of derring-do is to add substance to the pretence that something effective is being done.

If the Western powers are not going to provide ground troops and air strikes alone are not working, there is obviously a necessity for a local ally. But here there is a political problem. The largest military force fighting IS in Syria is the Syrian army, as the former British chief of general staff Baron Richards pointed out last week. It is overstretched, but it has at least four effective combat divisions. It has always been a myth that it has not been fighting Isis as is proven by the horror films posted by the jihadists on YouTube, showing captive Syrian soldiers having their heads cut off. But the US has studiously avoided attacking Isis from the air if it is fighting the Syrian army because it is frightened of being accused of helping President Bashar al-Assad to stay in power.

The beginning of the Russian air campaign in support of the Syrian army on 30 September has tipped the military balance against Isis, al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, the three al-Qaeda-type groups dominating the armed resistance. But it is still too early to say how far it has tipped it. The Syrian army has suffered 47,000 killed in action and its paramilitary forces lost a further 31,000 over the past four years, leaving it exhausted and fought out.

Russian support has raised morale but its previous weaknesses remain, so it is unclear if it could win a major victory such as capturing the opposition-held half of Aleppo. The Syrian Kurds have been the US air forces’ favourite ally, but there are limits to what they can do outside Kurdish-majority territory.

In Iraq, Isis’s position may be stronger and its enemies weaker than they look. The Iraqi-Kurdish victory at Sinjar took advantage of a heavy bombardment by US aircraft on a small city that Isis did not try to defend with a large force. The Iraqi army has never recovered from last year’s defeats and is less attractive for recruits than the three big Shia militias: Badr Organisation, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah. These paramilitaries are highly esteemed by the Shia majority, but they have failed to dislodge Isis from Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad. Overall, authority is still draining away from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his dysfunctional government.


Nevertheless, the self-styled Islamic State is somewhat weaker than it was. Though air forces commonly exaggerate what they can achieve by bombing alone, this does not mean that it does not have an impact. Veteran soldiers may be able to sustain themselves against the material damage and prolonged psychological strain, but it will erode the level of popular support for Isis in areas it controls. Of course, for such a ruthless well-organised movement that has no plans to run for election, this may not matter. A less tangible but significant loss for Isis is that the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies, who may not have liked Isis but once saw it as a potent weapon against the Shia, are now much more cautious. Turkey is more active against Isis cells and the Syrian Kurds have closed half the Syrian-Turkish border to Isis volunteers. The progressive removal of old sanctuaries in Turkey is a serious loss for the jihadis.

There may also be a sense that Isis and al-Qaeda-type groups, whom Sunni rulers and their peoples may once have esteemed as victorious military vanguards of their communities, are proving a disaster for the Sunni in Iraq and Syria. The majority of the 3.2 million displaced people in Iraq are Sunni and so, too, are the four million Syrian refugees. Most come from opposition areas devastated by the Syrian government’s artillery and air force. The Sunni in Baghdad were driven into a few enclaves, mostly in the west of the city, in 2006-7. There is now no truly safe place for an Iraqi Sunni to escape to inside the country.

Isis is under pressure and the wave of terrorist attacks over the past few months are one sign of this, but it is by no means close to collapse. This will happen only when its many enemies are more united.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS, Syria 
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  1. Thirdeye says:

    ….which is why the West will not defeat the Jihadis. That horse left the barn, or rather the West forced that horse out of the barn, in 2011. The best the West can hope for is some indulgence from Putin for a face-saving exit through Russia’s influence over the 4+1 coalition. I wonder what Putin might ask in return.

    • Replies: @Jim Christian
  2. What’s going on in Syria doesn’t even matter. France, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and all the rest of them have saddled themselves with an enormous, toxic stew of Islamic terrorists (I know, I know, Not All Islamic Terrorists Are Like That, some of them mean well). Syria is a red herring, a smokescreen thrown up to “hide” from their citizens the fact that their governments have betrayed the trust held between governments and people; protect the country, the borders, our people. A massive, tragic failure has been committed with immigration. This was done with intentional if not overtly hostile intent to pollute those societies with third world immigrants.

    On the one hand all the world’s intellectuals demanding Western families curtail population and on the other allowing the third world to export THEIR overpopulation into Europe. Demanding in the aftermath of Paris, Hebdo and others that more Syrians of the sort that does murder must be imported raises the government intent to malicious. These people aren’t needed for labor (they’re primitives, they can’t do anything), they’re MEANT to pollute European society. Top it off, Obama, obviously-and-ever hostile to the U.S. interest is insisting the US bring in 65,000. Or 100,000. They run higher numbers in trial balloons by the day to see where the outrage begins.

    But make no mistake, in the US, in France, Germany, all the Euro-Union, the enemy is here and home, among the population. Clean that up first. Stop taking them in and not one more sortie and not one more bomb need be dropped because with the enemy already on your own soil, overseas actions, all of them, are useless. But these governments know all this. But their flocks do not and apparently, it’s working. Where after all are feminists by the hundreds of thousands demanding a stop to the importation of a true Rape Culture (See: Sweden for starters). Feminists need to seriously rethink their position on eliminating White Male Privilege and bringing in violent, Islamic multiculturalism.

    Take away all my privilege, make me more of an enemy than you already have, my notion will be not to fight them, but to JOIN them. What other incentive do I have to defend modern womanhood? I’m made out by my own society and feminism to be a bigger enemy as a white male in my own country, a country I defended in the military that now imports Islam that blows things up and kills people. Hell, under Islam, I might just get my so-called privilege back! Obviously I jest, but really, why SHOULD I give a damn? Honestly.

  3. Well, had those Muslim countries in the ME refrained from bombing American schools, hospitals, wedding parties and generally destroying our economy and infrastructure since the 80s, we wouldn’t have had a reason to send our Christian terrorists to attack their concert goers and restaurant patrons.

    Those ME countries are probably stupid enough to lay the blame for the terrorist attacks at our feet.

    “Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.”

    ― Peter Ustinov

  4. Rehmat says:

    9/11 was an insight job carried out with the help of Israeli Mossad. It’s Israel which benefitted the most from 9/11 – the same way it’s benefitting now from French and Malian terrorist attacks carried out at Rothschild-owned Charlie Hebdo magazine office, Jewish owned Paris Theatre and Jewish-owned Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali.

    On July 21, 2015, a frustrated US president Barack Obama couldn’t control his temper and spelled out the truth about the America’s invasion, occupation and destruction of Middle East’s oil-rich and most liberal country, Iraq for Israel.

    Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Pittsburgh via phone, Obama likened the US-Iran deal critics to the powerful neocons (mostly Jewish) in Bushes administration, who pushed US into Iraq War based on anti-Saddam lies.

    Obama said that the people who were “so quick to go to war” and who claimed that the war will take only a few months. The same people are now “chest beating” and popping off soundbites that don’t help the debate. He also said that instead of running into a military conflict with Iran, the US should only send troops to harm’s way as a last resort.

    Obama said that US-Iran deal opponents are running a $20 million campaign to kill the deal in the US Congress. He was referring to the campaign lead by Jewish group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, affiliated with Israel Lobby AIPAC.

  5. @Thirdeye

    Putin wants higher oil prices. He’s also desperate for more cold-weather oil exploration tech. An end to our meddling on his turf would be nice. And he wants to prop up Iran’s client, Iran being Putin’s new best friend-in-commerce. Putin should be careful not to step into the tar pit once more. In Afghanistan and his very own Muslim Disneyland, Chechnya, he has his neighborhood monsters as well.

    None of it matters to the West, we have our own problems on our own turf. There be monsters, they are armed and they are here. Syria? It matters not one iota, not anymore.

    It is a pity civilized first-world civilizations tolerate impudent savages. If we, this generation, followed the tenets of the WW2 generation, Islam would be a culture practiced only in Hell, as surely as Admiral Halsey, surveying the damage of Pearly Harbor, declared, roughly, “When this war is over, Japanese will be a language spoken only in Hell”. And they then proceeded to make it so, as they did in Germany. And yet we today, their children, dither. Pity. And shame on us.

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