THE ISLAMIC STATE : AN UPDATE – US vs THE IS
BY BRIGADIER AJIT NAIR (Retired)
In one of the most significant developments in the Middle East in recent years, a Coalition led by the US, carried out air strikes against “Islamic State” targets in Syria, on Monday, 22nd Sept. Game-changing, it may be called – because the Coalition consisted of five Sunni Arab Countries, apart from the only Western power – the US. They were Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. A remarkable diplomatic achievement by the US. Apart from Qatar, who was in a supportive role, the other four actually participated in the attacks. This is an unprecedented move and it sends a powerful message to the Islamic State, the Arab nations and to the entire World. That the Islamic State is illegitimate and a misnomer – it is neither Islamic nor a State, and more importantly – not representative of Arabs or of Muslims. In days and weeks to come, this message will reverberate across Islamic communities and Countries across the World, especially because of the involvement of Saudi Arabia – the home of Islam.The scale of these attacks was also unprecedented in this ongoing War, starting with 40 Tomahawk Cruise missiles, followed by the first ever use of the most advanced fighter aircraft ever, the F-22 Raptor, with the third wave being dominated by the Coalition partners. The targets were diverse – Islamic State HQs (Raqqa), training camps, logistics and communications centres, barracks and the Raqqa oil-fields, apart from armoured and other vehicles. The US (and France) carried out about 190 attacks over four weeks in Iraq – this single night had as many. While Raqqa was the focus of the attacks, other Syrian cities like Deir Ezzor, Al Hasakah and Abu Kamal were also hit, stretching from Aleppo in the West to Raqqa on the Euphrates. The War against the Islamic State has now well and truly begun. And according to the Pentagon it was just the “beginning of a sustained campaign” which could go on for years. And maybe eventually, some “boots on the ground” (whose?) – although hotly denied by the US.
Another significant attack was against the Khorasan, an Al Qaeda splinter group (this attack was by the US only) in an area just East of Aleppo. So who are the Khorasan and why are they important ? They are a break-away Group of the Al Qaeda, who were based in the Pakistani tribal areas, who shifted to Syria recently. They consist of veteran Al Qaeda fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Their Aim is to attack the US and Europe. The historical region of Khorasan comprises parts of present-day Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in prehistoric and early Islamic times, hence their name. And according to the US – “ an attack in Europe or the Homeland was imminent”. Another major danger of the Khorasan is their attempt to recruit Western IS fighters – to carry out attacks in their respective home Country. Considering there now about 15,000 fighters from US, Europe, the Russian Federation, India and Islamic Countries, this is a serious threat. No visas required, just a plane ticket.
So Who Didn’t Fight? The two biggest Countries in the region – Turkey and Egypt. Why ? Turkey – possibly because 49 of their Diplomats (including wives and children), were captives in Mosul. They were released on 21st Sept, and hence they were not included in the planning and execution of the attacks of 22nd Sept. They are now willing – according to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, their Prime Minister and must form a crucial part of any future plans. Egypt, who are suffering Islamic pangs, because of their recent political events, decided to stay out. Britain and France, natural members of any US led coalition also didn’t participate. Why ? David Cameroon didn’t find political consensus and the French didn’t get an invitation from Syria (which they got from Iraq) !! A valid point by the French, because the strikes in Iraqi territory had legal sanction, while the ones in Syria did not. In fact, Syria was not involved in the co-ordination, merely informed via the UN.
What’s the Future?
Now that the seriousness of intentions of the US and Arab coalition partners against the Islamic State is clear, this is a long-term fight to the finish. And with very little support from across the world, (except for young committed fighters from just about everywhere), the Islamic State’s days are numbered. Stuck in a limited geographical area, their ability to hide tanks and Artillery is limited. Any Military-like actions against either Iraq or Syria are ruled out and only guerrilla operations are possible.
The sudden influx of two lakh Syrian Kurds into Turkey, on the day of the attacks was either fortuitous or part of the plan. It reduced the chances of collateral damage and now prevents the IS from hiding themselves or their military hardware within a civilian population. The return of the Turkish diplomats (a secret deal or ransom?) also cleared the way for Turkish participation. And this is important. Democratic Turkey has an Islamist Party in power and Turkish actions will have sanction from the people. It suits Turkey to vanquish the IS, so that Kurdish refugees can return to Syria.
The fight against the IS must continue, at different levels. Financial sanctions, reclaiming the Islamic space from the fundamentalists, a ban on weapons reaching them and making it difficult for fighters to reach or leave Syria/Iraq.
Finally, the US insistence on arming the Free Syrian Army (Sunni rebels) and removing Assad is a debatable decision. The removal of any Dictator is a laudable aim, but it could plunge Syria into a huge Sectarian crisis. We saw it happening in Iraq, Egypt and Libya. And it is a moot point if all the foreign fighters have migrated to the ranks of the IS or are still fighting alongside the rebels. Arming them would be disastrous. Apparently, the Arab world is not yet ready for Western style Democracy. If they could reform and embrace globalization, like China has done, the glories of its civilization, respect and pride would similarly surely return. This is something they steadfastly refuse to do. That is the root of the problem that the World is grappling with.
President Obama addressed the Nation (and the World). You can watch the address at http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/09/23/watch-live-obama-delivers-a-statement-on-air-strikes-in-syria/. (Strangely this 41 minute video doesn’t start until 36.45 – so just FF uptil then).
President Obama’s Address to the UN was also seminal and gripping. The guy can really speak well. This may well have been his best speech ever. No issues evaded, no problems skipped, solutions clearly articulated – albeit at a philosophical level. Hard-hitting words, spoken with candour and appearing to come from the heart. It helps, that he has a Muslim father and step-father. His harsh words against Muslims were taken at face value. Bush or Clinton wouldn’t have had such an impact.