For the first time in over a year, we may be seeing a dim flicker at the end of the tunnel for eliminating Islamic terror. If it isn’t the beginning of the end, it is at least the end of the beginning.
To recap briefly, the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists (spinoffs from al-Qaeda) seized the opportunity from the civil war in Syria and the feeble Shia-led Iraqi administration to seize control of substantial portions of Iraq and Syria. In June 2014, the Islamic terrorists blew away the Iraqi army on which the United States had expended 10 years of training and tens of billions of dollars equipping.
It was a pathetic, demoralizing collapse—but also a “wake-up” call for the terrorists’ opponents. They seized some of Iraq’s largest cities (Mosul, Tikrit) and installed a regime of brutality unmatched in recent history with mass executions, public torture, and decapitation of dissidents/journalists/human rights officials, burning prisoners alive, and rape/forced marriage for captured women and girls.
Combined with ethnic cleansing of religious minorities, including particularly Christians, and destruction of historical structures, the threat to Western interests in the area was unprecedented.
Moreover, these Islamic fundamentalist terrorists metastasized. Although the most virulent events have been the two deadly attacks in Paris, there have also been deadly terror attacks throughout the Middle East/North Africa with connected events in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, and Yemen.
But attempting to suppress these groups is akin to swatting individual hornets while not burning out the hornets’ nest. Supposedly, anti-Daesh (also known as ISIS) forces have pushed the terrorists from 40 percent of their previous holdings and carefully designed attacks on oil facilities have weakened Daesh’s finances. But we need to hit harder. We should take the following actions:
End the nomenclature battle. As an indicator of the difficulty we have faced defeating ISIS, it has been almost ridiculous how we have grappled with naming it: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS); the “Islamic State”; and, most recently, “Daesh.” There are those who believe the Islamic terrorists don’t care for Daesh, so that is why the United States (at least) has elected to switch from the ISIL designation to Daesh.
Call spades, spades. Islam is not a “religion of peace.” Muhammad was a combat war leader, and no honest Muslim can gainsay that reality. Daesh wants to kill, cow, or castrate its “crusader” adversaries. We must meet them on their own terms; a dead terrorist is “peaceful.”
Recognize that Syria’s Assad will survive and Russia can help. The enemy of our enemy is our friend. Now Asssad’s survival is de facto guaranteed and rebel remnants being swept up, we should cooperate with Russia to focus on killing Daesh combat components.
Air is wonderful but troops on the ground win wars. The bombing missions the U.S. government and other coalition forces have directed against Daesh in Iraq and Syria have helped blunt Daesh’s expansion and killed thousands of individual militants and selected leaders, but are no substitute for trained combat troops to seize and hold territory. Our failure to retain a sizeable force (for example, 10,000 combat/support troops) in Iraq for continued training/support doubtless contributed to the 2014 Iraqi army collapse.
Bluntly, the way to defeat Daesh is with troops on the ground. Good troops from countries willing to accept casualties to eliminate this threat. In this regard:
- The U.S. has announced the 1,300-man core of an airborne brigade will deploy this spring to “support” Iraqi forces; we shall see what “support” really means.
- French President Holland declared that France was at war with Daesh, but so far combatants have been attack aircraft.
- The Saudis have offered ground forces, which is encouraging. We should be arming Kurds more extensively, upgrading/intensifying retraining the Iraqi forces, encouraging Turkish forces to engage in battle with more than words (and pressure them to back off—at least for the moment—their hate relationship with the Kurds).
It would not take much Western combat power: U.S. special forces/infantry brigade; a British brigade; French foreign legion troops; Russian Spetsnaz to stiffen Iraqi units and liberate Mosul quickly instead of the never-never timeframe Iraqis hypothesize.
Of course, the West can prevaricate and procrastinate. Ottawa is adroitly doing such by withdrawing F-18s from combat action (reducing its profile on Daesh’s hit list). Reversing the F-18 decision would send a cogent message to Daesh.
But defeating today’s Islamic terrorism is vital—despite the preferences of some world leaders to combat nebulous “global warming.”
David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn From Each Other.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.