How do we defeat Islamic State?

Baghdad, Aden, Brussels, Jakarta, Istanbul, Paris.  It is a sad litany of names all united in tragedy: they are all cities touched by Terrorism; they have all been successfully targeted by Islamic State.  It is an organisation which has killed almost 50,000 individuals throughout the Middle East and beyond.  Its European, African and Asian activities show a terrorist network which is expanding further and further beyond this area.   Despite the efforts of the international community, despite all of our victories the terrorists are still getting through, still spreading their message of hate, still causing the death of countless numbers.

A key part of the Islamic State machine is its use of Propaganda, from video to social media and beyond. It is how it recruits new members, maintains a political presence and enacts terrorist acts. We cannot simply close down every site or video which they use, as barring the use of media by individuals in the region would stop others in the region from expressing their legitimate opinions.  We must use their methods against them, posting interrogations of captured suspects, illustrating the methods we use to combat their followers. Every defeat of Islamic State must be broadcast on every channel in the region using every media. Illegitimate organisations such as the hacker collective Anonymous have voiced their intention to target Islamic State, most recently in the wake of the Brussels attacks. It is these organisations which should be brought into the fight, be it legitimately or covertly, we can use their skills to remove the ability of Islamic State to broadcast its message of hate or recruit new followers. These organisations can do this effectively without the wider need to cut off legitimate media in the region.

Islamic State purports the idea that it is an organisation engaged in warfare with the western powers only, as it supports its message of Anti-Semitism against non Muslims. The coalition of powers engaged in attacks against them, collectively known as Operation Inherent Resolve has over 30 countries 8 of which are in the region affected and are predominantly Muslim. This should be highlighted and used in propaganda against Islamic State to sabotage their assertion that it is only the Christian nations who are against them. At home in the nations affected and those not affected by terrorist acts, there must be a concerted effort to recruit and support the Muslim community and the local tribes in the combat area. It is these individuals who will stop the beginning of terrorism and fight Islamic State on their own territory. Radicalisation begins at home and will end when the communities themselves take responsibility for their members. We need to show that they are the exception to the rule, not the rule itself.

A propaganda war must be supported by a concerted international effort to combat the territorial and political gains made by Islamic State.  An invasion force, made up of predominantly western nations would ultimately prove counterproductive and replicate the same conditions which allowed Islamic State to flourish in the first place. That being said western intervention is inevitable, however it must be restricted to a support capacity only. The local nations must be seen to be spearheading the efforts; else Islamic State will use its propaganda machine to turn the region against coalition forces.

The two key countries to this effort are Syria and Russia. Syria, a country torn apart by civil war and one of the two areas where Islamic State predominantly operate (the other being Iraq) has recently called a cease fire between rebels and the Al Assad regime.  Russian support and political pressure was crucial in making this ceasefire a reality. It is the Russian government which can effectively use its influence over the Assad regime to secure a peaceful transition to alternative government. Assad is a war criminal, guilty of many crimes against his own people and he must answer for them in front of the international community, but great care must be taken in when this transition takes place. A transition which occurs too fast could result in an unstable government replacing a stable one as was witnessed in Iraq upon the transfer of power from the coalition to civilian government. It may be necessary to leave him in power for the moment, but place significant restrictions in place to prevent him from abusing his people as he has done previously. There must be a timetable for the transition of power to occur and this can be achieved by engaging and unifying the legitimate opposition groups in the Syrian political system. Leaving Assad in power for a limited time would conceivably be a workable scenario for the Russian federation as it continues its international political rehabilitation after the Ukraine crisis.  A stabilised Syrian government could turn its attention to eliminating those terrorist elements from their country, chief among them being Islamic State.

As stated previously, Russian involvement was integral in bringing the Syrian civil war to an end but the need for Russia to be involved goes much deeper than that. Russia with its 16 million Muslims has a vested interest in stopping Islamic State and terrorist attacks on its citizens have been met with retaliatory strikes against targets in Syria and Iraq. Russian influence on Syria and Iran can have the effect of concentrating the efforts of these countries in eradicating the extremists.  Its inclusion in Operation Inherent Resolve would bring it into an alliance of co-operation with many countries that it has become estranged from, particularly the USA.  Drawing Russia back into the fold would enable the other coalition partners to impose a crucial distinction on their future strikes, stopping them from attacking legitimate opposition groups in Syria.

One thing is abundantly clear, the international community can do more than it is doing.  The predominantly regional conflict is isolated and it is easier to do less to address a problem when it is not on your doorstep. Additionally Islamic State is like no other terrorist organisation in history, operating without borders or centralised country. What this needs is a leader or a nation to take the lead and make it their primary concern.  Many leaders cannot because of their own provincial concerns/ responsibilities but all it would take is one to lead the way and galvanise international action.

There is no magic bullet that will end the conflict against Islamic State. What is set out here is one potential blueprint. A difficult and uncertain path lies ahead for the World as they tackle this threat. One thing is a given though, we will face this threat together.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

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