Opinion: Troops on the ground to fight the Islamic State? Don’t be ridiculous.

Harry Sawyer - New Writer

U.S. Army in Iraq | Image: DVIDSHUB

The recent attacks in Paris of the 13th of November with saw over 100 people dead have left International politics in a state of crisis. At this stage it is appropriate to quote Jeremy Corbyn who said:

“It’s vital at a time of such tragedy and outrage not to be drawn into responses which feed a cycle of violence and hatred”

Finding a solution to this senseless killing is an almost impossible job, but I firmly believe that proposing military revenge will not solve the issue, and will only serve to escalate the violence. As recently as June of 2015, there have been increased concerns that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, thinks the unthinkable, that groups such as ISIS can only be defeated by troops on the ground. In June 2015, as reported by The Daily Telegraph1 Cameron placed another 125 troops on the ground in Iraq bringing the total number of British troops fighting the Islamic State within Iraq to around 900. It is important to understand that the horrific acts caused by these terrorist organizations must not be ignored, but all it takes is to look back 10-12 years at both Iraq and Afghanistan to convey that troops on the ground will not defeat the Islamic State nor will it defeat terrorism in any region.

A military intervention into either Iraq, Syria or, frankly, any country within the Middle East would be a catastrophic mistake. The war in Iraq began in 2003, with George Bush saying that the invasion would be the front of the ‘War on Terror’. As reported by the Iraq Body Count Project, there are believed to be over 100,000 civilian deaths and it has been further calculated that total violent deaths including combatants has reached nearly 225,000, as a result of this, have we much to show for the invasion? Bush and Blair argued that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq and that peaceful methods of extraction of these weapons had not worked. However, there is strong evidence to suggest, which includes an interview with the head of the CIA’s post-war investigation of Iraq’s WMD which states “It was not a militarily significant capability that they were (Iraq), as a matter of national policy, hiding” As a result of the misguided assumptions the West had made about the Saddam’s supposed posession of WMD’s, the Western forces toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime and plunged Iraq into a future as a war-torn anarchic state which facilitated the unprecedented rapid growth in Islamic fundamentalism with groups such as Al-Qaeda and more recently the ISIS gaining Western attention with their acts of terrorism in both the UK and the USA. The plan for ‘nation rebuilding’ in Iraq has fundamentally failed which raises a further point against military intervention, I believe that politicians in this day and age do not have the competency to lead an intervention without that particular country falling into instability. Has the invasion crushed terrorism within the country? the answer is, quite frankly, a resounding ‘No’, I would argue it has created a breeding ground for such abhorrent organisations like the Islamic State. In fact, as recently as August 2015, ISIS has been able to hang onto key territories within Iraq and, as reported by Al-Jazeera they continue to ambush Iraqi soldiers when the opportunity arises. The War in Iraq should be enough evidence to convey that simply invading these countries with brute force will not stop Islamic Fundamentalism nor the wider threat of global terrorism. However, the War in Afghanistan serves to emphasise how futile troops on the ground really is.

US Marines storm one of Hussein's many palaces near Baghdad.
US Marines storm one of Hussein’s many palaces near Baghdad.

The key aims of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan were to dismantle Al-Qaeda, and to deny Afghanistan being a safe place of operations by removing the Taliban from power. 13 years later, once again, how much have the West effected terrorism within the region? Well, admittedly, Al-Qaeda have perhaps been weakened by such events as the death of Bin-Laden. However, a relatively new group – ISIS, have now taken over as being the leaders in the global jihadist movement. The former British Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, stated in March, 2012, that “British troops are in Afghanistan “to ensure that we do not again become victims to international terrorism…”. This view is even more astounding considering that since the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has been reported that terrorist attacks from countries such as Afghanistan have certainly increased since 9/11 and the subsequent ‘War on Terror’. This, I believe, is the crux of the problem. The West spends billions of pounds/dollars on fighting these undefinable terrorist organizations, and when it seems we are making traction in one area – Al-Qaeda, more groups seeming rise up – such as ISIS.

Mary Kaldor recognized the type of enemy we deal with is under the ‘New War’ category. That is to say that the line between civilian and soldier is very blurred. They use unorthodox and violent tactics such as women soldiers, child soldiers and randomly placed IED’s. They are an invisible enemy with no defined organization or structure. Now, some may say that the reports that have been published show that they are a semi-conventional army with at least 100 main battle tanks and such weapons as anti-air, howitzers, rocket launchers and even a tactical ballistic missile. As a result of this, people may be inclined to believe that this army would be crushed against Western forces, and this would be true, if IS were ignorant enough to actually fight against the West using conventional warfare, however, it is my belief based on the guerilla tactics primarily used against the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan, that IS would simply disappear.

The Islamic State will wage a war of repeatedly going after our men with IEDs / child soldiers. These tactics are noted by A Young as he states that it is important to understand “the underlying guerilla tactics… in determining international cooperation and response” when it comes to dealing with “insurgent action”. However, sending troops in shows, in my opinion, a complete lack of understanding in modern warfare. Terrorists like those in the Islamic State will use the same guerilla warfare that led to the complete shambles of both the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ultimately the ‘War on Terror’.

It is almost impossible to see a resolution to the question of Terrorism and Islamic Fundamentalism, as the conflict is so entrenched in complex divisions between factions such as Sunnis and Shias. However, the answer is not military intervention on the scale we have seen since the September 11 attacks. It is perhaps poignant that I am writing just after the anniversary of 9/11 with emotion in these times understandably wanting revenge on those that cause us the most personal grief. Although the attacks on 9/11 and those since are undoubtedly a tragedy, rational heads must prevail. Fighting an invisible enemy with no way of fully defeating them leads to prolonged, expensive and fatal wars which ultimately only anger those who see the West as being imperialist colonists who force Liberal ideals of democracy and individualism into a region where this is simply not their way of life. As Time reported “The group (ISIS) was, after all, spawned by the occupation of Iraq. Many of its leaders are veterans of the U.S. military prisons that turned out to double as universities for jihad.”8 Thus leading one to question any objective that politicians in both the USA and the UK lead us to believe. Lest we forget the horrific human rights abuses that were secretly carried out in camps such as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. It would be a fatal error for any troops en masse to invade either Syria or Iraq, as the distinction between soldier and citizen will quickly become blurred and not only will those innocent suffer the most, but it will inevitably lead to a radicalisation of those that were moderate before invasion.

British influence in the Middle East will lead to only more instability and chaos. The world is rightly outraged at the barbaric nature of terrorism, but it seems that countries such as Britain have very little idea on how to actually make a stand. Seemingly every solution – whether it be full on invasion (Iraq) or airstrikes (Libya) leads to countless revolutionary groups who fight among each other for control. With no end in sight, it does beg the question whether Islam, or more to the point, ideas of Wahhabism that organizations such as the Islamic State and countries such as Saudi Arabia purport, and the western world will ever be compatible, as I see it, these two behemoths of civilization can never truly, honestly, be compatible. Civitas recently stated “Two central concepts from traditional Islam—Shari‘a and jihad (Islamic Holy Law and Islamic Holy War or struggle) – have been revived and extended by modern Islamists in ways which are incompatible with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially with regard to equality before the law and equality between men and women.” which leaves the situation as being one with far longer term consequences than anyone realized when the rise of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism became so apparent in the latter stages of the Cold War and into the 21st Century.