The Islamic State (IS) has created a country bigger than Britain by stealing land from Syria and Iraq, then ethnically cleansing non Sunnis. Much as Israel created a country by stealing land from Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, then ethnically cleansing non Jews. IS has made publicity videos of beheading two American journalists and a British aid worker. Much as Israel recently deliberately killed 17 journalists and several UN workers in Gaza. The USA and UK governments are now very angry, yet they didn’t get at all angry when thousands of Syrians and Iraqis were killed by IS. The hypocrisy and double standards are incredible.
Now the Western media is winding us all up to go to war with IS to extract our revenge. They are being idiotic, this is exactly what IS want and it is why they made those videos. They want the West to suffer another Vietnam or Afghanistan, a long war costing billions in money and thousands of lives that can only, ultimately, be lost.
It is comparatively easy for the West to establish and maintain air superiority over IS. In Iraq the government has no option but to give permission. In Syria the Israelis are already striking targets when it suits them. But to sustain attacks would mean degrading Syria’s Russian equipped integrated air defence system, which would be a tough nut to crack, they have already shot down one Turkish Phantom. But we can do it, much as we did to Iraq during the two Gulf Wars.
The assets we (mainly the USA) can bring to bear to attack from the air are formidable. Without risking our lives we have drones with very small missiles and cruise missiles when we want to make a big bang. In Iraq just now we are using carrier based F-18s, but these have limited payload and range. The USA have very powerful close air support assets (CAS) that would be very useful, AH-64 helicopters, A-10 and AC-130 attack aircraft and B-52 bombers dropping smart bombs from high altitude designated by assets lower down, such as special forces and drones. Lots of toys for the armchair generals to dream about.
But what would our air assets blow up? IS are the government, they live in the community, their fighters occupy accommodation vacated by ethnically cleansed Christians, Shias and other opponents. So if we start trying to attack them in the towns we will kill a lot more civilians than we do fighters. As Israel has just discovered in Gaza. And IS would love this, lots of videos of dismembered children murdered by American taxpayers. So IS are only a target when they are fighting in the open, but the reality is that there is not much of this. They tend to do a bit of suicide bombing to soften up a place, then advance at very high speed in Toyota pick up trucks to take the place unopposed. All over very quickly. So very difficult to react to.
The reality is that the only way to take IS on would be with boots on the ground. Mainly asymmetrical urban warfare. This is what they want, it is what they are experts at, they would fill a lot of body bags with their opponents. Also who would provide those boots on the ground? The Peshmerga are currently fighting IS in the bit of Northern Iraq that they see as a Kurdish homeland, they won’t advance beyond this. The highly sectarian and oppressive Iraqi government is not welcome in the Sunni areas of North Iraq, which is why IS had such spectacular victories. The new “coalition” Iraqi government has a long way to go to win hearts and minds, never mind actually taking territory. In Syria the only force we can possibly back is the Free Syrian Army (FSA) but they are at a very low ebb and will take a long time to build back up. So in both Iraq and Syria, even if everything goes perfectly well for opponents of IS, it will take years to defeat them. But it won’t go perfectly well and IS are very well armed, have lots of money and formidable and battle hardened fighters. The West should not put boots on the ground (except for special forces) because public opinion will not sustain another long and bloody campaign.
So how did we get here? Blair and Bush obviously destabilised the region with their silly adventures. The West’s refusal to support the FSA a year ago because of Ed Miliband’s political machinations was an immense failure, utterly stupid. The action of Mossad and the CIA throughout the area, over decades, to weaken all the countries who might possibly oppose Israel leads to a lot of Middle East conflicts. IS is the child of Western meddling.
So what can we do? Firstly settle in for a long war. Secondly give all the political and military support we can to the local providers of boots on the ground, the Peshmerga, Iraqi government and the FSA. Thirdly establish a no fly zone (NFZ) over IS, much as we did over Iraq between 1991 and 2003. Within that no fly zone we should supply CAS to the boots on the ground, nothing more.
From a British perspective the RAF is not very well equipped for CAS. We have retired our Harriers and Jaguars and many of our Tornadoes, our Typhoon has the potential but we haven’t built up its capability enough for the job. The British Army has lots of AH-64 Apache helicopters but these are low and slow so make good targets for shoulder launched missiles (MANPADs) which IS have. Also 24/7 cover will be needed which makes helicopters very expensive. It is a great pity that we don’t have a couple of squadrons of A-10 Warthogs. The tool for the job.