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Analyst: West Cannot Win Prolonged Fight With Islamic State

  • Heather Murdock

Fighters with the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also called ISIS by some) wave flags as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Raqqa province, northern Syria, June 30, 2014.

Fighters with the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also called ISIS by some) wave flags as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Raqqa province, northern Syria, June 30, 2014.

European officials are expected to meet next month to try to tackle an almost impossible question: As aerial bombardments rain down on Islamic State targets, how do we prevent Islamic State fighters with European passports from going back to Europe and retaliating?

“What they really fear is again in line with all the ‘foreign fighter’ stories of people coming back and sort of using the ISIS support and the training or the experience they had in the Middle East to foster potential attacks here. I think that’s the concern," said Yan St. Pierre, the CEO of Berlin security firm MOSECON.

St. Pierre says Europe’s tight security systems may fend off attacks on the homeland that European Union officials warn are likely, but European symbols and people abroad are already targets.

In this still image from video published on the Internet on Sept. 24, 2014, by a group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah, or Soldiers of the Caliphate, members of the group stand behind French mountaineer Herve Gourdel just before beheading him.

In this still image from video published on the Internet on Sept. 24, 2014, by a group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah, or Soldiers of the Caliphate, members of the group stand behind French mountaineer Herve Gourdel just before beheading him.

Last week, a French tourist was beheaded in Algeria, after militants demanded that France stop participating in the bombardments of IS targets.

In the United States, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby says stopping the offensive against the Islamic State is not an option.

"It's going to take a serious effort by all involved. We do believe that we're talking about years here," Kirby said. " I can’t put an exact number on that but this is not something we are going to be doing within days or weeks or months."

But some Middle East analysts say that a years-long campaign will not defeat IS at all. It could even make the group stronger, according to the director of American Strategic Studies in Beirut Kamel Wazne.

“You cannot allow it to say, ‘This is going to take years.’ Taking years? Probably you will see more recruitment than you will see destruction for this terrorist infrastructure. You have to give a timeframe," noted Wazne, adding that the current military campaign is long overdue but still not nearly enough.

Wazne says bombing from the air will not defeat what are now believed to be tens of thousands of militants holding vast territories in Iraq and Syria with heavy weaponry.

“When you say you want to fight terrorism, you mean you have to fight terrorism. You have to come with all mighty power and fight it. And you have to fight it from the air and sometimes from the ground," he said.

According to Wazne, if the West doesn’t want to send ground forces, it needs to coordinate with the Syrian government to fight IS in Syria. President Barack Obama has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of committing acts of terrorism against his own people and openly supports moderate rebel groups inside Syria.

But the civil war in Syria has already become a regional battle and IS is threatening the borders of Turkey, Iran and Lebanon. Assad’s government, despite human rights violations, has an established infrastructure and institutions, and Wazne says it could be the only avenue to peace.

“They continue to underestimate that stopping the war in Syria and finding a political solution with the current government is probably the best option for stability and security in the region," he said.

But security inside Syria under Assad will not be lasting Wazne adds, if underlying causes of the insecurity-including crushing poverty and extremist ideologies-are not attacked with the same force as the coalition uses against the militants.

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