IS faces a confused, divided foe

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Geopolitical Notes From India

M D Nalapat

THE most recent attack on innocent bystanders in London was a replay of what took place a year ago in France, when a vehicle was used as the weapon of choice for the terrorist. Almost certainly, the individual involved was infected with the toxic command now being blared out in abundance by IS (Daesh). This is for those individuals believing in the so-called “Caliphate” of IS to work out for themselves ways in which they can take as many innocents with them as possible before losing their own lives to security personnel.
Several times during 2014-15,this columnist has pointed out that should IS manage to hold on to the territories administered by them (in Syria and Iraq principally) even in 2017, the menace posed by IS would metastasis to a level that would affect cities across the world, including in the member-states of the NATO alliance. Between 2017 and 2019, such incidents would accelerate to reach a level of danger such as is being experienced every day in Israel. That NATO is a military alliance that is presently of scant value in fighting non-conventional threats has been demonstrated by the fact that it has yet to ensure the removal of IS from the extensive territories controlled by Abubakr Al Baghdadi’s forces in Syria and Iraq.
Indeed, the turning point in the war against IS occurred only after the Russian Federation entered the conflict on the side of Bashar Al Assad. Of course, the Fake News machinery within NATO has been endlessly repeating the untruth that Assad is in fact an ally of Daesh, when in fact, the benefactors of that terror machine are those in Ankara, Doha, Paris and other militarily aligned capitals who have since 2011 been funding, training and equipping “moderate” fighters that are in fact a camouflaged offshoot of Al Baghdadi’s men. It is this policy of feeding the very hand that is biting it that is most responsible for the failure of NATO to take back territory from IS, a setback somewhat made good by Iranian, Syrian and Kurdish fighters in battle against Al Baghdadi.
The danger of metastasis of IS mandates a unity of all those opposed to the terror group, and yet the forces in battle against Daesh are disunited and (in the case of NATO) confused. It may be recalled that soon after terror mastermind Abubakr Al Baghdadi declared the launch of the IS “caliphate”, these columns pointed to the potential impact on young minds of such a declaration. Given the dissatisfaction with established governance systems in several parts of the world, including the anger of sections of the population at their governments in some European Union countries as well, the promise of a new “caliphate” (itself a term that generates substantial emotion in many) was certain to have a magnetic force that would ensure a growing supply of terror fighters.
A call to war in the name of faith almost always has a strong appeal, a fact witnessed most explicitly during the 1980s war in Afghanistan between forces loyal to Moscow and others responding to commands from Washington. Governments, especially those that rely on a perception of ruthless strength, are at risk of having their public support getting hollowed out should a severe military setback takes place. In such a context, the confusion and disunity witnessed since the 2014 annoiting of Al Bagdadi as the IS Caliph is disheartening, in that defeat in the ongoing war against IS will not only reduce confidence in the ability of the international community to secure their population against terror networks but also result in repeated IS attacks across the globe. This would have a deleterious effect on economic conditions. Any outcome other than a complete elimination of the physical threat from IS would constitute a defeat for those countries that are militarily active against the scourge.
Had the threat from Al Baghdadi and his squads been taken seriously in 2014 itself by the US and its NATO partners in particular, Daesh would not have been able to establish its rule over large parts of Iraq and Syria, a situation which continues to the present. Till now, no effort seems to have been made to establish the origins of the vast sums of cash spent by IS to ensure the effective surrender of several units of the Iraqi army. Interestingly, the commanders who were bribed into surrendering were almost without exception those given commands through pressure from NATO on the government in Baghdad. Which is perhaps why they have yet not been accountable for their cowardly action, a deed that resulted in the massacre of thousands of the soldiers under the command of such rogue officers.
Why did NATO commanders explicitly push for the induction and promotion of many of the officers who ran away from the battlefield during 2014 and on less frequent occasions even in 2015? Not only such rogue officers but those who acted as their patrons need to be brought to account, if militaries are to get cleansed of terror supporters and their dupes. In particular, the sources of cash in the hands of IS need to be identified and prosecuted as part of the terror machine. Those who give money, weapons and training to elements of IS need to be identified and punished, so that they stop and also, others do not follow their toxic example. The IS toxin has spread, but not yet to the catastrophic levels that will be reached were the organisation be enabled by errors in tactics by its foes to retain its hold on territory beyond the year. There are competing agendas within the complex of countries that are militarily challenging Daesh, and this needs to change.
The single agenda needs to be the elimination of Daesh control over territory, so that the perception of success that the organization still has gets reversed. Separate and conflicting agendas lead to confusion that can prove fatal in a conflict with an enemy that has the potential to be an atomised but deadly threat to everyday life across the globe. The confusion and lack of unity seen so far in the war against ISIS needs to be replaced by a unity of purpose and the adoption of strategies that steadily constrict the degrees of freedom enjoyed by Al Baghdadi and those who follow him. Else the tragedy of London, of Paris, of Brussels, will get repeated with increasing force and frequency in the years just ahead.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
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