Opinion: US and allies need to rethink strategy against IS

BY TAI CHISHAKWE - OCTOBER 2, 2014

It's depressing that the US and her allies fighting the Islamic State (IS) – formerly called the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL), and other Jihadist militants in Iraq and Syria are showing that they have no clue as to what they are doing in the Middle East – despite an obvious vast advantage in 21st century military hardware and technology. If you have been following the developments in the Middle East, you would know that IS, in particular, has continued to make significant territorial gains under the shadow of round-the-clock bombardment by the US and its coalition partners.

In the early hours of Thursday, Reuters reported that IS militants took control of most of the western town of Hit in Anbar province in Iraq.

On Wednesday, reports suggested that IS fighters two kilometres away from overrunning the Syrian Kurdish town of Ayn al-Arab, which locals call Kobane, two weeks after Islamic State fighters began their assault. This is after multiple US air strikes on Tuesday.

US-led airstrikes against militant positions inside Syria began last week while in Iraq, its warplanes and drones have been pummelling IS positions since mid-August - but, admittedly, are failing to dent morale in the jihadist terror group.

On Wednesday, the US defence department said it could not "bomb the militants into obscurity".

"No one should be lulled into a false sense of security by accurate air strikes," the department's spokesman, John Kirby, said.

"We will not, we cannot bomb them into obscurity."

On the psychological front

IS also seems to be winning the hearts and minds of extremists in the Muslim world and even in such non-Muslim countries as Australia and India – and bombs won’t be able to fall on this front.

Here, the US needs to come up with a concrete and effective plan.

Observers have noted an increase in IS appeal beyond the Middle East to as far as Australia and have warned that even if the US and  her allies would  manage to destroy the Jihadists in Syria and Iraq, it  would only enhance the legitimacy of the militant group.

For example, IS popularity has burgeoned among some groups in Mali. There, Abu Othman, a former member of the Islamist group Ansar Dine, or ‘Defenders of the Faith’ in Arabic, explained the appeal: The group's aggression was simply payback for past oppression against Muslims.

While the Pakistani government denies that the IS has made inroads into the nuclear-armed country, we recall that it is Pakistan that previously denied the presence of  Al Qaeda leaders within its borders until one Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces on a compound just outside of its capital.

Analysts have said that Pakistan is fertile territory for the IS and other jihadist groups – especially Al Qaeda sympathizers looking to reassert their previous glory (or notoriety).

In Pakistan, some are slapping pro-Islamic State bumper stickers on their cars and writing chalk graffiti on walls exhorting young people to join the terrorist group.

Battles for control between Al Qaeda and IS, if it were to come to that, could worsen the sectarian violence already being waged between Pakistan and non-Muslim India.

Still in August, the death of IS fighter Arif Ejaz Majeed, a Muslim civil engineering student from suburban Mumbai, raised eyebrows in India. In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, around 24 Indian Muslims were photographed wearing pro-Islamic State T-shirts while in the northern state of Srinagar, masked youths were filmed waving Islamic State flags.

While Australia plans to ban its citizens from traveling to Islamic State-controlled territories, like Raqqa in northern Syria, for European countries, it’s a bit late as hundreds (if not thousands of their own citizens) are suspected to have joined and are fighting in Syria and Iraq on side of IS.

In eastern Mali, an IS-affiliated group called the ‘Soldiers of the Caliphate in the Land of Algeria’ has reportedly taken over much of that country’s Gao province, inflicting severe punishments for breaches of the Quran, like drinking alcohol. It those militants that beheaded a French tourist in Algeria last month after France refused to halt its participation in US-led airstrikes against the group in Iraq.

Dilemma

UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria, said one raid on a grain silo in Manbij, in Aleppo province, left several civilians dead.

Civilian casualties (especially Sunni civilian causalities) may further destroy what the US is trying to achieve by destroying the IS.

It is from the disgruntled Sunni tribes, who were alienated from the political scene in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, that IS got its start-up support.

Need for a better strategy

The US and her allies probably need to go back to the drawing board if they are to defeat IS and other future jihadists who might be taking notes from its successes. 

Night and day bombardment is obviosuly not working and will not give the West the results it needs. 

US President Barack Obama has also reiterated that he won't be sending US soldiers to Iraq or Syria to fight IS - but in a conflict how do you secure territory gained when you are perched high up in the skies?

The plan, reportedly, is to have the Iraq and Kurdish armies in Iraq and the moderate Free Syrian Army in Syria takeover territory after the demise of IS. Only that we recall that it is from these same armies and rebels that IS took territory and advanced US weaponry early this year.

Photo caption: TECH ADVANTAGE... The US' newest advanced fighter jet which saw combat for the first time during the US-led attacks against Islamic militants inside Syria. The F-22 Raptor, developed over nine years for US$67 billion - one of the most expensive in Pentagon history, should be an obvious advantage in the fight against IS who are continuing to gain more territory in its shadow.