Western imprint in IS

It is now being reported that after fierce fighting, the Kurdish forces have managed to push back the Islamic State (IS) fighters from the Syrian city of Kobane, seizing which would have given the IS jihadists full control of a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border. 

Expressing his deep concern about the people of Kobane, the US Secretary of State John Kerry has suggested that “horrific as it is to watch the violence, it is important to keep in mind the US strategic objective” – which, he added, was to deprive IS of command-and-control centres and the infrastructure to carry out attacks.” And with that aim, the air strikes are likely to be intensified in the coming days. The IS has seized large parts of both Iraq and Syria, up 

to the Turkish border causing grave concerns in the Middle East and beyond. IS, led by fanatic Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has demonstrated its brutality with the beheading of four Western hostages in Syria and broadcasting the murders in videos. Meanwhile, Pentagon is arguing that the battle against IS was “going to be a long, difficult struggle not solved by military power alone” and that it was a reality that “other towns and villages - and perhaps Kobane - will be taken by IS.”

Last month, the British Parliament voted to authorise the Royal Air Force air strikes against IS in Iraq, at the invitation of the Iraqi government. And now, the British government is not ruling out participating in air strikes against the IS in Syria, and would consider it if the US requested assistance though it would need further parliamentary approval in order to target IS in Syria. 

More than 500 British nationals, besides those from France and Germany, have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight on behalf of IS and other militant groups and earlier this week, British security forces arrested four men in London as part of an investigation into Islamist-related terrorism. These men are suspected of plotting "significant" attack in UK with alleged links to Syria terror group IS.

The emergence of IS (also known as ISIL and ISIS) and its philosophy of violence, terror and extremism has provoked widespread abhorrence and condemnation. In their assessment of the threat it poses, western leaders have pulled no punches in their rhetoric. Echoing US President Barack Obama, who described IS as a ‘network of death’, British Prime Minister David Cameron has denounced it as a ‘poisonous narrative of extremism’. 

West Asia, terror hub

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has raised the spectre of swathes of the West Asia becoming a ‘haven for international terrorism’ with ominous implications for British national security.

Indeed, with British nationals travelling abroad to fight in Syria and Iraq, the risk of the return home of potentially radicalised jihadis was directly responsible for the recent decision to raise the official international terrorism threat level from substantial to severe.  The British government has also said that the UK has ‘no choice’ but to join the US-led coalition formed to ‘degrade and destroy’ IS. In a hastily convened vote last month, the UK Parliament delivered a massive majority for the government’s position. 

For a movement that at the beginning of the year barely attracted a mention in parliament and virtually no media coverage and which, as President Obama has acknowledged, received scant and dismissive attention in intelligence assessments, IS has come a long way very fast.

A series of grisly videotapes portraying the murders of innocent Western hostages has propelled it from nowhere to being the object of what western political leaders now call a ‘generational struggle’ and ‘an evil against which the whole world must unite.’ Almost overnight, the narrative that a decade’s worth of high-intensity and immensely costly Western military engagement in Iraq had left behind a stable polity, a capable military and a severely depleted terrorist threat has been shattered. 

As the events have moved with unprecedented ferocity in the last few months, the call to arms has been almost irresistible. There has been little space for those seeking to raise questions about whether another round of western rhetoric, decision-making and deployment on almost identical lines as took place after 9/11 represents an intelligent way forward. Nonetheless, some important questions are now being raised. 

Does the West have an accurate understanding of events in the region? What is the likely impact of another Western intervention? Is the West playing into the hands of the IS? Are the means appropriate to the ends and what exactly are those ends? If the west is now readying itself to engage militarily in the region for another generation, what are the metrics of progress and of success? Is the West better protecting its lives and minimising the terrorist threat? Or radicalising a new generation of external and domestic jihadis and risking the creation of a 'jihad generation' in the west?

 Does the West have adequate legislative tools to combat IS at home? Does the Western domestic security structures, built up over so many years, still have shortcomings?  And finally, what can Western political leaders tell us about the latest intervention that makes it more likely to deliver a more benign outcome than the experience of the past decade? 

Unless these key questions are answered, the Western military intervention, primarily involving air strikes, is unlikely to yield the results the West wants. The Middle East is passing through a critical phase and it is the responsibility of external powers to tread carefully.

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