In Selected Opinion

By Aleteia

Disconcerting news about ISIS was recently published. First, it was alleged that ISIS used chemical weapons against the Kurds in Syria. Second, that it had gained control of an important city in eastern Libya. It appears that almost nothing can stop the spread of this criminal organization in Iraq, Syria, northern Sinai and Libya. 

How can this be? Why hasn’t the West been successful in stopping an enemy that it has regarded as a threat that provokes a very real fear?

The answers can be defined in two parts: Turkey and weakness.

With regards to Turkey: ISIS is engaged in export and import operations, all of which are going through Turkey. They are able to export oil, which is its primary source of income; and they are importing fighters and volunteers who are arriving from locations throughout the world through Turkey. This is occurring in a way that is not all too surprising. Turkey, which is a member of NATO, is overtly assisting a declared enemy of the alliance.

The objective of Turkey’s opportunistic policy is to allow ISIS to suppress the Kurds;however, the reality is that its broader interests could be endangered. It is true that after ISIS recently attacked Kurdish targets inside Turkey Ankara allowed American planes to use its bases against ISIS. However, even this insignificant, though generous gesture cannot change its fundamental policy, which remains problematic.     

The second and no less amazing factor is the West’s practical weakness. From a military standpoint, ISIS is a tractable enemy. It is not a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda whose operatives hide amongst the civilian population. Discussions about ISIS usually include topics such as how they are a real army with wide-scale operations, having leaders, equipment and whose fighters drive around in broad daylight in cars thumbing their noses at authorities.

A good example of the nature of the operations that ISIS is performing is the occupation of Ramadi in Iraq a few weeks ago. This is a large city located in a strategically important location on the banks of the Tigris River and the main road between Baghdad and Amman. Thousands of ISIS fighters are driving close to the city in broad daylight in cars, openly mocking the retreating Iraqi Army about how easily it was for them to take over the city. An enemy such as this would be easy meat for any Western army, who could easily locate these kinds of targets and attack them from the air. However, this has not happened because the West has yet to set up a system to deal with this threat decisively. Such a system could be built upon only two principles; both of which are relatively simple and without risk of involving Western ground troops. 

The first principle is to establish an integrated intelligence apparatus that is capable of defining targets in real-time. The way in which ISIS operates would make it easy to carry out intelligence operations of this kind. The second principle is to decide that attacking ISIS targets inside fragmented countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya (Egypt is a different matter) does not require any coordination with that country, but rather, they can automatically act unilaterally in an area where Western air power has superiority. The nexus between these two principles, defining targets and taking advantage of air superiority within a short time frame could lead to the defeat of ISIS in a relatively short period of time. 

The fight against ISIS is characterized, therefore, by Turkey’s political weakness on the one hand and by incomprehensible military negligence on the other. It is shameful that the West, with the United States at its forefront, is behaving with this kind of negligence. We hold out hope that we will awaken before ISIS begins to occupy Europe, because by then it will be too late.    


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