Taking on the ISIS monster: Building a credible coalition

france-isisRepresentatives of over twenty countries, which are included in the anti-ISIS coalition, came together on Paris on June 2 to discuss their strategy of countering the terror outfit. They renewed commitments to remain “united, determined and focussed” in what was reemphasised to be a long fight against the Daesh (an acronym used for the ISIS by the Western media and detested by the group). The New York Times reported that the meeting made little progress with leaders blaming one another for the ineffectiveness of the coalition.
ISIS- the current situation
In a region fraught by festering conflicts, the ISIS has gained prominence amongst all terror outfits for their publicized barbarity, efficient propaganda (with immense social media presence) and the West’s inability to stop their swift acquisition of territory despite over sixty countries aiding anti-ISIS efforts in a US-led campaign. And while Secretary Kerry might downplay the ISIS’s influence by statements as the ISIS is “no more a state than I am a helicopter’, the truth remains that they are in control of a vast swathe of (oil rich) territory in Iraq and Syria, with the latest acquisition in May of the strategic city of Ramadi in Iraq (only 80 miles from Baghdad), and Tadmur along with the ancient ruins of Palmyra (included on the UNESCO World Heritage list), in Syria.

It seems that the strategy of no boots on the ground and conducting only air strikes to wipe out the ISIS is not working well, and the West and its allies are nowhere close to “eradicating a cancer like ISIS”, as was promised when President Obama outlined anti-ISIS strategy last year. The Iraqi prime minister said during the conference that advances made by the ISIS reflected “a failure on the part of the world” and warned that the ISIS was growing stronger – they allegedly control of 2300 US Humvees in Mosul alone, and have over 20,000 foreign fighters in their ranks.
The anti-ISIS coalition
The strategy of the US to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL” was to build a “strong coalition of regional and international partners who are willing to commit resources and will to this long-term endeavour”. While several countries came together in the US-led “global coalition to degrade and defeat ISIL”, in September last year, few have been directly involved in the airstrikes. The US has been providing logistical support and aerial surveillance as well as training the Iraqi forces to conduct the ground offensive, while refraining from any boots on the ground. Till February, about 2000 drone attacks had been carried out, and Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed that over 10,000 ISIS militants had been killed over the past nine months since the coalition efforts started. These numbers have to be taken with more than a pinch of salt, given that the category of ‘militants’ in insurgency and urban warfare is difficult to define, and even more difficult to confirm.
Missing Actors
Notable in their absence at the meeting were Russia, Syria and Iran (a close ally of Shiite Al-Abadi government), all key players in West Asian politics. Also absent was any representation from Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), whose Peshmerga forces have been fighting the ISIS terror relentlessly on the frontline. A strong statement criticising Iraqi government and the international community for not affording it due recognition was made by KRG.
The Iraqi prime minister said that Iraq needed more support on ground and stressed other countries had a duty to support it in its struggle against ISIS. Also, he mentioned that sanctions should be lifted from Iran and Russia so that Iraq could buy necessary weapons from them.
West Asian politics is multi-pronged, with several games being played simultaneously. A political and diplomatic solution needs to precede and follow up on a military one, as is the need to resolve political situations in Syria, and a multitude of unstable states, which provide safe haven for terror outfits. Thus, military, diplomacy and politics all need to come together for a humanitarian solution to counter the crisis sparked  by the rise of The Islamic State.

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