UPDATE – 18 April 2016: The bombing campaign against the so-called “Islamic State” is coming up to its two-year anniversary. Pentagon officials are claiming the campaign has been a huge success, with over 25,000 militants killed and IS’s effective fighting force at its lowest numbers in two years.
It’s true that IS has been losing territory in both Iraq and Syria, and the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga are preparing a major offensive against Mosul. However, IS has also been exploiting the chaos in Libya to expand its operations there, and has been conducting a series of brutal terrorist operations in Belgium, France, Turkey, Tunisia, Yemen, and elsewhere. Almost two years on, has the bombing campaign against IS been effective? What will it take to stop them completely?
ORIGINAL – 23 June 2015: More than eight months have passed since airstrikes began against the so-called “Islamic State”. Over 6,000 targets in Iraq and Syria have been bombed by a coalition of regional and international partners, including the United States, Great Britain, France and the Netherlands.
Despite advances made by Kurdish forces in Syria, it’s difficult to gauge the success of the campaign against the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (variously known by the acronyms ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh). “Islamic State” now reportedly controls half of Syria, after seizing the historic city of Palmyra in recent weeks. It still hold Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and occupies more than half of Anbar province in Western Iraq (last month adding Ramadi, the provincial capital, to its gains).
We had a comment sent in from Les saying he fully supports coalition airstrikes as a way to stop what he calls “ISIL terrorists”… but how effective is the bombing campaign in its objectives?
To get a response, we recently attended an event in Brussels hosted by our partner think tank, Friends of Europe, looking at a comprehensive solution to the rise of the so-called “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria. At the event, we had the chance to speak to Jamal Al-Dhari, President of the Peace Ambassadors for Iraq NGO and a senior Iraqi tribal leader. What was his opinion about the airstrikes?
It’s impossible to win the war against Daesh with airstrikes, especially if these airstrikes take place in civilian areas. Because, on the ground, Daesh is actually mixing together with civilians. So, in fact, these airstrikes are actually helping to recruit people to Daesh, because the families of civilians killed in the bombing campaign want revenge.
So, how can support for Islamic State be undermined, both regionally and internationally? According to recent UN estimates, more than 25,000 foreign terrorist fighters have left their countries to fight, the overwhelming majority of them travelling to join groups in Iraq and Syria, as well as in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen. Of these groups, Islamic State currently attracts the biggest share of foreign fighters.
We had a comment from Maia, arguing that Islamic State was particularly effective in the propaganda war online, using social networks and video sharing sites to promote its agenda.
We asked Doug Frantz, the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, to respond to Maia’s comment. How can European governments more effectively counter the narrative from Islamic State?
Finally, we spoke to Paul Hamill, Director of Strategy and Communications for the American Security Project, a non-profit public policy and research organisation based in Washington D.C. How would he respond to Les‘ comment arguing in support of the bombing campaign against Islamic State?
We also had a comment sent in by Belinda, arguing in favour of stronger intervention from Western countries in the region. Did Paul Hamill believe that “boots on the ground” may be necessary to stabilise the situation in Syria and / or Iraq? Or would it be completely counter-productive?
What will it take to stop the rise of the so-called “Islamic State”? And what are the security risks to Europe, including the threat of returning fighters? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!