The Bold Voice of J&K

In fight against IS, failure no option

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Announcing a new Afghanistan-Pakistan policy, President Barack Obama of the United States of America said on 27th March, 2009, “So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in future. That’s the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you.”
If the straws afloat in the wind tell anything, these goals are most unlikely to have been achieved when the US withdraws the bulk of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of the current year. One, therefore, should not be surprised if a strong feeling of déjà vu came upon one on hearing President Obama say on 10th September with reference to the Islamic State, erstwhile Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, “We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq”, adding, “This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
Not surprisingly, nations in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa allied with the United States did not respond very enthusiastically to his plan of military action against the ISIS-selective air-strikes in Syria and Iraq, training of anti-Government Syrian rebels hostile to the IS and deployment of a limited number of troops on the ground principally in advisory and training roles. Underneath their vow in a joint communiqué “to do their share” in fighting the IS and expression of support to the broad strategy, there was, as reported in The New York Times datelined 11th September, a “tone of reluctance”. The report added that leading allies like Egypt, Jordan and Turkey all found “ways on Thursday to avoid specific commitments to President Obama’s expanded military campaign against Sunni extremists.”
It is not just the US’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan without its goals even remotely achieved – which must have raised the question whether it would stay the course in Syria and Iraq as well – that accounted for the reservations. Its withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 had left several of these states deeply uneasy and wondering whether it had not thrown Baghdad to the devil. Besides, memories of the ‘Arab spring’, and the United States’ abandonment of a staunch, long-time ally, Hosni Mubarak, have raised questions about its dependability, the blots on Mubarak’s escutcheon notwithstanding. This is particularly since quite a few allies of the US had far worse records and continued to be blessed by it, with no less a person than the legendary President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reportedly saying with respect to the then Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Samoza, “He may be an SOB but he’s our SOB.”
There is also widespread scepticism about the US’s political wisdom throughout the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, where people watched aghast as the so-called Arab Spring, displaying the clear imprimatur of US endorsement and perhaps even sponsorship, plunged large tracts of the region into turmoil. The resultant misgivings are worsened by the serious contradictions in Washington’s policies in the region, the prime one being the effort to destabilise Bashar al-Assad’s Government in Syria and accelerating the reinforcement of forces opposed to him while fighting the IS, which is also its mortal enemy. The Assad Government’s eager expression of support to the US, the latter’s policies notwithstanding, in its anti-IS campaign, has given an enhanced salience to the issue.
People wondering about the matter have a point. If FD Roosevelt and Winston Churchill could shelve their and their countries’ intensely hostile attitude toward Stalin and Russia, and join in a common alliance to fight Nazism and Fascism, there is no reason why the Americans and the British should continue to treat Assad, who is both secular and modern, as an untouchable.
Islamist fundamentalism is certainly as, if not more, vicious than Hitler and Mussolini’s creed-and-practice. The relevance of the matter becomes further clear from considering the very serious difficulties of harmonising simultaneous attempts to fight both Assad and the IS.
This is a very critical matter, as anti-Assad forces in Syria favoured by US and the West, are incapable of coping with the IS. Apart from the defeats they have suffered at the latter’s hands, the superiority of the latter was clear demonstrated by the IS’s capture on 24th August of the Tabqa airbase in northern Syria which they had failed to do despite repeated attempts.
One gets a clear idea of the magnitude of the task on the ground on considering the contours of the US’s strategy as it stands so far, particularly of not deploying any significant number of ground troops. While air-strikes – which are going to be the staple of American action – can and have caused substantial damage and casualties, infantry and armour alone can evict their counterparts among the enemy from the latter’s positions or occupy the territory vacated by them. Thus, while Assad’s Air Force has been taking a heavy toll of IS men on the ground, he does not have the infantry to throw them out.
The question of ground troops can hardly be ignored since the Arab countries have shown a marked disinclination to deploy theirs, and have offered to conduct air-strikes instead. As indicated by its pathetic performance against the IS, the Iraqi Army is in a mess. Initially savaged by George Bush’s invasion of 2003, its recovery was halted by the policy of keeping out, as far as possible, officers who had served in senior positions during Saddam Hussein’s rule. It was further undermined by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s policy of promoting servile loyal officers and sidelining competent ones. The Pesh Merga (those who face death) troops lack the kind of sophisticated weapons the IS has.

Hiranmay Karlekar

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