Five reasons to keep boots off the ground in the fight against Islamic State – for now

Following the Paris terror attacks, senior political voices – alongside a growing popular movement – have called for Western combat

Following the Paris terror attacks, senior political voices – alongside a growing popular movement – have called for Western combat troops to be deployed in the fight against Islamic State (IS).

In the US, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain and senior committee member Lindsey Graham – who is also a presidential candidate – called for US troops to take the fight to IS. In a nationwide poll taken after the Paris attacks, 60% of those surveyed said they backed additional ground forces.

In the UK, a similar poll taken after the attacks found 59% in favour of direct military action if carried out alongside countries such as the US and France. The figure rose to 68 per cent if the UN sent troops to fight IS.

In Australia, the war of words over the deployment of troops is split within the ranks of the governing Coalition. The prime minister and former prime minister are leading the two opposing camps. According to a poll, Australians are similarly divided – 42 per cent are in favour and 45 per cent are opposed.

With such an even split among the public and political leaders, here are five reasons now is not the right time to be putting boots on the ground.

1. We don’t understand the difference between Sunni, Sufi, Salafi, Shafi’i and Shiite

Strategists, academics and policy commentators may be across the complexities of local Arab politics. However, most military commanders – who depend upon building local alliances within communities – can’t speak the language, don’t understand the political machinations and can be played for fools by local warlords or powerbrokers.

This challenge is exacerbated by many of the estimated 30,000 foreign fighters having married into the Syrian community. This has created an influential extended network of tribal and familial relations. It’s an environment fraught with danger for foreign commanders.

2. IS is not an army but a movement, which can only be defeated on the ‘Arab Street’

The continued references to Islamic State as neither Islamic nor a state has misdirected policy to treat it as a militant group that can be hunted down and killed. Accepting the Islamic element within IS shifts the strategy to countering an ideology.

The Iraqi and Jordanian governments, among others, have had considerable success in pushing back the propaganda and winning over their communities. Why risk this slow but steady progress by giving IS another propaganda platform – one that caters to widespread fears of foreign imperialism?

3. We must be careful not to play into IS propaganda

In response to the Paris attacks, IS released a statement criticising France for leading the “Crusader campaign”.

Central to IS propaganda is the idea of a final battle between the West and the armies of Islam – a narrative represented by the prominence of “end of times” propaganda, such as the naming of its monthly magazine, Dabiq.

Deploying troops to Syria would play into the prophecy and feed its propaganda. This would reinforce the view that God has foreseen the clash between the West and Islam and so future success is assured.

4. We’re not very good at what comes after the war

While Western militaries are well trained and resourced, the civilian arms tasked with rebuilding countries after conflict – the element so critical to sustaining peace after a war – are not as well established.

In the US, there are more military band members than there are diplomats. Whether it is Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina or East Timor, the West’s track record is chequered.

At the heart of the problem is the West’s penchant for recreating foreign societies in its own image, rather than undertaking the much more difficult and time-consuming task of supporting the strengthening of societies from the grassroots up.

5. We don’t have an end goal

While it us evident that IS is a cancer that needs to be eliminated, what happens when it is? Who fills the vacuum? Would eliminating IS simply create space for the rise of al-Qaeda affiliate group Jabhat al-Nusra?

The diplomatic and political environment is better than it was only a few months ago. Russia’s military involvement has brought it to the diplomatic table and after four years Saudi Arabia and Turkey are pushing their proxies towards closer collaboration. But more needs to be done before the conflict is ripe for peace and ready for foreign intervention.

The recent meeting of the International Syria Support Group agreed to support:

… a Syrian-led process that will, within a target of six months, establish credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance and set a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution.

Only once these processes are bedded down – including a robust ceasefire between opposition and government forces agreed – can we consider deploying troops.

What next?

These five points do not preclude military involvement in Syria. Rather, they suggest that now is not the right time. We should resist the knee-jerk reaction of deploying troops in response to terrorist attacks. Instead, we need to work to minimise the risks that these five challenges present.

As the diplomatic discussions led by the International Syria Support Group progress there will be clarity on who will fill the vacuum. More time will give Middle Eastern countries further successes in rebutting the theological arguments that attract sympathy on the Arab Street.

This time should be spent educating military commanders and preparing civilian groups, including government and non-government agencies, for their future roles in Syria.

The Conversation

Denis Dragovic, Honorary Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  1. You forgot the reason that we are putting our troops in great danger. If you wouldn’t want your son or daughter over there then don’t put others there. We need to learn from 2 world wars. It does not work.

  2. OK – lets sit back – do nothing – and accept Paris style Arabic Religion based attacks on innocent Aussies here in Australia !! 😢😢👎

    • So better to send innocent Aussies to get killed over there – never worked in the past so not likely to work in the present. You forget that these people have nothing to lose because they have already lost everything thanks to our invasion based on bullshit reasons in the past.

    • We have our bombing missions the same as USA, Russia and France that is all that can be done, no troops deployed to dangerous.

    • If you watch the news – the ISIL – Isis scumbags have built underground shelters – tunnels and are thus not affected by Air Strikes !! 😢👎👎

  3. I am not in that 42% we never seem to learn from the past, the rise of these terrorists came from boots on the ground in Iraq, it was not only an illegal war, there were no chemical weapons, it was unwinable war and Syria will be the same. These terrorists will just move to another country. They have no home base

    • Your so right Rosalind.we never seem to learn. We just alway seem to make things always write good posts.

    • Sadam did use chemical weapons on the Kurds to test their efficency, though they didn’t find any when our troops moved in. Does beg the question though where did he have them hidden?, certainly not in Iraq, someone somewhere has those chemical weapons.

    • I am of the opinion that we need to defeat the terrorism that ISIS and about 10 other groups promote…to WIN this war on terrorism will take new tehnology, not troops on the ground as cannon fodder…we’re better than that – we SHOULD of learned from the cannon fodder campeigns of the World Wars last centuary. Our best chance to WIN is to beat their premis for existing. ISIS and its fellow companions are winning the Media wars – and winning the terrorism (scaring the population to FEAR) by wide dispersal of CELLS of idiologs. I believe this WAR will take years to win and only then when we have a united front and maximum technologyu applications..

    • Even the Korean War was a failure, which left a deeply divided North and South. We don’t seem to have learnt anything since Vietnam either… 🙁

    • Agree Rosalind, Terrorists don’t have the numbers to win anything. Like all wars the propaganda stirs up the people. So how does an “army” get an advantage? Turn as many western countries or cultures against a religion or at least the doctrine.Therefore further alienating those peoples settled in those places. I’m a christian but not fanatical. I don’t accept that unfortunately demonising & condemning anyone of a particular calling is the answer. Though as previously eluded too one might gain an advantage. In closing I do absolutely condemn any acts of terrorism or the insanity of murdering the innocent .

    • No winners in vietnam either just returned soldiers spat on and ignored for twenty years before they were even allowed to march .Its political and religion beliefs that create the unrest and want control .

  4. I do not think 42% of us support that at all. Balderdash i say.

    • I know hundreds . On this post only a few weeks ago 99% of hundreds of posts were worried & thought it was a good idea, They were also worried the new PM thinks talking will solve it.

  5. No more troops on ground. Why put the troops lives at risk of being killed in a brutal way. I know it is horrible but the only way is bombing. Okay a few innocents will be killed, but how long is this going to go on. Hiroshima and Nagasaki stopped the War. No to atomic , but bombing.

  6. Ground attack alone does not work. It requires simultaneously ground, air and sea attacks! Not separate but altogether! We must as Nations stand together and fight this threat! To not be intimidated but clear and decisive – world peace is the full prize here!

    • Are you and your grandchildren going to fight? or do you just want to send other people’s family members to fight and die?

    • David James just thought that myself ,we have lost enough young men and women over the years. We have to trust ( which is a little hard ) the powers that be to decide the right thing to do . Also have to start to not believe what you hear or read and only half of what you see .

  7. Id like to know where that 42$ are? No one I know wants to see our soldiers involved in a way that is not in the defence of our own country and way of life.

  8. Richard Wegener – No we should not sit back and do nothing. But, as Rosalind Battles said, we do not seem to have learnt from our past mistakes. An alternative (to outright war) approach has to be found that will not cause the massive loss of innocent lives in those areas. I am not a politician/diplomat and would not presume to know the best way.

  9. Awful games being played….who knows if the papers we read are accurate….everyone has their own slant on others peoples mess

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