You cannot fail to be moved by the human suffering in Iraq and Syria, you cannot fail to have a deeply emotional reaction to reports of ISIS beheading children because their parent refuse to convert to Islam and you certainly cannot fail to understand there are implications for standing on the sidelines with a note from mum.
What exactly is the British strategy remains unclear, the response so far has been a story of confusion, contradiction and what is beginning to look like a media dictated reluctance response mixed with a collection of soundbites about how important it all is.
The government were stung by losing the vote to arm moderate Syrian rebels, yes, the same moderate Syrian rebels that have joined ISIS in droves, and that has coloured recent responses.
Instead of leading, standing on principle, the British government is doing its usual shouting loudly and carrying a small stick act.
With the situation developing in Northern Iraq, especially Mount SInjar, the initial response was to air drop relief supplies from RAF C130 Hercules transport aircraft aided and abetted by 47 Air Despatch Squadron RLC.
On the subject of what next, the Prime Ministers spokeswoman said;
Our focus is on the humanitarian effort. We do think it is important that the Iraqi forces, including the Kurdish forces, are able to respond to ISIS and to tackle this crisis. So we will look at what options there are that might enable them to do that. But there have not been discussions, substantive discussions of that yet. There are certainly no decisions.
So that was ‘no bombing’
Andrew Robathon, a
big mouth helpful former minister told the Radio 4
We have to realise it is no good just sending aid. The real solution is to stop these people and hopefully allow the Iraqis and the Kurds to defeat them. There are many ways one could use military strikes – air strikes or the use of drones can be done fairly surgically without putting troops on the ground. We had our fingers pretty badly burnt in Iraq, as did the Americans. There is no appetite to have proper ground troops on the ground. However, the idea of a few observers perhaps directing air operations is a slightly different matter
Still no bombing, and certainly NO ‘boots on the ground’
Is that also be the first operational Voyager refuelling a C130?
After the first air drop the second was aborted due to an inability to locate a safe drop zone because of people on the ground it was announced a small detachment of Tornado GR.4 aircraft equipped with Rafael Litening III reconnaissance pods would be used to provide reconnaissance for the two C130J Hercules aircraft now flying out of RAF Akrotiri on 1,300 nautical mile round trips
Phil Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, said;
We are providing humanitarian assistance. This is not simple – getting it in is very challenging, getting people off that mountain is even more challenging – and the meeting we had this morning in Cobra looked at all the options available to us to step up our humanitarian support, including obtaining better situational awareness of what’s going on on the mountain, both to facilitate the air drops and to start planning how we are going to get people out
The images below shows them leaving the UK
And a video of a subsequent air drop, shot from a Tornado.
Still no bombing though.
We don’t envisage a combat role at the present time
An announcement on Chinooks followed soon after, then another on deployment of an RAF Rivet Joint SIGINT aircraft. There was also quibbling about whether we would supply weapons to Kurdish forces, first it was body armour and CIED equipment only, then it was ‘would look favourably’ on other requests.
Following that was a news release that 150 personnel from the Theatre Reserve Battalon in Cyprus, 2 Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, had been deployed to for 24 hours to Irbil in support of possible Chinook operations.
Not sure I think that talking about Rivet Joint deployment was necessarily a good idea but there are pros and cons.
With the immediate humanitarian crisis under some form of control thoughts now turn to ‘what next’
Writing the Telegraph, David Cameron warned of a generational struggle against radical Islam
We are in the middle of a generational struggle against a poisonous and extremist ideology which I believe we will be fighting for the rest of my political lifetime
We face in ISIL a new threat that is single-minded, determined and unflinching in pursuit of its objectives.
Even today it has the ancient city of Aleppo firmly within its sights. And it boasts of its designs on Jordan and Lebanon, and right up to the Turkish border. If it succeeded we would be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member
The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home. Nor is it a problem that should be defined by a war 10 years ago. It is our concern here and now
If these warped and barbaric extremists are not dealt with now, they will create a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean. Because if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain. We already know that it has the murderous intent.
An uncompromising assessment of the threat and risk of doing nothing so presumably, one would have thought, given we are in a generational struggle hear and now against a murderous threat, the UK military would be going all in to defeat them.
After the new Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, warned that the UK could be involved for;
Weeks and months
David Cameron quickly responded;
We are not going to be putting boots on the ground. We are not going to be sending in the British Army
The Prime Minister is now facing pressure to recall parliament, recent recalls included Syria, the death of Margaret Thatcher and civil disturbances.
But he has a holiday in Cornwall to attend to.
We should separate the immediate humanitarian assistance mission and that of destroying ISIS.
What is needed more than anything is clarity, no mumbling and bumbling along in reaction to the latest ISIS outrage or success.
They are not invincible, as has been shown at the dam and Mosul.
Once of the reasons for their success is that terror clearly works against but it does not alter the fact that they are lightly armed and have limited enablers.
Despite capturing lots of sophisticated equipment ISIS does not seem to have shown any great aptitude for operating it but they remain a formidable and experienced force.
The first thing to do is decide whether or not ISIS are a significant threat to the UK or not, Bashar Assad was not and is not.
David Cameron clearly thinks so, I am not so sure but they definitely are a threat to our allies in the region and an affront to humanity that need exterminating.
Which means ‘doing something’
The magnitude of any response should match the magnitude of the threat.
I think our first priorities should be protecting Jordan and the Lebanon, then doing the same with the Kurds, which means having some grown up discussions about a Kurdish state with Iraq and Turkey.
We also need to be VERY VERY clear that this is not a scenario that can be addressed with the currently in vogue remote control bombing for peace doctrine that everyone keeps saying was a success in Libya. Libya, in strategic terms, was an abject failure. The place is in meltdown and more of a threat now than it was when Ghadaffi was in power.
ISIS needs to be smashed, destroyed or degraded to a point of impotence but probably, that needs to be done by local forces.
I am sceptical about the long term efficacy of a model similar to Libya or the early stages of Afghanistan.
For decisive action on land, against a force on land, you need ground forces.
Those ground forces need the full breadth of combined arms maneuver heavy forces to prevail against ISIS. Air strikes or trying to improve the capabilities of Iraqi or Kurdish forces is a long term, open ended commitment.
Which means that a serious deployment of land power should be on the table.
The west also needs to be having serious conversations with Qatar and Saudi Arabia about unintended consequences and the perils of funding organisations like ISIS, it is not as if the West doesn’t have its own painful experiences in that department.
What is our national interest, this also needs to be fully articulated and not in some wishy washy responsibility to protect nonsense.
Be blunt and just come out and say what it is, people I am sure would appreciate the candour.
The whole situation is a complex one with many issues to consider once the emotion has subsided but sometimes bold and swift action without over-thinking every last possible consequence is exactly the best option.
Our current inch forward, timid, dragged by the media and retarded by fears of operations past strategy, needs to be replaced with clarity and a statement of ends, ways and means.
The destruction of ISIS is either in our interests or it is not.
if it is, we need to go all in and stop pretending that airstrikes and special forces can solve the problem.
If not, politicians like David Cameron need to say so and stop waving sticks we don’t have just to sound all important because frankly, it is getting embarrassing, the west looks weak and enfeebled.