Iraq – The Search for a Strategy

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.

UK aid being loaded on to a RAF Hercules C130 at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire
UK aid being loaded on to a RAF Hercules C130 at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire
UK aid being loaded on to a RAF Hercules C130 at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire
UK aid being loaded on to a RAF Hercules C130 at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire

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’

Footage of first UK airdrop of aid into Iraq

RAF Airdrop Aid to Refugees in Iraq


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

RAF Tornado GR.4 Litening III Pod
RAF Tornado GR.4 Litening III Pod
RAF Tornado GR.4 Litening III Pod leaving RAF Marham
RAF Tornado GR.4 Litening III Pod leaving RAF Marham

And a video of a subsequent air drop, shot from a Tornado.

Footage of latest humanitarian aid air drop in Iraq


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.

With limits.

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.

About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

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August 19, 2014 3:07 pm

On R4 yesterday afternoon Col. Bob Stewart MP (still a Colonel or Col.(Ret’d)?) when questioned about the ‘no boots on the ground’ stance of HM Gov’t, insisted the meaning was ‘no boots on the ground at the moment but as the situation develops that stance might need to change’. Clearly Col. Bob’s mindset is still military where the PM is entirely political and scared witless of the loss of votes if he sends the Army back into a Middle East conflict. And what could possibly be more important than votes?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 19, 2014 3:16 pm


“Which means that a serious deployment of land power should be on the table”

No No No. “Defeating” the opposition has never been the problem but they are very good at melting away and then returning. In Libya contrary to your opinion we achieved the aim of preventing Gadaffi from committing genocide but we had to accept that which would fill the vacuum we left as we were never going to fill it.
There are no good options, either we go in with boots on the ground take casualties and leave, in which case we will be back where we started in 5 years anyway or we support the locals with air strikes and SF, defeat ISIS with far less casualties and are back where we started in 5 years anyway. or we go in with ground troops and stay after our “victory” continually leaking casualties to road side bombs, blue on blue incidents and suicide bombers. In which case Cameron has just handed the 2015 GE to Labour.
No good options so you pick the least bad one which is where HMG are headed.

We must also remember that the opinions on this site are not really reflective of public opinion in regards to us reentering Iraq :)

August 19, 2014 3:20 pm

Nice post TD.

I tend to stay away from the political stuff here, but I agree that the Government needs to decide (in private at least) how far they are willing to go and at what stages/trigger points.

I can understand that the government is wary after the Syria vote, but then they should just get on it with, recall parliament and have a vote. Establish what the political mandate.

The reality is that this situation feels far less complicated than Syria or Libya. ISIS is clearly bad news and we have genuine political and moral reasons for supporting the Iraqi government and the Kurds.

So is the real question (assuming we are going to be involved) do we stay in our current stand off position (Aid and possible ISTAR support) or do we get in the fight?

If we get in the fight what CAN we do and what are we WILLING to do?

August 19, 2014 3:45 pm

Deploying large ground forces hasn’t worked it’s been just as bad if not worse in Iraq and Afghanistan so I will disagree with that part of the article. Ground forces quickly become part of if not the problem within 6 months of them being deployed.

How to defeat and or contain extremists Islamic or otherwise is a major challenge of our age considering the ability to use the internet and social media to spread there views and gain access to funds to finance what they do. No one is born an extremist. Covert support to countries with targeted support to governments seems the best option of a bad lot.

As for rivet joint it was not that long ago that officially 51 Sqn did not exist and we only operated mpa versions of nimrod.

August 19, 2014 3:52 pm

Mark, actually the entry into those areas have been very successful, the problem is the part about staying. So if there is a plan to go in, and more importantly, a plan to actually get *out* before the death by a thousand cuts take place, it might be workable.

APATS also points out the other part of the problem. Disappearing enemy forces. You basically have to blitzkrieg them and wipe them out before they can fade into the woodwork. The media is going to go nuts if you do that kind of extermination campaign though, they already went crazy enough during GW1 with the “Highway of Death”.

August 19, 2014 4:01 pm

Can’t these guys help?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 19, 2014 4:09 pm

The destruction of ISIS is unequivocally in our national interest. Aside from the revulsion at the current fashion for lopping off heads as part of an ethnic cleansing effort, the existence of an IS controlled zone replicates the badlands of Afghanistan prior to 9/11 and we know how well that turned out.

However, you appear to believe that putting Western and specifically British boots OTG will achieve that end, where the evidence to support that contention appears somewhat absent. In fact, the evidence suggests that what you end up with against an irregular opfor, in a sectarian situation, is a combination of bullet magnet and IS recruiting sergeant, leading to an ongoing mid-level insurrection. It may eventually become so painful to the populace that you get a repeat of the Sunni rising against AQ, but given most of these guys appear to be Sunni, that might be a stretch. These guys get to hang up the AK and ammo belt and melt away of they really want to.

It also leaves the responsibility firmly in the laps of the West, when in fact a whole range of state actors, from Iran and Syria in one corner, Turkey potentially in the middle, to Saudi and Qatar in the other are primarily responsible for both the current trauma and its eventual solution. Blethering on (as the media are prone to do) about Sykes-Picot and Bliar and breaking it and owning it is all very well, but it isn’t exactly pointing to the solution. It is in fact a mere am-dram way of wailing “something must be done” and suggesting that “the west” as some sort of embodiment of the UN ought to be responsible for sorting it. Given that the UN includes all the key protagonists, one might suggest that the UN ought to let them sort it out and the west can sit on the sidelines, potentially enforcing sanctions and other penalties against any of those countries found to be contributing to the problem.

At this point the schism in the religion of peace will probably become apparent, as will the Persian / Arab clash, not to mention the Kurds. As will the reluctance of the Gulf states to forego their financial grip on the west, which will probably end in tears in the short term, but may be worth facing up to in the longer term. It’s their problem, let them sort it out.

The Red Sea Pedestrians went into Gaza in force (80000 if you believe the reports) numerous times, with somewhat less sensibilities than we would be forced to adopt. Does anyone on here think Hamas has gone away as a result?

In which case, does anyone think inserting whatever can be deployed of the British Army (an extreme one-time shot of say 20000 combat with another 10000 CS and CSS) in a theatre of operations the size of northern Iraq is going to end well in the long-term? Or even achieve any short term effect desired, other than a very temporary cessasion of the slaughter?

Much like the Syrian non-intervention, it all comes down to what our desired outcome is, whether we can see a sensible way to achieve that and how much we’re prepared to commit to achieve it. In that example, we didn’t really know what our desired outcome was, other than “Bashar bad”, “chemical weapons to be secured”, we didn’t have a plan to achieve it (other than sling some PGM around) and we certainly weren’t prepared to start taking UK casualties to achieve any of it. In the event, that nice Mr Putin twisted Bashars arm enough that he got to stay in power, but gave up his (declared) chemicals. One might argue that the rise of IS is a result of us not supporting the FSA, but that is far from conclusive and may well ahve happened nayway, in which case you’d ahve had beards and chemicals. High risk for an unclear strategy. Many similarities here too.

It’s all very well blaming CMD for staying on his hols and not appearing to have a coherent strategy. However, it may just be that there is no politically or militarily affordable strategy that will get us the outcome we want (fluffy happy peoples of the fertile crescent living happily ever after and not sending lots of asylum seekers here), in which case, staying out of it this time might be the least worst of an unappealing set of options.

August 19, 2014 4:20 pm

Aid the Kurds, with training and some weapons (but nothing too modern that will threaten the Turks or Iraq) maybe train a small airforce for them with Tuccano’s or whatever.

No boots will be on the ground, because once the first British service member is shown on you tube getting beheaded after we’ve followed an ROE like ‘courageous restraint’ the government will fall and the nation’s public opinion will be split down the middle.

August 19, 2014 4:25 pm


Well, at least them getting beheaded isn’t as bad. :)

NaB, I think the problem lies in that people want the problem solved, but are unable to stomach the methods needed for a permanent solution. They want to “win the war” but insist on “right methods” and handling the enemy with kids gloves that don’t work.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 19, 2014 4:36 pm


Team America would have their strings cut surely?

There are no right methods for a permament solution. Ultimately, this is a tribal and religious issue, neither of which tend to be solved by bodycount or similar methods – unless the appetite for same is gargantuan. Didn’t work particularly well for the SS or the NKVD……

August 19, 2014 4:43 pm

I agree with many of the points raised so far. Especially the fact that doing nothing and letting them sort it out is a good idea from the perspective of the UK. However, what exactly is the point of what we’ve been doing for decades. Weather we like it or not we (the UK) are part of an International Police Force.

Just because it doesn’t affect us doesn’t make it right.

So we have to ask ourselves a serious question… Does the idea of World stability actually exist within our horizons or is it a distant fantasy?

If the latter, I’d try to make as much money out of the ISIS cretins as possible. Not limited to the construction of a false enemy such that we can keep supplying arms to each side ad infinitum.

August 19, 2014 4:46 pm

NaB, you really don’t want to know.

If people are intending to intervene, they have to be made very, very aware that it will be to the knife and to the hilt, half measures don’t work with fanatics, DN is correct in that “courageous restraint” is going to backfire on you massively.

If they can’t accept this, then there is no point in intervention, it will not solve anything.

August 19, 2014 4:56 pm

The problem is political. There are regions that want to be rather IS than current Iraq or Syria. You must make them an offer that sways public opinion in favour of something different from IS. As long as this doesn’t happen, there’s little chance of entering these lands.
IS needs a pool of educated manpower to run a lot of structures for their finance and targets academics in advertisements to help them with their statebuilding. That doesn’t convince me that things are that much settled and agreeable for them and the populance. The more educated the manpower is, the better choices they have to terrorize and execute misfits. Currently, irreplaceable levels of education for obtaining war-money might bring dissidents a degree of protection.
We can bolster Kurdish and Iraqi resistance efforts. They have weapons and might benefit from some rapid fire field artillery upgrades. What they need most is mobility, communications and supplies. IS keeps their core of a few thousand storm troopers very happy in payment and benefits and lets militiamen train and control the lands. They are a thunderstorm, because of intelligence, defections and outstanding organization. These are capabilities their enemies rather lack.
The Terror must be seen in conjunction with the demographics of 50% being below 18. That population grows rapidly and is very adaptable.

Gareth Jones
August 19, 2014 4:58 pm

Do we need to send in full combined arms forces if we do intervene? The Kurds and the Iraqi army have the manpower and most of the weapons – what they need is firepower support, some specific weapons (ATGM’s?), and to “plug in” to the Western C4I system. Basically rather than throw weapons at them send units which are trained to use those weapons and allow them to work with and call upon Western air/firepower.

Essentially the Early Allied Support force from this RAND paper (and maybe some of the Light Mobile Infantry Force for the specialised weapons):
(Page 25 of the report, page 63 of the PDF)

In many ways similar to the old “Colonial” forces led by officers such as Wingate:

August 19, 2014 4:59 pm

Come off it APATs. Even I, who generally doesn’t subscribe to the doom and gloom perspective on our armed forces and its operations, think it’s disingenuous to big up the operational success and completely ignore the total fucking failure of strategy in Libya.

If there’s on thing history has taught us, it should be that operational success (whilst very gratifying) is meaningless without it being tied into a proper strategy with a proper, clear, policy aim which is eventually, largely met.

Defining the policy aim is key, but that is also clearly tied to possible realistic strategies.

Do we want to (a) focus on humanitarian aid and walk away the moment most people won’t die or be killed or do we (b) want to focus on destroying ISIS or (c) want to see a stable Iraq. Now they might all be tightly linked in many ways but you have to know what you want to do. And I agree with TD, we seem to be getting buffeted about with DC seeing what he can seemingly get away with doing and inching forward toward something we know not.

The Yanks seem bent on brinkmanship and using the ISIS crisis to force change in the Iraqi government and then rewarding steps toward that change with military support whilst wanting to generally not allow a genocide to occur. At least that has an aim (stable Iraq), some sort of strategy (impose a broad based Government) and a plan to make it all happen (use the ISIS crisis to apply pressure and reward steps toward the aim with military force).

August 19, 2014 5:07 pm

Agree we need to get our political ducks in a row before jumping in two footed to fight anyone. Specifically:

1. Will Turkey tolerate an independent Iraqi Kurdistan?
2. Will the Shia and Sunni tribal and sectarian leaders either (a) kiss and make up in Bagdhad or (b) agree to a sensible partition?
3. Will Iran and Saudi Arabia support whatever is agreed in point 2 both officially and behind the scenes?

Only when that is all squared away is there any point sending an army to boot ISIS in the bollocks. Otherwise we will simply get another crazy power vacuum with everyone jockying for position.

(Note that the military enforcement of the solution in Bosnia came after the Dayton Accords and not before.)

August 19, 2014 5:14 pm

PE, I don’t think there will be a vacuum, there is still a current government in Iraq which is still viable, though the US might want to milk the crisis for more “diversity in government” or for the Kurds to get their own autonomous region. The area belongs strictly and legally to the Iraqi government, so I doubt there will be many other contenders save for the Kurdish regions.

August 19, 2014 5:17 pm

Arming the Kurds, could also be a good opportunity to consolidate our vehicle fleet by selling our Mastiffs and Ridgeback’s and get some funds for the utility variant of FRES.

How many Gazelle’s are in Withams? I’m sure the French would sell them HOT missiles to go with them, do we still have stocks of Milan lying around?

August 19, 2014 5:25 pm


The Bagdhad governement doesn’t have a great track record so far of looking after the country they legally own. Lets hope this turns out to have been the kick up the backside they needed. If not the partition may yet come on the agenda.

August 19, 2014 5:39 pm

PE, who else has the legal right to claim the parts taken by the ISIS? Only ISIS has that claim by force of arms, and the Kurds for some of that by reason of residence. Once ISIS is taken out (if), then the only claimant left is Iraq, weak government and military or not. Nothing to do with strength of organization but rather the number of claimants to the area.

DN, not sure if those will be useful to them. If you want a mechanized/motorised force, you need to be able to maintain it. I’m not sure if the Kurds have the infrastructure needed for that. Safest bet would be infantry, infantry and more infantry.

August 19, 2014 5:44 pm


I guess the Sunni tribes who live there? The ones whowere so pissed off with the Maliki government they did nothing to stop the ISIS takeover.

I agree its better if the Sunni leaders cut a deal with the new Iraqi PM. But if they can’t or won’t then what?

August 19, 2014 5:54 pm

PE, after ISIS’s little reign of terror, I think they’ll be looking at the current government in a different light. Nothing like mass executions and mass graves to make you think you made a mistake. A separation is possible, but a low probability option. My best guess is that they will use it to play more more power in parliament.

Unfortunately all this is moot until the ISIS is driven out, and unfortunately on this point, lots of feet are being dragged on this issue, so its not going to happen soon.

August 19, 2014 6:16 pm

Various ramblings. If we are going to arm the Kurds, then I would send the Manroy .50 cal heavymachinegun. A lot more hitting power than an AKM, but simple enough for the Peshmerga to use.
There is no political will to send UK combat troops into Iraq. Not with a general election looming. There is probably consensus for a small number of SF observers to direct airstrikes, though.
Again the mood is not against the RAF doing limited precision strikes against IS/ISIS/ISIL, probably with Tornado/Brimstone/Paveway IV from Cyprus.
Why no action against “British” jihadists. If there is a mandatory 5 year jail term for owning an illegal handgun, why no mandatory five year jail term for going abroad to train & engage in Jihad? Bragging on social media should be enough evidence for a conviction.
Why does DfID, not have a design of British made caravan/mobile home, suitable for being shipped out to disaster zones?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 19, 2014 6:54 pm


“If there’s on thing history has taught us, it should be that operational success (whilst very gratifying) is meaningless without it being tied into a proper strategy with a proper, clear, policy aim which is eventually, largely met”

Well when was the last time we actually managed that? Sounds great in theory but sometimes there are zero good options, we had a clear and stark choice in Libya, let Gadaffi kill every man woman and child in Benghazi or stop him. The French acted and we and indeed NATO stepped up, in the real world there are sometimes no good answers and defining a “policy aim” is total BS when it it is unachievable on the ground.

August 19, 2014 7:41 pm


When did we last achieve that? Not for a very long time, probably 1982, maybe Northern Ireland. Doesn’t mean it isn’t achievable, sensible or something we should not aspire to do. Using previous failures as an excuse to lower ones standards is not admirable.

let Gadaffi kill every man woman and child in Benghazi or stop him.

Fine but claiming it as a success is disingenuous when all you’ve managed to do is spread the chaos and murder over a longer period. You’ve displaced the problem. The choice shouldn’t have been whether or not to stop him, it should have been a choice between potential solutions that didn’t just kick the can down the road and prevented chaos full stop in the medium to long term.

defining a “policy aim” is total BS when it it is unachievable on the ground.

Yup. Couldn’t agree more. Which is why we need to stop defining such types of policy aims.

There’s nothing stupid about giving yourself a clear aim, building a strategy to achieve that aim and being able to bring it all together with operational prowess. We’re getting one part out of three right at the moment.

August 19, 2014 7:51 pm

How about the Saudis and Jordanese army actually do something for once – it’s in their back yard, the Saudis financed these guys and help train them before they turned rogue and did not just attack Assad like they wanted.

Time for the Saudis to prove they do not support terrorist and put that multi billion dollar funded army to use for once….

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
August 19, 2014 7:52 pm


I would argue that I never really claimed Libya was a success, i actually said “we achieved the aim of preventing Gadaffi from committing genocide but we had to accept that which would fill the vacuum we left as we were never going to fill it.”

There were no good options and we had about 12 hours to make a decision to do something or do nothing.

I agree with your last paragraph but the aims need to be achievable an measurable. They should also outline their limitations and consequences so in Libya for instance the immediate aim was to prevent genocide which it did and that led to us getting rid of Gadaffi, the limitation was that we could in no way guarantee what would happen when he went.
I think if we were a bit more realistic, a bit more honest with both ourselves and the public and listened more to the “experts on the culture and history of the AOR” we would find that we managed expectations far better.

August 19, 2014 7:54 pm


This ISIS business has caught the west by surprise for some reason.

However I have said already if we are going to crush ISIS we Need to go in heavy and hard with boots on the ground.

As Phil points out what happens next?

The Iraqi Army has proved about as useful as a soluble condom. The Iraqi Sunnis seem to prefer beheading to Bagdad. And if you expect the Turks to wear an independant Kurdistan then frankly some VERY warm places will freeze over before that happens.

We clearly aint gonna go in heavy so arming the Kurds expecting the Turks to get pissed off, if really all we have left.

But a policy? I have Seen little sign of a policy. Indeed apart from hoping ISIS will just go away. There is none.

August 19, 2014 8:06 pm

a bit more honest with both ourselves and the public and listened more to the “experts on the culture and history of the AOR” we would find that we managed expectations far better.

That reflexivity should extend to embracing the concept that sometimes to do nothing might be better in the long term than doing something now.

Would Saddam have killed as many civilians as have died in Iraq over the last 11 years? Given previous form it is highly unlikely. Certainly that is with some degree of hindsight but the conclusion is the same. Sometimes the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

It is indeed counter-intuitive to allow something terrible to happen because doing something might release forces that see worse things happen in the future but if we are to be honest with ourselves like you argue, we need to think about that.

Tackling ISIS seems like a no-brainer but not if it allows the Iraqi’s to carry on as they have been – that will simply see no progress made at all. I think the seeming American strategy of using ISIS as a source of pressure to get the Government to change or die is a risky but workable one. If we defeat ISIS too quickly the Iraqi Government will return to form.

I suppose it depends on how pragmatic you are and if your morality and philosophy believes it is better to do the most for the most and accept bad things happen or if you believe that inaction amounts to aiding and abetting whatever the possible long term implications.

August 19, 2014 8:10 pm

I remember have a discussion on a quite night with an Iraqi Dr just as GW2 was getting started. He told me that removing Saddam would be a terrible mistake. He was a clever man, very western in his outlook and he did not like the government in Iraq hence living in the UK. But he told me that westerners do not and cannot understand the world view of people in Iraq, his words, I remember them so well ” they are tribal and have a medieval mind set around religion and a idea of tribe not government . they can only be ruled by a bloody dictator who will naturally be replaced by a stronger bloody dictator standing over his dead body, a week leader will be dragged dead and bloody through the streets, it’s how they have always been ruled. Removing him ( Saddam) will lead to more blood then anyone in this country can imagine” that was the view of a man who was born and spent most of his life in Iraq.

So do we need to get over our western sensibilities and stop tying to develop democracy in areas it cannot work in. Instead should we pragmatically stop trying to topple dictators as long as they keep an area stable ish and don’t go down a road to genicide. How many more people have died because we removed Saddam, my gut is a lot.

Peter Feeney
Peter Feeney
August 19, 2014 9:05 pm

You’d have thought that, by now, and in the light of the Public’s determined “try again” over the PM’s efforts to embroil us in the Syrian Quagmire that he’d have learned. But no, he comes back to us with tales of the bogey man and how he will soon be stalking our streets and expects us to commit our sons and daughters to another of his ill conceived adventures!

And he has the affront to do so without recalling OUR Parliament, appearing to have learned from Parliament’s timid failure to impeach Blair. We killed our Monarch when he went without Parliament. Blair took us to war without Parliament. And now this man thinks he can do the same! Time for the People to send him a message I think!

And, having been told we can, once again, go everywhere, from the air, light and fast, I am heartened to hear the author referring to any intervention as an All Arms operation, belated recognition that, in order to guarantee freedom of manoeuvre for shock action, the Royal Engineers are the guarantors, not MRAPS. And that shock action cannot be delivered at the end of an MG from a towering and immobile block of flats. This is a battle that is best conducted by armour, though how we will achieve that with the hollow force with which we are left …

Twice in his piece he really hits the nail on the head: the PM nearly had us arm those we would now fight; best ask the Turks, our True allies, before we arm the current “heros”!

August 19, 2014 9:14 pm

The problem with doing nothing and assuming that what comes after will always be worse is that it’s based only on certain examples like Iraq, a campaign that probably shouldn’t have gone ahead in the first place, and Afghanistan, which was never really about toppling evil regimes as much as it was about getting Bin Laden, but exludes interventions like Sierra Leone and the Balkans where intervention prevented a wider conflict and kept civilian casualties down in the long run.

Helping the Kurds etc fight off ISIL isn’t the same as Iraq ’03, Afghanistan or Libya because it wouldn’t involve toppling a government. Indeed it involves the opposite. Is the Iraqi government a bit shit? Yeah. But ISIL would be a lot worse. And given that their military capacity at the minute extends to a bunch of pick up trucks, some artillery that they have no resupply for, and some tanks that they have no idea how to fight and maintain, a light intervention to help the Kurds could probably avert most of the immediate danger. Put ISIL on the back foot and then let the Iraqi’s take over for the counter-offensive and mopping up.

August 19, 2014 9:20 pm

Peter, your bogeyman seems to be beheading/executing people in job lots for real. Check out their web sites. Most public reaction I see involves “do something”, not “try again”. I know you don’t like your PM, but to condemn others to suffering and death just because you don’t like someone is a bit low. Iraq is a real problem and a humanitarian disaster, not a political play. Real people are dying there, not imaginary bytes.

Unfortunately there is also schizophrenia in the “Public” demands, which is somewhere along the lines of “do something, but don’t let a single soldier get hurt”.

August 19, 2014 9:26 pm

@Chris B

I’m not arguing that bad things always happen when we stick our noses in. Rather that if you’re going to be reflexive and honest about intervention then not intervening, even under duress, can sometimes be the right option. Events in the world don’t have to conform to our notions of morality and justice. Just because we act to stop something doesn’t mean events will repay that piety toward a very western liberal way of viewing the world.

You have a government in Iraq that many fear or hate. That fear and hatred is along sectarian lines as it were. The actions of the government hardly matter more than the fact that it exists in that form. You won’t change that without pressure or force. They’re not going to be the Turkeys that vote for Christmas.

Getting involved in Iraq again requires some serious thinking and some properly delineated aims and appropriate resources. If we can’t pony up those resources then we need to rethink what we can achieve. In this I don’t just mean the UK since obviously any intervention will be multi national.

Doing something because ‘something must be done’ risks substituting activity for results.

August 19, 2014 9:42 pm

“Doing something because ‘something must be done’ risks substituting activity for results.”

Ouch. Unfortunately true.

Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Life sucks sometimes.

August 19, 2014 10:49 pm

If you could convince the Pope to authorize it in conjunction with some Muslim nabob like the Saudi king or Jordan’s King Abdullah II, allied forces could go into Iraq in a “coalition” like we did in GW1 under a common banner with the sole goal of destroying ISIS. That goal would not be complete until ISIS was destroyed in detail. If that means pursuing ISIS and it’s members right into Syria, so be it.

Yeah, I know. Our people could be hurt. If we don’t do something, what happens? ISIS gets stronger and eventually attacks Israel. You want trouble in the Middle East? How about nuke strikes on an ISIS controlled Damascus and/or Baghdad?

Personally, I believe the current Washington administration is as useless as…well, let’s just leave it at useless. I’m not hearing anything from the other Western powers that make me think they are any better. In the meantime, Christians, the oldest Christian communities in the world, Yazidis, Shiites, and anyone else not sufficiently “Muslim” enough for ISIS will continue to die horribly. And we sit around shaking our heads…


August 19, 2014 11:08 pm

What an absolute disaster. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. If only we could role back to Gaddafi, Assad and Saddam in full control? Certainly not ideal but for our national interests better than the monster unleashed? Its about time we looked at ISIS’s paymasters who may or may not be one and the same as the mob in the Gulf states with all their Gucci armed forces sat doing nothing.

Our priority should be the enemy within, the tentacles of ISIS within our midst. Humanitarian aid, of course. Long drawn out boots on the ground, no way. Hit them very very hard, gloves off and carpet bombing completely yes, but our PC government and the media will not allow that to happen and we will take the consequences of inaction

August 19, 2014 11:18 pm

Speculation that the UK is going to deploy a larger contingent of SF to Iraq, around 150.

So that’s: C-130Js, Voyager, Tornado GR4s, Chinooks, Air Seeker and now possibly SF.

It seems the UK Gov is trying to do everything it can, just short of airstrikes, nodoubt because of the Syrian vote debacle.

August 19, 2014 11:35 pm

mick, think someone posted a link earlier showing that most of ISIS funding comes from oil sales which they slip covertly into other country’s oil supply. Makes sense, I doubt they have any “paymasters” considering that they were in such disfavour that they were even kicked out of AQ, and with that, their access to money from donors. One of my suspicions of the reason why they kicked off so fiercely in Iraq is the feeling that with the sudden cut from AQ funding, they needed to win big or die.

August 20, 2014 12:03 am

ISIS got going initially through money and training from the Saudis, – they pumped them into Syria to get rid of Assad – they just didn’t think the whole thing through and by the time they realised they were not holding the tigers tail any longer, just shrugged and let others attempt to clear up the mess. There were reports that the Saudis even released prisoners if they promised to fight in Syria.

I doubt the Saudis are to concerned though as it’s mainly non Sunnis who are suffering the most.

One way we could have cleared up the Middle East after 9/11 would have been to go straight for wahhabi Saudi Arabia – instead we attack everyone but, as they continue to pump money into groups, mosques and organisations spreading their brutal for of radical Islam.

August 20, 2014 12:19 am

Gewyne, that is one of the most insane ideas I’ve ever heard. Attacking a US ally is going to cause something that is normally inconceivable, the US vs UK military conflict. They may not be nice, but the Saudi royal family is one of the very, very few friends you have in that area. Where did you think the coalition’s forces were based in during GW1? And as for their non-support in GW2, remember that they were not the only ones. Hell, think no one really believed the WMB crap, I remember gossip that Sadam may have slipped a few bucks to AQ, and the US was looking to get back at him for supporting the WTC attacks.

And as for funding, remember, most western governments also pumped money into the FSA… when the ISIS was part of it too. Planning to invade Whitehall anytime soon?

August 20, 2014 1:14 am

@ Phil,

“Events in the world don’t have to conform to our notions of morality and justice. Just because we act to stop something doesn’t mean events will repay that piety toward a very western liberal way of viewing the world”

— Absolutely agree. Liberated peoples the world over have a tendency to be less than gracious to those that ultimately liberated them. However to sit back and allow bad things to occur because worse things might occur if we do get involved is not something I think can pay off in the long run.

As long as we go into these sort of things understanding that the people we leave behind as the victors will decide their own future and that future may or may not be more bloody than the one we saved them from then I think we’re in good stead. To me it would be far more dangerous if we adopted a foreign policy that refused to help people that we had the capacity to help just because we were uncertain about the consequences.

I’m certainly not advocating that we go back to managing Iraqs security for them. I think they just need a helping hand to get over this particular wobble.

August 20, 2014 3:14 am

Isn’t this more like Mali than Libya or Afghanistan?

I.e. Bomb ISIS from the air to stop their momentum, vertical envelopment in their rear to cut off their supply lines and prevent them from melting back into their safe havens, then roll forward with a combination of local troops… using foreign armour only where there’s heavy lifting to be done. But most likely the Iraqi ISIS fighters will just switch sides if the Iraqi government throws them a decent bone.

Once everything is done, bring the boys back. Rinse and repeat every 5 years, if ISIS regain their footing.

August 20, 2014 8:17 am

ISIS claim to have killed US journalist.
The journalist, claimed by Islamic State to be James Foley, has been missing since he was seized by armed men in Syria in 2012

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
August 20, 2014 8:25 am

“Once everything is done, bring the boys back. Rinse and repeat every 5 years, if ISIS regain their footing.”

Glad you’re volunteering. You’ll find this useful..

August 20, 2014 11:58 am

I would say with a new government in Baghdad now is the time to act. ISIS may well have done us a favour getting rid of the previous Iraq PM.

Limited western air strikes and some special forces backing the Sunni tribes, Kurds and Iraq forces should walk over ISIS with ease.

Try and get the Free Syrian Army and Assad’s forces to come to terms and then hit ISIS from the rear.

everyone in the region other than the die hard fanatics from Yorkshire must be getting war weary by now. This could be an opportunity to finally calm down the entire region.

A few Tornados with Brimestone and a couple of reapers (maybe with a UOR for Brimestone 2 onboard) should be more than enough from the UK.

Forces may well try and go to ground after an Initial assault but almost everything I can see about ISIS seems to point to them being foreigners so it is likely to be quite different to the Taliban.

The very last thing needed is western boots on the ground.

August 20, 2014 12:22 pm

The media are NOT leading this. The media are late to the party and are mis-reporting aplenty. Dropping bombs helps nobody – besides, how the hell do you identify a Kurd from an ISIL fighter or a refugee? ISIL are not stupid – they are very, very good at hiding and remaining unseen.

The way ahead is consistent political support for the Iraqi Government to shed the disastrous consequences of Maliki’s governance and reunite the disparate factions of the country. So far that is working well. Such is the joy of human politics that we have to accept large casualty figures whilst people in suits sit around tables jaw-jawing and drinking coffee.

August 20, 2014 12:31 pm

Odds on parliament staying in recess until sept 1st, with a few limited air strikes to support a rapidly emerging “emergency situation” ?

I’d say the were pretty good.

Head hackers on MTV are a perfect opportunity to break the new precedent that offensive action only occurs with parliamentary consent.

I’d be happy with the result.

August 20, 2014 4:36 pm

However to sit back and allow bad things to occur because worse things might occur if we do get involved is not something I think can pay off in the long run.

I don’t propose a hard rule. Merely that we should consider the possibility that sometimes inaction is a better course of action. Perhaps somewhat too utilitarian for some. But those people should then prepare for possible disappointment when the ending isn’t hollywood.

To me it would be far more dangerous if we adopted a foreign policy that refused to help people that we had the capacity to help just because we were uncertain about the consequences.

Not sure I agree. The containment of Iraq looks like a far better strategy than the actions we ended up taking. We should always be mindful of the possible consequences.

I think they just need a helping hand to get over this particular wobble.

They do. But digging the usual suspects out of the shit is throwing good money and lives after bad.

I’m not saying we should necessarily not get involved over there. But we really, REALLY need to have an honest aim and an honest strategy – that operationally we’d probably tear ISIS apart is not in question.

August 20, 2014 5:46 pm

@ Phil,

I think part of the key is figuring out who we can actually help and how urgent that need is. So looking at the situation in Iraq in ’03, while Saddam was a prick, there was a very poor case for going in. A lot of Iraqs problems at the time were oddly enough related to the sanctions from outside powers. In Iraq now I think the situation is a lot more clear cut and we have the capacity to help. The main issue is to stem the tide of the advance. Do that, then largely hand over the offensive to the local forces.

August 22, 2014 9:07 am

PKK fighters have being allowed across the Turkish border to help the Peshmerga in their battle against ISIL whilst from northern Syria a sister group, the YPG , have crossed over from their ‘autonomous zone’ and evacuated thousands of Yazidis left stranded in the mountains .The YPG are now training and arming Yazidi volunteers to fight ISIL in Iraq. The Turks see no threat in the PKK taking up arms against them or fermenting a greater Kurdistan with the Iraqi Kurds as there is to strong a division between the ruling Kurdish party the KDP and the PKK. However any new western supplied arms falling into the hands of the PKK could encourage Ankarah to limit what is supplied.

September 5, 2014 5:26 pm

An interesting article on he Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, born Ibrahim ibn Awwad ibn Ibrahim ibn Ali ibn Muhammad al-Badri al-Samarrai, the Caliph of all Muslims and the Prince of the Believers. It also discusses what historically drives them.