The war against ISIS has been brutally forced to the front of the world’s consciousness in light of the recent events, particularly the November 13 Paris attacks which killed at least 130 people.
French president Francois Hollande declared France at war with ISIS, who quickly claimed responsibility for the attacks on the capital. In a televised address, Hollande further avowed that “faced with war, the country must take appropriate action.”
France has since stepped up air strikes against Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria. French warplanes have launched at least 30 airstrikes on more than a dozen Islamic State targets in Raqqa. According to activists in Syria, these strikes have “hit ISIS headquarters and camps that have ammunition warehouses as well as vehicles and [ISIS] members.” The French are part of a US-led coalition against ISIS and have adopted defensive counter-attack strategies in an attempt to destabilize and weaken the organisation. But what do the deployment of these defensive strategies cost, and are we able to sustain these drastic losses?
Since September 2015, over 400 civilians have been killed, including 97 children. However, the Syrian Network for Human Rights places the figure closer to at least 526 casualties, 137 of whom are children. According to the UN, the Syrian conflict has killed at least 250,000 people. Since last October, a minimum of 42, 234 airstrikes have been documented. Furthermore, at least 100,000 people have fled from Aleppo, Syria’s largest and most populous governorate, while another 1,000 have fled an Atma displacement camp.
While the French have retaliated to the Paris attacks via air strikes, journalist Nicolas Henin reports that these only empower the group’s influence within Syria by exposing the local population to vulnerability, which in turn increases the likelihood of Syrians pledging allegiance to ISIS. Henin, who was captured by ISIS for 10 months and released in 2014, says the armed rebel group wanted “nothing more than to provoke an escalation” by carrying out the deadly attacks in Paris.
“[Air strikes are] confirming its progapanda and its message, saying ‘We are the only strong body capable to protect you because the rest of the world is against you. We are here, we can protect you because we are powerful.’ This is the confirmation of the message that it is sending.”
Henin’s claims make sense. While violent extremism has become a serious threat within the modern world, perhaps there are other ways of dealing with the broad patterns of unrest and conflict emerging in the Islamic states.
The long conflicts which the US has found itself embroiled in have seen close to 300,000 people killed across the Middle East and North Africa, with hundreds of thousands injured and many millions more forced from their homes. From the suffering and political chaos in Syria and the spread of ISIS influence in North and Eastern Africa and Afghanistan, the failure of Western politicians, regional leaders and their political and military strategies to protect civilians both abroad and within their own borders is abundantly clear. These failures raise fundamental questions about the way nations have approached the conflict against major terrorist movements. Perhaps leaders should look into these failures in order to create supportive political structures which would encourage economic and political stability, rather than present these states as political entities which need to be forcefully wrestled under Western control.
“What they fear is unity.”
Then perhaps we should give them what they fear most.