ISIS: coming to a community near you

From a California freeway to an outpost on the wind-blown wild eastern frontier of Afghanistan; from an urban American family to the bad lands of Central Asia, it has come to this: ISIS’s appeal is now global and its opponents must face up to that fact and shape approaches and policies accordingly.
Its internet proselytising capabilities are formidable and its skill at recruiting that way means that this is a cancer growing as fast as we chase after it. Tackling ISIS should now be a full-time occupation for the elite anti-terrorist forces of the world.
Although the main Western protagonists seem to be primarily focused on the military option for the present, at least we now have serious players on the aerial frontline who hopefully can be persuaded to look at wider options for a longer term settlement once their blood-lust has been satisfied and the limited impact of those policies becomes clear. They must know that their options are limited if they stick to attacking targets of strategic and economic value. The last we had a target count from RAF aircraft over Iraq, they had virtually run out of them. The same must soon be true of the Syria/Iraq operational area.
The fact that it is months since we had an accounting of what the RAF was up to only serves to illustrate that the public needs to be kept abreast of the situation and any change to target civilian areas which may become a temptation.
ISIS’s effect on large chunks of Syria and Iraq has been devastating from every point of view— socially, militarily and geo-politically—but there are signs that many of its new ‘subjects’ are willing to observe its norms to survive and subsequently to go forward with the creation of the caliphate. Few can blame them for doing so in the face of such a whirlwind of violence and forcible change.
Elsewhere it appears that ISIS indoctrination has become so powerful and persuasive that many are convinced it is a righteous cause: how else to explain the appearance of their notorious black battle flags on the west coast of the US? Distance may lend enchantment to the view and many people’s brandishing of the emblems of Islamic revolution may be the result of local and relatively minor frustrations; but most know that that is now as good as a declaration of war against the US authorities and will not so do lightly.
Some commentators remain convinced that ISIS is a passing phase—the conflict du jour which will soon be replaced by another one—and a handy electoral tool to mobilise support for the more hawkish politicians. Certainly British politicians used the horrific Paris attacks ruthlessly to jack up defence spending in areas that would have zero impact. The government decided to order nine Boeing P8 maritime patrol aircraft—ISIS is not known for its seaborne exploits and it is doubtful that it has access to a safe coastline—and to triple the order for F35 jet fighter bombers which will not be available till 2025. And to further shake public confidence in whether the government has a realistic war fighting strategy in place and whether ISIS hysteria is forcing it off course, Whitehall quoted the bill for its new military hardware at £2 billion—exactly the amount that they had just cut from the welfare budget. The ISIS public relations machine must have been chuckling at this incompetence. While responding to immediate public emotions, governments have to keep level heads and accurately gauge the true level of the threat.
The British government’s response feeds the terrorists’ purpose by creating even greater feelings of insecurity among the populace. What would cause greater anguish in a typical household: the removal of vital government financial support or the extremely remote possibility of a terrorist attack on a suburban home? High profile gestures on defence spending and the like merely force the government to up the ante next time there is an outrage. Far better to work quietly at the things that really matter—improving intelligence gathering and co-operation with like-minded nations.
Happily, there was news last month of two international operations that have never been publicly identified, one of which played a role in helping to track down the Paris attackers. Attorney-General of the United States Loretta Lynch spoke of them during a recent visit to Chatham House in London. The first was a 24/7 cyber link bringing together 70 centres and constantly monitoring international electronic traffic for anything suspect. The second one, titled Fusion Cell, links 45 countries in similar fashion to that which was the key to the first Paris track-down. It carries and tracks at least 4,000 terror suspects on its records.
Given this sort of co-operation, perhaps we can now look forward to more success on the international front. It is worth remembering, however, that the public rarely gets to hear about operations that successfully prevent terror attacks. British Home Secretary Theresa May told the same Chatham House gathering that British security forces had successfully forestalled attacks by charging 70 individuals since 2013.

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