On the Battlefield
The Western countries have been reluctant in committing more fully to the war against ISIS. Their contribution has been mostly composed of air strikes and providing support to the local regional forces. However, as the days go by, it becomes more evident that the current military operations are not enough to address the ISIS threat. What else can be done?
The airstrikes against ISIS pale in comparison to the bombing campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In 2001, the United States alone used 17,500 munitions and conducted 6,500 airstrikes against the Taliban in a period of seventy-five days whereas only 1,700 munitions were spent and 632 strike sorties were conducted against ISIS in a span of seventy-six days in 2014. These limited bombing episodes will not budge a militant group as fanatical as ISIS.
Ground forces from Western countries have had limited participation in the fight against ISIS. This affects the accuracy of the airstrikes as well as the combat abilities of the local fighting force. It is undeniable that the military training provided by experienced combat advisors to the indigenous troops is invaluable. However, it has already been proven in various conflicts in history that seasoned military advisors are better off fighting together with local troops in the battlefield than being confined in military bases.
Western countries should also consider increasing the size of their forces against ISIS. The numbers of troops that should be dispatched on the field should be based on what is actually needed in battle and not on theories. Logistical, security, intelligence, and air contingents should also be made available as support.
The Western countries should also try to take a page out of ISIS?s book when it comes to strategy. If ISIS aims to consolidate local jihadist groups in a certain region to increase the effectiveness of its operations, then Western countries should also cooperate with moderate factions in Syria and Iraq. They should increase the support that they are giving to the local troops who are fighting ISIS.
It would also be better if the Western countries would show more commitment towards removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. Turkey views Assad as the cause of instability in Syria and will only join the war against ISIS if his government is overthrown. Thus, ousting Assad from his position will not only convince Turkey to join in battle but it will also dispel the rumors among Sunni tribes that Assad is not backed by any Western country.
Designating a no-fly zone over all of Syria may also help in battling ISIS. This policy will prevent other groups from bombing opposition centers under the guise of anti-ISIS campaign. It will also prevent other groups from misinterpreting the military actions of Western countries as a war against Muslims.
In 2007, the tables were turned against the al-Qaeda in Iraq when the Sunni tribes turned against them. If the Western countries will be able to convince Iraqi Sunnis to do the same to ISIS, then the chances of defeating the militant group may increase. It would be almost impossible to expel ISIS from its strongholds as long as the Sunni tribes do not resist them. On the other hand, if the tribes are mobilized against ISIS then there is a better chance of defeating the militant group.
Adopting these strategies would most probably require Western countries to increase their expenses. However, when compared to the damage in property and lives that the ISIS has caused, the additional expenses required to stop them are worth it.
Using Non-Military Tactics
Aside from increasing war efforts in the battlefield, Western countries can also defeat ISIS through other means. Just like how the militant group utilized several propagandas to recruit people and further their cause, Western countries can also do the same to stop the group?s operations.
Declaring that it aims to establish an Islamist utopia has certainly helped the militant group gain supporters and followers. For the past years, numerous people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of ISIS fighters. Jihadist movements in other places have also pledged their allegiance to ISIS, which further strengthened the group?s network.
To prevent ISIS from gaining more supporters, it is crucial that the truth regarding the group?s activities be exposed. This can be done by encouraging former members of ISIS to tell their stories to the public. By telling their personal experiences, they will be able to dissuade other people from joining the group better than an outsider who never have been a part of ISIS.
ISIS has also created an illusion that life in areas under their control is better than anywhere else by attempting to restore public order. However, the truth is that food and electrical shortages are common in these places ever since ISIS conquered them. Helping opposition groups uncover these truths and make them public will help people in realizing that ISIS is not a functioning state but an oppressing force.
It would also be better if the activities of individuals against ISIS such as former jihadist Mubin Shaikh and Imam Mohamed Magid be recognized. They have made personal efforts to dissuade people who have been recruited by ISIS from joining the group. This may encourage other people to follow suit and help in reducing the manpower of ISIS.
ISIS has continually utilized social media platforms such as Twitter to promote their propaganda and recruit people to join their ranks. Thus, it is vital to put pressure on social media companies to aid in the fight against the group by taking down accounts used by ISIS members and supporters alike. This will prevent ISIS propaganda from spreading to other countries and reduce their chances of recruiting foreign fighters.
Turkey?s efforts to restrain the flow of foreign fighters travelling through their territory should be recognized more. This may encourage them to participate more in the fight against ISIS as well as encourage other nearby countries to do the same.
Governments should also consider to give captured ISIS recruits with a more lenient punishment if they have no history of violence. For instance, ISIS recruits who have been arrested as they were attempting to join the group may end up spending up to 15 years in prison in the US regardless if they have committed violent acts or not. As a result, families and friends are forced to choose between stopping these recruits from radicalizing and sending them to prison or letting them go and risk having them killed in battle.
Instead of spending long terms in prison, these recruits can be placed under supervised probation for a specific amount of time. Reducing the punishment for recruits with no records of violence may encourage their families and friends to cooperate with authorities and prevent them from joining ISIS.
Proper information dissemination should be conducted by authorities to make sure that Muslims are informed about ISIS?s activities. This may help in discouraging people from joining or supporting the group. For instance, refuting ISIS?s claim of being the defender of Islam and emphasizing the fact that most of their victims are also Muslims will prevent other people from being misled by the group?s enticing propaganda.
If backed by a well-coordinated military offensive, these strategies will surely weaken and defeat ISIS.