KAYUMBA: To fight Isis, West must use its foot soldiers

Two weeks ago, on November 13, Islamic State (Isis) terrorists carried out the deadliest terror attacks in France so far and the worst in Europe since the Madrid one of 2004.

The attacks on six sites — including Stade de France, where French President Franois Hollande was watching a football match between his country and Germany — resulted in the death of 29 people while hundreds more were injured.

President Hollande called the sordid attack “an act of war” and vowed to ruthlessly “lead the fight” against Isis. In France, a three-month state of emergency was declared, raids that killed three terrorists, including the mastermind of the attack, carried out and some terror plots foiled.

Externally, the bombardment of Isis-held positions in Syria and Iraq was stepped up as Western leaders — from US President Obama to British PM Cameron — joined Hollande to pledge their determination to defeat Isis.

Despite the pledge, however, a common thread runs through all these leaders: Their wariness of setting their ground soldiers against Isis. Yet, objectively, defeating Isis will require more than tough talk, raiding their hideouts, killing terrorists in Europe, foiling attacks, giving police more powers to deal with suspects and carrying out airstrikes. It will require the West to send its ground troops to the frontline and run the enemy out of its captured territory.

I find this the best approach for four main reasons. First, Isis is not a virtual enemy like Al-Qaeda — with no territory to its name and which could be extinguished by killing its leaders with drones and foiling its plots — or the Taliban of Afghanistan that respected national borders and sovereignty.

Instead, in Isis the world faces a completely new enemy waging a new kind of war with a new objective since the creation of modern nation-states in 1648.

For it was after Europe’s brutal 30-year war that the world was divided into sovereign nation-states, a world order that was cemented after the Napoleonic wars and, subsequently, World Wars I and II.

It’s this world order that Isis is challenging. This makes it a new kind of enemy — in the sense that it respects neither borders or state sovereignty nor international law.

Its objective is to replace the current order with a global caliphate run according to extremist Islamic beliefs. So far, it has territory in Syria and Iraq and intends to take much more.

Secondly, besides conventional warfare, Isis also uses terror tactics. Thirdly, its army is composed of different nationalities — including Europeans and Americans — making it easier to organise and carry out attacks beyond its territory since its jihadists can easily go anywhere using their revered passports.

Finally, Isis has finances that it largely derives from its territory. Unless such areas are taken over, it will continue to deploy its oil wealth to wage war.

With Isis then, Mary Kaldor’s thesis of “new” wars aanced in her 1999 book New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Era finds a perfect empirical case, despite criticism from various quarters that hers were no “new” wars. Isis’s war is truly new, as is the actor’s objective and warriors.

Until Paris, neither Obama nor his allies were willing to send ground troops to Syria and Iraq to fight Isis. The rationale put forth by Obama was that there was no proof that it would make the situation better.

Of course the broader reason for Obama’s “no boots on the ground” policy is both a consequence of his 2008 campaign pledge to end his country’s wars and, secondly, a result of America’s fatigue for war due to a decade-plus bloodletting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We can say that, initially, Obama was correct to be wary of war and to repeatedly promise that he would go to war as a last resort and only when American lives or allies or interests were directly threatened. But with what is happening, we cannot objectively say that American lives or allies or interests aren’t threatened: Isis is not only a direct threat to the US and its allies but also to the current world order.

Waging war against Isis is justified and necessary. Yet, I can’t see how it can be defeated without sending in ground troops to flush it out of areas it holds and dismantling its terror cells in Europe and elsewhere.

Dr Christopher Kayumba, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the School of Journalism and Communication, the University of Rwanda, and lead consultant at MGC Consult International Ltd, Kay Plaza Building, Kimoronko Road, Kisimenti, Kigali. E-mail: kkkayumba@yahoo.com Twitter: @Ckayumba Website: www.mgcconsult.com