British ‘Boots on the Ground’ to Defeat ISIL?
By Hamish De Bretton Gordon OBE
The Munich talks on Syria suggest that in theory all sides agree that a ceasefire will begin in Syria at the end of this week between all warring factions, less ISIL and the Al-Qaeda affiliates. With these ‘peaceful’ overtones in the air Assad and Putin continue to hammer N Syria, in particular Aleppo and, inexplicably, hospitals. Presumably to gain as much ground as possible before negotiations begin when the guns fall silent? The ceasefire does at least offer a glimmer of hope for the allegedly 15 million displaced people in Syria who at the moment appear to want to extract themselves from the war and into Europe, personified by those desperate souls squeezed up against the Turkish border near Kilis having fled Aleppo.
It is pretty clear that Putin has wrestled the initiative from the West and is calling all the shots. On the ground he would now appear to be strengthening the Syrian Army with Russian troops and expertise which he should be made to bring to bear now on ISIL and not the moderate opposition.
However, it is equally clear that unless the International Coalition and especially NATO, including the UK also get involved in the heavy lifting against ISIL, the Russian solution will pervade across Syria and Iraq, and Putin’s influence in the Middle East, hitherto the preserve of the US and its Allies, will be dominant.
There is universal agreement that the comprehensive defeat of ISIL is in the world’s best interests and that Coalition air power alone will not bring this about. ISIL desire for the Caliphate and determination to hold ground is their ‘Achilles Heel’, it sets them apart from terror groups like AQ, and makes them no match for the sophisticated Armies of the West.
The 40,000 ISIL fighters, fanatical, but poorly trained and equipped, currently fighting conventionally, are no match for Western ground forces supported by airpower who should be able to defeat ISIL militarily in weeks rather than months. It is likely that indigenous ground troops, currently opposing ISIL will take months if not years to do this if not directly supported by Western ‘Ground power’.
Though politically challenging it is time to decide whether we [UK] need to commit ground troops to defeat ISIL quickly, in conjunction with the US undoubtedly, or accept that Putin will dictate the pace in the Middle East and allow ISIL to extend its ‘existential’ threat to the UK as previously described by the Prime Minister. I have just returned from Australia, which has a military commitment to Syria much greater than most European countries, despite being 12000 miles away. The Australians are determined to defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq because they don’t want to fight them at home. This seems a sound approach to me, but one many don’t seem to understand in the UK.
Having said all this, and as a veteran of 23 years in the British Army including the Gulf Wars, I am equally determined, that, if we are to become decisively engaged on the ground now, we don’t repeat the mistakes of those wars. We must have huge amounts of humanitarian aid ready, just behind the front line to flow directly and immediately into those areas liberated from ISIL for the innocent civilians who have suffered so much….and then British ‘Boots on the Ground’ will be worth it.