Should the UK be involved in Syria? 8 important things to consider

 

This week MPs will vote over whether to take military action against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. David Cameron says voting against military action makes you a terrorist sympathiser. What’s going on in Syria and should we get involved?

ISIS Explained: Seven Suggested Ways To Combat ISIS

 

Part of the ISIS Explained series.

Part 1: What is ISIS?  //  Part 2: What does ISIS want?  //  Part 3: What makes ISIS powerful?

Part 4: 7 Suggested Ways to Fight ISIS  //  Part 5: ISIS Frequently Asked Questions Explained

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A global coalition of 62 countries led by the United States is fighting the terrorist group so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS). Different countries contribute in different ways. What’s the best way to tackle terrorist groups?

 

Tell Me About Airstrikes

ISIS Fighting Terrorist Groups - Airstrike attack

Source: Wikipedia

The USA loves airstrikes. It has used them on 2,600 ISIS targets since 2014. Many countries including Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia and France also got involved. The UK is bombing Islamic State in Iraq, but not in Syria. MPs voted against similar action in Syria in 2013. This was mainly because Iraq asked for our help – the Syrian government hasn’t.

A Parliament committee suggested focusing instead on bringing peace to the country. Sensible, no? Despite this David Cameron wants to extend airstrikes to Syria… but won’t risk losing a vote in Parliament.

 

 

 

 

Put Boots On The Ground?

Let’s face it, there’s only so much you can do from the air. A source within the Armed Forces told us that for every ISIS fighter taken out by airstrikes, another is recruited. Last year it was reported that Drone Strikes in Yemen were causing more people to join extremist groups. Their books are always full.

Fighting Terrorist Groups ISIS - A soldier from the 2nd Battalion in Iraq in 2003, armed with an L85A2

Source: Wikipedia

Air Chief Sir Michael Graydon says airstrikes aren’t enough to stop terrorist groups such as ISIS. We need to send in the army. This view is shared by Colonel Richard Kemp who calls the current US-led airstrikes “half-hearted”. Kemp believes the Special Forces should conduct raids to “kill and strike fear into the hearts of IS fighters.”

It’s unclear how many fighters ISIS has. The CIA estimated around 30,000 people. A senior Kurdish leader says the group has 200,000 fighters. It could be argued that a few SAS raids wouldn’t do much damage. The Iraq War cost the UK £8.4 billion, so sending across an army would be costly.  With the size of the British army shrinking to 83,000 by 2020 we’d probably need backup. Russia however, say they are prepared to send 150,000 troops into Syria so we might see a partnership in the making. 

 

Don’t Put Boots On The Ground?

The current situation in Syria is a mess. As well as ISIS the country is divided by a civil war between the government and rebel groups. Most countries agree that ISIS need to be abolished, but can’t agree on how Syria should be governed. The UK says Syria’s President Assad can’t stay in power due to his record on human rights. Russia on the other hand supports Assad partly because he buys Russian weapons. Sending soldiers into Syria without a long-term plan might not be the greatest idea and probably why there has been hesitation thus far. 

Something you might not know: wars can lead to the creation of terror groups. Foreign Policy Journal describes how ISIS “was born out of the Iraq war”; President Obama calls it an “unintended consequence”.

There are two main types of Muslim: Sunni and Shia. In Iraq, the Sunnis had been in charge since the 1920s. However when the US and the UK entered the country to take out Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, they handed over power to a Shia government. The Sunnis who had mostly boycotted this process, were not happy.

ISIS began as a group called Jam’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. They were a collection of Sunni Muslim resistance fighters fighting in Iraq and Jordan. The group formed in 1999 and became a major force during the 2003 Iraq War. The group joined other Iraqi rebels fighting Western forces. Eventually they joined Islamist group Al-Qaeda and their fight against the West. In 2006 they and other Islamist groups created the Mujahideen Shura Council,  which later rebranded as ISIS.

Many experts believe the chaos in the aftermath of the Iraq War meant ISIS was able to grow stronger. The Guardian describes that though the name may have changed “the group’s grievances have been largely consistent. Central to them is the belief that the invasion destroyed a regional order, ousting a stalwart of Sunni rule, and inviting the rival Shia sect to take over.”

If wars create terror groups like ISIS, declaring war on those groups legitimizes them as a state. This, as Matthew Norman at the Independent writes, is exactly what ISIS wants.

 

Cut Off Supplies For Terrorist Groups

ISIS Fighting Terrorist Groups- The pumpjack oil well,  as this one located south of Midland, Texas

Source: Wikipedia

“A crucial way to help defeat ISIL is to cut off its funding, its supply of arms, and its trade,says Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party. He pressed David Cameron to clamp down on Britain’s allies which may be providing support to ISIS.
Maybe he has a point. It’s easier to fight an enemy with weakened supplies. It’s estimated ISIS could be making up to $3 million a day selling oil from captured oil fields. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have all been accused of assisting ISIS. All three countries deny the charges, and considering as they are in the oil game themselves, chances are they see ISIS as a threat. Stopping people buying oil from ISIS would reduce their income and limit their operations. Trying to identify buyers is the hard part. The Green Party recently got into trouble for accusing an oil company of buying from Islamic State. Awkward.

One step further would be to crack down on all companies accused of War Profiteering. It is what it says on the tin, profiting from war. As we’ve seen above, violence and conflict provides a space for extremist groups to flourish. Though war profiteers don’t cause violence, they supply the resources and it is unfortunate that both the media and politicians might have their part to play in this process. Comedian Russell Brand believes we should question the information we receive from the media and politicians for exactly this reason. 

“The media just want to create stories and tacitly support the corporations that benefit from wars in foreign countries – because they are the corporations that benefit from those wars.”

 

Take the Fight Against Terrorist Groups Online

ISIS Fighting Terrorist Groups - Cyber Warriors flex digital muscle at 2014 Cyber Shield Exercise

Source: Wikipedia

We don’t mean trolling ISIS supporters on Twitter like Hacker group AnonymousChancellor George Osborne takes cyber warfare seriously; it is seen just as much as a threat as it is a weapon. He’s investing £2 billion in a new National Cyber Centre to target terrorist groups online.

“If our electricity supply, or our air traffic control, or our hospitals were successfully attacked online, the impact could be measured not just in terms of economic damage but of lives lost.”

Does this mean we could do the same in retaliation, or indeed that we should be worried? This year regulators in the US announced that certain hospital drug pumps could be hacked through the hospital network. This could be used to give an overdose to patients. Yet though ISIS may have a cyber army, its soldiers need lessons on internet security. One ISIS member gave away his location by posting selfies.

 

Use Former Extremists to De-Radicalise Potential Terrorists

Stopping young Brits from becoming radicalised would deny terror groups new recruits. It could also reduce the risk of attack from “home grown” British terrorists. The UK government funds Channel, a secretive de-radicalisation scheme which attempts to steer young people from radicalisation. Eight people a day were referred to Channel this summer.

Apart from salvaging potential radicals, there could be a use for them too. Charlie Winter from anti-extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation thinks former extremists can be useful in de-radicalising potential terrorists. Speaking to the IB Times he said that they know the ideology which will be taught to recruits and can offer counter arguments. Quilliam was set up by Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist extremist. Another British former extremist has created a cartoon series designed to discourage young Muslims from joining extremist groups. That’s not to mention several times Muslims took action against Islamic Extremism.

 

So, what about talking to ISIS?

This is a controversial question. Should we try to negotiate with extremist groups? The British government’s official line is that it does not negotiate with terrorists. Negotiating legitimizes terror groups by acknowledging that their demands are real. However, it seems there are exceptions to the rule. In the 1980s then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stated she would not talk or negotiate with the Irish Republican Army, seeing them as terrorists. It was later revealed that she had taken part in negotiation with the group. However, the communication did not lead to a deal. More recently the G7 countries made a pledge in 2013 not to talk to terrorists. Could current problems be solved by just sitting down and having a chat with ISIS? Somehow we doubt it.

 

Fighting Terrorist Groups; is there really a solution?

Terrorism techniques are constantly evolving. It could be argued there is no solution. Governments and anti-extremism groups must constantly change tactics to keep up. Which approach do you think is best?

Take part: The Quilliam Foundation is looking for young people to create a short film to challenge extreme views.

 

NEXT: Still got questions? Check out Part 5: ISIS Frequently Asked Questions Answered.

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Battle of Britain and the Blitz; the UK’s toughest fight?

The UK remembers those who died during the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, both major events during World War II. Yet, should we do more to remember those killed from other countries?

 

What was the Battle of Britain?

A battle formation of airplanes in the Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain; actually Battle of British skies

The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign ran from July 1940 – October 1940.

By summer of 1940 Germany had pushed British troops out of France. The Germans were preparing to invade Britain. There was just the small matter of taking out Britain’s defences.

First the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) attempted to destroy British shipping centres. Then they targeted airfields used by the British Royal Air Force (RAF). German bomber aircraft were protected by smaller fighter planes.

Things did not look good for the British. At the beginning of the Battle of Britain the Luftwaffe could call upon 2,600 aircraft, whereas the RAF only deployed 640 planes. Not good odds.

 

So, how did the British win?

Supermarine Spitfire Mark I was a British advantage in the Battle of Britain

Best of British; the Supermarine Spitfire Mark XVI

Clear communication, good organisation and newly designed planes gave Britain an advantage.

The speed and maneuverability of a British aircraft called the Spitfire made it superior to German fighter planes. Throughout the Battle of Britain more planes would be constructed and by the end the RAF outnumbered the German force. Tally ho, chaps!

By the end of the Battle of Britain, over 2,000 German airmen were killed, compared to 544 Brits.

Speaking of the Battle of Britain then prime minister Winston Churchill said “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Germany had failed to achieve air superiority and German leader Adolf Hitler’s planned invasion of Britain was postponed. However, Britain’s troubles were just beginning…

 

What started the Blitz?

The Blitz was an eight month German bombing campaign against major British cities. It lasted from September 1940 to May 1941. Blitzkrieg means “lightning war” in German.

During the Battle of Britain Adolf Hitler had given strict instructions that central London was not to be targeted by bombers. However, on August 24th 1940 German aircraft drifted from their intended military target on the outskirts of the city. Their bombs hit central London. Even if this was accidental, the British quickly responded by bombing the German capital Berlin in retaliation.

Did the British bombing of Berlin provoke the Blitz, or would it have happened anyway? The damage to Berlin was slight, but Adolf Hitler stated “when the British Air Force … increase their attacks on our cities, then we will raze their cities to the ground.”

Frustrated by the attacks on Berlin and a failure to destroy the RAF, the Germans started targeting urban areas as well as military targets. On 7th September 1940 nearly 1,000 German planes targeted London in a daytime raid lasting nine hours.

The Blitz had begun.

 

“Lightning War”

This continued bombing of civilians in urban areas was a new type of warfare. London was bombed for 57 nights in a row. Other cities targeted included Coventry, Manchester and Birmingham.

A "spotter" watched the skies of London during the Blitz

The Blitz; On the lookout

As well as explosives, the German bombers dropped “firebombs”. These were especially dangerous, spreading fire quickly from building to building.

An attack on Coventry on 14 November 1940 left 75% of buildings destroyed.

For protection millions of children, mothers and hospital patients were moved out of cities to the safety of the countryside. For those in the cities a strict “blackout” policy was quickly enforced.

Windows and doors had to be covered with special material. Car headlights also had to be partly covered, reducing the amount of light exposed. This prevented the light providing German bombers with a target during the night.

In 1941, the number of attacks by the Luftwaffe decreased as Germany turned its focus to Russia. Britain had managed to survive the Blitz, but at a cost. Over the eight months around 43,000 British civilians were killed.

 

How does this compare to German losses in World War II?

Bomb damage from Hamburg's "blitz week" where American and British planes bombed it day and night

Bomb damage in Hamburg, which suffered it’s own “Blitz”

It’s natural that each country focuses on the deaths of its own citizens. But should we do more to educate ourselves on the losses sustained by other countries, especially if they were part of the same war?

The loss of British civilian life during the Blitz is undeniably tragic. Between 380 and 554 people died in the Coventry bombing, remembered as one of the worst attacks during the Blitz. Total casualties in London across the whole eight month period are estimated at around 28,556 people.

However bombings by Allied forces against Germany killed many more civilians.

British historian Professor Richard Overy mentions “the myth in Britain has been that we bombed military targets and Germans bombed civilian populations, but it is almost exactly the reverse”.

 

Bomb damage in the city of Dresden which was destroyed by firebombs

Firebombed; the wreckage in Dresden

Take the British attack on the German city of Hamburg in 1943. Around 42,600 Germans were killed in just one week.

To put that into context, that’s almost the same as the total number of British civilians killed during the entirety of the Blitz. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Similarly, around 25,000 people were killed in two days when the British bombed the city of Dresden.

10,000 people in the city of Kassal were killed in one night on October 22 1943.

 

In total it’s estimated 600,000 German civilians lost their lives as a result of bombings by allied forces.

 

Did the UK commit War Crimes?

The cenotaph in Whitehall, London which honours those who died during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz

We will remember them; the cenotaph in Whitehall, London

German historian Jörg Friedrich believes that the British bombings of towns during the end of World War II should be considered war crimes.

The controversial historian argues that these bombings served no military purpose as Germany was nearing surrender. Speaking to the Guardian Friedrich said “the bombing [of Kassal] left an entire generation traumatised. But it was never discussed.”

Speaking about the Blitz Winston Churchill called the bombings on the UK “cruel, wanton, indiscriminate”.

Can the same be said about Britain’s bombing of Germany later in the war?

Historian AC Grayling notes that among the bombs dropped on Germany “were time-delay devices, set to explode at intervals in the hours and days after a raid to disrupt ambulance, firefighting and rescue services.”

 

It is quite right that we commemorate the sacrifice of those who gave their lives during World War II. Yet this doesn’t mean we should forget those killed in other countries, and recognise our own actions in the conflict.

 

Blitz Learnings; fighters in the Battle of Britain and civilians during the Blitz showed great courage. However, we could do more to explore the impact of the war on other countries.

Did the British bombing of Berlin provoke the bombings known as the Blitz? Were the later bombings of German towns justified?

 

Note on accuracy; we do our utmost to ensure our articles are accurate. This is difficult in this instance when various dates and numbers of those killed differ from source to source. Where we have quoted numbers we have linked to the relevant pages. If you wish to report any errors then please email sor@scenesofreason.com

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