‘You can’t carpet-bomb your way to victory’: Plotting the fight against ISIS
The fight against the so-called Islamic State must be waged on multiple fronts, agreed a panel of experts gathered in Halifax for a major international security conference this week – but perhaps the most important counter-offensive needs to happen in cyberspace.
IS’s online presence and the effective dissemination of a radial Islamist message that is still resonating with would-be attackers in countries around the world took centre stage at the Halifax International Security Forum on Friday.
“We’re really waging war against [the Islamic State] in spheres,” acknowledged retired Gen. John Allen, who until very recently was the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Defeating ISIS (another name for IS).
Allen was part of a panel of five experts moderated by The West Block‘s Tom Clark.
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In addition to the war on the ground, he said, coalition members are seeking to undercut the violent jihadist group in the financial realm. But it’s in the information sphere “where the decisive outcome will be determined.”
“Part of that is having a deterrent message …. ensuring that our Arab friends with a Muslim voice are prominent in that message,” Allen explained.
Industry and the private sector – telecommunications companies, for example – also have to be brought on board, he added.
“I think we came to that conclusion probably later than we should have.”
Alliance with Anonymous?
In response to a question from the audience about coalition members harnessing the power of “hacktivist” groups like Anonymous, which has promised to deploy all available resources to counter IS, Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said that may be difficult.
“How would you get to a standard of conduct?” Vance asked. “How would you actually manage that? How would you control it?”
But Dr. Janice Gross Stein, founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, countered that perhaps governments should simply be trying to provide necessary resources for young, creative minds hoping to counter IS’s message online.
Air strikes as prelude
The panelists agreed that the air strikes currently underway in Syria and Iraq, where IS is based, are meant to keep the group contained and maintain pressure long enough to get ground troops – whether local or international – ready to move in for a final blow.
Clark then asked if perhaps the fact that so many coalition aircraft are returning to base without dropping their bombs is an indication that the rules of engagement are too stringent. Currently, bombs are not dropped if there is a chance of civilian casualties.
Canada’s new Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, said that in his experience, such indiscriminate bombing is counterproductive as, at best, it can destroy people’s homes and turn them against coalition forces.
“You always have to be mindful of what the second and third effects are,” said Sajjan, a veteran of Afghanistan who delivered the opening remarks at the forum.
Admiral Bill Gortney, current commander of the North American Aerospace and Defense Command (NORAD) said so-called “carpet bombing” in Iraq and Syria is not the answer.
“I hope to never see that,” he said.
“You can’t carpet bomb your way to victory,” he said, adding that in a carefully managed operation, a fighter jet coming back with bombs still attached “is a good thing.”
The Halifax International Security Forum, an annual three-day event, continues throughout the weekend.
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