Why Conventional Warfare Is Weak Against ISIS

Although it seems that we may be winning the war against ISIS, the fight against terrorism is far from over. The same conditions that have allowed Islamic jihadis to thrive are still unresolved, and our interference is only encouraging more Muslims to wage war against us.

The tug-of-war attacks go back and forth. Following the Manchester bombing in the UK in May, 25 airstrikes were launched on Jihadi targets in Syria. Less than a week later, more innocent UK citizens died in an attack on the country’s capital.

While ISIS may be on the retreat in Syria and Iraq, international factions continue to cause havoc. Even if we wipe them out altogether, it’s only a matter of time before another terrorist organization rears their ugly head.

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It’s clear that conventional warfare has no real effect on dampening these Islamists’ beliefs, so what can our government do to squash this problem once and for all?

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The Premise of Conventional Warfare

Since the development of the nation-state, warfare has been fought between two sovereign powers, each represented by a leader who controlled all military action. This universally-recognized system has carried modern civilization through two world wars and countless smaller confrontations. It has protected civilians, allowed for peaceful surrender and ensured amicable post-war negotiations. The basic premise involves weakening rival states by destroying infrastructure, military capacity and resources.

It’s hard to imagine the world where without conventional warfare. However, it’s a relatively recent concept. In 1648, Western leaders signed the famous Treaty of Westphalia in an attempt to quell the ongoing religious violence. It provided ethical guidelines for the art of war and an agreement that ideological warfare jeopardized the chance of a civilized future.

However, once again, the world is changing, as small Islamists factions, such as ISIS, fail to honor the divide between religion and politics. The West must now look past conventional warfare to protect themselves from the growing menace of terrorism.

Ideological Warfare & ISIS

The feud between Christians and Muslims has raged throughout history. Since Muhammad first instigated the spread of Islam in the 7th century, the push-and-pull over land, resources and religion has never ceased. From the Crusades of the Middle Ages to the Ottoman Empire. It goes right up to Western Colonization following the world wars.

By the 20th century, Europe had made distinctive efforts to separate church from state. However, many Middle Eastern governments rely on scripture for guidance. The 1978-79 Iranian revolution instated an unelected, theocratic ruling board; in the Eygpt uprising of 2011 the Muslim Brotherhood, advocates of Sharia law, gained power for two years.

Most prolifically, Saudi Arabian authorities view the Qur’an as the constitution.  Harsh laws, such as the ban on female drivers and the leniency towards honor killings, have paved the way for a rise of purist Islam. The Salafis are a small sect from Saudi Arabia who preach the strictest interpretations of Sharia Law.

Their purist creed has provided a justification for violent groups such as ISIS. The organization states its aim as establishing a caliphate in the modern world, one that harks back to the strict and brutal Arab empire of the Middle Ages.

This type of ideological warfare is not restricted by nation state; it can move from country to country, recruiting followers and claiming land. They won’t succumb to conventional warfare, as terrorists have no allegiance to infrastructure or population. When our armies have destroyed their resources in one place, they’ll simply move on – as we saw in ISIS’s spread from Iraq to Syria.

Mass-Murder of Civilians

Casualties of war are a tragedy in any situation. The commandments teach us not to kill, but when aggressors threaten the lives of innocents, our duty is to defend. It is declarations, such as the Treaty of Westphalia, that aim to reduce civilian deaths in warfare. However, as ISIS and other terrorist groups do not abide by this rule, we are faced when a moral dilemma.

Airstrikes have killed thousands of innocent Muslims throughout this war. In conventional warfare, this would weaken our opposition’s stance. However, ISIS feels no responsibility for those who don’t join their cause; the rising civilian casualty count means nothing to them.

Knowing this, it’s harder to justify conventional warfare in good Christian conscience. Though terrorists kill our countrymen, Luke 6:27-31 calls for us to ‘love our enemies…And as you wish that others do to you, do so to them.’

Military attorney Gary Myers notes that the same civilian casualty rate by ground forces would have come under considerable scrutiny, and believes that there is less responsibility for drone actions as no American lives are at risk.

While it’s our religious duty not stoop to the moral lows of our attackers, we can’t remain sitting ducks. If we cannot fight ISIS exclusively from the air, then we have to find alternative tactics to quell their plague.

Unconventional Tactics

Unconventional warfare is often used when in enemy territory. It involves sustained campaigns that provide training and arms to local militias to fight on our behalf. Doing this harnesses the power of native knowledge. These proxy-armies know the terrain and can differentiate between local groups. Particularly when dealing with terrorists, unconventional campaigns have seen significant success.

In Afghanistan, when the U.S. Military joined forces with the Northern Alliance rebels, the coalition was able to regain control of Kabul and Kandahar – the country’s most significant cities. In Iraq, the Anbar Awakening saw village tribesmen from the province help the U.S to overthrow Al-Qaeda’s hold. Not only did this help our campaign, but it also galvanized locals against the Islamists’ powers who rule their territory.

Unfortunately, there are also unsuccessful examples of unconventional warfare in action. The most recent of which resulted in ISIS gaining a significant amount of U.S. weapons. When our government stood up against Syrian President Assad, they chose to train and arm rebel groups instead of putting boots on the ground.

They backed political guerilla fighters, The Free Syrian Army, on their mission to overthrow Assad. Unfortunately, as ISIS began to spread to Syria, many defected to join the Islamists. With them went a considerable amount of high-quality U.S. military equipment.

Cyber Warfare

Al Qaeda dabbled in hacking, but ISIS has dedicated an entire division to the concept. We have already seen them breach the websites of UK government departments, and this is only the start. Their work could change the face of warfare forever.

Recruitment is essential for ideological terrorism. Catering to the internet generation, ISIS hackers work hard to implement propaganda into websites by infecting them with malware. They have also harnessed the power of social media, with an increasing number of propaganda accounts appearing faster than Twitter can block them.

However, some prolific US citizens have also been warned that ISIS is farming their data. The FBI told Nick Palmisciano, a military businessman, that his messages and details had been intercepted and he had been identified “as a high-value target.”

While this side of ISIS is less devastating than their violent attacks, it holds to key to a significant portion of their strength. Cutting them off online has numerous advantages:

  • Monitoring dissemination will help form an understanding of how they work, creating an ability to preempt their actions.
  • Blocking their propaganda from end-users will reduce recruitment rates.
  • Shutting down ISIS servers remotely will heavily interfere with their activity.
  • Freezing bank accounts and restricting purchase ability will cripple them financially.

ISIS and other terrorists are waging an unjust and unethical war on innocent people. While our instincts might tell us to go in guns blazing, it’s clear that conventional warfare is weak against religious rebellion. We have to find a new tactic if we want to silence this threat forever! Leave a comment below if you can think of any strategies not already mentioned.



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