When French President Francois Hollande declared war on ISIS and called the attack in Paris an “act of war,” he gave the terrorist organization’s leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi an unexpected boost. He upgraded the Muslim caliphate to a fully-fledged state against which France is now at war. US President Barack Obama was more cautious, declaring at the G-20 summit in Antalya that his country and France would fight together against terror, without specifying how.
Obama has problems of his own. The attempt to portray the Kurdish conquest of the city of Sinjar in northern Iraq as an important achievement in the war against ISIS dissipated quickly after Peshmerga troops were shown on TV moving into a city that was empty and lying in ruins, after it was abandoned by Islamic State forces. There was no battle there either.
Also, the US and Kurdish claims that they had severed the main road link between the ISIS capitals in Iraq and Syria, Mosul and Raqqa, proved hollow as ISIS had stopped using that route months ago after it became vulnerable to American air strikes.
If that wasn’t enough, Obama ran into an obstacle in Antalya.
The summit’s host, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who is consumed by an overriding aversion to an independent Kurdish state rising on his country’s border, demanded a declaration that all Kurdish forces, including the Peshmerga, the PKK and the YPG, on which the US depends heavily for fighting the war against ISIS, be classified as terrorists and targeted by the West just like ISIS.
Therefore, before broaching any decisions about intensifying the war on the Islamist terrorists, Western and Muslim countries were already at odds on targets.
It therefore makes no sense for President Hollande to try and invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter under which an act of war against one member of the alliance is tantamount to a war on all. Furthermore, making this a NATO operation would rule out a priori any collaboration with Russia in the campaign against ISIS, despite their common objective. Vladimir Putin was already vexed over the feeble Western response to the bombing of a Russian airliner killing 224 people, compared to the global outcry over the Paris outrage.
In their responses and commentaries on what to do after the Paris assault, Western politicians and security experts seemed to agree that putting their own boots on the ground for finally getting to grips with ISIS was not on the cards – there would just be “more of the same,’ as one American security expert put it.
Others advised assigning the ground battle to the Egyptian, Jordanian, Kurdish, Iraqi, Saudi and other Gulf Arab states.
Who were they kidding? None of those Arab governments or armies is capable or willing to declare full-scale war on the Islamic State. The Kurds alone have stepped into the breach and are confronting the Islamists face to face, but they have sought in vain for the weapons they need, which the US refuses to supply.
Egypt, for instance, even after an ISIS network was able to breach its security system in Sharm El-Sheikh to plant a bomb on the Russian airliner on Oct. 31, has held back from a major military assault on the strongholds of the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, otherwise known as ISIS-Sinai. Egypt’s President Fattah Al-Sisi has not uttered a word on the Islamist threat since then.
French security and intelligence services demonstrated that they were unprepared for war on ISIS, and are pretty much in the same boat as other Western powers.
Since the outrage in Paris, French and Belgian security forces have conducted raid after raid to pick up Islamists, claiming to be rounding up the masterminds and confederates of the nine bombers and shooters who attacked Paris and murdered 132 people In fact, they are acting more to calm a jittery public than in the expectation of achieving meaningful results in the war on terror. Till now, neither France nor any Western government knows exactly how many people were involved in the attack on Paris, or the numbers and locations of the Islamic Caliphate’s worldwide terror networks.