The West’s Fight Against
Terrorism is Anemic
By David Deptula and Richard Kemp
March 12, 2016
Arguing for the authorization of
airstrikes on Syria in the British House of Commons recently, British Shadow
Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn — a life-long campaigner against war — noted
succinctly that we know this about Islamic State: They are fascists, and we have
to defeat them.
Experience makes plain that when
terrorist movements control territory where they can organize and train, the
threat increases exponentially. The United States, the United Kingdom and our
coalition partners must intensify our anemic action to destroy the Islamic
Coalition airstrikes alone will
not defeat the Islamic State, nor end Syria’s brutal civil war. Ground forces
will be necessary to take back and hold territory in urban centers in Syria and
Iraq. We cannot predict the ultimate makeup of such forces. But we can be
certain that they will face an unconventional enemy that will act with utmost
brutality and pay no heed to the rules of warfare.
This is the fundamental challenge
our democracies face.
We are confronted by ruthless
Islamist death cults that pervert the rules of war to achieve victory and have
no respect for basic humanity.
Military planners know from
conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere that terrorist
organizations use a form of hybrid warfare combining terror with more
traditional structures found in armed forces to even the odds against
technologically superior forces reluctant to risk civilian casualties.
Headquarters are placed around, or even within, schools and hospitals. Civilians
are prevented from leaving conflict zones. Combatants deliberately dress in
civilian clothes, and embed fighting units in homes. Islamic State uses these
tactics to slaughter innocent civilians and commit savage acts to increase human
suffering in flagrant violation of any moral code.
Rooted in democracies that promote
the rule of law, our own militaries will never abandon the values that define
us. However, the current coalition rules of engagement well exceed the standards
of law for the conduct of war, resulting in playing into the hands of Islamic
State by providing it time and freedom of action to continue its atrocities.
These self-imposed restrictions
are a conscious political choice and not a legal obligation. They are the result
of twisted narratives propagated by our enemies and reflected and amplified to a
disturbing extent by international organizations and NGOs.
Here Israel’s experience serves
as a cautionary tale. The U.N. Human Rights Council, and several international
NGOs, strongly criticized Israel’s conduct during the 2014 Gaza conflict it
fought against Hamas’ Islamic extremists. As part of an independent team of
military experts from democratic countries examining that conflict earlier this
year, we found the opposite — namely that the Israel Defense Forces’ actions
to prevent collateral damage were so extensive, over and above the requirements
of the Law of Armed Conflict, that they would curtail the effectiveness of our
own militaries if we were forced to apply the same cautions to the fight against
Unlike the Islamic State, or in
Israel’s case — Hamas — our militaries abide by the Law of Armed Conflict,
the rules that govern warfare and seek to mitigate its worst excesses. However,
we are faced with brutal opponents on complex battlefields who deliberately seek
the most horrific means to slaughter civilian populations they hide among for
the purposes of propaganda.
Misguided and ill-informed
politicians and international institutions such as the United Nations, the
International Criminal Court and NGOs in the West often amplify narratives about
the realities of these conflicts that are not only reflective of the prism
through which those who seek us harm would like our actions to be viewed, but
frankly are illiterate when it comes to the military and legal realities of
To prevail in the battle against
Islamic extremists, be they Islamic State or Hamas, we must counter their
corrosive propaganda about the actions of our troops and those of our allies,
which our enemies deploy in an attempt to use these slanderous sentiments in the
international political arena to constrain us in a way they could never achieve
when facing our troops on a battlefield.
Lt. Gen David Deptula and Col.
Richard Kemp are part of the High
Level Military Group (HLMG) that consists of retired senior military
officers and foreign affairs officials from democratic countries.