The case for intervention against ISIS

It is not in spite, but because of the consequences of the conflict that I am for further military intervention by the West

Florian Neuhof

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I am, I readily admit, hardly a pacifist. Since I moved to Kurdistan, I have relished the opportunity to visit the frontlines, to speak to the fighters and to inspect their weapons. Warfare has always fascinated me.

I am not squeamish when confronted with the consequences of war either: devastated towns and villages, the exodus of civilians into refugee camps at home and abroad, even the occasional dead bodies and mass graves.

All this might lead you to assume that a hawkish stance on Western intervention in Syria and Iraq – a much debated issue in the wake of the Paris attacks – is down to a certain excitability over military matters, and a disregard to the human cost of the conflict. I probably lost a few Facebook friends over my pro-intervention posts.

Reality of ISIS rule

But it is not so. Finding out about the tragic fate of displaced families, who have lost loved ones and who have little hope of leading a normal live anytime soon, can be harrowing. The Yazidis in particular have gruesome tales to tell. ISIS wiped out whole villages when it swept into the Sinjar area last year, massacring the men and old women, and forcing the younger women into sexual slavery. In Raqqa, Aleppo and Mosul, Yazidi boys are being brainwashed to become the new generation of jihadists and suicide bombers while their mothers are being raped, and sold on like cattle. Such is the reality of ISIS rule.

Last weekend, I visited the home of a Kurdish Peshmerga fighter, who just spent a year in the trenches of Sinjar, and had taken part in last month’s offensive to push ISIS out of the city. While we spoke in his living room, his two year-old son wriggled in his lap, giggling as his father gently tickled him. His second son was born a month early, on the day Sinjar fell to the Kurds, and father and mother are worried about his fragile health.

The fighter’s unit is currently undergoing a training course provided by a number of European armies. For five weeks, the men will be taught basic infantry tactics, marksmanship and battlefield first aid. These are skills they sorely lacked since they picked up their rifles last year to defend their families against the jihadi death cult that is ISIS. This lack of expertise has cost the lives of several of their comrades, and my friend could have easily been one of them.


The Kurdish lines, which wobbled and gave way in places, stabilized as the coalition began dropping bombs on the advancing ISIS columns, and remained intact because Western airstrikes have continued. Erbil, where I live, is about 40 kilometers from the front, and were it not for the U.S. air force it might well be part of the caliphate.

It is not in spite, but because of the consequences of the conflict that I am for further military intervention by the West. To avoid unnecessary casualties, reliable allies need to be strengthened; to give them a better chance of liberating others from the ISIS yoke, air strikes need to be stepped up and special forces must enter the war in greater numbers. The West must encourage alliances between the various groups fighting the terror group with little coordination, and do its best to create a political framework that offers the chance of a lasting peace.

The half-hearted measures proposed by well-intentioned but ill-informed opponents of further interventions will do little to nothing to defeat ISIS. It is delusional to think that the terrorist state will simply melt away if you crack down on its oil trade, or hermetically seal Syria’s border with Turkey. Most of the group’s funding comes from taxing the people under its control, a further argument for rolling it back by force.

Without a sufficient military response, ISIS will fester. As long as it persists, it will pose a danger to the West; it will continue to rape and kill; and it will inflict heavy casualties on the local forces that stand up to it.

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