Ground forces are the only solution in Syria
The Syrian civil war has now dragged on for coming up to three years. The increase of ISIL as a regional power across both Syria and Iraq and the threat it poses to Russia and the West makes this an international problem. There will be no correct solution, just one that is least bad.
The Iraq government has lost huge amounts of territory to ISIL and is slowly fighting back with Western assistance. It could take years to re-take the land and is likely that Baghdad has permanently lost control of the Kurdish region in the north.
In Syria the myriad of different factions fighting, from Assad’s forces to Hezbollah, opposition fighters and ISIL makes the situation particularly complex. The division between what the West wants to achieve and what Russia is aiming for means that supporting different factions makes it worse and there is no united goal of what the international community wants to achieve.
The end result is a confused response: a purely short-term tactical effort – air strikes – with no strategic thought about a long-term solution. At some point in the last few decades politicians have lost the ability to think strategically, to see the wider picture and to be able to plan ahead.
Ultimately the solution for Syria and Iraq is unpalatable: international ground forces. Only a modern Western military invasion is capable enough of intervening, crushing ISIL quickly in a matter of weeks and at least restoring some form of stability to allow an international UN peace force to come in.
Before this happens the West and Russia need to agree on what the post-conflict landscape will look like and if and what influence Assad will have afterwards, it will be a dirty compromise but both sides have to stick to it and enforce it. Local military forces have to be developed quickly to take on the security role.
It will cost more lives in the short term, Western blood will be split and civilians will die, but ISIL will be driven underground. Then with the proper post-conflict planning, so lacking after the Iraq War, it will provide for longer-term peace and overall lives will be saved. From the West’s and Russia’s point of view ISIL will not have a secure base from which to launch their attacks internationally.
That will not be the end of it. ISIL won’t simply die out, they are likely to continue their war from the shadows and any stabilisation force will be faced with suicide bombers and IED threats. Fortunately Western militaries are well-versed in this form of warfare after a decade of experience and with the support of the Syrian and Iraqi people it may be harder for them to operate.
There is no easy solution only hard choices. There is no negotiating with ISIL, they thrive on conflict. Simply sitting behind air strikes will degrade some military capabilities of ISIL but they remain in command of the lands they have conquered and there is no credible land force locally that can take it back.
Western politicians have been scarred by the military experiences of the past decade, but Iraq in 2003-2010 is not Iraq and Syria now. The situation is vastly different and because one intervention has been deemed wrong, it does not mean all intervention is wrong. It is time they got their act together to bring about a plan to save Syria and its people.