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NZ Contemplates joining Combat Operations against ISIS

Should New Zealand join the US-led coalition to confront ISIS?


A domestic beheading, a suicide bombing, or even an assassination attempt may be what Islamic State (IS) inspired fanatics are planning for innocent New Zealanders.

On Saturday morning, Prime Minister John Key told The Nation that a disproportionate number of Islamic State (IS) fighters have been recruited from the Oceania region. Mr Key said it was possible that this trend could increase the chance of another “Bali bombing”-style atrocity.

Key believes that New Zealanders may be under threat, especially by returning IS terrorists. The Prime Minister also noted that Kiwi aid workers and expatriates in the region could be targeted in a similarly gruesome manner to how James Foley and other journalists and aid workers have been in Syria and parts of Iraq.

These reasons, in combination with the “frightening” growth of IS are reasons why New Zealand might join combat operations with its allies, Key said.

The newly re-elected National government has not ruled out sending New Zealand’s elite Special Air Service (SAS) but the personnel are not currently on standby for deployment to Iraq or Syria.

Iraq, Syria and soon Turkey?

Despite US-led coalition air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the fanatical Islamic group continues its fascistic and genocidal march forward.

Islamic State fighters have recently been encircling the Syrian border town of Kobane which shares its border with Turkey. The local population of Kurds are the current defenders of the town and crucially still control the town’s border crossing point with Turkey. Several hundred civilians are still trapped in Kobane where the prospect of a massacre awaits them if the town falls to IS.

Since the IS offensive, some 500 people have been killed in Kobane with the majority of the citizenry having fled – up to 200,000 across the border into Turkey.

Turkey has placed its military forces on the border ready for the worst but has ruled out allowing Kurds living in Turkey to cross the border to fight IS. Kurdish refugees from Kobane told Reuter’s news agency they fear the world is ignoring their plight.

“If the United States is willing to help, not like [Turkish President] Erdogan, we could return today. But countries are just looking at us. What they’re waiting for, I don’t know. They watch to see what will happen. You see the situation here and people are not in good shape. People die, including children. We are homeless.”

Today ISIS controls large amounts of land stretching from Syria into Iraq. ISIS is well financed and armed, and is attracting fighters from Western countries such as the UK, France and Australia to join their ranks.

The group is seen as one of the most boastful ideological movements that has surged in recent times, with the detailed documentation of atrocities committed by the extremist group, using modern technology, bordering on the pornographic. ISIS has committed acts of genocide, mass killings, and abductions of religious and ethnic minorities, and also seemingly beheads innocent and vulnerable people with nary a second thought.

With this in mind, do you think New Zealand should refuse to join the fight against the IS?

SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 13: Thick smoke rises following an airstrike by the US-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and the militants of the Islamic State (IS) group, as seen from the outskirts of Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border on October 13, 2014. Kobani has been besieged by Islamic State militants since mid-September. At least 500 people have been killed and more than 200,000 have been forced to flee across the border into Turkey.

Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images


Decisive Action Needed to Halt ISIS

Several days ago, John Key was asked whether he would send SAS personnel to the war-torn region.

“I can’t rule that absolutely out, but what I can say is that I’ll get advice and we’ll see how that goes, but it would be my least preferred option.”

Key was somewhat cautious in his rhetoric: “History tells you that going into places like Iraq is fraught with difficulty and danger, and as we know with Afghanistan, it was a very long-term commitment”.

In the current situation the SAS could be deployed to help in intelligence gathering measures and to aid the US-led air strikes. The Prime Minister emphasised that involvement in Iraq was more likely than in Syria because the Iraqi government had requested international help while Syria, still torn under its civil war, did not.

Mr Key wants a Parliamentary debate on the issue before any personnel are committed, which won’t happen until 21 October when the House sits again. However, odds are that by that time ISIS could have complete control of Kobane and could be trying to make inroads into Turkey.

On the Eastern front, in Iraq’s Anbar province, the vice president of the Anbar Provincial Council recently warned that Anbar could also fall to IS within a matter of days. There have also been recent reports of infiltrated suburbs just eight miles from Baghdad’s international airport – which could spark terrorist attacks toward aircrafts.

These worrying developments call for decisive leadership and action both within the region and outside. The West’s apparent lack of intelligent and decisive strategic foreign policy following the invasion of Iraq and the civil war in Syria seems to have given IS a clear path to power in that region of the world.

There is one particular shortcoming in US foreign policy worth taking note of: in 2010, the Obama administration decided to reject the establishment of a status of forces agreement (SOFA) in Iraq, which could have prevented the growth of IS and other extremist groups in the region.

Indefinitely leaving a SOFA of about 20,000 troops – as was done in the likes of Korea, Italy and the Balkans after various wars fought in the 20th century – was not considered politically expedient for Mr Obama because he was to campaign in 2012 on a platform of ending the war in Iraq.

The power vacuum left open by the US and its coalition partners helped ISIS gain ground in Iraq while also leaving Syria defenceless. Then the civil war in Syria proved to be another foreign policy failure for the West. The lack of decisive action to support, mobilise and arm moderate Syrian rebels left a void in the opposition, which several Islamic fundamentalist groups were quick fill.

Thus the allied forces in the region left the Iraqis to fend for themselves and then enabled, by this passive approach, the most fanatical Islamic groups of recent history to form as opposition in Syria – right by Iraq’s fragile border. Some analysts have argues that this approach was always going to be a recipe for disaster.

There is no doubt that ISIS will have to be confronted to be ‘contained’ or defeated. The West seems to believe that a US-led coalition limited to air strikes and arming Kurds and local Iraqi government forces will be the way to defeat the IS. But air strikes can only be effective while embracing civilian casualties – such is the brutal reality of being at war. The Obama administration has made it clear that the US will do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties – as Obama urged Israel to do in the face of Hamas aggression in Palestine.

Thus, IS fighters now have every incentive to hide among civilians. A nuanced effort to destroy ISIS may unfortunately only be feasible with capacities on the ground working in coordination with air power.

ISIS is a rapidly growing fascist, totalitarian and barbaric movement that aims to create an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria and beyond. New Zealand can either be a bystander to genocide or we can make a stand with our international allies and fight against this ultimate evil.

As the Kurdish refugee from Kobane said: “Countries are just looking at us. What they’re waiting for, I don’t know.”





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About the author

Cameron is a Freelance Columnist who works for a non-profit surgical company in the heart of London. A recent political science graduate, Cameron has a strong writing background in all things political, economic and foreign affairs. His writing style is a blend of the cold hard facts with a dash of opinion and personality. Cameron writes weekly political columns for the New Zealand Times and is intending to broaden his writing repertoire to include topics such as travel, sport and food & drink.

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