‘US not interested in defeating ISIS’
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony's College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. Sharmine has written commentary for a wide array of publications, including Al Akhbar English, the New York Times, the Guardian, Asia Times Online, Salon.com, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, BRICS Post and others. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani
RT: There are more than 60 countries in the coalition fighting against Islamic State. How hard is it for the US to keep them all united?
Sharmine Narwani: I think the US is playing loose with international law. To start off with, this coalition is illegitimate. The reason to have signed up 60 countries is more to create some kind of cover, some kind of legitimacy for these illegal operations in Syria. The main struggle is probably with the key Arab members of the coalition who were the starting members of the coalition - five Persian Gulf countries and Jordan included - because they have quite disparate objectives from the US.
RT: How many countries in the coalition are actually contributing to its goals?
SN: That is a very interesting point, because even though there are 60 countries listed in the coalition, there are only 11 who have contributed in Syria. There are two groups: like I mentioned, the Arab states – I call them the Sunni states, because they provide some kind of Arab Sunni legitimacy for the Americans; the other states are the UK, the US and France – three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Canada and Australia.
What is interesting about this is – of those five Western countries it is only Canada that stepped in relatively early, when things kicked off last year. It was the US mainly with the Arab States, and the UK, France and Australia have only come in the last three months, as well as Turkey, who is a new entrant in this coalition of 11, not 60.
RT: It's been more than a year since the US-led bombing campaign started. Why has the coalition failed to prevent ISIS from seizing new territory?
SN: Again, interesting that Turkey is a new entrant in this coalition of 11 bombing Syria. It only came on board around I think two months ago, in August, when it launched strikes against ISIL. Now, about a month ago we, after Turkey launched its airstrikes, were looking at still only about three airstrikes against ISIL – the rest were against Kurdish targets. So Turkey is an example of another Sunni state in this coalition of 11 that has disparate objectives from the US. So Turkey’s interest may be on the Kurdish issue, but for instance, in the other Arab Sunni states - their interests diverge from the Americans, because they are interested in regime change in Syria, whereas the Americans have taken a back seat on that in recent months. So it is very, very hard to keep this coalition together, because there are no common objectives among its 11 partners.
RT: What are the reasons, do you think the coalition is breaking apart? How can the coalition increase the efficiency of its actions?
SN: I see the coalition breaking apart or being redundant for two reasons. One is the lack of common objectives among the 11 actors participating in the coalition, but the other is more in lines with military strategy in fighting any war or conflict, anywhere. We’ve heard this over and over again in the Syrian conflict – you need a coordination of air force and ground power. The US-led coalition does not have this. Part of the reason it doesn’t have this is because it entered Syrian air space and violated international law in doing so against the wishes of the Syrian government. So it cannot coordinate with the Syrian government who leads the ground activities, whether it is the Syrian army or various Syrian militias that are pro-government; or Hezbollah – a non-state actor from Lebanon; or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their advisory capacity. The Russians of course do enjoy that relationship, so their airstrikes are not only both valid and legal, but also useful – a coordinated effort to target ISIL and other terrorist organizations.
RT: Do you think the US doesn’t have real intentions to fight ISIS, and that is the main reason of instability of its coalition?
SN: Absolutely. The US-led coalition has failed in attaining goals to defeat ISIS, not just because it cannot lead a coordinated military effort in air, land and sea in Syria, or because it lacks legality, or because the member states of the coalition have diverging interests. But I think the US interest as well has to be called into question. I mean: does the US want to defeat ISIS? I would argue very strongly based on what we’ve seen in the last year that the US is not interested in defeating ISIS. The US is interested in perhaps controlling ISIS’ movements, so that it helps to create a geopolitical balance on the ground that will provide the US government and its allies with leverage at the negotiating table. So they don’t want ISIS to take over all of Syria [because] that poses threats to allies in the region. They don’t want ISIS and other terrorist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and others, and the various coalitions they have formed to lose ground, because at the end of the day the only pressure there are going to be able to apply on the Syrian government and its allies is what is happening on the ground. And they need something; they need advantage on the ground that they can take with them to the negotiating table in Vienna.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.