Pressure mounts for stronger military action against ISIS

French Police stand near the statue at Place de la Republique square in Paris, France, Nov 15, 2015.
French Police stand near the statue at Place de la Republique square in Paris, France, Nov 15, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON • The Paris terror attacks are likely to galvanise a stronger global military response to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), even as a US-led air war that has lasted more than a year fails to contain a group now proving itself to be a growing worldwide threat.

The US, long accused of taking an incremental approach to the struggle, is under growing political pressure at home and abroad to do more and it is expected to examine ways to intensify the campaign, including through expanded air power. US officials say Washington will look in particular to European and Arab allies to step up their military participation in Iraq and Syria.

It remains far from clear whether Paris and Washington would be willing to radically expand the scope of their military engagement, given a deep aversion to getting dragged into a large-scale ground war in the Middle East. But US President Barack Obama has been committing more to the fight in recent months, and lawmakers and counter-terrorism experts see the Paris attacks strengthening arguments for additional military might.

ISIS claimed responsibility for last Friday's attacks, which killed 129 people in Paris, in the worst bloodshed in France since the end of World War II. In the past two weeks, there have been other major ISIS-claimed attacks. Two explosions in suicide attacks in a Shi'ite Muslim district of southern Beirut in Lebanon killed 43, and 224 died when a Russian aircraft crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the US Senate Intelligence Committee, said it had become clear that Mr Obama's strategy of limited air strikes coupled with support for ground forces in Iraq and Syria "are not sufficient to protect our country and our allies". "The fight is quickly spreading outside Iraq and Syria, and that's why we must take the battle to them," she said.

Republicans seeking the party's nomination to be its candidate in the 2016 presidential election have also been ratcheting up the pressure after the Paris attacks. One of them, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, said the terrorists were engaged in "an organised effort to destroy Western civilisation" and the US needed to take the lead against them. "This is the war of our time," Mr Bush told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt last Friday night.

France, which has described the Paris assault as an act of war, can quickly ramp up its contribution to the air campaign against ISIS targets. Even before the Paris attacks, France had announced that its sole aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, would be deployed to the Middle East, arriving on Wednesday.

"We're only a matter of days before the French carrier departs and heads to the Persian Gulf to do strikes," said former FBI official Martin Reardon, now with The Soufan Group consultancy. "I think France will do more."

Mr Obama only last month agreed to send US special operations forces to Syria to coordinate with opposition fighters on the ground, something he had ruled out previously. He also deployed more US aircraft to a base in Turkey.

US officials say they are in discussions with allies, including from Arab nations, to also increase their roles in the air campaign. Talks are also under way about whether allies might deploy special operations forces in Iraq and Syria.

Another question, officials and analysts said, is whether Britain will expand the air strikes and airborne intelligence assets it has already used over Iraq to Syria.

London has not struck at ISIS in Syria. Although British Prime Minister David Cameron is said to be eager to take that step, he faces resistance from lawmakers.

"The question is, really, will this change the British Parliament?" a US official said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2015, with the headline 'Pressure mounts for stronger military action against ISIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe