What Can IS Chief al-Baghdadi’s Killing by US Forces Teach India?
US raid which killed al-Baghdadi included ‘Hollywood’s’ best. Here’s what India can learn about counter-terrorism.
The part of the world seen as being headed by President Trump, has announced a ‘victory’. The chief of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ( ISIS) is dead, apparently self-detonating himself and possibly members of his family, as US forces homed in on his hideout. The United States President announced the details of the raid with unsuppressed glee, that will most certainly infuriate the rest of the Islamic State cadres still out there.
The rest of the world that is rather more realistically inclined, will heap praise on US forces most deservedly. But there will also be a realisation that ‘victory’ is a far cry.
A new leader will emerge, and will attract more recruits from the rubble and disaster zones that are the war zones of Syria, Iraq, and other such areas like Afghanistan. Some may be from India. Many will be from Pakistan, an undeclared war zone that propels itself into any conflict worldwide. A few may be from Sri Lanka or the Maldives. For New Delhi or anyone else, the danger is far from over. So, let’s look at some of the details of the raid and its aftermath.
What Hollywood-Style US Raid Says: It’s All About Tech
The US raid included all the elements of the best from Hollywood. The kill team included eight helicopters, military dogs and specialised robots that operated together with the highly secretive Delta Force into the target area. Remember Delta Force as the ones who first went into Afghanistan in 2001 to oust the Taliban, sometimes riding along with fighters from the north, sometimes deployed along the border with Pakistan. This is a force that has immense experience in this kind of thing, in various parts of the world, including in Syria which the US abandoned recently.
Indian Special Forces can only dream about the kind of equipment and intelligence support that these groups have.
Neither can some of them hope not to be eventually co-opted into protecting some politician. As war moves more and more into the covert zone, funds need to be moved to develop these capabilities that may be used far more than those artillery systems and tanks. Bravery can only go so far. Ultimately, it’s about the tech.
US Forces’ Killing of IS Chief: India Must Consider Rapid ‘Assassinations’
Then there is the fact that the US forces took more than six years to home in on a terrorist leader. Baghdadi, after all, declared himself the ‘Caliph’ in 2014, and Bin Laden lived happily in Pakistan for years. But in the end, they were caught and eliminated. That takes an immense amount of patience in intelligence-gathering.
It also requires the elan of a super power to take them out anywhere, in any country.
But here’s the thing. It’s that capability which makes you a super power in the first place. India, while chasing the nomenclature of a ‘regional power’, needs to consider sanctioning such rapid ‘assassinations’ around a structured foreign policy strategy. The ability is there, though not as much desirable. Now the ideas need to be taken out of meeting rooms and into the field. It is time.
Annihilation of a Fundamentalist Can’t Be A Chest-Thumping Opportunity
Even while Trump was vociferously claiming ISIS’ s defeat, experts in the field were already speculating its possible successor. The effectiveness of ‘decapitation’ strategies is disputed. After all, the killing of a al Musawi by the Israelis only led to the emergence of an even more violent leader — Nasrullah. Al Zarqawi of al Qaeda was killed in 2006, but al Qaeda still remains reasonably strong in all theatres.
A possible reason for a few successes could be the timing. In other words, the sooner you bump off the ‘bad guy’, the more chance that his organisation will sputter out.
One example in in Kashmir, where Zakir Musa, who aspired to head an al Qaeda-like group, was eliminated in less than two years. That group has yet to recover. Speed is of the essence. Bumping off Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Taiba for instance, would only lead to the emergence of a far more violently inclined leadership. It might even be a ‘gift’ to the Pakistanis, who are finding him to be something of an embarrassment. The annihilation of a terrorist leader should therefore be part of an overall strategy. Not a chest-thumping opportunity. That is exactly what President Trump is being accused of, in personalising a hard-won military operation, for electoral gain.
What US & Allies Must Consider: Only So Much Counter-Terrorism Can Achieve
According to US calculations, some 18,000 Islamic State fighters are active, and are likely to stage a comeback as the US moves out of Syria, and leaves the Kurds – the original source of intelligence on al-Baghdadi – to the tender mercies of Turkish forces.
As the sounds of victory reverberate across the western world – and truly among counter-terrorist forces everywhere – the schisms across ISIS may disappear, and infighting with other terrorist organisations like the al-Qaeda may also dissipate. Those who believe in him wholeheartedly – including the group who attacked Sri Lanka in the Easter bombings – will look for vengeance, anywhere and at any time. This is no ordinary kill. This is the ‘Caliph’ himself.
Counter-terrorist forces everywhere will already be homing in on that threat. No flies on counter-terrorist experts anywhere. But there is only so much counter-terrorism can achieve.
Urgent action is needed to deal with the situation that allowed the emergence of this ‘Caliph’ and other murderous leaders in the first place. Syria, Afghanistan, and very far down the scale — Kashmir back home — need to be provided with all the resources available to damp down misery and disillusionment. Deal with the swamp and then victory can speak for itself. Off the air, certainly unseen on Twitter, and far more permanent — for precisely those reasons.
(Dr Tara Kartha was Director, National Security Council Secretariat. She is now a Distinguished Fellow at IPCS. She tweets at @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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