UK airstrikes, US special forces. What a ‘pitiless war’ on terrorism really means

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 2, 2015

solidarity with parisOn Wednesday, Britain voted on joining the US and France in bombing Isil. On Tuesday, US defence secretary Ash Carter promised more special operations forces for Iraq and Syria. And the US is trying to get Turkey to close its border so that Isil can be expelled from the last 98km strip of the Syria-Turkish border it controls.

The French president, of course, has vowed a “pitiless war” against terrorism. What could that possibly mean? German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the terror “hits all of us,” and there should be a collective response from the international community.

But what would that be?

James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander of Nato has said in an article in Foreign Policy, that Nato’s 28 members should mount a military response. He writes that the “fundamental purpose of a NATO mission should be to defeat the Islamic state in Syria and destroy the infrastructure it has created there.” This is the response mandated by Article 5 in NATO’s founding treaty, he reminds us.

Will that work? The pros and cons of the military option will no doubt be debated.

And then there’s the matter of policing Europe. Relatively tight security was already in place in France in the run-up to the Paris climate talks. Temporary border controls had already been imposed. For some time now, French security sources have been worrying about indiscriminate attacks in public places.

So what would a “pitless war” against terrorism do, that hasn’t already been done?

More intelligence-gathering perhaps? But this will take time – to recruit, train, infiltrate.

According to The Economist, French intelligence services “have some 5,000 people with links to terrorism on a watch list; the Thalys gunman had been among them. It is simply not possible to keep anything like that number under surveillance.”

This is the problem with a “war” on terror. Military option or not, you can’t fight a concept, just its perpetrators.