Yes, the rebels can defeat ISIS — and the UK’s increased involvement in Syria will help

Hassan Hassan writes: The US has thus far focused on working with particular forces in limited areas to battle Isis, while persistently striking the group’s bases and economic routes inside its heartlands. The tagetting of bridges and oil facilities and trucks is paralysing the economy in Isis-controlled areas. This sometimes pushed people to join the only employer in town to generate income for their families. Others have emptied their household of young members by sending them overseas as refugees.

Meanwhile, Isis embeds in residential areas to evade the airstrikes while still making money through taxation, extortion and other means that enabled it to take most of the areas now under control before it laid its hands on the oil infrastructure. It is also quietly expanding in less strategic but vulnerable areas such as the areas between Palmyra, the city of Homs and southern Syria, to avoid intensive bombardment or heavy military deployment.

Britain should not exacerbate the situation by merely deploying jets to fly more sorties onto Isis areas. Instead, most of the time and effort should be used to encourage and prop up local forces to fight ISIS. That requires a strategy that is independent from the one currently led by Washington. The focus for the UK should be to work mostly in the background through existing and new channels to advise, network, train and provide non-military services to armed fighting groups in different parts of the country.

For example, the UK has until recently sponsored an ambitious and unique programme to appoint moderate imams in an area controlled by various rebel forces, instead of extremist clerics affiliated to jihadi organisations. Part of the moderate clerics’ focus was to educate worshippers about the danger of takfir — or pronouncing fellow Muslims as infidels or apostates. According to a field commander of the faction overseeing the programme, the “culture of takfir” is a major impediment to getting fighters to combat groups such as Isis, especially if the faction is backed by western countries. [Continue reading…]

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