The threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

Together with my colleagues Paul Schulte and Chris Wyatt of the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation, and Security at the University of Birmingham, I submitted an analysis of the situation in Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in response to a call for evidence by the UK Parliament’s Defence Select Committee.

In our submission, we address three specific sets of issues: counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation policy, including the ideological threat; the role of air power in operations, especially remote piloted aircraft (RPA) and their systems; and the need to consider ongoing operations and policy in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the associated National Security Strategy (NSS).

We conclude that the Government has emphasised that successful military action is dependent on an internal political solution in Iraq and a regional solution involving other states. We believe that the conditions are in place and that there is an imperative to take action. The border between Syria and Iraq is porous to the point of non-existence, so involvement in Iraq will have at least some consequences which carry over into Syria.

We argue that regular British ground troops should be deployed as a last resort and that as much ground fighting as possible should be carried out by local allies and co-belligerents. Trainers and Special Forces would be required on the ground throughout. Opportunities for intelligence and unconventional operations may be exceptionally favourable. In the air, the UK should use the optimum airpower mix, including RPAs, without special restriction.

Current UK military operations are sustainable in the long term with sensible measures being taken to minimise the footprint on the ground and care taken to avoid unnecessary losses. Working with coalition partners, especially the US, will generate many of the synergies needed for sustained operations.

Coalition activity against ISIL will also complicate the humanitarian situation in some areas but it is important to consider that the effects of blurring the civilian and the military – often encountered in UK and allied Counterinsurgency doctrine – should be avoided. Otherwise, the distribution of aid could appear partisan and communal, rather than humanitarian.

Finally, we reiterate the obvious need for all Government Departments to co-ordinate their efforts to deal with the threat posed by ISIL and for all policy to be updated and internationally co-ordinated.

The full submission can be downloaded as a PDF file.