One of the criticisms of the U.S. coalition against ISIL was that it wasn’t much of a coalition. The membership was vague, most of the heavy lifting was done by the U.S., and a number of the coalition members were hardly known as military powerhouses.
That has changed significantly since the terrorist attacks in Paris two weeks ago. Following votes in London and Berlin this week, both countries have announced plans to join anti-ISIL activities in Syria.
France has been bombing ISIL targets in Iraq for more than a year. It began striking targets in Syria in September, even before the November attack on Paris, and has stepped up its efforts in the aftermath. On Friday President Francois Hollande visited the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which has been stationed off Syria with 38 warplanes to facilitate the French mission. It was also revealed that French aircraft have been carrying out reconnaissance and surveillance missions over the Libyan town of Sirte, which has come under the control of the self-declared Islamic State and is viewed as a potential alternative headquarters for ISIL leaders as Syrian targets face growing pressure.
On Wednesday British Prime Minister David Cameron won approval in Parliament for the RAF to join in bombing missions over Syria. The first strikes came within hours from bases in Cyprus, which Cameron had also offered to make available to French planes. Cameron lost a similar vote in 2013, but argued that the Paris attacks, the destruction of a Russian plane over Egypt and bombings in Turkey and Lebanon demonstrated that the threat represented by the brutal Islamist regime could not be contained to the Middle East and represented a tangible threat to British security.
“Do we work with our allies to degrade and destruct this threat … or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?” he asked.
Cameron’s Conservatives won approval by a vote of 397 to 223, joined by 66 Labour MPs despite the fierce opposition of far-left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
On Friday Germany’s Bundestag also voted to join the campaign in Syria, by a vote of 445 to 146. The Germans will six Tornado reconnaissance jets, a frigate to help protect the Charles de Gaulle, refuelling aircraft and up to 1,200 military personnel, though it will not carry out any air strikes. Although Germany has been historically wary of expanding its armed forces, there is a growing argument that the leading role in plays in European affairs, and the responsibilities that entails, require a bigger military as well. Friday’s vote also followed an appeal from France for assistance in fighting back against ISIL.
“The goal… is to fight and contain IS, and destroy their safe havens and their ability to lead worldwide terror operations,” Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said before Friday’s vote.
Critics still argue that aerial bombing will never succeed in defeating the Islamist threat, and that stepped up ground forces are essential, as is a determined effort to get at the extremist ideology that is at the heart of its spread. But growing demonstrations of its appeal beyond the Middle East has raised public backing for military efforts as a demonstration of the West’s determination to fight back. While those countries closest to the war zone are moving in one direction, Canada is moving in the other by pulling its planes out of direct action against ISIL forces in Syria.