Did the coalition’s strikes supress or create a Syrian threat to the West?


On 11 September 2014, President Obama announced air strikes in Iraq and Syria, judging that military intervention was a necessary counter-terrorism measure to prevent IS from becoming a future threat to the US.

Just three months later, facts prove that the justification to bomb was patently incorrect but also that it put the West at risk.

Were Syrian foreign fighters a threat to the West?
Before the strikes, Thomas Hegghammer, one of the world’s foremost experts on foreign fighters, provided a well-researched and balanced assessment of the “Syrian spill over”.
1.      Not every foreign fighter becomes an international terrorist, far from it
“At most one in nine of the westerners who went fight in conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq” got involved in plots in the West between 1990 and 2010.
However, this figure cannot be applied flatly to any conflict.
2.      Number of returnees varies
Conflicts like Iraq were expected to produce a large spill-over but did not.
On the opposite, destinations like Yemen have a small numbers of foreign fighters but a higher rate of blowback.
Blowback more likely to happen if groups on the ground have “a declared strategy of systematically targeting the west”
“We do not have an organisation with a declared strategy of targeting the west” in Syria, said the academic.
The Islamic State was focused on its “near enemies” and expanding its control over territories in Iraq and Syria. The Department of Homeland Security even admitted it was not aware of any specific threat to the US from Islamic State militants.
Jabhat al Nusra was seeking to build a post-war Syria based on consultations “with Muslim scholars and thinkers who supported the Syrian uprising, to draft a plan for running the country according to Sharia”.
Ahrar al Sham was advocating “an Islamic state which protects the rights of women and religious and ethnic minorities”. They were “running bakeries, distributing aid, establishing courts, reopening schools and even freeing Western journalists abducted by other armed groups”.

What happened after the strikes?
On the ground, a number of groups which were actually fighting the Islamic State were also targeted.
As a result, the Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra threatened revenge attacks in the West.
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army and other Islamic groups which previously engaged in deadly  fights against IS now say they entered into alliances or truces with the group due to US bombings.
In other words, the US-led strikes created a reactionary threat from groups which had no interest in fighting the West and alienated western-backed groups causing them to turn against their former sponsors.

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