Nov 162015
 

ParisOn Friday the 13th of November 2015, almost 130 people were killed by a small number of terrorists.

The people that died were simply out enjoying their Friday night in Paris. They were not a part of an army, they were not even joined by a single demographic. The victims of terror were male, female, young and old and spread across their political and religious beliefs. They were a diverse group.

As far as has been reported, none of the victims had any ties to groups that may have been targeting the terrorists. At least no further link than being in a country that opposes terrorism and has taken part in the global action against the Islamic State group in Syria.

On Monday 16th November it was reported that France dropped around twenty bombs on an IS stronghold in Syria. At best this is revenge, this is probably the thing that the French public, and much of the world that is appalled by Friday’s attack would like to see.

I doubt that this will really prevent future attacks. 

Terrorism is very cheap to carry out. All you need are a small number of people that are willing to sacrifice their life for the good of the group, a few weapons, preferably of the automatic, or at least semi-automatic variety, maybe some explosives and the knowledge required to use it. Add to that some good operational security and training and for a relatively small outlay you can hit your target hard. So hard that the knee-jerk reactions will cause the target to react in such a way as to damage the economy, bring down the government or generally cause its people to turn against each other.

Estimate vary wildly, but AK47’s and ammunition probably account for $1500 each, and maybe $200 for the explosives and electronics. Car rental, flights, training etc probably accounted for $20k. It is likely that the entire mission cost less than $50K.

In contrast, the ‘twenty’ bombs that France threw at IS were delivered by ten planes.

Estimate vary, but modern war planes are generally assumed to cost somewhere between $35,000 and $75,000 an hour to fly. Smart bombs and similar missiles cost anything between $150,000 and $500,000 each.

Assuming at the low end, the flights are around an hour each way from the bases used, so maybe 3hrs total for each plane, that gives us $1M in flight costs  – then twenty ‘cheap’ bombs accounts for another $3M. So at the cheap-end it was a $4M mission.

Put into perspective, that is eighty-times the costs of the terrorist attack.

At the end of the mission, France congratulated itself on a job well done, French TV showed fighter-bombers taking off to join the air strikes in Syria, carried out in co-ordination with U.S. forces, which struck a command centre, recruitment centre for jihadists, a munitions depot and a training camp for fighters.

The problem that I see is multifaceted.

  • The world is spending a great deal of money and effort trying to eliminate a group that is, fundamentally a religious one, but one which was actually created as a result of previous middle-east activity by foreign military.
  • This is not going to win the war eventually, because IS do not play by any known rules that exist for warfare.
  • Fighting a group that has its ideals embedded in their religion is incredibly difficult. If your religion says that all non-followers deserve to die, it is very difficult to negotiate any level of peace.
  • The more bombs we, in the west, drop, the more hatred it instils, the more supporters they gain.

In my view, the last thing France, or really any country alone should do is get more involved in the Syrian conflict. The best way would be go to back to what traditional counter-terrorism was about: police work.

France should investigate their networks domestically and target their supporters and funders internationally via traditional sources of criminal prosecution, as is used for drug cartels, piracy, human traffickers and pretty much any other crime groups.

The idea that the answer is to engage in a “war on terrorism,” even when it is slated against ISIS in Syria, is in my view, very foolish and will almost certainly increase the animosity towards France from IS.  We need a peaceful settlement, not another conflict.

America is playing a really scary game, they are bombing IS and waging war against a group that actually garners more support simply because the Americans are bombing the crap out of them. There really are only two outcomes if this continues unchecked.

  • America will bankrupt itself trying to fight the shadows, close off its borders, become yet more xenophobic and eventually stop when it is finally cut-off from the rest of the world.

or

  • IS will, once it has sufficient supporters or sympathy, arm itself with chemical or nuclear weapons and devastate New York or Washington and this trigger an Armageddon situation.

Simply put, America and the west in general, are, in my opinion, wrong to engage in a ‘war on terror’, simply because this is an un-winable war. At least in the context of conventional war.

Obviously, the concept of negotiating with terrorists is not a new thing, but when you have a stealth jet and all the missiles, everything looks like a target.

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