Beyond the Wall - Using ‘shock & awe’ to defeat IS

THE formal concept of "shock & awe" warfare was first applied to Operation Desert Storm starting on Jan 17, 1991 with the aerial bombardment of Baghdad led by the United States in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Ground war started on Feb 14, 1991 and by early April 1991, the war was over when the Iraqi government agreed to pull out of Kuwait.

The concept was also known as the Powell Doctrine named after the general and one of the most distinguished military officers in the world, Colin Powell, who was then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He later became the secretary of state from 2001 to 2005.

The concept is not new and has been applied in the history of warfare when one (or more) power, in order to win quickly and decisively, has to apply overwhelming and disproportionate military force and in a devastating manner to finish off or compel the adversary into surrendering. One classic case was the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to force Japan to surrender even though the US was already winning the war.

The key aspect of a "shock & awe" approach is to have a quick and decisive win. It often comes with huge collateral damage of many innocent people and it is up to the power concerned to justify using such an approach in a particular scenario.

Nowhere in the world today has the concept of "shock & awe" been more applicable than what's happening in the IS controlled areas in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq and Libya). IS is more a regime unlike Al-Qaeda, which is more an underground cell organisation. They both subscribe to a terror approach and based on an extremist and un-Islamic ideology.

The unspeakable brutality of the IS against its prisoners, hostages and innocent civilians is meant to create a psychological "shock & awe" of fear for any people, including Muslims, who dare to oppose or disagree with them and to demonstrate a sense of self-empowerment. It is also to get frustrated and disenchanted Muslim youths to join their cause.

The US is partly responsible for the creation of this new monster with its brutal treatment of many Iraqi prisoners (who became the leaders of IS) during the Iraq War and its unfair handling of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The creation of Al-Qaeda was also partly due to the US funding the leaders of this group during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.

Whatever the role of the US, it does not absolve the IS of its evil and satanic-cult conduct. Even the people that the IS claims to be also fighting for, the Palestinians, have openly dis-owned the IS and feel indignant of being used to justify the terror perpetuated by the IS against innocent people.

The war against the IS has to be undertaken on the front-line by the Arab countries. It must not be seen as or develop into a war between Islam and the West. Unfortunately, the Muslim countries in the Middle East are divided and weak and they appear to lack the political will to see through a united and co-ordinated "shock & awe" offensive needed against the IS.

The IS made three tactical mistakes recently. The outrageous beheading of two Japanese hostages is likely to commit Japan, a major financial power, to provide the much needed funding to the coalition's war against the IS.

Second, the brutal burning alive of a captured Jordanian Muslim pilot has infuriated the Jordanian government (and Muslim people everywhere) which undertook aerial bombardments on IS targets. Jordan has strong capability in intelligence gathering and analysis, which modern warfare needs.

Third, the be-headings of 21 Egyptian Christians by the IS in Libya, has prompted an enraged Egyptian government to send its jets to bombard selected targets in Libya. It has generated much public anger against the IS in Egypt, a major military power in the Middle East.

The IS leaders do not seem to care as they are mostly lunatics (but smart) suffering somewhat from an "Emperor Nero syndrome". If they cannot force the rest of the world to be under their control as a caliphate, they would rather destroy the entire world and die with it.

It is only a matter of time before the IS offends the two remaining world powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and Russia. These two countries have their fair share of problems in their own territories caused by Muslim militants. A murderous and terror-promoting caliphate in the Middle East is not in the long-term interest of China and Russia.

Following the death of the last Western hostage held by the IS, American Kayla Mueller, President Barack Obama has just made a formal request, for a new authorisation, to the US Congress to use military force, including ground troops and a freer hand to decide the type of force, against the IS.

The recent terrorist incidents in Sydney, Paris and other cities in the West and elsewhere have also been linked to the IS.

All the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – US, Russia, China, Britain and France – are countries with nuclear-weapon capabilities. This question may sound outrageous. If a conventional war against the IS is ineffective in stopping its spread and the situation becomes critical, what is to stop the US (with the support or acquiescence of the other major powers) using the argument of "self-defence", to resort to the final "shock & awe" solution of using atomic bombs or chemical weapons? If this happens, it would be a sad day for humanity as many innocent people would also suffer or die.

The major powers tend to look at winning warfare differently and often peace to them is only a five-letter word. They would simply explain away the huge collateral damage on the "bigger interest" for world peace like what they did when they dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

With the Shale Revolution, the US is no longer dependent on oil from the Middle East but it would not want this strategic region to fall into the wrong hands. The US would now be less concerned with the views of Saudi Arabia (as a major oil producer) if it were to pursue any controversial war plans there.

Only the Arab countries can prevent such a catastrophic scenario (of using nuclear or chemical weapons). They must quickly unite and work together on a major "shock & awe" ground offensive against the IS in Syria, Iraq and Libya, backed by superior and overwhelming air support from the US-led coalition, to end the reign of terror there. With minimum collateral damage, humanity and in particular the Muslim world, would rejoice in the annihilation of the IS regime, which has been a terrible "thorn in its flesh".

Conventional "shock & awe" warfare was first used successfully in the Middle East in 1991. Let's hope that the same region will not witness the use of an unconventional "shock & awe" warfare using nuclear or chemical weapons. It would have long lasting negative effects on the region, which is sorely in need of socio-economic development and can ill afford such a catastrophe.

The writer is an independent think-tank analyst who feels compelled to share his personal concern and prediction of possible outcomes of a major global issue. Comments: kktan@thesundaily.com