Britain, Belgium Vote “Bombs Away” While Berlin Bumps Airstrikes Off The Table
Disclaimer: The following post is an opinion and does not reflect the views of the Indiana University European Studies Department.
European Parliaments were abuzz last week over whether or not to join the U.S – led coalition conducting military airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. President Obama, by far the most vocal proponent of military action in the Middle East among the coalition, has been busy addressing audience after audience at the United Nations, NATO, and Arab League meetings, stressing to the American people that “This is not a U.S. fight alone.” Indeed, he is right. An ever-growing coalition of 62 nations has joined the fight against ISIS, providing military advisers, financial assistance, and words of support to the Iraqi government, its security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq and Syria. However, far too many countries are doing just that; stopping at sending money, humanitarian aid, and words of encouragement disguised in pompous diplomatic jargon. The real doers are the countries who have laid the lives of their pilots on the line, bombing ISIS military strongholds and support facilities, to stem the rising tide of medieval ISIS terror.
First and foremost, the United States Air Force and Navy have been doing the majority of the leg work, flying dozens of sorties a day and destroying hundreds of ISIS targets. Since the end of August, the United States has conducted airstrikes, launched Tomahawk missiles, and launched coastal artillery from its naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea. Next in line, come the Arab League nations of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. These countries’ respective air forces have carried out strikes since the middle of September and their governments have allowed usage of their ports, airspace and bases to Western nations.
Perhaps coming a little late to the conflict are a select few European nations. On Friday, the Parliament of the United Kingdom voted overwhelmingly to support RAF airstrikes in Iraq. Prime Minister David Cameron passionately argued for intervention, saying “ISIS is unlike a threat that our island nation has ever seen. The brutality is staggering.” British jets are likely to make their first sorties this week.
France conducted its first strikes in northern Iraq last week. After the beheading of French journalist Herve Gourdel by ISIS soldiers, French Rafale fighters bombed an ISIS weapons depot in northern Iraq. President Hollande has said that France will continue its involvement for as long as necessary.
And perhaps most surprisingly, the Parliaments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark have authorized the use of their fighter jets in Iraq to help degrade ISIS. Belgium deployed six F-16 fighters on Friday, the Netherlands will send a further six this week, and Denmark will send seven today. While not likely to make a great impact, each and every pilot from these three small NATO members will be welcomed.
However, one country is noticeable absent from the U.S – led coalition of the willing; Germany. The Bundestag has yet to even bring a motion to the floor on German participation. For an economic powerhouse and country that appears to be the de facto leader of the EU, German pilots have yet to strap on their flight suits. While Germany is in the process of training Peshmerga forces and sending ammunition to Iraq, Bundeswehr fighters are absent from the skies. Over 200 ISIS members are German passport holders. The threat is to German national security is real. The bench on the sidelines is crowded enough as it is. Its time for Germany to step out of the shadow of the past, assume its leadership role in Europe, and join the coalition of the willing.
Yes, eventually ISIS will move underground and the time for ground assistance will come. However, ISIS still maintains larges swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and still present very real targets to air forces. They are engaging in conventional warfare. This requires a conventional response. The time to act is now, and every country in Europe has the means to help. If we don’t stand together on this, how can we be sure we will stand together in the future?