20 November 2015

Russia to carpet-bomb ISIL out of Syria?

The Blog


What will the Russian Federation's new deployment of strategic bombers to the battlefields of Syria mean for the war?


Russia's fighter jets have already been rolling back territorial gains by terrorist groups including the so-called Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS). But these inflict only piecemeal losses on the militants, compared with the area-bombing capabilities of aircraft like the Tupolev Tu-95 and Tu-160. Such strategic bombers are capable of leveling entire towns and destroying whole armies single-handedly.

The efficiency of all airstrikes against ISIL has been suspect. The US-led coalition has been striking ISIL positions for over a year with almost no effect. In fact, the terrorist group has actually gained more territory throughout the US-led air campaign in Syria, as is demonstrated by maps of the conflict so far. The Russian-led airstrikes have been somewhat more effective, clearing key highways and fortifications for the advancing Syrian Army - a force the US refuses to acknowledge or work with, in the belief that it is not "legitimate".


However, the course of the war is still slow, and thousands continue to face torture, genocide and persecution at the hands of the many sectarian militias supported by the West to take control of the country. Russia has compared ISIL with Nazi Germany, with no illusions about how the group should be dealt with and the kind of firepower that might be necessary to defeat it.

In an analysis for the Beliefnet website all the way back in June, it is advocated that strategic bombers are used instead of mere fighter jets (although in that case it was supposing the US would be doing all the bombing). The bombers should be used with the aim of wiping entire ISIL-controlled towns off the map and making it clear that this so-called "state" will be destroyed at all costs by the most powerful weapons available.

The analysis noted that the goal of such bombing is to put the enemy on the run, making them reactive rather than active, which will enable them to be fought on better terms. They will be drastically weaker on the battlefield, as they will be unable to hold any base or position for long.

ISIL has made no secret of the fact that it is in a state of war with Russia, the US and other major powers. It's recent attacks on Paris, and on a Russian airliner over Sinai, have been described as acts of war. France and Russia now not only say ISIL is intolerable and must be destroyed at all costs, but that they will do it themselves if the US is not capable.

World powers accept that ISIL is a significant military opponent. They want to eliminate  ISIL's capacity to wage war, which means they won't hesitate to use their most powerful weapons. Such weapons will be determined by the size and nature of military targets, as they were in the Second World War, and not by moral concerns about how such strikes may later be perceived.

The more civilians are killed by ISIL, the more the case for 'pinpoint' strikes against ISIL weakens and the stronger the case for indiscriminate area-bombing of ISIL becomes. Russia's movement of strategic bombers to the battlefields of Syria might mean they are moving to apply exactly this ruthless approach to warfare.


If used to its greatest extent, such a weapon will batter ISIL's already ruined territory into craters, and demolish any semblance of "state" in the "Islamic State". If Russia and its allies intend to treat ISIL like Nazi Germany, the geopolitical analysts comparing Russia's involvement with the Soviet War in Afghanistan are far off the mark in their historical comparisons.


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