ADVANCES by Islamic State (IS) right up to the borders of Turkey, threatening the lives of thousands of civilians, vividly and horribly illustrate the danger of imagining that this is a force that can be defeated by a few well-targeted air strikes and local militias.
Political leaders of the international coalition assembled to reverse IS gains have to think hard about their strategy.
An IS flag has now been seen flying above a building in the suburbs of Kobani, a strategically important town just inside Syria and visible from the Turkish frontier. Although an estimated 120,000 of its residents have fled to safety in Turkey, many thousands more remain, trapped by the fighting and facing death and mutilation should IS seize the town.
That IS has managed to get this close despite the fact it is under intense aerial surveillance and bombardment from the most sophisticated air weaponry the world can muster shows just how formidable an opponent it is. Winkling it out from Kobani, should it manage to capture the town, will not be done by laser-guided bombs and missiles either.
IS now poses a direct threat to a Nato member state. Turkey – under immense strain from the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees – has to worry whether IS, which has shown itself to be absolutely no respecter of frontiers, will take its self-proclaimed jihad on to Turkish soil.
Unfortunately, Turkey is not exactly single-minded about pushing back IS. It worries that if it goes into action in support of the Syrian Kurds who populate Kobani, as do Kurds all along its frontier with Iraq and Syria, it may further stir the secessionist aspirations of the Kurds within Turkey.
In fact, IS now looks to be a much greater threat. Helping to defend and save Kurds from the clutches of the IS death cult by assisting Kurdish fighters on the ground should surely be of greater benefit to Turkey in the longer run.
Western powers which have foresworn the use of ground troops also have to examine their strategy. An enemy that is exposed in relatively uninhabited terrain is highly vulnerable to airborne warfare, but only highly trained ground forces can expel an enemy from an urban setting where buildings and underground infrastructure give lots of cover.
It would be preferable if troops from other Middle Eastern countries also threatened by IS spearheaded such action. But that cannot now be the only option. Other fellow Nato states are obliged to come to Turkey’s aid. It is clearly under threat from the evil on its southern frontier, as indeed are the refugees who have fled to it. Action by western troops across the frontier would not be an invasion but a necessary defence of a now vulnerable country. Few can surely doubt that defeating IS is a humanitarian imperative.
Forth bridge a model of cost control
PUBLIC infrastructure pro-jects do not, it seems, always have to start out at a fair price before ballooning exorbitantly. The announcement by Nicola Sturgeon that the cost of the second road bridge across the Forth estuary – the Queensferry Crossing – will come in at £50 million less than the contracted price of £1.45 billion shows they can also go down the opposite track.
Let’s remember that when this project was first mooted, the price tag was set at £2.3bn. Design changes and a curtailment of engineering ambitions brought it back beneath £2bn and now it will cost £1bn less than first thought, once inflation is taken into account.
This is a significant achievement, given the previous trail of soaring costs to taxpayers of the Scottish Parliament building, Edinburgh’s trams, and the Stirling-Alloa rail link. Yet several transport projects have been finished on time and to budget, such as the M80 completion and the Airdrie-Bathgate rail link.
A somewhat depressed construction industry battling for work is partly responsible for keeping notoriously volatile building-work inflation in check. Ms Sturgeon paid tribute to the professionals managing the bridge construction as being responsible for not just the saving but also for keeping it on schedule for completion by the end of 2016. But she and other ministers also deserve credit, for they are responsible for approving the management structures that keep a rein on costs.
The reasons for this model success should be shared widely. Are there structures and principles used here which could be applied to other public works? Meantime, well done everyone.