Time to step up global fight against brutal Islamic State terrorists

The war against Islamic State is a global fight, not simply a battle to be waged by the people of Iraq and Syria with a scattering of US and Arab air support. Muslim extremists who once looked to al-Qaeda for guidance are inspired by the militants’ successes and are swarming to their ranks. There is no faster-growing terror group, nor a greater threat to international stability. Only through leadership and governments working together can the scourge be eliminated.

Those attributes have been lacking in the US-led alliance, which for five months has been flying bombing raids and training Iraqi soldiers. The debacle of American involvement in the Iraq war that ousted Saddam Hussein has made US President Barack Obama reluctant to significantly commit his country’s military to the fight. Arab nations, although directly threatened, are also reticent about openly offering support for fear of a militant backlash. The video showing the burning alive in a cage of a captured Jordanian air force pilot, on the heels of the brutal beheadings of two Japanese, has heightened calls by some Jordanians for an end to the kingdom’s involvement.

Jordan’s King Abdullah has instead vowed a “relentless” war. His pledge came as US officials said the United Arab Emirates had withdrawn from air strikes. Unless governments give their full backing, the Islamic extremists will remain a threat. Discipline and cohesion have allowed them to hold on to territory seized last summer in east Syria and west and north Iraq populated by more than 15 million people. The coalition has stopped advances, but its reliance on air strikes with no commitment of ground forces means the jihadis remain entrenched. That puts the battle mostly in the hands of disorganised Iraqi troops and poorly armed Kurdish fighters. Training and rearming will take time – during which the well-funded, battle-hardened ranks of Islamic State fighters will have been boosted by thousands of foreign recruits.

Intelligence agencies have to better share information; defeating Islamic State requires a clear strategy and nations working closely together. The unity leaders promised last month when linking arms while marching in Paris after Islamist attacks has yet to materialise. No nation is as well placed as the US to take a leadership role in coordinating militaries and resources. But Arab countries also have a vital role to play as the struggle is taking place on their doorsteps. They have to set aside political and religious concerns and resolutely step forward.