I see that Saudi Arabia and 33 other Islamic nations have created an anti-terrorism coalition with an operational headquarters to be established in the Saudi capital, Riyadh (see story here). The coalition will reportedly fight terrorists in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.
Three cheers for the Saudis and their allies, right? On the one hand, it is about time that the states of the region step up their counter-terrorism efforts, given that most of the heavy lifting has been done by the US, UK, Canada and other Western partners. There is also some propaganda value to the decision and that is probably a good thing. It sure beats the status quo.
But on the other, there is much about this group that undermines how effective it will be.
It is very interesting to note who is in and who is out. Members include Benin, Comoros, Maldives, Guinea, Togo and Libya (so Libya is a target and a member?). Not exactly states whose militaries strike fear into the hearts of terrorists. Those excluded include Iran and Iraq. Hmm, could this have anything to do with the fact that these are Shia states and the government of Saudi Arabia espouses a version of Islam that hates the Shia? Just wondering. Whatever happened to that old Middle East trope that the enemy of my enemy is my friend?
Secondly, is it just me or is it the height of hubris to create an anti-terrorism coalition against Islamist extremists when the very Islam you (i.e. Saudi Arabia) promote feeds terrorism? So, will the Saudis focus on their own extremist population – which is substantial by the way – or waste more time in its war in Yemen which is killing a lot of civilians and causing untold suffering and at the same time providing openings for the Yemeni branches of AQ and IS? Furthermore, will they address the hate spewing from within? And who in Libya will be a local, reliable partner in the coalition? The government in the east or the government in the west of the fractured country? Inquiring minds want to know.
Thirdly, what will the coalition actually do? Carry out more airstrikes? Commit ground troops? Or do something more important like challenge and destroy the ideology that drives this terrorism scourge? All the military moves in the world are fine but do little to get at the underlying thought. Leave that untouched and you will just have to re-send the fighter aircraft and infantry into the next terrorist rat’s nest. And the one after that. And the one after that…
I suspect that there is more light than heat to this announcement. I had the opportunity to work with some amazing professionals in the Kingdom as well as in the UAE, Jordan and others during my career. I have every confidence in their knowledge, commitment and purpose in the counter-terrorism struggle. I wish I could say the same for their governments.