War on terror

Pakistan is the true winner from the Afghan debacle

‘Everyone is getting out – and fast’, the man tells me over a crackling line. He is tired, clearly subdued. A UN staff member, he was in Afghanistan until very recently and is still trying to process what happened. ‘We knew this was going to happen,’ he continues, ‘but everyone was caught by surprise at the speed of the Taliban advance.’ UN staff are now being evacuated to Almaty in Kazakhstan, from where they will make their way to their respective countries. But what about the local Afghans that worked with them? ‘Our Afghan colleagues were given letters of support for country visas in the region: Iran, Pakistan, and India. Some

Fear, loathing and an Ottoman shrine in the cold war between Isis and Turkey

Turkey and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) are engaged in a cold war. Although they despise each other, they will avoid direct engagement, for fear of the massive damage that could result. A little known Turkish exclave that lies inside Syria, known as the Tomb of Suleyman Shah and currently under siege by Isis, is a case in point. The Tomb of Suleyman Shah – a 2.47-acre sovereign Turkish district that houses the shrine of an Ottoman patriarch – holds immense emotional value for the Turks. It is the burial place of the grandfather of Osman Bey, who founded the Ottoman Empire, and is guarded by 80

Never mind the Baghdad politics, Iraqi Kurds need help to fight Islamic State

The threat from Daish, the Arabic acronym for the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has gone from a side issue to a central imperative, judging by discussions with Kurdish leaders on my four fact-finding trips to the Kurdistan region in the last year. Last November, I was told how Daish operatives were assiduously measuring building sites in Mosul in an extortion racket. In February, I learned of their external funding and their continuing growth. In June, they captured Mosul with a small force that immediately acquired thousands of adherents, and established a 650-mile border with the Iraqi Kurds. The major shock, though, was how quickly the Iraqi Army

Farewell to Afghanistan (for now)

Britain has ended combat operations in Afghanistan. The war did topple the Taleban, but it hasn’t got rid of them. It has improved some things in Afghanistan – better roads, better education, better newspapers – but the country is still corrupt, bankrupt and dangerous. When Britain and America decided to go into Afghanistan in 2001, The Spectator ran an editorial entitled Why We Must Win. This is not a war against Islam, but against terrorists who espouse a virulent strain of that religion, a fundamentalism that most moderate Arabs themselves regard as a menace. This is not even a war against Afghanistan, but an attempt to topple a vile regime.

Is Canada’s foreign policy making the country any safer?

We Canadians like to think that we are a boring and peaceful nation, that nothing much ever happens here, and everybody likes us. It therefore comes as a shock when we are attacked, as we were this week in Ottawa. Yet terrorism is not a new phenomenon for Canada, as demonstrated by the assassination of one of the fathers of the confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, in 1868; by the murderous behaviour of the Front de Libération de Québec in 1970; and by the destruction of Air India Flight 128 in 1985. Our legislative institutions have been regular targets of attack. A Loyalist mob burned down the Parliament of Lower Canada

Ottawans to jihadists: our city is stronger than ever

I was born in Ottawa. I grew up in Ottawa. I studied in Ottawa. I work in Ottawa. Ottawa is in my DNA, as it is for more than a million other people in this northern capital. This week’s attacks, in which armed men stormed the Canadian Parliament, hit just a few hundred metres from my office, shutting down my usual lunch-spots and other work-week haunts. Before this week, this sort of thing was unimaginable in Ottawa. This usually quiet G7 capital is a proper city, but in some ways feels like a village – the sort of ‘big village’ where the business district empties after 6 pm and it’s

Why would jihadi terrorists attack Canada? Better to ask: why not?

The attacks in Canada probably seem non-sensical to some people. After all, much of the press and political class in the West has spent years trying to cover over the motivations of people like those who have spent this week targeting soldiers and politicians in Canada. ‘Why did they target Canada?’ headlines are asking today. And well they might. There has been a great push in recent years to put the causes of Islamic jihad not onto the perpetrators but onto the victims of this problem. So, for instance, when America has been attacked, it has regularly been suggested that ‘the United States had it coming’ (as Mary Beard so

Why is Britain arming countries that support terror in the Middle East?

Why is the UK still supplying arms to those who helped fund the so-called Islamic State, and what leverage does it bring? In the Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons following the Nato summit over the weekend, he spoke of seeking a broad base of support through the UN. Yet there was no mention of military action—as opposed to diplomatic assistance—from Gulf States. Islamic State has been bankrolled by wealthy Gulf individuals from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, and their Governments have failed to act to prevent it. In March 2014, Nouri al-Maliki, the outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister, accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of being ‘at war with Iraq’. Six

Can the West solve a problem like Mali?

I fear that we are all going to have to learn a lot about Mali and the Sahel—and fast. It is rapidly becoming the latest front in the war on terror. Or, to be more precise, the West’s attempt to prevent the emergence of ungoverned spaces that can be exploited by Al Qaeda and its offshoots. The New York Times today has a good primer on the challenge facing the French in Mali: “The French are fighting to preserve the integrity of a country that is divided in half, of a state that is broken. They are fighting for the survival of an interim government with no democratic legitimacy that