Sending ground troops into Syria would directly fulfil Isis’s apocalyptic prophecy and only end up making them stronger in the long term, a leading expert has said.
A new poll for CNN has suggested for the first time that a majority (53 per cent) of the US public favours sending ground forces to fight thge militant group in Syria and Iraq.
In Britain, polling by YouGov at the start of December suggested more people were in favour of Western ground troops in Syria than were against – though 23 per cent said they did not know either way.
But while many experts ahead of the vote in the Commons last week said they were not against air strikes on Isis in principle, the idea of using UK or US ground troops has been emphatically rejected.
Jean-Pierre Filiu, professor of Middle East Studies at the Sciences Po institution in Paris, told the New York Times such a move would be the “worst trap” the international community could possibly fall into.
Based on passages of scripture, one of Isis’s core beliefs is that a final battle will take place at the town of Dabiq in Syria between its followers and all non-believers, hailing the start of the end times.
Isis's main propaganda magazine is named after this promised battle, and its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is quoted in every issue as saying. “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah's permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq."
Mr Filiu, the author of a book on the subject entitled “Apocalypse in Islam”, said: “Because of these prophecies, going in on the ground would be the worst trap to fall into.
“They want troops on the ground – because they have already envisioned it. It’s a very powerful and emotional narrative. It gives the potential recruit and the actual fighters the feeling that not only are they part of the elite, they are also part of the final battle.”
In his speech from the Oval Office on Sunday evening, Barack Obama rejected calls to escalate the campaign in Syria in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.
He suggested Isis was already being tackled, and that it would only be defeated through a patient combination of drone strikes, special forces operations and greater investment in intelligence.
But with new figures suggesting the flow of foreign fighters to Syria has doubled, Mr Filiu said there was only one way to stop Isis’s growth.
“To break the dynamic, you have to debunk the prophecy,” he said.
“You need to do so via a military defeat, like taking over Raqqa. But it needs to be by local forces — by Sunni Arabs.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies