If we want answers about how to squash Isis, we should look to another field of combat, 5,000 miles away from Palmyra — to a war has been all but won against equally determined Islamists.There are many reasons why some nations' military are less the effective in the field against the forces of Islamic extremism - but in general it can be broken down to leadership, will, and a cultural ethos.
After five grim months as part of Boko Haram’s self-declared ‘caliphate’, life is slowly returning to normal to the Nigerian town of Michika. Residents who fled in droves are trickling back to plant crops before the rains, and despite the desecrated churches and tales of neighbours kidnapped and murdered, there is optimism.
Also looking cheerful for the first time are local army units, who unlike the Iraqi army, have found unexpected success in pushing Boko Haram from Michika and other north-east Nigerian towns.
So why the turnaround? In Michika recently, I found a clue. Down a dusty road, by a road block of empty munitions cases, I came across a gaggle of Nigerian soldiers, who angrily shooed us away when they saw our cameras. Before they did so, though, my photographer glimpsed six uniformed white men behind them, who made themselves scarce sharpish. Were they the SAS, perhaps? Unlikely. While both Britain and America gave ‘technical help’ to the Nigerian army after the Chibok kidnappings last year, they stopped short of providing special forces. Instead, the most obvious explanation was that they belonged to another, equally publicity-shy force: mercenaries.
PMC are noting if not meritocracies, the very opposite of what we see in many nations. If they are the best solution, and often the only solution, then they should be embraced. To paraphrase a great man; judge them by their battlefield performance, not the color of their skin.