World View: Air power may not be enough to stop the jihadis, who are expecting more help from Turkey now
Once again the world has underestimated the strength and viciousness of Isis. The group has always retaliated against any attack by targeting civilians and killing them in a way that ensures maximum publicity. This happened most recently in Turkey on 10 October when Isis suicide bombers killed 102 people attending a pro-Kurdish peace demonstration. In Kobani in Syria at the end of June, Isis suicide squads avenged recent military defeats by the Syrian Kurds by murdering at least 220 men, women and children. In Iraq, the leader of the Albu Nimr tribe told this newspaper how 864 of his tribesmen had been killed over the previous year for resisting Isis advances.
It was always likely that Isis would retaliate against the Russian air campaign in Syria that is targeting its forces and al-Qaeda clones such as the al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham. But the carefully planned destruction of a Russian plane with 224 people on board by a bomb on 31 October has presented Western governments and media with a publicity problem. They had been relentlessly pursuing a propaganda line that the Russian air strikes in Syria have avoided hitting Isis and are almost entirely directed against “moderate” or “Western-backed” Syrian opposition forces seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. The fact that Syrian armed opposition in north-west Syria is dominated by al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham is seldom mentioned.
Isis evidently does not have any doubts about the Russian air strikes being aimed at itself and cannot have done so since the raids started on 30 September, because an operation such as getting a bomb on to a plane at Sharm el Sheikh airport would take weeks to set up. There is a further misunderstanding about the Russian attacks on Isis and other salafi-jihadi armed groups in Syria. They are much heavier than anything being carried out by the US-led coalition, with 59 Russian strikes on one day recently compared to the US launching just nine.