Nato leaders know the Islamic State battle is going to take time - and a lot of it

David Cameron and Barack Obama will be reluctant to repeat mistakes of the last decade. Credit: Reuters

As we near the end of the NATO summit here in Newport, the communique language is being ramped up. There must be a whole legion of people who write these things, the strength of the language usually in direct inverse proportion to the action that is likely to result from it.

The US Secretary of State has just issued a rallying call for international action to push back Islamic State and I am sure he means it, but it seems to me caution is the order of the day amongst political leaders here.

There are lots of reasons for this. The last ten years have, for one, provided a painful lesson in the law of unintended consequences.

But there is more to it than that. It is a little unclear why the recent mission to rescue some of the hostages went wrong. It appears to have been led by US Special Forces with some UK (presumably SAS) involvement, but I have not been able to discover whether it went to the wrong place or simply found the correct location too heavily defended and difficult to break into. In any event, they appear to have retreated swiftly.

Leaders from across the alliance have vowed to reverse falling defence budgets. Credit: Reuters

What this highlights is just how difficult it is to build up a decent intelligence picture of what is going on in these areas. Islamic State does appear to have a well-organised structure, so it ought, in theory, be possible to locate and kill significant leadership figures. But you have to find them first.

It took the CIA and MI6 many years to track down Bin Laden and his deputies. They did gradually and systematically take out most of the old Al Qaeda leadership through a combination of special forces missions and drone strikes and it is reasonable to assume they may eventually degrade Islamic State in the same way, but it is going to take time. A lot of time. Which is why they are being cautious, whatever it says on the communique.

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