The Islamic State: An Interim Status Report

January 20, 2016

Homosexuals are thrown from the rooftops after being tortured.

 

This is another in a series of dispatches about the Islamic State.

I attach three pieces below, with extracts first for those who don’t time to read them in full.

The first is by Shaul Shay, an historian and former Israeli military intelligence officer. It appeared yesterday in “Israel Defense” magazine, a publication with close ties to Israel’s defense and intelligence communities.

The second piece, also from yesterday, is by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. And the third is from Reuters.

Before that, I attach an extract of an article published today by Jacques Neriah, a former foreign policy advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and formerly Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.

-- Tom Gross

 

Among other dispatches from the last 12 months on the Islamic State:

* Video: Tom Gross interviews a French hostage held with the Americans and British executed by Jihadi John

* Syria: The Case For U.S. Ground Forces

* “Negotiate With ISIS” (But “does God compromise”?)

* “My ten months with Isis” (& thrown from the rooftops)

* #GenerationKhilafah. (It’s more dangerous than you might think)

* Why ISIS murders (& Pushed to his death for being gay)


EXTRACTS

“THE REMEDY THEY PROPOSED WAS TO RETURN TO “PURE ISLAM” AND RECONSTRUCT MUSLIM SOCIETY”

Jacques Neriah:

* The Islamic State is a terrorist state with almost all governing elements. Over the last four years, it has developed from an extremist fringe and marginal faction to become the strongest, most ferocious, best funded and armed militia in the religious and ethnic war that is waged today in Syria and Iraq.

* ISIS rules today over a swath of land bigger than the United Kingdom, with a population of almost 10 million. ISIS changed its name to the Islamic State to illustrate that its goals are not limited to Iraq and the countries of the Fertile Crescent.

* Since the fall of Muslim empires and supremacy, Muslim scholars and philosophers have tried to understand the reasons behind its collapse. The conclusion of most was that Muslim civilization had drifted away from the teachings of the Koran and adopted foreign and heretical inputs that had destroyed its fabric. The remedy they proposed was to return to “pure Islam” and reconstruct Muslim society.

* After the U.S. occupational authority in Baghdad disbanded the Iraqi army in May 2003, thousands of well-trained Sunni officers were robbed of their livelihood with the stroke of a pen, creating some of America’s most bitter and intelligent enemies. In addition, many Islamic State terrorists spent years in detention centers in Iraq after 2003.

* Never in the modern history of the Muslim world has a conflict drawn so many jihadists, who seek to participate in the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate to rule the world after the defeat in battle of the Western powers and their local Arab allies.

* For many, life in the Islamic State is better than in their country of origin. This is particularly the case for Chechen fighters who flock to the IS because the conditions of combat in Iraq and Syria are less harsh than against the Russians.

Full article here: http://jcpa.org/article/explaining-the-islamic-state-phenomenon/

 

“EVEN IF THE COALITION MANAGES TO ELIMINATE I.S. IN IRAQ AND SYRIA, THE IDEOLOGY WILL LIVE ON, NOURISHING NEW GENERATIONS OF ACTIVISTS WHO WILL CONTINUE THE FIGHT THROUGH ALTERNATIVE MODES OF OPERATION”

Shaul Shay:

* Since January 2014, a bitter conflict has been underway within the ranks of the Global Jihad movement between the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the leader of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, over the leadership of the movement. For the time being, it seems that the Islamic State organization is gaining more sympathy and support among the activists and loyal supporters of the Global Jihad movement.

* On June 29, 2015, ISIS announced the establishment of the “Islamic Caliphate” headed by the leader of ISIS, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, or in his official name “The Caliph Ibrahim”. The concept of re-establishing the caliphate and establishing the Islamic state has excited and attracted numerous youngsters to the organization, mainly owing to the combination between the vision and the actual success on the ground. Consequently, ISIS evolved into a challenge for competing Islamic organizations, including al-Qaeda, thereby intensifying the confrontation between the Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim factions.

* In the Islamic Caliphate territories ISIS dominates, it established state-like administrative systems which include, among other things, judicial and law enforcement mechanisms (strictly according to Sharia law), education and health systems, oil and gas field operations, power stations and other elements.

* The organization managed to substantially expand the caliphate’s areas of influence by recruiting radical Islamist organizations into its ranks. The leaders of those organizations pledged their allegiance to the Caliph. The two most notable success stories of ISIS are Libya and Egypt (the Sinai Peninsula).

* ISIS affiliates in Libya are deployed close to oil fields they aspire to dominate. The organization regards Libya as a strategic asset owing to its proximity to Europe and the fact that it may serve as a springboard for inserting ISIS operatives into Europe and as a basis for the organization’s activities in other north African countries (notably Tunisia, which has already been the victim of a terrorist attack) and the countries of the Sahel region (including Nigeria, Sudan, Chad and others).

* In Egypt, the local security forces are having a difficult time putting an end to the terror campaign waged by ISIS, which focuses on the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. In this campaign, the Egyptian security forces have already sustained hundreds of casualties, and all of the attempts by the Egyptian Army to uproot the ISIS affiliate have failed.

* The consolidation of the ISIS affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula (along with the presence of various other organizations identified with ISIS in the Gaza Strip) presents new terror threats to Israel, too, through its border with Egypt.

* Additionally, ISIS succeeded in establishing terror infrastructures in other Middle Eastern countries (Yemen, Jordan and the Gulf States) and in Asia (Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia) and is even making inroads into the stronghold of al-Qaeda influence – Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its affiliates in these areas have not yet managed to consolidate their own areas of government as they did in Iraq and Syria, but in some areas, the potential for this occurring in the future does exist.

* Since its establishment, ISIS has invested considerable resources in the development of an effective propaganda system, which relies on the social media and other modern communication channels.

* The international campaign against ISIS has not only failed in diminishing the ideological attraction of the organization, but has apparently helped it reinforce the widespread support for it

* Even the al-Qaeda organization, which advocates a similar worldview, is having a difficult time coping with the increasing popularity of ISIS among the supporters of the Salafist-Jihadist ideology.

* The recruitment of tens of thousands of foreign volunteers – Europeans, Russians, Americans, Canadians, Australians, Chinese and others – into the ranks of the Islamic State over the last few years was intended to train those volunteers as warfighters for the various theaters where the organization operates.

* The fight against the Salafist-Jihadist worldview and ideology of the Islamic State constitutes one of the primary challenges for which no appropriate solution has been found yet. Moreover, even if the coalition manages to eliminate the new caliphate in the territories of Iraq and Syria, the ISIS ideology will live on, nourishing new generations of activists who will continue the fight through alternative modes of operation.

 

“DEFEATING THE ISLAMIC STATE WILL REQUIRE A DECADES-LONG COMMITMENT”

David Ignatius (Washington Post):

* The politicians fulminate about defeating the terrorists, but they don’t talk much about the costs or sacrifices that will be required. The generals and admirals, who have been at war for 15 years, know that success can’t be bought cheaply. Defeating this enemy will require a much larger and longer commitment by the United States than any leading politician seems willing to acknowledge.

* The jihadists have lost about 25 percent of the territory they held in mid-2014, but they have devised innovative methods to compensate for their weakness. They have used tunnels and other concealment tactics to hide their movements; they have developed super-size car bombs, packing explosives in bulldozers and other heavy equipment and sending them in waves against targets; they have deployed small drones for reconnaissance and may be preparing armed drones; they have used chemical weapons, such as chlorine and mustard gas, on the battlefield and may expand use of such unconventional weapons.

* U.S. commanders have learned how difficult it will be to create a Sunni force that can help clear and hold territory in Iraq and Syria that’s now controlled by the Islamic State.

* U.S. efforts to avoid casualties and resist “boots on the ground” reinforce the sense that the United States is pursuing a strategy of containment, not victory.

* Training a reliable military force that adheres to Western norms and standards is the work of a generation, not a few months. The U.S. desire for quick results is an exercise in frustration and disappointment. It will require a decades-long commitment.

* Paradoxically, the United States’ determination to protect its troops can be self-defeating. Allies and adversaries see U.S. forces living in secure compounds, eating fancy chow and minimizing their exposure to potential terrorist assaults. Actually living and fighting alongside our partners in Iraq and Syria will be much more dangerous, but it may be the only way to build a solid alliance that can someday eradicate the extremists.

* The next president is going to inherit an expanding war against a global terrorist adversary. The debate about how best to fight this enemy hasn’t even begun.

 

Reuters:

The Islamic State kidnaps at least 400 civilians in Deir al-Zor last weekend. Syria’s state news agency reports massacre by ISIS during terror organization’s attacks on the city, killing at least 300 people killed, including women and children.

 

* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.


FULL ARTICLES

THE ISLAMIC STATE: AN INTERIM STATUS REPORT

The Islamic State: An Interim Status Report
The last two years have focused on the global fight against ISIS. Col (res.) Dr. Shaul Shai in an exclusive analysis of the state of the organization, its worldwide expansion methods and the options available to the members of the coalition fighting it
Dr. Shaul Shay
Israel Defense magazine
January 19, 2016

http://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/content/islamic-state-interim-status-report-future

The Islamic State organization had split from al-Qaeda owing to a personal dispute between its leader, Abu-Bakr al Baghdadi, and the leader of the Syrian affiliate of Al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, and the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who sided with al-Julani. Pursuant to this dispute, al-Baghdadi announced, in January 2014, his secession from the al-Qaeda organization and the establishment of an independent organization – the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria (ISIS). Al-Baghdadi considers himself as the true successor of Osama bin Laden, as according to his view, Al-Zawahiri had digressed from Bin Laden’s way, thereby losing his authority to lead the organization.

Since January 2014, a bitter conflict has been underway within the ranks of the Global Jihad movement between the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the leader of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, over the leadership of the movement. For the time being, it seems that the Islamic State organization is gaining more sympathy and support among the activists and loyal supporters of the Global Jihad movement than al-Qaeda under the leadership of al-Zawahiri.

Over the two years since its establishment, the Islamic State organization succeeded in dominating substantial territories in western Iraq and eastern Syria, to establish within those territories a semi-state entity (the “New Caliphate”) and turn the movement into the richest terrorist organization that poses the greatest threat to the regional and international systems.

Observers note four primary processes in the evolution of the organization, as outlined below.

The military operation (the “blitz”) – through a series of fast, surprising attacks, the organization succeeded in dominating the major cities of the Al Anbar governorate in Iraq, including Fallujah and Ramadi, the city of Tikrit (birthplace of Saddam Hussein) and the highlight of its accomplishments in Iraq – the capturing of Mosul, the country’s second largest city. The organization also attempted, unsuccessfully, to capture the Kurdish-dominated city of Kirkuk. It succeeded, however, in capturing the strategically important Mosul dam on the river Tigris and holding it for a few weeks.

In the Syrian theater, the organization succeeded in capturing the al-Raqqa governorate and subsequently established the capital of the new caliphate in the city of al-Raqqa. The attempts by the organization to capture the Kurdish city of Kobani, close to the border with Turkey, failed. Later on, ISIS expanded its hold on the historic city of Tadmur (Palmyra) and spread into western Syria, the Damascus region, the northern part of the Qalamun Mountains (in the Syria-Lebanon border area) and southern Syria.

The establishment of the new caliphate – on June 29, 2015, ISIS announced the establishment of the “Islamic Caliphate” headed by the leader of ISIS, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, or in his official name “The Caliph Ibrahim”. The concept of re-establishing the caliphate and establishing the Islamic state has excited and attracted numerous youngsters to the organization, mainly owing to the combination between the vision and the actual success on the ground. Consequently, ISIS evolved into a challenge for competing Islamic organizations, including al-Qaeda, thereby intensifying the confrontation between the Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim factions.

In the Islamic Caliphate territories ISIS dominates, it established state-like administrative systems which include, among other things, judicial and law enforcement mechanisms (strictly according to Sharia law), education and health systems, oil and gas field operations, power stations and other elements.

The organization managed to substantially expand the caliphate’s areas of influence by recruiting radical Islamist organizations into its ranks. The leaders of those organizations pledged their allegiance to the Caliph and made the territories they dominate a part of the new Islamic Caliphate.

The two most notable success stories of ISIS are Libya and Egypt (the Sinai Peninsula). In Libya, the local ISIS affiliate has been taking advantage of the chaos and the disintegration of the state in order to dominate various parts of this country. ISIS affiliates in Libya are deployed close to oil fields they aspire to dominate. The organization regards Libya as a strategic asset owing to its proximity to Europe and the fact that it may serve as a springboard for inserting ISIS operatives into Europe and as a basis for the organization’s activities in other north African countries (notably Tunisia, which has already been the victim of a terrorist attack) and the countries of the Sahel region (including Nigeria, Sudan, Chad and others). In Egypt, the local security forces are having a difficult time putting an end to the terror campaign waged by ISIS, which focuses on the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. In this campaign, the Egyptian security forces have already sustained hundreds of casualties (killed and wounded), and all of the attempts by the Egyptian Army to uproot the ISIS affiliate have failed. Recently, ISIS managed to down a Russian airliner over the Sinai, thereby inflicting a serious blow to Egypt’s tourism trade. The consolidation of the ISIS affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula (along with the presence of various other organizations identified with ISIS in the Gaza Strip) presents new terror threats to Israel, too, through its border with Egypt.

Additionally, ISIS succeeded in establishing terror infrastructures in other Middle Eastern countries (Yemen, Jordan and the Gulf States) and in Asia (Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia) and is even making inroads into the stronghold of al-Qaeda influence – Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its affiliates in these areas have not yet managed to consolidate their own areas of government as they did in Iraq and Syria, but in some areas, the potential for this occurring in the future does exist.

Establishment of an elaborate propaganda & communication system – since its establishment, ISIS has invested considerable resources in the development of an effective propaganda system, which relies on the social media and other modern communication channels. The organization operates through the media, on the one hand, by distributing horrific images of executions and other atrocities with the intention of terrorizing its enemies. On the other hand, it distributes messages that glorify the Islamic Caliphate and the lifestyle under its wings as a primary source for the recruitment of volunteers into its ranks.

The international campaign against ISIS has not only failed in diminishing the ideological attraction of the organization, but has apparently helped it reinforce the widespread support for it and contributed to the worldwide proliferation of its Salafist-Jihadist ideology. The Islamic State has received numerous expressions of solidarity within the Arab world, in Muslim communities in central and eastern Asia and in Muslim communities in the western world (notably Western Europe – mainly France and Britain). The coalition countries and moderate Islamist countries have thus far failed to come up with an ideological response to the ISIS phenomenon and to block the proliferation of its ideology. Even the al-Qaeda organization, which advocates a similar worldview, is having a difficult time coping with the increasing popularity of ISIS among the supporters of the Salafist-Jihadist ideology.

Establishment of global terrorism infrastructures – ISIS began establishing terrorism infrastructures around the world a short time after it had been established, concurrently with its military expansion in its main theater of operations, Iraq and Syria. ISIS activists in Europe had planned to execute terrorist attacks in early 2015, against targets in France, Britain, Turkey and other countries, but those plans were thwarted. The recruitment of tens of thousands of foreign volunteers – Europeans, Russians, Americans, Canadians, Australians, Chinese and others – into the ranks of the Islamic State over the last few years was intended to train those volunteers as warfighters for the various theaters where the organization operates: the operational theater of Iraq and Syrian as the top priority and subsequently, following a period of training and acquiring combat experience – for other theaters around the world, mainly in the countries from which those volunteers had hailed.

The terrorist offensive of November 2015 constitutes the greatest success of ISIS in Europe. The terrorist offensive, in the context of which six objectives in Paris were attacked and about 130 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded, had been planned in Syria and organized in Belgium. Two of the members of the perpetrating network returned from Syria to Europe through the Balkans, as part of the surge of immigrants currently flooding the continent. The terrorist network that executed the attacks consisted of at least nine members, of whom seven operated as suicide attackers. The leader of the network, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, probably attended the actual attacks and was subsequently killed when an explosive vest detonated in the safe house where he was hiding. An investigation into the activities of the network has revealed that its members had planned to execute another attack in Paris, but it was thwarted by the French security agencies.

THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE ISLAMIC STATE

On September 10, 2014, US President Barack Obama announced the launching of an all-out campaign against ISIS, with the intention of weakening the organization and eventually leading to its elimination.

The strategy at the foundation of this campaign is based on several elements: continuous air strikes in Syria and Iraq, assistance to local forces in Syria and Iraq through training, supply of materiel and the presence of instructors/advisors, and restricting the financing sources of ISIS – all without deploying substantial US military ground forces in Syria or Iraq. At the same time, the US government has recently authorized the inclusion of limited scale Special Forces units in the operations against ISIS.

To implement the operation against ISIS, the USA had consolidated, within a relatively short timetable, an international coalition made up of western countries and Arab countries whose military forces take an active part in the fighting (albeit symbolically), along with countries that support the coalition. Some of the western allies (notably France and Britain) joined the US air strikes in Iraq, and pursuant to the attacks in Paris – in Syria as well. According to sources in the Pentagon, the cost of the campaign against ISIS has thus far amounted to more than US$ 2.8 billion.

As a result of coalition air strikes, a few thousands of ISIS activists were allegedly killed, but the number of 10,000 killed cited by US sources appears to be overstated. The organization is undoubtedly sustaining painful losses, but apparently, they are not enough to subdue it and for the time being it manages to reinforce its ranks with new volunteers and recruits.

However, the air strikes succeeded, to a considerable extent, in curbing the organization’s territorial expansion, and since 2015 the organization has experienced several military defeats in Iraq, the most notable of which was the fall of the city of Tikrit into the hands of the Iraqi Army and the fall of the city of Sinjar into the hands of the Kurdish forces. At the same time, however, the campaign has thus far failed to substantially reduce the domination of ISIS in the territories it had occupied in Syria and in Iraq.

Following the terror offensive in Paris, the UN Security Council decided to back up the global offensive against the Islamic State. This decision provides legitimacy to the members of the coalition to step up and expand their activity against ISIS, including the option of staging ground operations if they so desire.

Over the course of the last few months, numerous moves were made worldwide in order to minimize the departure of volunteers from various countries and prevent them from joining the fighting on the side of the Islamic State. These moves reduced the scope of the phenomenon but so far have not succeeded in eliminating it completely. In this regard, the members of the coalition, and in particular the countries of Western Europe should enhance their security, intelligence and legislative solutions if they truly aspire to eliminate the phenomenon of foreign volunteers.

Turkey constitutes the primary axis for the foreign volunteers who join the ranks of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and the primary route for these activists when they return to their home countries. The fact that Turkey is a member of NATO and the coalition against ISIS notwithstanding, it does not seem to operate with sufficient determination against the Islamic State owing to the fact that Turkey prefers to tackle the Kurds within their own territory and in the neighboring countries, as well as owing to their desire to topple the Assad regime in Syria. These two opponents of Turkey are also opponents of the Islamic State, so to some extent the interests of Turkey and ISIS overlap, opposite Turkey’s explicit commitment to NATO and to the coalition against ISIS, led by the USA. The tension between Turkey and Russia pursuant to the shooting down of the Russian fighter aircraft has further complicated Turkey’s status and policy in the context of the coalition against ISIS.

THE THREAT TO ISRAEL

The Islamic State regards the State of Israel and Judaism as enemies of Islam and aspires to eliminate the State of Israel, but for the time being it concentrates the bulk of its activity against the countries that actually threaten its existence.

The Islamic State and its various affiliates have consolidated their position in several areas close to the borders of the State of Israel. In the south, the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis organization established itself in the Sinai Peninsula. Additionally, various Jihadist organizations identified with the Islamic State established themselves in the Gaza Strip. These organizations were recently involved in the launching of rockets toward Ashkelon and the Western Negev inside Israeli territory. The ISIS affiliate in the Sinai had already staged terrorist attacks against Israel and has recently threatened to operate against Israel again, with the emphasis on the area of the city of Eilat.

In the north, ISIS is not deployed close to the border with Israel on the Golan Heights, and it is the “competing” organization, Jabhat al-Nusra (an affiliate of al-Qaeda) that is the dominant organization among the rebel organizations occupying the central and southern parts of the Golan Heights. At the same time, the possibility that ISIS may gain a foothold in the area close to the Israeli border on the Golan Heights or cooperate with Jabhat al-Nusra should be taken into consideration.

Over the course of the last few years, a few dozen Israeli Arabs travelled to Syria and joined the ranks of the Islamic State. The number of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the Judea and Samaria territories who volunteered to operate within the ranks of ISIS is estimated at a few hundred. These ISIS activists constitute a potential threat to the security of the State of Israel in the event that they attempt to return to Israel or to the territories of the Palestinian Authority. In the last year, Israeli security agencies uncovered several initiatives by Israeli Arabs who had attempted to establish ISIS-influenced terrorist cells and stage terrorist attacks inside Israel.

The Islamic State organization with its various worldwide infrastructures and affiliates has already staged terrorist attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets, mainly in France and Belgium. The organization might continue to operate against Israel in the future as well, mainly in the international arena.

BEATING AN IDEOLOGY IS DIFFICULT

The leader of ISIS, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, challenges and defies all of the world’s countries, including the USA, Europe and NATO, Russia, the Sunni Islamic countries headed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, as well as Shi’ite Iran and her allies. Without a doubt, the Islamic State will not be able to withstand a prolonged campaign against all of the forces listed above, and will eventually lose the territories it currently occupies, which would put an end to the new caliphate – but not to the worldview the organization and its leader represent. This deterministic worldview is reflected in the apocalyptic vision of an “Armageddon” type war, which is to take place, according to tradition, in the city of Dabiq in Syria and will end with a decisive Islamic victory, which would lead to a worldwide Muslim hegemony.

The strategy of the USA currently relies on local forces, including the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish militia forces in Iraq, and the “moderate” rebel organizations and Kurdish militia forces in Syria. The Kurdish forces in Syria (YPG) and in Iraq (Peshmerga) have, admittedly, achieved several successful achievements opposite ISIS, but apparently, these forces are not capable of subduing the Islamic State. The USA is not interested in reinforcing the Assad regime or in the success of the Shi’ite militia forces in Iraq, which operate under the auspices of Iran.

The inherently conflicting interests among the various elements of the coalition against ISIS and the reluctance of the members of the coalition to deploy substantial ground troops have significantly undermined the coalition’s ability to subdue the Islamic State.

Russia’s increasing involvement in the fighting in Syria may have a significant influence on the future of the campaign against ISIS, but as it appears, Russia prefers, for the time being, to concentrate its efforts against the immediate threats faced by the Assad regime from the “moderate opposition” and Jabhat al-Nusra, and less on the Islamic State, against which the coalition led by the USA is operating anyway.

It may be estimated that the Islamic State will conduct a tenacious campaign, within the boundaries of the caliphate as well as in various focal points around the world, in an attempt to exact a heavy toll on its enemies and bring about a “reconsideration” of the desirability of pressing on with the fight against ISIS in public opinion and among decision makers. The activists of the Islamic State could operate in any way and through every means in their disposal, from terrorist attacks staged by “lone wolves” through elaborate, carefully-planned attacks by terrorist networks using suicide tactics, to attacks utilizing unconventional measures.

The fight against the Salafist-Jihadist worldview and ideology of the Islamic State constitutes one of the primary challenges for which no appropriate solution has been found yet. Moreover, even if the coalition manages to eliminate the new caliphate in the territories of Iraq and Syria, the ISIS ideology will live on, nourishing new generations of activists who will continue the fight through alternative modes of operation.

 

THE UGLY TRUTH: DEFEATING THE ISLAMIC STATE WILL TAKE DECADES

The ugly truth: Defeating the Islamic State will take decades
By David Ignatius
Washington Post
January 19, 2016

There’s a scary disconnect between the somber warnings you hear privately from military leaders about the war against the Islamic State and the glib debating points coming from Republican and Democratic politicians.

The politicians fulminate about defeating the terrorists, but they don’t talk much about the costs or sacrifices that will be required. The generals and admirals, who have been at war for 15 years, know that success can’t be bought cheaply. Defeating this enemy will require a much larger and longer commitment by the United States than any leading politician seems willing to acknowledge.

My visit last week to the headquarters of Central Command, which oversees all U.S. military activities in the Middle East, came as part of a conference organized by the Center for Naval Analyses, which provides research to the Navy and other services. The ground rules prevent me from identifying speakers by name, but I can offer a summary of what I heard. It’s not reassuring.

Military leaders know that they are fighting a ruthless adversary that has adjusted and adapted its tactics as the United States and its partners have joined the fight over the past 18 months. The jihadists have lost about 25 percent of the territory they held in mid-2014, but they have devised innovative methods to compensate for their weakness.

Some examples illustrate the agility of Islamic State commanders: They have used tunnels and other concealment tactics to hide their movements; they have developed super-size car bombs, packing explosives in bulldozers and other heavy equipment and sending them in waves against targets; they have deployed small drones for reconnaissance and may be preparing armed drones; they have used chemical weapons, such as chlorine and mustard gas, on the battlefield and may expand use of such unconventional weapons.

U.S. commanders have learned how difficult it will be to create a Sunni force that can help clear and hold territory in Iraq and Syria that’s now controlled by the Islamic State. Sunni tribal leaders mistrust the United States and doubt U.S. staying power. U.S. efforts to avoid casualties and resist “boots on the ground” reinforce the sense that the United States is pursuing a strategy of containment, not victory.

One painful learning experience has been the Pentagon’s $500 million “train and equip” program to build a Syrian opposition force that can help assault the Islamic State and hold territory afterward. That effort collapsed last year because many expected recruits didn’t show up and the few who did were mauled on the battlefield. Among the lessons learned are the difficulty of finding and training mature fighters; the shifting and unsteady combat environment in Syria; and the difficulty of working with regional partners, such as Turkey, that have their own agendas.

The deeper lesson is that training a reliable military force that adheres to Western norms and standards is the work of a generation, not a few months. The U.S. desire for quick results is an exercise in frustration and disappointment. The sobering reality of this conflict that politicians – and the American public – seem least willing to face up to is that it will require a decades-long commitment.

Paradoxically, the United States’ determination to protect its troops can be self-defeating. Allies and adversaries see U.S. forces living in secure compounds, eating fancy chow and minimizing their exposure to potential terrorist assaults. The United States may say it’s fighting alongside its allies, but on the ground, it often looks different. Actually living and fighting alongside our partners in Iraq and Syria will be much more dangerous, but it may be the only way to build a solid alliance that can someday eradicate the extremists.

Contrast these stern admonitions from the commanders who have lived through the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with the upbeat talk from political leaders. President Obama pledged that “priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks” and then said a few moments later that these networks “do not threaten our national existence.” That sends a mixed message – one that Hillary Clinton has echoed in her campaign.

Republican rants about the Islamic State are even worse, in that they promise total victory without suggesting the level of commitment and sacrifice involved. The GOP responses sound tough, from Donald Trump’s “bomb the hell out of [the Islamic State]” to Sen. Marco Rubio’s (Fla.) assurance in last week’s debate that “the most powerful military in the world is going to destroy them.”

The next president is going to inherit an expanding war against a global terrorist adversary. The debate about how best to fight this enemy hasn’t even begun.

 

ISLAMIC STATE KIDNAPS 400 CIVILIANS IN DEIR AL-ZOR, SLAUGHTERS MANY

Islamic State kidnaps 400 civilians in Deir al-Zor
Syria’s state news agency reports massacre by ISIS during terror organization’s attacks on the city, at least 300 people killed, including women and children.
Reuters
January 17, 2016

Islamic State militants kidnapped at least 400 civilians when they attacked government-held areas in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor on Saturday, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday families of pro-government fighters were among those abducted.

“There is genuine fear for their lives, there is a fear that the group might execute them as it has done before in other areas,” said the Observatory’s head Rami Abdulrahamn.

Deir al-Zor is the main town in a province of the same name. The province links Islamic State’s de facto capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa with territory controlled by the militant group in neighboring Iraq.

Syria’s state news agency SANA said earlier that at least 300 people, including women and children, had been killed during the attacks in Deir al-Zor, but it made no mention of people getting kidnapped.

Syria’s government condemned the killings which it described as a “horrific massacre against the residents of Begayliya in Deir al-Zor.”

A source close to the Syrian government side said on Saturday that some of those killed had been beheaded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents all sides of the Syria conflict through activists on the ground, said late Saturday that at least 135 people were killed. It said around 80 of them were soldiers and pro-government militiamen and the rest civilians.

The Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV, which is close to the Syrian government, also reported a massacre and said ISIS killed dozens of people, including women and children, and threw their bodies in the Euphrates River. It said the group took more than 400 civilians hostage.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports.

Islamic State has previously carried out mass killings following military assaults in Iraq and Syria, including the slaughter of 200 soldiers captured from the Tabqa airbase in Raqqa province, and hundreds of members of the al-Sheitat tribe in Deir al-Zor in 2014.

The group, in control of most of Deir al-Zor province, has laid siege since March on remaining government-held areas in the city of Deir al-Zor.

Residents are facing severe food shortages and sharply deteriorating conditions. Of those under siege in the city, 70 percent are women and children, and many have been displaced from their homes elsewhere and are living in temporary shelters.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.