{{The following article treads over some old ground, but only to summarize the current situation.}}

 
The so-called "Islamic State" is a combined terrorist-guerrilla organization which accreted in parts of Iraq and Syria during the period of 2005-2012. Reliable intelligence on manpower strength is unreliable, but "best guess" estimates hover in the neighborhood of 10-20,000 active fighters within Iraq and Syria, with perhaps another c.20,000 fighters the organization claims have "pledged allegiance" to them, spread around the world. These are concentrated mostly in West Africa and Libya. Exact numbers in the rest of the world are difficult to ascertain, but number well under 10,000.

ISIL maintains aspirations of "statehood", of the "Westphalian" type, via its claims to have legitimately restored the Islamic Caliphate. To describe this claim as 'overly optimistic' is a gross understatement.

USMC amphibious vehicle destroyed near Nasiriyah, Iraq, March 2003 - MSgt Edward D. Kniery, USMC

ISIL's origins rest in the days following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, those Ba'ath Party loyalists (mostly, professionally-trained officers of the former Iraqi Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Party's intelligence services) who knew they would face trial, prison and possibly execution following the invasion, largely fled into Syria, which is led by the other faction of the Ba'ath Party, after its break with Saddam. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad's government largely held them in check; this was allowed by the US and its allies, the "least bad" option, due to an increasingly violent campaign against a badly-handled US/allied occupation.

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer signs the Iraqi Sovereignty document to transfer full governmental authority to the Iraqi Interim Government in Baghdad, Iraq, June 28, 2004. USAF photo by SSgt Ashley Brokop

As local resistance in Iraq began to wane, the leaders of the international terror group Al Qaeda began directing a steady stream of international fighters - initially, mostly Chechens  running from the Russian occupation of their homeland, and surviving non-Afghani  Taliban fighters - into the combat zone. The purpose was not to win on the battlefield, but to bleed the United States into another Vietnam-style humiliation, and withdrawal. To a great extent, this succeeded, resulting in the draw-down of most US forces by 2010.

However, because Iraq's majority population is Shia (Al Qaeda is thoroughly Sunni- Wahabi), instituting a majority-rule democracy inevitably led to a 'de facto', Shia-based, proto-theocracy, which Al Qaeda could not abide.

Many disenfranchised Sunni-Wahabi fighters began to filter into Syria, as a result.

The former Ba'ath Party loyalists, having access to cash hidden away by the party in foreign ghost accounts, had been kept busy, planning the reconquest of Iraq. The Assad regime had let them plan this (mostly because it gave them something to do), but was still loathe to allow them to go over to the attack.

This situation was completely reversed in 2012, when the fallout from the so-called "Arab Spring" reached Syria, sparking the current (as of the end of 2016) civil war.

In what swiftly degenerated into a multi-sided free-for-all, both the former Republican Guard officers and elements dissatisfied with the Al Qaeda leadership found unlikely allies in each other: the former being "all chiefs and no Indians", while the latter were the exact reverse reverse and were embittered by Al Qaeda's no-victory attrition strategy.

Although very secular, as a consequence of their Socialist indoctrination, the IRGC officers felt that they could handle the poorly-educated jihadists...However, a lack of decisive, charismatic leadership among the IRGC faction led to them attempting to "out-CIA the CIA", by placing a religiously extreme front-man at their head. How much control the IRGC element retains over the movement is questionable, as of this writing, given the clear Turkish bias in their failed strategy in Iraq.

Whatever the case, it is clear that by 2013, what was now recognizably ISIL was a solid, well-equipped and -trained force, being funded at least in part by Saudi Arabia, and allowed base areas in Turkey, which state clearly took the lead in backing ISIL as a proxy army.

The proof of this theory is demonstrated in the initial ISIL advance:

 

 

Two LRDG trucks armed with water cooled Vickers guns - Official British war photographer

The initial wave of ISIL combat movements most closely resembles "First World"  motorized cavalry tactics. Although using "technicals" (civilian pickup trucks armed with various weapons), the principles employed were straight out of West European and American military doctrine manuals on armored cavalry warfare, rather than the more recent use in places like Somalia and Liberia. In fact, there is a distinct echo of the tactics employed by mercenary  units such as the infamous "5 Commando" in the former Belgian Congo in the early 1960's, as well as British special operations forces operating in the Libyan desert in the Second World War.

 

 

Mercenaries come under fire from Simba rebels outside Stanleyville, Republic of the Congo, November 1964

 

Iraqi National Guard "technical" fighting vehicle, armed with one 7.62 mm PKM machine gun, crewed by local Bedouin enlistees. Photographed in Nukhayb, Iraq, 2004 - by Matthew Vanitas

This exact strategy was the only one capable of meeting the IRGC/jihadist needs for the region...but in its origin lays the key: no one in the region has practiced this type of warfare since 1950. There is no institutional basis to organically develop such a doctrine locally, which leaves only two options: either ISIL received command-level staff training from an outside source, or - far more likely - the IRGC officers exiled in Syria did what any organized staff corps that had just lost a major war would do, and spent a minimum of six years engaging in an interactive staff study, identifying why they had lost, and what to change in order for them to win. Only a professionally trained staff corps could conduct such a study, which would marry history, politics, economics, logistics, technology and tactics into something new and unique.

Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade of the 14th Iraqi Army Division graduate from basic training in Besmaya - USN Petty Officer 2nd Class Erica R. Gardner

It is vital to remember that Iraq never had a "bad" army - the Iraqi Army simply had no wish to die for Saddam Hussein, and was badly over-matched technologically and logistically by the US and its allies in both 1990-91 and in 2003.

As well, numerous commentators during 2013-2014 remarked on the discipline of ISIL fighters, who were acting in many ways, like Western troops, it was readily apparent that something different was happening.

All of this seems to have run its course, however, as witnessed by ISIL's doomed overreach with its attempt to widen their war with an ill-conceived attempt to goad the very professional Iranian Regular Army (the "Artesh") into riding to Baghdad's rescue. The Iranian repost left ISIL starving on its poisonous vine, since neither Saudi Arabia nor Turkey could openly come to their aid, while Iraqi Shia and mostly-Sunni Kurdish forces  gained both strength and momentum, giving the Assad regime's forces badly needed breathing room until the Russian intervention in September of 2015.

A Russian Su-24 jet aircraft in Latakia, government-held Latakia Governorate - Russian Ministry of Defence

In short, ISIL's collapse in Syria-Iraq is assured; the only question is one of time-frame. Without effective support, it will not survive against the onslaught of a Russian-backed offensive that can now operate without worrying about a confrontation with a new United States administration which presently appears disinclined to hamper their efforts.

This, however, does leave the on-going problem of both ISIL- and Al Qaeda-pledged terrorist bands running wild within Africa, and with "lone wolf" attacks continuing in Western nations, most of whom are also dealing with the Turkish-driven "silent jihad" of infiltrators masquerading as refugees.

This last is likely to remain an ongoing security threat for the next decade.



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