Saturday, July 19, 2014

ISIS Continues to Take Territory

The Islamic State (aka ISIS) continues to make substantial military gains. VOA News reports that ISIS forces killed 270 taking the Shaer gas field in the central province of Homs. Aljazeera indicates, however, that Syria is contemplating an attack to attempt to retake the gas field.

Meanwhile, turning back to Iraq, McClatchy reports:
Islamic State gunmen overran a former U.S. military base early Friday and killed or captured hundreds of Iraqi government troops who’d been trying to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, the worst military reversal Iraqi troops have suffered since the Islamist forces captured nearly half the country last month. 
The defeat brought to an end a three-week campaign by the government in Baghdad to recapture Tikrit, which fell to the Islamic State on June 11. Military spokesmen earlier this week had confidently announced a final push to recapture the city. 
Instead, Islamic State forces turned back the army’s thrust up the main highway Wednesday. Beginning late Thursday, the Islamist forces stormed Camp Speicher, a former U.S. military base named for a pilot who disappeared during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and overwhelmed the troops there. 
Witnesses reached by phone, who asked not be identified for security reasons, said that by Friday morning the final pocket of government troops had collapsed, an ignominious end for a counteroffensive that had begun with a helicopter assault into Tikrit University but ended with troops trapped at Camp Speicher.
ISIS also continues to solidify its holdings by intimidating portions of the population that might provide resistance. Case in point, as the Telegraph relates:
Christian families streamed out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Saturday after Islamist fighters said they would be killed if they did not pay a protection tax or convert to Islam. 
“For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians,” Patriarch Louis Sako lamented as hundreds of families fled ahead of a noon deadline set by Islamic State for them to submit or leave. 
The warning was read out in Mosul’s mosques on Friday afternoon, and broadcast throughout the city on loudspeakers. 
“We offer [Christians] three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract - involving payment... if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword,” the announcement read. 
It said Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who the group has now named Caliph Ibrahim, had ordered Christians who did not want to stay and live under those terms to “leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate”.
Mao Tse Tung formulated a three stage theory of revolutionary warfare. Those steps are:
1. Organization, consolidation and preservation of base areas,
usually in difficult and isolated terrain.
2. Progressive expansion by terror and attacks on isolated enemy units
to obtain arms, supplies and political support.
3. Decision, or destruction of the enemy in battle. 
What does this mean in detail? 
The revolutionary cadres begin their work in remote rural areas. It’s easier to hide there and governments tend to ignore remote areas or, even better, discriminate against their inhabitants. That serves to helps with recruiting. Cadres come to villages to live and work and socialize with the locals. Over time they become trusted. In that newly fertile ground they develop a program, the party line, and recruit followers. The government on the other hand has the constant task of rooting out and apprehending the revolutionary cadres. That was usually a losing battle for them. In remote areas the peasant population is small; they all know and keep tabs on one another, but you can still move among them as long as you make friends with them. By contrast, strangers immediately stand out, so it’s harder for the government to infiltrate, to get intelligence. The Communists did not always co-mingle with the locals in such a benign way, sometimes they coerced villagers, but the track record (in China, Vietnam and elsewhere) reveals a trend toward cooperation rather than intimidation as the primary characteristic of the relations between revolutionaries and peasants. At least at this early stage. That’s phase one. 
Next, the transition to phase two, guerrilla warfare, armed struggle. In guerrilla warfare, attacks are carefully planned for heightened effect, but usually not for military purposes per se. Instead phase two revolutionaries are interested in using military force for political purposes. What or who is the first target? This is low-intensity warfare at this point so the target will likely be an individual or a small group, a police chief for example, or a village chief, or maybe even a province chief or council. Kidnapping and assassination are the tools of the trade, not so much because they want to get rid of that person but rather to make a resounding point. To what effect? To demonstrate to the populace that the insurgents can get to the enemy, that their force is a real factor to be respected. It also induces fear in the ranks. The first attacks may do little physical damage to the enemy, but psychologically, fears of possible mayhem just around the corner get stoked. Suddenly, formerly comfortable officials begin to fear for their safety. They may then pull their forces further inward for personal protection, which usually made the villagers happy. 
Another primary reason behind these first attacks is to get attention. Basically, when people read about the attack in the newspaper or hear about it on the radio or by word of mouth, they’re going to be curious about what is happening. Even if they’ve never heard of the revolutionary movement they may start thinking about it and seek to learn more. Engaging in that initial act of violence, or terrorism, demonstrates to the people that the revolution is real, that its agents are here and they mean business. And they can win. For villagers already opposed to the government, or even for those who were neutral, this represented a development worth watching, and maybe hope for something new and better. 
From that initial purely political statement, progress toward the third and final stage is constantly evolving. In the third stage military objectives rise to the fore. Getting there involves the constant escalation of fear through violence. For example, an ambush of a patrol might net a weapons cache. Then a police station is overrun in the night, netting more weapons and ammunition, and perhaps information like names of informants. Then, finally, enough weapons, and money, are accumulated to encourage supporters to help. They begin to give information on government officials, and local families grow more willing to hide communist troops. Over time, more and more locals actually take up arms and join in the combat operations. Insurgent military operations become bigger and deadlier. Ultimately a regular military force emerges that can engage government forces on the field of battle. That’s the third phase. As we’ll see, the Vietnamese Communists put their own gloss on the theory and practice.
 ISIS finds itself at a dangerous time in its development. It has successfully grown its organization from a loose band of terrorist and guerrillas to one that fancies itself a nation-state. It's military actions are no longer the work of isolated bands of terrorists or guerrilla fighters, but is transitioning to formal military units fighting open battles toe-to-toe with enemies. Right now, the moral of the ISIS troops and supporters is high due to the incredible victories it has obtained. All of this is, however, its weakness.

Because ISIS has not suffered a serious setback, if one were to happen, it would be a severe psychological blow to the movement. Combined with the death of its leader, and the group would likely degenerate into warring factions.

Militarily, ISIS is openly fielding forces. It is acting as real army. But it lacks the training and experience to a modern military force, and certainly is lacking much of the equipment needed. However, it has just enough to defeat the demoralized Iraqi troops that it meets. Right here and right now, though, it would not be able to stand against a professional military force of any significance. Iraq can't succeed; but the U.S. could crush this nascent army with a sufficiently strong contingent. After living under ISIS for several months, its popularity among the population will be waning. However, this window will soon close. ISIS is already seeking to put into place a bureaucracy to handle day-to-day government matters. It has seized key gas and oil fields that will provide it with sources of income. It will be able to field an army of motivated soldiers whose training and experience will make it an equal to almost any in the Middle East.

Now is the time to strike. But it will be, unfortunately, the time Obama falters.  The Europeans will not intervene either. It is simpler for them to criticize Israel than to recognize that something far worse than Nazi Germany is metastasizing in the Middle-East.

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