Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The ISIS Edge

Without its own air force, so far at least, ISIS has learned to deliver precisely targeted bombs using lots of makeshift suicide vehicles, each capable of carrying at much as ten tons of concentrated high explosives. To deflect the possibility of light artillery or small arms from stopping such bombs-on-wheels, the driver’s compartments of each of the vehicle (top row of images above) are heavily armored. Once ISIS has penetrated the peripheral defenses of a targeted city or town, the trucks are driven into the plotted enemy targets and detonated with devastating results.
To minimize the impact of drone strikes taking out senior military commanders, ISIS has decentralized its control and command structure – not really controlled by leader al Baghdadi, who has simply relegated himself as spiritual head of ISIS – into six (and growing) separate command groups in Syria/Iraq, each able to set its own military agenda without authorization or direction from al Baghdadi or any other central military commander. Each such military grouping has its own built-in replacement hierarchy, designed to keep the military machine rolling smoothly should any commander be killed. Such decentralized structures also operate in Libya and even allow small sleeper cells or lone wolves to wreak sabotage on their enemies, as we have seen in Paris recently. Can we keeping cutting off the hydra-heads of their military until their capacity to strike is finally eroded? Quickly? In a year? Over many years?
They have found the new smart phones, especially IOS and Android based, able to provide beautiful images easily uploadable to the Web and use new easily accessible apps to cloak their communications from Western intelligence agencies. I’ve already blogged about their competence with mass and social media to create a highly effective recruiting paradigm that has worked brilliantly for them.
Noting how few Arab allies, especially Sunnis, are willing to take on a military confrontation with ISIS, and reveling in Western reluctance to field “boots on the ground” in any significant numbers, ISIS has instead figured out how to minimize damage from air strikes with an incredible network of underground facilities, caves and bunkers (such as the ones shown in the bottom row of images above), some capable of storing larger attack vehicles as well.
Through an efficient system of taxation of conquered Sunnis, the looting of captured banks or other sources of stolen wealth, ransom money from kidnappings, the sale through the black market of precious antiquities, a small revenue stream from the few remaining functioning oil wells and continuing contributions from sympathetic Muslims all over the world, but particularly from regional sources providing guilt money (or hopefully buying “protection” should ISIS conquer their lands as well). Can we really dry up their financing? And if so, when?
Need more to worry about? “Isis is ‘aggressively pursuing the development of chemical weapons,’ creating a team dedicated to research and experiments, according to Iraqi and US intelligence officials… Iraqi officials have raised concerns that a large area controlled by extremists, since the group overran parts of Iraq and Syria last year, has left authorities largely in the dark about ISIS activities.
“A senior Iraqi intelligence officer, with first-hand knowledge of Isis' chemical weapons programme, told The Associated Press anonymously: ‘They now have complete freedom to select locations for their labs and production sites and have a wide range of experts, both civilians and military, to aid them.’… It also believed the group are working in conjunction with scientists in Iraq and Syria to create more sophisticated weapons.” Independent.co.uk, November 20th.
Every day, even as a few towns are recaptured by anti-ISIS forces, ISIS is digging in, and is now encouraging terrorist attacks globally. Are they getting stronger and more entrenched? Or are they reaching beyond their immediate region to spread terrorism as a sign that their local efforts have peaked? One way or the other, they have lost much of their fear of attacks from the air regardless of the sophistication of the weapon systems deployed against them.
Every day, ISIS is getting a bit more difficult to dislodge. They have shown surprising administrative skills over their conquered lands, getting local Sunnis back to living their lives (within ISIS new rules), opening shops, getting farms (those not lost to the drought) back on line, and even using local banks to implement their new currency to fuel “normalcy” under their aegis.
For those who fear that letting in Syrian refugees into the United States will bring new risks to our nation, please know that there are already enough fully operational sleeper cells here capable of wreaking havoc without a trickle of minor reinforcements. With over 100 American citizens fighting for ISIS, trust me, they are rather well-informed of our vulnerabilities already.
Remembering that ISIS is just one (albeit a powerful and mega-successful one) of the jihadists willing to take on the West and regional opponents, President Barack Obama’s fear, that deploying Western boots on the ground in the Syrian/Iraqi theater will result in a rolling effort of such extremists willing to spread their military campaign to so many other theaters of war within the Islamic world (and into West), is stalling a movement to that extreme military possibility. Americans seem to be uniformly opposed to any mass deployment of U.S. forces to the region, but are we deceiving ourselves as to what it will take to stop the cancerous malevolence? Is patience our only realistic path, given our proclivity to attack and quickly regret such decisions resulting in unilateral withdrawal and a failed overall mission?
Are we stuck with embracing the Shiite enemies of the Sunni world, Iran and its satellite Iraq, plus our Russian nemesis and the litany of angry European powers as our “allies of necessity”? Is ISIS really getting so much stronger such that any delay will make crushing them that much more difficult? If arch enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot find a path to d├ętente, is the any hope of taking out ISIS and stabilizing the region? Without getting regional allies from both Shiite and Sunni powers to shoulder a large part of this burden, would Western efforts to crush ISIS yield another Iraq-like debacle? Do we remotely have the staying power? Really? Can we tolerate the collateral damage?
What does Sunni/NATO “ally” Turkey’s shooting down a Russian fighter (one flyer dead, the other captured), over what Turkey’s calls their airspace after repeated warnings, do to complicate a regionally coordinated attack against ISIS? Did a Russian rescue helicopter get shot down? Will Russia retaliate to what Vladimir Putin called a “stab in the back”? Does this make a “no fly zone” over Syria too difficult to implement?  Will Russia ever abandon its bombing raids over the anti-Assad Syrian rebels in favor of only attacking ISIS?
In light of the above litany of facts about ISIS, what would you do? You could just embrace an expedient political slogan promulgated by both parties and watch ISIS revel in the obvious result. And yes, this is a huge mess that is going to take the same kind of effort that defeated Hitler in WWII… without, hopefully, our embracing the kinds of Hitlerian policies of religious targeting and persecution now advocated by serious presidential contenders. But we need strong local partners ready to commit ground forces. And of course, we cannot let “them” redefine “us” and our true values.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I am tired of a group of blubbering fools, from both sides of the aisle, who have very seriously underestimated ISIS and its threat to global stability.

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