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Monday, February 23, 2015

Why Has ISIS/ISIL Been So Successful? (Part II)

(Part II)

Another reason that the IS has been successful is that it Islamic Extremism does not consist of a handful of disparate, arguing, selfish groups that can't ever get on the same page.  I believe that once we get past all the bullshit, we will discover that one command structure exists for Khorasan, Al-Nusra and the IS.  The little identity game they play has already caused problems for the "air campaign" coalition, as certain Gulf States have refused to participate in targeted bombing raids because they weren't comfortable with the target.  The reality is, the IS has grown stronger because the Extremist cause has learned the importance of supporting one another.  AQIM will support Boko Haram, just as the Taliban support Al-Qaeda.  Unfortunately, the bad guys are finally grasping the ancient cliché that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" (from a Muslim prince, by the way).   Recently, the world was focused on Yemen (for about seven minutes).  Al-Qaeda, who control a good part of the southern coast east of Aden and up to the border with Oman, have been utilizing Yemen as a training environment for new recruits.  Once we are in a position to interview (we don't use the word interrogate anymore)some of the IS soldiers who surrender in Syria after a battle, it will be fascinating to determine just how many of them had previous training assignments in Yemen.  Any Islamic Extremist who has trained in Yemen is affiliated with Al-Qaeda, so the discovery of a Syrian battlefield of veterans of the AQ training module in Arabia Felix, will destroy the myth that Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are distinctly separate terrorist groups.

I believe that the willingness and ability of Islamic Extremist groups to modernize and take full advantage of the advances made in telecommunications has been the most important part of their success.  That, and their use of Social Media has positively affected just about everything else they try to accomplish.  I am saving another important factor for last.  The Islamic Extremist cause was forced to adapt in a constantly evolving, modern world.  George Bush recognized this fact, and following September 11, 2001, Bush (and the Pentagon, I assume) realized that to force Al-Qaeda into a conventional war would require all of its resources and would eventually cripple the organization.  And the only way to force Al-Qaeda into a conventional war, was to take the conflict to a Muslim country.  Iraq was the perfect patsy, and even provided justification (let's face it, Saddam had been breaking U.N. prohibitions for years).  The United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and although things did not always go smoothly, (Abu Ghraib, the Sunni Insurgency) The U.S. military left Al-Qaeda crippled and down for the count.  Unfortunately, the American people voted for an Administration with an entirely different perspective regarding U.S. obligation and debt to the Muslim world.  The message that we would be basically inactive for some time (with the exception of finding Bin Laden, which was nothing more than a political tool) was telegraphed to the Gulf States, North Africa and beyond.  Al-Qaeda was allowed to lick its wounds and rebuild.  Bin Laden structured his organization so that his death would not impact the long-term plans of the group.  At this point, something pivotal occurred: Ayman al-Zawahiri became the go-to man.   Why is this so pivotal?  Because Zawahiri is arguably brilliant, and he spent his cave-time as number two, analyzing the history and strategy of the conflict, and creating a map to victory.  First and foremost, the Islamic Extremist cause had to create a conventional military element; and army, for lack of a better term.  AQIM had risen from the dust or far west Iraq and had inserted itself into the Syrian conflict, as "the Islamic State for Iraq and al-Sham", and later to "the Islamic State for the Levant"; but make no mistake - Baghdadi or no Baghdadi, this group looks west to the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, to a shrunken, tiny old Egyptian Doctor, for their guidance and leadership.

The decision to adopt a more formal approach to the struggle was not accomplished overnight.  In fact, it would be wise to assume that the Islamic Extremist cause continues to keep a smaller, discreet more typical capability on hand.  But after embracing the move to a more conventional model, the call went out for recruits.  A legitimate army must have soldiers, and Yemen was the location chosen to train the new recruits.  Why else would Al-Qaeda be devoting so many resources to that rocky, barren, stinky, qat-obsessed little dump?  The Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq have provided training-under fire at one time or another.  The options have become a bit more limited as of late, with Yemen and Iraq getting special attention.  Surprisingly (at least to me), the bad guys have taken to the idea of conventional warfare quite quickly.  IS units in the field appear to be well-fed, supplied and rested.  Just last week, the IS launched a mini-offensive in Anbar Province that took the Iraqi military by complete surprise.  This offensive was coordinated with attacks south of Tikrit and Samarah.  The IS is attempting to cut off Iraqi military units and Shi'a militia in place around Baiji, and the manner in which the offensive was conducted (the IS waited until the weather was overcast, to limit the impact of coalition air attacks.  As you read this, the IS is causing some serious headaches in Tehran, which is really such a shame.  Just when the Iranians were preparing to storm our embassy a second time (on this occasion, in the guise of a treaty with the United States regarding Iranian nuclear ambitions), the IS has to start making noise in a province that borders the Islamic Republic Of Iran.  What is truly interesting is that all of the Islamic Extremist groups are beginning to show signs of military discipline and planning.  Certainly Boko Haram and AQIM function in this manner.  After the death of Bin Laden, I believe Zawahiri made the decision to start infusing techniques of modern warfare and the benefits of the twenty-first century into the Islamic Extremist gameplan.  Does the current environment support my theory?  Isolated attacks in Paris, London, Boston, Sydney and Copenhagen, Boko Haram acting with impunity in Central and West Africa, the IS running a bit wild in Iraq and pushing the envelope in Syria, and real concerns about a well-funded, organized (surprised?) IS beginning to stretch its legs in Libya.  I guess they were just waiting for the dust to clear.  Certainly the almost complete disappearance of the United States in the battle against Islamic Extremism has contributed to this high-water mark, but the changing of the guard must have had an impact as well.

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