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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The rise of a terrorist superpower: the Islamic State in 2015.

Most analysts and military strategists in the United States have focused on the activities of Daesh (Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq.  After all, our equities appear to be most at risk in those two particular theaters.  We have been conducting an Allied Air Campaign  in both areas of conflict for roughly a year, and today, for the first time, we have learned exactly how aggressive this Air Campaign has been.  The Allied Air Campaign (which includes the United States, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain) is averaging fourteen missions per day against Daesh targets.  In comparison, the U.S. Air Force averaged 800 missions per day against Iraqi and insurgency targets in Operation Enduring Freedom.  When questioned about the low number of missions, the Pentagon pointed out that the targets are more complicated, and the coalition is determined to avoid hitting civilian targets in error.  I will leave that comment to stand on its own.  Recently, Daesh has become more visible in its efforts to expand into other countries.  Saudi Arabia has started to suffer from internal bombings conducting by Daesh operatives, and the presence of Daesh has been noted in Algeria, Mali, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, Yemen, and Armenia (this includes countries with Islamic extremist groups who have declared their allegiance to Daesh).  Currently, the Islamic State has the momentum in both Iraq and Syria.  In fact, with only the remnants of the regime left to oppose their advance, Syria is beginning to look like a done deal, at least as far as Assad is concerned.  Last week, Daesh operatives captured the Syrian/Iraqi border town of al-Tanf (al-Waleed in Iraq), which is a major victory for the extremist group.  Controlling this entry point will allow Daesh to resupply its forces in Iraq more quickly, and vice versa.  It solidifies their communication and transportation network between the two countries, and will undoubtedly bring more pressure on the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Anbar Province.

Outside of Saudi Arabia and a few isolated incidents in other countries, Daesh has yet to conduct a major operation in a theater other than Syria and least as far as we know. This group continues to impress with its planning and patience, and its ability to transform financial support into military equipment and supplies.  No doubt its recent successes on the battlefield have increased the flow of volunteers.  Last summer, when the United States appeared to be taking this threat seriously, there was hope that the Daesh movement would be limited to Iraq and Syria.  But the organization has executed a much more successful military strategy than the United States and its allies.  We celebrated when the Kurds won a few victories in northern Syria, and we rejoiced when the ISF recaptured Tikrit.  But each minor Daesh setback was followed by a major military operation against weak targets.  Although Ramadi wasn't thought to be a weak target.  It became one when the ISF deserted its positions and equipment/vehicles, and left the people of Ramadi to fend for themselves.  The example that the Iraqi Army continues to set (with the exception of a modest-sized number of well-trained, disciplined troops that get deployed whenever the government in Baghdad needs a headlining-grabbing victory somewhere) is only encouraging scores of Sunni in Anbar and elsewhere to back the winner, which at this stage is Daesh.  Each little step east, closer to Baghdad, allows Daesh to seed Sunni communities with locals who have become supporters.  No doubt, actual Daesh operatives are already in place in the bedroom communities of Baghdad.

From a larger perspective, the EU and the United States had better recognize the danger of Daesh "sightings" in Africa and in other Middle East countries.  This extremist group is nothing like we have seen before, with the exception of the Taliban, on a much smaller scale.  It has brought a conventional military capability to an extremist agenda.  These groups feed off the poverty and misery of the third world to recruit and spread a message of hate and blame.  Sadly, in 2015, they have no shortage of expansion opportunities.  We have been concerned for some time with the activities of Al-Shabaab in East Africa, and the potential for recruitment in the townships of Kenya.  There is no doubt that Al-Shabaab and Daesh are in regular communication, and that Daesh is already considering ways to tap into the mountain of discontent that exists in East African townships.  Another troubling development is the easy manner in which Daesh seems to co-opt existing guerilla movements, sometimes even groups that are not Sunni in affiliation.  One would have though that the mass executions and beheadings would have damaged the brand at least to some extent.  But the reality is, at the end of the day, what really impresses is success, which at the moment, Daesh is enjoying in Spades. Anyone that is able to make the United States appear reactionary and unresolved will always attract a certain element of bad guys, but Daesh has managed to force the United States, Saudi Arabia, the EU, the Emirates, and even the Assad regime, stand behind the same target.  As far as Daesh is concerned, they have one enemy that just happens to speak different languages and wear different uniforms.  It would be in our best interest if we also adopted the same approach, instead of continuing with this obsession of separating the motivations of various extremist groups that all share the same goal: the expansion of Islamic extremism and the destruction of the western way of life.

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