Islamic State Update – The Islamic State is suffering huge losses in Iraq and Syria yet the battle is far from over. The upper echelons of leadership have made their way out of the cities of Raqqa and Mosul and are sure to continue the battle (and war) on other fronts. ISIS will likely revert (where necessary) back to an insurgent and terrorist organization utilizing clandestine methods of operation. Over the past few years ISIS has opened several new fronts – to include Libya, Afghanistan, Philippines, and other locations. In addition, it has inspired many ‘Lone Wolf’ attacks in European cities and other locations. This article provides a review of recent articles, publications, papers, analysis, and commentary about the Islamic State.
M777 Howitzers Making a Difference in Iraq. ISIS militants are faced with a number of adversaries and weapons systems in Iraq and Syria. Aircraft bombing from above, snipers from opposing forces, and artillery of the U.S. Marines and U.S. Army. One of these artillery pieces is the 155-mm M777 Howitzer that can hit a target almost 19 miles away. The gun can be towed or airlifted (CH-53s, CH-47s, and MV-22 Ospreys). Read more in an article by James Clark entitled “This Is The Devastating Piece of Artillery Leading the Ground Fight Against ISIS”, Task and Purpose, June 29, 2017.
The Expendable Fighters of ISIS. Brian Jenkins, of the RAND Corporation, provides his analysis of how the Islamic State uses (and abuses) their rank and file. He points out that ISIS losses in Mosul and Raqqa have been staggering yet the organization will continue to exist. Read “The Islamic State’s Disposable Army”, The RAND Blog, June 20, 2017.
Who Takes Tal Afar? Powerful Iran-backed militias have surrounded the northern Iraq city of Tal Afar located to the west of Mosul. Once Mosul is fully liberated who will take the lead on Tal Afar? The Iranian-supported militias or the Iraqi government’s Army? Read “Iraq’s Dilemma: Who Will Lead the Next Big Fight Against ISIS?”, The Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2017.
Raqqa Encircled. U.S. backed Syrian forces (composed of Kurdish and Arab fighters) are slowly eating away at the defenses of the Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa. While the top leadership of ISIS has left the city the ISIS fighters are still putting up a robust defense. Eventually, if you read the press releases of CJTF-OIR and other defense officials, the city of Raqqa will soon fall to the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) forces. The large country to the north – that would be Turkey – is not pleased with these developments. It harbors deep distrust of the Kurdish fighters and would like to see the further expansion of Kurdish-held territory in Syria halted. Some observers believe that Turkey is about to embark on an anti-Kurd offensive in northern Syria. Read more in “U.S. Kurdish allies in final push to encircle Raqqa amid increasing threats from Turkey”, Military Times, June 29, 2017.
The ISIS Caliphate Crumbles. David Ignatius writes about the current state of ISIS and how it is facing defeat in the Middle East. Read “The Crumbling ISIS Caliphate”, Real Clear Politics, July 2, 2017.
Syria – U.S. Waging War on the Cheap. Frederic C. Hof provides his take on the Syrian conflict – saying that the U.S. has missed the boat on the opportunity to set things right. Read Operation Successful, Patient Dead posted on the Atlantic Council, June 29, 2017.
Post-Raqqa Problems. Once Raqqa falls to the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) what will the political and security environment look like? See “New Conflicts Threaten Syria After Islamic State Defeat”, Reuters, June 30, 2017.
Syria – Mapping Out the Factions and Enclaves. Sam Heller, a Beirut-based writer and analyst focused on Syria, provides us with a primer of the various contestants in the Syrian conflict in “The Signal in Syria’s Noise”, War on the Rocks, June 30, 2017.
After the Fall – ISIS will Re-Emerge. Giorgio Cafiero and Daniel Wagner write about the realities of the Islamic State after the fall of Mosul and Raqqa. It isn’t going away. See Islamic State’s New Realities, the Atlantic Council, June 26, 2017.
Strategy of Occupation? Presumably the U.S. will maintain military forces in parts of Syria even after ISIS is defeated (although, to be certain, it will revert back to an insurgency). So what happens then? The U.S. should have a strategy to deal with the ‘liberated’ areas but . . . . . Read “The Closer We Get, the More Complex It Gets. White House Struggles with Strategy as ISIS Nears Defeat in Iraq and Syria”, Task and Purpose, July 3, 2017.
Islamic State Will Fight On in Liberated Cities. ISIS is being dislodged from the major cities of Raqqa and Mosul but the fight with the Islamic State will continue well into the future. Although major and smaller cities are being liberated by the Iraqi security forces and the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) the conflict within the cities will not end. Those who are involved in the planning and execution of “post-liberation security, reconstruction, and governance plans” are aware (at least they should be) that ISIS will continue the struggle by other means – presumably through terrorism, sabotage, suicide bombings, and guerrilla warfare. Daniel Milton and Muhammad al-Ubaydi have penned a 23-page tract entitled The Fight Goes On: The Islamic State’s Continuing Military Efforts in Liberated Cities, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, United States Military Academy, June 2017.
“Light Rollback Strategy” Against ISIS. Several writers have collaborated on a RAND Corporation paper entitled Rolling Back the Islamic State published in June 2017. The authors include Seth Jones, James Dobbins, Ben Connable, and others. The paper addresses the topics such as the ideology and objectives of ISIS, strategies the U.S. and allies should use against ISIS, specific steps to be taken against ISIS in areas where it controls territory and population centers, and steps to neutralize the Islamic States support mechanisms (recruiting, financing, propaganda) around the globe. This 297-page paper proposes that the U.S. has four possible strategies for dealing with the Islamic State: disengagement, containment, rollback “light”, and rollback “heavy”. The RAND authors conclude that rollback “light” is the best way forward – using special operations forces, the Central Intelligence Agency, intelligence assets, and airpower.
Additional Readings on SOF News about the Islamic State: