Written by Fakhrul Islam
The predisposition of conflict and struggle towards a certain goal or objective is ever present in humans since the beginning of humanity. If we consider the Biblical accounts, it all started with Cain murdering his brother Abel. Throughout the ages human psyche developed to understand the significance of unity and strength and thus through that concept of unity to project strength was born the harbinger of war... ...
The etymological roots of the word 'war' defines it to have come from the old High German language word 'Werran’ which literally means “to confuse or to cause confusion”, through the Old English word 'Werre' of the same meaning, and it defines a state of explicit and usually declared armed conflict between different state and non-state entities such as sovereign states or between rival political or social factions within the same state. The wise Prussian military analyst Carl Von Clausewitz, in his book On War, defines it as, “continuation of politics carried on by other means.”
Unbelievable yet true is the fact that it had been in the early Mesopotamian civilizations where the evolution of warfare has its roots as the most advanced armies of the Bronze Age belonged to two city states of Sumer and Akkad, from where Sargon of Akkad launched a decade long campaign of uniting Mesopotamia and expand to create the first military dictatorship that the world has ever seen. The almost constant occurrence of war among the city-states of Sumer for two thousand years spurred the development of military technology and technique far beyond that found elsewhere at the time. Before Sargon of Akkad united Mesopotamia in 2316 BC, there hadbeen an almost constant occurrence of war among the city-states of Sumer for two thousand years, which ultimately spurred the development of military technology and tactics far advanced than that found elsewhere at the time. Interestingly, the first “Iraq-Iran War” took place somewhere in this timeline as the Elamites of Northern Iran and the Sumerians clashed time and again, far more interesting is the fact that this conflict dates back to the Neolithic age.
The reason for this lengthy introduction is to make you understand the proclivity of the people of Middle East towards perpetual warfare throughout the ages, which in many ways have given us great things but through a lot of pain at times. War has evolved through the ages and each nation has contributed in their own ways in both its arts and sciences but in the last few decades the nature of warfare has taken a swing in the darkness of unpredictability and it is still swinging in directions unknown, with no end of it in sight. I wonder if Clausewitz was alive today what he would have said about the current nature of war!
The new swing in all of this is the doctrine of “Hybrid Warfare”, presented to the Western Civilization by the wise Frank Hoffman, which was first proposed by two Chinese Colonels,Colonels Qiao and Wang,and apparently this has become the new cool among the military analysts and the intelligence community extending around the world. Even though no known state actor has fully evolved their military forces to adopt this doctrine, non-state entities like Hezbollah and ISIL seems to not only have adopted but also have mastered, perfected and improved it in their own ways. Regardless of the non-state actors mastering the said art of war, the conflict in Syria had been the hotbed of its evolution to a fully grown doctrine in its own right. Worst part: the basic principles of Hybrid Warfare provides some excellent tools for the terrorists to work their operations, everywhere, all the time.
Irrespective of the continuation of warfare between different social, political and religio-ethnic entities for thousands of years in the Middle East the conflict in Syria has seared the face of not only the Middle East but the whole world, especially Europe with a growing threat of terrorism, both smuggled in and homegrown. All of the problemsstart with ISIL. The Syrian Civil War, for the first time in modern history, has given to us a phenomenon which is truly capable of being contagious, ideologically. This is a threat which truly would transcend any past ideas of ideological contagion, which was acute during the Cold War. Europe, as it seems will be the first domino to fall in the long line of dominoeson their board.
The problem starts with the very definition of Hybrid Warfare, as suggested by Mr. Hoffman in his 2007 paper “Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars”. Hoffman defines hybrid threats as “Any adversary that simultaneously employs a tailored mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism and criminal behavior in the same time and battle space to obtain their political objectives.” Now let’s check ISIL activities in Europe and in the Near East, as the Americans prefer to call it, to see if it matches with the above definition and the 3 basic principles of Hybrid Warfare; Omni-directionality, Synchrony and Asymmetry.
Omni-directionality allows for the “commander” to define his own area of operation, providing him with the independence to treat any and every place he seems fit to be a battleground. Be it an Iraqi Army Camp or a metro station in Belgium, they seems to have the prerogative to define and engage their enemies as they see fit.
Synchrony expects that the commander identifies and associates the nature of multiple battlefields in different domains in regards with time which when simply expressed could be put as, “conducting actions in different spaces in the same period of time” to achieve desired results or effects. Challenging the usual sequential approach to measure strategic results by summing up the results of multiple battles, it can now be achieved swiftly by simultaneous actions at designated times. Which the ISIL commanders seems to have employed successfully in both Syria and Iraq in their moves in the recent past during their endless onslaughts and offensives in both Syria and Iraq.
Asymmetry ensures that their disadvantage becomes their advantage and vice versa in the operational perspective of things, for example, for a conventional army being stranded is what makes them weak and lose the battle/war but in their case being stranded is what makes them undetectable and mobile in the vast deserts giving them speed and the element of surprise over their enemies.
The doctrine and the subsequent tactics ensures one single thing: the survival and establishment of the caliphate as a sovereign entity among other nation-states. The state of governance that they had established worked pretty efficiently in the early days and later became rusted and dusty as time passed, which presumably now has entered a rotten state. The ISIL system of governance ensures that the urban populace, especially in Raqqa, Mosul and Deirez-Zor are well controlled and well maintained in their needs and demands while the rural populace are just subsidized to different tribal entities to ensure loyalty and constant income in the form of tax for both the ISIL enforcers and their tribal allies.
With constant bombing runs being carried out by Coalition Air Forces around the clock and being cut off from supplies they must gather resources in the form of money and commodities to keep the quasi-state of theirs up and running while providing for the citizens, failing of which will result in massive noncompliance which they won’t be able to envelope even with their mass terror tactics against the masses.
ISIL being one of the most financially strong terrorist entities has acquired its wealth mainly through oil trade with different actors, both state and non-state, through many third party brokers. It would be really funny to know that both the government entities of Damascus and Baghdad dealt with them about oil through brokers. In its heydays it used to earn more than 1 million dollars per day through these oil routes out of Syria and Iraq.
Even though the main stronghold of ISIL is shrinking in size and spiraling to the ground in Syria and Iraq, the group now has opened up franchises with the blessings of the central entity ensuring their autonomy and yet enforcing a form of answerability to exact control on these subordinate entities. At this time they are trying to expand their operations eastwards towards the coasts of the Bay of Bengal and the Malacca strait and neighbors. They also opened up shop in Northern Afghanistan, North Eastern Nigeria,Sirte in Libya and Sinai in Egypt naming them as “Waliyat” or provinces of their worldwide caliphate. Both seems to act independently regardless of other limitations. They seems to have laws which are much less restrictive than the central entity. It is to be noted that they don’t push their hands if the population of the place is not compliant and if the enforcing party (e.g. Boko Haram) doesn’t enforce the Sha’riah laws as strictly as the head of the snake. Good news is that these so called provinces lack the tools for ISIL standard “good governance” (!).
The point arrives when we ponder upon the ways to dismantle, dismember, obliterate and decimate this serpentine army of criminals and murderers. These range of solutions range from the disruption in their methods and tools of governance, i.e. the cash flow to finding allies to work with on the ground, depending on the region which we are concentrating.
Starting with the actual origin point of ISIL, Syria and Iraq, the primary goal was to cut off the oil money that ISIL got by smuggling oil to different entities. Thanks to Vladimir Putin and Russian Air Force and their constant bombing sorties on different ISIL run oil facilities ranging from refineries (which the Western Coalition dubbed “strategic” and refused to bomb) to distribution points they don’t have the capability to field the amount of cash that they used to field once. This helps the cause in two ways: first by disrupting their ability to supply their forces to launch new offensives to gather supplies and expand and second it cripples their ability to govern which makes them resort to the only tactic that is known to them: coercion. The amount of manpower and resources that they will use to coerce the population will increase and in the meantime as the situation of the ISIL run government deteriorates this will fuel more non-compliance. Mixing it up with forces on the ground would ensure the eradication of ISIL, which the recent capture of Palmyra by the Syrian Defense Force shows us.
Believe it or not, that is the only viable strategy if you really want to eradicate ISIL influence out of Afghanistan, but the partner might sound unlikely: The Taliban. Regardless of the mutual hatred that the West and the Taliban hold against each other I believe pushing that aside they might become the best bet to deter and counter the expansion of ISIL in Afghanistan and also in Central Asia, the prime target of which for ISIL seems to have been Tajikistan. If this cancer is allowed to grasp its objective then the oil rich region with all the oppressive tyrants will be a hotbed for breeding another army for them and this time no one will be spared the fire. It is to be noted that the same strategy is applicable in Libya. Although Khalifa Haftar is an important partner in trying to bring in the peace and prosperity back in the war torn country, it is my view that a representative form of government will allow more representation of the people and allow them to unite against the growing threat of ISIL in their country.
The problem with Sinai in Egypt mainly seems to be an armed insurgency against the Sisi regime, here if a functioning democracy is not returned this might spiral out of control and cause a lot a mayhem. This seems to be the problem with most if all the South East Asian countries where there is a systematic repressive regime run its mechanisms thus excluding the people and increasing the rate of recruitment in the South East Asian region.
Lastly, the common solution which is being carried out by the Coalition Personnel since Day 1, eliminating the key personnel through which ISIL tends to govern and fight. This helps in many folds. If different key personnel are taken out of different important area of expertise the company will endure a shrinking loss not only in money but also in operations. An effective example for this is the British Kid who once a member of Anonymous for a long time and then travelled to Syria to become their IT department head. Apparently he was neutralized in a precision strike and now ISIL’s online capability has drastically distressed down to a new low.