The Middle East Wars
The Middle East is once again swept up in wars. Not since the early 80s has the Middle East experienced such a wide array of conflicts. Not only do we have the mother of all proxy wars in Syria but also a slew of campaigns and operations dotting the entire region and greater area from tribal skirmishes to transnational conflicts.
In tangent with the Syrian crisis is the Iraqi civil war, which has been continuous since the fall of the Saddam’s Iraq by US forces. Modern Iraq has rarely known peace. From the Iran-Iraq war, the two gulf wars, and now this never ending civil war. These conflicts have warped Iraq on multiple levels. The ghost of the Iraqi army is what we know as ISIL today. [Source]
There is the Yemen war which pits multiple belligerents in another Iran-Saudi proxy war between Houthi Yemenis (who are predominantly Shia but have large Sunni support) against the old and ousted Hadi-loyalist Yemeni government. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are also prominent in this fight.
Next is the Egyptian campaign in the Sinai against Islamists. This campaign has been ongoing since the fall of Mubarak and has increased in intensity after the military coup by Sisi that ousted the democratically elected Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the greater Middle East we have the Libyan civil war, the natural aftermath of the fall of Gaddafi. Thanks to the level of lawlessness Islamists have been able to establish a significant presence; one of these factions is no other than ISIL.
After Gaddafi fell there was a period of chaos in which militia groups fought each other. The lawlessness allowed petty fights to escalate into tribal and faction wars. Today the fighting has evolved between the newly elected government, recognized by the West, and the old (post-Gaddafi) government comprising of various political factions (the Brotherhood amongst them) which refuse to acknowledge the earlier elections due to the fact large parts of the country were denied the vote either through security concerns or no feasible means of reaching a voting center.
These wars have drawn in many international actors. Any EU country with a military has been involved in one or more of these conflicts. Of course they’ve been overshadowed by two heavy hitters, the United States of America and the Russian Federation.
This is the first time for Russia to take a more overt role in the campaigns of the Middle East. What was once considered United States territory is now being challenge politically, through the media, and even militarily (shows of force are not “peace-making” moves).
The Russian airbase in Latakia looks like one massive commercial of Russian equipment. Russia has been part of the club of “tested in combat” weapon suppliers for some time (Israel, the US, and sometimes the UK are part of this exclusive club) but now, in the age of HD video, the world is witnessing Russian power in the same way the First Gulf War displayed US precision weapons from the nose cameras of bombs dropped in Iraq.
The cruise missiles were the cream of the sales pitch. Now YOU TOO can own accurate cruise missiles without paying an arm and a leg to Raytheon.
Syria in itself is an even larger commercial of Russian capabilities. Alternative protection to legitimate presidents in third-world countries that may be threatened by Western intervention. Russia can provide political cover as well as the capability to move heads of state in and out of countries without world powers noticing. In today’s digital age of hyper-intelligence gathering a feat in itself.
One might even say it’s not the destruction of the Islamic State or the opposition forces in Syria that upset the United States, but the fact a competitor supplier is advertising their goods in the same Hollywood manner as they are fond of doing.
But the fighting doesn’t stop just in these countries. It continues to extend into countries like Turkey engaged in another operation against the Kurds in “Kurdistan”. In Afghanistan the Taliban are engaged in a prolonged nationalist war against the US-led occupation. There is spillover from the Syrian conflict into Lebanon from time to time and finally there is a potential boiling point in Israel and Palestine.
It’s safe to say this is only the beginning to something potentially larger which may engulf the entire region in one contiguous war.
Here is what is occurring in the core Middle Eastern theatre right now:
• Pro-government Syrian forces are making gains slowly in areas of operation. The strategy has revealed itself as a slow encroachment on rebel positions. Every area captured by the government is locked down and reinforced until the next assault.
• Assault, capture, hold, reinforce, repeat.
• This war has seen its fair share of booby traps and other dirty tricks. Syrian forces have had to deal with mines and IEDs in recaptured territory. Possibly as a rebel/ISIL tactic to slow down Syrian assaults while retreating. Syrian military has also dished out its fair share of sabotage ammunition to opposition groups. [Source]
• Although very costly and time consuming, sabotage/spiked ammunition does add a huge psychological factor in deterring insurgencies and organized resistance. Opposition units will begin to distrust their supplies reducing morale. Should a sabotage round be cooked off it could disable the weapon or more effectively outright kill the operator. [Source]
• The SAA has allowed avenues of escape to remain open for Islamist fighters. This is to prevent any “last-stands” by the near-suicidal and desperate Islamists.
• There was talk about Assad committing to preliminary elections; probably the fallout of the meeting in Moscow (more below). [Source]
• The government has had issues securing supply lines since the onset of the war. These issues have always plagued offensives which need a consistent influx of supplies to maintain the momentum.
• The government has established checkpoints to monitor the roads and to deploy rapid reaction teams to assist convoys under attack.
• However the manpower shortage does mean some checkpoints won’t be as reinforced as others.
• A strategic depopulation of Syria has been underway for some time, resulting in the EU refugee crisis. May also be called human capital flight. By having Germany say it’ll take in as many refugees as it can and by encouraging the conflict to continue more and more of the moderate educated Syrians will leave Syria and the refugee camps of Turkey and Jordan for a better life in Europe and the US [Source]
• Co-ordination with Syria, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah has allowed the Iraqi army to continue rooting out ISIL and other supporting militias from Baiji.
• The Iraqi army is being supported by the Popular Committee militias.
• The Popular Committee militias are a predominately Shia organization which houses a multitude of tribal or independent Shia militias in Iraq.
• The Mahdi army, a once disbanded militia which had succeeded in fighting US occupational forces in the past, has been remobilized to help deal with ISIL. [Source]
• These militias were a real issue for both the US occupational forces and the new Iraqi military during that time [Source]
• The Mahdi army is one of the few militias outside Palestine to experience Israeli-like tactics of population control blockades and sieges in the hopes of destroying its power base (siege of Sadr city) [Source]
• Since the fall of Saddam the Iraqi army has gained some experience fighting against the Shia-militias in an operation to disarm them. [Source]
• Some slightly increased causalities of IRGC personnel reflect the increased involvement over the past week.
• Iran continues to flex its military capabilities and more importantly its independent military-industrial complex hardened over decades of sanctions. [Source]
• Iran has consistently had some kind of force operating in Iraq against ISIL and even forces that were once operating against US forces including the infamous Karbala HQ attack carried supported by the Quds Force [Source]
• The attackers were dressed in US military gear and managed to slip by security. The entire operation was retaliation against US raids targeted towards Iranian diplomatic missions inside Iraq. [Source]
• The increased presence in Syria will reflect how well Iran can commit in deploying combat ground forces on two fronts (albeit in small elite numbers).
• IRGC forces are more eager and motivated, some men being trained for over a year for the mission in Syria which includes a heavy dose of urban warfare tactics. [Source]
• Iran not only has Russia as a potential ally but both India and China have helped it stay afloat through its many years of sanctions. China has always been a customer of Iranian oil and natural gas and India at one point was paying Iran in gold to circumvent international sanctions aimed at Iran [Source]
• It’s only a matter of time now before Iran officially joins the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) of which China and Russia (along with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan) are founding members. The SCO is a semi-NATO-like organization which extends to economic and political cohesion as well as military collaboration [Source]
• Iran has finally been included in talks regarding the Syrian conflict, along with Turkey, Russia, the US, and Saudi Arabia. [Source]
• Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, has made a public speech at the end of the Ashura procession in person. For those that do not know: this man is very high up on Israel’s hit list. Most definitely top 5. When he used to make speeches in the past he would have to do it behind bulletproof glass. Today his speeches are digital and more frequent (unfortunately bulletproof is not air-strike bomb proof). [Source]
• It seems like Russia is trying to create a political coalition to solve the Syrian problem.
• Russia had extended a hand to aid the FSA in its fight against Islamists and ISIL and to find a solution to the crisis. [Source]
• Russia has been talking to many opposition group representatives that claim to be “FSA” but these people have openly admitted there is no single unified command. [Source]
• It seems the FSA is what rebels take on as a brand name while the Army of Conquest is the Islamist with operation rooms inside Turkey and Jordan.
• Russia has begun talking to Jordan and has opened an intelligence co-ordination center. Jordanian intelligence and Special Forces are some of the more professional forces inside the Middle East. The King of Jordan has a gift of always playing both sides to keep his country afloat in ANY situation. [Source]
• Iraqi government has allowed Russia to commit airstrikes inside Iraq proper against ISIL. It’s unknown if Russia will or will not expand its operations; perhaps by deploying forward aircraft in relatively-safe Iran it may be able to launch airstrikes inside Iraq.
• Russia has the ability to use strategic bombers but operating those would be costly for its effect (to kill a few militants).
• Assad, the Syrian president, made a secret visit to Moscow and back without the notice of the megalithic US intelligence community. [Source]
• The high-level meeting may be to inform Assad of future political moves Russia might commit (and thus not to surprise Assad).
• It could be Russian cordiality, informing Assad that perhaps he might actually have to step down a lot sooner than expected. A call would have sufficed but Russians are really cordial people and such news should be said in person.
• It might be about increased military and intelligence cooperation. After all is there a base outside the ex-Soviet Union under Russian administration asides from Tartus? Is Russia willing to give that up with Assad?
• It may well be a large PR stunt to the world. Russia can get you out and back in your country with the Americans watching. That’s quite an achievement, especially to small countries that once assumed the US knows all, sees all, and can kill all, all the time any time.
• A Russian soldier appears to have committed suicide at Latakia air base. The official reason was depression due to a breakup with his girlfriend. [Source]
• The parents deny that their son would do a thing like that over a girl. Suicides in deployments do happen especially if they’ve had recent relationship problems. 19 year olds are known to be the most emotionally stable people on the planet, especially when it comes to relationships. But there is also talk of potentially multiple injuries on his body. What exactly those injuries are have ranged from lacerations on his wrists and body (suicidal ideation) to burns and crushed bones from an explosion (could be a lucky rocket or mortar that landed in the airbase). His body has already been returned and buried in his hometown. IF (big if) this was really a non-suicide it was most likely the typical story: Soldier goes AWOL for an hour from base to buy a pack of cigarettes in town, gets spotted by some insurgent/ISIL, barely makes it back alive (or has his body retrieved by Russian special forces on the ground).
• I’m probably going to get stabbed for this but…here goes:
• There is SOME talk that the slight dip in air strikes by the Russian Air Force deployed at Latakia is due to the fighter jets being pushed hard in consistent non-stop sorties. [Source]
• Of course the other aspect can be a logistical shortage, but that’s doubtful as proper planning negates that. It’s highly unlikely the Ministry of Defense would not have calculated the required munitions, spare parts, and fuel required for continuous air strikes in Syria.
• With the absurdly large number of sorties flown by the Russian Air Force in Syria it’s not hard to believe there is a strain on hardware. But then again generally speaking Russian equipment tends to be sturdier.
• Russian Mi-24 helicopters deployed in Syria seem to have anti-MANPADS defensive systems such as optronic countermeasure systems. [Source]
• Only some of the models seen in Syria appear to have the attachment. The source shows Mi-24 with and without the countermeasure system deployed at Latakia [Source]
• The Mi-24 for some reason doesn’t have their exhaust suppressors attached. That might be due to performance issues at low-altitudes. Exhaust suppressors would reduce the IR signature of a helicopter, reducing the effectiveness of MANPADS, most of which are guided by infrared light. [Source]
• The deployment of Russian helicopters in Tajikistan was probably due to some SCO agreement to help the Tajik government handle any ISIL-inspired groups within its territory such as their rogue defense minister.
• The SCO is probably why China is also mulling directly supporting the Russian operation in Syria. If China should join the operation it’ll be the first time their forces have entered combat since the Vietnam war in the late 70s to 80s. [Source]
• The US is still mulling its options. [Source]
• A level of indecisiveness can be felt throughout the administration.
• The US has declared it will continue ground operations, escalating their involvement from token bombing runs to overt special operations. [Source]
• There are even talks that the US might go even deeper and further into Syria and Iraq to fight ISIL. [Source]
• This can be seen as a way to regain international credibility in its fight against the Islamic State.
• Iraqi forces along with Kurdish fighters committed to a ground operation (recorded on video no less) freeing ISIL prisoners. [Source]
• US Special Forces were helicopter-lifted inside the AO in an advisory role.
• A US Special Forces operator was killed in the operation. [Source]
• The advisory role can mean anything from helping ground-level commanders in tactical decisions (down to the company level; which means probably leading from the front) to deploying on the field as a support squad such as forward air observers or providing specialized covering fire (sharpshooting, etc.)
• The US is also busy flexing muscles towards China [Source]
Rebels in Syria (including Al-Qaeda/Islamist affiliates such as Al-Nusra, Army of Conquest, FSA, etc.):
• They seem to be trying to survive the Syrian assaults and Russian air strikes as best as they can.
• There seems to be no shortage of TOWs.
• So far the Russian air involvement has demoralized them more than any other belligerent in Syria.
• The Syrian Arab Army has made the majority of gains against these rebel forces.
Saudi-Arabia (and other GCC/Arab Coalition nations):
• More talk and talk.
• Problems in the Yemen, serious military problems.
• As usual the GCC can’t really produce anything, not even soldiers, and have hired foreign mercenaries from as far as Colombia to fight against the Houthi Yemenis. [Source]
• Qatar and the UAE have shuttled jihadists out of Syria and into Yemen.
• The newly shuttled jihadists will probably try to counter not only the Houthis but ISIL which has
• ISIL will probably absorb the more effective parts of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, stationed in Yemen.
• Qatar will not be sending forces into Syria in any future coalition [Source]
• More and more evidence of Turkish complicity in chemical attacks in Syria are beginning to surface [Source]
• Turkey understands that there is no solution to Syria without it being involved. This is true as Syria and Turkey share a large border. [Source]
• Turkey has increased operations against Kurds. [Source]
• It wasn’t long before a Kurdish bomb went off in Ankara, which can only harden the Turks against any future Kurd deal. [Source]
• To better illustrate Islamic States actions one has can look at its roots.
• ISIL has been an offshoot branch of Zarqawis Al-Qaeda.
• For those that don’t know, Zarqawi was operating Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) during the US occupation.
• Zarqawi introduced ruthless tactics such as beheading foreigners, bombing holy sacred sites, killing Muslims (Sunni or otherwise), etc.
• Although original Al-Qaeda was still supporting Zarqawi (because his fighting in Iraq was drawing in more recruiters to Al-Qaeda) generally they disapproved of his overtly destructive methods.
• Al-Qaeda in Iraq created the Al-Nusra Front in Syria during the crisis.
• A cell within Al-Nusra Front began to achieve great success against government Syrian forces.
• While Al-Nusra was already violent, with rapes and mass executions in captured territory, the cell within Al-Nusra was even more ruthless by reviving Zarqarwis barbaric practices mixed with heavy enforcement of Sharia law in territory under their control.
• Al-Nusra (AQI) tried to reign in the rogue cell but it was already too big and too influential.
• The Islamic State was born (which has evolved from many names, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, IS….)
• Following the Islamic States separation the organization tried to redress grievances of Sunni and Ba’athist militias inside Iraq (the common cause being fighting the Shia-dominated government of Iraq, for ISIS the Shia are heretical muslims)
• Prior to the Al-Nusra fracture, Ba’athist militias and Sunni tribes actually fought Al-Qaeda because of their wonton killing of Iraqi citizens (Zarqawi was pretty barbaric, so much so its roots are still at the heart of ISIL nine years after his death).
Structure of ISIL:
• There seems to be more and more evidence that the Islamic State has a corp. of ex-Iraqi military and intelligence officers in charge of critical operations.
• Ba’athist officers are not only hardened by the years of warfare against US occupation forces and the Shia militias but also had experience in statecraft being members of the ruling political party of Saddams day.
• ISIL is not one homogenous organizations but a large formation of multiple militias, entities, organizations, intelligence agencies, Ba’athist loyalists, tribes, etc. A loose alliance held together by several key networks, one revealing itself now are the Ba’athist, another that exposed itself was Turkish Intelligence.
• Who is pulling what strings is yet to be known. Baghdadi may be just a front man to the real actors behind the scene.
• During the US occupation of Iraq, Syria had not only supported Ba’athist loyalists but had allowed Sunni jihadists to travel freely into Iraq to fight coalition forces.
• Iran supported Shia militias which essentially became proxy forces. These forces were used to deny the US the ability to secure Iraq. With Iraq in a continued state of turmoil future operations into Iran or Syria could not commence.
• The agreement reached by ISIL and the Ba’athist loyalist militia strengthened ISILs strategic and operational capabilities.
• The trade was probably financing and materials given by ISIL to Ba’athist militias in exchange for the expertise and connections as well as, of course, a pledge of loyalty.
• The expertise covers everything from training on weapon systems (artillery, tanks, etc.), small-unit tactics, improvised explosives, and even chemical weapons. [Source]
• After the agreement the fall of Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi, Baiji and Tikrit followed which further furbished ISIL with more hardware, financing, and manpower
• ISIL had employed a psychological operation of consistently displaying itself as barbarically ruthless, this is especially true online.
• The most influential Ba’athist loyalist faction was created by ‘the King of Clubs’ himself, GeneralIzzat Ibrahim al-Douri and his Naqshbandi Order. [Source]
• The Naqshbandi Order and ISIL have been seen fighting side by side in Iraq as recent as 2014.
• Al-Douri was a very skilled operational commander, he was head of the Revolutionary Committee in Saddam’s government and had proven himself in battle in the Iran-Iraq war as well as the First Gulf War.
• The general proved his capabilities in a successful (albeit short lived) coordination of Iraqi assets to aid in the capture of a Saudi town during the early days of Operation Desert Storm. This was during the relentless coalition air campaign which was bombing targets inside Iraq and Iraqi military units inside Kuwait. [Source]
• To achieve a minor success (the battle was, like all Iraqi battles, lost) in such an environment is impressive as it reflects well on the man’s strategic understanding of modern warfare. (This battle included the shooting down of an AC-130 gunship).
• This red-haired devil successfully evaded American forces throughout their entire occupation but is now presumed dead (April 2015) in an Iraqi army operation however it has not been confirmed by DNA and an audio tape of (supposedly) Douri has been released speaking of events after his death. [Source]
• These are the same types of officers ISIL recruits from and have been successful in molding ISIL forces into the practical force it is today. Mostly operational-level commanders who have an understanding in military organization and more importantly strategic competence.
• These ex-officers practice a form of Ba’athist-Salafism, although Saddam opposed Islamic politics in his early years of rule, in his late years he began to preach about a Ba’athist, nationalist, Salafism crossbreed philosophy.
• Saddam Hussein had a Quran written in his own blood. Yet owned Golden AKs; gold is haram for men in Islam. Just to reflect the nature of the man and his view towards Islam. [Source]
• He did warn however that the Islamists were not to be given full control as they did not want a secular Iraq where religion was a personal choice but to establish an Islamic state [Source]
Jihadist Tactics, Ba’athist Operations, Caliphate Strategy:
• The Islamic State utilizes what some might consider unconventional “fringe” tactics such as distributing amphetamine-like products to fighters (this has been witnessed as early as the 2003 invasion by incoming Syrian jihadist during the US occupation of Iraq).
• It’s most likely that the Saudi prince caught for trying to smuggle tons of Fenethylline through Beirut was going to hand them over to ISIL-affiliates. [Source]
• A mixture of religious scripture, amphetamines, and heavy weapons introduced to boys at an influential age of their lives (and denied the prospects of having a girlfriend) may highlight the indifference seen in ISIL fighters in the acts of barbarity they commit. [Source]
• Of course Ba’athist officers have used the barbarity as a method of spreading terror to their opponents.
• ISIL also has some mastery in psychological warfare. The capture of Mosul highlighted how just a little over a 1000 men can overcome an army 10+ times its size by terrorizing them to abandon their positions. [Source]
• This psychological warfare comes in the form of brutal execution and torture videos, the capture and rape of women and children in the Islamic Caliphate, the videos of legitimacy (such as undertaking state functions like courts, hospitals, street cleaning, opening up ISIL souvenir shops, flag production, coin minting, etc.)
• In terms of financing the Islamic State enjoys a variety of incomes, including donations by true believers and sales of oil on the black market.
• ISIL has no trouble finding recruits. For example the residence of Mosul feel betrayed by the mostly Shia Iraqi military for abandoning them, it’s not hard to find recruits amongst these Sunnis who have already fled Shia death squads supported by the government in its earlier years. [Source]
• Many Al-Qaeda or Islamist militias have pledged loyalty to ISIL which has allowed the Islamic State to have power in a multitude of countries.
On the Syrian-Iraqi Campaign:
• The Islamic State seems to be committing to attacks against Syrian government forces but not capturing territory.
• Harassment on Syrian supply routes have been more common. The longer the supply route the harder it is to maintain security on it. Offensives have been stalled due to the effective strategy.
• This was the same tactic the Ba’athists refused to use on invading US forces, who also had supply lines stretched thin due to overextended assaults.
• All this indicates a long-term resistance, keeping the Syrian government forces occupied while ISIL regroups.
• In Iraq the Islamic State is pressed to find a new vector to attack the Iraqi government.
• Just like in Syria ISIL is consistently harassing the Iraqi military with suicide attacks while the Iraqi military continues its thrust into Anbar province.
• ISIL still seems determined to fight with fierce resistance even though it’s facing forces from all sides.
• Right now most (but not all) ISIL branches outside Syria and Iraq are funneling in fighters from their respective regions (like Libya).
• Iraqi government has been trying to talk to the Ba’athists to shift ISILs center of gravity however to what level of success that would bring is very unclear [Source]