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Friday, August 12

What losing Manbij means for Islamic State

"Losing Manbij is one of ISIS’s most devastating defeats in both Syria and Iraq as it was the main hub for foreign jihadists joining the terrorist group, and was also a major hub for the notorious ISIS oil trade with Turkey."
-- from AMN report today SDF captures ISIS’s largest stronghold in Aleppo [Governorate]

Below is the rest of the report, filed by Izat Charkatli. Note the part about U.S. coalition strikes killing civilians who were obviously used as human shields. This might suggest that the U.S. military policy in that regard has shifted; if so, this might be influencing the U.S. view of Russian/Syrian airstrikes in E. Aleppo (city), which are surely also killing some civilians used as human shields. 

Yes, that's two "mights" but if my line of reasoning is correct, this is very bad news for the bad guys. And if they know that using humans as shields isn't working any longer, they'll stop relying so much on the tactic -- thus saving many innocent lives.         
Following more than two months of bloody clashes in the second largest city in Aleppo governorate, the predominantly Kurdish ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) managed to capture Manbij in its entirety.
Mopping operations are ongoing as the Manbij Military Council prepares its official statement of the city’s liberation.
With ISIS not willing to cede an inch, many civilians were taken hostage and put at risk of US Coalition airstrikes that have actually killed hundreds of civilians that were used as meat shields by the terror group.
With Manbij under their iron grip, the SDF has placed its eyes on Al-Bab and Jarablus to further strip ISIS off its border territory and link up with their comrades in the Afrin Canton.
And here is Sputnik's report today on the full liberation of Manbij, Syrian Commander to Sputnik: Syria’s Manbij Fully Liberated From Daesh Jihadists. The report is accompanied by a great photo for Reuters by Rodi Said, which was taken on August 9, when the city by that time was about 90 percent liberated:


Hi Pundita:

You write:

if they know that using humans as shields isn't working any longer, they'll stop relying so much on the tactic -- thus saving many innocent lives

I'm not seeing that logic. It sounds to me to be a logic that would work in a "western" worldview, but I'm far from sure it would make sense in a world where death (by act of deliberate martyrdom) is preferable to life.

From my POV, the use of human shields may present a value of visible brutality in line with Naji's Management of Savagery.

Naji writes, for instance (p.78):

The policy of violence must also be followed such that if the demands are not met, the hostages should be liquidated in a terrifying manner, which will send fear into the hearts of the enemy and his supporters.


Some may be surprised when we say that the religious practice of jihad. – despite the blood, corpses, and limbs which encompass it and the killing and fighting which its practice entails – is among the most blessed acts of worship for the servants, if not the most blessed in reality, especially since many of the details of its practice in our sharia have been specified by our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his followers..

Thus Qur’an 8.12:

When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.

In my view, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and following him Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi -- this would be one of their principal differences between them and bin Laden, and between IS and AQ more generally -- would view the continuing use of human shields as remaining a fully appropriate means by which to "cast terror into the hearts" of the enemies of God.
Charles - Hmmmm. You have a point. But I was thinking in tactical terms. Whatever its uses to strike terror in the hearts of men, the overriding objective of the Islamist fighters in say, Iraq and Syria, is to win the battles they fight -- and just as important to them, to avoid being badly wounded and captured. With these objectives in mind, human shields have been a very successful military tactic to greatly slow and even discourage advances of Western militaries (and the Middle Eastern ones that receive funding from those militaries).

The countertactic is to destroy the tactic's usefulness through bombing of a target whether or not civilians are present.

So while the Islamists would delight in seeing gruesome deaths of human shields during a carpet bombing, as you point out, they also know that would be their last sight or at the least result in their wounding and capture -- all of which runs counter to the idea of victory in a battle.

There are additional reasons why the countertactic, once made standard practice, would be successful, at least in Syria, and which I'll outline in a second comment here as soon as I write it up.

Charles, to continue with my argument:

The majority of 'opposition' fighters in Syria aren't only Islamists and jihadis; they're also mercenaries. They're drawing paychecks, usually from Al Saud and/or Al Thani, to overthrow the Syrian government. Now study the propaganda video I posted last night of Uzbek mercenaries, several wearing some pretty advanced protective head gear.


Clearly these fighters, while happy in an abstract way to die for Allah, have as their first and practical priority to keep drawing pay so they can feed their families. In short, they want to stave off death, capture, and severe maiming in battle as long as they can.

That's also the case for Islamic State, regarding which I think I've argued before is actually one big oil smuggling operation masquerading as a religious movement. The men who started IS, all of them former officers in Saddam's Baathist regime, probably don't have a religious bone in their bodies from what was learned about the man who set up the organization.

In any case they too want to stave off a trip to Paradise, as long as a possible, which is why their hallmark tactic, when they first take territory is to put termites to shame by building elaborate networks of underground bunkers and escape tunnels that run for miles.

Because of this they live in fear that a carpet bombing will collapse their tunnels or seal them in while they're holed up underground. That's why the leaders have generally chosen to melt into the night when they see a Last Stand bearing down on them. The exception has been Manbij, which was the hub of their oil-smuggling business. There, of course they were willing to stand and fight no matter what the cost.

In summary, the business model of the present-day jihadi in Syria, and Iraq, favors the use of battle tactics that work. If a tactic stops working, the jihadi won't think twice about abandoning it.

From that viewpoint it is the cruelest mercy to forego carpet bombing in the attempt to save human shields.

Now there is one other argument I could mention. Consider the blizzard of armed drone strikes that President Obama ordered in Pakistan's badlands a few years ago, which almost invariably killed a number of civilians (the exact toll is disputed to this day). Those drone strikes so spooked al Qaeda that the senior leadership took elaborate measures to avoid becoming targets of them and strongly warned all their fighters to take the same measures (which included not communicating via cell phone). Most importantly, they high-tailed it out of the region.

So when it came right down to it, that was another bunch more interested in staving off Paradise than taking delight in others' blood and gore. However, the drone tactic was so frightening, and thus so effective, because clearly the possible presence of civilians in a target zone didn't deter a strike.
Charles -- I've just learned the video in the above-mentioned link has been removed by YouTube.


Sigh. I hope this doesn't mean YouTube is picking on SouthFront again.

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