ISIS is well equipped and there is no doubting that
By: Raed Omari
The perception of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as a “full-blown army” is back in the spotlight now given the difficulties the U.S.-led coalition is facing in cornering the group in the key Syrian border town of Kobane.
ISIS posts in Kobane have been for several days the target of day-and-night air strikes by coalition warplanes with ground operations being left to Kurdish fighters. Nevertheless, ISIS is still showing resilience and resourcefulness in the ongoing battle and this has opened the door wide open for speculation about the military capabilities of the radical group.
The speculation on ISIS’ might has increased with talk about the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) decision to send 1,300 fighters to join Kurds in defending Kobane from an assault by ISIS. Additionally, Turkey has announced that it will allow 200 Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to cross into Kobane and join their brethren in the fight against ISIS.
At the time ISIS is being heavily bombarded in Syria’s Kobane, the group, as if in a Hollywood-like scene, has reportedly gained ground in the Iraqi province of Anbar, detaining people and shaking the government’s hold on the western province. What is this ISIS that is able to fight on multiple fronts at the same time?
With this shocking scene seemingly reflecting ISIS’ might and amid attempts to find clues into why it is withstanding the coalition’s heavy bombardments, news reports have emerged recently saying the militant group obtained caches of weapons that drifted off course when airdropped by U.S.-led coalition forces.
How ISIS gained its weapons capabilities
But it does not need that much speculation about how and why ISIS has gained such considerable military capabilities. The turning point in the group’s transformation from an on-the-ropes armed band to a well-equipped military force began in earnest after its capture in June of Iraq’s second city of Mosul. At the time, the Al-Qaeda splinter group reportedly seized large amounts of U.S.-manufactured weapons Iraqi troops had left behind. Additionally, ISIS reportedly made off with $500 million from Mosul’s central bank, making it the world’s richest terror group. Iraq and Syria are replete with black markets for arms.
Now there are news reports that ISIS used chlorine gas as a weapon against Iraqi police officers last month near Balad, north of Baghdad, with U.S. security officials raising concerns about Iraq’s old chemical weapons stores being seized by the group. The group may have gotten its hands on such weapons when it captured Saddam’s home town, Tikrit.
In discussing ISIS, little attention is usually given to the fact that of the group’s commanders, 19 out of 20 were former officers in Saddam’s dissolved army, with many holding high-ranking posts in the well-trained Republican Guard or intelligence services. It is also believed that the Mosul battle in June was led by between 25 and 60 senior former military officers and members of Saddam’s now banned Baath party.
In discussing ISIS, little attention is usually given to the fact that of the group’s commanders, 19 out of 20 were former officers in Saddam’s dissolved army.
Under no circumstance should the military experience of former officers in Iraq’s dissolved army be underestimated. These individuals have built considerable military experience over the years, beginning with the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War, 1990–91 Gulf War through to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The 1990-91 Gulf War against Saddam’s Iraq was marked by heavy use of air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition and one can understand why ISIS today, with its leaders being mostly former Iraqi officers, has succeeded so far in surviving the heavy aerial bombardments of the anti-ISIS alliance. Recent reports say ISIS fighters managed to down a Syrian warplane that was conducting strikes on the group’s Syria stronghold of Raqqa. Such reports have neither been confirmed nor refuted by the coalition that is in a state of war with ISIS and thus imposing close surveillance of the group’s activities.
To make a long story short, ISIS is well equipped and some of its fighters have military backgrounds. But the group cannot be stronger than a U.S.-led coalition comprising more than 40 countries. In order to eliminate or at least corner ISIS, another step accompanying the air strikes is needed: either ground troops or providing more advanced weapons to the existing Kurdish fighters and to the marching FSA ones.
In order to eliminate or at least corner ISIS, another step accompanying the air strikes is needed: either ground troops or providing more advanced weapons to the existing Kurdish fighters and to the marching FSA ones.
Militarily speaking, air strikes can achieve advancements here and there but cannot achieve full victory. They are one military tactic but should not be the only one. In the 1990-91 Gulf War, the U.S.-led coalition launched thousands of air strikes against Saddam’s army and its command structures but was unable to fully destroy the Baathist army which recovered shortly afterward and succeeded in containing a Shiite uprising in the south.
Militarily speaking, air strikes can achieve advancements here and there but cannot achieve full victory.
The coalition is in a state of war with ISIS yet the talk about the group is still in the form of guesswork. Hearing such reports, I sometimes find myself imagining ISIS as an anonymous group fighting under the cover somewhere in the Amazon forests. Surprisingly, most of the information about the battle field in Kobane or elsewhere has been provided by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group and not by intelligence agencies that are supposed to be actively involved now in Syria and Iraq.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2