The Islamic State Of Iraq And Syria (Isis) Is Spreading And Consolidating
This rabid Islamic terrorist group that was born a few months ago is consolidating and spreading despite the efforts of the western world to crush it. The ISIS is expanding beyond its base in Iraq and Syria to establish militant affiliates in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt and Libya. Officials of Intelligence services of the United States have concluded that there is a prospect of a new war on terror
Intelligence officials estimate that the group’s fighters number about 20,000 to 30,000 in Syria and Iraq. There are less formal pledges of support from probably at least a hundred extremists in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen, according to an United States counter terrorist official. Lt. Gen Vincent Stewart, the Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency said in an assessment in February 2015 that the ISIS was beginning to assemble a growing international footprint. Nicholas Rasmussen, the Director of the National Counter Terrorism Centre echoed Gen. Stewart’s analysis in testimony before the United States Congress recently. The sudden proliferation of ISIS affiliate and loyalist fighters motivated the
White House to give President Obama and his successor new authority to pursue the groups, wherever its followers emerge. The ISIS began attracting pledges of allegiance from groups and individual fighters after it declared the formation of a Caliphate in June 2014. Counter Terrorist analysts say that it is using Al Qaeda’s franchise structure to expand its geographical reach. The ISIS’ attraction even in the west was proved when Amedy Caulibly, one of the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo attack declared allegiance to the ISIS. In Afghanistan recently, a former Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, pledged allegiance to the ISIS.
There is however no indication that the ISIS controls territory in Afghanistan, but it has signalled its interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has reportedly sent envoys there.
Any authorisation to use force by the United States against the ISIS could arguably also cover intervention in Egypt and Libya, where active militant organisations have pledged allegiance to the group.
In Egypt, the Sinai based extremist group, Ansar Bait al Maqdis sent emissaries to the ISIS in Syria last year to seek financial support, weapons and tactical advice as per classified intelligence reports. This group began adopting the signature medieval punishment—beheadings, even before a formal merger with the ISIS. After taking over the Sinai province of the ISIS in November, the group’s online videos and statements claiming responsibility for attacks began to take on more of the sophistication and gore associated with its new parent group.
In neighbouring Libya, at least three distinct groups have declared their affiliation with the ISIS, one in Barga in the east, Fezzan in the desert to the south and Tripolitania in the west around the capital. Eastern officials in southern Europe fear that the three Libyan provinces could evolve into bases for ISIS fighters travelling across the Mediterranean into Egypt or elsewhere into North Africa. Eastern Libya has already become a training ground for jihadists going to Syria or Iraq and a haven for Egyptian fighters staging attacks in the neighbouring desert.
One of the most brutal acts was meanwhile perpetrated by the ISIS, when they burnt a pilot of a fighter jet who had bailed out during a mission bombing ISIS positions in Syria and was captured by them. He was put in a cage, doused with gasoline and set on fire. The Jordanian fighter pilot was First Lieutenant Moaz Al Kasbah, whose plane was shot down during a mission, bombing ISIS positions in Syria. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian government for once agreed on something—the barbarity of the group. In Cairo, the Grand Imam, Ahmed al Tayab the head of the thousand-year old Al Azhar Institute, called for the ISIS extremists to be killed or crucified, or their hands and legs cut off.
Japan reacted with sorrow and outrage on 1st February 2015 to the posting by the ISIS of a video purporting to show the grisly killing of the journalist Kenji Goto. The Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not meet the initial demand on 20th January 2015 for 200 million dollars as ransom. Abe spoke out that he was outraged by this despicable terrorist act and added that he would never forgive this terrorist act. He said he would cooperate with the international community and make the terrorists pay the price. Goto aged 47 was a veteran journalist. He had entered Syria in late October 2014 in a doomed effort to rescue Mr. Yukawa, who had been captured by the ISIS in August 2014. The ISIS was bargaining Yukawa for getting Miss Rishawi, a Jordanian, who had been convicted for a series of bombings in a hotel in Amman that killed 57 persons in 2005.
Meanwhile, ISIS was able to move into Libya. Here the ISIS perpetrated one of its cruelest killings, when they rounded up 21 Coptic Christians near Sirte and lined them up and beheaded all of them. This was a barbaric and cruel act as the only offence of the Coptic Christians was that they were Christian. The Egyptian Air Force sent planes and bombed the training areas of the ISIS group there. Libya’s Air Force Commander Saqr-al Jourabi told Egyptian TV that the combined airstrikes were well coordinated and had killed about fifty ISIS cadres. Libya’s Air Force also launched strikes in the eastern city of Darna, which had been taken over by the ISIS last year.
Reaction of the United States Government
The United States President asked Congress to authorise a three-year military campaign against ISIS that would avoid a large-scale invasion and occupation against the ISIS, but in addition to air power it could include limited ground operations by United States forces to hunt down enemy leaders or rescue United States personnel.
The United States President has however stated that there would be no boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but envisioned limited ground combat operations such as rescue or the use of special operations forces to take unitary action against ISIS leaders. The President‘s proposal was sent to Congress shortly after confirmation of the death of Kayla Mueller, killed by the ISIS. The draft legislation specifically mentioned her and three other United States citizens, who were held hostage and then killed by the ISIS—James Foley, Steven J Sotloff and Peter Kassig. Meanwhile, the United States has obtained information that the ISIS is expanding beyond its base in Syria and Iraq to establish militant affiliates in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt and Libya. This has been confirmed by United States Intelligence officials.
The sudden proliferation of ISIS affiliates and loyalist fighters motivated the White House to give
Obama and his successor new authority to pursue the ISIS groups wherever its followers emerge. Factions which were at one time part of the Al Qaeda and its affiliates as well as groups loyal to it have moved to join a winning group.
In Afghanistan recently an United States drone strike killed a former Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, who had pledged allegiance to the ISIS and had recently begun recruiting fighters. There is however no indication that the ISIS controls territory in Afghanistan. But it has signalled its interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has reportedly sent envoys there. Any authorisation to use United States force against the ISIS could arguably also cover intervention in Egypt and Libya, where active militant organisations have pledged allegiance to the group.
Boots on the ground?
Starting from Iraq and Syria, we have a good picture of the ISIS spreading beyond the borders of the two countries where they took birth. We have a million dollar question at this juncture. Since its inception, the Western countries, with the United States leading, have fought the war against the ISIS only from the air. It is only troops from Iraq who have been fighting the ISIS on the ground. Can such a fighting group, implacable and cruel beyond imagination be defeated from the air alone? One can understand the hesitation of the United States and Britain to risk their troops on the ground before such a medieval, rut less and force, who fight without any rules of combat.
It is in this context that we have to examine the one single victory of the Kurds in the battle for Kobane, the small Kurdish town in Syria near the border with Turkey. When the ISIS’s juggernaut started, they encircled the Kurdish Peshmerga in Kobane and would have finished them off but for the determination of the Kurdish Peshmerga in Turkey. Initially it was the United States who managed to halt the ISIS in Kobane with air strikes. Then the Kurdish Peshmerga took up the challenge and in a grinding close combat battle drove them out of Kobane. This saga is retold below.
The siege of Kobane, lifted
Kobane is a small town in Syria on its border with Turkey. The ISIS cadres had entered Kobane when it first started operations. Kobane was a predominant town of the Kurds and was one of the first captured by ISIS cadres when they commenced operations. The Kurds in Kobane took on the ISIS fighters. It took a couple of weeks before the Kurds from Turkey managed to send reinforcements into Kobane. The Kurdish volunteers dug in and fought tooth and nail. The United States had by then started bombing ISIS camps in Kobane where they had established bases. Kurdish volunteers from Turkey crossed into Kobane and linked up with their brother Kurds in Kobane and took on the ISIS cadres there. Local Kurds in Kobane managed to send bearings of locations of the ISIS groups in Kobane which were relayed to United States aircraft and the ISIS locations in Kobane were bombed by the US aircraft. Kobane was recently cleared of the ISIS, street, by street by the Kurds. Buildings around Freedom Square in Kobane have vanished during months of shelling by United States aircraft, leaving snarls of steel and rubble. The ISIS finally retreated from Kobane, leaving virtually a ghost town. More than half the town was destroyed. But the ISIS was defeated on the ground.
The simple lesson from this hard grinding battle is that without boots on the ground we cannot defeat the ISIS. The saga of Kobane has to be repeated in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Egypt until the ISIS is decimated from the face of the earth.
By E.N. Rammohan
(The writer is former Director General, BSF)