[revised June 23, 2014] Are the ISIS forces using maneuver warfare tactics? Have they read John Boyd?
I don’t know the answer to either of these, but it seems to me that their tactics — multiple thrusts, use of time, ambiguity, deception, terror, propaganda — fit well within either MCDP1 or Patterns of Conflict.
This does not mean that ISIS commanders are holed up under palm trees reading Marine Corps manuals, although that can’t be ruled out. But the roots of maneuver warfare go way back. Some can be found in the oldest battle for which we have some description — Megiddo I, 15th c. BCE between Pharaoh Thutmose III and the Canaanites (some of whose descendants are Arabs today) in modern day Israel. Some of maneuver warfare traces back to the campaigns of Genghis Khan, a campaign with which the Arabs are quite familiar. Plus we have to assume ISIS commanders can read the same descriptions of the German blitzkrieg that we do.
There are more direct ties to Arab warfare. Boyd based some of his theory of guerrilla warfare on the Arab Revolt during WW I, involving one T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia). And tactics involving rapid movement through the desert, lightning strikes deep into the enemy rear, and the calculated use of terror have characterized bedouin warfare since time immemorial, back to the Amorite attacks on the empires of Mesopotamia and, of course, the conquests by early Islam in the 7th century A.D., when Arab armies took on and defeated two mighty empires.
So instead of what we think of as traditional Arab armies — large numbers of conscripts with little training and hardly any capability to maneuver — ISIS appears to be a well trained and led 3rd generation military force. Against such a force, peasant levies and even poorly-trained and motivated second generation armies stand little chance. Numbers become irrelevant — the bigger they come, the harder they fall. Echoes of the Conquest must be ringing in ISIS’s ears.
With all that in mind, check out Pat Lang’s Iraq Diary blog entry for June 21:
Pay attention, folks, the people running the rebel offensive know their craft well.
[Note — years ago, I was an Air Force reservist deep in the bowels of Pat’s organization.]
Finally, is it ISIS or ISIL? Would it make any difference? The correct acronym might be something like DAI-ISH or Dāʻish. Read the Wikipedia article to see why.