If your conception of ISIS imagines illiterate fanatics making suicidal charges in pickup trucks and are confused about how a glorified motorcycle gang could conquer half of Iraq and Syria, wiping out a $25 BN US investment in the Iraqi army in the process, you might want to learn more about the roots of the movement and how it is trained and led today. Such an understanding may come in handy in the future.
For background, try William R. Polk’s article, Understanding Islamic Fundamentalism, on consortiumnews.com. As he explains:
Some of [Sayyid Qutub’s] writings bear comparison to the Islamic legal classics. As a group, they have attracted a mass readership — believed to be in the tens of millions — throughout the Islamic world and have apparently influenced men as opposed to one another as the leaders of the Taliban, the Saudi Royal Establishment, al-Qaida, the Iranian and Iraqi clerics [Arabic: ulema] and now the various and competing groups of Syrian militants. Sayyid Qutub is the philosopher of the Islamic revolution.
Implicit in his writings was the idea that Islam is under attack and therefore must defend itself because failure to do so would be to contravene the intention of God.
It’s a long piece, and you’ll have to read this carefully, but it should make it easier to understand what’s happening in the Middle East and South Asia today. Those of you who follow Chuck Spinney’s Blaster will recall Polk from a piece he and Chuck did a couple of weeks ago, “How to Evolve an Exit Strategy From America’s Foreign Policy Shambles.”
As for what’s going on today, here’s a summary by Mitchell Prothero writing for McClatchy, How 2 shadowy ISIS commanders designed their Iraq campaign. You have to be extremely careful accepting at face value anything coming from that part of the world (remember Baghdad Bob?), but even so, I think you’ll be impressed at the professionalism of the ISIS leadership. Writing them off as ignorant fanatics would be a big mistake:
“These men are very good and very ruthless at this sort of thing,” [a former British officer] said. “How do I know? Because I trained them. As did the Americans and everyone else for their fight against Iran in the ’80s. It’s all the same guys at the top now.”
This combination of slowly gaining strength among disaffected Sunnis was crucial to the ISIS advance.
“You don’t need many Daash [ISIS] guys,” said the Kurdish intelligence official. “A few gun trucks shooting at the checkpoint as a suicide bomber or two in cars smash into it, followed by the tribes taking the police station. A few people acting fast can seem like a lot more.”
Most estimates of ISIS’s strength in Iraq tend to be in the low thousands. But their easy mobility in convoys of pickups with little threat from an almost nonexistent air force gave the group an outsized presence, the sources agreed.
This last might remind you of Boyd:
• By exploiting superior leadership, intelligence, communications, and mobility as well as by playing upon adversary’s fears and doubts via propaganda and terror, Mongols operated inside adversary observation- orientation-decision-action loops.
• Outnumbered Mongols created impressions of terrifying strength—by seeming to come out of nowhere yet be everywhere.
• Subversive propaganda, clever stratagems, fast breaking maneuvers, and calculated terror not only created vulnerabilities and weaknesses but also played upon moral factors that drain away resolve, produce panic, and bring about collapse. [Patterns of Conflict, chart 28]
Amazing how this stuff works time and time again.