Mark Collins – What Kind of War? Not Terrorism: An Idea and a State–The Clever, Cuddly, Killing Caliphate, Cont’d

Further to this post, some very good points via Tom Ricks’ The Best Defense blog; then at 2) note the nature of the fighting on the ground (with a Canadian angle):

1) David Kilcullen speaks on how to think about ISIS — and what to do about it


During the summer, David Kilcullen [more here] spoke at New America about the state of the campaign against ISIS. Here are some of his more striking comments…

–“In the five years after 9/11, al-Qaeda killed or wounded — counting the 9/11 attacks — killed or wounded 10,000 Westerners in Western countries. By comparison, if you start the clock at the Fort Hood attack in 2009, the total number of Westerners killed by ISIS or al-Qaeda in the last 6 years is 50 in Western countries — 54 if you count the perpetrators. So, we’ve actually dealt with the terrorism threat very effectively since 9/11. We could crank up mass surveillance, we could shut down civil liberties in many Western countries; it’s not going to make much difference to that threat because it’s already fairly well dealt with. What we haven’t dealt with is this threat of ISIS as a state. . . . Ok, if it’s a state, what we need to do is destroy it as a state.”


–“I’m a COIN guy, right. I spent ten years doing counterinsurgency. This is not a counterinsurgency campaign. And we spent ten years whining about how why won’t the enemy come out in the open and fight us. We finally have a state that has tanks and holds cities and wants to fight us and we’re carefully trying to turn it back into a counterterrorism fight. I mean we don’t need to do that. What we’re trying to do is strike individual weapons systems, and individual high value targets. And so, those pop up very rarely because they’re not stupid.”


–“ISIS is extraordinarily professional in the way that they’re operating. And in fact, that’s not an accident because a lot of them are actual professional soldiers — either from the Syrian side or from the Baath in Iraq...


2) Now consider this about the nature of the war vs ISIS:

Wali in Kurdistan: dispatches from the front

Readers of the Montreal Gazette first met Wali, a former sniper with the Canadian Armed Forces, back in July.


As headlines continued to focus on the bewildering numbers of foreign fighters leaving Western countries to join ISIL — dozens from Canada and the U.S., thousands from Europe — Wali wanted to join the other side, specifically the Kurdish forces who continue to battle ISIL in northern Iraq and Syria.


“I feel like I must do something,” Wali told the Montreal Gazette two months ago. “If I can make a difference, then I have to. (ISIL) are like other fanatics but worse. Cutting heads off women and children, and no one is doing anything to defend them.”


But Wali, who was also an accomplished photographer with the Canadian Armed Forces until he quit the forces in May, also wanted to engage the enemy in its war of images, battling ISIL with a camera in one hand, and a gun in the other.


In late July, Wali, who uses the nickname given to him on one of two tours of duty to Afghanistan so as not to be identified, packed his cameras and desert gear and left for Kurdistan…


Here the front is reminiscent of the First World War. It’s clearly delineated. It’s not a counter-insurgency like in Afghanistan [emphasis added], with bases spread out over the territory.


The front is covered in ruins, debris and the carcasses of abandoned vehicles. Certain villages have been completely razed. And at an hour’s drive from this apocalyptic scene, you can eat in a beautiful restaurant, out of danger. It’s a land of contrasts.

Tanks in northern Iraq.
Tanks in northern Iraq. Wali

On the front, the situation is relatively quiet. Isolated shots are sometimes heard. The atmosphere reminds me of the Afghan campaign. It makes me nostalgic. You can hear crickets, and coyotes barking. At night the stars are magnificent.

In my sector, the enemy is under constant aerial bombardment. It’s not unusual to see dozens of bombs exploding in one evening. Some of them look like smaller nuclear bombs going off.


The enemy sometimes engages in isolated shooting. We can hear car bombs exploding, too. The risk of a counter-attack by the enemy is omnipresent. It’s the kind of offensive that happened in the spring.


So there are two “modes” here: defensive mode [World War I] and offensive mode. It’s the offensive mode that is most interesting. It’s like an attack during the Second World War, with aviation, armoured vehicles and infantry all engaged in a full-on attack [emphasis added].


The number of dead is higher here than during my missions in Afghanistan.


Once, I was separated from my group. The situation was confusing. It was chaotic, but bloody interesting. There were armoured vehicles heading toward the next villages, already engulfed in smoke. From a distance you could watch the attacks as they progressed in columns of smoke in the sky. It was like a blitzkrieg from the Second World War…



See Mr Kilcullen again.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds.

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