by ANDREW ARNETT
On September 10, 2014, President Obama presented to the American people a four part strategy by which the US will “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”
This strategy consists of systematic airstrikes, support of Kurdish and Iraqi security forces, application of counterterrorism capabilities such as intelligence gathering, and providing humanitarian assistance to victims.
President Obama refers to ISIL as “a terrorist organization, pure and simple,” but the complexities of their “warped ideology” must be understood if the US is to eventually neutralize this Islamic State threat.
It is tempting to dismiss ISIS as a loose collection of violent bandits or as a simple terrorist group, implying their actions are random, unpredictable, and follow no known line of strategic military thought.
It is more disturbing to realize that ISIS is highly organized, schooled, and are availing themselves of the most advanced military tactics known to man, prompting defense secretary Chuck Hagel to comment:
“ISIL is as sophisticated and well funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess, they are tremendously well funded. Oh, this is beyond anything that we’ve seen, so we must prepare for everything,”
The Al Qaeda Manual, discovered by British Metropolitan Police on a computer file of an Al Qaeda member, references battles from as early as Roman times, to the recent activities of the Mossad.
This week, the Iraqi’s claimed to have captured a Chinese citizen fighting for ISIS, but there is little doubt that ISIS is utilizing Chinese military tactics, both ancient and modern, in their bid to establish a caliphate.
In 1945, Chiang Kai-shek made the assessment that his enemy Mao Zedong and the Red Army were cowards and lacked military strategy, due to their propensity for retreating from the battlefield and dispersing into the countryside unseen.
Within four years however, Chiang and the Nationalists surrendered all of China to Mao and the Communists. Mao accomplished this unlikely task by implementing his brand of guerrilla warfare.
Chiang, a follower of Clausewitz, who espoused a more linear strategy of warfare, used the superior militarily strength of the KMT to attack and take over cities, abandoning the countryside to the Communists.
Mao’s Communists occupied the countryside, ambushing and harrassing Chiang’s army and even seizing towns for weeks at a time, only to retreat when Chiang committed forces to the area. The Communists were formless and elusive, moving like ghosts, never staying anywhere for long.
The strategies of Mao would be highly attractive to the Islamic State who, in many ways, resemble the Red Army in its nascent phase. Mao summed up his fighting philosophy by saying:
“When you want to fight us, we don’t let you and you can’t find us. But when we want to fight you, we make sure that you can’t get away and we hit you squarely, and wipe you out. The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.”
These tactics of the Red Army had a debilitating effect upon the psychology of the Nationalists. Robert Greene, in his book The 48 Laws of Power, states:
“The Communists also encircled the soldiers spirits, bombarding them with propaganda to lower their morale and pressure them to dessert. The Nationalists began to surrender in their minds. Their encircled and isolated cities started collapsing even before being directly attacked, and one after another fell in quick succession.”
This, in a sense, was how Mosel fell to ISIS, without much of a military struggle. ISIS places great importance on propaganda, using the modern technology at their disposal. They show beheadings on Youtube, and are very active getting their message across on Twitter.
Ho Chi Minh was an acolyte of Mao Zedong, and implemented much of Mao’s military thinking to defeat the French, South Vietnamese Army, and to force the United States out of Vietnam. This success in itself may have bolstered the confidence of ISIS, who have recently declared, “We will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.”
Ho Chi Minh’s philosophy was summed up in the statement: “It is the fight between tiger and elephant. If the tiger stands his ground, the elephant will crush him with its mass. But, if he conserves his mobility, he will finally vanquish the elephant, who bleeds from a multitude of cuts.”
General Vo Nguyen Giap, Ho Chi Minh’s top commander, developed three phases of military tactics. They are: 1. Building a Base 2. Guerrilla Warfare 3. Mobile Warfare.
In the first phase, the emphasis is placed upon establishing strong bases which the enemy cannot easily attack. This is a fall back position where training and development of political power can take place. Most likely, ISIS has such bases in Syria.
The second phase consists of guerrilla activities, by making “pinprick” attacks on the opposition’s rear guard. They should avoid direct combat and fight only when there is a distinct opportunity to win. The effects are psychological, causing an enemies morale to drop. In this sense, the less control an enemy is seen having over the country, the greater the political advantage gained.
This second phase also encompasses terrorism. Bombing targets by the Viet Minh included bars, hotels, cinemas, restaurants, cafes, and the like. The purpose here was to injure the occupying French, as well as robbing them of their peace of mind, and opportunity for R & R.
This appears to be the phase from which ISIS is currently operating, as bombings in Baghdad are routine, occurring almost daily.
The third phase consists of more direct and open mobile warfare. The Viet Minh were able to sustain this by keeping their troops lightly equipped, enhancing their mobility. They hid their artillery and AA guns in caves and with camouflage. Supplies were coming in from China, on the Ho Chi Minh trail, which utilized a broad network of tunnels.
In addition, Giap relied heavily on military intelligence, exploiting an opposition’s weak points and focusing on important positions.
If Obama cannot stem the advancement of the Islamic State with his current military strategy, we should expect this war against ISIS to become more direct and confrontational, as ISIS moves into the third phase of its militancy.
If that is the case, then Obama will find it hard to maintain his Eisenhower-like stance, and be forced to consider a most unappealing option — putting boots on the ground.