It has become a cliché that the Islamic State lives on as an insurgency following the loss of its formal control and governance of territory in Iraq and Syria (in jihadi terms, the loss of tamkin). But what exactly are the insurgent tactics pursued following the collapse of the state project? An article in this week's issue of the Islamic State's al-Naba' newsletter provides some insight into this question. I have translated this article in full for the reader.
In sum, the article, which is intended to be the first in a series, emphasizes that the methods being pursued are not new and are also utilized in areas as diverse as Iraq, Libya and West Africa. The general approach highlighted in this article is one of taking temporary control of an area and realizing specific aims in that area (e.g. the aims might be taking out certain wanted targets, seizing some weapons and resources, destroying immovable enemy property and wealth etc.). The area in question might be a single village, a locality, part of a town or even a whole town, depending on the circumstances. The precise means and extent of the expeditions can also vary according to circumstances: for example, the Islamic State fighters might use the cover of enemy forces (as they did in the Haditha assault in western Iraq in March 2012 mentioned in the article, when the Islamic State of Iraq fighters were wearing SWAT uniforms).
The article emphasizes that a key feature of these expeditions is to avoid entering into a decisive battle of confrontation with the enemy forces that could result in the Islamic State fighters being surrounded and killed. Further, it is possible during the expedition itself that the scope may be broadened if an opportunity is perceived in the rapid collapse of the enemy. Interestingly, article gives the example of the assault on Mosul in 2014 as a case of broadening the assault during the operation even though the article makes clear it is not of the same type of operations as detailed in the article. That is, the Mosul assault in 2014 was about taking over territory to administer it and not merely seizing territory on a temporary basis for specific aims beneath the level of tamkin. According to the article, as the Iraqi forces collapsed so rapidly, a decision was taken to broaden the assault to the east side of the city and pursue the fleeing remnants of the Iraqi forces.
Below is the article translated in full with the original text.
Bringing Down the Towns Temporarily as a Method of Operation for the Mujahideen (1)
Recently there have been multiple expeditions by the mujahideen of the Islamic State- for which God Almighty granted them success- against villages and localities in different areas, during which the mujahideen managed to take them over temporarily, in order to realize aims defined beforehand, then withdraw from the area, before the enemy forces manage to reach them in order to rescue their soldiers or supporters.
And we have seen the likes of these operations in Libya, West Africa and Iraq in particular. And this method is not new, as the mujahideen have always used it in times when there is no tamkin. And it will remain as a very powerful method in the hand of the mujahideen in the times of guerrilla warfare that they wage against the disbelievers and apostates, preparing the way for lasting control of the land and entering the war of frontlines to defend them on necessity.
Description of the Method
And this method relies on surprising the enemy forces in weak areas, in which the mujahideen can be secure in their superiority in force, and assaulting a village or more or one of the localities or towns, according to the strength of the mujahideen. From there they strike or neutralize the force of the enemy inside it, thereby allowing the mujahideen to move about inside the area freely, and realize their aims from the expedition in a matter of a few hours. Then they withdraw from the attack site, while avoiding entrance into a decisive battle against the enemy, and trying to avoid losses in the ranks of the mujahideen as far as possible.
As for the means of implementing and likewise the extent of time and place, they are things that differ according to the nature of the area and the state of the enemy in it from the aspect of alertness, force, distribution and ability to respond and the state of the mujahideen from the aspect of material and manpower capabilities and skills in planning and implementation, and likewise these things are subject to the state that the conflict has reached between the mujahideen and their enemies.
Appearing and Disappearing
From the aspect of means, we have found the following regarding the mujahideen in the first periods of guerrilla warfare, in which they have no region suitable as a launch point for attacks or secure enough to rely on. They come out to the streets in specific times, and they are armed with what weapons they have that they can conceal after the end of their work, masked and only wearing the clothes that resemble the clothes of the people of the region, in order to facilitate being concealed for them when they need that, so they spread about in the region, and seize it entirely or in part for a few hours, and they implement the aim of their spreading. Then and when they encounter the order to withdraw, they begin to disappear and melt away, without their enemy finding traces of them subsequently.
So this method can be implemented by the mujahideen when they have force inside the area, and it is possible for them to be concealed after ending the task and fulfilling its aims immediately, without being exposed to the danger of assault and arrest by the enemy that may undertake big sweeping campaigns as soon as the mujahideen withdraw from it in order to find the mujahideen who carry out the temporary seizure of the area.
Infiltration, Camouflage and Breaking
And likewise we have seen them in some cases infiltratation during the night into the areas in which the enemy presence is weak, and especially in the isolated rural areas so that they may sweep through one of the villages with a small number of the mujahideen, in order to arrest the wanted, seize wealth of the apostates or destroy it, then retreat from the area after they realize their aims, without leaving traces that enable the enemy forces to track them and arrest them. Implementing this may mean that the mujahideen show themselves, or they take from the appearance of the enemy itself a cover for them.
And we saw in the famous Haditha expedition that was documented in the release Salil al-Sawarim 2 how they assaulted the town from its entrances in the cover of the apostate SWAT forces, and they seized most of its parts, as they realized in it a number of the aims, before withdrawing from them to the desert in a matter of hours.
In addition in some instances they have embarked on breaking the strong lines of resistance around the towns and countrysides, and entering them by force, in order to strike points of the enemy inside them, and thus seizing the area in the shade of the confrontation that may wound the enemy, then withdrawing before the enemy should regain its awareness and reorganize its ranks or bring auxiliary forces from outside its area to regain control.
And in other instances the mujahideen's assaults on regions take the form of assaults that the police or security apparatuses carry out, when the enemy's defences in the area are very weak or not present, which facilitates the mujahideen's entrance into the area and moving about in it with freedom during specific hours, and implementing all their aims without great resistance from the apostates, then withdrawing to where they came from before the active enemy forces manage to arrive at the area, if there is in their intention to be present from the outset.
And this is what we have seen in the attacks of the brothers in Libya on isolated localities in the areas of south Libya, in which only light clashes occur with some of the men of the police and security, ending in their killing and seizing their bases. Then there is the space to assault what remains of the apostates in the area inside their homes in otder to arrest or kill them, and likewise taking all that one can from spoils, and destroying the wealth of the apostates that cannot be moved, then returning to the desert again, to strike another area, or returning to strike the area itself in the event that the mujahideen want to do that and the capabilities have been possible for them.
Extent of the Expedition
As for the time extent of the expedition, by this is meant the period of the mujahideen's seizure of the area after assaulting it: this depends on the force of the mujahideen and the force of their enemy, for the timeframe may be very narrow before large enemy forces are present, and they try to surround the brothers and force them to enter into a battle of mutual confrontation that is not in the interest of the mujahideen. And this matter may be drawn out especially in the isolated areas that the enemy forces will be delayed in reaching, and the choice may be in the hands of the mujahideen entirely if they are convinced that there is no possibility for the enemy's land forces to reach the place, even as the aircraft may intervene in the event that the mujahideen remain in it, while remaining in it is not in their planning, as the matter depends on their aim.
And likewise the extent of place for the expedition depends on the outset on the capability of the mujahideen to spread and cover the wide spaces, and thus the extent of the raids vary between a small village or locality or neighbourhood of a town or an entire town.
Likewise the extent may change during the expedition, according to the degree of the resistance of the enemy and the speed of the advance of the mujahideen, as the amir may think in all probability that the rapid collapse of the enemy will help to realize a greater advance, with a weak possibility of the existence of an allurement plan on the part of the enemy, along with the existence of the safe path for withdrawal and preventing encirclement.
And we can give an example of that in what happened in the city of Mosul, despite the fact that the aim of attacking it was to seize it and not only to strike the enemy inside it and then withdraw. The point is that the collapse of the Rafidite army and the security forces led to the mujahideen immediately adopting the decision to broaden the assault to include the left side of the city then catch the fleeing remnants of the enemy.
So thus it may be that the original aim of the mujahideen is to isolate a part of the city and seize it temporarily to implement some of the aims, but they find during the operation to assault the neighbourhood that the enemy has collapsed in adjacent neighbourhoods or has withdrawn from the city entirely. The mujahideen thus have the power to broaden the extent of the assault, take advantage of the element of surprise and confusion in the enemy ranks, and invest the time that the enemy will need before organizing its ranks to counterattack in an operation to seize temporarily the entire areas from which the enemy has withdrawn. Thus the most that can be achieved of aims will be realized in those places, before withdrawing from them to avoid entering into a battle of confrontation with the advancing enemy forces to regain control of the situation.
And we will explore in the coming article, by God's permission, the aims of this type of rapid assaults, so that their great benefit for the mujahideen may become clear in that, while noting some of the appropriate examples for that purpose. And praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.
NB: This post resulted from a query by Dr. Jonathan Spyer about the al-Naba' article.