National Security

Defeating ISIS and Radical Islamic Terrorism: Part 1 (B) – The Attack Component

By Ex Umbra:

ISIS, the Radical Islamic Terrorism (RIT) organization calling itself the Islamic State, is losing vast amounts of captured territory within Iraq and Syria. ISIS is now experiencing an internal revolt within its ranks during the bloody fight to retain western Mosul—the last half of the city that they still control. The lower level ISIS fighters have been coerced, under the threat of being beheaded, to fight to the death in western Mosul.

All while ISIS’ so-called “invisible caliph” (supreme leader), Abu Bukr al-Baghdadi, is either dead from a US airstrike, or is in deep hiding (as reported by Israel National News Service on February 7, 2017). Either way, this revolt opens a significant influence opportunity against ISIS’ “brand” and morale.

The world is slowly becoming more aware and condemning of ISIS’ inhumane atrocities against innocent civilians, including babies. More than half of these atrocities have been executed against other Muslims from both major sects—Sunni and Shiite. Where are the religious leaders of Islam, writ large, during this slaughter? What are these religious leaders and Muslim nation-states doing to eradicate this RIT which taints the peaceful Muslims? I will write more about this in the forthcoming article (Part-IV in the series) and the fourth component of my suggested strategic framework for defeating ISIS.

The US-led “Coalition of the Willing” against ISIS is approaching a tipping point in defeating ISIS militarily. To finish the job, however, the ISIS “brand” of RIT must be delegitimized both globally and within the Islamic religion. The latter is a complex and long-term, task. I will address delegitimizing ISIS’ brand in more detail in an upcoming article (Part III in the series), addressing the countering of ISIS’ ideology which is the third component of my suggested strategic framework for defeating ISIS.

For background reading, I suggest the following articles on this subject: Defeating ISIS and Radical Islamic Terrorism (RIT):  Series Overview and Defeating ISIS and Radical Islamic Terrorism Part 1 (A) – The Attack Component.

This article poses additional major considerations for the attack component of defeating ISIS and is the main suggested strategy against ISIS in the near-term (during the next two years).

Defeating ISIS’ terrorist foot-soldiers is a critical “center of gravity” for ISIS. This is not limited to but includes, Iraq, Syria, and the 30 other countries where ISIS has a footprint. Defeating ISIS militarily is a necessary preliminary step that can severely degrade ISIS’ capability to terrorize innocent publics around the world. It will save innocent lives and will seriously reduce ISIS’ credibility, and therefore, ISIS’ ability to recruit more foot-soldiers.

ISIS’ quick and massive military defeat will be a severe initial blow in delegitimizing ISIS and its RIT brand. Revealing the roots of ISIS’ RIT ideology will demonstrate the defects of ISIS’ self-declared caliphate to impose Islam and strict Islamic Sharia law worldwide.

Cascading from the military defeat of ISIS then, must be the delegitimization of ISIS’ perverted and violent ideology and brand of Sunni Wahhabism—an equally important ISIS center of gravity. The counter-ideology fight is a mid to long-term engagement.

ISIS’ interpretation of this ideology calls for greater Islam to join their global caliphate against the “non-believers or infidels. ISIS must have control of “state(s) or territory” to legitimize its call for a global caliphate. If the US-led coalition does not eradicate the ISIS ideology, then the next version of ISIS or al-Qaida RIT-terrorists will evolve and continue the RIT cause.

Alastair Crooke’s, “You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know The History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia” provides a deeper understanding of this ideology and is worth reading.

The global strategic discussion above provides context for significant considerations for the US government (USG) discussed below.

The Trump Administration has a very full national security plate. With geo-strategic threats from Iran, China, North Korea, and Russia, all of the above being vital USG national security interests, the war against ISIS and its RIT ideology must compete for attention and resources. The USG must organize to govern efficiently. Instead of doing everything at once, the Trump Administration should adopt a first-class deliberate/long-term planning process with a team that builds from the President’s National Security Strategy (NSS) and studies to plan ten years into the future.

My personal experience reveals that the USG has never had a dedicated, first-class, long-term planning office with a codified, systematic, IT-enabled, planning process like the US Defense Department has for its portfolio. This would be a whole-of-government portfolio. This deliberate and long-range planning office should be in concert with the President’s National Security Council (NSC), Homeland Security Council, Council of Economic Advisors, and Domestic Policy Council in the White House (WH) arena.

For national security matters, the NSC should be the integration point for this deliberate and long-range planning effort. From my experiences participating in the USG interagency coordination process during the past four Presidential Administrations, I have observed NSC organizations that myopically “micro-manage the crisis of the day.” No one was working the long-term context for the USG concerning vital and major interests, major global stakes and stakeholders, potential reflexive responses, unintended consequences, derivative and contingency planning, and a cost-to-benefit analysis for resources and its impact on the USG budget and spending deficits.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (on the Management side) might house the “whole of the USG’s” deliberate and long-range planning office. NSC would plug into this OMB office for its specific National Security long-range planning matters. The NSC would draw from these OMB long-range deliberations and plans to develop national security policies for the President’s NSC decision-making process.

Scoping down from the USG level to the Defense Department level, and focusing specifically on the “Defeat ISIS” mission, the organization and processes already exist for addressing the policy, planning, and resources to accomplish the mission. The organization for executing the military part of the mission is what needs tweaking.

With Secretary of Defense Mattis’ deep cerebral thinking and vast military experience, there is no need for the USG-level bureaucrats to “politicize” our 3-star and 4-star level commanders. The Obama Administration was famous for talking directly down the military chain of command with Admiral McCraven, at US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and when then-Vice Admiral McCraven commanded the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Obama did the same with General Austin, then the commander of US Central Command (USCENTCOM). Obama’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, was heavily criticized for politicizing that office.

Politicizing the senior flag officers subverts the professional distance required for providing an unbiased and unvarnished truth to their Commander-in-Chief that represents the equities of the US military troops in combat. Their lives are at stake. I believe that Secretary Mattis will be thinking of the impact on “troops in the foxhole” during the USG decision-making process from the AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force) to the appropriate Rules of Engagement (ROE) for the troops in combat. No more “suicide ROE,” for political concerns, overriding the force protection of our troops. The “suicide ROE” were at their peak in the Afghanistan war.

Leverage the vast expertise and prior work conducted by USSOCOM and USCENTCOM accrued during the Bush Administration. These two organizations developed CONOPS for defeating terrorism with a global reach (then-Al-Qaida). They produced then-President Bush’s “AQN EXORD” (Al-Qaida Network Execute Order). Both combatant commands are led by 4-stars with vast combat and JSOC experience. President Trump has just met them both.

In my humble opinion, the “functional defeat” model developed for defeating AQN was the crown jewel of this planning. Instead of chasing the terrorist leaders around the world, it systematized attacks on the terrorists’ key functions that enable a terrorist organization to succeed: safe havens; command and control; communications and social media; recruitment process and techniques; intelligence collection process and techniques; logistics sources; arms sources; financial support and sources; and their support network sources and modus operandi.

The Obama Administration shelved all this work. The classified files probably still exist and can be adapted to the ISIS threat. This can jump-start new plans and orders to defeat ISIS.

My final point is: employ the successful “McChrystal Model” of authority at the point of attack. The JSOC Task Force was a critical executer of the successful “surge strategy” that salvaged the Iraq war. Then-Lt. General McChrystal, commander of JSOC, requested (and got) authority for the USG department/agency organizations, with an equity/stake in the war, to provide senior representatives that would be seconded to his 3-star level JSOC task force in Iraq. General McChrystal’s intent was to quickly decide and attack in response to breaking and actionable intelligence generated from the battlefield. There was no time to take counsel from the bureaucrats in D.C. working under a “business as usual” decision-making rhythm. No time for politicizing the issue. General McChrystal’s model was tuned to a “24/7/365” battle rhythm. He needed quick concurrence from those senior field reps at the point of attack.

I have several other considerations for the “Attack ISIS” component that won’t fit in this piece. I will address them as separate stand-alone articles during this month. My next article in this series will address the “Defend the Homeland” (Part-II) component of this suggested strategic framework for Defeating ISIS.

Ex Umbra—a pen name, used for the security of an experienced senior counterterrorist operative currently working outside of the US government

Join the conversation!

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse.