Posts Tagged ‘ISIL’

Five Years On & Hope Became Terror

January 13, 2016


13 January 2016


Five years ago this week the Arab Spring began in earnest. On 14 January 2011 President Ben Ali of Tunisia resigned. The social media went into fast thumb tap and click. The Middle East began to throw off its identity and took to the streets demanding change.

The freedom squares were full of protest within days. Egypt. Lebanon. Yemen.Bahrain. Jordan. Libya. Morocco. Iraq. Less than a month from the going of Ben Ali Hosni Mubarak was gone as President of Egypt.  On 6 March the first shots were fired in Syria. A week on and the Saudi sent in troops to rescue the Bahrainian leadership in case the anger spread to Riyadh.

In that same March NATO went into Libya  not to support their recent ally Gaddafi but to join the rebels against him. By the summer Yemen was in full fire and President Ali Abdullah Saleh fled for his life.  Five months later, October 2011 a cringing Mummer Gaddafi was assassinated.

The change was all to see and just as predictable.  Libya spilled its blood in political anger and still bleeds. Egypt elected Mohamed Morsi as president in June 2012 and then the army  overthrew him the following year and returned to virtual military rule and in 2014 elected former general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. There was worse, to come

Out of this political and zealous carnage on 9 May 2013 ISIS, IS, ISIL ,Daesh – call this Jahadi as you will – was formed, declared a caliphate and the world quickly witness barbarism that could never have been imagined at the start of the Arab Spring. James Foley was Daesh’s first beheading.

By the autumn of 2014 a token coalition of forces but mainly American went after Daesh with a series of airstrikes into Syria.  The war there had been joined with ‘Western’ nations declaring for the rebellion and calling for the downfall of President Assad.

They are still bombing. Assad is still there.  In 2015 Russia joined in the hopeless of it all and said it was bombing ISIS in Syria but was truly bombing (and not very accurately) anti-Assad rebel positions.

Russia had signed up with Iran to defend Assad and equally to defend his constitutional and international right to rule as an elected leader. Iran, a Shia nation saw the fight for Assad (an Alewife and therefore a branch of Shia) as chance of a proxy war against Saudi Arabia and its Sunni royalty.

As to show this conflict could never be held tight in the Middle East, gunmen attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo the satirical French magazine and then in November of last year other gunmen and bombers killed 130 in Paris.The rest of Europe waits to see who is next.

Where has all this got us? Syria is in ruins beyond its capital. Iraq remains a failed Shia led state with Daesh in its strongholds and moving freely between Iraq and its “capital” Raqqa in Syria. There is hardly a state not spilling over with refugees.

If there is a deep anxiety than this in the region it is in Riyadh.  The ruling royal family, itself born beneath the green flag of Wahhabism and the ruthless of Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, now fears for its own survival. So it should.

There is not a government from Washington to Brussels to the whole of the Middle East that does not fear the collapse of the Saudis.  The manner of its going would be a stage in the Arab Spring totally unthinkable five years ago. The consequences unpredictable and unwanted even among its harshest critics. The ruling family is now unstable in the sense that it is unlikely to be able to defend itself.

Here then the rub of the lamp that whips up the ghoul and not the friendly genie.

If Saudi Arabia starts to go then the United States will have to launch a major defence.  The advanced operation of US military forces are already in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf but not enough to defend the unthinkable. The British are having built (with Saudi money) a new base in the region. London would have to reinforce it if things go the way they so easily could.

Five years ago there was candle lit and iPhone glowing hope in the Middle East especially among the young and the educated longing for new times to come that would give them back their dignity of national identities instead of impossible dictatorships.

Five years ago and Ben Ali went quietly. Five years later no one can go quietly. Before this year is out the US and her allies including the United Kingdom and France could be heading for the biggest firefight since Viet Nam. Hope is done for. Terror has the next move.



ISIL: why Cameron needs a quick kill

December 1, 2015


1 December 2015


Prime Minister Cameron needs a quick missile kill in Syria – an ISIL leader rather than a playgroup. But in warfare, there are few guarantees.

The Royal Air Force is on standby to go with a reinforcement of two Tornado bombers – making ten in the Akrotiri squadron and six multirole FGR4 Typhoon jets.

The RAF Reaper drone crews in Kuwait have been tracking targets for weeks. The dry runs have been done. The Brimstone laser tracking missiles have already been used from the Tornado and the Americans in particular cannot wait for them to go-strike in Syria. The special forces to laser spot targets deep inside alien territory know the job.

The operational brief is signed off.

All that remains is for the Speaker of the House of Commons to call The Ayes Have It! The Ayes Have It! The green benched chamber will erupt with a roar to rival a Typhoon afterburn and 3,589 kilometres away the Akrotiri base will be on go.

Prime Minister Cameron will then wait.

In a meeting at Westminster after the Friday 13 November murders in Paris Cameron was overhead fuming that he intended to ‘kill the bastards”. Not the tone of the cool calm and collected but that soon returned. He, his whips and a leaderless Labour Party have, barring Parliamentary coup de theatre given Cameron his prize.

Cameron needs a Thatcher moment that will restore him to the sanctum sanctorum of the American and French leadership. President Obama, with finer sense of history than the British regards France and not Britain as America’s oldest ally. That hurts in Downing Street.

And so Cameron needs a Tornado’s Brimstone or a Reaper’s Hellfire to bring him the news he longs for: Al-Baghdadi down. That in Number Ten would be perfect although it is hardly clear that the RAF knows the exact location of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Cameron wants it this week. His bendy people (aka spin-doctors) want the political victory roll any time very soon after the Commons vote. Cameron wants to hit the networks with a good kill.

He wants the video play of a scurrying ISIL team disappearing in a silent puff as their Toyota – surely the most photographed rebel/terrorist truck of the decade – is no more and they even less so.

The Prime Minister has taken the UK into another stage of war that has like all warfare, few promises of success. No military commander nor tactician believes bombing does it for them. A mythical follow on ground force is just that – wishful.

So Cameron needs a fireball. Truck. Oil tanker. Command centre. Dodging 4-wheel caught in the laser track. Strike one makes him right. Forget what happens next. Strike one is everything. He got it wrong over Libya. He needs another chance at the toughest of all shots a Prime Minister gets to call. It makes him a political hero – a euphemism for I told you so.

What he does not need is a mistake. He does not need a school bus. He does not need the world broadcast of a solemn spokesperson of Medecins Sans Frontiers.

War produces no guarantees.




ISIL: Pig Iron Knows What’s To Be Done

November 27, 2015


27th November


Pig Iron – The Man Who Can Kill ISIL


A man with a limp called Pig Iron sat in the gallery and listened to the Prime Minister. Every few words he would nod slowly in agreement. Yes ISIL is bad news. Yes What goes down in Syria is bad news. Yes it is bad news letting others fight our battles. But when the man in the suit got to the bit about let us go bomb, then Pig Iron sat taller and shook his bearded chin in defiance. No. No. No.


In the bar across the road Pig Iron looked more like what he had once been. Special. Special Forces. Sturdy. Untrusting eyes. Thick hands with whittled down nails. He had spent much of his Service life in those parts as he called them. Oman with Salusbury-Trelawny in the Sultan’s Dhofar Brigade. Clugged down in Waddhi Something or Other with his Firquat irregulars he did not quite trust and just a couple of sandbags on the floor for protection in their Land Rover. Iraq in1991. Cleaning up the mess in 2003. As an instructor in Jordan attached to the Little King. Four decades or so a long way from Lympstone where he had learned to hold his breath in Peter’s Pool in the Royal Marine basic training course.


So why the head shaking? Chipping in with a few RAF sorties would make Cameron feel good he says but would have no result and anyway, the record shows 60% of Iraq RAF sorties are aborted.


Pig Iron knows the Middle East as much as many. He knows what is happening and who it is happening to. The rest he hears. He says with the wisdom of a man who drinks lager with a whiskey chaser (or maybe it is the other way round) that we should sector Iraq and Syria put French, US, British and maybe Australian special forces backed up with Kurds in each of the seven sectors under (reluctantly) a US commander with a second in command British Commander Operations – that is, the guy driving the whole thing.


The US Marine Corps, RAF and French should provide close air support. The US, French and Royal Navy should use air launched, drone launched and sea launched (including submarine launched) assets to ground-soften ISIL.


The seven sectors would be separated so no ISIL command and control and force movement could overlap. British and American ISTAR – information, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance – should feed the lot through a distributing joint command HQ. At the command with all the fancy titles they could handle would be commanders-in-chief of the major Gulf states.


And then? And then you go in and clean out ISIL as an operating force inside six months.


Much of ISIL will not be killed unless they are looking for early blood baths and mythical virgins. ISIL will disperse. And then? And then it is a hot pursuit job. You continue operations not as an army sitting on its bum but as a fast moving opportunity force harassing stragglers, acting on ISTAR follow up.


And then? You hand back the Middle East to the Middle East with Western guys on the military advisory top table and on two year tours. We are there for the duration.


Job done? No. But a good place to start from. Maybe Pig Iron knows a few things from 40 years that have been forgotten elsewhere. Forgotten? Another shake of the beard. Nope. He reckons they know. So? So no one wants to get real. There are, he say, no votes in real. But that is how it eventually has to be done.





CyberWar:UK Could Shut Down in 3 days

November 17, 2015


17th November 2015


The Chancellor George Osborne is putting an extra £1.9billion a year into the Government Communications Headquarters.  The money is to fight the ISIL hackers.  This is something that has never been so publicly obvious.

Five years years in the Defence Review Cyber was there but not a big issue. Next Monday when the new review is published it will feature alongside the top line subjects: nuclear deterrence, naval force projection, special forces enlargement and recruiting.

This interest has nothing to do with international whistle blowing of secrets out of Washington and GCHQ nor hacking into mobile telephone accounts. The reasoning is straightforward warfare against ISIL.

The UK government has to assume that we are close to a point when a group of ISIL hackers could effectively bring the British Isles to a standstill of essential services.

Hackers have demonstrated that in spite of the brilliance of the UK’s counter-cyber systems, a 15 year-old can get into supposedly secure systems because he or she has expertise to challenge IT security, rather like a game.

In other words big companies relying on IT are not secure.  Even GCHQ and other agencies have to play catch-up.

So what damage could a high-end ISIL (or any other organised hack group)  do inside a week when scattered through British back bedrooms like the geeks in every street?

Food supplies in major stores rely on empty shelf re-ordering by computer. Hack the system and the food supplies would take about 3 days to reorganise through other routes.  Motor fuel distribution can be slowed and then halted for 24 hours. That is enough to grid lock the UK.

The whole country now relies on communication systems – mobiles and upwards. The servers and signals can be hacked and made useless in a few minutes.

Air traffic control even with their back-up and emergency planning systems in place need only a suggestion of computer invasion and aircraft are diverted and grounded. Railways are almost all reliant on computer scheduling.

Emergency services including blood supplies, ambulance and drug services plus scheduling emergency vehicles can be knocked out in a couple of hours and maybe for much longer then that.

Most of these systems have back up.  So have hackers. The grim scenario is that while these systems are down or just disrupted, a lot of society goes into chaos and that is where the gunmen perform.

All unlikely? Not all.  That is why Mr Osborne has his Treasury cheque book out.








Terror? Slaughter? This is IS on the March

November 14, 2015


14 November, 2015


The pundit on France24 news show said ISIL has brought its war to Europe.  With the station’s headline saying 130 dead and others critical that sounds about right.

The blood is still on the pavement outside the Bataclan theatre and the bit of poster says the band was The Eagles of Death Metal. It does not get much worse. Or maybe it does.

If ISIL is out of area as the security people here are calling it then the next targets are obvious: Christmas late openings in department stores, carol services, Santa grottos, car ferries and maybe a motor way service station or two.

The ISIL operation we saw Friday night was properly organised.  The killers knew how to go about their business. The timing and coordination meant rehearsal and professional reconnaissance – helped by Paris’s lack of CCTV.

The hit on cafe society was at the least a diversion that confused security communications and spread response resources.

The use of a car at the vital diversion point gave a suggestion of extra resources properly used.

The manner of the gunmen, including the unhurried reloading of weapons was a reminder that until the police showed up, they were going through a routine of wasting unarmed victims and that they were committed to a one way mission. And they were highly motivated and trained to succeed in that.

So if there is more to come what is there to be done? There is a 3-part answer.

The French say the eight terrorists are dead. But what about the others? This was no small group operation. There is somewhere a back up organisation.

There are in France large radicalised and disaffected Muslim groupings. French security have top Intelligence on them. They have to be scoured and further suspects dug out or at the very disrupted.  But the French like most other security people are over-stretched.

Secondly, the leaders of the Global Coalition fighting ISIL have to examine their own capabilities in going after first the leadership and then the financial, industrial and supply stores that keep the logistics moving. That means blatant military cooperation with countries and organisation that otherwise would be shunned. Iran is an example.Assad is another.

Thirdly, everyone needs to examine their political motives.  There is a lot more that could be done to take on ISIL in a powerful manner.  ISIL’s image is an exaggerated example of its capability. It is not invincible.

As terrible the hit here was on Friday night it was militarily not such a big deal put alongside what else is going on in the Middle East.  ISIL is beatable.

But Global Coalition members have to be willing to commit themselves to the political bravery needed to authorise thus far close encounter operations. You cannot beat ISIL with drones alone.  And then comes an even bigger effort.

If you do beat ISIL, then what? The sentiment that spawned the fanatical group would not be dead, just dormant.

World War III on Terror – But What Is ISIL’s Next Target?

November 8, 2015


9th November 2015


There are people in the UK who want the chance to put a bomb in a British passenger jet flying out of Heathrow. That is the Intelligence briefing to senior ministers including the political head of MI6, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. In other words the 31 October Russian Metrojet flight from Sharm el-Sheikh was not the only target for terrorists.

In the BFBS Radio current affairs programme Sitrep last week the UK’s most recent ambassador to Cairo John Watt  told presenter Kate Gerbeau that he was certain that the Russians were the exclusive target when the bomb went off 21 minutes after take off from Sharm. Was he right?

Go through some of the dark on-line pages of jihadists after the hit for example al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP) Inspire and what you will see is predictable. Inspire, just two months ago was given an 88-page handout on assassinations.

A simple message such as telling sleepers as well as activists to go out and kill is not a hidden message.  There are no hidden agendas. The message is clearly given, it is clearly understood and when what we call a tragedy occurs, the sites are alive with celebrations.  This war on terror is that simple.

So it must be that the most important question is what is the next target.

The websites and mobile chatter loops are not telling terrorists go get a Russian plane or an American or a British holiday jet.  They are not explaining that an attack will reduce profits at Sharm el-Sheikh by 70%, or beach resort bookings in Tunisia by 62%. They are not saying that every believer working air-side at Gatwick, Heathrow, JFK, Schiphol, Paris CDG or wherever should be ready to slip in a primed detonator into the hold at loading point.  It is all simpler.

If a terrorist goes for a big picture target the longer term impact is a thing about anniversaries instead of what is intended: striking long term and terror to damage and disrupt and then question governments ability to keep populations safe.

Read the dark pages again and think what may happen if the next attack were to be, say, a happy holiday jet to Majorca and an Isle of Wight Ferry and a Christmas department store and a Cathedral family Christingle service – all on the same day.  In other words anyone is a target. No one gets to fly, ferry, go Christmas shopping, go to Carols round the Crib.  That is not going for anti IS USA, Russia, UK. That is going for the power-bring bystanders. That is terrorism.  That is where we are heading.

A reactively simple operation splits allies and makes populations nervous or in some cases downright frightened. That means, it succeeds in terrorising and people start to ask why great powers are unable to stop ISIL?

Metrojet proved if we needed proof that there has been a strategic step change in the battle against IS and its like. The Global Coalition was established in September 2014 “to Degrade and Defeat ISIL” Some 65 states joined the Coalition. Thus one third of the world, including the nuclear powers, has joined against ISIL. In any one’s language that is World War III. For the moment it is not going so well.