Posts Tagged ‘ISIS’

Syria:Why Has the US Not Won the War?

August 1, 2016


Christopher Lee

1 August 2016

New York

Why has the mighty US not won the war in Syria?  Missiles, drones, laser bombs, satellite Intelligence, allies from all over the world and still the war goes on.  Refugees are being abandoned.  Russia is calling the shots – literally.  President Assad Must Go posters in the White House have faded.

With all the military might that could destroy the world in an afternoon’s war gaming (and for real if worry struck) the United States has failed to do what it thought so easy in 2011.

President Assad was expected to step down with a few weeks of the demonstrations that spread from Daraa where the first real signs of protest had emerged.

President Obama had made it clear from day one in the White House that he saw the Middle East as a military and political quagmire where only the legacy of failure would survive. The pressure on America from within the reason was consistent on Obama.  He had to chose sides or risk even greater pressures from US allies like Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, apart from its oil and dollar attractions had become the centre of US military options.  The Saudi’s were and remain America’s political and military landlords in the region.

Obama ran out of stand-off options.  On August 18 2011, Obama said Assad should step aside.  That was not what the rebels not Washington’s allies wanted to here.  They wanted a sharp get out of town notice pinned on the Assad’s Presidential door. Assad was never going to pack his bags. Assad was not Saddam Hussein.  No Colonel Gaddafi.

The protest became an armed confrontation within months.

Opposition groups took up weapons. They killed 120 Syria troops.  The bodies were desecrated. Anyone who wanted to join the fight was welcomed.  The result obvious: a desperate and disparate armed opposition to Assad demanding support – political and financial and military – from the major outside players such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the Saudis, the Turks. Without understanding what they were doing, many of US allies supported the so-called Coalition against Assad. It was called a coalition.  It was nothing of the sort. It was split armed opposition that soon included al-Qaeda and then IS.

What went wrong from the start?  The so-called Western alliance did not understand what was going on.  The leaders, including Obama, were badly advised and no one could publicly at least stick firmly to ambitions because they did not know what they were and how to get to them.  The scale of the conflict demanded on the ground military intervention.  To have made that strategic jump would have meant unacceptable commitments from countries such as the US and UK only just out or still in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Furthermore, none of the apparently sophisticated military outside forces had any idea whatsoever how to fight Assad and gradually they did not trust the side upon which they would have to fight.

The internal coalition of opposition was being seen as a group who would in power run a bloodbath of revenge.  Obama and Co kept out other than mounting distant warfare against Islamist groups and arranging arms to rebels.  The insertion of Western special forces made little difference.

Then of course, the Russians arrived.  They backed the Assad regime, moved without any discretion rebel positions and helped destruct much of Western Syria.

The Turkish war against kurds was but a side show but an example that Syria had become a battlefield of such consequence that apart from downtown Damascus- a futile but telling description – Syria no longer existed.

And what have we got from desolation?  Assad in power. Russia the leading outside power. A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. A refuge population that the world does its very best to forget – if ever it took notice.

There is one other aspect: the surviving rebel groups whose blatant ambitions neither suited American understanding of the conflict nor made military sense now hope with considerable fervour that Hilary Clinton makes it to the White House. To do what?

Whatever Hilary Clinton’s mood there is no way she wants to get involved in a tough military commitment anyway in the Middle East.  Moreover, Congress will not let her.  Hilary, who naturally thinks two terms as President is fine with that.

Two people know that for sure: Presidents Putin and Assad.  There is nothing that will get home political support that American and her allies can do.  Moreover, there is nothing at all in the latest military adviser’s think tank that will change that.

The armed opposition groups from 2011 are powerless figures at fringe meetings of What To Do About Syria. Today real opposition in Syria are mujahedin groups who have taken the 2011 rebellion much further. The ambition is not simply to unseat Assdad; it is to replace the government and its ways in Damascus with rule by sharia law – the other caliphate; but the commitment of Russia may prevent that.

Barring a palace revolution, the outcome looks simple: Assad stays in a possible split territory with Russia in much the same position as the United States is in Saudi Arabia.

Curiously, Russia’s position may therefore benefit America and her allies.  Mr Putin actually wants what American thought it wanted. The fact that President Assad is still there is therefore what Russia wants and what America cannot publicly admit it wants.

Arms to Libya? But who gets the guns?

May 17, 2016


Christopher Lee

17 May 2016, London

The papyrus of Manetho tells us that when, 5,000 or so years ago Menes-Namer was anointed the first of the Pharaohs then the land we call Libya had no divine rule and the coming of its age was the appearance of a great general.

Egyptians leaders would still vote for that idea.

This week the solemn convocation of Western leaders of the United Kingdom (a paradoxon called 23 June), the United States (disunity their watchword) and various United Nations leaders (comfortable in their moral indecisions) announced that they are sending guns to Tripoli so that the “government” of Fayez al-Sarraj can take on ISIS in Libya.

For good measure, the Western leaders promised to send soldiers who will show the Libyans how to use the arms shipments. No this is not military deployment.  These are advisers – just as they were at the start of Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Sounds efficient use of diplomacy and military assets. The West can run the war without getting into its front line. But that does not take into account the modern Menes-Namer.

Since July 2013 Egypt’s Pharaoh has been President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi. Sisi is not keen on soft diplomacy and neighbours, run by civilians.  He does not trust civilians even though this former general commanding Egypt’s forces goes about disguised as a well tailored and shod civilian.

Just as Menes-Namer looked with despair on the sub-Saharan tribes that ruled the hinterlands of modern Libya, so Sisi cannot trust the make-believe government of the desperately neutral al-Sarraj.   Sisi too wants rid of ISIS in very oil-rich Libya.  But like all generals who say peace cannot be secured by military means alone, Sisi believes it can and so sees al-Sarraj with his head full of democracy with suspicion.  Sisi has his own man in mind for the role of Pharaoh of Libya: General Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar has his army in Tobruk. Like Sisi he has no time for al-Sarraj.  It is hardly the politics of the leader of the government of National Accord in Tripoli.  It is simply the military reality.

Not since King Idris has Libya been ruled by peaceful means (and then hardly). Pharaoh Sisi believes there is no way that a civilian government in Saharan Africa can rule for long in these times.  Certainly Sisi and General Heftier can make a good case that al-Sarraj can never placate the disparate groups of militia sprawling across Libya each of which has a grouse. Each of which has too much to lose, including the day job.

So, as the papyrus of Manetho reminds us the “divine pharaohs who came from elsewhere” (aka the British, the Americans and UN hangers on) may have believed their plan for the desert lands was the only one with principle. The Western gods and heroes in Vienna this past week have harder tasks than who can beat ISIS into submission.

Most importantly, the Western governments have to accept that Sisi ruthlessly controls Egypt and that Egypt has been since the first Pharaoh the centre of the Arab world and that one quarter of the Arab world is Egypt.

The Pharaoh still rules and the USA that gives more overseas aid to Egypt than it does to any other nation other than Israel has to accept that. Moreover, there is not a single Middle East state going through the misery and dangers of transition today that does not ask (albeit in camera) what does Sisi think about this?

Most Middle East nations do not do democracy. Five thousand years of history since the great papyrus tell us that the motives have not changed – all of which are thousands of years older than those who now demand that they should change to Western rules of government and human rights.

If the United Kingdom and the United States believe that by sending arms to Libya they will fix the problem then they may find it surprising that the Pharaoh Sisi will agree.  The difference is that Sisi believes they are sending the guns to the wrong man. Al-Sarraj is a good man. Hafter is a good general. Sisi would bring them together but Haftar would rule. Pharaohs always trusted the man with the spear.

Mind you, 6 October 1981 is always a silent anniversary: the day of Anwar Sadat’s assassination, at a military parade in Cairo.





US bombing ISIS banks could flush out Daesh leader

April 27, 2016


Christopher Lee

28 April 2009, London

ISIS is losing $millions to US Intelligence and airstrikes.  US Intelligence agencies plus electronic and human gathered intelligence (HUMINT) on the ground in Syria and Iraq have been so good at locating terrorist strong boxes that within the past twelve months perhaps up to $800 million dollars of ISIS cash has been destroyed.

For the man in charge of targeting the asset stripping operation against ISIS strongrooms, US Major General Peter Gerstner the Operations and Intelligence deputy commander in Iraq reckons that all this has been done using good information and fewer than 20 airstrikes – one of them on the ISIS banknote depot in Mosul.

Some of this explains recent Intelligence briefings in Washington that ISIS the most organised and superrich terrorist organisation on the streets until last year – assets then in excess of $2bn – is pushed for funds and partly as a consequence of that is losing support.

There are three aspects here that US strategists think they may be getting ahead of ISIS:

US bombing of ISIS controlled oil fields has reduced income and, given the price of oil, this is something of a double-whammy

Secondly, with fewer funds the volunteer flow that was as high as 2,000 a month this time last year has trickled to 200 a month.  Terrorists are mostly for hire than inspired by ideology. ISIS numbers maybe dropped by as many as 15%

Thirdly, ISIS has not been able to cope with success inasmuch that it has found it hard to administer and command expansion. The move into Afghanistan has a different leadership and may not feel any of these pressures- but they are felt throughout ISIS Middle East.

These examples of US success if they are checked out may be one reason why the Italian led coalition that includes France and the UK want to get in to Libya.  They think that if ISIS is not getting the big wages as once they did then demoralisation should be hammered as soon as possible.

The ISIS contingent in Libya is concentrated on perhaps two coastal towns, Sirte being one of them.  There is a school advising the Foreign Office in London that this is not a well organised group and the time is to hit them.

It could be sound advice.  It is true also that British hit and run policy means that it is relatively simple for the ISIS to regroup if the Libyan mission cannot take over the vacated territory.

What has all this to do with the bombing of a dozen or so ISIS cashpoints?

The real success story of the US led forces against ISIS during the past 12 months has been assassination operations against terrorist leaders plus commercial fields such as oil and bankrolls.  In other words, reduce resources and constantly harass leadership, demoralises manpower; any commander knows that this the temporary but easily actable upon state he needs his enemy in before he sends in the strategic solution.

Could be the battlefield circumstances are changing and the word is that the assassination top target that will pull this together is the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  Talk to General Gerstner and he says that the Intelligence people are not sure where he is.

But talk to the people debriefing special forces and the until recently frustrated electronic Intelligence (ELINT) desks and some say that if what is going on here gets better for them and worse for ISIS then al-Baghdadi will break cover – which may just turn out to be the long term success story in the news from General Gerstner’s office.





Cameron’s plan to call out the 16 year-olds to vote for him on 23 June?

February 21, 2016


Christopher Lee

21st February 20016


The theatre of David Cameron’s assault on the EU is done. A UK referendum will be held on 23 June when the British people will vote to stay in the EU or leave.

Mr Cameron’s people are looking for ways of guaranteeing a Yes Vote. So watch for a change of the electoral roll to include 16+ year-olds.  Teenage voters, say the focus groups will vote to stay in Europe.

If the government does not get its way then another referendum will be held to check that the people knew what they were saying. Corrupt? Not quite.  It is the way of these things.

Meanwhile the moral quality of our leaders is displayed today.  Cameron is telling anyone who votes No to Europe will be jeopardising national security.  Terrorists will be aiming at strike on the UK after 23 June if we all vote to go.  Iain Duncan-Smith (who wants to quit) says that if we stay terrorists will be aiming a strike on the UK after 23 June.

I can imagine Mohammad al-Baghdadi sitting in Daesh council deciding terrorism strike policy based on a referendum in a country that has trumpeted a major airstrike operation on Daesh but has yet to have had much more than a car-load’s success in spite of using missiles that cost £300,000 a time.

From our leaders we would hope for less insulting rubbish. But when a nation hopes it means that its leaders are pretty low grade ore.  That is what we now see.




Terrorism: The UK on Standby as ISIS Plans Hits

January 31, 2016


1 February 2016


British Intelligence believes ISIS is planning to hit the UK sometime soon.  ISIS likes that.  It like MI5, MI6, GCHQ, police counter terrorism groups, Europol and the other agencies working overtime. It says to the people that it is a threat.

Simply warning of an attack when a Minister says the Security State is, say, Severe is part of the deal for ISIS.  Terrorism is about terrorising. A bit of video apparently showing the Paris attack organiser Abdelhamid Abaaod saying “we are already in your lands.  We will slaughter you inside your homes” is terrifying enough for many and therefore is terrorism succeeding in some form.

Even more terrorising would have ISIS saying we are coming to get you in your National Gallery where you show the Christian Adoration of the Magi. Or how about we’re coming to get you in your City of Birmingham Concert Hall?  Or try this: we are going to slaughter you and your Queen on her 90th birthday in April.

All of this is credible because in a generation brought up on IRA atrocities anything terrorism promises often comes to pass in some form. The dark side of that is that a nation like the British recover inside the week.

After 9/11 it was not uncommon for a few Muslim-looking guys, smartly dressed, to pretend they had lost their wallet on a train, then spot it and then tell their clearly English carriage companion that as a thank-you for helping to find the wallet they would break an oath and warn them to stay away from the tube on the coming first anniversary of 9/11. Some probably fell for it.

But what about a Paris-type hit.  Do the British believe it?  Sure they do. The newspapers tell readers this is so.  The reader believes it because there is evidence world wide that it happens. No one suggests that the story  is nothing more than a reporter with “sources who cannot be named” trying to get a page one story under his or her by-line.

The behaviour of the cynical prankster or the reporter maybe using a half truth that Intelligence people really are working overtime to identify an ISIS cell in Birmingham, London or wherever.

The chilling acceptance is that people in major cities and towns now accept that within their societies men and women are planning their worst atrocities.  There is something approaching resignation. There is no great social media discussion. People do not change their work patterns and journeys. Newspaper warnings rarely make Page I. Why should they? After all Paris was a high hit possibility but it did not make the splash until it happened.

Last week with a little knowledge about these matters I did a walk round ten London targets.

I checked CCTV street, approaches and buildings, access in and quick exits, doors front back and side, mobile and radio signal back spots, stairways, getting immediately to crowds in buildings who would by panic trap themselves on which floors, street traffic flows and vehicle congestion that would hold up response teams, street area panic streams – which way, overflow and dead ends.  I added for good measure, symbolism of the building and contents.

Simple really.



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.



ISIS atrocities, Libya feet first, a new President – here comes 2016

December 28, 2015


28 December 2015


2016 will be a sinister affair. That’s what they say in the darker alleys of Whitehall and across the river on the Albert Embankment.

The oil guys in the Middle East say ISIS is working up a nasty. Big hits in as many European capitals as they can manage on the same day. Make Paris look like a hooligan mugging. The Middle East oilmen having the most to lose and twice that to protect have been known to get it right.

They says something like this: four or five organisers with long placed hitters in seven or eight capitals. Museums are easy targets.  Metros have to be quick. Theatres.  Everyone dies in the third act. Yup.  There’s a lot of black humour out there. Why the third act? Security is sharper in Act I and Act 2.  Act 3 has a It Won’t Be Tonight feel.

On the wider screen for 2016, Libya is the hardest one to tackle. The factions are still spilling blood and revenge is easy done.  France and UK are all for getting in there with air support, intelligence gathering and special forces reconnaissance (SAS’s original role) and smart diplomacy i.e. soft and hard power operation.  Trouble is no one knows for certain where ISIS has got to in Libya and most importantly who is running it there.

In the Middle East proper there is every chance of a strong US-Russia partnership developing in Syria.  Give it a couple of months. Russia without a sign of Oooops-sorry! is intent on whacking as many anti-Assad rebels as possible before going the extra distance on some form of election.  Here’s something that is not going to change in 2016 unless Assad is taken down by his own people – palace revolutions will be a general feature through the world of British interests.

Moscow clearly believes that Assad is the best bet in Syria. A lot of people at State Department could copy that but it is never going to be official policy especially as in Moscow Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov could be running Putin.  Watch those two names next year.

Everything is tugging Washington (and the UK) into further involvement in the big places it has failed during the past decade. More troops and close air support in Iraq and Afghanistan has a ring of the military version of American Old Home Week.

The future of Afghanistan is in the hands of Pakistan – always has been. So watch for higher training programmes and arms supplies from Pakistan military to Taliban. Watch also for Taliban’s biggest enemy in Afghanistan in 2016: ISIS.

It is all heady stuff and somehow makes the UK-MOD headaches low budget stuff. But the work is underway to see how much of a battle group or an force projection the carrier programme could make.  One carrier means six or so frigate/destroyer escorts plus a couple of subsurface vessels.

In spite of promises paying for all this is a hard call.  But the toughie for all three services to be sorted in 2016 is manpower. A great tr-service fighting force emerging from the 2015 SDSR – but fewer and fewer people with on-going training programmes to “man” them.

The biggest event of 2016 will be on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November – when the US votes for a new President. On November 9 they will wake in every city anywhere you can name and ask Who Won? They should do.  The new incumbent will be the most important person in the whole world.

On present showing the presidential election will be the most racially influenced presidential election in decades. Latinos, Asian and Black America since Fergusson will pack a  punch this time.

Meanwhile the current tenant on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the 44th President, will be ending his term by going after ISIS in the biggest way he can: hopeless superpowerdom testing to destruction.

And that is almost it except for the little matter of the election of a new secretary general of the UN. Ban Ki-moon goes on December 31 2016.  Who get’s the job.  No one knows. My money – against all the odds called thus far – is on a Bulgarian, foreign minister Irina Bokova.  But what do I know?


Terrorists Don’t Sign Peace Agreements

December 16, 2015


16th December 2015


There are two things we have to understand about fighting terrorism:

A terrorist does not sign peace agreements

An insurgent wins if he does not lose

Take those two points on board then you can put the grand alliance announced in Riyadh this week in some perspective.

You will also get an idea why American led anti-IS policies have the finger prints of a whole lot of pretty dumb Washington analysts written all over them.

The announcement in Riyadh says this:   34 mainly Muslim nations have agreed to join a Middle East, Asian and African axis to fight terrorism.

The group is largely Sunni.  The three missing states from this agreement -Iran, Syria and Iraq – are largely Shia.

The only significance of the announcement is that Gulf States and others others accept that they must do what they should have done in October 2014 – take it upon themselves to destroy the threats from ISIS instead of waiting for the Americans to do it for them.

The military tone poem coming out of all this is that the Saudis understand what ISIS terrorism is all about but cannot do too much about it and the US-led lot do not understand ISIS and they too cannot do much about it.

Talking to American policy wonks it is sadly clear they do not understand that rebellion is a greater power than ever because the means of making rebellion attractive and successful has never been greater.

Until autumn 2014 and with ISIS advancements the average Arab never believed it was possible to change society into something different.  ISIS said we can and we have.

Moreover most at Riyadh understands what America and her allies like the UK do not understand: an insurgency wins if it does not lose. Unlike state to state warfare, a rebellion can slink away and therefore cannot be beaten.  It can be contained as post-World War II America attempted to contain emerging USSR.  But it need never be beaten as long as the will remains.

The further reason for  doubting coalition understanding of what they are into is their continuing belief in signing agreements. That is a very western way of doing things. Making the other side sign means you have won.  Terrorism has no political signature that obliges those coming later to observe such a signature.

Western nations sign as states. Terrorists have no such structure nor authority.

All this says that whatever the plans of Riyadh, of Washington, of Moscow or of any other state, terrorism cannot be beaten because a signature is not a symbol of having lost.

It is a hard thought to follow, but it is the only one to be understood if ISIS is to be contained, which it will have to be because it has nothing to lose and therefore will for ever win.


ISIS: Think The X-factor

December 5, 2015


5th December 2015


Why bomb Syria? Simple.  It is what has to be done until some one comes up with a good idea. Bombing is lethal mood music.

Most of America has never heard of ISIS, IS, ISIL or Da’esh.

Until  a law office pinned the badge on the California shooting a couple of days back ISIS was mostly an unknown here. The rest of America is armed to the teeth to shoot anyone who it thinks needs shooting (more than 300 gun slayings in the US so far in 2015) so does not need the incentive of what happened last month in Paris, France.

Inside the beltway of the Nation’s Capital here the view is broader. Why not? A thousand or so think tankers are making this year’s fortune in personal appearances and consultative values talking nothing else but how to stamp out what we now label as modern fascism.

Yet there is a quiet group that is not yet getting a big hearing because what they have to say is impossible for most to understand.

Executive Washington and not a few on Capitol Hill just as in the UK and France are simple people with little sense of history and even less understanding of what they are facing.

The introduction of the UK bombing in Syria had more to do with the good PR for clean-kill Brimstone missiles than any concept of theatre and strategic concepts that divert the way of ISIL ambitions and what comes next.

The got-to-do-something European notion is more understandable than the American view because Paris could have been in any other of 30 European capitals especially as there is evidence that radicals in Birmingham England were part of the planning for Paris.

In other words, we have a short term plan that cannot work because no one has come up with any true concept of what the threat really amounts to.

Maybe then it is time to work out how we come to live with a thought that has its origins not in post-Paris thinking but in the mind of a man who died ten years ago, George F. Kennan. Kennan was the man who taught us how to handle the ambitions of post-World War II USSR

In 1946 Kennan was the US charge d’Affaires in Moscow. His job was to analyse what Stalin planned for Communist Russia and his establishment of a near abroad of states that would provide a cordon between Russia and Western Europe.  That analysis was in an 8,000 word telegram in 1946 that Kennan sent to the State Department. The shorten version was in Kennan’s conclusion that American policy towards the growing threat must be “firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies”.

The following year, the containment document was published under the nom de plume Mr X in the American journal Foreign Affairs.

Take the model of George Kennan’s report and you will find the kernel of reluctant conclusion of what is going down here in the back rooms of State.

The outline reads like this:

For all the mighty military and political powers of the US led coalition including those in the UK and France, this joint superpower cannot destroy ISIS.

There can be military success with many ISIS killed but the surviving leadership – now across three continents – will continue the threat and consequences in ways that so-called sophisticated Western society cannot handle.

Therefore the Kennan option has to be imagined.  The resources of the US-led coalition has to devise a military and political option to “live with” the threat but as best that can be, keep it in check.  This is the 1946 American policy of containment.

The most remarkable concept is this: containment may be the only part defence the West has but as ISIS increases its success as a caliphate so it will become hogtied by all the restrictions of holding the ground and running a caliphate that in the long term can only be ruled by patronage.

Containment as it was modelled by Kennan and those who followed anticipated three or for decades of Cold War and then the uncertainty of common interests – which is what we have now between Washington and Moscow.

As ISIS moves from an AK-47 enemy to one armed with drones and worse, containment becomes the only option.  The IS move on fellow Wahabi Saudi Arabia can only be imagined.

The weaknesses are obvious in a more complex world than 1946 and powerful regional interests some of which and whom are Western allies. But for the moment this may be the only game in town: bomb to clear the ground for mechanised infantry warfare; the recognition of new boundaries and then the containment of something that is effectively a new world order.

After that? No one could possible know.



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.