Inside The War Against The Islamic State; Wall Street Journal Weekend Interview With U.S. “Special Envoy’ In The War Against The Islamic State — Gen. John Allen
Joseph Rago, had a lengthy interview in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, with General John Allen (USMC ret.) U.S. ‘Special Envoy’ In the war against the Islamic State — and, the reasons Gen. Allen is optimistic, even as a long fight looms. Mr. Rago begins by noting that “some six months ago, the Islamic State army poured South from Syria, through Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates valleys, conquering multiple cities — including Mosul and the border city of Qaim. Iraqi Army regulars disintegrated, the offensive carved out a rump state, controlling somewhere between a quarter, and one-third of Iraq’s sovereign territory — followed by mass executions, repression, and videotaped beheadings followed.”
“Anticipating a strike on Baghdad, the potential fall of the capital, the U.S. Embassy evacuated 1,500 civilians,” mr. Rago writes. “At the time,” he says, one measure of strategic neglect is [was] that the U.S. was flying only a single surveillance sortie a month over Iraq, following the withdrawal of the last American troops in 2011. Saudi Arabia, or Jordan were feared to be the next targets of the Islamic State.”
“Those calamities were interrupted, and now the first beginnings of a comeback may be emerging against the disorder. Among the architects of the progress so far, is John Allen, a four-star Marine Corps general who came out of retirement to lead the global campaign against what he calls “one of the darkest forces that any country has had to deal with.”
“Gen. Allen, is POTUS Obama’s ‘Special Envoy.’ to more than 60 nation and groups that have joined a coalition to defeat the Islamic State, and there is now reason for optimism, even if not “wild-eyed optimism,” he said in an interview this month in his austere offices somewhere in the corridors of the State Department. He was spending a rare few days stateside, by the way of Brussels, among the 16 capitals he visited (many multiple times) as he helped to coordinate the [anti-ISIS] alliance since accepting the mission in September,” Mr. Rago writes.
“At the Brussels Conference,” Mr. Rago noted, “the 60 international partners dedicated themselves to the defeat of the Islamic State, — also known as ISIL, or ISIS, though Gen. Allen prefers to loose Arabic vernacular, Daesh. They formalized a strategy around five common purposes: the military campaign; disrupting the flow of foreign fighters; counter-finance; humanitarian relief; and, ideological delegitimization.”
Gen. Allen “cautions that there is hard fighting ahead; and, victory is difficult to define; but, he points to gradual — yet tangible progress: For the first time, the Islamic State has been confronted on the field and defeated, losing the initiative in battle. The Iraqi security forces are being rebuilt — with a counteroffensive being planned to retake and hold terrain, such as Mosul, Haditha, and Beiji. This week, the Yazidi sect were rescued from a long mountaintop siege at Mt. Sinjar,” Mr. Rago wrote.
“The roughly 1,400 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that have been conducted so far — continue to pound the Islamic State positions and restrict advances. The U.S. now flies 60 reconnaissance missions daily.”
“Unlike it’s antecedent – al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State is something new, “a truly unparalleled threat to the region that we have not seen before,” Gen Allen said. Al-Qaeda in Iraq “did not have the organizational depth, they didn’t have the cohesion the Daesh has exhibited in so many places.” “The group has seized territory, dominated population centers, and become self-financing ” they’re even talking about generating their own currency.”
“But, the major difference is,” Gen. Allen contends, “that we’re not just fighting a force, you know — we’re fighting an idea. The Islamic State has created an image that it is not just an extremist organization; but, an image that it is an Islamic proto-state, in essence — the Islamic Caliphate. It is an image of invincibility; and, an image of an advocate on behalf of the faith of Islam.”
“This ideology has proved to be a powerful recruiting engine, especially internationally. About 18,000 foreign nationals have traveled to fight in the Iraq and Syria war, some of them Uighurs, or Chechens; but, [also] many from Western countries like: the U.K , Belgium, Australia, and the U.S.. About 10,000 Westerners have joined the Islamic State,” Gen. Allen said.
“Often these guys have got no military qualifications whatsoever,” he continues. “They just came to the battlefield to be part of something that they found attractive, or interesting. So, they’re most often, the suicide bombers. They are the ones who have undertaken the most horrendous depredations against the local population. They don’t come out of the Arab world….They don’t have an association with a local population. So, doing what people have done to those populations — is ‘easier’ for a foreign fighter.”
“Among the coalition’s major goals,” Mr. Rago writes, “is to prevent these vicarious jihadists from arriving in the region — or, from returning to their home countries. The coalition is locking down passports, and creating more stringent screening at airports, and border-crossings worldwide.” Port entries remain an issue however.
“A similar effort is underway to interdict [and restrict] the Islamic State’s funding, though the challenge is the group doesn’t rely on outside sponsors, or traditional financial institutions that can be sanctioned. Black-market oil revenues, and stolen money from Iraqi and Syrian banks, mean the Islamic State can pay for weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and salaries for mercenaries.’
“We have been bombing the dickens out of the modular refineries, and tanker trucks,” to disrupt the illicit oil business,” Gen. Allen said, “but the Islamic State is turning to more pernicious methods: “Massive widespread criminal activity, largely extortion, in other words, shaking down the several million people that live under their domination. Sadly, kidnap for ransom is generating a lot of money….A sheik’s son will be taken and the tribe will have to raise the money to ultimately gain his freedom.”
Gen. Allen adds that “Daesh has been very clear in the last several weeks, last couple of months, in undertaking a modern slave trade, if you can imagine that.”
“A more hopeful sign is that the new Iraqi government is more stable, and multi-confessional, after the autocratic, sectarian rule of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. His replacement, Haider al-Abadi, has been “very clear that the future of Iraq — is for all Iraqis,” Sunni, Shi’ite, and Kurd. He has restored relations with Middle Eastern neighbors, and believes in the “devolution of power,” across Iraq’s regions,” Gen. Allen said. “Maliki believed in centralization of power.”
“Defeating the Islamic State inside Iraq is the main effort,” Gen Allen argued, and that the coalition is in broad agreement that Syria, and Bashar Assad’s rule — cannot be solved purely by military means. “A companion, supporting effort, to degrade the Islamic State in Syria is under way, including bombing runs, as well as “shaping effort,” to encourage a moderate Syrian opposition to develop a “more coherent and cohesive political transition in Damascus.”
We’ll see. I am skeptical that the Obama administration will be able to see this through, though I hope I am wrong. From Benghazi, to endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to drawing a Red Line in Syria — only to walk away — this White House team has demonstrated time and again that it’s the gang that can’t shoot straight; and, Gen Allen is one of the few…..adults in the room. V/R,RCP