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27 May 2015


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“Reims”, which is difficult to pronounce,

Patrick Bahzad. In my opinion, your writing is of the same tradition but potentially surpasses that of Bernard Fall – the American Francophile who gave us Street Without Joy. And you do so in English no less, which presumably isn’t your first language.

It would seem that Fall’s chapter on Revolutionary Warfare is in dire need of an update, for the reasons that Col. Lang has already propounded.

Since you, apparently, come from the tradition of Galula and Trinquier, you certainly appear “apropos” (which I can pronounce) for the task at hand, and your contributions are much appreciated.

Patrick Bahzad

Thx for the high praise regarding Fall, might be a bit overstated but thx nonetheless ! I try and keep up with the standards others have set, colonel Lang being one of them.



Thanks again. You highlight the complete lack of information in the West on the Islamic State. All we get is propaganda and Aston Carter’s gaffe. These are hard nose true believers. They were members of Al Qaeda in Iraq or the Baathist Party who survived American targeted bombing and sweep-ups. Naturally, they will use the techniques aimed at them and add the fervor of a people fighting against foreign invaders and heretics. The Americans already ethnic cleansed Iraq. ISIS will seize and hold the Sunni areas. My concern is that this a grand plan to entice the Shiite militia to attack Anbar Province and deplete the Shiite enclaves’ defenses and weaken Iran; much like the Maiden Coup in Kiev was intended to destabilize Russia. Are the borders of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia secure? Will the Gulf State’s internal security police will be able to prevent the building of cells of Sunni true believers who are intent on purifying Mecca? Wars started due to delusions of grandeur and ignorance do not turn out well.


A good piece by former ambassador Dan Simpson....common sense with regrd to our options



You, Sir, need to write a book!

But in the meantime, if you could just translate some of your posts back into French and submit them to a couple of French journals, that would do a lot to elevate the level of public discourse about these matters in the Republic.

Patrick Bahzad


I'm not sure getting more accurate information to the MSM, whether in the US or in Europe, would actually be enough to change the "narrative" about the ME and ISIS.

Patrick Bahzad


I'm not sure there is actually a real plan behind this new offensive, let alone a grand plan !

Patrick Bahzad


Thx for the link, I wasn't aware of this. Is it just a coincidence he's writing for the Pittsburgh Post and not the Washington Post ?

William R. Cumming

Patrick! This is an impressive post. My almost total ignorance of MENA is only improved by reading and thinking about SST posts and comments. But that considered some may find my analysis of interest some may not. Outside MENA I have some limited expertise including the US Armed Forces, NATO, and US FP. My understanding is largely focused by my understanding of Washington thinking and politics and its validity is for others to judge. So here goes!

1. No one in Washington seems able to comprehend the Sunni/Shia rivalry including what drives it and likely outcomes. IMO if it did not exist then Islam might well be an existential threat to the USA and its allies.

2. The paucity of those knowledgeable of ARAB culture and language in Washington is astounding. IMO more people speak FARSI [Court Persian] PASHTO and URDU inside the Beltway than speak Arabic. Could be wrong as always. There are many fewer Ex-PATS in the USA from MENA then from the nation-states of Egypt, SA [if this is a nation-state?], Iran, and Turkey. But this Ex-PAT community seems to have no real effective role in USA FP but perhaps checkmated by Israel.

3. There seems to be almost no expert discussion in OPEN SOURCES of the ORDER OF BATTLE in Syria and Iraq. And no anlysis of UNIT COHESION and tactics and strategy.

4. The U.S IC [Intelligence Community] seems after the fact constantly surprised by MENA events and their impacts.

5. There is clearly a deep and dangerous disconnect in senior military circles of the US Armed Forces as to STRATEGY AND TACTICS with all four services having no clear understanding that employment of force may well result in Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bachevich's BLOWBACK.


I would note that we do need a Bernard Fall to help US understand and Patrick whatever your self-effacement at the moment you fill my bill for that role.

7. The writings and speakings of the Presidential candidates avoid labeling any events in MENA significant to the USA and seem zombie like to me in their failure to articulate policies and strategies in MENA to work our way out of the deep hole we have dug for ourselves.

8. The US Military is about to suffer its most dangerous decline IMO since 1946-1947 and again it is because the fake shield of strategic bombing insulates the US polity from recognizing the SALAMI TACTICS [a slice at a time] that characterized the early post-WWII.

9. The almost total decline of the support of FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS by MSM means we [US] remain blinded to events and changes that impact US.

10. The anti-intellectualism prevailing in American leadership circles is directly related IMO of the decline of FREE SPEECH in Academia and elsewhere. P.L. ban from DoD servers seems to be complete evidence to me.

11. The recruitment to ISIS of MEN AND WOMEN from outside MENA is of major significance and I could not begin to document how significant that has become to future events.

12. The increasing evidence that behind a facade of friendship the puppet relationship of Israel to the USA or the converse is an existential threat to the USA.

Some thoughts in any event!

ex-PFC Chuck

PB, I suspect it's more a matter of the fact that the words and music are out of tune with the Company Song.

Patrick Bahzad

I suspect you got it right !


Great brainstorming WC, I am very, very interested in responses. Notice my response is arbitrary and not to the points that drew most of my attention.


"P.L. ban from DoD servers seems to be complete evidence to me."

I keep wondering if we didn't have whatever kind of variation on that theme before. As always I may be completely misguided, but something about it felt vaguely like a déjá vu.

"anti-intellectualism prevailing in American leadership circles ..."
I noticed this a lot on the US web, without going if into details, whenever I discover it used politically I tend to be somewhat suspicious.

I think the larger topic would deserve studying, but basically I doubt "American leadership circles" can be reduced to being anti-Intellectuals.
Intellectuals are average citizen too in the end, and too succump to group-think occasionally or surrender to the "intellectual/creative icon of the day".

Patrick Bahzad


I'm not sure this is anti-intellectualism, rather the opposite: it's anti-realism or anti-Realpolitik ... if you don't like reality as it is, change it for a "fourth dimension" that you can spin anyway you like.


"Launching Shia militias into the heartland of Sunni Iraq, under a codename ("Labayka ya Hussein") that can only be resented by many Sunnis in Ramadi, Fallujah and elsewhere in Anbar, doesn't bear the hallmarks of a sound strategy."

"Labayka ya Hussein" never was the name of the coming Anbar ops. It was used by some local militia leader and a Reuters reporter picked that up but it was never the official name. That was always "Labayka Ya Iraq"
see: https://twitter.com/SajadJiyad/status/603615544097566721

Besides that "Labayka ya Hussein" is not nearly as sectarian as it seems. Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet, is revered by Sunni and Shia. His name in on one of the huge calligraphies in the (sunni) Hagia Sophia.

Patrick Bahzad

Thx for your insight, now you just have to convince ISIS and their supporters in Anbar of your well-founded argument, good luck with that pal ... Your kind of logic is gonna get you killed in those areas !

As for the name of the operation, it was as I stated, don't play cheap propaganda tricks here. The name has now been changed because of the shit-storm it caused.

What's going on is an incompetent government trying to do damage limitation, and no twitter tweet is gonna change that. I've been following events closely and I stand by what I wrote. "Labayka Ya Iraq" is a joke, would even be funny if it wasn't that sad a story.



What you say about the name of Hussein is only theoretically true. In Iraq, his name and that of Hassan his brother are Red Flag symbols of the aspirations of the Shia to run the country and the Sunnis. pl


Patrick, I vaguely agree in this context. ... Vaguely means, I may not quite get your challenge. If that is what it is? Does it help if I acknowledge that in earlier phases of my life I may have supported more idealist/Utopian positions versus Realpolitik? Without ever being interested in politics and/or the military though. ... Not the sloganeering type of political speech though, ever.

My intention is not to spin anything: "if you don't like reality as it is". But 911 and/or especially its aftermath have turned my rather limited political positions upside down.

Question: "fourth dimension", could this forth dimension ever succeed without relying on earlier three-dimensional-positions taken for granted by one or the other?

And, don't ask me why: Sons of the Levant, or its NGO variety left an imprint on my mind, after I read your contribution. ...

Patrick Bahzad

I wasn't referring to you with that "fourth dimension" quote, but to the politicos of all kinds, in DC, Berlin, Paris and elsewhere. Has nothing to do with having an ideal, but seeing reality for what it is, not how you want it to be.

Babak Makkinejad

Wasn't there also a plaque with the name "Fatma" on it at Hagia Sofia?

It does not seem to be there any more.

Mark Gaughan

I'm reading this on a DOD computer.

Allen Thomson

Not quite on-thread and I forget if this has been recommended before, but Oryx Blog comes up with a lot of good pictures from the conflict:


William R. Cumming

Thanks LeaNder!

William R. Cumming

Perhaps wrong PB but I unfortunately believe REALITY what the majority believe even when reason says otherwise.

William R. Cumming

Winston Churchill is reputed to have said something like IF YOU DON'T HAVE HEART WHEN YOUNG AND DON'T HAVE HEAD WHEN OLD YOU DID NOT LIVE!

Patrick Bahzad

True and to be more complete it has to be said that the Ottoman Empire both had Sunni subjects but also a large minority of Shias under its rule, as well as Christians and other minorities. Giving ottoman Turks as example of the Sunnis benevolence towards Hussein seems seriously misguided ... Last time I checked it was Sunni arrows that killed him !
His father was caliph and as such he had a legitimacy among Sunnis too as he represented the entire Umma, even though he was opposed both by the Syrians and the kharidjites who finally killed him, but Hussein never was caliph and was never recognized by the Sunnis. He really is the first representative of the Shiat Ali as such ... Maybe b should go to kerbala and ask how many Sunnis are among the crowd during achoura !

Babak Makkinejad

Ottomans and Safavids were inheritors of the same Seljuk synthesis that was created through the incursion of the barbaric Turkic nomads into the Iranian Plateau and later Anatolia - sort of like the new improved post-Roman civilization that emerged in Western and Central Europe in late antiquity.

Sunnis outside of that Seljuk civilization are entirely different in their attitude towards Imam Hussein.

different clue

William R. Cumming,

Should I understand this comment to be saying that if the majority believes something to be real, it really is made real by the power of that majority belief? Or only in the limited sense that if the majority believes something is real, they will act on that majority belief even if applied reason would lead that majority to act otherwise?

different clue

If ISIS possesses all the Intelligence resources, methods, skills etc. of the Iraqi Baathists, and the Baathists had an essential near-monopoly on all these resources etc. during the time of their rule in Iraq ( with the possible exception of some such sources in Iraqi Kurdish hands); then is it fair to suppose that the Shia rump-Iraq government is coming from so far behind in acquiring and developing these resources that it essentially will never have them? Meaning the Shia rump-Iraq government will never be able to fight ISIS in this sphere in Iraq?

If so, would it make sense for us to abandon our overthrow-Assad policy and completely join Russia/Iran/Hezbollah/etc. in supporting the SAR government and army effectively enough that they can stamp all traces of non SAR activity completely out within the borders of Syria? I ask that because since the SAR government figures are Baathists like the former government of Iraq was, and they know and have similar intelligence resources to what the Iraqi Baathists have given to ISIS, then the SAR forces would be the logical people to be able to fight ISIS in this sphere . . . within Syria itself at least surely.


I don't play cheap propaganda tricks. I gave a source. You have what reason to doubt that source? Please let me know why.

This link leads to three more Iraqi sources about the official name of the operation.


The Beaver

Oh the foreingie:


"Tajikistan's special forces chief has appeared in a video claiming to have joined Islamic State forces in Syria.

Gulmurod Khalimov is seen in the footage dressed in black and holding a gun. He went missing in early May."

Yet he was fighting extremists on behalf of his govt.


Re: the Simpson article. What is not clear to me is why ISIS should have its state/statelet in Iraq and Syria while the new Kurdistan would be restricted to Iraq only. Obviously Turkish and Iranian areas are off limits, but what about Rojava? Should ISIS get preferential treatment because they have done more killing lately?
I, too, would prefer a "no weapons to failed-state areas"-policy over the bill before the House. But it is easy to see how a "no trainers/soldiers, but weapons galore"-stance is going to result if a topic like Rojava doesn't come on the table. I.e., it follows a discernible kind of logic: let them fight it out themselves, while wie provide weapons to the side(s) that annoy us the least at the moment. And that means accepting ISIS as a political reality is not in the cards. If it were, the least-effort option of just sending weapons would become unavailable.
I would like to hear Col. Lang's opinion on this.

Patrick Bahzad

Because the Iraqi government changed its narrative only after strong protests from Washington. For 24 hours, it was an Iraqi member of parliament and Shia militia spokesman who announced the name of the operation on every news outlet and he was left unchallenged by the government.
Besides, the Twitter links you're giving are self contradictory: some mention the operation as "labbayka ya Iraq" others say "labbayka ya rasoulaAllah" ... Which one is it going to be ? The only consistent statement came from the militias who have been saying the same since the beginning ! My take is the government wasn't even asked for its opinion, abadi is only officially in charge but the ones calling the shots are the militia leaders, that's what this chaos about code names actually means.

Patrick Bahzad

A few comments on your posts and you can make up your mind about your questions:
1. ISIS doesn't have all the resources or manpower of Saddam's security forces. They have taken over the methods and some of the ex-Baathist military and intelligence officers.
2. The Iraqi state's army and security forces have been trained for years by the U.S., and hat includes the 20 billion U.S. dollars that were used to equip these forces. If that is not enough, I don't know what is.
3. The Baathist regimes in Syria and Iraq were very different and actually enemies to each other. The official US strategy at the moment is try and degrade ISIS in Iraq and then see what to do about it in Syria. Factually, even though it is embarrassing to say so and admit it, there is a kind of informal alliance already with al Assad, but most people in the West would like to see him gone somehow, without the jihadis winning over Damascus. I don't see how that would be possible.


Per Dan Simpson: "The government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is Shiite — our having put the Shiites, Iraq’s majority group, in power when we occupied the country. They show no disposition to share power with the Sunni 20 percent of the population or the Kurds, another 20 percent."

True to a great degree, but at the same time the Sunni of Iraq have never reconciled themselves with not being in charge, so conflict is assured regardless...

Babak Makkinejad

As I said, "ISIS will spread".

William R. Cumming


William R. Cumming

Usually the latter but sometimes the former!



They gave up? pl

Patrick Bahzad

MG, if your computer is missing from your office tomorrow morning, you'll know why ... Don't trip over the yellow crime scene tape ;-))
More seriously, glad to hear if they have come back to their senses !

different clue

Patrick Bahzad,

Thank you for replying. If ISIS didn't receive all of Saddam-Baath manpower or forces, dare we hope that some are holding themselves back and waiting to see if the Shia rump-Iraq state will finally offer the Sunni Arab Iraqis a genuinely fair deal? And if they consider themselves convinced that the Shiaraqis have finally offered it and really mean it, help out the Shiaraqi side against ISIS in return for co-equal membership in a post-Shia-dominated post-ISIS Iraq later?

I will take your point 2 as meaning that the rump Shia Iraq forces will indeed never equal or even approach the ISIS side for all these intelligence capabilities you describe.

And for 3, I had remembered reading that the Syria and Iraq Baath became bitter rivals (I believe over who would lead the United Arab Republic some day?) well before Assad and Hussein became respective presidents of the two countries. But my thinking was that the Syria Baath government also spent years developing its own intelligence people and abilities, got training from some of the same or equivalent Soviet era services that the Iraq Baath government got for its intelligence people, etc. If I am right about that, then I was thinking that the Syria government actually has the skills and mindset to do intelligence against ISIS intelligence, and all the SAR needs is all-out assistance and support from its backers combined with total withdrawal of assistance and support from the Syrian rebels. Perhaps that could permit the SAG folks to eliminate all functioning traces of rebellion, including destroying ISIS within Syria, and thereby deprive ISIS-Iraq of its Syria rear area.


This is an excellent interview regarding the Baiji refinery. Looks like when IS realized they couldn't hold it, they opted to destroy it.

This is/was the key petrol production facilities in Iraq and one of the only meaningful refineries in the IS-land. IS-land will need to obtain refined petrol from outside sources now for a long time.

Not mentioned in this article but referenced last week, Saddam's nephew was killed trying to take and hold the refinery for IS.


So IS is going to a scorched earth strategy on key infrastructure they can't hold. Interesting. Any thoughts of a negotiated relationship with its Shia or Kurdish neighbors that might have long term economic viability goes out the window with this shift. That leaves dams, electricity, water (too much too little), land transportation routes as the other resource still in their control and of interest to their neighbors.

The interviewer suggests that IS shifted some of their forces from Baiji to Ramadi just before Ramadi fell. Given how important the refinery is to any population in the region, I've got to wonder if IS has enough mobile men at arms to mount two concurrent battle fronts in Iraq?


"....would it make sense for us to abandon our overthrow-Assad policy and completely join Russia/Iran/Hezbollah/etc. in supporting the SAR government and army effectively enough that they can stamp all traces of non SAR activity completely out within the borders of Syria?

It would make perfect sense, given some give and take, agreements and such, between your stated parties. I think this is fantasy infused by Morpheus, as Bibi would frown on such an alliance, and what he says goes. No US government now in place, or in the near term, would dare to oppose his Dictum

Patrick Bahzad

I'm not sure where you get these ideas from but I think you're wrong. ISIS didn't need that refinery although it would have been a great asset for them but it's not vital to them. Economic viability is much more complex than just oil

The Twisted Genius


Another great article. Thanks. I now see what you mean about IS intel and PSYOPS being impressive. It is embarrassingly impressive. We look like dolts in comparison. I'm not surprised by this. IMO, our HUMINT methodology in Iraq was clumsy, unimaginative and predictable. We had a near total reliance on interpreters and merely expanded networks of informants. I thought we could probably trace them all back to a single informant zero if we looked closely. I also don't think we were near as aggressive in testing our sources. We reported what they brought in too willingly largely due to the push to get the numbers up. I don't think we really improved over the many years we were in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I sent one of my young collectors over there and he was shocked by what he found. He was a quite proficient Arabic linguist, the only one in the collection element he worked with at the time. He found there was no use of cover. He developed his own and used them himself to get beyond just sending the interpreter out to the FOB gate to pick up the local source for debriefing and tasking. I taught my collectors to know the language, know the culture, be as devious and imaginative as you can be and never forget your opponent will be as devious and imaginative as he can be. Unfortunately, that approach wasn't all that common in our intel operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Babak Makkinejad

Iranian papers state that crude oil is being shipped from ISIS territory in what used to be Eastern Syria to Turkey.

I imagine that ISIS are receiving refined petroleum products from Turkey.

Patrick Bahzad

Absolutely ! Although overall volume has gone down since airstrikes started, but they probably make quite a lot of money this way ... They also have smaller Chinese made mobile refineries that can be used to produce refined oil for their own needs. What they sell as crude oil to turkey may been end up in Western European cars actually ...


I found this BBC interview to be interesting and pretty frank. Ayman Oghanna is a journalist who was embedded with Iraqi Golden Division.

Patrick Bahzad

They just have a system with a proven track record and they adapted it to the current situation. They also have good professionals who can implement the strategy in their areas of influence ... Dont forget they're actually in the "Sunni triangle" which has always been their turf. The fact they are effective there is not really a surprise when you think of it. What is more surprising is, as you say, how inefficient we have become at basic counter-Intel. Anything that is not high tech, we have let go of it because we thought we wouldn't need it anymore. Thing is, the technology gap works both ways ... If you're very low tech you can stay under the radar and still be effective. And I didnt even go into cell structures, compartmentalization and funding of operations which can remain totally undetected because they can be handled through informal networks that don't show up on any bank statement.
The most worrying trend though is that I don't see any real counter-intelligence strategy being implemented to weaken ISIL from within. We seem to rely solely on screening and scanning anything electronic and cross reference with GEOINT and information from local allies. That's not enough. The problem is we may not be able anymore to do more. Not ruthless enough or shrewd or willing to get our hands dirty, and by that I don't mean sending in killer drones or engage in EITs but strangle the life out of the organisation from within, exploit its own paranoia.
That is another downside of the COINistas strategy: they subcontract the basic Intel work to local assets and don't have or keep the resources within the military itself.

Patrick Bahzad

Sorry but I think this is bullshit. the Iraqi army is an empty shell and that's that. Golden division not sectarian ? Which planet do these people live on ? Do they know who is in charge of ISOF and golden division ? What's not sectarian about that ... The spin doctoring keeps going and going.

Patrick Bahzad

There might be some sunnis currently sympathetic to ISIS who could be won over again if they're offered a place in the "new" Iraq. Whether and how that is going to happen is a good question.
Shias have good Intel in Shia areas but not in Anbar and neither in Kurdish areas.
As for Syria they certainly have info that we don't have. I'm hearing there have been recently some attempts at re establishing contact on junior level with Syrian Intel. However, ISIS top level leaders are all Iraqis and a very tight knit bunch from the "camp bucca" academy. They will be almost impossible to penetrate with human source unless we have someone on inside since around 2008.

The Twisted Genius

A contributing factor to our inability to wage effective counterintelligence and HUMINT operations is our recently acquired unhealthy fascination with quantifiable metrics. We squeeze everything that is human out of our craft in order to reduce it to a series of checklists and spreadsheets.

I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment. We don't have a ruthless, shrewd, down in the weeds strategy to deal with ISIL and we may have lost the ability to devise and carry one out. As Colonel Lang often says, this is the place for hard hearted empaths.

Peter C

Mark, I tried on a DOD computer also, the site came up but in raw HTML. This was on Monday the 25th.


Patrick you say ISIS didn't need that refinery but ISIS, probably the Baathist component, fought for over a year to get that refinery and now they had to blow it up because they couldn't hold it. It is clearly of value to them as there is insufficient exportable O&G in their controlled region for a viable economy long term and very little refined petrol. Loss of this infrastructure is irreplaceable to the population in IS territory.

Over a year ago before the IS rage hit, Iraq was a refined petrol importer. When the Baiji refinery was fouled up last year dashing Iraqi refinery capacity, the Iraqi government asked and got support from Iran which had its own refined petrol import problems for many years. Iran has had to reduce its subsidies on gasoline twice recently and while it is trying to bring refineries on line it will take a long time. So the imports have come to Iraqi government territories from the Gulf States. It isn't going to ISIS territories Does IS have cash? Prices reported about two months ago before Baiji was demolished were double in IS territories and gas lines were formed in Kurdish territories from those able to move through IS lines. Now as you know IS has restricted travel from places like Mosul so the situation has got to be getting worse. IS might be able to buy from Turkey which by the way has very high gasoline prices but less than a year ago Turkey had to ransom its fuel drivers from IS and hundreds of Turkish tanker trucks were stolen by IS so the remaining trucks don't go into IS territory anymore. And oh by the way there isn't a refinery at Baiji anymore for them to drive to now even if they wanted bringing or taking petrol. This fatal economic flaw to any long-term Islamic State can't be lost on the former Baathists though who knows about the religious elements of IS.

I think the other point you seemed to pass over is that ISIS doesn't seem to have enough mobile troops to press both down the Tigris and the Euphrates at the same time. It seems to be one and a feint.


The Chinese bootleg refineries are suitable for low volume diesel production. They have been being systematically reduced by air strikes. My understanding is that low grade diesel was being sold in Turkey at deep discounts through intermediaries to beat high Turkish fuels tariffs but the Turks were constricting this trade after the tanker truck seizures. The fact is there isn't a lot of exportable O&G in the ISIS territories relative to the economic needs for cash that must be emerging.


Tri-State DC area is home to 3rd largest (and most Techi) Farsi community, after LA and NYC.


His father's skull was split in two by a sword, from behind, when he kneeled in the mosque's Mehrab, from behind. That does not make Ali neither his followers anti-Sunni nor the other way around. The major confrontation is one of Wahab and the rest. Wahab, alas, has more powerfull and better loudspeakers.


You want to deal with European recruits? There is a twisted ruthless strategy: empathy with their mothers. Their society is matriarchal. There is no mother who's is willing to loose a child for DAESH (forget the bravado) and there is no child who is willing to accept the suffering of it's parent, just for the sake of a fake devious ideology. One just HD to increase the benefits and the costs of the two different choices, for their family, without engaging in criminal behavior. Would loosing financial state support in Europe, frequent house visits by security forces, requests to report to the Palace of Justice to discuss the descendant's case... be helpful?

I understand that what I write is country to what I analyzes and complained about Europe, in my despise to Mr. Bahzad.

Patrick Bahzad

Prevention is always better than coercion, but I'm afraid Western States don't have the personnel for house visits to every family that has a member on the "radicalization list" and besides, some people never pop up on that list anyway.

Patrick Bahzad

I said Baiji wasn't vital to their operations, I didn't say they didn't want it. Of course they did. More importantly though, they didn't want the Iraqi government to have it either (it was one of the main refineries in the country). Regarding they oil production and smuggling, as I mentioned, ISIS capabilities have been degraded by Coalition airstrikes, but not destroyed, far from it.
In that regard, maybe you're privy to Pentagon AAR of aistrikes against ISIS' oil production facilities, so you know more about this, but I am not. However, I have checked the official list of airstrike targets and in the year 2014 alone, more than 80 % of all US airstrikes were carried out around Kobane, which isn't exactly an oil rich area.
If you take away the targeted strikes at ISIS personnel and military equipment, there's not that much left that was devoted to degrading their economic capabilities, now even less so, as most airstrikes are combat missions.
Targeting ISIS' oil business is the right strategy but it's going to be slow to yield results, and if the airstrikes stop, ISIS will try and rebuild its capabilities right away. It's a fluid situation, and more complicated than you seem to believe.
That being said, obviously, the oil business is of strategic importance to ISIS, but if the border to Turkey isn't shut down, the airstrikes alone - at the current rate - are never going to be enough to do the job.
As far as moving around troops, I'm not sure what you mean exactly. ISIS controls most of the Tigris river banks from Mosul all the way down to Tikrit, and then again south of Samarra. Why would they want to move large contingents of troops there in open ground where US or even Iranian aircraft could hit them easily ?
And just as a side note, they took Ramadi and Palmyra almost simultaneously, that's not one and a feint, that's 1+1.

Patrick Bahzad

You're correct about small production volumes of the bootleg refineries. But that small production is enough for the "Caliphate's" army. Besides, "systematically reduced by airstrikes" sounds like PC Pentagon lingo. These bootleg refiniries are easier to hide, easier to repair and easier to replace, so basically you got no idea whether they have been systematically "reduced" or not.

Again, seeing the oil business as ISIS' only source of income is a mistake, if that means focusing on hitting the large refineries and just hoping for the best. Of course, it's going to hurt them, and make prices soar, but it's not going to stop them, well apparently not after 10 months of that strategy being implemented already. Maybe there's something wrong with the strategy in the first place ?
If you're interested in the subject of ISIS finances and their weaknesses, there are a couple of well drafted open source reports about it. Targeting the oil refineries is an easy and obvious choice. It does have certain results, but there are other ways of fighting an economic war against ISIS which might be more effective, but harder to implement.
Again, as long as the Turkish border isn't shut down, these measures are only going to produce partially positive results.

Patrick Bahzad

It was a poisoned blade that killed him I think and it wasn't held by a Sunni. Regarding the whole discussion about biased operational code names or not, the discussion in pointless, as there is obviously strong resentment among Anbar's Sunnis, not just supporters of ISIS. And from that point of view, we are seeing two "sectarian" armies facing each other in the Ramadi region.

Regarding your last statement, I would strongly disagree. As we've discussed extensively on SST, dissent and "fitna" within Islam is not a novelty that appeared with the Wahhabis.
It is a feature that is a fact since the death of the Prophet ... Civil war started almost right away and 3 of the four Rashidun caliphs met a violent Death. That was more than one 1 000 years before ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

Patrick Bahzad

TTG, quantifiable metrics was already a disease during Vietnam as PL can certainly confirm ... This is just a continuation along the similar misguided lines (times ten thx to all the ELINT, COMINT, SIGINT BS).
"Hard hearted empaths", good description from PL ! But where are they ?


there are rumors Bibi and his crew are waiting for an incident that allows them to have a another go at Hezbollah, Lebanon or the Northern frontier:

Philip Weiss:

relying on a message from a friend:
"The next “cutting the grass” to the north and on a pretty tight schedule, this summer. It mustn’t leave time for the powers to ratify the P+5 agreement with Iran. Netanyahu’s design, Parsi and Pillar suggest, is to draw Hezbollah into attacking Israel, by provocations it can’t but respond to (tricky enough to be represented as unprovoked in the American MSM). Iran won’t let Hezbollah suffer defeat without a show of support; even if they allow it, Israel can manufacture evidence of support – and then: “Remember, Obama, you have our back.” End of treaty, goal achieved: everlasting hostility between the US and Iran. (Parsi and Pillar are separate planets – I don’t think they have collaborated before – they must be strongly impressed by the danger.)"

refering to Trita Parsi & Paul Pillar:

I am wondering a bit about his assumption of "an Iranian show of support" and what exactly he has in mind.


"Again, as long as the Turkish border isn't shut down, these measures are only going to produce partially positive results."

I wondered about that somewhere, but I am not sure if I understand.

Hard to sort out who's who among refugees no doubt. ...

How exactly should this look like /be done in your opinion?

Patrick Bahzad

shut down doesn't mean another Berlin wall.
The problem is not so much the people who try to leave Syria for Turkey (except if we're talking Kurdish militants which is a worry for the Turks I suppose), but the main issue is people and equipment getting into Syria from Turkey, as well as contraband and fighters getting out of Syria into Turkey.
Border operation should just look like any large scale border control.The fact it hasn't been done is a tell-tale sign of the West's (I include Turkey in there) scizophrenia and double standards when it comes to bringing down ISIS. We want them to lose, but we also want to weaken and get rid of Assad.


WRC, I should add the R, maybe?

I wasn't really referring to the heart, as the conventional center of emotions and or empathy, I was referring to something that may fit "fourth dimensions" if I read it as basic, underlying only partly reflected core ideologies.

One statement by a good friend made me think: If you haven't read about something, you don't seem to see it.

Unfortunately I forget the context. ;)


Hmmm? Concerning double standards, you may be correct. But strictly the Berlin wall wasn't on my mind, maybe the Mediterranean Sea?

No need to respond to this: Fact is I have not the slightest idea concerning European politics towards Syria before I watched the neoconservative argument closer in the wakes of 911 closer. I wouldn't even have been aware of the Golan Heights before. Or hadn't really taken a closer look at Israel's genesis.

I would need to know a lot more to get the "double standard" versus, if you allow, some type of political inertia torque.*

Maybe Amir should direct his disdain on me the nitwit and not on you the messenger? ;)

* on the other hand, maybe I should go back to the history of Balkan War ...? Only the horseshoe and Kosovo/a managed to draw my deeper interest. But then, I was less busy at that time.

Mark Gaughan

I don't know if they did. When I first learned, here, that the DOD was blocking SST, I commented what a bummer that was because I enjoy reading SST at lunch. But I’m getting (it was never blocked for me), the complete SST site. I've been getting SST on my blackberry all the time also. The Saker’s website was blocked. I put in a request to have it unblocked. It was unblocked.

William R. Cumming

Thanks Amir!

William R. Cumming

LeaAnder! The "R" stands for Root! Elihu Root one of my heroes in American history both Secretary of State and of War but not related that I know of.



My experience indicates to me that except for technical collection and data handling, Reliance on number based skills are poison in intelligence work. Typically, such reliance leads to discounting of human factors in a problem that are too numerous to be dealt with by machines. pl


I didn't say that O&G was their only economic activity. What it did bring though was foreign currency. I agree with you that Turkish smuggling remains viable and likely there is leakage with Kurds as well and perhaps with the Assad regime elements.

A year ago I thought what was going to happen is that IS would take Beiji and the Kurds would continue to ship crude by pipe from Kirkuk area fields and the Sunni Arabs in Beiji would refine it with a markup and sell it back and smuggle it to Turkey. But then the pipeline was turned off. Then a few months ago IS raided up the pipeline toward Kirkuk and adjacent oil fields but were stopped near the canal and driven back with US air support. Then when this month and last the Iraqi government went after the refinery after taking Tikrit and then IS just blew the whole thing up. From that we might speculate that IS didn't think they were going to get it back or alternately they thought Iranian artillery allegedly to support the Shia advance, if open source can be believed, might also have considered destroying the refinery if the government offensive stalled. But in the end, it means that the prospect of a viable long term economy for the Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shia in the area has gone out the window.

You are right of course about Palmyra though my understanding is that it actually didn't involve a large number of men for a sustained period. And I would just note that in Iraq IS doesn't seem able to mount more than one sustained push at a time. Which makes me wonder if the Kurds, the Coalition and the Iraqi government could at least just agree to push in 3 geographically distinct spots within their own spheres at the same moment in time (a minimal level of coordination) could some progress be made against IS perhaps next Fall?


"Their society is matriarchal."

Whose? Europeans or the one of the respective recruits?

could you slightly elaborate on that?

Patrick Bahzad

Absolutely ... and it reinforces some people's delusion, given that they can come up with just any numbers that suit them, regardless with how far away they are from reality.


roots, no doubt can mutate into some type of "fourth dimensions".

I can't promise I'll look into Elihu Root. Post 911 I bought a book on the history of US foreign policy and to be honest, I haven't read it.

If I had to think long and hard enough to declare anyone my hero, it may be William Shakespeare, ... since he got me interested in historical context. And maybe Frank Zappa as a musician caught somewhere in between what we call E=earnest or U=entertainment music, notice not on the level of his words but on the level of his music.

Frank Zappa, the American or his life to the extend I am aware of it, would lead to his early LA experiences. I write that with Richard Sale's story on the back of my mind.

Patrick Bahzad

Agreed about Baiji being a blow to ISIS. Question though: did they really think they could get away with it ? that close to Iran, Baghdad and government controlled areas ? Not sure. I'm not saying they planned blowing it up from the start, but as a contingency plan, it was there from the start.
You're right about the increasing difficulties they're facing with O&G production and smuggling. However, they are quite resourceful and have already started working on ways to overcome the losses they took (including through contacts with Russian and Chinese companies, believe it or not). And if the airstrikes stop, they will resume production and smuggling on larger scale than before ! How long can the US sustain such a campaign that doesn't seem to make a big difference ? It's not cheap you know ...
In the long run, obviously, ISIS prospects as a viable State-like entity don't look good and should be degraded as much as possible, as this is one way of getting at them, but the "oil" weapon will definitely not be enough.
Don't forget they also control major wheat production areas in Iraq and Syria, they are sitting on a ton of Phosphate that can be extracted and sold as well. And they control most of the cement industry in Iraq ... sounds odd, but it's true and it's worth a bunch of money. Waging economic war against ISIS means walking a fine line between hurting the organisation and not punishing the civilians in the area. That's why the banking system in ISIS territory is still functioning and is connected to global markets. An interesting weapon would be stronger currency control in the border areas, as ISIS handles most of its cash dealings in dollars. Take that away from them and they will have trouble paying their trading partners In Syrian pounds I'm sure !
More generally, it's important to neutralize their efforts at building a viable State, which they have started doing. Striking oil and gas facilities won't be enough in that regard though.
As for the the Kurds, I wouldn't put it passed them to work out another form of agreement for "peaceful coexistence", if it's a win-win for them and ISIS. I think it's rather unlikely they can be convinced to stage a major military campaign against al-Baghdadi. There will be some arm-twisting to get them to agree to such a thing, but Barzani and Talabani are experienced operators and know what is good for their people and what isn't. Can' see them taking part in a major offensive against ISIS if they are left alone in the North.
As for Palmyra, it's the same with most ISIS operations, they never commit large number of troops to an attack, especially not a town in the middle of the desert. Would be like shooting fish in a barrel if they arrived with 5 000 men in pick-up trucks ... They only start parading them once they're in the streets of the cities they conquered
I don't know exactly how much of a large scale operation they could actually stage, or how many simultaneous operations, but I would be very cautious about giving an estimate. Personally, I think they would only commit significant number of troops attacking several targets from possibly different directions if the goal is Baghdad or take parts thereof, for example all the neighbourhoods on the Western bank of the Tigris.

William R. Cumming

ALL: Has the U.S. in its foreign policy ever recognized SPHERES OF INFLUENCE?

Was containment of Soviets such a recognition?


Patrick, very impressive article, and equally impressive use of intelligence by ISIS. As an operator, though, as much as a 2, one thing jumped out as completely unrealistic--your account of the camp "SOBL" raid. Don't buy it, at least as described. You're telling me that an enemy crafty enough to develop a lure like that, with time and plenty of firepower, couldn't predict the locations of in extremis extraction HLZs, and make near infallible plans to destroy the helos as they come in for extraction? Even given a surprise entry, via stealth patrol or quick fast rope, they had plenty of time to target the inevitable rotary wing platforms coming to pull the boys from the firefight. Almost nothing is easier to do than shoot down a hovering helo at a predictable place, given time, planning, and plenty of the right firepower.

Medicine Man

It is more than a little disturbing that the DOD would feel the need to block out contrary opinions.

Babak Makkinejad

You have written:

"Waging economic war against ISIS means walking a fine line between hurting the organization and not punishing the civilians in the area. That's why the banking system in ISIS territory is still functioning and is connected to global markets. ..."

The United States and specially EU were not at all squeamish about hurting Iranian civilians at all over the course the last 4 years.

To me this an indication that ISIS is desired to exist as a leverage against Syria & Iran.

Patrick Bahzad


Agree with you technically. However, I din't want to get into details about likelihood of the operation, as it would have taken too much space in the article.

Regarding how it went down, I didn't say Delta fast roped out of their black hawks like during the raid on the Abottabad "OBL" compound. That is not how it went down.
You also have to take into account the likely forces present on both sides and the landscape/environment, meaning it's not exactly easy to hide 50 men from thermals that have eyes on site.

Acutally the helos landed at a certain distance from the target, and Delta were given close air support and cover from several DAPs. There was also other aircraft in the immediate vincinity.
What you're saying makes perfect sense but try looking at it from the enemy's perspective and possibilities. May give you a different view on how they would handle such an operation and why.
First of all, all of this hypothetical of course, ISIS know they can't engage any US detachment from distance as their firepower and range would be overmatched and their troops destroyed instantly. They have to wait and go for a "close quarter fight" to even out the odds and avoid close air support being called in.
Then, the weaponry they deployed was light weapons and fixed machine guns positions, no more. Using manpads for example, if they got some, would have given away their position too early. Regarding visibility on the ground, if they got no proper night vision gear, and no electronic detection devices, they gonna have to wait for an assault team to close in on them and open fire only when Delta arrives within range.
Finally, again hypothetical, I suspect taking US servicemen prisoner would be much more valuable to ISIS than shooting down a helo or taking it out as it arrives on LZ and then go for body count. Don't forget the media war aspect to it: you can't parade a destroyed helo on TV the way they do with their hostages.
I know it sounds a bit cold said like that, but you got to think how the enemy thinks and based on those assumptions, the scenario seems plausible. However, I wasn't personally on the ground, that is true. What is uncontested though is that there was a firefight on site, that the hostages weren't there and there hasn't been any other raid until the "Abu Sayyaf" operation.
I hear what you saying though ... it was a tough call to make whether or not to give both accounts.

The Twisted Genius


To make the defense of Camp SOBL as impregnable as you suggest would risk defeat of the whole purpose of the deception operation. The ISIL planners were crafty enough to know that the intelligence focus on the camp would be extreme prior to the raid. The stronger defensive preparations you suggest could be spotted by focused US surveillance. You have to take risks when planning deception operations.


Trust me, I'm looking at it from the enemy's perspective. You're presenting this as the crown jewel of deception operations. Serious planning, by pros.and a long time commitment to an ambush scenario. Good IED makers. A valuable enough target to rig the entire place to blow (a tactic used during US occupation). An organization with plenty of money for NODs. You don't know, for sure, if or when they are coming, but you know a significant Time on Target is needed to search for hostages and get into every room. You don't plan for disrupting the unpredictable arrival, you plan on disrupting the departure. Visuals for Desert One and 3 October were both pretty significant propaganda victories. A helo load of dead Bragg bodies, and as you noted, possibly captured survivors, would have made it even better. I just hope your sources for the rest of the article on IS tradecraft, which I found fascinating, were better than your source for this op. It's also possible that they plan like geniuses, but shoot like the Thee Stooges!


TG: Not what I'm arguing at all. I wrote more below, before I saw your comment, You don't do this kind of totally creative deception operation unless you also plan for a big big payoff at the end. And there's no evidence they did.

William R. Cumming

A very important and insightful comment IMO! Thanks!

William R. Cumming

The failure of the BODY COUNT to mean much to me stems to that metrics failure in RVN.

William R. Cumming

FBI announced its resources too limited to track all that might be radicalized.



I take note of the absence of an e-mail address although your location is interesting. What, if anything, can you tell us of DoD HUMINT efforts against IS? pl

William R. Cumming

Great comment!

Patrick Bahzad

PL, Joe, TTG,

This is an interesting discussion. To be perfectly honest, I know I'm gonna blow my cover now, but I hoped for someone with expertise enough and recent experience in the area to comment on this, as this story is one that truly went under in no time when it became public the U.S. had attempted something in July 2014.
So just for the record, I only write based on open source info, bits and pieces that anybody could find if doing the right research. That's a first limitation on what can be said or conjectured about events such as this.
Regarding sources, I guess it's a legit question to wonder how much of all this can be considered plausible or real (leaving the camp SOBL aside). All I can say in that regard is trust me.
As a principle, I think we have to recognize - not as praise but as matter of fact - that an organization that was barely alive in 2010 and is now controlling half of northern Iraq and eastern syria must be doing some things right. And trust me again, it isn't that they got high speed units all through their ranks. I keep mentioning this but probably need to emphasize more: ISIS is not what it is because of its fighting force, but because of its intelligence apparatus first and foremost, and because of the death wish of a number of its troops.
Again, this is very important in the discussion about boots on the ground: ISIS as combatant force is not a crack outfit, far from it ! There certainly is some truth to Joe's last comment about shooting like stooges, who knows ...
As far as camp SOBL is concerned, Joe's and TTG's comments are both valid IMO. On the one hand, ISIS might have made more out of this if they had really put top notch units on site, assuming they have people of that caliber (do they ? Do you know ?), but on the other hand, keeping a low profile all along was safer if they didn't want to attract any unnecessary attention. And they are paranoid about attracting attention !
Tactically I agree, it would be more interesting to disrupt the extraction of the rescue party, but it might not have been feasible in the circumstances.
One thing to keep in mind as well, regarding the pay-off Joe is mentioning. Don't think short term gain or tactical only. Maybe they had a pay-off in mind, maybe the pay-off was just showing us that Intel from local sources was not to be trusted, maybe anything more than that was just a bonus, any dead or captive US serviceman would have done I'm sure. Maybe they also did shut up and didn't make big statements about how they foiled the rescue attempt (which they did at the end of the day), because they wanted to keep us guessing about what had happened. Why blow the cover of an operation if it's still good to go ? Why say more than you absolutely need to ? Those are questions that are the essence of intelligence work, especially HUMINT, an area in which we are direly lacking, regardless of what happened or not at camp SOBL. And that was the main message I wanted to get accross with this post.


PB, TTG, joe

IMO it is a mistake to think of intelligence functions as being separate from operations. I have seen this attitude often in combat situations an it inevitably leads to one group thinking of the other as "the other." When that occurs real synergy ends and operations fail. pl

Patrick Bahzad

PL, totally agree with that assessment. It is one of our big failings in recent deployments to have separated too much the Intel work from the operational side. Especially regarding HUMINT, most batalion or brigade level operations lack the expertise to deal with situations on the ground from Intel point of view. People focus on cinetic or COIN ops and forget that there's anothe side to it. If you give it up to whoever else is put in charge, you lose the ability to conduct operations efficiently.


Patrick: I completely accept your thesis that ISIS is an intelligence driven organization first. Nothing else explains their success as well. That’s layered on a coherent caliphate ideology (well captured, I thought, in the Atlantic piece) plus an advertising campaign perfect for winning the hearts and minds of young lost men. Sex slaves and heaven?: I might join myself. Add in the idiocy of our invasion and the complete buffoonery of Maliki….you’ve got a pretty good recipe for success. Although I haven't been in Iraq for a while (so many wars, so little time!), I don't think I ever heard a Sunni friend refer to the Iraqi government as the Iraqi government: it was always the Persian government, and the Sunnis always "knew" they would return to power after the US left. The hard core Saddam guys plus the hard core religious make a pretty good team. For now.

And forgive me if I double post--I don't have great internet at the moment, and sometimes can't tell if something has been accepted, or not.

Patrick Bahzad

No worries, your posts are welcome anytime ! Couple of guys on here have interesting insights to share on "technical" side of things (PL of course, TTG, Tyler, Fred82) + others, not too far away from where you are.
I hear what you're saying ref Iraq. I know my Shia friend Babak is gonna get a heart attack now, but the "Safavids" aren't very popular north of Karbala which is one of the main issues with Iraq ... I'm just the messenger, Babak, don't go mental on me now :-)


Another area IS has been successful is in controlling key commercial trucking routes. Certainly a revenue source, but also a tremendous negative impact on their neighbors. This is a long term advantage for IS.

The wheat situation will be interesting to follow next fall. Good weather, but reduced fields under tillage this spring and the seizure of silos last summer had an impact on farmers. I've seen no statistics on the current food situation in IS territories for several months. It would probably be reflected in local price disparities.

I've been wondering about the cement. They've got the production capacity, but who is building? Again pricing information might hold a clue but without reliable human intel who can say?

I'm surprised they haven't seized all Iraqi dams in their domain.


The potential recruits. Being a mother (not same as being a woman) gives a special status to that person. I might not have used the exact English word but one consider lots of them to be "mommy' boy" as it seems that lots of them usually stay dependent and don't set up an independent family.


Amir, would you please pay attention?

Patrick, excuse my babbling distractions above.

WRC's comment somewhat fascinated me, not sure if I am completely misguided, but his response to the hopefully not last part of ISIS series felt like an offer for "academic support" in response to your challenge. ;)

But strictly Shakespeare is not so bad after all. Playwrights deal with humans. And humans act. ...

I thought I would never again enter the specifics of human faces on the ground, that was one of the cores of my attention especially the Hamburg Cell, but since you mentioned (no doubt the opposing camp) James Foley and Steven Sotloff I wonder what you think about John Cantlies' ISIS presentations. I cannot help, but for me he mysteriously closes a gap ... Maybe ultimately the gap spells survival only? But then, what could Amir have to tell us about it?

Patrick I do not expect your answer. Since:

I would be even more interested in Amir's response to the tapes of John Cantlie, e.g. what he thinks about his sisters 2/3 suggestion?


As a contrast:

Max Fisher, Pat acknowledge his work as map-maker, but he is a bad reader if you follow his link:


Babak Makkinejad

dodol tala; no doubt.

Babak Makkinejad

The question is who should rule on whom, isn't it?

For myself, I wonder if US and EU wish to keep ISIS alive - using it to degrade Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon - all the while betting that there is no chance of a Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.

As for Iran not being popular among Sunni Arabs, I suppose life is tough.


Forgot to add, I actually asked him email-wise.

if he is NOT a bad reader, he forgot to mention his source.

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