Don’t we want to have a festering Shia-Sunni war going on forever in some relatively safe place like Syria-Iraq? Isn’t this perfect strategy to attract the maggots? Our goal should be to keep it going and try to keep one side from winning. When our radicalized citizens leave the west to go fight in such a war, isn’t this good? [no return policy however…surprise!] The more, the better. We want to foster an Islamic crusade from the west to help ISIS and to battle ISIS at once and together..and, if Iran gets the bomb.to finally abet a larger Sunni-Shia face-off between a nuclear Iran and a nuclear Pakistan/Arabia as an ultimate stalemate?
Our long term objective must be to let the fires roar but to contain them.
I entertained similar thoughts about ISIS until very recently. What changed my mind was last night’s release of the latest propaganda video by the Islamic State. It’s at least as ghastly as its predecessors, horrible beyond the ability of words to describe. Needless to say, YouTube has taken it down since then. However, Vlad Tepes captured and edited some excerpts from it that contain no atrocity footage, and should thus be acceptable. Let’s take a look at these brief clips, which show the equipment captured by ISIS when it made a successful assault on a Syrian air base:
Update: Well, I was wrong — YouTube did remove the video, for being inappropriate, according to the Community Guidelines:
Violent or gory content that appears to posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner is not permitted in YouTube. For example, videos showing someone being physically hurt, attacked, or humiliated are not okay. If your video is graphic or disturbing, it can only remain on the site where supported by appropriate educational or documentary information.
Vlad and I chose the excerpted footage precisely because it contained no violence — only footage of captured weapons and equipment. The weapons weren’t even being fired, and the tanks and planes were not being operated. There were no corpses or wounded people in the excerpts. No one even got slapped in the face.
So go figure.
For those of you who missed this footage: it showed several planes, identified as MiG-21s, and two tanks, one of which is a T-72. The artillery piece has not been identified.
Now you can proceed. Just pretend you saw the video.
Those are Syrian flags on the planes, which suggested that they (and presumably the tanks and ordnance) were Russian in origin. Vlad and I brought a third person into our discussions, a young man who happens to be an expert on military equipment, especially tanks and planes.
Below are some excerpts from our three-way discussion:
|Expert:||The plane is a MiG-21:
Syrian Civil War
Starting in July 2012, after more than a year of Civil War with no aerial action, the Syrian Air Force started operations against Syrian insurgents. MiG-21’s were among the first combat ready aircraft to be employed in bombings, rocket attacks and strafing runs with many videos recorded from the ground showing the jets in combat.
The rebels had access to heavy machine guns, different antiaircraft guns and Russian and Chinese MANPADS up to modern designs such as the Russian 9K38 Igla. The first loss of a MiG-21 was recorded on 30 August 2012. Its registration was 2271. It was likely downed on take off or landing at Abu Dhuhur air base, under siege by rebels, by heavy machine gun fire. A few days later a second MiG-21, registered 2280, was shot down and recorded on video on 4 September 2012. It was likely downed on take off or landing at Abu Dhuhur air base, under siege by rebels, by KPV 14.5 mm machine gun fire.
|Baron:||Now ISIS has them. I wonder if they can fly them.|
|Vlad:||I’m sure they have some of the same pilots that flew them before. Whose idea was it, after all, to get the air base? Why did they want to go after such a fortified target? Why couldn’t they defend the base? I don’t understand why the Syrians didn’t blow up stuff like ordinance and so on.|
|Baron:||Their soldiers were there in force, and they lost. They probably underestimated their enemy.
They must have guys that can fly those. There have been defectors. Remember that guy at the oil refinery who welcomed them?
|Expert:||I can’t tell what the first tank is. The second tank is a T-72. (Photo)
The nice thing about the MiG-21 is that it’s been around forever, so there are probably tons of pilots who are familiar with it, especially in that area where there are tons of Soviet-era planes. Tanks, probably the same deal. ISIS seems pretty proficient militarily. I would assume they have people who are comfortable with Soviet-era tanks.
I would wager some of the US tanks they might be oddly less comfortable with, because those are more modern and less prolific in the Middle East.
|Vlad:||I mean, where are these ISIS guys coming from? Are they former military?|
|Baron:||Some of them, yes. They get defectors from Iraq and Syria. Sunnis. And some Turks and Lebanese and lots of “Europeans”.|
|Expert:||Well, that would explain it, as far as the planes go. If these guys have any familiarity with civilian aircraft, I assume they could figure out a jet. I imagine there have been some accidents, probably some fatalities, but it would be doable. Tanks would be even easier, and artillery pieces easier yet.
I would say planes present the most problems for them, but even so I think they’ll probably do a better job than we expect. And I would say that with planes, they will probably have a very easy time figuring out air-to-ground missiles.
I think ISIS’s first air to ground attack will take place much sooner than anyone expects, and I predict they will get very devastating, very fast.
|Vlad:||Military jets require specialized training to the extent that they reject commercial ATR level pilots.
|Expert:||I predict they will be more devastating than even pessimists like you and me are predicting. My guess is they will try to choose targets that maximize suffering. Power plants. Dams. Places where they can take out the grid, and cause a lot of human death and grief. ISIS is determined.
Just because their pilots suck doesn’t mean they’ll die or crash. It just means that their jets will break down faster, and, yeah, there will be some crashes.
Right now, though, ISIS has a lot of reasons to try to find decent pilots.
|Baron:||They have exceeded all expectations so far, so I am not predicting.|
|Vlad:||They didn’t take out the Mosul Dam, which I thought was interesting.|
|Baron:||I think they need it for their own purposes.|
|Expert:||My understanding is that most Middle Eastern air forces are kind of a joke, anyway, and they’ve been operating for 30-40 years without major issues. I don’t think ISIS will have a problem finding decent (for Muslims, anyway) pilots.
I noticed they seem to have actual Asiatics among them, so their collective IQ might go up.
The clips embedded above include only the portions of the ISIS video that showed the equipment they captured. The rest of it — which will be popping up on YouTube briefly from time to time before it gets taken down again — contained newsreel-style footage of a military operation, mixed with vile, horrific, bestial scenes of mass slaughter.
I’ll give a brief synopsis:
After an intro featuring what seemed to be loving care provided to wounded children, the video showed aerial footage taken using a GoPro camera on a drone at relatively high altitude. The camera panned over the area around the military base, highlighting targets.
The next section showed the ground operation. There was a lot of ghastly footage of Syrian soldiers being shot, with loving close-ups of corpses with gory wounds. You could see the ISIS mujahideen taking their victims’ weapons and going through their pockets. Sometimes they held up a soldier’s military ID card for the camera. Then they went around putting an extra head shot into each of the bodies, just to make sure.
Eventually they overran the base itself, and triumphantly claimed the military equipment you saw in the excerpts.
The last portion of the video was the most horrific. In it you see captured Syrian soldiers being rounded up. They are forced to strip to their underwear, then slapped and pushed around as they are marched in columns across the desert. The final scenes show them being compelled to lie down in shallow pits, where the mujahideen methodically dispatch them with automatic weapons.
As in previous ISIS videos, I had to avert my eyes from the worst parts of this video. I just couldn’t take it.
Vlad and I discussed it afterwards:
|Baron:||Vlad, the world hasn’t seen anything like this since 1945, not that I’ve heard of.|
|Vlad:||In 1945 the Nazis at least tried to hide it. It was the allies that exposed the horror. The fact that ISIS is bragging about this stuff, it shows a level of depravity I can only call biblical.|
|Baron:||And the thing is, it does sell. It brings recruits swarming in, people who want to do neat stuff like this.
A peculiar aspect of those final scenes: even while the prisoners were being machine-gunned in their piles, the video editors were careful to blur out their chests, midsections, and legs. This is because they had been stripped to their underwear, and the Koran instructs Muslims to make sure the bodies of both men and women are always modestly covered from neck to ankle.
The equipment expert — for whom the rules of sharia are a relatively new topic — was taken aback:
|Expert:||I shouldn’t laugh, but the idea that they’re censoring male chests, while showing a video of mass murder. It’s just… it’s terrifyingly ludicrous.|
|Baron:||Yes, it is. Grotesquely, hideously ludicrous.
In summary: based on the evidence provided by its propaganda videos, it is doubtful whether ISIS is containable within Mesopotamia, or even within the Levant and the Arabian peninsula. It may be tempting to formulate policy based on the premise that the Sunnis of ISIS and its satellites, and the Shiites of Iran and its satellites, could simply destroy themselves through sectarian warfare. However, given what we have seen so far, it could well be a mistake — and maybe a fatal one — to make such assumptions.
ISIS is now perceived as the “strong horse”. Not only is it attracting bloody-minded Muslims from all over the world, it is inspiring psychopaths and bloodthirsty criminals to convert to Islam, just for the sheer pleasure of doing what Allah sanctions under the banner of the Caliph.
Those MiG-21s and T-72s are not going to sit idle. And ISIS is not of a mind to respect the existing borders of Syria and Iraq — or even of Turkey and Iran.
One more thing — the Islamic State did something different this time: it stripped its prisoners of their uniforms before shooting them.
What will those uniforms be used for? Will a “Syrian army” convoy, complete with T-72s and Syrian uniforms, suddenly appear at a strategic location that is still controlled by the Assad regime?
No, I don’t thing simple containment should be considered a viable option, not at this point.