Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Ottawa attacks and ISIS: A strategy?

The following assumes ISIS is the motivator.

It is interesting that the attacks in St. Jean and Ottawa focussed exclusively on military and political targets, not specifically civilians (although two were apparently wounded yesterday).  Three times (pray not a third), and it's a strategy. I don't know what ISIS propaganda says about strategy, but if they're calling themselves the Islamic State and are the ones inspiring these attacks, then perhaps this is a sign they intend to fight like a state.  These attacks targeted the political leadership and the military of a state (Canada) presently at war with ISIS.

This is an interesting point to consider.

An attack on civilians like 9/11 or the train and tube bombings in Europe mobilises politicians and publics to send large numbers of soldiers to Afghanistan, or Iraq or anywhere Muslim and disfavourable because innocents are reprehensibly killed and the public is legitimately fearful. The response that sends large numbers of Western troops to works as an Islamist recruiting tactic. However, it is useful only to a point as so much military attention of a long period just inhibits the project of setting up a Caliphate or whatever the big actual goal is called. People don't exactly thrive under military occupation and attacking civilians in the West tends to encourage lots of military occupation.

However, attacking the political and military targets in the West doesn't provide a lot of public outrage that would fuel more war because it wasn't the public that was hit. I imagine that right now ISIS is looking at the growing number of forces arrayed against it and starting to wonder about its short or long-term survival. Perhaps it thinks that it is much harder for leaders to justify to Western publics military intervention in Iraq and Syria if ISIS can be seen to attack 'legitimate' wartime targets. Unlike terrorising the public, it is very difficult to logically justify risking more soldiers lives as some kind of vengeance for killing soldiers.  Maybe ISIS has two goals.

1. If ISIS can convince the West that it isn't interested in killing large numbers of Western civilians, maybe it thinks the US and other countries will fail to sustain interest in hammering ISIS.

2. It has also demonstrated that it can hit back in the Western countries that are now attacking it. In Ottawa, it got perilously close to the leadership in one of them.

In a few days, ISIS has also forced the entire Canadian military to adopt a defensive posture in Canada. It has forced them to conceal themselves in public against an enemy they can't see, right around the corner from Remembrance Day when they'd all be on display.  When that happens on a battlefield, it's described as denying freedom of movement and is a major tactical gain if it can be done.

That makes these attacks a helluva move. It's also how states fight wars with each other.


Steve said...

Hi Boris I hope you are giving them more credit than they deserve. Fighting ISIS is like fighting crime. Root it out.

Purple library guy said...

I don't really buy this analysis but for the opposite reason to Steve. Thing about IS is that their ambition is not really about setting up a state made up of half of Syria and part of Iraq, which is what they have now and which is about where they'll stay if the game continues roughly as it has been.
They want to create a united Islamic Arab caliphate across as much of the Middle East as possible, harking back to past glories. To do that, they will need to be able to destabilize a number of countries which are currently fragile, with rulers who distinctly lack credibility, but more or less calm. To destabilize those countries, they will need major popular support in those countries. So (operating on the base assumption of this piece, that this is some kind of deliberate act by IS at all) they are continuing the Al Quaeda tradition of inviting attack by the US and co., thus creating a situation where nobody likes the Americans/other Western Christians because they're bombing all over the place and stuff, and where the obvious enemy of those same people is IS. So it goes
IS pisses off "the West"-->
"the West" attacks IS AND "the West" causes lots of collateral damage-->
Locals hate "the West"-->
Locals want to fight "the West"-->
Their governments won't because they're craven cronies-->
Who to join then? Who's fighting "the West"?
At which point they get lots new recruits all over the Middle East and they may be losing militarily in Syria/Iraq but hope to more than make up for it by winning in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon . . .
Some of these people are Iraqi, some are Libyans, some from Afghanistan; they're schooled in how shockingly easy it can be to dump a state into failure. The more states it happens to, the more their sort take over.

Purple library guy said...

In real life though, I don't think IS planned this in any way. They just dangled some propaganda, some people filled with anomie bought it, and then acted on their own. For that matter, the possibility remains that the whole thing was unrelated to IS. It's not like we have any suicide notes AFAIK.

But IS, like Al Q and Osama before them, do seem to be talking up and approving of the general idea of terrorist attacks in the countries of their antagonists. Osama bin Laden was quite explicit about why--to drag the US into a quagmire and get them to polarize the region so Islamists could get more of a foothold. IS are not just conceptually but in direct organizational lineage a continuation of Al Qaeda; it would be weird if they were unaware of this strategy.

Boris said...

PLG, it's something that occurred to me and hinges on a number of ifs. I hear you about the basic need to destabilise certain countries in the region and that's their long term goal outwith exterminating Shia and so on. OBL's quagmire strategy only works if large numbers of Muslims rise up in support. It seems that OBL was wrong on that and even very long US occupations don't seem to have the desired mass effect. [Weirdly, most people seem to want to live in peace without a bunch of voilent religious nutters telling them what to do and think.] However, IS is feeling pressure right now. THey gained a lot of ground in a very short time but have now found themselves with a lot of serious opposition that they need to reduce in order to consolidate and expand their gains.

Open source insurgency is a term that came up a few years ago that seems to fit the scene in Canada.