The New York Times released an article titled “In Battle to Defang ISIS, US Targets Its Psychology” on December 28, 2014. The article goes into details about how General Michael Nagata is trying to understand the Islamic State and its intangible capabilities. What draws people to the Islamic State and how this messaging is put together.
General Nagata stated that we do not under the movement and until we do we won’t be able to defeat it. He further states in the article that we have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.
The United States and other nations with relatively free societies allow the promulgation of the exact rhetoric that assists in the recruiting process. We have covered this in articles in Europe, Asia and North America. Our piece on ISIS: The French Connection goes into minute details of the recruiting process which some of it can be generically applied to nations around the world.
We have also discussed the social media exploitation done by the Islamic State in our articles discussing how the Islamic State uses social media in its recruiting efforts as well as “preaching” the message. The Al Hayat Media Center (HMC) and the Al Furqan Media Foundation craft religious devotionals in their messaging which is something the western powers still have failed to grasp. Each media clip the HMC and Al Furqan releases has a religious appeal to it. We have also put a lot of detail into articles about HMC and Furqan Media Foundation. How they broadcast their messaging and practically announce where actions or attacks will take place. We had also done an analysis of their social media saturation throughout North America and how they specify a targeted city. There is also the fact that each individual fighter is his own online media host on Twitter, Facebook, Diaspora or other social networks. Some are even broadcasting their messages from the battlefield.
The Islamic State in several of their recruiting videos shows the Islamic State as a brotherhood as a place where everybody can belong. While they skip the part about requiring you to be a Muslim that is pretty much implied. The Soldiers of Truth Video refers to the fighters as “the brothers” throughout the video clip and several other propaganda videos do the same. This inclusiveness is built upon by experienced military commanders that served in the military of a variety of nations including the US. There are a number of members in the Islamic State that have served in the military in European nations such as France, the UK, Russia, Georgia, Chechnya, the Balkans and more. There are also a number from the Philippines which we had pointed out in the most recent execution video there is a Philippine presence in the Islamic State. Then there are the foreign fighters from the North African nations with military experience. Some of these foreign fighters likely had training from US or other nations prior to the conflict since many countries have been the recipient of military aid from western nations for decades. There is no question that a larger than expected number of fighters have had military experience and this is also why they use US tactics in some cases or that of European nations.
Some of this experience has come from militaries that have psychological operations type units and some of it comes from the computer experts that they have managed to recruit. The Islamic State is very savvy in its recruiting because it looks for fighters, but also computer scientists and social media experts and people with proper placement and access within foreign countries to conduct recruitment or financing operations. Islamic State has been far more advanced in their outreach methodology than Al Qaeda ever has been. There is also the fact that the former regime and military members of the Saddam Hussein era that joined the Islamic State. This was a warning that was given numerous times during the Iraq War specifically about Izzat Ibrahim al Douri.
The former members of Saddam’s military that formed JRTN (Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia) provided a lot of the necessary experience the Islamic State needed back in mid 2011 when they started the “Breaking the Walls” campaign which began freeing prisoners, conducting bank robberies and kidnappings to fund operations. This group also had inroads with groups when the Syrian Civil War broke out. They were also smart enough to obtain aid from the United States under the guise of being a moderate group under various names or sending individuals to pose moderates of other so called moderate groups. Experience from individuals like Omar al-Shishani and Abu Waheeb have also given the Islamic State an enormous advantage over other groups. Waheeb is about as bloodthirsty as it gets killing people just because they aren’t able to answer specific questions pertaining to Sunni Islam that he comes up with.
The Islamic State takes the unique capabilities of each individual into consideration during the recruitment process. It does not simply stick a body into a position to become a fighter if they believe the person’s talents are best suited elsewhere. This is also something we covered in a quite a few different articles. Ahmad Abousamra from the United States for example became a leader of Al Hayat Media Center, Omar al-Shishani from Chechnya a senior field commander. They recognize the talents for what they are worth to the organization. Abousamra has far exceeded what they expected on the social media efforts. He should be a primary target of the United States and coalition forces.
Assessment: Messaging by the Islamic State focuses on core Islamic values with a heavy emphasis on the necessity to participate in jihad against the apostates. Each of the mass execution videos released has shown this with the “narrator” talking about jihad, how those being executed are apostates for attacks on the Muslims even though some of those being executed are themselves Muslims. The US has been behind the power curve in messaging for a very long time. The US has focused on a message appealing towards humanity while the Islamic State’s entirety of messaging is a religious one using specific passages from the Quran. The western powers need to counter that message using those same phrases but reversing their meaning to a more moderate view. We had wrote about this in our article Defeating the Islamic State. We had also discussed how the US had greatly underestimated the strength and capabilities of the Islamic State.
Every day the Islamic State holds terrain it increases its status in the eyes of wannabe jihadists around the world. This is why the problem extends from beyond Syria and Iraq to Asia where groups in the Philippines have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and have sent fighters. The chaos in Libya is spreading to neighboring Egypt and Ansar al-Sharia has already proclaimed a caliphate in Libya as well as pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Tunisia has sent some 3000 fighters to the Islamic State and continues to do so, at some point those fighters will be returning to stir unrest there. Boko Haram continues to gain influence and terrain in Nigeria and has done cross border attacks in neighboring Cameroon. There are other groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State such as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) in the Sinai.
The US and coalition forces need to recognize that this is a worldwide problem not just contained to Syria and Iraq. Defeating the ideology must start in the countries that are not yet physically involved in conflict. There is already strong support for the Islamic State in bordering countries like Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. If these governments do not rapidly and decisively counter the messaging of radical imams then the conflict will surely spread into their countries in the form of armed conflict. The swatting at flies approach to the Islamic State allows it to adapt and change its operational plans on the fly. When the US began its bombing campaign we accurately predicted that the Islamic State would turn west and north which led them to Kobani. Once the US began to bomb the area around Kobani the Islamic State pushed closer to Baghdad. Recently, it was reported that the Islamic State had engaged Jordanian forces along the border which would be an indicator of another shift in the group’s strategy and testing support. Jordan attempted a crackdown on radical imams, but must engage with the more moderate imams and increase the sphere of influence that they have. We had also talked about this in the Defeating the Islamic State piece. This must also be applied to other countries and not just those on the border areas of the conflict.
The US and other open societies must figure out how to continue the freedoms that their citizens enjoy while also ensuring that their citizens are secure. Numerous Islamic Centers around the world have ties to known or suspected jihadists, promoters, financiers and leaders. These organizations are not investigated well enough to come to the correct conclusions in analysis. These organizations are also quick to use the legal system against any organization or individual that attempts to expose them for contributing to jihadist groups financially, through recruitment or otherwise. This is something we are referring to as Judicial Jihad. While some of these organizations are outright supporters some are duped into supporting individuals that they are unaware of having ties to terrorist groups. However, governments must determine which organizations are actually suspect and choose the proper course of action to move forward.
Something else we have discussed is that the Islamic State has a very limited war production capacity. They are limited because they do not produce the weapons which they possess particularly the heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery. They can’t even produce a vehicle for combat. Everything that the Islamic State uses on the heavier end of equipment is obtained through battlefield recovery. Normally, when one thinks of battlefield recovery it is on a much smaller scale such as equipment and ammunition recovered after an ambush or a raid on a small objective. However, in the case with the Islamic State they have conducted battlefield recovery on a massive scale by seizing entire military installations in Iraq and Syria. These facilities must be reduced immediately after they have been seized to prevent that captured equipment from being used against Iraqi Security Forces. The US and coalition forces should target facilities in Iraq and Syria that have been seized destroying all equipment located in those facilities.
We have wrote about this extensively in the ISIS Study Group and in our articles we cover a lot of this not just in Syria, Iraq or the Middle East, but worldwide. We go into a lot of detail about the organization, how it functions, how it recruits, how it uses social media and how it plans attacks. We also show how this has moved well beyond the Syria/Iraq area and extends into northern Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. In fact we angered some financiers in the Philippines that they started responding to articles on the site with threats of lawsuits. That is also a jihadi tactic that the western powers need to address since it is happening more often. The longer the Islamic State holds terrain, especially a large amount of it, the more fighters it gathers to its cause. We show how they use social media in the recruitment effort as well as the messaging effort. We wrote a detailed plan for a beginning phase of defeating the Islamic State which had it been followed IS would likely hold much less terrain now and multiple Iraqi bases/camps in Anbar would not have fallen and scores of troops would have been spared.
In Battle to Defang ISIS, U.S. Targets Its Psychology