The weeks version of interesting reading heavily features IS and the Syrian civil war.
In a week when the RAF announced that its air strikes were responsible for the deaths of nearly 1,000 IS combatants in eighteen months, it is worth re-reading this authoritative piece from War on the Rocks by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Nathaniel Barr and Bridget Moreng. The piece highlights the centrality of momentum to IS’ strategy and how its ability to project strength relies on harnessing territorial gains for propoganda purpose. As the authors make clear baqiya wa tatamaddad (remaining and expanding) is not just soundbite but a strategic imperative. The piece highlights three core themes central to IS propoganda – restoration of the caliphate and ‘authentic’ Islamic governance, superiority to, and ability to declare other groups takfir (declaration of apostacy) and positive evolution as an ever increasing and coherent group – and provides a case study of how these were used to infiltrate and exploit the Libyan civil war. The authors conclude that the anti-IS coalition must challenge IS’ claims of strength by elucidating its recent defeats, such as the RAF pronouncement, Pentagon claims that foreign fighter (FF) numbers have decreased by ninety percent and the calamitous video of IS fighters blundering their way through an attack on peshmerga forces.
Europe has recently been shocked and scarred by a series of mass casualty assaults on soft targets. A duo of articles focus on the gestation of IS, a group formerly thought to focus solely on its domestic operations and the role of one particular foreign fighter. New York Times correspondent Rukimi Callimach provides a detailed narrative into how IS created, selected and developed a network of European born fighters to serve as the soldiers of its external operations. The provides a superb timeline of European ops mastermind Abedelhamid Abaaoud and illuminates IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani’s role as head of external operations. Michael Weiss, co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (which features an extremely good chapter illustrating Syrian control of jihadi rat lines into Syria) profiles Abu Suleyman al-Firansi, a French citizen believed to head what is an increasingly sophisticated and nationally European external operations organisation planning against Western targets.
Ben Taub, a young New Yorker contributor who last year published a fantastic piece following the journey of Belgian teenage Jejeon Bontinck from reality TV dance competition contestant to marauding jihadi via various well-known jihadi ideologues and recruiters, provides another great long-read with ‘The Assad Files‘. Taub demonstrates the crucial work being undertaken by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, an investigative body now collecting evidence of Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes. The piece takes in the frighteningly mundane bureaucratic processes that make building a case possible. Through files, either captured by rebel forces or leaked out of the country by defectors, the body seeks to act as a repository for the commissioned crimes of Assad. It also vividly describes how the Assad security apparatus has transformed Syria’s prisons, hospitals and military intelligence branches into systematic houses of terror and torture where anyone accused, or picked up at the wrong time or place or district, can find themselves trapped into a hellish reality and near definite demise.