The war against the Islamic State turned in favor of coalition forces late last year. Right now it’s probably going better than the public is being told. An outsider such as this writer can be provocative: In spite of several spectacular terrorist bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Islamic State’s situation in the Middle East looks grim. Possibly fewer than 20,000 or even 15,000 fighters with a decimated leadership structure are hunkered down in defensive occupation positions over a large territory, essentially waiting to be attacked and killed.It certainly seems to be true that ISIS is a spent force struggling to hold on to a portion of the territory they conquered in Iraq and Syria two years ago, but a spent force can still perpetrate horrors on the populations they do control. To get an idea of the depravity of the savages preying on helpless victims under the banner of the Islamic State see here, here, and here.
Only specialists remember the frighteningly plausible map issued two years ago revealing ISIS’s ambition to conquer most of the Middle East, Eurasia, and North Africa, or its plan to overthrow the House of Saud and incite internecine war in Muslim countries. The likelihood of such events unfolding has abated to zero, and even the mediatized individual and mass beheadings no longer keep international opinion awake at night.
What advice would Sun Tzu give concerning a plan for anti-Islamic State coalition military operations? A few more aphorisms from “The Art of War”: Instill confusion and conflict in the enemy, “throw them into disarray … Wait for them to become decadent and lazy … Cause division among them,” and disorganize their internal unity by working to intensify conflicts among their leaders, their fighters, and among each other.
Disorient leadership and chain of command and communication (which is already being done rather successfully). Sun Tzu also advises disrupting their “system of rewards and punishments.” Act surreptitiously to encourage killing among them. If punishments are immoderate, “there will be slaughter that does not result in awe.” Crucially, encourage conflict between those who, abandoning the ideology of martyrdom, at this point want to live, and those who will insist on being killed.
Use old tactics and new: Drop leaflets and use social media to demoralize fighters and give heart to the local population. Hack and troll their social media operations -- this is much more important than de-radicalization propaganda. Emphasize over and over again that the cause is lost and that ISIS has become a historic disgrace of Islam rather than its resurrection.
Detail how many top leaders have been killed and give names. (Local fighters may be uninformed.) Emphasize the decline in number of new recruits (now reportedly 200 monthly, down from 2000 in 2014-2015). Emphasize the dismemberment of ISIS’s international terrorist network in Europe. Show that the strategic retreat to Libya is not succeeding. Emphasize deadly drone strikes by the United States, with dozens killed at a time.
The strategic goal is to eliminate the choice the leaders set at the beginning: only victory or a martyr’s death. Denying Islamic State this “success” -- i.e. they win even if they lose -- is the formula for getting them to move, to do something. Sitting under siege with no hope of new success [is a] drag on fighters’ enthusiasm.
In case you don't have the time to check out the links the first describes how ISIS executed 25 suspected spies by lowering them into a vat of nitric acid. The second describes how they tortured children who were suspected of having insulted Allah, which is ironic since the greatest insult to Allah has to be their invocation of him to justify their atrocities. Indeed, there's no evil so extreme that these loathsome orcs are not capable of it.
If even pacifists like Albert Einstein thought it was important in the 1930s and 40s to defeat Hitler, how much more important is it that the world unite to defeat the Islamic barbarians whose cruelties would have repulsed even the Nazis.