Wednesday, May 27, 2015

ISIS' Combat Bona Fides

The recent fall of Ramadi show ISIS had gained some hard won combat expertise...

Islamic State’s battlefield performance suggests the terrorist group’s tactical sophistication is growing—a development the Iraqis and the U.S.-led coalition have so far failed to counter

Islamic State commanders executed a complex battle plan that outwitted a greater force of Iraqi troops as well as the much-lauded, U.S.-trained special-operations force known as the Golden Division, which had been fighting for months to defend the city.

Islamic State commanders evaded surveillance and airstrikes to bring reinforcements to its front lines in western Iraq. The group displayed a high degree of operational security by silencing its social media and propaganda teams during the Ramadi surge.

The group also churned out dozens of formidable new weapons by converting captured U.S. military armored vehicles designed to be impervious to small-arms fire into megabombs with payloads equal to the force of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Over the three-day surge in Ramadi, Islamic State fighters launched at least 27 such vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or Vbieds, that destroyed Iraq security forces’ defensive perimeters and crumbled multistory buildings.

Military analysts said the new formidable weapon was the latest development showing how the group appears to be learning from battlefield defeats like the one in Kobani, Syria, last summer in pursuit of its goal to control the Sunni-majority areas of Syria and Iraq.

After the mid-April victories in the Albu Faraj and Sijariyah neighborhoods, an Islamic State commander told Islamic State’s radio station, Al Bayan, on April 27 that the group was ready to embark on its ultimate goal of winning control of Ramadi’s city center

On the same day, Islamic State distributed a military order hundreds of miles to the north in Aleppo, Syria, calling for a redeployment of the group’s most devout fighters to the front lines in Anbar and Salahuddin provinces in Iraq. Written in the name of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the order called for expert and religiously dedicated fighters for a one-time assignment, implying they would be used in suicide missions

By the end of April, officials in Anbar were reporting a surge of cars passing into Iraq from the Al Qaim border crossing—which Islamic State controls—near Syria. Officials in Ramadi said Islamic State fighters started arriving in groups of two or three in nondescript sedans, instead of the Toyota pickup trucks group members used to favor, in apparent efforts to blend in with civilian traffic and stay off radar of U.S. surveillance planes.

From early May, the group enforced a blackout of its own media posts from Ramadi. That was in contrast to other battlefields in the country, such as Beiji and Fallujah, where Islamic State supporters continued to post propaganda about battles

On May 5, Islamic State launched an attack on Ramadi’s city center, but Iraqi helicopters and the Golden Division repulsed the advance, Iraqi state media reported. Running battles along the bridges across the Euphrates River separating Ramadi’s southwestern Islamic State-held neighborhoods from the city center continued for days, with Iraqi forces holding their lines.

By May 13, Islamic State had established a team of snipers closer to where Iraqi police and army units were based, said Iraqi soldiers and state media.

The next day, Islamic State launched its surge by sending a single armored bulldozer to the concrete barriers on the outskirts of the government lines. The bulldozer worked unimpeded for close to an hour, removing concrete walls. Once the road was cleared, Islamic State fighters drove about six Vbieds, including an armored Humvee and armored dump truck, into the government complex.

Over the next 72 hours, the terrorist group set off at least another 20 Vbied and suicide bombs, U.S. officials said.

Islamic State took the government complex by May 15. The group launched another wave of vehicle suicide attacks on May 17, preventing Iraqi reinforcements from entering the city. The Golden Division, which had been cut off from the rest of the Iraqi forces, called for a retreat from town.

Once Islamic State’s black flag began flying from Ramadi’s city center, the group lifted its information blackout. It posted photos and eulogies for six suicide bombers it said were responsible for the initial wave of attacks.