Monday, December 28, 2015

There Seems to Be Something Wrong With Our Bloody Jihadis Today

The Iraqis have declared victory in Ramadi after the hundreds of ISIL jihadis who had survived the months long siege appear to have melted away. What's wrong with ISIL's jihadis?

We appear to have an Iraqi victory in Ramadi:

"Yes, the city of Ramadi has been liberated. The Iraqi counter terrorism forces have raised the Iraqi flag over the government complex in Anbar", joint operations spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said in a statement broadcast on state television.

Note that the jihadis--who proclaim to love death the way their enemies love life--did not stand and die in place for the joy of killing enemies trying to dig them out of the Ramadi city center, regardless of their own fate. Paradise awaits, right?

This comes on the heels of the jihadis declining to fight to the death for Sinjar in northern Iraq last month.

When ISIL burst into Iraq to dramatically expand their territory in the first half of 2014, and declared a caliphate, those were heady days for Islamist hopes.

While I may not think much of the slow-motion offensive we've been organizing in Iraq, the long effort has apparently sapped jihadi morale as the caliphate project stalled--with only the surprise seizure of Ramadi in May of this year making it look like the jihad was still on a roll.

But the jihad is not on a roll. Not in Iraq anyway. And in Syria it is looking shaky, too, as we support anti-ISIL forces in eastern Syria.

It's all glory and 72 virgins when it seems like you might die for a successful cause. But the slow grinding war of exhaustion has at least blunted that faith in victory and seems to have given jihadis pause to consider whether their sacrifice will be for nothing.

The price has been to leave millions of people under the brutal rule of ISIL for a longer time, allow ISIL to expand their influence in other countries, and allow ISIL supporters to attack Paris.

But after two major battles where the jihadis declined to die for their cause in a last stand, I think we can say that the primary advantage of the jihadis--their apparent disdain for death--is evaporating.

When the jihadis aren't advancing, the hand of Allah in their success becomes tougher to see.

The failure to advance and conquer also has a practical result: the caliphate will run out of money:

Islamic State has set up departments to handle "war spoils," including slaves, and the exploitation of natural resources such as oil, creating the trappings of government that enable it to manage large swaths of Syria and Iraq and other areas.

The problem is that the spoils of war has evolved from the assets of the captured areas--money, gold, and whatnot--to the ongoing business life and people themselves of the conquered areas. People who might not care a lot if the bank is looted or the wealth of the Iraqi state is seized will find reason to hate ISIL when their own families and means of making a living are considered the spoils of war.

This underlines the basic fact that when you finance your operation on the spoils of war, it requires you to keep moving forward and to keep seizing spoils of war. When you stop advancing, all you can do is squeeze who you already control. That undermines the fear that keeps conquered people in line.

And when the terrorist gunmen themselves lose their aura of bad ass commitment to death or glory, that lack of fear will be fatal. After Sinjar and Ramadi, an ISIL commander could very well be noting that there seems to be something wrong with their bloody jihadis today.

Which means that we really should be able to speed up the pace of operations to exploit what could be shaky ISIL morale right now. Morale is a funny thing. Hit forces when their morale is weak and you can crack them and scatter them, inflicting a major defeat and perhaps ending the caliphate in Iraq.

Fail to hit them at their low point to finish them off, and their morale will recover. Note that finishing off our enemy is what we failed to do after the success of the surge offensive and Awakening led to victory in Iraq over al Qaeda in 2008.

Will we try to exploit this apparent opportunity to deliver a killing blow in the near term?

UPDATE: Austin Bay has related thoughts.