The Islamic State Adapts to the Coalition Campaign

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 3 October 2017

Hassan Hassan wrote in The National on 20 September 2017 about the Islamic State (IS) having issued a public statement on its adaptions to the U.S.-led Coalition air campaign against it in Iraq and Syria. This statement appeared on pages eight and nine of the ninety-seventh issue of Al-Naba, IS’s newsletter, on 14 September. A rough translation is republished below.

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How Do You Fight Under the Eyes of the Crusader Aircraft?

The planes began to drop their lava and fire on the locations of the mujahideen’s equipment, their offices, and open headquarters, and the power and strength of the great God. At the start of the last Crusade, losses were inflicted on the mujahideen, resulting for the most part from great changes in the terms of war after the entry of the Crusader aircraft into the battle, whether in Iraq, Syria, or other provinces [of the Islamic State].

First Reaction

However, after this stage, the mujahideen began to develop their tactics, to camouflage their weapons, vehicles and tanks while moving and using them, and the level of casualties was clearly reduced. Thankfully, the soldiers were able to train in new combat tactics to counter the presence of the Crusader jets. Some combat groups have mastered these methods, while others have not been trained as required.

We write this series of articles to alert the Islamic State soldiers to expose some of the methods used by the enemy to attack the mujahideen, as well as to share some of the methods used by the mujahideen that have succeeded in evading the presence of the warplanes while fighting, and even methods of combatting the aircraft that have been experimented with under the supervision of some of the military experts. The military has recently proved that the high-precision of the crusader planes in hitting their targets can be made into a weak point that paralyses the enemy’s own ability to fight, or can be manipulated to have the enemy fight themselves, with the help of God Almighty.

The Inevitability of Developing Combat Methods

God did not create disease without medicine, and the science of medicine requires knowledge. What the enemy fears is the neutralization of its aircraft, and this must be the goal of every mujahid. Every fighter must understand how the enemy uses the sky and then change their methods to adapt to these new rules. Finding ways to deal with this enemy requires significant imagination, as well as traditional habits of warfare, the whole matter being grounded in jurisprudence from the legitimate texts and diligence, not the type of weapon.

As the mujahideen began to disguise its artillery and vehicles, the enemies of Islam also made alterations in order to maintain their effectiveness. This is when the air force was proven to be the most potent weapon of the Crusader campaign. The Crusaders increased the number of reconnaissance aircraft in the skies, and their thermal imaging can locate weapons when they are used. When guns were fired, their location was easily determined and targeted. At the time, many mujahideen slept on the rooftops of buildings, not knowing thermal imaging depicts them and their weapons. There were losses in that period caused by this lack of knowledge of how the Crusaders operate and the capabilities of their aircraft.

The Need to Understand the Capabilities of the Enemy

An important rule: “If you have a weapon that can hit any target with great precision, all you need to know is the position of the enemy.”

If you are fighting on a battlefield where there is aerial surveillance and accurate targeting, the first step to enemy action is knowing your location and the second is targeting. Therefore, your primary goal is to hide your position. And here, a whole new fighting doctrine begins, because fighting while hiding your location requires drastic changes in the methods of warfare and planning … The basic principle is always the same: “Fight from a location unknown to the enemy, and change place immediately if the enemy discovers it.”

The Enemy Also Evolves

When the soldiers of the Islamic State began to hide their artillery and themselves from the enemy’s air power, the enemy began in turn to develop methods of avoiding losing its air superiority—increasing the number of aircraft operating, and the enemy also introduced a new element to the war, the PKK. They did not want to lose any village, and if they got raided or mowed down, they would send reinforcements, and the mujahideen humiliated them and inflicted heavy human losses on them. …

The mujahideen had also made this same mistake, by holding on to some territory without suspicion of the apostate militia. Then the Crusader enemy began to use special forces to take advantage of their air advantage against the mujahideen, coming down to the ground with a greater presence of Americans to lead and direct the stupid apostates [i.e. YPG/PKK]. Here, a new chapter of modern warfare began.

How Do They Fight Us?

The special forces are advancing the apostate PKK forces, but the Crusader forces are not a fighting force in any way; they are only an air force. Their purpose is to call in the airplanes and tell them exactly where to hit. Therefore, the apostate forces carry only light weapons. Their real weapons are their communications devices and laser routers. The main purpose of their firearms is to provoke the mujahideen so they go out [from their hiding places] and fight.

The apostate forces make progress through deception, shooting only to draw fighters out of their hiding places to fire at the apostate forces. The air force then monitors and targets the mujahideen. Alternately, the apostates give the coordinates that they want to bombard to the air force.

A member of these forces was recently captured with only a minimal store of ammunition for his machine gun. When asked about this, he said that they were not combat forces; they were only advancing so they could determine the places where the mujahedeen were located, which does not require much ammunition.

Therefore, the greatest mistake is that the mujahideen deal with them [the YPG/PKK] as a fighting force. They are weak forces used by the crusaders as a bait for the fish. The fighter should never swallow the bait. The best way to proceed is for the fighter not to reveal his position to the enemy until the enemy is within shooting range and then, and only then, God willing, must the mujahideen fire on an enemy target, before quickly changing location.

In order for this to succeed, it is necessary to be disciplined and not to fall into the trap of the enemy, which tempts the fighter to shoot from a large distance, as well as to prepare the new places of Rabat (outposts). Instead, the mujahideen should disguise their advances into new areas, preparing the new Rabat points in advance, to allow a smooth transition.

The enemy method that we described, which we are fighting today, is called the “survey fire” (االستطالع الناري)—a term that means firing before the enemy position is identified with the intention of getting a response that allows you to determine and target their location. The fighter involved in these modern wars must understand this trick well, because understanding it is the key to success in modern warfare, by God’s grace.

In modern warfare, with precision weapons, everyone tries avoid direct engagement in order to minimize losses. Therefore, survey fire is used frequently. It is a trick used by everyone to get the coordinates of the enemy and then target them with artillery, airstrikes, or even a martyrdom attack. Knowing the enemy’s location is the most important military information about him. There is no successful military action without this step.

The Nusayri enemy’s survey fire is conducted by means of rapid mock invasions to identify the size of the [insurgent] forces present in the area and the size of the force and type of weapons needed for the attack.

The soldiers of the Islamic State began sending small drones into the enemy bases and then lowering their altitude so they could be heard by the enemy soldiers. The shooting [from the regime soldiers at the drone] was enough to know everything about the enemy—their locations and their weapons—which helps in preparation for a coming invasion or to repel a hostile force that has advanced into our areas.

This survey does not need to shoot the enemy, but only alert him to danger. The apostates will come out of their holes and begin shooting towards the small aircraft with all their weapons, allowing the fighters to identify the types and size of weapons. The plan succeeds because the enemy soldiers are not trained to hide, and do not know how much it hurts them to give away their locations on the battlefield.

How Do We Fight Them?

If the mujahid brothers learn about this type of warfare, they should not repeatedly fall into this old trap, and keep to the golden rule of an air war where there are precision weapons: “The enemy’s goal is to know where you are, and your aim is to hit the enemy without revealing your place”.

An article has already been published in al-Naba about camouflage and how it can be used to stay hidden from the different types of photographic imaging.

Therefore, the plan should be clear. The location of the mujahideen should stay hidden and no rash action should be taken from Rabat locations. Rather, the number of times food is supplied should be reduced and movement between Rabat points should be eliminated. This is one of the most important means by which the mujahideen can neutralize the role of air power in the battle. God willing, if we do not take the right steps to combat the warplanes, courage alone is not the solution.

It is a fatal mistake in an under-air battle to bring together large numbers of fighters at advanced sentry points toward the contact lines with the enemy. Whether a large or small number does not matter; the enemy is always waiting for these obvious targets so it can pave the way for progress on the ground. This method must not be used in defense. After the entry of the aircraft into the battle it became obsolete. God willing, it would be beneficial to keep the positions of the defending force hidden, at least until the enemy gets very close, before engaging, in order to minimize the damage aircraft targeting can do. At that point the locations of the mujahideen and enemy overlap, and the constant movement will mean the Crusader jets do not have time to intervene, God willing.

One of the biggest mistakes in an under-air fight is to look at the ground only and to forget that the war is not only on the ground; the enemy has the ability to target you from above. For example, if we engage enemy forces somewhere, like a building or house, and then the enemy starts coordinating with the aircraft through mobile communications equipment, they will target the mujahideen despite the small distance between them and the enemy. In these cases, the combatants must know that they cannot immediately beat the enemy; he must leave and reappear from a new place. A siege will not be in his favour. If he remains exposed, he will be destroyed from the air. …

Finally, save this rule: “They do everything they can to discover your position; do whatever you can to hide from their eyes”. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds.

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In Al-Naba 98, released on 21 September 2017, there was a follow-up article to the above, appearing on page 12 under the same heading.

“In the last article of this series, we talked about the importance of al-tamwih (camouflage, disguise, or concealment) and hiding the positions of the mujahideen and their movements from the eyes of the enemy, especially the aircraft equipped with the latest monitoring devices”, says the article. “In this episode we will present unconventional models of camouflage” drawn from “the experiences of your brothers on jabhat al-qital fi sabilillah (the fighting fronts for the sake of God)”.

“The objective of this deception is istinzaf (to drain or exhaust) the enemy and reduce their confidence in the information they obtain”, Al-Naba explains, thereby “reducing the fighting efficiency of the enemy”.

Al-Naba then discusses these tactics under five headings:

Disguised Infiltration: The bodies and the weapons must be concealed, Al-Naba says, in order to allow IS jihadists to get into enemy territory. The degree and type of concealment depends on the mission—whether, for example, the IS soldier intends to attack the enemy or just observe—and IS has to be careful to disguise its operatives in a way that does not lead to them accidentally clashing with one-another.

Concealing Weapons: “Rabat requires keeping heavy weapons ready at points close to the lines of contact with the enemy, and requires concealing these weapons”, Al-Naba notes. One crucial aspect is covering the muzzles of guns to prevent thermal imaging, Al-Naba says: unlike sound or vibration, thermal imagining is easy and highly accurate. Al-Naba relays a “funny story” from the battle in “Ayn al-Islam” (Kobani) at the end of 2014, when IS apparently hid a tank inside a house and therefore kept it out of view of the drones and warplanes. “The nature of the battle requires us today to hide all types of weapons as much as possible”, Al-Naba says, recommending silencers and firing from inside buildings.

Concealed Defences: “One of the most important things to hide and disguise is the defensive rabat points”, Al-Naba says. “The best way to do this is to add fake points, and shoot the enemy from these points”. This will confuse the enemy and reduce their confidence to take strikes at areas that they identify. It is imperative that food trucks be kept to a minimum so as to avoid giving away fighters’ positions, which has been a serious problem, Al-Naba says; litter must not be left around rabat points and in the deserts the water tanks have to be disguised to prevent their detection by thermal imagining technology. Al-Naba recommends rabat points at the entrances to caves that can be concealed with trees and the avoidance of any gatherings at these points since if the enemy detects a rabat point they will increase their survey of the area. The strictest care has to be taken over electronic communications, Al-Naba instructs.

Tricks: The most important instrument IS has used to exhaust its opponents, and shatter their confidence in their sources of information, is deception operations, Al-Naba states. Booby-traps have imposed a serious cost in their own right by killing and maiming; the attempt to discover the IEDs has been costly for the Coalition. IS describes one trick: “The mujahideen used human dolls … filled them with warm water, the temperature of the human body, and spread them throughout a targeted location”. Al-Naba adds that the “crusader aircraft” strafed the mannequins because thermal imagining is unable to distinguish between heat sources, providing it is the right temperature for the human body.

Disguised Attacks: The ability to conceal attacks is crucial to modern warfare, Al-Naba says, in order to reduce losses and wear down the enemy. This can be done with the above-mentioned methods of misdirection on the battlefield itself. Even easier, says Al-Naba, is “leaking” information via electronic communications or the internet about “phantom attacks”. Since the Coalition has a vast surveillance apparatus, a well-directed piece of misinformation—and some apparent corroboration on the ground—can have a large effect, Al-Naba contends, arguing that such episodes (what the Soviets would call “active measures”) were “a decisive factor for some of the battles of the Second World War”.

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A Russian Special Forces operative discussed how the Islamic State adapted to the operations against it in an interview with Izvestia, published on 24 October 2017.

The officer explained that he had done several rotations in Syria and “each time the [IS] militants changed” the way they were operating. IS acquired increasingly sophisticated hardware over time, according to the officer, specifically night-vision goggles and thermal imaging equipment. The Special Forces officer was dismissive of how effectively IS had put this equipment to use, though noted that it meant that sentries had to be very careful even at night now.

On IS’s use of drones, the Russian officer said, “Basically, they make them by hand”, buying the parts from the internet and elsewhere. After assembly, IS has used the drones to plant small improvised explosive devices that could be detonated by remote-control and were capable of derailing cars to enable an ambush. IS also used drones to drop small bombs that can cause serious injury or death inside Russian bases if people are stood too close to the blast.

The Russians tracked IS down to buildings where they had gathered to relax, according to the officer, and attacked this concentration of jihadists at night. This shocked IS and allowed the Russians Special Forces to overcome their perimeter easily. But IS recovered very quickly and “climbed from all the cracks”, as he put it, swarming to repel the Russians and even coming around behind the Russian Special Forces. IS communicated effectively via secret channels and directed accurate fire at the Russians in the dark to force them to fall back.

The Russian officer is sympathetic to the Asad regime’s army and its position, though he is not complementary about its competence. [UPDATE: Many Russians, and Iran’s operatives, have expressed contempt when discussing the capacity of the regime’s army.]

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