Air attack decapitating ISIL leadership is not a victory

The Coalition fighting Ismalists Terror group, the Islamic state claimed a major stroke at the weekend with air strike that wounded the group’s leader. But decapitating the leader is a setback for all Islamist terror groups, yet it is not enough to eliminate its danger, and without coherent strategy and ground forces, the terrorists will remain the winners i this game.

The American led coalition against the Islamic State claimed a major success in its air campaign at the weekend wounding group’s top commander, the self-styled Caliph Ibrahim, or  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He was among the 50 casualties in a ten vehicles convoy targeted by fighter jets and drones – including RAF operated ones, near Mosul in Iraq. Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman at US Central Command confirmed that a gathering of IS  leaders near Mosul was targeted but couldn’t confirm the wounding of the top leader Mr  al-Baghdadi. Regional intelligence sources claim al-Baghdadi was t taken to Rekka, a Syrian town and capital of the IS, basing their assessment that close aides who seldom leave his side were confirmed dead by their families in Iraq.

Arab commentators Monday welcomed the news cautiously hoping it was a sign that the US was seriously changing policy. The commentators were critical of America’s policy wondering why US satellite could spot single fighters but miss convoys of up to 150 armed vehicles. Criticism which triggered conspiracy theories.

Other pointed out that the old US tactics of “decapitation strike” might generate exciting headlines but it cannot be a substitute for a proper long-term strategy in dealing with IS. How effective tis can be, was the subject of editorials in several newspapers in the region.

On Monday 10 November, a notorious terrorist group, Ansar Beith el-Maqdis ( the Jerusalem Parisian)swearing allegiance  thought to be one of Muslim Brotherhood secrete apparatuses and responsible for many atrocities in Egypt, released a nine minutes recorded message e  to IS and declaring al-Baghdadi to be the one and only Caliph; it called upon al Muslims in Egypt to follow its direction and support IS as “ a realisation of Muslims dreams of a true Islamic State” .

Like their western counterpart, military and anti-terror officials in the region say that without a coherent strategy of political solution, coalition of ground forces, dealing with a spiderweb of islamists organisations and their ideology and getting some clear commitment from Turkey, the costly air-campaign and the current ad-hoc policy will not reverse the gains of IS. The Group controls two thirds of Syria and large parts of Western Iraq.

Experts say ­Baghdadi’s leadership was central in the IS structure, but his death, if confirmed, won’t lead to its collapse, same way that death of al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden didn’t end the organisation and it carried on its terror campaign.

Perhaps al-Baghdadi’s personality as an inspiration to several jihadists is more serious than his leadership or organisational ability. His last public appearance in July was  – in style of rhetoric and dress – almost a reincarnation of the eighth and ninth centuries caliphs that managed to expand the Islamic State of the time to all of Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe.

On the structural level, IS is like al-Qaeda and the underground organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1930s, is a network structure of cells operating independently making them extremely resilient.

While  a “ decapitation” of a jihadist group, would have little impact on its structure and ability to cause harm, the decapitating of IS leadership – which might have lesser effect on its work- the psychological effect in the region and on other would be jihadists mustn’t   be underestimated.  From the message of groups swearing allegiance to the modern Caliph ( like Jerusalem partisans, warriors of Islam in Libya and Boko Haram in Nigeria) the attraction was the symbolic success of al-Baghdadi in developing a shoot-off

al­Qaeda into an entity styled on post prophet Mohammed 8th century  Islamic state fast expanding at its birth.

There are many Salafist leaders (  ) who could take up the reins of the Islamic State. However, should ISIL designate a new leader, it would probably rely on internal choice  – Among the major figures in the group, the Syrian Abu Mohammad Al­-Adnani has distinguished himself as an adroit local commander. There is also  Abu Muslim Al­Turkmani, a skilled military commander and some former officers from Saddam’s disbanded army like  Abu Ayman Al­Iraqi and Abu Ali  but they  lack the charisma and erudition required to attract new recruits .

Mr el-Baghdadi’s deputies have been described as “shepherd’s dogs” by the security specialists monitoring the group , meaning that “they are the key people who keep him in power”.

While the  elimination of Mr el-Baghdadi could be a serious loss for the Islamic State, but it does not represent the coup de grace, and shows what we repeatedly said :air power in the strike role can be extremely useful in counterinsurgency operations. However, it is unlikely to guarantee victory ( if we can define victory in this asymmetric and confused warfare) by itself, if not combined with other tactical components in a coherent strategic plan.

At the moment, the US ­led coalition is reluctant to commit ground forces to fight the Islamic State. So, while the attack on el-Baghdadi represents a valuable opportunity to “degrade and destroy” Isil, the strategy doesn’t seem clear nor are the final objectives. From British view point, our objectives are to stop our allies ( Iraq, Jordan and Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia , Kuwait and UAE) losing ground and suffering more terror attacks. Iraq specially to return to stability. For us here to stop spread of ISIL ideology and our young Muslims being recruited into the jihadists cause, returning home to commit atrocities.

The American led coalition is reluctant to commit ground forces to fight the I.S. and the 1500 or so American forces re-sent to Iraq and a battalion numbers of UK forces are there as “ advisers” , still no sign of coalition ground forces from Arab and Muslim countries. Iraq’s government cooperation is needed for this action. Baghdad doesn’t want Sunni Arab forces. America’s President Barak Obama is wooing Shia Iran , but more involvement from Iran means distrust from suspicious Arab partners especially Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan and more important Egypt.

During his last month’s visit to London, Egypt Foreign Secretary Sameh Shukri said the Muslim Brotherhood was behind IS and other terror  violence in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in North Africa. He warned that terrorist groups are poised to seize control of Libya’s oilfields to open a front in the west and help raise funds to support the Islamic State expansionist project. All Arab partners in the coalition want London and Washington to press Turkey on make it’s position clear. Turkey, although allowed Kurdish forces to cross the borers to help fellow Kurdish fighters besieged in the border own of Kobani, still refuses to let coalition airforces to use its NATO airbase, and not actively helping supplies reach the fighters defending Kobani. Experts warn that collation must not allow Kobani to fall into the hands of IS, as it will be a major propaganda coup recruiting more young Muslims into its ranks.