The Real Threat from ISIS: Lone Wolf Attacks

Night Watch
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Posted: Sep 24, 2014 12:01 AM
The Real Threat from ISIS: Lone Wolf Attacks

China: Two people were killed and an unknown number injured by explosions in Xinjiang in late afternoon on Sunday, according to local authorities. Detonations occurred in at least three locations in Luntai County, including in a shopping area. Authorities reported order had been restored on Sunday evening.


Comment: The attackers almost certainly were ethnic Uighur separatists, whom the Chinese have tried to suppress without success. The last bombing attack in Xinjiang occurred in July and resulted in punishment for 17 security officials. The bombings are a minor threat to local law and order in the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region. However, they encourage Uighurs in resisting Chinese control, which is high-handed and stern.

The Uighur separatists do not attack often, most likely because bomb-making supplies are tightly controlled and difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, they continue to defy the best efforts to date of Chinese authorities to stamp out the separatist movement.

Syria-Turkey: The Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey said today that more than 130,000 refugees have fled from Kobani (also spelled Kobane), also known as Ayn al-Arab, into Turkey. Mainstream media has reported the plight of the refugees and warned of a looming humanitarian crisis.

The refugees are Kurds who fled a large scale offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) aimed at exterminating them if they did not swear allegiance to the so-called Islamic state. Some commentators compared the situation at Kobani to the threat to the Yazidis in Iraq.

A local official in Kobani said today that thousands of Kurdish militiamen have been mobilized in northern Syria and succeeded in halting the ISIL advance on Monday.

The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, Massoud Barzani, called on all Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey to come to the aid of Kobani. He also called on the international community to come to the aid of the YPG (Peoples Protection Units). He said he sent a brigade of Peshmerga from Iraq. Three hundred Kurdish guerillas from Turkey reportedly also reinforced the defenders at Kobani.

The Free Syrian Army reportedly sent reinforcements from Aleppo. The Syrian government said the city should fight on.

Comment: Feedback from a brilliant and well-informed Reader pointed out that Kobani is the third largest Syrian Kurdish town. Kobani is the Kurdish name for Ayn al-Arab, which had a population of about 200,000.

ISIL has fought against the Syrian Kurds with limited success all year because they blocked ISIL's attempt to consolidate the eastern portions of the Turkish border from the Euphrates River eastward to Iraq. The offensive against Kobani is the latest attempt to conquer the Syrian Kurds.

Border control would help ISIL define the boundaries of the so-called Islamic State. Subjugation or extermination of the Kurds would enable it to control smuggling and oil exports from Kurdistan into Turkey, including a pipeline under construction.

Before the recent ISIL offensive, Turkey had about a million Syrian refugees, according to the UN. While it has allowed the Kurdish refugees to enter Turkey, it has done so reluctantly. Syrian Kurdistan has been a refuge for Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey for years. The last people, after Armenians, that Turkey welcomes is more Kurds.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL): On Monday, an ISIL spokesman taunted the US President and called on ISIL supporters around the world to carry out individual attacks on non-Muslims.

"Wherever you are, hinder those who want to harm your brothers and the state as much as you can….The best thing you can do is to make an effort to kill any infidel, French, American or any of their allies….If you are not able to use an explosive charge or a bullet, then single out the American or French infidel or any of their allies and smash his head with a rock, slaughter him with a knife, run him over with a car, throw him from a high place, choke him or poison him."

Comment: The Australian raids against ISIL supporters last week add poignancy and credibility to calls for "lone wolf" and organized attacks.

During this Watch, the US confirmed that aircraft from the US, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates attacked targets in areas of Syria that are under ISIL control. The US also launched Tomahawk missiles as part of the first phase of the Coalition offensive against ISIL. Targets included former Syrian army installations in Ar Raqqah, ISIL's capital.

Comment: ISIL has not responded as yet, but Readers should expect a surge in terrorist attacks.

The air strikes prove the obvious: that ISIL is vulnerable to air attacks. The show of Arab solidarity with the US will make those countries targets for terror attacks, but is good press.

In every air campaign since the Kosovo War in1998, the US rather quickly ran out of militarily important targets. In each crisis, the number of such targets has been limited. Their importance to the enemy has been difficult to establish. The enemy learned how to survive strategic air attacks and was not degraded significantly until the introduction of ground forces with combat air support. That is the historic precedent, not a political comment.

Most of the enemies since 1998 did not depend as heavily on infrastructure and modern technology as the US. That meant that the air campaign made slow progess. The airstrikes on the 23rdwill help analysts evaluate ISIL's reliance on modern systems and its ability to survive without them.

The opening spectacle of a new military operation, the shock and awe, makes for exciting news reporting, but it is not a knock-out blow and its effects will tend to wear off quickly, based on recent precedents. A few attacks in support of the Syrian Kurds might have more lasting effects because ISIL seems to have created a center of mass including tanks and artillery, in other words a target-rich local environment.

Israel-Golan Heights: News outlets today reported the increased threat to Israel since the withdrawal of the UN Disengagement Observe Force (UNDOF) from the Golan Heights on 15 September. Islamic fighters from al-Qaida's al-Nusra Front hold the border crossing point at Quneitra on the Syrian side of the area of separation.

Israeli sources remarked that for the first time in 40 years, neither the UN nor the Syrian Arab Army manned border positions in the area of separation.

Comment: On 15 September, the UN withdrew the 1,250-strong peacekeeping force into Israeli-controlled territory, after the attack against the Fiji and Philippine peacekeepers. The Israelis claim that the peacekeepers abandoned their vehicles and other equipment, of which the Islamic militants have taken possession.

The Israelis could easily defeat the militants. The Israel Defense Force has the ability to put multiple combat ready divisions on the Golan Heights in three days, if it executes its mobilization doctrine. In addition, the militants have no defense against Israeli armed drones, piloted aircraft, missiles or long range artillery.

Nevertheless, the Golan Heights have been a stable military system for years. The big change is that Israel eventually might find itself confronting enemies simultaneously in Gaza, on the Golan Heights and in South Lebanon. For now that is a slight prospect, but Israeli planners must consider it.

Special comment: The instability in Syria, especially the emergence of ISIL, has unhinged all the formal and informal alliances and de facto working relationships that shaped the Middle East in the past half century. All the Arab opponents of the Ba'athist government in Damascus just participated in an air attack that gave the Asad government and its supporters in Iran a large dose of relief. That is the good news.

End of NightWatch

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