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From Raqqa: the war escalates

A correspondent in the Islamic State heartland is energised by United States-led and Russian attacks alike.

Paul Rogers author pic
Paul Rogers
15 October 2015
Raqqa centre. Wikimedia Commons/Bertramz. Some rights reserved.

Raqqa centre. Wikimedia Commons/Bertramz. Some rights reserved.Raqqa, 15 October 2015

Thank you for asking after my brother. In my last letter I told you that he was recovering from his injuries but that it was turning out to be a longer process and I thought it likely that his next posting would be to Libya rather than Afghanistan. That turned out to be the case and he left for Libya two weeks ago. I have not heard from him since which is worrying. But my other sources say that none of our recent deployments have so far been engaged in heavy fighting, as our associates in Libya are making very good progress.

You asked me to give my view on the progress of our war, and I hope our long-term friendship can survive the obvious differences that we have. Since it is three months since that letter and much has happened, I will try and tell you what the thinking is here in Raqqa.

As you know it is now a year since I first wrote to you, and that makes it three years since I travelled here to join this historic cause. I still wish desperately that I could join in the fighting, but with these injuries it is just not possible as I would only be a burden on my friends. We do have quite a competent prosthetics department at the hospital here in Raqqa but they are very hard pressed and are concentrating on lower-limb losses. Compared with the injuries some of our fighters are suffering my missing arm is insignificant.

Instead I am continuing my time in Raqqa with my analytical work for SOBRA although my responsibilities have changed with time. You will recall that at the time of the British general election I had been tasked with providing analysis of the implications of the possible outcomes. Our hope was that a weak Conservative government would be propped up by an expanding UKIP, ensuring a properly right-wing government committed to war in Syria and Iraq and enacting hardline policies towards immigrants in the UK. Such a result would have been just right for us but things did not really turn out as we had wished.

Even so, Cameron got back in and is reasonably secure, so that was good news for us. I then reported our growing concern about what was happening in the Labour Party’s frenetic leadership campaign. In the event our fears were justified because they have ended up with a leader, this Mr Corbyn, who is essentially anti-war. This is quite a serious issue for us, since our leaders believe that there is considerable scope for increasing recruitment from Britain, provided it gets fully involved in the air-war here in Syria.

Fortunately for us, Corbyn has opposition within his party and only yesterday a number of his members of parliament defied him over an economic issue. We are confident that sufficient numbers will be misguided enough to back Cameron if and when it comes to a vote on bombing Syria.

Three positives

Beyond that, there is much to report, not least because I have returned for most of the time to my earlier work – analysing overall western attitudes to our mission. In Afghanistan, our progress has been far better than even the most optimistic of our leaders expected, and our position is greatly helped by the expansion of the Taliban. This is not so much because we work with them – in many cases we take over from them – but because their progress elsewhere ties down so much of the Afghan national army.  

The ANA, in any case, is in disarray and this is hardly surprising since they have lost over 5,000 of their people so far this year, leading to rampant desertions and singularly low morale. The Americans are now planning to keep their 10,000-plus troops there until after the end of 2016 – and since whoever replaces Obama is likely to be more hawkish, that is good news for us. It's one more example of a Crusader occupation for us to exploit.

In Iraq and Syria, the last few weeks have seen rather desperate attempts by the Americans and the other Crusader forces to paint a picture of success. These include the very recent American claim that they have killed 20,000 of our people in the past fifteen months, 5,000 more than they were reporting in July. They also say, extraordinarily, that they are not killing civilians. The reality is far different and we are able to communicate the many hundreds of personal stories every month, thanks to our remarkable and much-expanded media-outreach system.

What the Americans and their coalition do not realise is that though our losses are considerable there are three elements that are working against them, rooted in our long-term aim of persistently showing that we are the true protectors of Islam under Crusader/Zionist attack. 

The first is that every one of our fighters and civilians killed will have scores of family members and friends, most of whom will be bitter at their loss and determined to avenge their killing.

The second is that our losses are more than made up with new recruits from across the world.  Even the Americans have accepted that around 30,000 people have joined the cause from abroad, twice the size of their estimate barely a year ago.  

The third is that our core paramilitary leaders are simply the best in the world – hardly surprising since they got their combat-training against the special forces of JSOC in Iraq barely a decade ago.

The Russia front

You ask about our attitude to the Russian intervention and I have to say we welcome it with open arms. It is actually a small-scale operation that will not be sustainable for any length of time since all the resupply has to come either by sea from Crimea, which is a ten-day round trip, or by air transport via the convoluted route over Iran and Iraq.

What the Russians are very good at, though, is making much political capital out of very little, at the expense of the Americans. Take their much-vaunted cruise-missile strikes that I saw got wall-to-wall coverage in the western media. The Russians fired twenty-six missiles, and seemed to get away with presenting these as unique weapons – whereas the Americans started firing their own cruise missiles at Iraq in the first war 24 years ago! 

Moreover, the Russian missiles had a failure rate of 15 percent, yet barely two weeks earlier the Americans had fired 47 cruise missiles at Syrian targets with a failure rate of under five percent. This was simply not reported in the general western press, though our media department was quick to monitor it.

More generally, the Russians want to prop up Assad and that hardly bothers us because our engagements with the Syrian army are so few and far between. Also, if Russia supports Assad this really angers the Turks, with the result that they will go even easier on us than they have been doing over the past year.

Where Russia really aids us, though, is in Russia itself, with all the added recruitment potential among more than 16 million Russian Muslims. So far about 2,000 have joined our cause here in the Caliphate and we also have links with powerful paramilitary forces within Russia, especially in the Caucasus but even in Moscow itself.

Now that Russian strike-aircraft and helicopters are killing Muslims here we can publicise that massively through our networks (it does not matter that the Muslims being killed may not be linked to us). I can tell you that at the first sign of Russia moving military forces to Syria our SOBRA chiefs sent out an urgent message throughout the Caliphate to identify Russian speakers. We already have a taskforce of 20 including many dialect specialists, and they are working night and day to communicate with potential recruits. We expect a bonanza.

You might also like to know that our leadership is already prepared for Britain to start bombing Syria and I am proud to say I will be heavily involved. What has been done is that a number of fluent English speakers, all graduates, have been identified and given preliminary training in script-writing and presentation. They will all be ready to boost the existing unit, which I will head, as soon as the British parliament votes to bomb.

As you can imagine these are very exciting times and I have come to feel that I can make a difference. At long last I will be able to aid the cause while also avenging all the members of my family killed by the Crusaders in Iraq. It has been a long time coming but now I can begin to feel proud – it is all so clearly worthwhile.

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Join us on Thursday 9 July at 5pm UK time/12pm EDT for a free live discussion.

Hear from:

Sayeeda Warsi Member of the House of Lords, pro-vice chancellor at Bolton University and author of ‘The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain’.

Sunder Katwala Director of British Future, a think-tank on identity and integration

Other speakers to be confirmed.

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