Islamic State, a message from Raqqa

How do young recruits to Islamic State from the west see their campaign? A fifth personal communication from inside the group.

Paul Rogers author pic
Paul Rogers
14 May 2015

Thank you again for asking after my brother. I am pleased to say that he is now almost fully recovered and expects to return to the fight within a couple of months. For now, though, the leadership has given him a training role. That's something he is really well suited to given his years of combat, especially during the war with Task Force 145 back in 2005-06. His experience under torture at Camp Bucca has also proved a great asset. It gives him a real authority with recruits, and helps him prepare them for what they might face as our war escalates here and in Iraq. 

My brother tells me that there is a good chance that he will be sent to northern Afghanistan to help with the further training of Taliban and foreign fighters. Apparently our recent support for the Taliban in the fighting around Kunduz has proved to be welcomed by their leadership, helping to overcome any suspicion of our motives. At the very least we will be able to work with them some more and our long-term aim is that they embrace our vision of the new Caliphate, a much more potent idea than their own rather limited ethno-nationalistic outlook.

You ask me to let you know what I think of recent western political developments, now that I am full-time on the SOBRA department that analyses external developments for the leadership. I am happy to do so but will first say a little about the recent western insistence that the war is going well for them.

For us in SOBRA we really find it quite laughable. Those people in Washington seem to think that because we made such rapid progress from Fallujah to Mosul a year ago, any slower rate of progress indicates impending failure, Tikrit being a good example. They seem quite unable to understand what we are about, or the long timespan of our programme. Even in the short term, though, they get it wrong, though we suspect that the real reason for protestations of success is to keep their own domestic opinion quiet.

Look at it from our perspective. In the past nine months we have experienced close to 10,000 airstrikes with over 6,000 targets hit, yet are still as active as ever. We only had a few hundred men defending Tikrit and most of them withdrew successfully when the planned decision was taken. Tikrit, though, is now a wrecked town, as was Kobane last year, and one of the key results is that on the few occasions that they take territory, the level of destruction that they leave behind just makes for more converts to our cause as our Sunni brethren return to their shattered homes, shops, factories and farms.

Meanwhile, while they take the occasional town we make progress elsewhere, including that destruction of their brigade HQ the other month. Take a specific example - we currently have less than 200 of our fighters controlling a large part of the Baiji refinery, ensuring that such an important source of revenue is unavailable to their regime. Also, the complex of pipes, tanks and industrial plant make for an excellent guerrilla warfare environment. They cannot bomb it because that would be self-defeating, while their own soldiers are simply not up to taking us on - and the Shi’a militias are no better. At some stage they will assemble many thousands of men, as they eventually did around Tikrit, and we will quietly and calmly withdraw and move on elsewhere. We may not even bother to wreck the refinery since we will be back before long.

As far as Baiji is concerned you may ask, why do it? Well the answer is straightforward -symbolism.  For us to control one of the country’s most important industrial sites for weeks and months with little more than a token force is a vivid demonstration of our capabilities and is not lost on Sunni communities across Iraq as they suffer under the apostates. Moreover, it has a similar impact in the wider world and posting that video of our surveying the refinery with our very own reconnaissance drones has had a huge impact. Meanwhile, as I said at the start, we are becoming steadily more active in Afghanistan, a development as welcome as it has been unexpected.

But you ask specifically about my work in election monitoring and I will tell you about that now, especially in relation to the British election result.  The unit as a whole puts its greatest emphasis on the United States, followed by the UK and France, but it also looks at others, including Stephen Harper’s Canada and dear old Tony Abbott over in Australia. Those last two don’t receive much attention at present, although Canada’s decision to send its CF-18s into action in Syria as well as Iraq is a thoroughly welcome development, not least as the chance of one of their planes getting shot down and the aircrew captured has risen.

France is of some interest not least because of the continuing and greatly welcome strength of the National Front, and the United States has no elections in the near future. Mind you, we are looking quite positively at next year’s presidential election. Any Republican that makes it to the White House is well nigh certain to be more hawkish than Obama and we have no worries about the hardline nature of a Hillary Clinton administration. Our concern is if a more liberal Democrat makes progress in the primaries, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

That leaves us with Britain and I have to confess that a week ago we were getting seriously worried because of the risk that Miliband would somehow get in. Our nightmare was Miliband running a minority government with informal SNP and LibDem support and being both cautious over foreign wars and careful about how to tackle what they call “extremism”. Both would be singularly unhelpful to our cause.  You will recall that in my last letter I said that our dream result would be a Tory coalition with a vibrant UKIP and Nigel Farage as deputy prime minister and home secretary - manna from heaven (if you will allow me to borrow a Crusader phrase!).

In the event we actually think we have done better than this since a Tory majority has some considerable advantages for us, especially as Farage has quickly reversed his resignation and will stay a prominent figure on the British political scene.

What we now envisage is a Tory government doing what it has really wanted to do all along, but it will be increasingly beset with internal party divisions, restless and quite far right-wing backbenchers and all kinds of complications over Europe. Meanwhile, Labour will spend the next four months arguing about the leadership and systematically failing to provide opposition. The Tories will become more and more confident so that when the cracks in the edifice start to appear next winter they will look more and more for enemies to divert attention. We make great enemies!

What is even better is that they are already planning to tighten up on their counter-terror legislation which is of course exactly what we want.  Just think - more surveillance, new laws restricting freedom of speech, more arrests, tougher sentencing and more young people jailed for long periods. UK prisons are already hugely useful in proselytising for new recruits and as the numbers rise, so will the opportunities.  Moreover, all of this will be in a climate of increased xenophobia and fewer life-chances for our young Muslim brothers and sisters. Remember, we are in this for decades.  

Perhaps it will all come apart for Cameron and his ilk as it did twenty years ago for that hapless John Major but I doubt it. In any case, it will not be too quick, so we have at least a couple of years to savour.  I have to say that, on reflection, this was an excellent result and far better than we feared.  For someone like me watching the British scene it is really good to be alive!

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