Ten “letters from Raqqa” have been published in openDemocracy covering a period of a little over two years, the most recent one being on 8 December 2016. They are part of my regular series of weekly articles which have been published since September 2001, offering close analysis of the "war on terror", but with a difference: they are written as if coming from an ISIS supporter working in Raqqa, northern Syria.
The letters therefore give a view of the conflict which contrasts with the typical analysis from western perspectives. In doing so they use a wide variety of sources, both published and oral, to try and get inside the thinking of a well-educated, intelligent but utterly committed ISIS supporter.
Reaction has varied greatly. Some deeply antagonistic and vituperative comments angrily condemn the letters as unalloyed ISIS propaganda. Many others have been much more positive, welcoming them as a necessary attempt to examine perspectives that are radically different to the norm.
This level of interest, in the context of a conflict that shows every sign of evolving futher in 2017, suggests that it might be useful to gather the letters together. They appear below, each with a brief introduction to set the scene.
Paul Rogers, 29 December 2016
The first letter introduces the 'writer' and his family, the impact of the war, and his motives for joining the group and moving to Raqqa. It refers to the start of the air war three months earlier, while celebrating the successes of the movement across northern Iraq earlier in the year as a model for long-term success.
When I came to Raqqa two years ago my brother had been here for more than a year and was already a platoon leader. He had fought the American special forces in Anbar for three years until captured and tortured late in 2006, so he had even survived Operation Arcadia. After four years in Bucca camp – a singularly formative educational experience where he learnt much about US military attitudes – he was finally released. He had, though, lost two uncles and three cousins to American and British attacks, with our father, two aunts and four cousins killed in airstrikes and two more cousins maimed for life. It was hardly surprising that he joined up with the Baghdadi group at the first opportunity, nor that I should follow him not long afterwards.
So where are we now? First, let’s just remember that we have more than one aim and a thorough mix of motives. Behind it all is the desire to be part of the historic mission to restore the Caliphate, bringing true rule to the world even if it takes centuries, but there is more to it than that.
Inevitably we have hugely bitter feelings towards the Shi’a in Iraq and do not see Haider al-Abadi as any different to Nouri al-Maliki. We are passionately opposed to Bashar al-Assad and his Alawi clan but also hate the utterly unacceptable Sunni regimes dominating our region, most of all the appalling House of Saud and its preposterous claim to be Guardian of the Two Holy Places. Beyond that lies the American-Israeli nexus, its occupation of the Third Holy Place, with the Zionist massacres of our Palestinian friends a continuing atrocity.
I have only been here a couple of years and much of my work is analysing western attitudes, but I simply cannot understand the reaction to our killing of hostages, Iraqi soldiers and police and other opponents. Is it really worse to be beheaded, a near instant death, or to die slowly from hideous burns, from being shredded by hundreds of sub-munitions or crushed slowly to death under a collapsed building? Sure we make an example of captured soldiers and police, but that scares off others and makes our task easier. It is no different to innumerable attacks done by the Americans over the past ten years, including those which they themselves characterised as punitive.
Yes, we dress hostages in orange jump-suits and maybe that makes a few in the west think, but how many know there are still more than a hundred in Guantánamo, many there for more than a decade and likely to be kept in prison for the rest of their lives - a slow living death with no hope of an end to it, not quick and merciful.
But I’m getting away from myself when I really wanted to write down where we are now, perhaps the start of an occasional diary but I will keep this first entry brief.
The Americans started their airstrikes exactly two months ago, more or less when we expected them to do so, and so we had dispersed most of our assets in good time. They did have some effect here and there and halted a couple of advances, but much of the equipment they hit was surplus to our requirements and was mostly their own stuff anyway.
They’ve done 388 raids so far, the majority in Iraq, and they are now having trouble trying to identify suitable targets. Yes, they do have British, French, Belgian, Danish, Australian and Canadian aircraft either here or on their way, as well as some from a few local states, although the latter are almost entirely incompetent.
They still say they will not put “boots on the ground” but the numbers of special forces are creeping up and the Pentagon is currently moving an army brigade HQ to Iraq, a sure sign that more is planned.
The only operation that took us by surprise was the first big raid on Syria, but it was not their attacks on us that caught us out. Apart from a few unlucky supporters killed at a roadblock outside the city we had long since evacuated everyone and had also dispersed almost all our weapons and kit.
No, the surprise was the effort they put into trying to damage the Khorasan group over in the west. We have nothing to do with them and their weird insistence in plotting attacks abroad, but they certainly scared the Americans. In the event, it kept the pressure off us so Khorasan actually did us a service.
I also find it weird how the western press seems to pick on just one happening – the Mosul dam attack or, just now, the fighting around Kobane – not getting even a remote understanding of the wider picture. What that picture shows is that we are making progress on many fronts, especially but not only in Anbar province. Even in Syria, Assad’s crowd still see us as an asset and long may that last, while the Turks are so conflicted on the Kurdish question that we see little threat from them apart from a possible symbolic action.
Our progress across northern Iraq three months ago was no surprise to us – after all we had been preparing for it for more than a year, and we are not seriously affected by the air attacks. We are therefore in a good position to consolidate our territorial control as we prepare for the long war. Indeed, our morale after two months of attacks has never been higher, born from the pleasure that we are now engaged in combat with a serious enemy not joke forces like the Iraqi army.
We are also doing amazingly well with all our international communications. The sophistication of the media operations is a joy to behold and is way ahead of anything that the enemy can muster, especially in reaching out to young believers and drawing them to the cause. I understand that the leadership has some worries about the force with which mosque leaders are condemning us in some countries such as Britain, but these are small setbacks in an otherwise positive environment.
There is much else I could discuss but perhaps I might end on one big issue – where next and what do we most want our enemies to do? I am not close enough to the leadership to be sure, but the city is a hotbed of gossip and what I try to do is to listen to those sources that have been accurate in the past.
The word there is that what is most wanted is serious numbers of western boots on the ground. There are scores, if not hundreds, of men who fought Task Force 145 – a Rangers battalion, SEAL Team 6 and an SAS squadron – especially in that crucial 2005-06 period, and they seriously want revenge for the wholesale slaughter and torture of their friends and relatives.
Indeed, many of them live in eager anticipation of the opportunity to capture western troops and then dress them up in the orange suits, waterboard them, and execute them, all on video for worldwide distribution. Revenge will be sweet and for quite a few of them revenge is a far stronger motive than seeking the new Caliphate. It is just as well that the Americans and British have no understanding of this, making it all the more likely that they will blunder into yet another trap.
How will this trap be sprung? Difficult to say, but I know one of the senior people close to Baghdadi is obsessed with the Tet offensive nearly half a century ago, sure that this time it will make the Americans increase their forces rather than withdraw. Where will it be sprung? Again, I can’t be sure but there is one pointer. The western media is making quite a lot of our recent advance between Fallujah and Baghdad, including this week’s success in and around Abu Ghraib.
What they all seem to be missing is that we already have highly effective yet dispersed forces well ensconced in the western districts of Baghdad itself. Take a look at the area around Baghdad international airport, not doing much on the civil side but an absolute hive of military activity as the American forces pour in (Bing is far better than Google for this - much clearer maps). Then look to the west and east of the airport complex. Westwards is Abu Ghraib, barely ten miles away with lots of farms, irrigation ditches and villages between it and the airport – quite decent paramilitary country and easy to disperse. Then look to the east and within five miles are the crowded Baghdad suburbs of Saidya, Khadra, Ameria and, of course, the appropriately-named Jihad. None of them is openly under our control but we are everywhere.
I may be wrong, but this is one bit of gossip I take seriously. Watch this space as we do our very best to wreak havoc and then get the Americans really involved, and this time on our terms.
That’s all for now, more in a couple of months.
A second letter, written soon after the first and giving more background. Somewhat controversially it implies that ISIS has quite a sophisticated intelligence and analysis capability, which did not go down well with some readers of the column when it appeared in openDemocracy. However, it is a reasonable assessment given the more widely accepted view that ISIS ran, and still runs, a very professional if often appalling news dissemination programme via the web and new social media.
When I last wrote I said that I might add something in a couple of months, but the questions you raise have prompted me to make a more immediate response. The first two were: what am I doing here just now, and how did I come to be doing it?
As you know, I came two years ago to join my brother and fight for the cause of an Islamic Caliphate. My motivation, as was his, was primarily revenge, given that we had lost two uncles and three cousins in fighting the Americans and British, and our father, two aunts and four cousins to airstrikes. That may still be part of our motivation, particularly the death of our beloved father, but we now see a much more positive future as we embrace the prospect that our leaders hold before us of a true Islamist entity. Whether we live to see it in this life is not relevant – that we are already part of it is.
My original journey here, my haphazard training (quite unlike the professionalism we have now) and my induction into fighting were all over within four weeks when I was caught in a Zionist attack, losing my left arm and very nearly my life. I survived, recovered and was desperate to return to the fight, but our leaders had other plans, telling me bluntly that I could play a far more important role for our cause by joining the analysis team SOBRA. (I understand that this stands for State Office Briefing Room A, the place in our main bunker where we originally worked).
After more than eighteen months into this work, I have to accept that they were right – it does make far better use of my Masters degree from SOAS and my three years of living in the UK and USA, and I now lead a small team that monitors western media and government output to prepare briefings for the leadership. I have three people working for me, and our whole section numbers more than twenty, covering all the major western languages as well as Chinese and Russian, and with excellent communications systems that have so far been entirely unaffected by the numerous US airstrikes.
Most of our output is for the main planning cells, with some of it going right through to the leadership. But we also feed in a constant supply of information to our colleagues in media production. They tend to use our material in a highly nuanced if not frankly propagandistic manner, but I have to admit that when it comes to propaganda they are the very best, and simply streets ahead of their western opponents. Their numbers have increased substantially and there are now over thirty of them, many being recent recruits from among the more knowledgable of our western brothers and sisters.
That, incidentally, is an area where the rate of expansion is hugely positive. We now have many thousands of young recruits joining us from across the region. Even more importantly, many hundreds a month come from western countries, mostly men but with an increasing number of women.
You ask how I think the struggle is going, especially with what outsiders see as our failure to take Kobane. I have to say that our leaders have little concern, for two reasons. First, we fully expected that at some stage the Americans would try to start a serious air war and would eventually strong-arm the weak Turks to allow the Iraqi Kurds to help defend the town. Both are proving to be useful training exercises for our less experienced militias.
Second, as you will recall, our core military leadership has many people who learned how to handle the Americans in Iraq eight to ten years ago, but we have thousands of younger fighters with far less experience. This is what they are now getting. It is going to prove invaluable during the coming winter when the Americans will really step up the air attacks against us here in Raqqa.
One of the things we are expecting is a determined and sustained effort to wreck our civil infrastructure. Transport and communications will be the priority, together with the sustained disruption of power supplies. One of my recent assignments was to investigate the current status of the American “blackout bomb” that they used in Serbia in 1999, disrupting power supplies of over 70% of the country. I’ve found out that it is very much around, designated the BLU-114/B, and we expect it to be used frequently this winter, so much so that our leaders are already preparing counter-measures. You have probably never heard of this, so here’s a link.
You also ask me about morale and I can only reply that it is currently very high. As I have said, my main function is to analyse the western media and I must admit that they still have little conception of what they are dealing with. They report, almost jubilantly, our failure to take Kobane but cannot understand that this is little more than a sideshow. Meanwhile, they miss out so many other developments.
Our mission is to create a new Caliphate, starting here in Syria and Iraq but spreading out over the next decade or more to bring in links right across the Islamic world. Let me just give you just three examples of current progress.
First, our leaders have now formally stated the connection between our cause and the suffering of our Uyghur cousins in China. Just making that statement, and publicising it widely across our world, begins the process of unification.
Second, as the Americans and British finally withdraw from Afghanistan, our Taliban cousins spread their control over more and more territory. They are doing it quietly but to great effect and this will continue, with a substantial increase in control after the winter. We do not pretend that we control them, nor do we seek or need to do so. In the wider scheme of things it is enough that they make progress.
Third, I simply cannot understand how the west, especially the Americans, fails repeatedly to recognise the effect of the actions of the Zionists. Even now, they have no appreciation of how useful the Gaza war was to us and how much anger it induced across the Muslim communities in the west – and still does as the Zionists and the Egyptian leader al-Sisi together block the rebuilding.
On top of this, Binyamin Netanyahu announces the building of 1,000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem and then closes Haram al Sharif, one of the holiest of all our sites. It is simply unbelievable, and the effect on recruitment to our cause will be a joy to behold. Do you seriously need to ask how we see the future? To say that we see it with confidence is a masterpiece of understatement.
Nearly six months into the air war and his attitude is rather less exuberant, admitting to considerable losses and even suggesting that the leadership might have underestimated the impact. Even so, he remains very committed and outlines why he thinks the ISIS paramilitaries are so resilient in the face of the intense air attacks. He also explains the function of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and the manner in which ISIS aims to stir up anti-Islamic antagonism as a substantial part of its strategy.
I had hoped to write to you before the end of the year but, as you may have heard, my brother was badly injured in an American airstrike and I spent a lot of time making sure he got the right treatment. The attack was on the Fallujah-Abu Ghraib road and while he got immediate medical help there, he had to be brought back to our much better facilities here in Raqqa. I am really pleased to say that he is recovering well and very anxious to get back to his platoon.
You mentioned in your last message that you had passed on my letter to some friends, one of whom scanned it and put it online and, as a result, it even got picked up by one of those western websites that quaintly thinks it presents a broad spectrum of opinion on our region! Never mind, perhaps someone will read it and get the message, but since you might want to do this again, I’ll just report a bit of background.
My brother came to join the cause three years ago after many members of our family had been killed, and I joined him a year later. I had come to fight but got injured early on, losing an arm. They then had me join the group analysing western attitudes and their media, seeing us through their eyes to help our planner conduct the war most effectively. I am part of a large group working in many languages but because of my SOAS degree and years in London, I concentrate on Britain.
When I last wrote at the end of October, the air war was already under way and we had experienced nearly 400 attacks, losing some of our soldiers very early on. Fortunately our losses were not too great and, in any case, are mostly new recruits – martyrs are serving as a marvellous inspiration to young people to come and join us. Now that the war with the far enemy has really started it is so much easier for us to present the case that the Islamic world is once again under attack from the Crusader-Zionist conspiracy, and we can point to all the other examples – Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali, Libya and the rest.
Already we are seeing an increase in the numbers of young men and even women coming to our cause. I saw a recent western estimate of 18,000 joining us so far, including 3,000 from outside the region. Surprisingly, they are not too far out with these figures except that they are seriously underestimating the numbers from western Europe.
You ask how we are coping with the attacks. Well I have to say that the intensity has caught us just a little by surprise. There have been about 3,500 attacks so far on nearly 2,500 targets, with around 7,000 bombs and missiles dropped. Our statistical bureau colleagues tell us that over a thousand of our fighters have been killed and about the same number injured, but that our paramilitary leaders were planning for much higher losses and are not remotely worried - we and they may mourn the deaths but celebrate the martyrdom.
There have been many civilians killed, including children, and our social media people have done a remarkable job in telling their stories and sending the news right around the world. This, alone, is a really helpful recruiting aid.
Where does it all leave us, and you rightly ask how the war is going? As you know I am not in the propaganda business and in the analyses I organise for the leaders they insist on me telling them it as it is, so I will be straight with you, too. Firstly, our progress has been blunted by the attacks but no more than we expected. We are not even bothering to put resources into taking Kobane, as that had little strategic importance being more a matter of presentation than anything else. Secondly, we have actually made some progress in Iraq, especially consolidating our hold over large parts of Anbar province and increasing our infiltration of western Baghdad. Finally, and most importantly, we have made significant territorial gains in northern Syria, aided by the agreement with al-Nusra which continues to hold in most districts.
You may wonder how this can be when we are facing an air assault that is much more intensive than any meted out to the Afghans in recent years. The main reason is that our paramilitary leaders know what to expect since most of them fought the Americans and their allies for years in Iraq. One of my friends in military planning, who fought in Chechnya, Kashmir and Afghanistan before being injured in Iraq and transferring to desk duties told me that in his considered opinion our paramilitary leadership is probably the best in the world, and certainly superior to the other side. With all their advanced weaponry and firepower, they are not remotely near understanding us or what we are about.
As I mentioned, my duties involve analysing the western media and I am required to pay particular attention to the military literature, especially in the United States. What I do see there, if only occasionally, is some public acknowledgment that they are facing a much more difficult task than they imagine, and that unless they can train effective Iraqi army forces this war will last for years. Even so, there is very little attention paid to such views.
Interestingly, I occasionally see reports from well-informed analysts in civil think-tanks pointing out that generational cohorts of combat-trained paramilitaries have been produced, first in Afghanistan in the 1980s and again in the 1990s, then in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, more recently in Libya and now once again in Iraq and Syria. It is hardly surprising, is it, that the current generation is an elite in every sense of the word? Fortunately, the very few analysts saying this are systematically ignored, which is just as well for us.
So what of the next few months? Well, three elements are significant. As I said last time, we are very keen to have enemy boots on the ground fighting us directly. We are now getting this – the recent engagement with Canadian special forces is an example. The more of this the better, and what we really want is ordinary troops involved. We can then capture some, build up a pool of prisoners and execute them one by one, no doubt ensuring a substantial escalation in the war.
That is the second point: that outcome is precisely what we want. I still cannot understand that the leaders of the far enemy do not appreciate that we want a war! Do I really have to shout it - for it seems so obvious. If our main near-term aim is to show we are defending Islam, how can we do that if we are not being attacked? It would make no sense. How can we ensure an increased supply of recruits if there is little work to recruit for? As one of their TV adverts puts it – “simples”!
That brings me to my final point, the impact of the Paris attack and what it means in the coming months. The brothers who staged that attack were not part of us, but they did a very good job of stirring up anti-Islamic antagonism. This is something we really do need if we are to get more disillusioned young people flocking to the cause. In fact if we can ensure that inter-communal relations across the west are wrecked then that is really good news.
Because of this we have developed over the past year a new department that works specifically to place dedicated young people with direct combat experience back in their own countries in order to prepare for attacks. We are obviously losing some to the security forces but plenty are surviving. We anticipate a number of incidents in the coming months and have some brilliant targets identified which will come as great surprises and have maximum effect. As well as directly inspiring more recruits to our cause, far more of our Muslim friends will be more marginalised and alienated by the fracturing of society that our attacks cause, with ever more of them coming to see that ours is the only way.
In short, we can survive the air war with ease, for months if not years. We welcome and hope earnestly for ground combat. And we look forward to more strikes at the heart of the far enemy and the sense of mission that will be engendered. In short, things are going very largely according to plan.
I will write again with news of my brother’s progress in a few weeks but I very much suspect he will be back in action long before then - after what he has suffered, and all the losses to his family, there is just no stopping him.
Two months later he presents a still-positive account of where ISIS is, what its strengths are, and his insistence that it is an entirely positive cause. As is usually the case, he sees developments beyond Iraq as frequently favoring the movement, most notably Binyamin Netanyahu’s electoral success. To him, and ISIS, the Israeli prime minister is an asset because of his treatment of the Palestinians. His own work reflects this reverse view – he is to run an analysis unit on Britain’s forthcoming election, the hope being that right-wing parties will succeed. For ISIS, anything that adds to the alienation of Muslims in the UK is to be welcomed, as is a British government of a hawkish persuasion.
Thank you for asking after my brother. When I last wrote I was confident that he would soon be back on the frontline, probably in Tikrit, but I am sorry to say that one of his wounds turned septic and for a week we thought he would lose his right leg. Fortunately his brigade commander heard what was happening and pulled sufficient weight for him to be brought back to one of our military medical centres here in Raqqa. The treatment has been excellent and he is now up and about. One of the good things about this is that I have been able to see him almost every day and we have been able to talk and share our visions of the future more than at any time since I first came here over two years ago.
You ask about how I see the war going and I will tell you, but first let me bring you up to date on my own news. You will recall that I originally came here to fight, following my brother and utterly determined to aid the cause after the huge suffering our family had experienced – my brother and I still talk fondly about our beloved father and his terrible death in that crusader airstrike.
My fighting life ended early when I lost my left arm in a Zionist air attack and since then I have worked for the leadership in the SOBRA team, my responsibilities being to monitor and analyse the western media, especially in Britain. They seemed to recognise my hard work and my ability to be ruthlessly independent in my analysis and I was promoted to run the whole unit early last year. You might expect that they don’t want to be presented with bad news but that is simply not the case. They are so hardened, not least from the experience of many of them against those crusader special forces in Task Force 145 in Iraq, and they are absolutely insistent on being told it as it is.
One of their increasingly significant requirements is for high-quality analysis of the political trends in those crusader countries that provide us with such dedicated recruits. Britain and France are important although they were also particularly concerned about Israel when it looked as though Binyamin Netanyahu would lose the election – a potential disaster for us since he has been such a marvellous recruiting sergeant for our cause.
The relief at the result right across the movement has been palpable. Not only will he encroach still further on our lands but there is every chance of his stirring up a crisis between the crusaders and the hated apostates in Tehran. It may not happen soon, and there might even be an initial nuclear deal, but we are not in this for the short term so that is hardly important.
But what I really wanted to say is that the leadership instructed me last month to establish an election research unit within SOBRA to provide analysis of electoral trends in key crusader states, with an emphasis on impending elections. My first task, already underway, is to analysis the forthcoming British election and how we might influence it in the right way. I’ll say a bit more about that before I finish but first let me respond to your query about how the war is going.
It is two months since I last wrote to you and the short answer is that it is going more or less according to plan, especially in Tikrit. I know that would have surprised you a couple of weeks ago, given the way the Iraqi propagandists had been trumpeting their early progress but I’m sure you will have heard what has happened recently. In effect, the operation has stalled even though we have less than 1,000 fighters, facing 3,000 Iraqi soldiers and 20,000 Iraqi militia fighters supported by many Iranians including their special forces.
The Iraqis are losing at least sixty of their people every day, with scores more injured who are now clogging up their hospitals. For the time being they have stopped trying to advance and are waiting for reinforcements. At some stage we will suddenly withdraw all our forces and they will claim a great victory. We, on the other hand, will have ended up with hundreds more recruits having got firsthand combat experience while also taking territory elsewhere.
I’m not sure whether you know that only last week we overran the headquarters of the Iraqi army’s 26th brigade at Thar Thar, close to Baghdad. We killed or captured many Iraqi soldiers and took truckloads of equipment and munitions before moving on.
There is also a huge advantage coming to us from the actions of the hated Iraqi Shi’a militias as they plunder and burn Sunni villages. This has been a persistent element of the war that has been going on for many months. One example was when a large Shi’a militia force tried to take control of Amerli (or “liberate” it, as they say) last summer. The fighting was hard and in the process they staged scores of reprisal raids against Sunni villages in the surrounding areas. At least thirty were attacked, the villages looted, men abducted and thousands of buildings burned to the ground.
This has now been happening around Tikrit and we have no doubt that the effect will be to increase support for our cause right across the province, as happened around Amerli. Tacitus had it right when he said “they make a desert and called it peace”, and this will be repeated time and time again. In the short term they will make gains, including, no doubt, Tikrit, but in the longer term these will greatly play to our advantage.
We are being helped in many other ways too. Little by little other fighters are rallying to our cause, from Libya right through to Kazakhstan. Also, the museum attack in Tunis last week is having precisely the intended effect. Picking the afternoon of a cruise-ship visit and crusader tourists present there means that it had a worldwide impact, and hitting Tunisia’s tourist trade is hugely important. With its rampant graduate unemployment and hundreds of thousands of well-educated young people excluded from mainstream society, Tunisia has long been one of our best recruiting grounds, but the resurgence in the tourist industry and the employment provided was a worry for us. This will now be happily averted, and not only will the government crack down heavily on dissent but there will be more and more angry and frustrated people on the margins.
The attacks on the apostate mosque in Yemen are also very helpful especially in boosting our financial support base in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have been hugely worried at the rapid increase in Iranian political influence in Iraq, a key part of their much-feared Shi’a crescent from the Mediterranean to the Arabian Sea, and their near-paranoia has been greatly boosted by the rise in Houthi power in Yemen with its obvious Iranian backing. For our people to attack apostate mosques to such an effect is a clear indication to our Saudi backers that we are increasingly a force to be reckoned with.
I mentioned earlier on that I would say more about our new Election Research Unit. As must be obvious to any intelligent person, if we are wanting to increase the number of recruits coming to our cause from outside the region, then the more angry, resentful and marginalised young Muslims there are, the better. In the long term we have high hopes for Marine Le Pen and the Front National, even if her claims to being the “first party of France” are currently a bit over the top.
Our immediate concern, though, is with Britain and the forthcoming general election where we have some serious worries, almost as bad as the fear that Netanyahu would lose in Israel last week. Obviously what we want in Britain is the best performance possible from UKIP and Nigel Farage. They are great assets as they play to the fear of immigrants in general and Muslims in particular.
The ideal outcome, which looked plausible a few weeks ago, would have been a weak Conservative Party trying to form a government but dependent on UKIP to form a new coalition. In our dreams the real delight would have been a weak Cameron as prime minister with Farage as deputy prime minister and home secretary (what the British call the interior minister). Just imagine having Farage in overall charge of community relations and immigration – it would have made our day!
Maybe it still will, but the problem is that there is a risk that Cameron will not even be in that position, especially as UKIP looks ominously to be past its peak. There is now a real possibility that Miliband could end up with the largest number of seats and our even greater worry is that he forms a minority government with tacit support from that Scottish lot, the extraordinary thing being that they actually want immigrants north of the border! Can you believe it? We could actually see a government in power that is favourable to minorities, including even Muslims. This really is our worst nightmare and hugely damaging to our growing support base there.
We have already passed on this analysis to the SOBRA leadership and they are putting together plans to try and prevent this, but they have already run into difficulties. One proposal was to make a determined effort to capture some British military who could then be treated as war criminals in the usual way, perhaps in an appropriate manner over Easter.
The problem is that the British military have, for once and rather unusually, seen this coming and have recently minimised their exposure, including postponing new military training missions in Iraq until after the election. This is really annoying as it would have been by far the best way to really stir up Islamophobia in Britain and with it more support for UKIP.
I have no doubt, though, that SOBRA is looking at other ways of affecting the election result and you are likely to see something significant happen in the coming weeks. Even if it doesn’t, Britain does look like entering a period of political uncertainty and that, at least, is good news for us – uncertainty means scapegoats and we all know what that involves.
He “explains” the loss of Tikrit and points to other successes, as well as highlighting his own work. His view of the British political scene immediately after the general election is positive: the Conservative victory is welcome, as is the continued significance of Nigel Farage, while there's relief that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party didn't win (out of fear that Britain might adopt a more cautious stance on military action against ISIS). From his perspective, ISIS wants to be attacked in order to maintain its status as the defender of “true” Islam.
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!
The writer continues to show confidence in the future of his movement, pointing to successes, as he sees them, across south Asia, and indicating that the movement has potential in Russia. In assessing the UK, concern that the all-too-peaceful Jeremy Corbyn might be a problem if he ever gets into power is moderated by the belief that the chances of this are minimal.
This is my sixth letter to you since we started our correspondence last October and while I know that you, in the relative safety of western Baghdad, do not share my views, at least our old friendship allows us to continue to write. You ask again after my brother and I remember that when I wrote to you in May he was back in good health, training young recruits and hoping to be sent to Afghanistan as our campaign there expands.
Well, as you might expect from him, the training he was running involved a near total commitment and the result has been that his recovery has been slower than expected. As a result he has been put on lighter duties for the next two months. In one way I am very pleased because while I would have been hugely proud of him had he been sent to this important theatre, at least I now see more of him. He told me last week during Eid that his next task will most likely not be a posting to Afghanistan but to Libya, where our links are strengthening by the day.
From your most recent letter I see that you are still very keen to learn what I think of the progress of our war, and there is much to report. First, I should say that my work is still focused on being an effective part of the SOBRA analysis centre here in Raqaa, and I remain largely concerned with the UK, not least because the post-election environment needs to be followed closely in relation to its implications for our work.
Even so, the UK is not quite as important as it was, and one of my most significant duties is to contribute to a very small cell that seeks to maintain a realistic overview of our overall campaign beyond our established caliphate and, indeed, beyond the Middle East.
I’ll begin by giving you our perspective on this vast region, and say that while there are interesting developments in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the main focus is on Afghanistan, Libya and a third country which may surprise you – Russia – which is attracting much interest among our most senior leaders. Before covering Russia, though, I’ll just update you on the other two.
Afghanistan continues to show progress, but it is variable, mainly because of our uncertain relationship with the Taliban and some other armed opposition groups. You always have to remember that the Taliban simply do not share our vision of a transnational caliphate ultimately encompassing the whole world. They are essentially Pashtun nationalists with little more than a veneer of religious purity. As such, they are all too ready to compromise with local norms in the pursuit of power, an attitude that we find utterly frustrating.
Even so, we have been able to make some strong links with some of them and have even been part of significant campaigns, often bringing our paramilitary expertise to bear in a manner that the more prescient and intelligent of them welcome. Indeed, what we have recently heard is that the crusader leadership in Afghanistan think we are such a serious threat that they may reconsider their original plan to withdraw their remaining 9,800 troops by the end of next year. As one of their generals put it, they think we have moved from a “nascent” threat to one that is “probably operationally emergent”.
What a weird phraseology, yet it is music to our ears! If the crusaders still have thousands of troops in the country when they elect their new leader next year, then we expect that whoever gets to their “White House” will be more militaristic than Obama. This means that we will look confidently to many more years of war and thousands more recruits to our cause.
In Libya, our progress is steady and has none of the problems of the narrow nationalism of the Pashtuns in Afghanistan. Instead, though, it is a country that is so unstable and disjointed that any effective organisation can make rapid progress. The crusaders did us an immense favour in getting rid of Gaddafi – even now they fail to recognise how brutal and effective he was in suppressing our cause.
One effect of that was that thousands of young Libyans left the country and came to join the fighting in Iraq after 2003, and many of those that survived are moving back to Libya to aid our programme of expansion. They are a powerful force - highly experienced paramilitaries including some who fought JSOC in 2004-07 but also having intimate knowledge of Libyan society. All in all we see Libya as an environment of great promise.
Then there is the real surprise – Russia. You will know that the Chechens and others from the Caucasus have long been important to our cause but what is striking is how many of them within Russia share our aim of a Caliphate in all its detail. I do not know the exact figures but I understand that we now have close to 2,000 Russians fighting for us here, with tens of thousands more pledging allegiance within their own country.
What we find hugely welcome is that their president, Putin, knows no other way but to crush dissent with persistent force. He has no idea at all of how counterproductive this will be in the long term. After all, Russia has at least 16 million Muslims, more than a tenth of the population, and his actions against some of them cause anger among far more. This in turn helps stir up bitter Islamophobia among the majority population, making even more people uneasy and having the potential to provide thousands more recruits to our cause. He really is clueless!
But let me move on to my own area of specialism, Britain, which occupied so much space in my last two letters. You will remember that back in March what we would really have liked from their general election was a Conservative-UKIP coalition, ideally with Farage as deputy prime minister and interior minister (they call the post “home secretary”).
Just before the election we had had sleepless nights that Miliband might get in, ending up with a government even more cautious than Obama. In the event, things have turned out rather well with a Conservative government using the chaos in the Labour Party to force through many policies. In my last latter, I predicted that “Labour will spend the next four months arguing about the leadership and systematically failing to provide opposition”. How prescient I was!
Yet there is just a bit of a worry, because the one candidate who is bitterly opposed to doing what we want - expanding the war - is currently doing rather well. Indeed Mr Corbyn might even get elected and while we think that will bring on years of infighting leaving the Conservatives to do what they want, we have this niggling worry that any discussion involving any kind of opposition to the war is not good news for us.
I personally also have a slight concern that Cameron’s speech earlier this week about tackling what he calls extremism was not as hardline as we had hoped, in spite of the deliberate provocation by our Tunisian associates. At least he only covered the domestic front and it is clear that he wants to extend the British war to Syria later in the year. For us, this is far more important.
There is much more I could write about, especially in relation to our recent progress in Syria, but I have work to do now and will have to leave that to another time. Be assured, though, that we are making considerable progress so do not believe the crusader propaganda. Remember that they were saying we would be finished by the end of last year. Instead we are stronger, with hundreds of recruits joining us every week.
When Britain joins the war in Syria we are fully confident that it will help to get even more from Britain. We might have to do some more provoking but I am confident that our leaders are following events closely and will decide if and when to order it.
Three months further on and ISIS is experiencing the full brunt of the air assault. He continues to present a positive slant but there is an element of concern in the language. The confidence in ultimate success perhaps dented by the losses, though he seeks comfort from the possible effects of those very losses in terms of a positive impact on recruitment and the progress that he sees ISIS making in the wider world, notably Afghanistan and Libya. Russian involvement in the war in Syria is an asset, allowing Moscow to be framed as anti-Islamic.
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.
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.
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.
By now the writer’s work has been redirected to covering the American presidential election campaign as it takes shape. His assessment includes the then forlorn hope of what, from ISIS’s perspective, would be the ideal result: a victory for Donald Trump! He is hopeful, though, that any result will deliver a more hawkish administration than Barck Obama, which would be welcome among the leaders in Raqqa.
Thank you for your letter and all the news from Baghdad. I am glad to know that your sister has recovered from her injuries, especially as medicines are in such short supply. I hear that the collapse in oil prices is already leading to a surge in the black market for medical supplies. Is that true?
Thanks also for asking once again after my brother. I am pleased to say that I have just heard from him at the end of a hugely worrying time since he left for Libya at the end of September. He tells me that he is fit and well and very heavily involved in the forays from Sirte down to the oilfields. As we had heard, our militias in Sirte have expanded their hold, having been hugely helped by nearly 2,000 of our fighters who have gone to join them.
What few people in the western military realise is that the great majority of them are actually Libyans returning home, having fought so well against the crusaders and apostates in Iraq and Syria. They are therefore dedicated to extending the Caliphate into their own home territory and also exceptionally experienced in combat. My brother tells me that the crusader military are increasing their use of drones and also using special forces raids but to little effect, so we expect to see systematic bombing raids starting soon, with the inevitable civilian casualties in turn leading to greater support for our cause.
You ask me what I am now doing – do I still work for SOBRA and indirectly undertake analysis for the leadership, and does this still relate to my British experience? In one way I am still frustrated that I cannot be on the frontline, but I am slowly accepting that this is a necessary consequence of losing my arm in that raid. At least it was my left arm. As I said in my last letter we have a good prosthetics team here in Raqqa but the priority has to be lower limb replacements and I am now told that it will be some months before I can get a prosthetic arm.
At the same time my role has changed and in quite an exciting direction. You will recall that my analytical work around the time of the British general election was in assessing how the British might react in a new parliament. We had been worried that Miliband might get in whereas our greatest wish was for a minority Conservative government having to go into coalition with UKIP. Our vision of Cameron beholden to Farage and having to make him home secretary and deputy prime minister would have been like heaven to us!
It wasn’t to be but at least Miliband failed, so our work on UK political analysis was downgraded. Even so, I am tasked with spending a small part of my time keeping a watching brief and have to say that the Corbyn situation is a bit of a worry. Although nearly all the British commentators think he will fail as Labour leader we have a sneaking suspicion that he is striking a chord with more people than they realise, with this including offering a voice to perhaps 20 million people who do not agree with Cameron’s stance on the war. It would be a disaster for us and the movement if he was ever to get into Downing Street, but at least that is some years off.
Because of this I have been asked to run a small but highly knowledgeable team analysing and advising on US politics throughout this election year. You may remember that I spent parts of two years in Washington so I find it particularly thrilling to be asked to analyse the race for the White House, given that the outcome will be so crucial to our future.
As far as the contenders are concerned, what we would like most would obviously be a Trump victory – even better than having Farage sharing power with Cameron in London! Our nightmare, of course, would be a Sanders victory but in spite of the Iowa result we do not currently expect him to get the Democrat ticket.
In addition to our analysis of open sources, we do have some insider voices reporting to us, and also have a wider circle of contacts who add a more general perception. The consensus view is that Sanders has some way to go but the main impact will be to make Clinton appear more progressive than she really is, but only for the duration of the primaries. The odds are still on Cruz for the Republicans but my own view is that his support will recede and that it will be Marco Rubio who comes to the fore. We will then have a Clinton-Rubio contest and we will be reasonably content with that.
You may ask why we would be content with such a contest but I think you have to look at the bigger picture. America is moving slowly but surely to the right, and even Obama is steadily allowing a build-up of US operations against us and our associates. This is just what we want as the true defenders of Islam, and since Clinton or Rubio will be more hardline than Obama, we will have more defending to do, which works wonders for recruiting more followers.
In spite of our recent minor reverses our leadership is in good heart and are buoyed by three positive developments. The first is the American move to the right which is well-nigh certain to continue and the second is our programme of overseas attacks designed principally to stir up as much Islamophobia as possible. More attacks are being planned for western Europe but I understand that an even greater priority is Russia. The possibility of really exacerbating anti-Muslim feelings towards Russia’s 16-million strong Islamic minority is a prize really worth aiming for.
It is the third development, though, that is the hugely welcome surprise – the crisis over refugee flows to Europe. I don’t think that any of their politicians, even the few intelligent ones, have any idea what is being stirred up. Can they not see the impact of desperate people, including young children, facing razor wire and being violently repelled by armed riot police as they try to get into Europe? Can they not see that to Muslims across the world, let alone the Middle East, the vision is just proof positive that Europeans hate and despise them? This hatred will last for years and years.
So put it together – America goes more hardline, the wars intensify, the refugee flows grow, Europe turns its back as anti-Muslim feelings increase, community disorder and violence become the order of the day and. The end result? Many thousands more recruits to our cause.
Perhaps you can understand why someone like me is quietly optimistic. Never forget, we are fighting a cause that may take a century or more to achieve. Our opponents, the 'far enemy' really do not have a clue, and long may that last!
The war is hardly going well for ISIS, given the intensity of the air attacks. The writer, however, says little about this. His delight at the Brexit result is palpable, seeing it as a major part of the move towards xenophobia and Islamophobia in western Europe, trends likely to make Muslims more fearful and at least some of them likely to see ISIS as the true way forward. He rejoices yet again that the west has so little understanding about the nature of ISIS and the new Caliphate. From his perspective, ISIS wants to be attacked and seeks to damage community relations in Europe as much as possible, thus damaging society from within. For him, plenty of politicians and much of the western media are giving ISIS precisely what it wants.
Thank you for your letter and I am pleased to hear you were nowhere near central Baghdad when the bomb went off. I know we have had our differences, but do believe me when I say that war has consequences which even those involved can regret.
I must apologise for taking nearly six months since my last letter but things have been very hectic here as the air strikes – Russian as well as American – have come closer to the city.
At least I have now been fitted with a prosthetic arm and have been learning how to manage with it. Since I lost my arm in that American raid several years ago, I had got used to managing without, so the new arm is taking some getting used to. It was amazing to get it though, given the pressures that our hospitals are under, and while it is hardly state of the art it is certainly making a difference.
You ask again after my brother. I have some really surprising news of him. You will remember that back in February I had just heard from him in Libya, even though I knew he had been there for some months. Well I have just heard through a friend that he is now in Bangladesh! Not only that but he is part of the small team that has been involved in the rapid development of our organisation there, including the action against the foreigners a couple of weeks ago.
I understand that the operation did not go quite according to plan as they had expected to find more Americans there rather than Italians, but the effect on Bangladeshi politics has still been considerable. It has also demonstrated categorically that ISIS has 'reach'. It also coincides with our action in Kabul, which gives the lie to Ghani’s claim that ISIS in Afghanistan is finished.
You ask about my own work. It has mainly been about continuing to analyse and assess the US presidential election for our SOBRA intelligence centre. But I also still continue with my watching brief on the UK. You will remember that this was my main role around last year’s election there, and that we had been concerned that Miliband might win and bring in a less antagonistic attitude towards us. That was not, of course, what we wanted. The more the Crusaders attack us the more support we can generate.
In the event the result was fine for us. We had this dream of a weak Conservative/UKIP coalition with Farage as Cameron’s home secretary, but we knew full well that it was unlikely. We were happy to settle for a rather unstable Conservative majority. Corbyn coming in for Labour was, as I said in an earlier letter, a bit of a worry since the last thing we wanted in UK politics was an out-and-out peacenik, but we had few concerns that he would ever get there given the quintessentially right-wing nature of the British press.
Where Cameron turned out to be an utter gift for us was his need to assuage his right-wing with a referendum on the EU. You can imagine our utter delight at the outcome – roll on Brexit and all the upheaval! All we want now is Marine Le Pen winning the French presidency next spring, followed by an even messier Frexit and the break-up of the whole Crusader edifice! But more of that later.
As I said, my current job is with the US election and I note that my last letter to you mentioned rather wistfully the possibility of Donald Trump getting the Republican ticket. It seemed frankly unlikely back in February, but just look at what has happened since! Not only has he got it but he looks like he is levelling with Hillary Clinton as polling day approaches. Our senior planners are currently working hard to decide how we might intervene to improve his chances and I am pretty sure there will be some interesting developments there.
What our leaders want is a convincing win for Trump and the enacting of his harder-line policies on immigration, religious freedom and the like, coupled with a reversal of his current rather curious brand of isolationism. Expect some anti-American spectaculars both before the election and even more so afterwards if he does make it to the White House. These will be designed to ensure a renewed onslaught on us by the Americans and their European Crusader allies.
You ask me to be frank with you about the current state of the war and I will oblige. You may be surprised to hear how optimistic I remain in spite of the intensity of the war being waged against us. It is true that we have lost many thousands of our young fighters as well as hundreds of women and children, and the recent acceleration in the intensity of the air raids has taken its toll. We have also lost valuable territory in Iraq, especially the fall of Fallujah. So you might think it reasonable to ask why I remain optimistic.
Look at it through other eyes, though. In Iraq the apostate government continues to favour the Shi’a and marginalises our natural supporters. Some of the behaviour is grotesque, as with the abandoning of tens of thousands of refugees from Fallujah even though they were refugees only because of the government assault on their city. Then there is the overwhelming presence of the Shi’a militias without which the government could not maintain control.
Put these together and are you surprised that support for our cause is rising in Iraq at the very time that our prospects are apparently so dim? Furthermore, our military planners are already preparing and positioning for a long-lasting insurgency against the Americans, Iranians, Shi’a militias and the Iraqi government. In doing so they are sure of plenty of support from many wealthy backers in the Gulf who are horrified at the rise of Iran and see the Shi’a crescent from the Mediterranean to the Arabian Sea as evolving before their eyes.
I also suspect that western analysts have no idea about the impact of our round-the-clock social media reporting of the Crusader air war and of the families torn apart by the bombing and drone strikes. These reports lead to palpable anger across the world and serve most effectively to aid our recruiting base.
There is a further element, however, which helps explain my positive outlook. Let me explain. If we go back two years, just after the startling successes in Iraq, all our emphasis was about the actual achievement of a new Caliphate out of what was previously northern Iraq and northern Syria. That was lauded as the way forward, in marked contrast to the failed policies of al-Qaida a decade earlier. But our top planners were already looking beyond this.
They correctly saw that the Crusaders would come at us with massive force and might eventually cause us huge problems, even to the extent of taking parts of the new Caliphate away from us. In these circumstances they reasoned that even the temporary existence of the Caliphate would be of huge symbolic importance, and its crushing by the Crusaders would be a call to arms in the coming years.
But they went further, in determining to take the war to the Crusaders. By the start of last year we were developing a range of capabilities. Some of these were under our direct control, others subject to strong influence and some technical support, and still others were no more than inspired by our work. A few of the recent attacks were completely unrelated, even if we moved quickly to claim them.
The effect of all of this, especially in France and Germany, has been to increase the sense of insecurity, accelerate the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry and increased support for extreme right-wing parties. We are most interested in Germany and France, but work is also under way to enhance our support-base in several other countries, including the Netherlands, Austria and Britain.
Even so, our main target has to be France and we are growing increasingly confident of influencing next spring’s presidential election in favour of Marine Le Pen. We may not have got Farage into the British government but Trump in the White House and Marine Le Pen as president of France will make us very happy indeed.
I have to say that even though I worked for three years in the United States and studied for a year in London, I am still amazed that senior policy people and analysts in both countries seem so unable to understand ISIS and its aims. Even after 15 years of war, the Crusader states are no more secure than they were. Yet they do not even try to learn why. For the sake of our mission, let us hope they never do.
The tenth and most recent of the letters. Here he acknowledges that the days of a defined geographical Caliphate might be coming to an end. Yet he does not see this as a disaster, given the election of Trump and the renewed xenophobic tendencies in Europe. Indeed, he now sees the Caliphate as a symbol for the long term and is deeply frustrated that he is not allowed to fight. He hopes yet to do so, concluding that this might be his final letter.
Thank you for your letter and for asking after my brother. I must apologise for taking so long to reply, especially as I last wrote to you nearly five months ago. There is much to say. But first, what of my brother? Last time I wrote he had just gone to Bangladesh to help the establishment of our new cell there. In the event he stayed a month and then went to Libya, much as I had suspected he would.
As you will have heard, the apostate militias and the crusader-backed government started a concerted attack on our movement last May, expecting to take our main centre of Sirte in a matter of weeks. Three months later and in the face of failure, the Americans were forced to bring in their aircraft-carrier and start airstrikes, but even with intense bombardment our forces held out until this week.
My brother’s role is to help organise the next stage. Libya is in utter chaos and many of the factions share our vision, so we see no difficulty at all in regrouping – indeed, many of our fighters have already melted away from Sirte to reform units elsewhere. There is much to play for, especially as across the border in Egypt, where al-Sisi is so intent on repressing our cause that he is playing right into our hands. Already our movement is thoroughly embedded in like-minded groups in Sinai, but what is far less known is the growing presence of our supporters in Cairo and other cities.
You also ask after me, and I have to report both good and bad news. The good news is that my new arm is functioning well, and I am able to continue my analytical work with SOBRA with even greater efficiency. The bad news is that my superiors absolutely refuse to let me join our fighters in Mosul, even though I am fully fit and able to defend with the best of them.
My superiors tell me bluntly that the analytical work I do for them on political developments in Britain, Europe and the United States is far more important. I know that my three years in London and Washington in the quite recent past do give me an understanding of what is happening within the far enemy but I often wish that I had never gone there. That way I could have already fought much more directly for the cause.
You and I have been friends for many years and that friendship has held even though you are in Baghdad and I am in Raqqa at the heart of the Caliphate, and we take such radically different views on the future path of our faith. I have to say that my superiors would be deeply antagonistic if they knew I continued with this correspondence, but for now I want to do so, although you will have gathered that there is another motive in that.
As you will know, my work involves accessing a very wide range of sources from the enemy including press, radio, TV, popular culture, military journals, the web and social media. But I also know that you do sometimes pass on my letters through your own social media. In its way that is helpful since I can learn how people elsewhere respond to my comments, in turn enabling me to understand better the extraordinary misinterpretations that are so common across the western world.
In your last letter you asked me to explain how morale within the movement could possibly be maintained when facing retreat after retreat – the loss of Fallujah and Ramadi for example, as well as the impending loss of Mosul. Indeed you report the view that our Caliphate will be destroyed by the end of next year, thus ending our extraordinary journey. You will not be surprised if I beg to differ, indeed that I get exasperated with such views, but I will try and respond in a rational way. After all, my post in SOBRA is predicated on just such rational analysis!
According to sources from the far enemy, primarily the Pentagon, since their air war started over two years ago they have attacked us with over 16,500 air raids and dropped over 60,000 bombs and missiles hitting over 30,000 targets. This is against our forces that have usually been estimated by them to number 25,000-30,000. To put it bluntly, they have used enough force to hit every one of us with two bombs or missiles! Indeed the Pentagon claimed back in August that they had killed well over 40,000 of us.
Something isn’t quite right here, is it? Either they are lying about killing us or we had far more people ready to fight or tens of thousands have joined us since the start. The reality is that their air war has indeed been extremely intense and they have killed very many thousands of our fighters and thousands of civilians but we had many more when the war started and many thousands have joined our cause since.
Look at what is really happening in Mosul. When their assault started seven weeks ago they had at least 80,000 attackers from half a dozen countries backed up by plenty of air power including drones, all determined to wipe out our few thousand defenders. In an absolute blaze of publicity they reported rapid progress into the city within two weeks.
Then what? It all went quiet and now there is scarcely any reporting from their side. If you search through their news sources you will find buried away the fact that they have been fought to a standstill and have taken control of less than a third of the eastern half of the city in seven weeks. Moreover, our main forces are still west of the Tigris. You can even find some Iraqi security sources admitting that they could still be fighting us in Mosul next summer!
Even so, I will say to you privately that we are experiencing a very heavy onslaught, one that has been going on for more than two years. I will also accept that the Caliphate as we have established it may not last for ever and will, instead, be part of a much longer process that will stretch over decades.
But before I come to the significance of that, let me just remind you of some of our spectacular achievements of recent years and indeed months.
For a start, right across the world they have been forced to spend trillions of dollars since 9/11 on their failed wars as well as vast sums of money on their own domestic security. Look at the security precautions at every airport, every legislature and every government office and look at the huge expansion of security forces and intelligence agencies and the across-the-board increases in surveillance. All of this to try and defeat a far, far smaller number of determined opponents who have little more than light arms and improvised weapons to fight against the best trained and best equipped military in the world.
Then look even more at the extraordinary political changes. In Britain there is Brexit, won partly by scare tactics. Remember the “breaking point” poster of thousands of desperate refugees actually presenting an existential threat to the UK. From our perspective we could hardly have asked for more!
Look at the rise in Islamophobia across Europe, at Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, the far-right government in Hungary, the almost-success for the far-right candidate in Austria. All of this has been very largely down to us and people like us. Don’t you see why we are so sure that we will eventually win?
I mentioned Libya earlier, but look also at Afghanistan where even the Americans are hugely worried about the insecurity. They say openly that the government only controls 60% of the country, and I can assure you that we are increasingly active there.
Remember what I said to you in an earlier letter when I was working on the analysis of the US election:
"As far as the contenders are concerned, what we would like most would obviously be a Trump victory – even better than having Farage sharing power with Cameron in London! Our nightmare, of course, would be a Sanders victory but in spite of the Iowa result we do not currently expect him to get the Democrat ticket...
So put it together – America goes more hardline, the wars intensify, the refugee flows grow, Europe turns its back as anti-Muslim feelings increase, and community disorder and violence become the order of the day. The end result? Many thousands more recruits to our cause.
Perhaps you can understand why someone like me is quietly optimistic. Never forget, we are fighting a cause that may take a century or more to achieve. Our opponents, the "far enemy" really do not have a clue, and long may that last!"
Since then, not only has Mr Trump won but he has already appointed two really hawkish retired generals, one to head the Pentagon and one to be head of his national-security office – two men who have been particularly anti-Islamic. Perhaps you can understand why I am so optimistic, even if deeply frustrated that I am not allowed to fight on the frontline.
But let me finish on one more point – what in the West they might call a “worst-case scenario.” As I read the western media and assess their changing attitudes, one thing that comes across is their belief that the Caliphate is finished. They do expect Mosul to fall to them eventually, although even that is no longer certain. Even so, they believe it will happen and they expect the same to apply to Raqqa. From their perspective that will be the end of it all.
I very much doubt that our Caliphate will be ended any time soon. But if that did happen in the next two or three years then what they miss entirely is that the very existence of an actual Caliphate, even if it lasted just five years or so, is what will count. It will have served as an extraordinary symbol of what can be achieved by a small but utterly determined group of the true faithful when pitted against the world’s most powerful military forces.
We do something that they simply cannot even begin to comprehend. Our aim, rooted in our faith, is to bring about a global transformation to true belief and we as individuals are just one small part of a process that stretches far beyond our own lives. We are, in a real sense, engaged in an eternal struggle and they cannot understand this, which is why we will win.
This may be my last contact with you in this life, as I hope very much to be released from my post very soon to join that fight as I have wanted to do for so long.