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The ISIS Solution

Written by Brandon Webb, Jack Murphy, and Peter Nealen.

Boko Haram

In early 2014, after taking over Fallujah, Iraq, U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama made the mystifying claim that ISIS was a “JV” terrorist group. Later in the year, after ISIS had conquered even more of Syria and Iraq, President Obama made the bizarre claim that ISIS “is not Islamic.” He did, however, pledge to “destroy” the group, but essentially rescinded that pledge in the same breath by promising not to deploy U.S. ground forces to Iraq.

Today, the Obama administration has unleashed an onslaught of measuredly disapproving public statements against ISIS, authorized a series of primarily symbolic airstrikes, and even broken the earlier promise not to deploy ground forces by putting a couple thousand American troops on the ground in Iraq. Of each of President Obama’s earlier ISIS statements, the most accurate one is his comment from September 2014, that he had “no strategy” for dealing with ISIS.

Noticing evidence of this vacuum to this day, Brandon Webb, Jack Murphy, and Peter Nealen published The ISIS Solution (2014, Kindle and Audible); a compilation of insights based on their respective years of SEAL, Special Forces, and Force Recon experience, observations from deployments in support of the war previously known as GWOT (Global War On Terror), and the study of warfare in general.

The authors make the insightful statement, “While ISIS has released several documents and videos giving some ideas of its strategy, even more can be determined by examining their targets, their actions in multiple spectrums of warfare, politics, and information, and their history.” They add, “ISIS has stated its goals in several places, including the recent propaganda video Flames of War. At the beginning of Flames, the narrator states that ISIS is ‘a mission that would herald the return to the khilafah [caliphate] and revive the creed of tawheed [monotheism/Islam]. It was the establishment of the Islamic State nourished by the blood of the truthful mujahideen to unite the ummah [the entire Islamic religion] on one calling, one banner, one leader.’”

ISIS Solution states, “From 2003 to 2012, AQI/ISI was unable to go head-to-head with the conventional coalition forces in Iraq. As a result, their strategy was limited by their logistics and available combat power. They attacked coalition forces with mostly indirect fires and improvised explosive devices, while simultaneously attacking infrastructure, conducting terror operations to dissuade the populace from supporting the coalition-backed Iraqi government, and to demonstrate the inadequacy of both that government and the coalition forces to keep them safe, and attacking the Iraqi security forces and government officials in order to break down the government’s resistance by way of terror and assassination.”

After identifying the problem, and its current growth spurts, the authors make a compelling argument that ISIS will become a larger problem over time. They acknowledge that the ideology behind terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS is “massively popular.” They suggest that beyond the immediate tactical solution to ISIS, we must make this ideology “uncool.” They suggest a comprehensive effort consisting of both white (openly attributed) and black (misleadingly attributed) propaganda to achieve this aim disseminated at the lowest possible levels.

The authors state that ISIS developed from a “resistance” stage to one of conquest where, in addition to executions and torture, the group delivered aid and implemented shariah. They took note of ISIS’ operational similarities to Mao’s strategies for communist revolution. They suggest that ISIS leader Baghdadi is a figurehead, with more skilled leadership remaining in the shadows. The writers take note of the group’s de-centralized leadership architecture and advance a quote attributed to Henry Kissinger: “the guerrilla wins if he does not lose.”

ISIS Solution recognizes that, while ISIS may have cheaper, less sophisticated communications technology, this is not a disadvantage when they handle the situation by allowing smaller elements to exercise initiative and take advantage of opportunities. They are also aware that American Blue Force Trackers and other advanced and expensive tracking and communications technology is a disadvantage when used to micromanage a force as Western militaries do. They correctly recognize that the common Western assumption that a group of this nature requires stable command and control is false.

After arguing that the consequences of inaction will be too horrible to imagine, the authors describe past special operations successes such as SAS commander David Stirling’s raids in North Africa and U.S. Special Forces operations in and around Vietnam. The authors propose three possible options for “destroying” ISIS.

The first option advanced is to launch a blitzkrieg by U.S. ground forces with a steeled political leadership, small units permitted to make decisions, and aggressive mobile operations supported by aggressive (not symbolic) close air support. The second option, intended to accommodate a desire to minimize use of U.S. forces, is a similar operation, but spearheaded by U.S. Special Operations Forces leading foreign forces. The third option is also similar, only conducted by private military companies. The authors acknowledge the predictable, if irrational, press “freakout” and political “demonization” that this option would meet, but point out the significant benefits, such as eliminating the burden from an overstretched U.S. military that must be prepared for larger strategic challenges and accomplishing the same mission with a smaller, less expensive force of volunteers. They point out the urgent need to plan a successful postwar plan this time, as well as a war campaign.

However, there are several concerns the book does not address. The authors seem to assume unlimited free-market industrial support rather than recognizing the current stifling influence from massively expanded regulation of our economy and central planning. It appears that the authors give no consideration to how close the U.S. economy may be to the precipice as a result of the U.S. government’s $18 trillion (+) admitted debt. Also, Iran has enjoyed the benefit of U.S. forces degrading Sunni competitors in the past and then unleashed surrogate Shiite terror campaigns to ensure that a U.S. friendly government or “freedom” of the type that could be recognized by a Westerner would not spring up. The authors have not articulated a reason to believe this challenge would be addressed this time. Furthermore, I am surprised the authors advocate for more U.S. propaganda rather than advocating for an initiative to expose the propaganda of our adversaries and that which undermines the U.S. Constitution. Finally, I am not clear what action in the past six years makes the authors believe that our national leadership might be capable of competently following the roadmap they have provided.

The sadistic Islamic State can be likened to a combination of the ideas of the “prophet” Mohammed, Vlad the Impaler, and the Viet Cong. They proudly post videos of machine gunning pedestrians on the Internet. They crucify Christians, rape and enslave men, women and children, and torture as they wish. As immoral as I believe war to inherently be, “destroying” these savages would be a moral campaign. Treating this growing threat as a distant priority may be an act of cowardice we one day regret. The ISIS Solution is full of valuable insight that “experts” who have never been to Iraq or talked with a terrorist may not be aware of. I pray that by the time our national leaders are “surprised” (yet again) to be drawn into an expanded and intensified conflict with ISIS they will have read The ISIS Solution.