Category ISIL

121 SDF killed, hundreds of boys missing

Latest update on the counts coming from the attack Gweiran prison:

See: Watchdog says 100s of boys missing from Kurdish Syria prison

The count of casualties from the attack on Gweiran prison by ISIL is 40 Kurdish fighters, 77 prison employees and 4 civilians. SDF says that ISIL lost 374 “detainees and attackers.” I assume that means that this figure includes a large number of the people that were already in the prison at the start of the operation. Actual ISIL losses were probably less.

Meanwhile, they are reporting hundreds of boys from the prison are missing. New ISIL recruits?

We did cap the latest leader of ISIL this week. I believe this the second leader of ISIL we have gotten rid of in addition to the leader of Al Queda in Iraq. In my book America’s Modern Wars, we did briefly discuss decapitating insurgencies (pages 151-153). We did not come up with a clear answer. We only had about dozen cases to look at, and of the four we examined in depth, in all cases the insurgency still won. Our conclusions were (page 153): “Now this is not to say we should not go after insurgent leadership when we have the chance. We obviously should. But, it is to stress that you should be careful about giving ‘decapitation’ too much importance as a strategic answer to your counterinsurgent problem.” and “Still, if you have the means to try decapitation, it is important to do so in such a way that you do not kill civilians or give them propaganda tools that they can use. In the end, if you are losing the propaganda war while you are trying to decapitate, then you are working against yourself.”  

I do sometimes fear that the U.S. is using decapitation to show we are “combatting the insurgency” as opposed to actually combatting the insurgency.

120 SDF Killed !!!

Just saw this news report: US-allied Syria force says it foiled major IS comeback plot

They are saying that the prison overrun by the Islamic State in northeastern Syria is now fully under its control.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say that more than 120 of their fighters and prison workers died in the ten-day standoff at Gweiran prison. More than 120 of their people killed, as reported by SDF! This is a degree of losses rarely seen by a counterinsurgent force. It is stunning.

The SDF also claims that 374 ISIL militants, including the initial attackers, were also killed. So, I was pretty rattled when I realized that ISIL was organizing a company-level attack. So, was this a battalion-level attack?

My previous posts on the subject:

In Case We Forget | Mystics & Statistics (

More on the revived ISIL | Mystics & Statistics (

The Revival of ISIL | Mystics & Statistics (

Among many of the subjects that I wanted to address in our various insurgency studies (see Modern American Wars), before all funding stopped (because the U.S. was so good at combating insurgencies?), was an analysis of the early stages of an insurgency; how they started and developed in their first few years. This appears to be an insurgency that is revitalizing itself. Suspect it is only going to get worse. 

The Revival of ISIL

I have already discussed events in Syria and Iraq a couple of times. See:

In Case We Forget | Mystics & Statistics (

More on the revived ISIL | Mystics & Statistics (

This still does not seem to be getting a lot of attention. The LA TImes (of all people) just put out an article worth looking at:

A few highlights:

  1. Two trucks attacked the prison.
  2. The fight lasted a week. It ended Wednesday.
  3. U.S. and UK forces involved.
  4. 1,600 prisoners gave themselves up. How many escaped? There were something like 3,500 prisoners there.
    1. “Some 800 Islamic State prisoners managed to escape, Amaq said Saturday.” Amaq is a news outlet affiliated with the Islamic State.
  5. The SDF has 10,000 fighters?
  6. 30 SDF were killed.
  7. Perhaps as many as 10,000 ISIL fighters survived after 2019.
  8. “This is just completely off the charts compared to the scale of the operations ISIS has engaged in for well over two years.” – yes, exactly. This is why I am blogging about this.

Now, for the Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC) on 27-29 September 2022 I have two conference rooms reserved, one is larger than the other. On day 2 of the conference, I do have the larger conference room (amusingly named the “Pike and Gallows Conference Center”) scheduled for “Analysis of Unconventional Warfare.” I do have a shortage of presentations on “unconventional warfare” (or COIN or Irregular Warfare or whatever is the terminology of the day). I do think the subject does need to be further examined, especially in light of how successful we were in Afghanistan.

P.S. ISIL, ISIS, Daesh and Islamic State are all the same people.


More on the revived ISIL

I have still not seen anything on the U.S. news about the resurgent ISIL, but it is on the French news.

Heavy fighting continues for 3rd day to stop ISIS prison break attempt in Syria (

A few points that get my attention:

  1. It appears that ISIL was executing prison guards.
  2. The U.S. is conducting airstrikes to support the SDF (Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces).
  3. U.S. forces in Bradley fighting vehicles were seen about 300 meters from the fighting location.
  4. The SDF say that 22 of their fighters have died and 17 injured. This is a lop-sided wounded-to-killed ratio, but note point one above (executed guards).
  5. The SDF claims that 45 ISIL members were killed and 110 escaped detainees were captured. How many escaped detainees were not captured? There were nearly 3,500 people held in the prison.
  6. Why is ISIL continued to fight after three days? Why not attack and withdraw? What are they gaining by continuing the fight?


P.S. I still don’t know why people call it ISIS? Even google translate gives the translation as “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Try it: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام

In Case We Forget

This AP news report caught my attention: Islamic State gunmen mount deadly attacks in Syria, Iraq: dozens killed

The points that stand out to me:

1. “In Iraq, IS gunmen attacked an army barracks [at 3 a.m.] in a mountainous area north of Badhdad early Friday, killing 11 soldiers as they slept…”


2. “In Syria, more than 100 IS fighters using heavy machine guns and vehicles rigged with explosives attacked the Gweiran Prison in the northeastern city of Hassakeh…”

     a. “…seven U.S. backed Kurdish fighters were killed and several others were wounded. At least 23 IS attackers were also among the dead…”

     b. This is a company-sized attack by an insurgency “defeated” “in March 2019” !!!

     c. “The complex attack was mounted on Thursday evening…prisoners inside the facility rioted simultaneously…”

     d. “…more than 100 militants who escaped were arrested…” So, how many escaped ???

     e. “…at least 23 Kurdish security forces and prison guards were killed in the clashes, alongside 39 militants and five civilians…” (unconfirmed and unofficial)

    f. “…the inmates are mostly in control of the prison, while Kurdish forces attempt to wrestle it back…” (unconfirmed and unofficial).


Another recent article adds:

  1. “….killed at least 23 Kurdish secuirty forces and set ‘dozens of IS fighters’ free… (unconfirmed and unofficial)

And this is worth watching (VOA). It is only three and half minutes long:

  1. They note that there are more than10,000 Islamic State prisoners being held in Syria (at 2:45 see. “One of the most worrisome problems…”)

Old Questions

We have over a thousand posts on this blog. Always interesting to go back and look a few of these older ones.

We had one blog post that simply asked on 9 November, 2016, after Donald Trump had been elected: What was going to be his foreign policy/national security policy. The old post is here: Questions | Mystics & Statistics (

The answers are:

1D (Afghanistan: Decrease U.S. effort)

2B (Iraq: Decrease U.S. effort)

3B (Syria: Decrease U.S. effort)

4C (Ukraine: Keep the same)

5C (Russia: Try to tone it down)

6D (NATO: Force our NATO allies to contribute more)

7B (Georgia: Continue working with them: Partnership for Peace)

8A (Iran: Cancel current deal and try to renegotiate)

9A (Yemen: Keep the same (remain disengaged))

10? (War on Terror)

11A (Defense Budget: Increase defense budget)

12? (East Asia)

13A (Trade: TTP cancelled)

14D (Oil and Climate Change: Interest and funding for clean energy declined)


It was followed-up on by this post on 14 December 2016: Questions II | Mystics & Statistics (

Force Draw Downs

I do discuss force draw downs in my book America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. It is in Chapter 19 called “Withdrawal and War Termination” (pages 237-242). To quote from parts of that chapter:

The missing piece of analysis in both our work and in that of many of the various counterinsurgent theorists is how does one terminate or end these wars, and what is the best way to do so? This is not an insignificant point. We did propose doing exactly such a study in several of our reports, briefings and conversations, but no one expressed a strong interest in examining war termination…..

In our initial look at 28 cases, we found only three cases where the counterinsurgents were able to reduce or choose to significantly reduce force strength during the course of an insurgency. These are Malaya, Northern Ireland and Vietnam. With our expanded database of 83 cases, these are still the only three cases of such.

Let us look at each in turn. The case of Malaya is illustrated below:

The most intense phase of the insurgency was from 1958 to 1952. Peak counterinsurgent deaths were 488 in 1951, with 272 in 1952 and only 95 in 1953. Over the course of 1959 and 1960, there were only three deaths.

When one looks at counterinsurgent force strength over that period, one notes a large decline in strength, but in fact, it is a decline in militia strength. Commonwealth troop strength peaked at 29,656 in 1956, consisting of UK troops, Gurkhas and Australians. It declined to 16,939 in 1960. Basically, even with no combat occurring for two years, the troop strength of the intervening forces (“UK Combat Troops” on the first graph) was reduced by one half and only during last couple of years. The decline is Malayan strength is primarily due to police force declining after 1953 and the “Special Constabulary” declining after 1952 and eventually being reduced to zero. There was also a Malayan Home Guard that was briefly up to 300,000 people, but most of them were never armed and were eventually disbanded.

This is the best case we have of a force draw down, and it was only done to any significance late in the war, where the insurgency was pretty much reduced to 400 or so fighters sitting across the narrow border with Thailand and scattered remnants being policed inside of Malaya.

Northern Ireland is another case in which the degree of activity was very intense early on. For example:

On the other hand, force strength does not draw down much.

In this case the peak counterinsurgent strength was 48,341 in 1972, and the counterinsurgent strength is still 22,691 in 2002. These two cases show the limitation of a draw down.

In the case of Vietnam, there was a four-year-long massive build up, and then four years of equally hasty withdrawal. This is clearly not the way to conduct a war and is discussed in more depth in Chapter Twenty-Two. Vietnam is clearly is not a good example of a successful force drawn down.

Besides these three cases, we do not have any other good examples of a force draw down except that which occurs in the last year of the war, and agreements are reached and the war ended. In general, this strongly indicates that draw downs are not very practical until you have resolved the war.

A basic examination needs to be done concerning how insurgencies end, how withdrawals are conducted, and what the impact of various approaches towards war termination is. This also needs to address long-term outcome, that is, what happened following war termination.

We have nothing particularly unique and insightful to offer in this regard. Therefore, we will avoid the tendency to pontificate generally and leave this discussion for later. Still, we are currently observing with Afghanistan and Iraq two wars where the intervening power is withdrawing or has withdrawn. These are both interesting cases of war termination strategies, although it we do not yet know the outcome in either case.

The bolding was added for this post.

Why it is difficult to withdraw from (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan….)

Leaving an unstable country in some regions is an invite to further international problems. This was the case with Afghanistan in the 1990s, which resulted in Al-Qaeda being hosted there. This was the case with Somalia, which not only hosted elements of Al-Qaeda, but also conducted rampant piracy. This was the case with Iraq/Syria, which gave the Islamic State a huge opening and resulted in them seizing the second largest city in Iraq. It seems a bad idea to ignore these areas, even though there is a cost to not ignoring them.

The cost of not ignoring them is one must maintain a presence of something like 2,000 to 20,000 or more support troops, Air Force personnel, trainers, advisors, special operations forces, etc. And they must be maintained for a while. It will certainly result in the loss of a few American lives, perhaps even dozens. It will certainly cost hundreds of millions to pay for deployment, security operations, develop the local forces, and to re-build and re-vitalize these areas. In fact, the bill usually ends up costing billions. Furthermore, these operations go on for a decade or two or more. The annual cost times 20 years gets considerable. We have never done any studies of “security operations” or “advisory missions.” The focus of our work was on insurgencies, but we have no doubt that these things tend to drag on a while before completion.

The cost of ignoring these countries may be nothing. If there is no international terror threat and no direct threat to our interests, then there may not be a major cost to withdrawing. On the other hand, the cost of ignoring Somalia was a pirate campaign that started around 2005 and where they attacked at least 232 ships. They captured over 3,500 seafarers. At least 62 of them died. The cost of ignoring Afghanistan in the 1990s? Well, was it 9-11? Would 9-11 have occurred anyway if Al-Qaeda was not free to reside, organize, recruit and train in Afghanistan? I don’t know for sure…..but I think it was certainly an enabling factor.

I have never seen a study that analyzes/estimates the cost of these interventions (although some such studies may exist).  Conversely, I have never seen a study that analyzes/estimates the cost of not doing these interventions (and I kind of doubt that such a study exists).

Hard to do analyze the cost of the trade-off if we really don’t know the cost.


Syrian Disengagement

The United States has struggled with what to do in Syria. We never had good relations with the dictatorial Assad family. Their civil war started with civil protests on 15 March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring. The protests turned bloody with over a thousand civilian dead (have no idea how accurate this number is) and thousands arrested. It had turned into a full civil war by late July 2011. Our initial response was to remain disengaged.

It is only when Assad used chemical weapons against his own population, similar to Saddam Hussein of Iraq, that we finally considered intervening. President Obama announced a “red line” on 20 August 2012 against the use of chemical weapons. Assad’s forces violated this on 17 October 2012 in Salqin, 23 December 2012 at Al-Bayadah, most notably in 19 March 2013 in Aleppo and in several other locations during March and April,  29 April 2013 in Saraqib and a couple of more incidents in May, 21 August 2013 in Ghouta and several other incidents in August. All attacks used the nerve agent Sarin. Instead of responding militarily, this then turned into a coordinated international effort to eliminate all the Syria chemical weapons, which was done in conjunction with Russia. This was not entirely successful, as repeated later incidences would demonstrate.

In my opinion, the United States should have intervened with considerable force in March 2013 if not before. This would include an significant air campaign, extensive aid to the rebels, and a small number of advisors. This would have certainly entailed some American casualties. Perhaps the overall results would have been no better than Libya (which has also been in civil war from 2011). But, at least with Libya we did got rid of Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011. Gaddafi had most likely organized a terrorist attack against the United States. This was the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 which killed 270 people, including 190 Americans (and was most likely conducted in response to Reagan’s 1986 U.S. bombing of Libya).

Still, an intervention in Syria at that point may well have ended Assad’s regime and empowered a moderate Sunni Arab force that could control the government. It may have also forestalled the rise of ISIL. Or it may not have…it is hard to say. But, what happened over the next eight years, with the rise of ISIL, their seizure of Mosul in Iraq, and the extended civil war, was probably close to a worse case scenario. This was a case where an early intervention may have lead to a more favorable result for us. I suspect that our intervention in Libya probably created a more favorable result than if we had not intervened.

The problem in Syria is that Assad represents a minority government of Shiite Arabs. They make up around 13% of the population (largest group are Alawites). This lords over a population of 69-74% Sunni (most are Arabs but it includes Kurds and Turcoman). In the end, given enough decades and enough violence, the majority will eventually rule. It is hard to imagine in this day and age that a minority can continue to rule forever, although Bashir Assad and his father have now ruled over Syria for almost 49 years. Part of what makes that possible is that around 10% of the population of Syria is Christian and 3% Druze. They tend to side with and support the Alawites, as a dominant, non-democratic Sunni rule would be extremely prejudiced against them. Needless to say, something like an Islamic State would be a nightmare scenario for them. So, for all practical purposes, Assad tends to have the support of at least a quarter of the population. From their central position, and armed by Russia, this makes them a significant force.

So, the question becomes, should the United States now disengage from Syria, now that the Islamic States is gone (but as many as 3,000 of their fighters remain)? Right now, we have at least 2,000 troops in and around Syria, with most of them outside of Syria (mostly based with our fellow NATO member Turkey). We have lost a total of two people since this affair started. We are allied with and supporting small moderate Sunni Arab groups and some Kurdish groups (which Turkey is opposed to and sometimes engages in combat). Turkey is supporting some of its own moderate Sunni Arab groups. Also in Syria is the radical Arab groups, Al-Qaeda and of course, the Islamic State (whose leader is still at large) and Al-Nusrah. So, is it time to leave?

What are the possible outcomes if we leave?

  1. Assad will win the civil war and we will have “peace in our time” (written with irony).
    1. As the moderate Sunni groups are primarily based in Turkey they may not disappear anytime soon, especially if they are still being given support from Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations, even if the U.S. withdraws support.
    2. The Kurdish groups are still in Syria and probably not going away soon. They have some support from the Kurds in Iraq.
    3. Al-Qaeda and ISIL and other radical groups are probably not going away as long as Syria is ruled by the Alawites.
    4. There is a border with Iraq that facilitates flow of arms and men in both directions.
  2. The civil war will continue at a low level.
    1. A pretty likely scenario given the points above.
    2. Will this allow for the resurgence of radical Islamist groups?
  3. The civil war will continue at significant intensity for a while.
    1. Hard to say how long people can maintain a civil war, but the war in Lebanon went on for a while (over 15 years, from 1975 to 1990).
    2. This will certainly allow for the resurgence of radical Islamist groups.
  4. We will have a period of relative peace and then there will be a second civil war later.
    1. The conditions that lead to the first revolt have not been corrected in any manner.
    2. Syria is still a minority ruled government.
    3. This could allow for the resurgences of radical Islamist groups.
  5. There is a political compromise and joint or shared rule.
    1. I don’t think this was ever on the Assad’s agenda before, and will certainly not be now.
  6. Assad is overthrown.
    1. This is extremely unlikely, but one cannot rule out an internal Alawite coup by a leadership with a significantly different view and approach.
    2. As it is, it does not look like he is going to be defeated militarily any time soon.

So, where does continued U.S. engagement or disengagement help or hinder in these scenarios?

A few related links:

  1. Map of situation in Syria (have no idea how accurate it is):
  2. Comments by Lindsey Graham on Syria:
  3. More Maps:



It ain’t over till it’s over

Article on ISIL: Fight against ISIL not over yet


  1. ISIL fighters are able to move through parts of Syria that they (the international coalition) is unable to target (meaning Syrian government controlled areas).
  2. There is an estimated 1,000 – 2,000 ISIL fighters are left fighting around the desert between the Iraqi and Syrian border.
  3. Maj. Gen. Gedney warned that as ISIL lost control of the territory it held in Syria and Iraq, it will try to “vanish” in the population, before transforming itself into a more traditional insurgency (just to state the obvious).