This guest post comes to SOFREP from a YPG cadre involved in the front-line fighting against ISIS. -Jack

Merely fighting and winning battles is not all there is to winning a war like the one in Syria and Iraq. As militias grow and merge into something more akin to a regular Western army, supplies, ammunition, intelligence, and establishing relationships with local imams and villagers become crucial to success. Those things may not typically be the fighter on the ground’s responsibility, but to maintain a longstanding presence and network of support in an environment such as ours, by necessity—as I argued in the first article in this series—all YPG and PKK fighters (note that I say, specifically, fighters) are equally capable politicians.

Blossoming from militia to army

Something Western military officers first learn about is the Clausewitzian Trinity at their respective military academies (whereas in the PKK cadre, its officer class learn about Marxist theory—not very helpful). This trinity describes three essential elements of war: army, state, and government.

Where non-Western militias of Syria have evolved, and not intentionally, some have become Western-world equivalents. These armies are uniformed, with hierarchical command structures, governments (I use that loosely) which require popular support from the people, and so on. I even saw a copy of Clausewitz, in the original German, on the dead body of an ISIS commander near Sinjar (maybe he didn’t mind Clausewitz thought of himself as a Christian knight).

Take a look at this hideous, vile bunch of barbarians singing a rather provincial Arabic tune. ISIS are uniformed (mostly old Turkish Army clothing) now. The commander in the video is pretty obvious to pick out. He has the nicest gear and is leading them in song (and hopefully he’ll be the first one to take a Kurdish bullet).

Successful militias (like ISIS and the Kurds) have adapted to become something akin to an army, and an army in the field has both supply lines and operational needs beyond logistics—especially if they’re using the same uniforms, painting the same colors on their vehicles, and basically becoming a large conventional field army. The resource demands for keeping this in the field are complex, and difficult considering these organizations fielded only small militias just a few years ago.

Normally, supply lines, in order to be secured, require the consent of the people living in that general area. Rewards are offered for informing on your neighbor if he or she is not trustworthy or is an informer for one of the other factions. This is common practice and takes up more time than you’d imagine for local commanders to figure out who’s on their side and who’s secretly doing something else to them behind their back.

What’s also becoming common in today’s Syria is Vietnam-era use of Vietnamization, or using ‘hamlets’ to secure the area. This is where an envoy from one faction visits a village (without knowing if he will be simply captured and tortured before being videotaped as he is beheaded—a dangerous job) to tell the villagers they can A.) support his group, become armed, and be subsumed into their military hierarchy B.) remain civilians and relocate themselves inside a safe zone they have established or C.) become their enemies.