The Islamic State is slowly finding that its back is against the ropes on multiple fronts. Although its presence inside of Kurdistan’s borders is nearly nonexistent at this stage in the war, its members are feeling the coalition’s sting elsewhere. Places like Ramadi, Kirkuk, Sinjar, and Mosul have either fallen to coalition allies or are under siege. But what happens when the last Daesh stronghold falls? How will the game change?
We are already starting to see the effect of these major losses on the ground. Peshmerga forces have little to no difficulty rolling through Daesh-held territory, and are continuing to advance. The Kurdish Regional Government has already announced that Peshmerga forces, both PUK and KDP, will participate alongside the Iraqi Army in an assault on Mosul in the coming months. With ISIS’s main supply route from Syria to the city cut off after the recent victories in Sinjar, this will surely be just as successful.
With these losses, Daesh has begun to adapt its tactics accordingly. Previously, they had waged a very successful campaign against the Kurdish and Iraqi fronts through a series of rapid, violence of action-based assaults combining the terrorist tactics of al-Qaeda, the modern military equipment of today, and guerrilla warfare to overwhelm their opponents, but defense was never their strong suit. In an earlier stage of the war, they had no problem staying and fighting it out regardless of their inevitable defeat at the hands of the Peshmerga. Over time they have become less enthusiastic and have seemingly reverted to the methods of old.
Now their inevitable defeat has been largely due to the efforts of the coalition and the highly effective air strikes conducted prior to Peshmerga forces assaulting Daesh-held villages. The lack of real hardware being placed in these forward locations makes rolling them over that much easier; that’s not to say the Pesh are better equipped, but Daesh forces are often outgunned during these skirmishes. Of course, anyone who is following this conflict knows where they are keeping all their captured firepower—places like Mosul, Raqqa, and Fallujah. None of these Daesh strongholds have fallen yet, and perhaps there is a reason everyone is taking their time retaking them.
Now Daesh is on the run, but in an attempt to make one final stand, they leave an incomprehensible amount of IEDs at every location they flee and along the path leading to said location. I’m talking kilometers of daisy chains combined with sporadic singles strewn throughout fields and small canals. In this respect, it is a fairly successful tactic; oftentimes these explosives have caused more casualties among the Pesh than Daesh suffers in their retreat. Of course, the Peshmerga have become keen to this and have begun to counter the threat via the employment of explosive ordnance disposal personnel. On one hand, it has deterred the loss of Peshmerga lives, but on the other, it slows down their offensive capabilities.
Of course their tactics will continue to evolve even after the last Daesh bastions have fallen. They will shave their beards, throw on their civis, and melt back into the populace—a vanishing act all too familiar to them. The Peshmerga will have to focus their efforts on counterinsurgency when this happens. This is what many well-meaning Americans fail to recognize when they say we should bomb them out of existence. Right now we have the enemy in front of us where we know every move he makes; it will become a much less manageable situation once he melts back into the shadows.
(Featured image: AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED)