Mercy has no place in war against ISIS

At a briefing in McKinney last week, I was asked who is supplying and replenishing ISIS with its vast stockpiles of weapons, ammunition, armored personnel carriers, Humvees, tanks, artillery pieces, rockets, shells, mortars, advanced communication and control systems, field hospital equipment, body armor and more.
My answer was, of course, the United States of America.
I wasn’t joking. Though we see many ISIS fighters carrying AK-47s in pictures and videos of the recent impressive conquests by ISIS of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria, even more are fighting with M16s. Their light and heavy machine guns are U.S. made, Their mortars and shells, artillery pieces and rounds, body armor, communication systems and the massive amounts of ammunition ISIS is firing are all top-of-the-line, spanking brand-new … and American.
If you’ve been following this column you’ve probably already figured it out. It is impossible to capture strategic modern cities like Ramadi in Iraq (population around half a million) or Palmyra (biblical “Tadmor”) in Syria (population 150,000), without first taking control of the military bases and security installations in and around them.
This is exactly what ISIS does. It launches well-coordinated attacks with disciplined forces on the military bases of Iraq and Syria. In the case of Ramadi, the recently retrained and resupplied Iraqi army didn’t even pretend to put up a fight. They just ran away.
This was not surprising to those who understand the region’s complexities and customs.
Fanatically Sunni ISIS was established to essentially kill every Shiite in the world, starting in the Levant — a large area that was once part of a Sunni Caliphate.
The government in Baghdad is Shiite. Many of the officers and soldiers in the military are Shiite. And they all know exactly what ISIS does upon capturing a military base or civilian town: The Shiite men, together with Christians, Yazidis and anyone else who is not a Sunni Arab, are immediately and very sadistically massacred.
The women and children are brutally abused and then sold into slavery. The Sunnis are given the option to pledge fealty (“Baya”) to the ISIS leader and join the ranks … or join the Shiites in death.
So when the Iraqi army evaporated in Ramadi, as did the Syrian army in Palmyra, they left newly delivered American military weapons and supplies for ISIS to commandeer. And in both cases hundreds of Sunni officers and soldiers, from both countries, happily joined ISIS, pledged to the “Caliph,” joined the ranks … and no doubt briefed the ISIS intelligence units as to how the Americans trained them and what the new tactics and strategies of the U.S. are.
Which brings me to an announcement that the U.S. and Turkey will jointly train, arm and support “vetted” Sunni rebel units to fight … ISIS. Not Hezbollah, not what’s left of Assad’s once-mighty military. These estimated 7,000 (initially) “moderate” rebel recruits, will be expected (after a few months’ training) to defeat the largest, best trained, best commanded (by battle-hardened former Iraqi and Syrian officers), best equipped, highest motivated and cruelest terrorist army the world has ever known.
Are they serious? American trained supposedly moderate Sunni Syrian Arabs, coordinated by the Americans and the non-Arab Turks fighting against ISIS. Gee … what can possibly go wrong?
The good news is that there still is time, and a proven tactic, to diminish and degrade ISIS. It has been used in similar situations throughout history. Kings Saul and David used it against the Philistines. The Assyrians used it to defeat the Kingdom of Israel. Napoleon Bonaparte used it to conquer Jaffa, and the Ottoman Empire were experts at using it to put down rebellions.
More recently the French used it very effectively against rebels in Algeria, as Israel did against Fedayeen terrorists in the ’50s and ’60s, and Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah to this day. Today it’s used by Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and others.
The tactic is simple and very effective. But it takes a full commitment and the intestinal fortitude to keep it going until the specific threat is dealt with.
What we’re talking about is a sustained, ongoing series of operations to decapitate the military and senior political leadership of the organization. It is not a single one-off event, like killing Bin Laden and assuming that al-Qaida is finished.
If the U.S. wanted to destroy al-Qaida it had to immediately follow up with the elimination of Bin Laden’s replacement Ayman al-Zawahiri, together with 20-30 of the top al-Qaida franchise heads and senior military planners worldwide. If they run, follow them to the ends of the Earth and eliminate them there. Family members should not be targeted but neither should their presence as human shields be a deterrent — just think of 9/11.
Capture and trial should not be an option. It’s risky, and way too lengthy a process to be effective.
The goal is to create such fear that even the most fanatic jihadists will think twice before joining this or a similar terrorist organization.
But make no mistake — even after eliminating a critical mass of the current political and operational leadership of ISIS while continuing the daily punishing bombing raids against the rank-and-file fighters, the organization will eventually reinvent itself, and this war against extreme Islamist Jihadism will continue for many years.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst.  Email:
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DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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