In this article I will try to demonstrate the professionalism and thoroughness of the fast attacks of Islamic State through a very thorough analysis from a tactical point of view of one of the few videos shown us a full raid of this group against a small fortress guarded by the Iraqi army and probably in the Syria-Irak border.
The video that will be the base of this whole article is this and was published in early 2013. In particular the part I will analyze begins at 00:00:22 and ends at 00:03:12. I recommend taking a look before continuing reading.
Before anything must be said that the minimum Daesh combat unit called is called “Fassil” equivalent to a motorized squadron. It usually consists of three SUVs Toyota, one of which would be responsible for the logistics functions.
This type of unit would consist of about 10 men armed with assault rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers and hand grenades.
The operation seen in the the video is what in military terms is known as “surprise attack” or “nigh raid” (originally in Spanish “golpe de mano”) which is defined as the offensive action of limited scope in terms of both their objectives and the time available, and that is done by units of small size.
In this case the target is a fortress surrounded by an embankment that serves as a wall with a gatehouse cement, and two Humvees and a garrison of five to ten men.
The general principles applicable to an attack of this nature are three:
- Surprise: keep to a minimum the warning and prevention of defenders until the assault by its very nature discovers himself
- Fast: a unit of less than 10 men can not maintain a long struggle to achieve their goals so they are forced to win in the short term or retire before the defenders can get reinforcements
- Violence: is essential to apply as highest intensity and firepower as possible in the short time to overwhelm the defenders and not give them time to organize the defense or the reinforcements
Then there are two prerequisites to properly prepare the surprise attack:
- Observation: is to observe the customs of the garrison, their weaknesses and strengths, at what times there is less vigilance etc
- Recognition: requires stay closer to the position itself, check whether there can be no appreciable elements only by sight, such as mines, points camouflaged, trenches, the normal behavior of vigilant about cars passing on the road etc
Also in this particular attack several particular elements are noticeable:
- Blinding: the jihadists approach on Toyota of “civil” type, it is not the typical technical carrying a heavy weapon mounted. This is because by using that car probably they tried to go unnoticed until up to the fort, and in that sense they have been willing to give up the firepower that could provide one of those technicals with a mounted weapon
- Lack of vigilance: much of the success of this attack is that defenders because of the lack of discipline or training did not maintain adequate guard so that this greatly facilitated the attack planning
- Dawn: gives an idea of the thoroughness of the preparation of the attack that it was done at a time when the light seems closer ato the dawn or the noon. During those hours the human by nature tends to be more relaxed and with a lower level of alert
It is convenient to do an inventory of the material used by the attackers:
Two cars Toyota, with between 7 and 8 males, one of which is dedicated to recording the operation. The launch of what looks like an PG-7 rocket coming from an RPG-7 even that this weapon is not seen in all the video. They also carry a Russian PK machine gun and the other men use different versions of the Kalashnikov rifles saga. Finally they were carrying some type of homemade explosive as a hand grenade.
The RPG-7 could be very useful to produce a similar effect as that of artillery causing confusion and chaos. It could also be useful to knock out the Humvees or to destroy reinforced concrete emplacements as watchtowers.
The PK machine gun provides a volume of fire greater than any other weapon , albeit in an operation of such short distances such weapons result not so useful.
The Kalashnikov rifles in an assault on the distances of less than 20 meters are more than enough. Finally hand grenades used to clean positions where defenders can entrench.
The plan seems to be divided into three phases:
- Flank attack: the beginning of the video shows that each Toyota leaves a group. One goes to the left flank where it seems to be the main entrance, and the other goes to the right flank. From their respective positions both throwing grenades inside the fort
- Assault: when entering the complex itself and rushing inside the fort harboring Iraqi soldiers
- Looting, destruction and flight: these phases are not shown in the video but it is reasonable suppose them. This group certainly try to seize ammunition, weapons and generally anything that can be useful. What can not be taken would be destroyed and then they scape using a route previously established
Terrorists come into two SUVs Toyota. When they fall short of the objective the leader makes two strokes on the roof and the driver stops. Immediately begins a crossfire between the gatehouse guard and the attackers. But the fire of the attackers is far superior and kills or forces to retreat the guard.
Each car leaves a group that is against the right and left flank respectively.
They throw what appear to be several homemade grenades and simultaneously fire a PG-7 rocket that goes high, at this time advocates are stunned, not knowing what happens or what the situation is, some may have been killed or injured as a result of homemade grenades. Moreover, each defender is in a different part of the fort so they are not able to coordinate the defense.
Also there is nobody inside the humvees.
The jihadists rush into the fort where they just kill separately the defenders who strangely die without even a gun nearby.
One of the defenders had time to put on a bulletproof vest and approach a humvee, however there was killed and topped by jihadists.
The video ends shortly after and appreciated as part of the buildings inside the fort are burning, probably as a result of the fighting and the withdrawal of the attackers.
The attack was perfectly executed, the surprise effect was achieved until they were at the height of the target. The speed have been given by the terrorists themselves by rushing in their actions, and violence has been provided both by the attack on two sides throwing hand grenades and Kalashnikovs used during the assault at close range.
On the moment before they have been near the fortress, just before the guard noticing what was going on the raiders opened simultaneously and successively fire, which forced the guard to take refuge inside the pillbox, where he has surely been vulnerable to grenades.
They advocate not only had insufficient guard but it was very exposed position being next to the road without any kind of advanced surveillance post or barrier that forced the vehicle to stop.
In addition it is clear that they did not expect any kind of attack since if so it is presumably they would have had taken further measures and would be prevented. This unawareness also suggests a lack of intelligence on the ground that could warn of a possible terrorist strike in the area.
The fact that all defenders die without a weapon on their hands gives an idea about the shock effect caused by the rush. This is a good example of why violence and speed are the principles of a surprise attack.
Finally it should be remembered that the video was uploaded to YouTube on February 1, 2013, so we can assume that was recorded between late 2012 and early 2013. At that time IS was not IS, it was called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and did not control northern Iraq or northeastern Syria yet but they have already been able to very effectively attack an Iraqi army post and record it.
Men doing the surprise attack must be of Iraqi nationality since on early 2013 IS had not yet been expanded and had not incorporated foreign groups of Syrians, Chechens or other, nations at least not on the scale of independent combat units.
It is curious that the video already has the watermark of one of the typical audiovisual production groups of IS as early as 2013, in fact to record the attack is demonstrating the great propagandist development and strategic vision from the point of communications they have and have had IS even before their greatest conquests.
I think that this video gives us a good idea about how IS performed and conducted its offensive from the tactical level to strategic using a deep observation and preparation and taking advantage of the weaknesses of their opponents.