Escape From Terror – A Guide to Getting Out

Given no other information than that there is a shooter or an active terrorist attack, one in which the attackers didn’t kill themselves in the beginning, there is a lot you can do to maintain your own survival and the survival of others.

Stay positive

I know it sounds flippant to start off with “Stay positive,” but this is literally a guiding principle taught in the United States Marine Corps Recruit Manual and is part of the US military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) schools to train Marines, Army, and even Navy SEALs and other Special Forces survival in the harshest of situations. The overriding theme of that first section is that in horrifying situations, much like those of this question, the number one life saving mentality is to stay positive so that you don’t panic. A panicked mind does not make smart decisions. Furthermore, maintaining optimism maintains the belief that survival is possible. When one believes they will be all right in the end, really believes it, their instincts work to support their mind toward maintaining their survival.

Note that I didn’t say that you should tell yourself, “Don’t panic”, because saying “don’t panic” doesn’t actually prevent people from panicking. It’s just something they do in movies to add intensity. It doesn’t help in real life. You do need to stay positive. Most people panic from a flood of many things happening at once. People hear shooting. Someone else screams. A flood of people start moving. Children get separated from parents. More screaming. You should remember to stay calm, not by saying, “stay calm”, but by saying things like, “It’s going to be OK, I know what to do, I will be all right.” Keep repeating affirmations to yourself like this to ensure that you actually do stay calm and remember everything else you need to do to get to safety.


After staying positive, an acronym currently being used to train students, teachers, and businesses on how to handle terror events and active shooters is ALICE.

  1. Alert
  2. Lockdown
  3. Inform
  4. Counter
  5. Evacuate

ALICE is a tool used to keep victims and staff aware of their options during what is called an “active shooter event” and is also useful advice if are involve in an act of terror. It quickly guides you through the important decisions you may need to make. It is important to understand the ALICE acronym is not meant to serve as a sequential list of steps to follow, but to serve as a guide for understanding your role – which it is important we understand isn’t determined by you, but by the shooter or terrorist – in surviving the encounter and aiding others to do so, as well. Depending on where the shooter is in relation to you, you have several different responsibilities to ensure your own safety and help you escape, as well as that of others. In relation to this question, most of the steps involved do not involve interacting with the shooter – in fact, they specifically attempt to avoid it.

Alert

The first is that you witness the event taking place. It is important to remember that, as members of a civilized society, we are all the responsible in some way during a threatening situation to preserve as many lives as possible. Even if you aren’t trained to do much, or aren’t in a position to physically help, the information you know may be vital to others when added to their own. Consider this someone who, from a safe distance, saw someone enter the building with a weapon or acting in a suspicious manner. Perhaps this person saw or heard an explosion or can hear shooting off. This person has the responsibility to stay safe (by not entering the dangerous area) and alerting police or any other official. The information you saw and reported could be compiled with others to help ensure that hundreds who aren’t safe are able to escape who don’t have the benefit of your point of view. Your testimony may also help provide key evidence after the fact, as well.

Lockdown

If you aren’t in the immediate presence of danger, and if warning is given, people should attempt to take a Lockdown, ready stance. If you are very near the threat and a known secure means of escape already exists, then you should always escape first before attempting Lockdown.

Lockdown allows small groups time to create as defensible a position as possible. The average response time for police is somewhere around 14 minutes to produce first responders to a scene of a violent incident. This in no way is a failure of police, but just a reality of having very few people responsible for the safety of very, very many and never knowing where a situation might happen. For this reason, those who are alerted to the presence of danger are asked to Lockdown, in an effort to gain some security during the time when it isn’t known if a safe escape route exists and when first responders have not yet arrived on the scene. Lockdown drills are performed by most schools already, though this is typically the extent of the exercise. They do this by locking all doors, both exterior and interior, and barricading those doors before taking a position in a darkened room, away from visible sightlines of any windows and in a defensive posture.

By defensive posture, this means that students or anyone caught in a terror environment where a terrorist or shooter currently isn’t, such as a room behind a locked door, are to try to use whatever means necessary to provide them with cover and concealment. Concealment is anything that will prevent an enemy from seeing a target, like a curtain. Cover is the military term for something that can conceal you from a threat and be used as a source of shielding in the event that you’re shot at. Once the students are in the most covered and concealed location they can create in a timely manner, they should stay vigilant, and stay prepared to move to escape or react to a forced entry by the shooter.

This is an effort to create a “safe space”, not meant to say that it is perfectly defensible, but as a primary fall back point for all students and individuals to retreat and seek shelter in the event of terror until an escape route can be secured. A terrorist’s goal is to cause as many casualties as possible. That said, if the terrorist or shooter remains a threat after the initial attack, they will often be deterred by obstacles like locked doors, instead looking for easier targets. In this event, creating barriers between a shooter and potential victims often ends the threat of a direct confrontation, before it starts. That said, having a secondary fall back position, in case it seems apparent that a shooter is set to enter your safe space, is a good idea if one is available.

Lockdown is not the same as hiding. We have seen examples of those involved in shootings attempting to make use of whatever concealment they have to hide from the attacker. This includes hiding under tables in the room they are in or in unsecured rooms, then staying put there for several minutes during a massacre. In the Columbine attack, students who hid under tables when it became known that an event had begun were eventually found and murdered. Any defensive position can be overcome by a determined adversary. For that reason, do not get too comfortable in your relative safety, but always remember that your primary goal is escape, not defense. Always be looking for information that will be help you get away from

Inform

Someone in the room should be communicating with police and emergency personnel, both to tell them what you are witnessing and to have a link with information from the outside. During lockdown, communications may be disrupted, or it may not be advised to broadcast escape information while the shooter is active. This isolates victims, which can be deadly. For that reason, it is important for someone in the room to keep an active communication line to the police in the event of an emergency. Most police departments are equipped to handle overflow traffic in the event of a major emergency.

My personal advice is that the person on the phone shouldn’t be the person charge, be it a teacher, the boss, or whoever takes charge of a situation. They need to be in charge of leading the students in whatever circumstances take place from then on. If specific instructions need to be given, than the leader can be given the phone, but generally, the leader’s job in this instance is to keep the rest of the room calm and prepared. Communicating with the outside takes the leader’s focus away from the room and away from what is going on outside their safe space. The communicator needs to calm and level headed and able to communicate; the type of person who can decipher what is important for police and the leader to know and what to communicate. For high school, a student who is calm and reliable should be able to communicate with emergency response and relay important information to the teacher. Most middle school classrooms should, as well. For elementary and primary schools, the teacher unfortunately needs to be the one responsible for many roles.

Key things to be aware of at all times, but particularly in lockdown:

  • Know the source of danger
    Where is the threat? Know where the danger is coming from. Is this person shooting actively? Are they on the move? In which direction?

    Maintain your wits and try to assess what actually caused the threat. Don’t take more than a few seconds on this. Don’t take more than a few seconds on this. This doesn’t mean you create a doctoral thesis on the threat’s relationship with his mother. Where is it that you get the instinctive reaction that the threat is coming from? Don’t look at which way people are running, or running from. Numerous accounts exist of people, usually in panic, running directly toward the danger, in some instances leading others as well. This isn’t their fault. They just lacked the training to know what to do. From there, you have a few options that you need to consider.

  • Find the exits
    Attempt to get away from the immediate danger. Find the nearest avenue to an escape as possible. It may be a better idea to lockdown and stay where you are, but either way, you need to know where the danger is and what avenues you have to escape. Again, time is key, a few seconds at most to find the exits.
  • Arm yourself
    At my school, when we practice for one of these lockdown drills every student has at their disposal a stack of books and other objects to throw or use as weapons. The Marines call these weapons of opportunity and they are any tool you can use to help you defend yourself if you directly encounter the threat. Once you find a tool to use, keep it with you until you have successfully escaped.

Escape/Evade/Evacuate

I’m going to go out of order and talk about escape before counter. As I have said, the ultimate goal of any terror event should be to escape the situation. This needs to be repeated for emphasis. The goal should not be for individuals to stop the shooter, but to get to a safe area. Everything else listed in this answer is strictly in the event escape is deemed more unsafe than staying put, or the shooter has removed the option to escape.

Most of the people who become victims do so very early on. Either they were very close to the terrorist when they began their attack,0 or they were isolated because they hesitated in their movements, or found themselves pinned in and immobilized. Once you find the exit, you should be going there. There shouldn’t need to be thinking about which exit may be closer, or which exit may be jammed or what if there is someone waiting at the exit… just run. A person should be far enough ahead that you can’t get pinned in the event of a wrong turn.

If a shooter is in the open, such as an attack on a mall, one should attempt to get away from the immediate danger as fast as possible. Don’t call the police immediately, just get to a safe location. Immediately seek cover and concealment by staying low, out of eyesight. Remember that concealment is anything that will prevent an enemy from seeing a target and cover is anything that can both conceal a potential victim and will help deflect or absorb incoming rounds fired at the them.

From there, one should remember always to know the source of the threat and find the exits.

Knowing this, a person should find the nearest avenue to an escape as possible. Where is the nearest exit? Can I reach it while staying behind cover and/or concealment? If you know the source of danger and you know the route to the exit, watch for hardened obstacles to keep between you and the threat. A hardened pillar or support beam can be a good source of cover, as can a large desk or wall. A large fountain, a car, the corner around a turn; anything that is hard and large should be a goal of someone to keep between them and the threat. It’s important not to get pinned behind cover, and to just think of it as a temporary obstacle to keep between you and the threat until you reach the exit or safety. Again, time is key, a few seconds at most to find the exits. As soon as possible, make for the exits.

This is also why keeping in contact with police is so vital, primarily if you aren’t in the open and in a lockdown situation where your escape is determined by information you can’t know because it is outside your room. Keeping communication lines open, even if you are silent and just waiting for information to be given to you, lets police and rescue know where you are, which lets you know when it is safe to escape and by what means. Most likely, there will never be a need to encounter a shooter. This is because, once a shooting begins, entire towns shutdown to ensure that the event is taken care of as quickly as possible. For that reason, those who don’t begin an attack in a safe place need to find the safest place possible, fortify, call for help, and prepare to evacuate when it is safe to do so.

By prepare to evacuate, I don’t mean find a safe place and stay there forever. An element of static defenses, those that don’t move or change, i.e. our barricades or locked doors, as I said in the previous section, is that a determined adversary can and will overcome them. Think about if a shooter is searching for one particular person, like that bully, mean teacher, their child, ex-spouse, or their boss. If that person was the motive of the attack, then obstacles won’t deter them. They might slow them down, but not provide true safety. This is true of muggings, burglaries, terrorism, or military combat. Most of the time these are deterrents that force a shooter on, hoping to find an easier target, however, if a gunman is set to defeat a certain barrier, for any reason, they will attempt to do so. Given enough time, they will defeat it. This is why staying in a state of Lockdown throughout the duration isn’t advised.

We can see an unfortante proof for this from the Virginia Tech Shooting of 2007. There, 32 students were killed and the majority of those were traced to a single room. A professor locked the students in the room, similar to a lockdown, but wouldn’t let them leave even when an opportunity was available. The shooter eventually overcame the lock on the doors. The room had no exits and he then proceeded to kill first the teacher, then everyone else in the room. From this lesson we see that a lockdown is necessary, but not a perfect defense. While we must lockdown, we must also prepare for an escape as quickly as possible. Making a plan out of staying put is itself, a danger.

Some guidelines to remember during an escape:

  • Move quickly
    Most of the people who become victims do so very early on. Either they were very close to the shooter when they started or they were isolated because they hesitated in their movements, or found themselves pinned in and immobilized. Once you find the exit, you should be going there. There shouldn’t need to be thinking about which exit may be closer, or which exit may be jammed or what if there is someone waiting at the exit… just run. Stay far enough ahead that you can’t get pinned in in the event of a wrong turn.
  • Use cover
    Cover is the military term for something that can conceal you from a threat and be used as a source of shielding in the event that you’re shot at. If you know the source of danger and you know the route to the exit, watch for hardened obstacles to keep between you and the threat. A hardened pillar or support beam can be a good source of cover. A large fountain in the middle of a food court, a car, the corner around a turn, anything that is hard and large should be a goal of someone to keep between them and the threat. Don’t get pinned behind cover, just think of it as a temporary obstacle to keep between you and the threat until you reach the exit.
  • Avoid traveling along walls
    Bullets travel along walls. I don’t know why, but a bullet that is fired at close to the same angle of a wall will ride the wall and stay very close to it. From what I have seen, they can do this a while. Try to stay at least six or so inches from the wall if you can.

Counter

If a terrorist or gunman enters your safe space, or if he pulls a weapon in the middle of whatever you are doing, say during a class period, work, or, just passing by they have left you with no time to prepare. You have to accept that the gunman has removed all good options from you and that you’re now left with very few alternatives. All your remaining choices boil down to basic human responses to fear. You have probably heard of “fight or flight”, and that is what I am talking about, but there are more and each choice has very different ramifications depending on the circumstances. They are flight, freeze, submit, posture, or fight. Before I continue, we need to consider these five basic human responses to fear and how they would manifest themselves in an active shooter or terror environment.

  • Flight – generally speaking, if you can, fleeing is the best option. That said, as a teacher, fleeing isn’t always an option. For example, in my classroom, which is virtually identical to all the other classrooms in the Middle School, High School, and Elementary, there is only one door. The windows are also shatter resistance, designed to prevent an intruder from the outside getting in, but also preventing students from being able to break out, as well. ( They are actually designed for storm debris because far more people are killed by tornadoes where I live than the violence of this question.) There is only one entrance to the room, and therefore, only one exit. While the ultimate goal of being in an event is the escape the situation, and most of the time, an avenue is available… frankly, sometimes we don’t have that as a real option.
  • Freeze – Freeze is a common response to panic educing situations. For many, it will be the default response. There is a saying, made most famous by the United States Navy SEALs, but common throughout the United States armed forces: “One doesn’t rise to the occasion, but falls back to their training.” This means that if a person is not trained, or have not prepared themselves to recognize and respond to a stressful situation, they will likely fail in that situation.

    A person who freezes, or fails to take any action in the presence of an active terrorist will be an easy target. Shooters aren’t targeting specific individuals usually, at least not long into the shooting. If they are attempting to right some injustice, the shooting eventually turns indiscriminate, where shooters are attempting to not find specific targets of opportunity, those that aren’t actively seeking escape, or using cover and concealment. This obviously isn’t the best solution, but not honestly the fault of the victim. A person must be trained to recognize and prepare for the possibility of violence and have a plan on how to act. If they don’t, they default to the freeze state.

  • Submit – submit refers to complying to the shooter’s demands. This is the hostage scenario. Hostage takers bargain with victims for compliance. They offer safety in exchange for control of the situation. For active shooters, those involved with terrorist attacks, school shootings, and workplace massacres, this is not common. They aren’t interested in a prolonged engagement and may not even care if they get out alive. Typically, these events take place, from beginning to end in less than 12 minutes, that being the amount of time it would take a dedicated shooter to either run out of ammunition, be brought down by police, or as often as is the case, end the encounter by taking their own lives.

    Therefore, it isn’t common for shooters to make demands that will keep people alive. Typically, they are there for a set purpose of inflicting causalities. For that reason, in the event of an active shooter, it is extremely unlikely that giving into the shooter by following any of their demands will ensure survival. In the Umpqua Community College Shooting, this is what students did. The shooter began by first executing the teacher of the room before making demands that all Christians in the room make themselves known by standing. The classroom full of students did as they were instructed and several who stood, were then executed.

  • Posture – Posture is creating the appearance of threat without actually being a threat. Imagine boxers before a fight, trying to look intimidating to psyche out the other opponent. This is an attempt to psychologically dominate an opponent during a fight, in the hopes that it makes them easier to deal with.

    I can’t imagine a worse idea in a terror situation. Shooters are obviously unbalanced people, so attempting to intimidate someone who, because of their weapons, is in an obviously tactical advantage seems, to me, to be suicidal. Furthermore, I can only imagine it further enraging an active shooter, so that, once they are done with whoever tried to appear intimidating is dead, the rest will receive an even more relentless assault.

What is currently being taught, in these danger close circumstances, where escape is not a timely or possible solution, is to fight, some would say attack, the attacker.

The idea here isn’t to combat an attacker one-on-one armed with only a book or stapler against a gunman. It has been shown, however, that working as a group, a number of victims can overcome an attacker and, if nothing else, minimize the harm which he could inflict.

In the instance of a single attacker against a room full of individuals, the presence of massive amounts of common items being thrown to assault, en masse, is the key defensive element. This means that a person doesn’t need to be a martial arts expert, or spend countless hours in training and exercise to prepare for the event. It also doesn’t require that any one individual has the physical and mental capability to disable the shooter. The act only requires coordination of many people moving very quickly. This doesn’t end the threat, but is intended to stun the attacker long enough for the students, once again en masse, to swarm the attacker, ground him, and hold him until others are able to evacuate or hold the attacker until police are able to intervene. Through swarm tactics, which is how they are literally termed in some ALICE training, the groups of potential victims are able to maximize their collective survival by overwhelming attackers.

During this time, students are encouraged to use “weapons of opportunity” or “improvised weapons” in their own defense. “Weapon of opportunity” is a term used from the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and other self-defense programs, which basically means any common place item which can be used a weapon. The Marines train to fight, in the last resort, with sticks, rocks, and anything else which may be available to them. For a classroom or office setting, this translates to books, staplers, tape depressors, and even chairs being used as throwing objects or even blunt force items. It is also advised to keep on hand pepper spray and a very good improvised weapon is also the fire extinguisher. The cloud is both stunning and disorienting, and the canister itself is an extremely blunt object which can be both deadly and easily used as a club. The fact that any good classroom or office should have fire extinguishers available anyway, makes this one of the best self-defense tools for this question.

There is practical rationale to this tactic that is, as well, based on military combat psychology. The term is violence of action.

[The following is an excerpt from SEAL SURVIVAL GUIDE: A Navy SEAL’s Secrets to Surviving Any Disaster, written by Former Navy SEAL and preeminent American survivalist Cade Courtley.]

Violence of action means the unrestricted use of speed, strength, surprise, and aggression to achieve total dominance against your enemy. I’m repeating this to drive home the concept that any fighting technique is useless unless you first totally commit to violence of action. Don’t be afraid to hit first, and when you do, hit hard. Remember, you are fighting because this is the best and only option. Pull the trigger — because you are in a battle for your life! Your instincts, assessment, and situational awareness have told you that you are in mortal danger. You don’t know the other person’s intentions fully, and you never can. What you can do is survive — it is your right to not be killed or harmed by another person. As with most things survival-related, fighting has its own set of priorities that need to be addressed at lightning speed.

Stories of violence of action successes are well documented in the military, showcasing how lone soldiers or Marines pushed back or dominated enemy forces when they were very much outnumbered. In an active shooter scenario, however, a single person will almost never be able to dominate an aggressor because of the presence of their gun. Working in conjunction with an entire classroom, all working to stun, disorient, and then hold down an enemy until help arrives, would have the effect of violence of action. As a seasoned shooter myself, I don’t know how I could manage to carry on an attack while simultaneously dodging a barrage of non-lethal items. As a teacher, I was extremely pleased with this approach because it addresses the danger involved in Lockdown only training, in which a static defender is always the victim to violent attackers.

If you feel this is a terrible idea, I agree with you. It does put those attacked in momentary extreme danger. It is very, very hard for me to say this, because, to me, these children aren’t statistical, but faces with names and it terrifies me to think of them being in harm. Yet, I know that for this to even be considered, they were already in extreme danger. It’s just very hard for us to imagine it that way. I also know that statistically, though some may come to harm if more organizations implement ALICE type group defense, more of these rampages will have ended before a shooter has a full 14 minutes to blow away anyone who he sees. The long term reality of this is fewer children and innocent people will die. This is particularly true of the children in the room, those who have had the choice to hide and wait taken from them. If history is our guide, these children have faced the cruelest and most unforgivable odds of all, being trapped face to face with an active shooter. Grimly speaking, they are most benefited by fighting back for their own lives.

We see this example too, demonstrated recently by actions of military veterans who took part in ending shootings or aiding others in their escape. The first of these examples is Chris Mintz.

Image courtesy of Chris Mintz – UCC Shooting Survivor.

Chris Mintz is the current man of the hour. Mintz is a 10 year veteran of the United States Army, but became national news when he protected classmates in a shooting rampage at the local community college he was attending. According to eyewitnesses, Mintz ran at the attacker and blocked a door to a classroom in the attempt to protect fellow classmates.

According to a student witness Chris

“ran to the library and pulled all the alarms. He was telling people to run. … He actually ran back towards the building where the shooting was. And he ran back into the building.”

While attempting to stop the shooter Mintz was shot an incredible seven times. He was rushed to surgery, and is now on the road to recovery and a normal life, but will require a great deal of recuperative care. To repay his heroism, a gofundme was set up for $10,000 to go toward his medical expenses. That fund is currently just over $800,000. What Chris’ heroic acts showed was how a dedicated person can slow down and prevent a shooter, making it possible for others to survive and, just as importantly, that this act itself is not a death sentence.

A better example comes from the recent attack aboard a train between France and Belgium. There, a terrorist opened fire on a train wounding a few of the passengers. Onboard the train were National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos, a recent Afghanistan veteran, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, along with a civilian friend Anthony Sadler. They earned international praise for stopping nothing less than a full on terrorist gunman in the middle of what amounted to a holiday vacation.

“My friend Alek (Skarlatos) yells, ‘Get him,’ so my friend Spencer (Stone) immediately gets up to charge the guy, followed by Alek, then myself,” Anthony Sadler said in an interview with CNN.

Stone received injuries during the fight between the Moroccan born gunman, armed with an AK-47 rifle, a pistol, several clips of ammunition and a knife. The Americans wrestled him to the ground after he opened fire. In the end, he was hog tied and, though one of the heroes received superficial injuries, no one, not even the shooter, was killed. No better example currently exists for the argument that active defense is necessary in ending the threat posed by an active shooter or terrorist.

While both of these events center around veterans who placed themselves in harm’s way while in civilian roles, what they did isn’t something that requires one to be a military person to do. In these specific cases, it was just people who believed they could control the situation, who knew how to react to danger, and who were, at least instinctively aware that the collective’s survival was most ensured by the group fighting back.


I know that it is hard for many people to accept this idea. ALICE training is highly controversial because, when it is implemented in schools, it asks teachers to encourage kids to work together to take on lethal and murderous shooters in certain, very limited, situations. No one feels this as much as I do. This has been one of the hardest articles I have ever written in the last six years of writing online. As a teacher, it’s painful for me to accept that this is even something we need to prepare for. I had to stop and gather myself several times when the thought passed through my mind of my kids (students) being put in this scenario. As a Marine, however, I know that our actions are often determined by those who want to do us harm. Sometimes, a terrible idea, such as leading a group of children to assault a deadly attacker, is the only option left to you.

I know that if this information becomes commonplace enough, many innocent people are going to make it out all right, who otherwise wouldn’t. Furthermore, when those people who are thinking about attacking schools and workplaces, or committing acts of terror see similar actions foiled in the first few minutes by groups of individuals before they turn into massacres, they wouldn’t see the sinister glory in it. They wouldn’t be able to dream of suicide after committing massacre or death by cop. Instead, they might even face prison. Their goals would be worthless.

Furthermore, ALICE initiatives take away the helplessness of the victim, and let’s them know that they have options and responsibility in their own survival, as well as the survival of others. This knowledge is empowering in that it lets them know that the power doesn’t just revolve around the attacker, but that they have agency in the matter, as well. I know in my heart that if the people who attack others like this were to become more afraid of the victims, than the victims are of them – school shootings, gun massacres, and vile acts of terror would disappear.


In Summary, two brief lists to remember:

ALICE

  • Alert – notify people around you and authorities of the problem.
  • Lockdown – secure yourself in a location so it’s hard for a terrorist to get to you and those nearby.
  • Inform – continue to keep authorities apprised of the situation and know your surroundings.
  • Counter – if you have no other options, confront or interrupt the attacker.
  • Escape/Evade/Evacuate – if you can escape the situation safely, then do so.

And the other:

  • Stay positive – A calm and collected attitude of optimism avoids panic, maintains clear thinking, and the preserves belief of survival.
  • Know the source of danger – Where is the threat? Know where the danger is coming from and stay away.
  • Find the exits – Attempt to get away from the immediate danger. Find the nearest avenue to an escape as possible.
  • Arm yourself – Anything can be used as a weapon. Make yourself as dangerous as possible in the event you are forced to defend yourself.
  • Move quickly – Never plan on staying still. Always be prepared to move and quickly get to where ever it is you need to go.
  • Use cover – when on the move, move from one strong point to the next, never staying in open longer than is needed.
  • Avoid traveling along walls – Bullets travel along walls. Try to stay at least six or so inches from the wall if you can.

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Questions Remain as Inconsistencies Surface in President’s December 6th Oval Office Address.

I, like millions of other Americans, watched the president’s address to the nation concerning the fear that has been mounting, due to the continued threat of active terror in the United States.

Others will discuss at length many of the correct or comforting points the president made. I agree with him that all Americans are brought together in mourning for the tragedy of more than a dozen of our own. I also agree that the attacks in San Bernardino do not represent a conflict between the United States and Islam, but to use his words, “that the two of them [Tashfeen Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook] had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West.” He also followed this by pointing to the difficult work of our military, police and law enforcement, as well as the heroic efforts of our intelligence services to stop countless numbers of these attacks from being made, both domestically and abroad. Among these efforts, he listed the killing of Osama bin Laden, the disruption of terrorist safe havens, and the decimation of al Qaeda’s leadership network. For that recognition, I heartily agree.

I also agree with him where he states that, in spite of the efforts of millions of men and women over the last fourteen years, the War on Terror still continues, and the terrorist group known as ISIL and has survived to reach a second phase. Now, instead of the highly organized attacks that initiated the war, many more attacks of a lesser nature are happening, such that we have seen in Europe and now in the United States. I will also agree with his words that as the Commander in Chief, he has no greater responsibility than to the security to the American people.

There is much, however, that was said beyond this, that I find I disagree with. Following his points that the road to victory against terror won’t depend on tough talks, abandoning our values, and giving into fear, he began to paint a picture that was intended to educate Americans of what the ground situation in Syria actually looks like. He mentioned that we will “destroy ISIL, and any other organization that threatens to harm us”. In this picture, he stated that the US military will continue to hunt down terrorists by being strong and smart, and relentless, and by drawing on every aspect of American power. He continued that in Iraq and Syria, US bombers are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy assets, and infrastructure, and that since the attacks in Paris, we have been joined by our allies in Europe to do the same. He also mentions that we are providing equipment and training to forces on the tens of thousands of local fighters in Iraq and Syria who are combatting ISIL on the ground, to take away the safe havens of the terrorist organization. Next, he mentioned that efforts have been underway to dismantle ISIL’s operations, their finances, and their recruiting efforts abroad. Along with this, he mentions how the United States is working with Muslim majority countries to solve this problem and combat the vicious spread of the perversion of Islam he referenced earlier. Finally, there is mention of a ceasefire, led by American intervention and a possible end to the Syrian war.

If this picture were all that was going on in Syria, we would be in a very good situation. One is almost forced to ask, if this is case, why has ISIL not yet been defeated?

To answer that question, we have to look at the rest of what was not said.

  • We will “destroy ISIL, and any other organization that threatens to harm us.”

 

This is reassuring. It is a statement of force that says that the United States and her allies will not stand against the threat that these attacks have imposed. The problem with this, is that it differs in almost no way from similar speeches made over a year ago where the President promised to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.”  Since that point, the Islamic State has suffered little loss of territory in Syria and Iraq, and has since spilled over into Libya, has claimed direct responsibility for numerous terror attacks in Europe, and have reached at least as far as Bangladesh, where Muslim bloggers speaking out against the Islamic State are being murdered for delivering the voice of Muslim activists the world so desperately wants to hear. Only weeks ago, the President referred to the Islamic State as “contained” within Iraq and Syria, a comment whose timing was tragic, appearing only days before the Paris attacks of late November, and which completely ignored the presence of ISIL troops ravaging Libya, all those acting abroad, and recruiters working throughout Europe. It, however, made apparent how very disconnected to the crisis the President’s foreign policy concerning ISIL is to the truth on the ground, or that what he is communicating is a far more optimistic interpretation of events than followers of the crisis have come to know.

In a post by Carter Moore, numerous polls are showing that more and more Americans aren’t being swayed by what an increasing number of us are viewing as a half-hearted policy towards ISIL’s elimination, and an overall lack of belief that the President’s plans for the region are grounded in either a realistic understanding of the situation, or that his plan can succeed in the future. Along with this, Americans have embraced the unfortunate reality that terror would likely grace our shores, reality that terror would likely grace our shores, “soon”, as indicated by polls done by CBS and Quinnipac University. Along with further polls done by ABC, the overriding theme of the American people is an overall lack of belief in the President’s continuing promises to “destroy ISIL, and any other organization that threatens to harm us.”

  • The US military will continue to hunt down by being strong and smart, and relentless, and by drawing on every aspect of American power.

Every aspect of American power does not correlate to the offensive that is currently taking place. To begin, the United States does not have the forces it had available when we left Iraq prematurely in 2011, and we lack the ability to regain the initiative in this fight. The forces available in the Middle East have been reduced to the point that it’s first option of regular troops for when something in the region goes South isn’t even a combat team.

The US Marine Corps is preparing to deploy about 2,100 grunts to be based out of Kuwait in a new unit configuration designed to respond to crises in the region, according to Corps officials.

Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) Central Command will be equipped to perform noncombat evacuation, humanitarian assistance, infrastructure support, tactical aircraft recovery, fixed-site security and theater sustainment missions, said Brig. Gen. John Love, assistant deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations.

This sort of force would have been useful during events such as Benghazi amid the Libyan turmoil several years ago, but utterly lacks the strength necessary to secure and occupy a region the size of Texas.

Yes, we still maintain powerful air and naval assets in the region, such as the 6th Fleet in Bahrain. From here, you will see many of the air strikes originating. But the problem we are seeing, is that there simply isn’t enough power being delivered by the air strikes to have a meaningful effect. While we might be able to “hunt down” forces in dramatic bombing missions, it is obvious to most that this effort isn’t winning any territory on the ground front.

Instead, what we are seeing from our allies on the ground, is that the attacks against ISIL are having only marginal gains. The overriding US strategy is to bomb jihadist forces using fighter, bomber, and UAV, and weaken them, paving the way for allies to overrun them on the ground. Where this strategy fails is that the US airstrikes in Syria have been shown to be based on startlingly little intelligence. Often, the strikes do little more than send the fighters cowering during the bombardment, only to return once it is over. Secondly, the largest single flaw in the plan is a lack of supporting fighters on the ground who are able to take the regions. Examples include Kurdish forces who, while excellent fighters when fighting for their own lands, have no vested interest in conquering lands that are not home to Kurdish people, and therefore, not worth the risk of Kurdish soldiers. In Southern Syria, it is worse as the rebels we are supporting number only a few tens of thousands, at the most. They are, however, fighting against not only the Islamic State, but also the sitting dictator of Syria, and now also being bombed by Russia. The Iraqi army, for that matter, has show virtually no initiative in even attempting to retake the lands lost to ISIL for purely ethnic reasons, which explains why the Iraqi military is unable to handle fighting ISIS without US intervention. For that reason, the statement during the president’s speech that “…we will continue to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground, so that we take away their safe havens,” is based either on optimistic deception, or denial based myth.

Furthermore, the bombings themselves aren’t even providing much gain in the actual killing of insurgent forces.

“The air attacks to date have been what can only be called anemic,” says David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general.

Deptula, who directed the air campaigns in the first Gulf War and the invasion of Afghanistan, says it is not possible to defeat the Islamic State by flying what’s been an average of little more than a dozen airstrikes a day.

“The administration’s incomplete strategy places U.S. commanders in an untenable situation,” he says. “It’s not unlike the failed strategy that was employed in Vietnam.”

For a point of reference, the Iraq War 2003-2011 averaged closer to thirty strikes a day and the Gulf War more than a thousand over its short duration.

The current air campaign drew fire as well at a hearing last month on Capitol Hill.

“Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends,” said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, the Arizona Republican who himself flew combat missions in Vietnam. “That suggests we are not winning, and when you’re not winning in war, you are losing.”

What many believe, instead of attempting to destroy ISIL, the administration is instead attempting to use it as a weapon. The strikes by American forces have been primarily centered on some of the insurgent assets, but mostly in areas where ISIL is in direct conflict with Syrian rebels we are allied with. There, they are attempting to funnel ISIL away from the rebels, but leave them to fight Bashar al-Assad‘s government. In this way, they do not achieve the strategic victory of defeating either, but are having the effect of hardening ISIL against our tactics and strategies, while they continue to grow. The biggest problem with this strategy, however, isn’t that ISIL is learning to defend themselves from the bombings, but that Russia (a close ally of Assad, along with Iranian supporters) is currently engaged in campaigns to destroy both ISIL and the rebels we have been arming and training. Worse than this, the Russians are working a lot harder at this than we are.
This outlines why many analysts agree that bombing alone cannot defeat ISIL on the ground, in spite of the enormous and never-ending steady stream of smart bombs against a hardening target. To better understand that cost I would suggest learning how much one airstrike can cost.
Add to this the impact of sequestration on federal agencies. For the military overall, the funding available to maintain the forces has been reduced by over one hundred billion dollars. This has manifested itself in the form of over seventy-thousand troops leaving or being forced out of the service.  It takes the form of hiring freezes and promotion ceilings for American servicemen, forcing many of our best and most experienced warfighters out of the service in search for a productive and meaningful career. In total the sequestration has left us more than 70,000 less troops than in 2011 before the start of the President’s second term. The cutbacks against the United States military have been called for repeatedly, to the point of ad absurdum, to where now we have the United States army is at its smallest since 1940, and the Navy since 1915. U.S. Military Personnel 1954-2014: The Numbers

In the meantime, our allies are facing greater and greater pressure militarily from overseas from sources like the Islamic jihadists, Russia in Eastern Europe, and China in the South China Sea. Several member nations of the Arab League have even allied together to form Joint Military Force to provide for their own independent interests, further exacerbating the conflicts in the Middle East. The net effect of the United States’ regression toward isolationism, is that the world has become a much more hostile place, where our enemies can no longer rely on us for aid, and are looking elsewhere for support. This has not only left us less secure, but decreased the security of billions of people.

Having said all of this, it brings about the question of a land invasion into the country, which many Americans don’t even realize, isn’t even possible. We’ve reached the point where we shouldn’t be asking if we should deploy boots on the ground, but rather, “is the deployment of ground forces even possible?” To do so would require months of logistical support and maneuvering of forces to the region to reach invasion strength, more than enough time for the Islamic State forces to become aware of what is happening, hide among the civilian population or even return to their respective homelands, continuing the global jihad elsewhere. Perhaps this helps explain why has ISIl still has not been defeated even after a year. Ultimately, the question of “removing the Islamic State” has been lost from us entirely in anywhere close to the near term. Perhaps this, more so than any sort of ideological reason or because of fear of “another long and drawn out war” is why the President so strongly advocated against the option to send in American ground forces. My greatest concern is that that simply isn’t an option anymore.

  • Third, we’re working with friends and allies to stop ISIL’s operations — to disrupt plots, cut off their financing, and prevent them from recruiting more fighters.
There is a great deal wrong with the third points. To begin with, it mentions working with allies on goals of cutting off ISIL’s financing, but in July, it was shown that Turkey and ISIS are now ‘undeniable’ linked through ISIL’s discounted oil sales. I’ll continue that we are failing the intelligence war when it was only discovered through a raid last year how the organization was set up in the first place. More than that, evidence collected by Kyle Murao in Where is ISIL getting their ammunition? has shown that there is little stopping the Islamic State from utilizing black market resources and its vast wealth of independently earned (looted/ransomed/taxed) wealth to procure from virtually any source on the planet. The table below demonstrates forensic evidence of brass casings found on an Islamic State battlefield and where the casings originated. The findings are unsettling.

Along with this, the President mentions that recruitment efforts are being weakened, which, according to all current evidence, is also failing. In Europe there is already a large movement in place where recruiters for the Islamic state are being made to attempt to convert Europeans to Islam, and to convert the local Islamic population to the Wahhabi doctrine, which is the branch of Islam most responsible for the current era of terror we are now experiencing. There, established Islamic “preachers” and recruiters already in Europe, such as Pierre Vogel AKA Abu Hamza, are transitioning young and easily influenced Muslims into fanatical jihadists.

Abu Hamza, born a German named Pierre Vogel in 1978, is a very popular Islamist preacher in Germany. The former professional boxer became Muslim in 2001 and is now among the most influential German representatives of Saudi-originated Wahhabi fundamentalism, which masquerades as “Salafism.”

In Europe, ministries such as Vogel’s are considered “cool” by the native born Muslim youth, which sees thousands flocking to his influence and to that of his Lieutenants. From there, many face the sorts of extremist conversions that taken place disturbing fast, outlined more in detail here. Under leadership and direction, such as that offered by Muslim preachers like Vogel, these fanaticized young Muslims find their to the Middle East, where they are radicalized in militants. From there, they fight for the Islamic State and with no ties to the local “kuffar,” or “unbelievers” have been found guilty of many of the most egregious acts of criminal barbarism. There, they either die in service to the Islamic State or return home to conduct acts of terror in the name of the state. This can be seen in the famed former German rapper Dennis Cuspert, who operated under the pseudonym Abu Talha al-Almani. Cuspert converted to Islam in prison and went on to command a German speaking infantry unit in Aleppo after serving as a recruiter for the Islamic State in Germany. He was killed in an American airstrike, but had he lived, he may have found his way back to Germany, not unlike those who planned and executed the Charlie Hebdo massacre early in 2015.
What is most disappointing, is that even though this is well known, there is no good work being done other than an internet information campaign to stem the Islamic fanatization in Europe and the tide of foreign fighters into the Middle East.

Having exhausted all points on the image of Syria that the president is trying to communicate, I’ll move on to a few other items that need to be addressed.

  • “What could possibly be the argument for allowing a suspected terrorist to buy a gun?

Among the proposed solutions that the president offered was yet another implication that stricter gun regulations would have, in any way, affected the outcome of this event. One phrase he used repeatedly was the term “Common Sense” legislation. I dislike phrases such as “common sense” initiatives, as well as other like, “the right side of history” or, “it’s what the terrorists want”. They imply a certain unquestionable infallibility, without providing either context or evidence to support the claim. With the example of common sense initiatives in gun-control, the language communicates that the policies are logical to the point that anyone who would disagree is not just of a differing opinion, one with rational speculation and concerns, but are in fact, irrational and lacking in some necessary degree of basic human intellect. It is a dehumanizing and divisive phrase, designed to belittle opponents without giving credit or concern for their individual value or point of view, something the President of the United States should never do, and particularly when his nation is suffering a time of crisis.On the points in particular on gun-control, as I have elluded to, it is not a lack of common sense which has brought opposition to the current policies in debate, but rational concerns behind key failures in their policies. Narrowing the focus, the policy of not allowing gun purchasing by people on the “No Fly List” sounds like a reasonable, common sense proposal. The President even went so far as to ask “What could possibly be the argument for allowing a suspected terrorist to buy a gun?” I’m not sure I have ever met or heard of anyone who wants to allow terrorists to buy gun, so it seems like an odd to frame the argument like that… since literally no one has advocated it. In fact, the majority of those standing in the way of the “No Fly Rule” are the same who have been the most supportive of more thorough investigations for the individuals whom the president called “suspected terrorists.” They, for example, would be the first to ask why anyone considered a suspected terrorist is allowed to walk free and unadulterated by law enforcement, in the first place.

The failure here doesn’t lie in the intent, but in it’s execution. There are numerous problems inherent to the “No Fly” list that have been well documented. Among these is the drastic increase in the number of people added onto the list over the last seven years, far exceeding the last presidency.  According to Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, in October 2008 the No Fly list contained only 2,500 names, with an additional 16,000 “selectees” who “represent a less specific security threat and receive extra scrutiny, but are allowed to fly.” Since then, that number has grown to over 47,000 people by 2013 with another 468,749 watch-list nominations. Some have called into the question how easy it is for an innocent person to be placed on the list and how arduous it can be to rectify yourself in getting your name off the “No Fly” terrorist watch list. Along with this, several people have been detained for “false positives”, including a United States Marine returning from Iraq, an ACLU lawyer (big mistake), a one year old girl, and a guy whose only crime was having the same name as a terrorist who went to Guantanamo Bay. Scores of other false positives exist. Together with all the other problems associated with the No Fly list, it was obvious to some that it was too broken of a system to merit being tied to something as foundational to the American identity as the 2nd Amendment. Second, this methodology, had it been in place, would not even have caught most of the mass shooters responsible for terrorist events already, such as the Boston Bombers. It isn’t that anyone wants to put guns in the hands of terrorists, but this is a broken system that won’t be fixed by adding more broken elements to it.

A second proposal made by the president was to make it harder to access the types of high power weapons these two terrorists used. While I will agree that if these weapons did not exist, no one would be shot by them, simply banning them nationally or even their sale is not a rational approach to solving the issue of mass shootings. For instance, it is widely known that California has some of the tightest restrictions on guns. Social media is has made arguments based on the numerous statistics statics supporting a push for more gun regulation, theoretically as a solution to this sort of crime. These statistics, however, don’t change the truth that California has already adopted President Obama’s gun control wish list, which includes the common sense initiatives such as “universal” background checks, registration, waiting periods, gun bans, magazine bans and an expansion of prohibited gun categories, I can’t really fathom. No combination of these laws, however, prevented this act of domestic terror from taking place. Furthermore, evidence has shown that further expansion of gun regulation, such as that which the President has recently proposed, would not have even had an effect on preventing this case.

Requiring background checks for all weapons sales might not have had any effect on Wednesday’s shootings in San Bernardino in which at least 14 people were killed. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has determined that Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two shooters, legally purchased two of the weapons at a gun shop in Corona. Two others were legally purchased and given to him by a friend, federal officials said Thursday.”

Yet even more, the vast majority of the guns used in the most recent shooting sprees were made through legal weapons purchases including background checks. This serves to support many gun owner rights advocates who have stated that outlawing the weapons will not affect the actions of the criminals who take note of the laws only so far as to subvert them, but will inhibit only those actions of law abiding citizens.
To answer the main question of “what are some of the major takeaways of President Obama’s Oval Office Address on meeting the threat posed by terrorism” there are a few.
  • The publically communicated policy for Syria hasn’t changed, in that it still relies on US bombing campaigns that have proven not to work.
  • Key allies in the region form a major leg of the operation, but have thus far failed to make significant gains on Iraqi and Syrian soil, in spite of coalition support.
  • There is still no plan (nor capability) to launch ground forces.
  • While there has been a significant number of major terror plots prevented, there is very little that can be done to prevent the “self-radicalized” native born extremist.
  • The only viable plan for this includes placing many people suspected of being somewhat involved in terrorism on a list which forbids them from purchasing weapons.
  • The only other viable plan involves creating gun control regulations, which would have had no impact on cases like this, but that hypothetically would prevent a portion of them in the future.
  • There was also a note on stronger screenings for those entering the United States without a visa. For the life of me, that sounds like an illegal immigrant, something the president has ardently fought up to this point, but at this point, now seems to be a “common sense” initiative.
In closing, however, I would like to make note one thing I am thankful for that the president did. I would like to reiterate that I am thankful that the president spoke when he did. People were scared. They don’t know how to rationalize their fear with a realistic knowledge of the risk they are under. When terrorism strikes in the United States, they don’t have that understanding of how very safe and secure the vast majority of them are. During the day, I am a teacher, and today I taught a class of seventh graders. They know that I am a Marine who served in Iraq when they were little, and that I write in the evenings and am very knowledgeable about these sorts of events. They had many questions, and were scared. For that, I was angry, but also very glad that I could help ease their fears with an understanding of the dangers they actually face and the safeguards which will ensure their security. So, too, did the president. He did that for everyone who doesn’t know enough about the events. He helped a scared nation get moving again, and for that at least, I am thankful.

Thanks for reading!

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What are some of the major takeaways of President Obama’s Oval Office Address on meeting the threat posed by terrorism (December 2015)?

Chilling Insights of ISIS Leaked Files

An exclusive investigation by German magazine DER SPIEGEL shows that the stunning march of the Islamic State into Syria & Iraq was meticulously planned by former members of the intelligence services of Saddam Hussein.

The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of the Islamic State

The documents brought to light by Der Spiegel showed the sophisticated organizational structure which the Islamic State has been utilizing, one of modern secular origin, as opposed to one of classical Islamic design, and how that was necessary to achieve its unthinkable reach and murderous mentality. It pulls the discussion away from the religious fanatics narrative and focuses on a design built around legitimate military organizational theory, as well as one of an advanced mafia organization, and bridges the gap between fundamentalism and a criminal empire.

It was not a manifesto of faith, but a technically precise plan for an “Islamic Intelligence State” — a caliphate run by an organization that resembled East Germany’s notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency.

This note rang a chord with me when I thought about who it was talking about. The article by Der Spiegel focuses on Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, better known as Haji Bakr. He was a former high ranking member of the leadership of the Iraqi military under Saddam Hussein. After being purged from the Iraqi leadership, along with the rest of the Ba’ath party, Bakr went underground to join the Iraqi insurgency and eventually, made his way into joining the group that would become the Islamic State. He, however, was less religious than his peers, but carried on the legacy of the Iraqi Ba’ath party, one guided by the mission of uniting the whole of the Arab world into a single, unified Arabic nation.

His views were that of the Arab’s answer to Nazism and the supremacy of the Aryan race. Sympathizing with that mentality, and one of eastern military philosophy in general, the Ba’ath party, particularly of Iraq, mimicked much of the organizational philosophies of Socialist Eastern European regimes. The Ba’ath party’s leadership structural theory is descended from this same line of thinking. Saddam Hussein, a noted fan of none other than Joseph Stalin, built his regime around a government ran secret police structure to enforce his law and repress dissent with models formed by the Nazi’s SS, the Stasi secret police and the organizations capable of coordinating Stalin’s terrible purges in the Soviet Union from the Kremlin. Molded into a method workable for the Middle East, Saddam used these same government tactics to hold the majority of Iraq’s people in subjugation for decades.

With this model in mind, Bakr designed a secret service and clandestine operations arm of the Islamic State with stunning efficiency. Perhaps what surprised me most was the pernicious, methodical saturation of the IS into every major town they become a part of, and the methodical approach to take over in which they conquered these towns before a single Islamic State soldier ever arrived.

The plan would always begin with the same detail: The group recruited followers under the pretense of opening a Dawah office, an Islamic missionary center. Of those who came to listen to lectures and attend courses on Islamic life, one or two men were selected and instructed to spy on their village and obtain a wide range of information. To that end, Haji Bakr compiled lists such as the following:

  • List the powerful families.
  • Name the powerful individuals in these families.
  • Find out their sources of income.
  • Name names and the sizes of (rebel) brigades in the village.
  • Find out the names of their leaders, who controls the brigades and their political orientation.
  • Find out their illegal activities (according to Sharia law), which could be used to blackmail them if necessary.

The spies were told to note such details as whether someone was a criminal or a homosexual, or was involved in a secret affair, so as to have ammunition for blackmailing later. “We will appoint the smartest ones as Sharia sheiks,” Bakr had noted. “We will train them for a while and then dispatch them.” As a postscript, he had added that several “brothers” would be selected in each town to marry the daughters of the most influential families, in order to “ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge.”

I found this deeply disturbing because it really confirmed suspicions I had, but that I never really predicted were this involved and well organized. I operated under the assumption that there were advanced cell structures for the military units, and that there must be another internal structure for the religious adherents, but I was really unaware of how deeply they could infiltrate and saturate a village and a whole region.  The organization created for the ISIL “security” services is extremely advanced structure considering that most people still view them as little more than a highly effective gang of religious fanatics.

From there, the last thing I would mention that we gained from the report is the very clear understanding of how ISIL was able to grow so unchecked through the 20th century, non-religious aspects of this purely religious 7th century cult. The fact that they had advanced military and secular agents saturating their operations early on means that the group has been free to move and operate in a manner that is very un-religious, while also maintaining a very convincing religious face to recruit the faithful.

Some of these un-religious acts included the kidnapping of civilians for sale in the slave markets, forced prostitution, and ransom. There was also extortion, intimidation and blackmail made all the easier though local spies provided through the religious Dawah’s. Through this strategy, they were able to take over massive portions of Syria without even utilizing their troops stationed in Iraq. The military’s open operations also magnified the religious aspects of ISIL. It gave their fighters the capability to strike strategic victories, so much so that they were capable of flooding Iraq in only a number of weeks.

The religious fervor of their foreign mujahideen was also necessary. The report describes them to be mostly students from Saudi Arabia, office workers from Tunisia and school dropouts from Europe with no military experience. They were matched with battle-tested Chechens and Uzbeks to serve as the Non-commissioned officers of the army, and all serving under the command of well educated officers of the former Hussein Iraqi Army, all while serving in Syria. The important element is that they were not tied to the people of a region and could be relied upon to conduct the terrorist and mass criminal murders,  the organization is infamous for, unphased by national or ethnic loyalties or sympathies. These foreign Islamists are also crucial in that, once militarized, they go back to their home countries to spread terror or perform recruiting.

Perhaps the most frightening thing I realized from this document was just how viral the organizational structure is. It is truly international in nature. It is absolutely imitable anywhere in the world where a large enough population of muslims can be found. It doesn’t need an Iraq or a Syria, or an Afghanistan to work. As the above map shows, it has the means to spread very far outside of the focus of the modern conflicts very quickly. What I fear is the exact same story happening wherever there is disorder in the Islamic world. The pattern starts off very peacefully, just an office with Muslim missionary. In a matter of only a few months, there are thousands of people fleeing for their lives as a nation descends into anarchy, held together only through terror of the fanatical army looming at their door, which no one saw coming.

It’s a very frightening, but enlightening article, one I feel everyone needs to read and understand to understand the depths of the conflict as it currently stands.


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Will ISIS attack the United States?

I’ll be straight to the point. Yes, but not in the way you’re probably thinking.

The group we call ISIS will never have a force capable of achieving some sort of international campaign to conquer the United States. Some World War II pitched battle, land exchange style of warfare isn’t going to happen. They way they have been fighting in the Middle East won’t do anything for them abroad. They were barely able to achieve significant gains in Syria and Iraq, owing those victories more to the filling of a vacuum caused by incompetence in the Iraqi military and governance and the Syrians engaged in a state of civil war than to their own military competence. To expect them to expand a great deal beyond their current borders militarily is far reaching, at best.

What is more likely is something like what we saw in France with Charlie Hebdo. Individuals who have fanatical ties and may have been radicalized by direct intervention overseas (such as with the three shooters in France) are also a major threat. Individuals who have actually made a presence in those theaters are a different sort of monster when they return. This is why when people leave the United States presumably to join the Islamic State, they are watched extremely closely by the various intelligence agencies.

The threat of a second 9/11 event is also a legitimate concern. It’s important to remember that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are much, much more advanced and well organized an organization than was the Mujaheddin of Afghanistan in the 1980’s. From that came Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda was able to complete the 9/11 operation with only a total annual budget of $30 million for all international operations. To put that to scale, according to Al Araby Al Jadeed, ISIL’s budget now stands at $2bn with a surplus of $250m. I’m not technically saying that another 9/11 is on its way. Islamic law actually does have rules about this which even ISIL must obey to maintain legitimacy with their followers. While terrorist attacks are obviously allowable by such groups, there does need to be an official declaration of war for it to be legal, such as what occurred in Bin Laden’s Fatwa and subsequent declaration in 1996. That I know of, no such official declaration has been made by the Islamic State. To do so would bring about the immediate retaliatory strike which would be nothing less than an existential threat to the Islamic State’s ability to survive as a land empire. That said, right now, it really doesn’t behoove them to declare war on the United States and it would be an even worse strategy to dedicate a massive force to an operation such as a second 9/11, invoking the historical wrath of the US. That also isn’t to say such a thing is impossible. There is a legal loophole that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s declaration of war may still be legally valid as, by many interpretations, ISIL is an offshoot of the Al Qaeda that existed in 1996.

What is much more likely, though are attacks like what we saw at the Sydney Lindt Chocolate shooting in Australia late last year where a single gunman attacked the store and took hostages and to pull it even closer to home, the Oklahoma beheading in September of last year. Charlie Hebdo in January and the more recent shooting in Denmark also fall into this category. These events were carried out by individual Islamic fundamentalists, inspired by Islamist fundamentalist principles. They are often dismissed as “Lone Gunmen” or simply “Random Fanatics” by media at large, with their ties to fundamentalist Islamic factions and ideology underplayed. Often they are dismissed by the general public as being the work of the mentally unstable and no real connection to Islam, or sometimes rather, no connection to “real Islam”. Symanantics not withstanding, this is a pernicious viewpoint to take, as it is not always the case and rarely the whole truth. Events like these are praised by the Islamic State who has often directly asked sympathizers to conduct such terrorist attacks everywhere. A new poll recently showed that as many as 11% of Muslims in the areas of the Middle East may be sympathetic to Islamic State views. Knowing this, we have to be concerned if the idea that “only a few deranged fanatics” aren’t actually an indicator of a much larger problem.

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, based in Doha, Qatar, surveyed the opinions in the Arab world in relation to IS and the international coalition against it. Their findings were published on November 11.

Findings from telephone interviews with 5,100 respondents in seven Arab countries (Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and “Palestine”) and in Syrian refugee camps located in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey show that 85 percent of Arabs hold negative views of IS, to varying degrees. This compares to only 11 percent of the Arab public whose views towards the group were either “Positive” or “Positive to some extent.”

The Islamic diaspora is estimated to consist of more than 1.3 billion souls. While I don’t want to raise flags, 10%, or even 1% of such a massive population that is sympathetic to the cause of the Islamic State is alarming. Though potential fanatics are possible in any community, they are not evenly distributed. Some Mosques may be places of concern and may even function to funnel support toward IS or spread their ideas, but the majority are still benign in nature in regard to this question. As always, we must not underscore the majority of Muslims who do not support violent interpretations of the doctrine, for they are also victims in this. They will face the suspicion and fear of those who are legitimately concerned by these trends in the years to come until they have purged support for IS from their own communities.

Having said all this, the “Lone Gunman” style of attack, as displayed in Oklahoma, Sydney, Paris, and now Denmark will likely become not just more likely, but the norm in not just the United States, but across Europe and everywhere else where Islamic fighters feel conflict, as well.


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The Lion and the Lights of Al-Baghdadi

Seven years ago, I was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps. During that time, I deployed to Iraq twice. The second of these missions took me to the base known by the Marines as Al Asad.

Al Asad, or Ain Al Assad, is the Arabic term for “The Lion”. The base was built in response to the failures of the Arab world against the Israelis in the early 1970’s as a super base to empower Iraq for the future. It now houses elements of the Iraqi Army’s 7th Division, along with 300 United States Marine Corps military advisors and trainers. The base is located in the Hīt District of Al Anbar Governorate, about 100 miles (160 km) west of Baghdad and 5 miles (8.0 km) west of the village of Khan al Baghdadi. That means that Al Asad has been in the center of the contested ISIS held lands since their initial invasion in June of 2014.

Today Al Asad is back in the news. Beginning last week, insurgent forces occupied the nearby town of al Baghdadi. Al Baghdadi serves a key strategic point for the base as control of the town means control of access to the nearest highway and the only land connection to the rest of the country, as well as access to the Euphrates River. It is also of tactical importance because the town lies within range of numerous rockets, some acquired from the fallen and abandoned Iraqi bases, some bought from overseas, and some – homemade. This shows the base, the vicinity to the town of Al-Baghdadi, and the fact that it is in range of the rockets.

What it doesn’t show is why I care so much about this particular battlefield. As I said before Al Asad, was one of the bases I was stationed during my two tours to Iraq. On the Eastern edge of the base, along the long road snaking in, is an entry control point. At least there was in 2008. I spent every day of my seven month deployment checking trucks and vehicles for contraband and explosives at that control point. Beside that point was a very large tower where, if I was lucky I could spend the night alone to watch the shifting sands and be alone with my thoughts. On many cold Iraqi nights, I remember staring out that tower into the open desert. From it, I could see the distant lights of the town that lay just beyond the hills to the Northeast. These were the lights of Al-Baghdadi. The town was so small and so insignificant then.

Today, those lights still shine, but illuminate a different town. Insurgents with the Islamic State have occupied it in a bold move, hoping to put pressure on the Iraqi government. According to reports, the Islamic State have been shelling the base since their arrival. So far, there has been no damage reported to the base. This doesn’t surprise me because this kind of rocket fire is more of a nuisance than a real threat. I can say this from personal experience. After you have survived a few of them, it really is just an interruption to the flow of events before long. That may change very soon, however. It was reported that last Friday, a suicide squad of eight men, four with suicide vests, attempted to infiltrate the base. It is probable that they wanted to sneak onto the base and inflict either massive casualties against the Iraqi army or destroy many of the important assets crucial to maintaining security in Al Anbar and the fight against ISIS housed therein. This squad was intercepted by the Iraqi army without achieving their goals, later confirmed by a Marine attack helicopter, observing the area where the fighting had already ended.

This attack, while ending with a victory for the Iraqi Army, marks another crucial event where Islamist jihadi fighters took the initiative to what appears to be a passive Iraqi force. It symbolizes the Islamic States’ ability to mount just outside the walls of the Iraqi army and deliver attacks at the time of their choosing. Though it ended in their failure it was only one of many so far, and we will most likely see many more to come in the future, as well. In what is being called the Siege Al-Asad, the base has endured such attacks since October. Months ago, the base was reportedly surrounded by ISIS fighters, hopeful to destroy a key asset to defense of the nation of Iraq. That invasion was pushed back by Iraqi forces with the aid of US Marines and again, attacks took place in December which were also met with the pushing back of Islamic State forces.

What can be sure is that news of my old home will continue to come so long as the Islamic State exists in Iraq and the Al Anbar province. It will remain an important strategic point for Iraqi defense and a handsome target for jihadist insurgents. Even in the event of unsuccessful attacks like last Friday’s, the continued fighting around Al Asad and the town of al-Baghdadi showcase the Islamic States’ willingness and ability to mount attacks against the Iraqi forces at their most fortified locations. As Islamist forces grow more desperate and more bold with the coming of warmer whether, we should expect to see more of the Lion in the months to come.


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Does ISIS really stand a chance in the long run?

The group that exists today is probably doomed, but the ideas that they have propagated and evolved will live on, as will most of the individuals who are taking part in the atrocities.

The ideas that the Islamic State are building themselves around are not new. By some interpretations they can be sourced to Islamic leaders in the mid 1700’s in Saudi Arabia, but more recently in the contributions to these philosophies by others in from the Egypt, Kashmere, and others since the 1920’s. These ideas have spread throughout the Islamic world and are the root cause of Islamic Jihadism today. Until these ideas are segregated from the greater Islamic philosophy, villainized properly for the barbarity they eventually lead to, and purged by Muslims from their own practices, these ideas will continue to grow, prosper, spread, and evolve in places like Iraq and Syria (ISIS) , Afghanistan (Taliban), Mali, Nigeria, and Chad (Boko Haram), and Somalia (Al-Shabaab). Even if ISIS were to be completely routed and destroyed, (magic wand thinking), the ideology behind what brought it into existence will continue to grow even if the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant no longer exists.

Second, the people who fight for ISIS will continue to exist, as well. Most of the people who fight in jihadist wars don’t come from the land where they are fighting. Instead, they follow an international call to arms against a myriad of supposed threats. Below is an estimated map of where most of the international recruits to ISIS come from. The vast majority of are from Middle Eastern and North African nations. Still, a disturbing amount are coming from Islamic communities within Western Europe.

There are several problems with this beyond the sheer terror that it invokes. First that I will mention, is that if the core of ISIS were magically destroyed, all of these individuals would return home to their native countries. In places like France, this phenomenon has directly caused at least one massacre, as well as others in Spain and London, not to mention the rest of the Middle East. The fear that many international security agencies have had is that these individuals will go back home and bring terror with him, once again, independent of what is going on in actual war zones like Syria and Iraq. Charlie Hebdo provided proof of concept in this concern, dubbed “islamophobic” only a month ago.

Moving on from this is the international conflict it invokes. What happens if we were to be able to just capture all these individuals, not kill them, but not let them go back home? Well, they are still citizens of those foreign governments and now they are under US (or whoever’s) control. How would the Russian community respond to hearing of Russians being held by Western forces indefinitely for actions that took place overseas? What about the Chinese, or the French, or the Saudis? The United States doesn’t even understand the rationality behind it and will fight the very act of detaining known terrorists, so I have to ask about the strain this sort of event would have on international relations. Probably, in at least a few cases, important bonds would break down and geopolitical stability would be damaged.

Third, even if ISIS were to disappear, the Jihadi Wars will continue. As I have said, the land may be deprived of the jihadists, but their ideas will not go away, nor will the individuals disappear. They will continue to go on and spread their ideals and attempt to reform their home mosques to their own version of Islam. If we were to even hope to track all these people, it would require the creation of perhaps another separate CIA or an international intelligence task force with the sole purpose of tracking these individuals. It’s an almost impossible problem, let alone the philosophical and legal burdens that implies. This means that keeping track of them is a pipe dream. They will also take with them the connections: financing, weapons dealers, fanatical religious leaders, the media. These relationships will be able to grow, as well. So too will their will their tactics and the ideas which form the pillar of their fundamentalist agenda. All this will be happening as they reintegrate into their native homelands, unaware of the jihadist’s past.

Eventually, the call to arms will move somewhere else. It may be that the fight is called for Somalia, or West Africa. Perhaps it will be in the Kashmere region. It may just as easily move to places like Chechnya, Kazakhstan, Serbia, or even in Southwestern China or France. When that happens, the same mujahid fighting today will flock to the region, this time with their sons and their friends who they have converted to their perverted view of Islam. The rest of the world won’t make the connection between say, Chechnya in 2020 and ISIS today, but by the same connection, no one was tracing the link to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, or between them and the Mujahideen of Afghanistan in the 1980’s or between all of them and some Saudi cleric three hundred years ago.

If we ever want to truly see the forces which caused the rise of the Islamic State to fail, we are going to have to support Muslim’s effort to purge the jihadists’ ideology from their own belief system. Their media outlets and outreach need to be secured and silenced and as many of them as possible need to be killed right now, before they go on to pollute the rest of Islam with their fanatical belief system.


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Hacktivists and ISIL – What they’re doing. What they should do.

Why won’t internet vigilante groups like Anonymous target terrorist organizations like ISIS?

There actually are plans which are being laid out. Jasper Hamill, with Forbes, recently uncovered a plan by Anonymous cells to target what it considers to be nations funding or arming the terrorist organization ISIL.

The hacktivist group Anonymous is planning to launch a series of digital attacks against nations it accuses of funding or arming the radical Islamic terror group ISIS.

Sources within Anonymous told me the campaign will be called Operation NO2ISIS and will target three states suspected of offering support to the [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant].  Government websites will be blasted with DDoS attacks with Anonymous planning to “unleash the entire legion” upon its enemies.

One of the targets will be Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim nation that has long been suspected of supporting ISIS and other hardline terror groups. However, the Saudi government has dismissed Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s claims that it arms and funds ISIS, describing the “false allegations” as a “malicious falsehood”. The Saudis are thought to be terrified of blowback from the wars in Iraq and Syria, so have taken steps to ban private individuals from donating cash to ISIS militants.

The first thing to understand about Anonymous is that they are not really the type of group to “plan” things. They are opportunists who move when a vulnerability is found in a target of interest. They move in cells that are not truly organized where there is any sort of  true “membership” in the group. There are just communities of individuals who sometimes align together when any one of them arrives at a plan and convinces enough to help. There is no group consensus on matters like this, no voting, no true leadership, no responsible parties. They come to quick verdicts based on limited information and then take action based on that. They simply share information on what they could do and individuals will carry out an attack of their own free will. When enough do so, with some coordination involved, it can have the impact of a large scale attack. Once an operation is completed, the group disintegrates, never to be seen from again. In that case, you will have groups which can, at will, determine a party’s guilt or innocence based as much the narrative surrounding an issue and popular opinion, rather than anything we would call due process.

Secondly, if they can’t find a route to the actual perpetrators of a particular crime or social injustice, they are have shown a willingness to conduct actions against others who have a relation to the guilty. In the case of ISIL, the direct perpetrators can’t be targeted more than hacking twitter accounts, nor can the individuals who fund them. In this situation, Anonymous has made threats that it will, instead, carry out attacks against the nation of Saudi Arabia, and others, as a means to attack ISIL indirectly.

Taking that into consideration, if the group planning on coordinating an attack against the nation of Saudi Arabia, and others, are successful, they will be doing so against the wrong group. Those funding ISIL are surely, in part, from Saudi Arabia. There are many wealthy individuals there who channel funds to the terrorists through underground, illegal, and backwater channels. They are individuals, citizens of Saudi Arabia, but not state actors. That said, they are not the state of Saudi Arabia. If it could be proven that the king of Saudi Arabia himself were taking part in these funding operations, then that would be a different matter. So far, though, we have no evidence that that is the case. Furthermore, there is little Saudi Arabia can do to prevent its citizens from funding operations. Like the United States, there is little more that could be done beyond banning, and policing what little actionable evidence arises.

Ergo, when Anonymous, or any other group of individuals targets a nation like Saudi Arabia, they are doing so as non-state actors in a direct attack to a sovereign state. That is, by definition, an act of terrorism, obviously to much more minor degree than what we are seeing in Iraq or on 9/11, but still classified as an act of terrorism by the facts. The fact that there is no due process involved, investigation can be extremely biased, and targets are often not the actual cause of the crime, but simply the nearest person who can be reached, I wish that groups like Anonymous would not involve themselves in acts like this. Trolling the Scientologists or prank calling racist radio talk-show hosts is humorous and serves a good and decent function to the world. A direct attack, even a “harmless” denial of service attack, on a sovereign nation, however, paints a very hypocritical picture and will, in the end, invigorate even more hate and hostility against American and other allied forces’ (including Saudi Arabia Proper) efforts to broker a deal to take down the fanatical terrorist threat.

Instead, I wish they would move themselves toward uncovering more about the clandestine operations of ISIL. Once case in point used Google Maps to determine the location of ISIL training facilities in Mosul.

Operations like this are tailor made for groups like Anonymous. Social intelligence forces could easily be made to take advantage of ISIL’s use of social media. They’ve put a lot of information about themselves out there. If only enough smart people with enough time on their hands were to direct their efforts towards uncovering it, it could help forces out there taking action against them such as the Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi Army, Free Syrian Army, or even coalition military airstrike. Forces like the Kurdish defense forces are in desperate of advanced technological analysis and utilizing social capabilities could augment their offensive capabilities greatly. I’d personally like to see news reports of weapons caches, logistical networks, key individuals and other key information being surfaced by the larger community and being acted upon by State actors rather than by non-state actors. They’ve acted in this way before, namely in taking credit for the “hacktivism” which helped solve the notorious Steubenville rape case. One provides a constructive direction in which Anonymous helps the greater cause of the rest of the world, the other does only minor damage to ISIL while severely damaging international relations everywhere else.


  1. Anonymous Hacktivists Prepare For Strike Against ISIS ‘Supporters’ – Jasper Hamill, Forbes – 6/14/2014
  2. ‘Anonymous’ Hacker Group Goes After ISIS, But the Implications Could Be Costly  – Victoria Taft, Independent Journal Review – 9/14/2014
  3. Page on bellingcat.com – 8/22/2014

Further Reading:


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