ISIS is not a JV Team

July 1, 2016

The month of June was one of ISIS’ most bloody periods of offensive engagements abroad. What President Obama, has dubbed as a ‘JV Team’, and whose threat CENTCOM Commanders downplayed, has clearly proven otherwise. The Islamic State (ISIS), as expressed in a Fatwa by ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, chose to make this Ramadan a fraught and violent one, focused on affecting enemies near and far. It is the latter that affects the travels, mobility, and operations of multinational corporations’ security awareness and posture.

June commenced with an explosion in al-Za’faraniya, southeast of Baghdad, outside a medical center. One person was killed, and six others were wounded. This was ISIS initial salvo and pace-setting event for the remainder of the month, promulgating a radical appreciation of Islam during the holiest of months for Muslims. ISIS murdered close to 1,000 civilians and government officials in the area (the near enemy). As it pertains to the area of focus, ISIS wants to directly affect Europe, the United States, Africa and Asia (all far enemies), where over 430 civilians have already been murdered.

Considering ISIS roots, founded in Al-Qaeda, Iraq and its Jordanian forefather Abu Musab Al-Zarkawi, ISIS violent ways are no surprise, and their recent rate and reach of attacks should not be cause for disbelief. As the United States withdrew from Iraq, ISI (later ISIS) exploited the Syrian civil war, and established Al-Nusra in Syria. Dissent took form between ISI and its Syrian branch, leading to a fissure between ISI and Al-Qaeda, which resulted in the founding of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Global intelligence services failed miserably to identify ISI in its incipient phase, and grossly misjudged their fast growth, capacity, capability and true reach. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, once elected by the majlis al-shura as ISIS leader, or Caliph in 2014, set out to globally expand the message of a Caliphate through brutal means.

As advances continue to be made tactically and operationally by a coalition of special forces in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has chosen to unleash waves of high-profile attacks, either directly or through influence (surrogates coopted to the cause), exploiting the lack of strategic foresight by the Obama administration. Thus placing the crux of security endeavors on travelers, corporate security entities, and understaffed government agencies. Thus these military successes are not translating to the larger strategic level. The recent attack at a LGBT nightclub in Orlando illustrates how a ISIS sympathizer was influenced to conduct a horrid attack, which also serves to illuminate how government bureaucracy and a strategy of appeasement, by an administration, towards radical Islam, has placed risk management and preemption of crisis in the hands of the populace.

ISIS’ recent attack at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, in the same fashion as the one executed at Zaventem International Airport in Brussels, demonstrates ISIS strategic thought process, weaken an already polarized Turkey and attack its economic sustainability. However, ISIS’ attack does beg to question, why attack an assuaging nation state that has facilitated a series of ISIS sanctuaries along the Syrian and Turkish borders and enabled ISIS corridors into Europe (see JAN2015 blog)? These corridors have served their purpose of infiltrating ISIS cells into Europe for two primary purposes. First, establish operational cells for terrorist attacks in Europe and second, commence a surreptitious degradation of Western values through the installment of Sharia law in de facto held pockets of Islamists. We have noticed these patterns of behavior in parts of the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. These patterns generate a security threat to the populace and lines of communication which connect a people, culture and business. However, an understaffed and under resourced security and intelligence apparatus will be, and has been, unable to mitigate any of the terrorist events.

ISIS has only grown in its application of tactics, techniques and procedures, keeping one step ahead of those preemptive steps taken by security forces. Even as ISIS has been expelled from Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit, with Mosul currently under siege by Iraqi security forces, ISIS has continued to export its attacks to the far enemy. The intent is to terrorize travelers, tourists and locals alike in an attempt to bring economic stagnation and adverse psychological attitudes. ISIS takes its lessons learned from each terrorist event, and improves on these in order to generate a potential larger terrorist attack. Their asymmetric nature, when encountered by government and/or private security forces which are boxed in by a number of issues (training, response time, capacity, capability), always generates the necessary momentum to effect the full scale of the attack.

With the end of Ramadan on the 5th of July, with it came major ISIS terrorist attacks in both the near enemy (Iraq and Saudi Arabia) and the far enemy (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh) defying Secretary Kerry and the Obama administration’s characterization of ISIS attacks as signs of ‘desperation’. ISIS has clearly increased and enhanced its operational reach, and with it dynamic means by which to affect, exploit and stretch local security apparatuses.

Individuals and corporations alike must conduct the necessary analysis to ‘harden’ themselves, and avoid being ‘soft targets’. This is critical in developing a security posture based on threat awareness and risk mitigation, which commences at the lowest of levels and shifts to the uppermost level of any organization. As ISIS continues to solidify its operational cells in North America, Europe, Africa, and SW Asia, individuals and corporations must institute procedures which will set the conditions for mitigating risk events. Identifying and defining the risk, will enhance the situational awareness required to instill the required security posture to prevent falling victim to a terrorist attack.

As café patrons in Paris, club goers in Orlando, travelers in Turkey and Brussels, and non-radical Muslims have found out, ISIS is a ‘professional team’ playing on a global stage with the capacity, capability and voracity that can destabilize weak governments and prove to be a serious challenge to developed governments, while altering geo-political alliances and stability. As long as a radical interpretation of Islam continues to be the center of gravity for ISIS, coupled by appeasement towards their rhetoric, ISIS will continue to have a healthy base of recruitment from which to expand its operational reach and diversify its procedures. For individuals and corporations, attaining and maintaining a coherent security posture, is the difference between becoming a victim and being a survivor.
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