Expert answers ISIL, Al-Qaeda, and others race for power in the Middle East


Interview by Jaime Ortega.


Ian Bach is a counterinsurgency, counter terrorism and intelligence expert.  


1) Abu Sayyaf was killed a few days ago, how will that affect ISI operations in IRAQ and Syria?

Leadership kills have little effect on overall effectiveness of ISIS as a fighting unit. But if we get lucky then we may get some power struggles, and we need to try to instigate and promote any in cohesion in their units.

2)  ISIL just captured Ramadi, and are trying to expel Syrian Armed Forces from Palmyra what message does that send to the those countries that support logistically and militarily govern by Haider Al-Abadi and Al-Assad?

Ramadi was a bit of a surprise to me. I expect many in the MIl and Intel communities fell the same. For sure there was insufficient preparations to thwart the advances.

Palmyra is a sticky one. Syria wants this and if this was occupied by coalition forces Assad would need to fight or bargain with those forces who take Palmyra whether they are ISIS or Coalition forces.  ATM I have heard ISIS say because no Icons they are not planing to destroy Palmyra. This maybe a stall as they do not have the man power ATM to destroy the city and hold it militarily also. I except to see Syrian Gov Forces re-take Palmyra. If coalition forces took Palmyra it would be a game changer as this is the route for Syrian Gov forces to the East. For now ISIS will likely Tax Syrian Gov for the use of the Roads to the East.

3) If ISIL theoretically defeated Assad’s Syrian Armed Forces, and controlled mayor cities in Syria, will Jabat-Al-Nusra oppose an Islamic Caliphate governed by Al-Baghdadi? Would they fight each other, despite greeting their rhetorical alliance combating western forces?

Yes They will be fighting each other and I would expect they will fight each other before any ‘real’ assaults on Syrian Gov held areas. While advances against Syrian Gov areas are great for public relations it has been al Nusra who has made most of the gains on Assad. ISIS controls some electrical, oil, and water commodities they sell to Syria’s regime. So yes ISIS will be fighting al Nusra more and more. Their mentalities and also recent bad blood between the two is most likely the thing that will keep them from working together.

The Wahhabi mentality is found in both ISIS and al Qaeda (al Nusra) however al Qaeda views the world much different, and their future goals are also opposed to each others. There is some similarities but  the differences are what keeps them apart.

4) The US, and NATO, have financially supported Kurdish Pashmerga Troops, to help fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but without ground troops are western forces doing enough?

The support US, NATO, Germany, Italy have helped the Kurds with small arms. but very little medium arms, and no heavy arms. The support is so slim and lacking that ammunition is used very sparsely. Also the West has not given enough support to the Sunni militias and they are not getting what they are suppose to get from the Iraqi Gov. US gives weapons/money to Iraqi Gov but can not give it directly to militias, Sunnis, Shia, or even the Kurds. Most of the weapons Kurds have are from Germany and Italy.

I am not sure the world, US, or EU Gov’s want US troops to go in boots on the ground. But the citizens of the west are a majority opposed. I think we all know this must be done with local forces. Foreign forces would most likely fuel the ISIS fire. I know ISIS and al Qaeda would love to see the west set boots on the ground. ISIS and AQI recruitment would skyrocket. Many in the West are blind to that fact.

I think the best thing the West can do is support the forces fighting against ISIS (including Kurds, Sunni, Christian, and Shia with heavy weapons. Personally I am against any support for anti Assad military missions. The approval rating for Assad in Gov Held areas is 90% and 50% in rebel held areas. 500,000 Syrian Gov military and another 250.000 National Defense Forces. The west of Syria has spoken loud and clear. The problem is the Western Nations are not listening.

The west’s mission for 2015 is train more ‘moderate rebels’. However these are not fresh soldiers. This is to give a current rebel an Ak-47, some camouflaged uniform, boots and a couple months training in Qatar and Jordan. Vetting is done in Jordan and Turkey. Then call the FSA? The FSA is not an effective movement, it is a makeshift, a ragtag team of loosely connected groups many of whom hate each other.

Their was over 12 main groups in the FSA, now it is maybe 5? only a year later? Many went to fight for the Syrian Gov, many went to Nusra’s Front, and some went to ISIS. This helped ISIS a Lot, it gave them access to US and EU advanced weapons including the famous TOW anti tank missiles.

5) There is intelligence suggesting Recep Erdogan is supporting ISIL, with the help of Intra-Secret/Service-Intelligence in Pakistan because of their former ties with Saddam’s Bathist party who is entwined with ISIL fighting Kurds. Is this possible?

I think Erdogan is playing and working with many nefarious characters. It is well documented that ISIS has been getting free medical services in Turkey, ISIS smuggles oil out via Turkey, so there must be some appeasement on Turkeys behalf to allow this, but it clearly is more orchestrated than what we are allowed to know and realize. Erdogan’s actions jailing,  Kurdish Journalists, bans on wearing PKK uniforms, or Kurdish Flags makes it clear how Erdogan feels about the Kurds. I am worried that Erdogan will at a minimum take over Rojava in Northern Syria.

I have not seen any actual evidence yet of Paki -ISI working with ISIS. It is possible elements within ISI is working with ISIS. But it maybe for a variety of reasons. There is for Sure Wahhabi followers within ISI. So it is just as likely that there is some at least sympathetic towards ISIS since both have Wahhabi roots and a Large Saudi backing. This is one reason ISI maybe have faction working with ISIS secret agencies love money they can make off the books for their most black programs. So for money, beliefs, and/or politics, and a variety of other factors may lure ISI to assist ISIS.

6) Is their a race between Al-Qaeda and ISIL to regain more regional power in the Middle East? The control of Libya is not only ISIL’s target, but also Al-Qaeda’s?

Libya is a GIANT nation with a lot of oil and minerals. So yes anyone would love to own Libya. As far as a race, sure we see the race. But al Qaeda is more patent and calculated. They will look for end result, delivery message. However one could argue that if ISIS gets Libya first al Qaeda will still have a win. The Top leadership of ISIS still have their al Qaeda ties.

7) Is there any other group outside of ISIL and Al-Qaeda who can present a serious hazard to western targets like the US or Europe?

The Chechen are a serious threat and this past year working with Anonymous a little in the online fight vs ISIS & AQ I have learned their online capabilities are based in Chechnya and some say the Saudi’s have told Putin flat out the Chechen’s work for them and if Putin didn’t stop helping Syria they would let the Chechen’s lose. Some say that is who killed the reporter that Putin got blame for the reporters death. So you can see they obviously have very smart IT people and strategists.

Also Muslim Jihad movements in SE Asia are still leery of AQ and ISIS. So the big 3 is ISIS, the various AQ, and the Chechen. Groups like those in SE Asia and even the Taliban are only concerned with local attacks not global wars. The Muslim Brotherhood is also dangerous but mostly in North Africa to Turkey
8) Democracy does not to suit well the Middle East, is it perhaps because politics will never take over religion? Is western democracy an illusion to reach in the Middle East?

Sure, western style democracy does not fit well in the ME. However even the US is having growing pains in the democracy department also. They need electoral finance reform desperately, and an end to a bi-party system. It would also effect their global standing in a positive way. But separation of state and religion is the best path forward for the Middle East. But it will likely be a long road.

9) A lot of children seem to adopt religious radicalism with danger. Will the hate towards the west ever change the minds of these Middle Eastern children, of is frantic radicalization a process that cannot be achieved by democracy?

Democracy will not end radicalization of youth. The number one thing that spreads radicalization of youth is disenfranchisement. With no job and no prospects for any real normal future many turn to radical views. ISIS and AQ and others like Muslim Brotherhood have very savvy Media Wings. We need to counter the media blitz, and change the conversation, before we can change the outcome. Perhaps winning the Media War vs Jihadist is the first step !!!

10) History has shown that in 1258 the brutal seizure of Mongols in Baghdad, gave lasting peaceful effects in the region up to 200 years. We have adopted democracy, but an Iron fist seems to be a better alternative to the sectarian violence shown in the Middle East. Has the issue of extermination, historically seen in 12th century by mongol troops ever been presented in congress as an alternative to defeat global Yihadist to secure national and international interest worldwide?    

You have a good point there.  The dictators seem to be much better at creating secular nations that are safe for any religion, or ethnic group. I was disappointed that the West did not view the actions of Sisi in a better light. Morsi the Muslim Brotherhood and his call for Sharia law in Egypt was nuts. I cheered for Sisi and the military and still do.

– Will the issue of extermination be seriously examined only after another 9-11 strikes the United States?  

There has been many exterminations of ethnic groups, the Mongols, Assyrian, the Great, Romans, Crusaders, Muslim, Christian, and on and on.

I do expect there will be another 9-11 style attack on USA but I do not think that will cause them to think about past exterminations. Their first thought will be who did it and how can we attack them back?

11) What is the best solution to resolve the Yihadist problem, considering history shows brutal retaliation tames radicals, whereas democracy flaws to give the same results?

I do think the Jihadist movement will be with us for at least another 20-40 years. It will die a slow death. The names of the groups will change with time. Their leaders will come and go. But in the end it will become passe. Perhaps the best way forward is to fight ISIS and AQ mentality in the Media. We need to win the Media War before we can win the fight against ISIS and AQ.

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