The incredible capabilities of ISIS in the battlefield were analyzed in an extensive article written by Hamza Hendawi Qassim Abdul Zahra and Bassem Mroue.
According to the article, published by the Associated Press, ISIS is a highly organized and flexible fighting force.
Creativity and frequent changes of tactics are among the main features that have helped ISIS to prevail in several battles against the Security and Army Forces of Iraq and the Kurdish paramilitary forces in Iraq and Syria.
The forces of ISIS use a combination of conventional and guerrilla warfare, depending on the situation on the ground. They use guerrilla warfare to wear down their enemies. Then to achieve their targets they use massive forces supported by armored vehicles, antitank missiles and even artillery guns.
Another important factor regarding the success of ISIS’ fighting forces is the freedom of local military leaders to operate according to the circumstances they have to deal with.
Although the local leaders of ISIS have general orders concerning strategy, they are allowed to use the most efficient means of achieving them, according to Andreas Krieg, a lecturer at King’s College London.
“The fighting force of ISIS is not as rigid and inefficient as the Iraqi and Syrian militaries and does not have such a corrupt hierarchy, in which officers are afraid to take any action without direct approval from higher up”, Krieg says.
Furthermore the fighters of ISIS are highly disciplined. Punishment and swift executions for deserting the battlefield are part of the discipline enforcement methods that the commanders of the organization use.
Another interesting issue is the capability of the organization to conduct multiple battles in different locations simultaneously, while the Iraqi Army can conduct only one big operation at a time. This capability is supported by the large size of ISIS’ fighting force in Iraq and Syria.
According to Iraqi officers, ISIS has an estimated 30-60 thousand troops in both countries. This immense military force consists of former pro-Saddam Hussein Iraqi Sunni officers, volunteers from Europe, the MAGREB, Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and the Caucasus.
One of the new, highly effective weapons ISIS is using in the battlefield are elite shock troops, which are used mostly at the beginning of attacks against enemy positions.
According to the article, these troops, who wear bright blue bandanas on their heads are “fanatical and disciplined, they infiltrate their targets, unleash mayhem and fight to the death, wearing explosives belts to blow themselves up among their opponents if they face defeat. They are credited with many of the group’s stunning battlefield successes — including the capture of al-Sukhna in May after the scene shown in an online video released by the group”.
Another city captured with the assistance of ISIS’ elite troops was Ramadi in Iraq, where a wave of more than a dozen suicide bombings provoked chaos at the government military position in the city, followed by an attack of ISIS fighters during a sandstorm.
The suicide attacks and especially the use of trucks loaded with explosives, are part of the new attack tactic that ISIS has developed. Their elite troops are not afraid to die in the battlefield and they undertake extremely dangerous missions, opening the way for fighting forces that conduct the main attacks.
Last but not least, ISIS’ fighting forces are making good use of new technology. Recent videos they’ve released show the use of remote controlled aircraft equipped with cameras in reconnaissance missions. The use of these systems allow ISIS to learn quickly and in real time about the tactical situation on the ground and to better organize operations using superior telecommunications equipment, better than that which the Iraqi forces have.