Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

If ISIS had a 3-24 (II): Trying to write the Field Manual of the Islamic State

By Carter Malkasian Best Defense guest columnist The United States military operates roughly on the basis of approved doctrine, published in its field manuals. The best-known example is counterinsurgency field manual 3-24. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has no single field manual — at least not one widely known in the ...

via army.mil
via army.mil
via army.mil

By Carter Malkasian

Best Defense guest columnist

The United States military operates roughly on the basis of approved doctrine, published in its field manuals. The best-known example is counterinsurgency field manual 3-24. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has no single field manual -- at least not one widely known in the West. Instead, it has a plethora of publications, online announcements, and video that show the organization has thought out its own set of tactics, methods, and procedures; in essence, its own doctrine. Indeed, a captured ISIL laptop even had a downloaded copy of the U.S. counterinsurgency field manual. An interesting question is: if a full-blown ISIL field manual does exist, what might it say?

By Carter Malkasian

Best Defense guest columnist

The United States military operates roughly on the basis of approved doctrine, published in its field manuals. The best-known example is counterinsurgency field manual 3-24. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has no single field manual — at least not one widely known in the West. Instead, it has a plethora of publications, online announcements, and video that show the organization has thought out its own set of tactics, methods, and procedures; in essence, its own doctrine. Indeed, a captured ISIL laptop even had a downloaded copy of the U.S. counterinsurgency field manual. An interesting question is: if a full-blown ISIL field manual does exist, what might it say?

An ISIL field manual would be very different from what appears in U.S. manuals. Rather than a description of tactics and procedures, it would be a set of political-religious-military orders based on Islamic law (sharia), similar to the Taliban code of conduct (la’iha). The main theme would be how Muslims should unite under the Islamic State. The strength of the Islamic State is not tactics and procedures, or even terror, but Islam.

Chapter One: Islam, Unity, and Oneness

An ISIL field manual would start with a discussion on Islam. The war and the caliphate would be justified in Islamic terms. The early history of Islam and the first caliphate would be tied to the current movement. The discussion would legitimize ISIL while bestowing upon readers the logic by which to convince more Muslims to join up. The manual would be both instructional and an instrument of strategic communication.

The next topic would be unity. Islam stresses the unity of Allah (tawhid), one of Islam’s most powerful messages. The religion in many ways is the antidote for the infighting and feuding of the tribes and states of the region. The field manual would also stress oneness (wihda): that members of ISIL must be one, must not fight with each other, and must be loyal to the caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the rightful successor of the Prophet Mohammed (may peace be upon him).

Under the theme of unity and oneness, the manual would also call for alliances with other Muslims, implicitly meaning only Sunnis. It would lay out a plan for tribal outreach to bring the Sunni tribes of Iraq and greater Syria into the Islamic State. The State would not endorse an oligarchy, however. The Sunni sheikhs would have to swear allegiance (bayat) to Baghdadi. Whether sheikhs would be willing to do this is open to question. But if ISIL peels away enough of their tribesmen, it will not matter.

About competing extremist organizations, most notably Jabhat al-Nusra, the manual would say little. Violence specifically against an organization like al-Nusra would not be openly endorsed because that would violate the idea of unity. By claiming the caliphate to be the only legitimate Islamic authority, however, the manual would implicitly criticize all other Islamic polities, including al-Nusra. By detailing the successes and conquests of ISIL, the manual would make other groups look weak. And by calling for violence against those who stray from ISIL’s interpretation of Islam, the manual would implicitly condone attacks on these other groups.

(More to come)

Carter Malkasian is the author of War Comes to Garmser and was an advisor to the Marines in Al Anbar in 2004 and 2006.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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