Small Wars Journal

Behind the Front Lines in the Fight to ‘Annihilate’ ISIS in Afghanistan

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 8:45pm

Behind the Front Lines in the Fight to ‘Annihilate’ ISIS in Afghanistan by Max Bearak - Washington Post

A recurring rumble of explosions echoes off the barren, boulder-strewn slopes of the Spin Ghar mountains, each ordnance aimed wishfully at redoubts where Islamic State militants are suspected of hiding. Afghan and U.S. Special Forces listen in on enemy chatter, intercepting dozens of their radio channels. American AC-130 gunships and F-16 fighter jets whir in circles overhead, at low altitude, waiting for strike orders. Soldiers on the ground man the mortars. 

The operation against the Islamic State in Khorasan — or ISIS-K, as the Syria-based group’s Afghan contingent is known — is now into its fourth month of unremitting warfare. The U.S. military has pledged to “annihilate” the group by year’s end, and the redoubled assault has contributed to a spike in U.S. airstrikes to levels not seen in Afghanistan since President Barack Obama’s troop surge in 2012. One in five of those strikes is against ISIS-K, despite it controlling only slivers of mountainous territory.

The battle is lopsided, but each day the front line here in Achin district moves back only slightly. Both local intelligence officials and the U.S. military believe that ISIS-K is replenishing its stock of fighters almost as quickly as it loses them. A sense that this may be an indefinite mission has set in.

Soon after its founding in 2014, ISIS-K descended into this district and established it as its stronghold. Entire villages emptied as word of the group’s mercilessness spread. Fighters infamously strapped defiant local clerics to explosives and filmed their detonations. For nearly three years, ISIS-K held firm not just in the Spin Ghars but in the vacated villages in the fertile valley beneath them.

In April, the U.S. military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb, a MOAB — nicknamed “the mother of all bombs” — on a cave complex in one of Achin’s valleys, known as the Momand. It is unclear how many fighters, if any, were killed. The MOAB — which felt so forceful that “every ant in the valley must’ve died,” said one villager — was followed by weeks of airstrikes on compounds that ISIS-K fighters had held for two years…

Read on.


Bill C.

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 12:06pm



The idea that strategy may be conducted in differing forms goes back at least to Clausewitz, but its most famous proponent was German military historian and critic Hans Delbruck. He named and drew the distinction between what he called annihilation and exhaustion. A strategy of annihilation is based on the idea that a single event or a short series of directly related events can produce victory. Annihilation produces victory by eliminating the enemy’s capability to defend. Over time, the concept has developed physical and moral manifestations; that is, advocates have concocted ways to use the basic concept of annihilation to achieve political results in both the physical and moral spheres. ...

In its initial and theoretically pure form, one that emphasizes the physical component of strategy, the strategist uses a single great battle or short campaign to produce strategic effect sufficient to cause the enemy’s capitulation. Typically, again in the purest theoretical form, the battle or campaign destroys the opponent’s armed forces, leaving the enemy nation vulnerable to ravaging by the victorious forces. ...

Moral Annihilation

A more modern and perhaps more sophisticated manifestation of annihilation theory focuses on the moral component of war. This article will call it “shock and awe” as a convenient shorthand and will use the rubric to describe a broad range of strategic activities, not simply the specific concept from which the term was coined. The shock and awe strategy postulates that a single attack on a carefully selected target or set of targets can be so psychologically devastating that it completely demoralizes the enemy and produces surrender, or it paralyzes the opponent to the point he is incapable of effective defense. A single, well-aimed attack can be so damaging psychologically that it produces decisive strategic effect regardless of its actual physical damage. ...

Modern political actors, whether state or nonstate, have the inherent resilience to overcome the psychological impact of even the most massive, well-targeted, and professionally executed psychological campaign, whether physical or informational. This resilience is particularly true of the two main types of political actors the United States might face in the future, authoritarian governments and ideological or faith-based non-state actors. If annihilation strategies have recognized drawbacks, perhaps there is merit in attrition-based strategies after all.