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Hybrid warfare used by Islamic State fighters is nothing new

The hybrid force of bandits, regular soldiers, and unregulated fighters used tactics ranging from fixed battle, roadside ambush and stolen military equipment to wreak havoc on the government’s army.

Sounds a lot like the way Islamic State managed to take over much of Syria and Iraq since June.

But that’s a description of the Jewish Rebellion against Vespasian’s Roman Legions.

In the year 66.

Militaries, including our own, have been trying to come to grips with the hybrid threat ever since. It’s one thing to defend against columns of Soviet tanks ready to pour through the Fulda Gap, as was the case during the Cold War. But the mashup between a conventional maneuver army and guerilla tactics is far more vexing for military planners,

The above description of the Jewish Rebellion comes from a monograph, produced last year for U.S. Special Operations Command’s Joint Special Operations University, currently housed just outside the gates of MacDill Air Force Base.

In it, Army majors Timothy McCulloh and Richard Johnson look at several examples of hybrid warfare throughout history “in order to enable a more effective, useful method of responding to this identified threat.”

One of the examples they cite is Iraq, and the insurgency U.S. forces faced after President George W. Bush declared the mission accomplished. Many of the same tactics, techniques and procedures now used by Islamic State were deployed, albeit in a far less organized way,

“Although they never organized in hierarchical elements like (Viet Cong) main forces, disaffected professional military personnel acted in small but lethal ambushes, especially in Sunni strongholds close to former army bases such as Ramadi and Tikrit,” the majors wrote in their monograph.

While accurately describing the conditions that have allowed Islamic State to flourish, and calling for the military to find a way to deal with such threats, the monograph doesn’t specifically foresee the rise of Islamic State. But it does sum up the challenge faced by an organization like Centcom.

“It must be able to guide legitimate violence, or the threat of legitimate violence. This is supremely difficult, but then again ‘nobody pays to see a guy juggle one ball,’” the authors write.

The Army has long considered what to do about hybrid opponents and, in many ways, the actions taken by Islamic State are almost directly out of the Army playbooks on such enemies - the TC7-100 Hybrid Threat series and the Decisive Action Training Environment.

A recent threat tactics report on Islamic State, put out by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, even lists four actions the jihadi group took that are part of what the Army trains to combat.

In late August, for instance, Islamic State fighters captured the Tabqa airbase in Syria. The Army trains for that using the hypothetical example of the mythical South Atropian People’s Army capturing the Rimzi Airbase.

Captured Iraqi gunboats proved a useful tool for Islamic State attacks on river cities, including on Dhuluiya, according to the report, which about 50 miles north of Baghdad on the Tigris River, is key to the jihadi group’s plan to capture Baghdad.

That scenario was covered as well in the Army training manuals, with the hypothetical South Atropian People’s Army attacking a city on the Kura River using you guessed, stolen gunboats.

In June 2014, Islamic State gained access to hundreds of tons of potentially deadly poisons, including mustard gas and sarin, when it occupied the al Muthanna facility 60 miles north of Baghdad, according to the threat tactics report.

That, too, was covered by Army training for a situation in which insurgents capture a chemical weapons cache.

In February, Islamic State took control of the Mosul Dam and fortified it with concrete blast walls and sand bags, according to the report.

“The barrage allows ISIL to flood certain areas, impede Iraqi security force movement, and control the flow of water to other areas of Iraq,” according to the report.

Though the jihadi group was eventually dislodged from the dam, it continues to make incursions, including last week.

That, too, was forecast by the Army, in this case training for the hypothetical Arianian Freedom Movement defending an occupied dam against Arianian security forces in Ariana.

The loss of the Mosul Dam shows a huge Islamic State Achilles heel, according to the threat tactics report.

“Gains in occupying critical infrastructure, terrain, and controlling local populations appear temporal based on the example of ISIL’s inability to protect and retain control of the Mosul Dam,” according to the report.

While much has been made in the gaps in the Iraqi security forces’ combat power, Islamic State has its weaknesses, ”most evident in an absence of integrated fires command and control, and the types of weapons systems to be coordinated in a focused combat power manner.”

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The effects of the last U.S. foray into Iraq are still being felt by veterans like Army Staff Sgt. Ryan James Moore, who was badly wounded there in 2008.

But just because they are wounded doesn’t mean they are conquered. Starting on Thursday, Moore and eight other wounded veterans will be taking part in the America’s Disabled/Open Regatta Sailing Championships at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club St. Petersburg, which runs from Thursday through Sunday.

Moore and the others will sail thanks to the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, an organization formed by retired Navy captain David Olson. It’s part of the organization’s ongoing efforts to show the wounded, by climbing mountains, scuba diving and other endeavors, that they aren’t conquered, despite their injuries.

Even with limited training, Olson’s sailors have done well so far, sweeping the novice divisions of the Galveston Disabled Sailing Championships in October.

Aside from sailing, the veterans will take part in clinical observation by the Elk Institute for Psychological Health & Performance on how these types of outings effect those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Olson says he is looking for one more wounded veteran with sailing experience to join his crew. For more information, contact him at 727-743-7192, For more information on the America’s Disabled/Open Regatta Sailing Championships, call the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, (727) 822-3113 and ask for Shawn Macking, the waterfront manager.

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The Pentagon announced the deaths of two soldiers in Afghanistan last week.

Sgt. Maj. Wardell B. Turner, 48, of Nanticoke, Maryland, assigned to Headquarters, United States Army Garrison, Fort Drum, New York, and Spc. Joseph W. Riley, 27, of Grove City, Ohio., assigned to 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, died Nov. 24, in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when the enemy attacked their vehicle with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.

There have now been 2,343 U.S. troops deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war, and two in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the nation’s newest conflict.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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