A US Navy F-18E Super Hornet receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over northern Iraq after conducting air strikes in Syria. (Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel/US Air Force)
Oct. 4, 2014 - By AWAD MUSTAFA – Defense News
DUBAI — As the international coalition’s military operations against Islamic State (IS) militants have ramped up, Arab leaders also have begun waging an intellectual war while providing intelligence to guide airstrikes.
According to retired Maj. Gen. Anwar Eshki, an adviser to the joint military council of Saudi Arabia, the coalition operations will continue for some time because it is being structured as a NATO-style force.
“It will either be an extension of NATO or a NATO-style coalition because the US wants this coalition to include the Middle East joining Eastern Europe,” he said. “It will continue for many years to destabilize terrorism in the region and weaken it,” he added.
In addition, Saudi Arabia will be training Syrian rebel forces and has received its first 5,000 recruits, he said, with an expectation to train a total of 15,000 soldiers.
Intelligence operations, according to military officials, are heavily dependent on satellites, drones and surveillance flights to pinpoint targets and assess damage.
Intelligence networks developed by coalition governments inside Syria and the Iraqi government’s intelligence corps also are providing aid.
“Jordan has significant human intelligence assets in Syria,” a Jordanian security official said.
The official said the airstrikes carried out by the Arab coalition and the US were based partly on the intelligence collected on the ground by Jordanians.
Jordanian armed forces have also used a network of surveillance and monitoring radar systems placed in the Ajloun mountain in the north to collect intel and track movements, he said.
In Iraq, coalition forces rely on the Iraqi military and intelligence services, although insight into Islamic State-controlled territory is limited. However, according to Eshki, efforts by the Iraqi government to collect support from Sunni groups formerly backing the IS militants have been successful.
Leaders of the gulf states increased their information warfare operations against IS. In his first-ever interview as the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani defended his country against allegations of funding terrorism and pledged support to fight IS for the long haul.
“We don’t fund extremists,” the emir told CNN during the United Nations General Assembly. “If you talk about certain movements, especially in Syria and Iraq, we all consider them terrorist movement.
“I know that in America and some countries they look at some movements as terrorist movements. ... But there are differences. Some countries and some people [believe] that any group which comes from Islamic background are terrorists. And we don’t accept that.”
Despite the Qatari government long being criticized for hosting and financing Islamic extremists, the rich gulf nation has become a key opponent of the Islamic State in Syria, contributing two Mirage 2000 jet fighters during the first raids in Syria, according to a Pentagon official’s statements to US press.
The country also hosts one of the largest American military bases in the Middle East, al-Udeid airbase, where operations are being coordinated.
Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, UAE vice president, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, released an op-ed to major newspapers around the world stating that an intellectual fight has to be fought against Islamic extremists.
“We must acknowledge that we cannot extinguish the fires of fanaticism by force alone. The world must unite behind a holistic drive to discredit the ideology that gives extremists their power, and to restore hope and dignity to those whom they would recruit,” he wrote.
But military containment is only a partial solution.
“Lasting peace requires three other ingredients: winning the battle of ideas, upgrading weak governance and supporting grassroots human development,” he wrote.
Former Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US, Prince Turki al-Faisal, appearing on US television, stated that Saudi Arabia would commit ground troops in Syria to defeat the Islamic State and even remove President Bashar al-Assad. He told CBS that he hopes the airstrikes, which include Saudi planes, are the first step in ultimately removing Assad.
“You can’t simply deal with ISIS and not deal with Assad,” Faisal said. “We do not consider ISIS to be Muslim because they brought more harm to Islam,” he added.
Adding weight to the operations, 120 Muslim scholars, including the Grand Mufti of Egypt, the dean of Sharia and Law at al-Azhar University, director of the Fiqh Council in the US, and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem published an open letter to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decrying his state’s un-Islamic behavior in three languages: Arabic, English and German.
“This work is a savvy counterpunch that demonstrates an intellectual call to arms from the Sunni world is now underway,” said Dubai-based information warfare operations analyst Stephen Fallon. “In the accompanying 24-point analyses using recent sermons given by Baghdadi, the writers critique him on numerous errors in a paper that is theologically detailed.
“Charges leveled against Baghdadi as caliph include: purposeful de-contextualizing of Koranic exegesis and legal theory; misunderstanding/misappropriation of nuanced theological Arabic terms; over-simplification and cherry picking of religious texts; killing of innocents; killing of emissaries, in this case journalists; illegitimate jihad; mistreating people of the Book,” he said.
“Non-Muslim states should share this document and distribute it widely letting it speak for itself,” he said.