June 4, 2015: Strategy Page
One unpublicized reason for the recent American commando raid into eastern Syria was to capture a lot of ISIL documents. The death of a senior ISIL official (chief of finance) and the capture of his wife (heavily involved with running the growing ISIL slave trade) was played up but equally, if not more important was grabbing laptops (each with gigabyes of records) and loads of paper documents. Apparently more raids like this have been authorized, despite the current American reluctance to expose their troops to any combat.
Since late 2001, when the first large capture of al Qaeda documents tool place in Afghanistan, American intelligence has found that the new (as best represented by al Qaeda) generation of Islamic terrorists were better educated (at least at the leadership and staff level) and more comfortable with bureaucratic methods. Some were surprised by all the documents al Qaeda left behind when they fled Afghanistan in 2001, but on reading many of those documents it was clear that all that paperwork indicated a high degree of organization and the potential for organizations like this to be a lot more lethal than they already were. The document analysis showed that the leaders were constantly soliciting new ideas on better ways to train their generally poorly educated (often illiterate) recruits. In many respects all this paperwork was chilling because it made clear that groups like al Qaeda did not just “get lucky” on September 11, 2001 but had carefully thought out, planned and executed that operation and many more that fell apart because it was not easy carrying out such attacks in the West. Many things can go wrong and the al Qaeda planners and organizers were, as the memos, letters and other documents spelled out, aware of the obstacles and constantly seeking solutions.
Subsequently raids by regular troops as well as commandos were made with documents as a major objective. This paid big dividends and later document hauls showed that the terrorists were seeking ways to protect themselves from this vulnerability. So far no highly effective solutions have been found and the captured documents continue to provide devastating (for the Islamic terrorists) hauls of information.
This emphasis on capturing documents rather than Islamic terrorists does not play well in the media and has thus been overlooked by most people but for the troops and the civilian intel specialists the main reason for most raids is information, not dead terrorists and destroyed tools of their trade. Cheap PCs and widespread Internet access has changed everything in even in an organization demanding that the world revert back to a 7th century lifestyle.