Desert Pirates

Friday, November 27th, 2015

The jihadists fight as if they were pirates, Nibras Kazimi argues, with the desert being their sea:

Apart from the outlier battle of Kobani, the jihadists do not fight pitched battles. According to an Iraqi security source, only 97 corpses of jihadists were found when Iraqi forces retook Tikrit. More recently, the Kurdish Peshmerga counted under 300 jihadist corpses in newly-liberated Sinjar. Jihadist swarmed in from the desert when they took Fallouja, Mosul, Ramadi and Palmyra.

They mistrust urban and rural populations after the experience of the Tribal Awakenings. From 2009 until 2012, the jihadists had to adapt to the desert as their strategic depth. They had to adapt to hostile skies too. They were largely driven out of major urban centers in 2004, and beyond that, they were driven out of the date groves and orchards of Mesopotamia.

Nowadays, they field various types of forces, but their elite and most successful ones, not to mention their best-equipped ones, are small, disparate mobile desert units that converge on a target when needed (for example, the inghimasiyeen forces). They treat the cities and towns they have captured as ports of call, for booty and resupply. When challenged by superior forces attempting to retake these ports, the jihadists dissolve away into the desert, leaving small and determined bands of fighters to deflect and bleed-out the invading force.

Their best fighters are not garrisoned in those cities; they live in the skiffs that carry them around the desert, such as the ubiquitous Toyota pick-up trucks they favor. There may be several mother ships in the desert that steam towards a target around which the skiffs gather.

They exercise strict force conservation, especially after the military debacle at Kobani. They have to do this either because the numbers of fighting men they have are too few (far less than intelligence estimates) or because they are holding them in reserve for big strategic pushes when the time is right.

The instinctual individualism of piracy is mitigated by having a cohesive ideology. One may understand the perplexing nature of the Paris targets as that of a jihadist skiff sailing further afield.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)


  1. Bomag says:

    Swashbuckling stuff. Where do I sign up?

    …the ubiquitous Toyota pick-up trucks…

    Built and commercialized by cultures far from Islam. As is the internet and other tech that lets ISIS do its current thing.

    These really are just gross parasites.

  2. Candide III says:

    When you build a granary, mice will gather. You want to make its walls of stone, or get a cat, or both.

  3. Slovenian Guest says:

    So they essentially live in vans down by the river and the U.S. Air Force still can’t handle them? That’s rather odd, because flat terrain plus cold desert nights equals perfect conditions for night vision and targeting equipment. Those Toyota convoys stand out in stark contrast at night, it should be like shooting fish in a barrel, something doesn’t add up.

  4. Ramar says:

    Bedu. The eternal Islamic warrior from the time of Mohammad. Live austere, wander the desert, pick your fight carefully, do not adopt the fighting style of the opposition, disperse when needed. Plunder and booty an important consideration for the warrior. Aouda finding the looted horses during the time of Lawrence and taking off to enjoy the spoils.

  5. Dan Kurt says:

    As long as these Pirates use the desert as their Sea they are doomed.

    Currently we have drones that are guided by humans but now, just as one hears of autonomous cars self driving, there are robotic drones using machine learning to find the Pirates and soon they will be unleashed to kill them if the politicians give the OK — no pilots to shoot down. And this is just the first generation. The deserts will be swept of pirates as well as the seas if wanted.

  6. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    And just as the English pirates were sponsored by the English queen, these Muslim pirates are sponsored by wealthy emirs.

    An expert in medieval Islamic corsairs might argue that these modern pirates are not the true heirs of the corsairs, but rather imitators of England’s sea dogs.

  7. Graham says:

    Weren’t the Islamic corsairs also sponsored by Islamic emirs, latterly by Ottoman walis and pashas?

  8. Graham says:

    The desert is an ocean in which no oar is dipped.

    The insight is not new.

    But Slovenian Guest and Dan Kurt raise the key question- if this is the ISIS method, why is it so difficult to kill them? One leaps immediately to questions of effort and motivation on the coalition side.

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