ISIS Just Recorded An Outstanding Anti-ISIS Video
The best anti-ISIS propaganda video I've ever seen was just recorded by ISIS itself.
VICE News managed to procure something from March 2016 that's the equivalent of, say, the Rosetta Stone for linguists or the Mitrokhin Archive for espionage historians - a piece of headcam footage taken from a fallen ISIS fighter. It's the sort of finding that manages to convey a considerable amount about a wider phenomenon beyond the misleadingly limited data found in the document itself. And while there's been plentiful battlefield footage taken by ISIS' opponents showing the jihadis making fools of themselves, and various blatant indications that ISIS was always a severely under-qualified fighting force, we now have a widely-viewed piece of video footage confirming all of this that's recorded from the literal POV of someone within the organization. And it's a far more powerful and damning account for it.
The video itself comes from a recording device mounted on the helmet of an ISIS fighter who's about to confront Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga about 30 miles outside Mosul. It begins with (presumably) the local commander giving a brief pep talk to a would-be suicide bomber before the fighter wearing the camera and two other militants climb into an improvised armored vehicle and head toward the nearest Kurdish stakeout.
And this is where things get telling. Once their vehicle clears the village and heads out into the plains, the three fighters aboard spend 4+ minutes fumbling with equipment, nearly blowing themselves up, and finally getting unceremoniously cut down by the Peshmerga. There's often a sort of morbid slapstick to the way ISIS fighters carry themselves - take a lot of overeager young men, make sure the vast majority of them aren't very bright, and throw them into combat operations with minimal training and know-how and you'll inevitably get some of them who behave like glorious morons. But there's something about this video that's almost... sad. In the end the effect isn't fully comedic, nor is it something that someone who's both heavily pro-Kurdish and anti-ISIS like myself can easily gloat over. It's more pathetic than that.
Don't get me wrong, there are some parts of the video that are unintentionally funny. Around the 2:55 mark, one of the militants starts throwing a hissy-fit at the guy next to him because he keeps getting thwacked by his spent bullet casings. Almost immediately thereafter, the fighter wearing the headcam starts scolding the aforementioned getting-hit-by-casings jihadi because he was aiming the handheld rocket-propelled grenade launcher too low and was at a risk of blowing them all up. Once said fighter somehow manages to shoot the rocket outside the vehicle, the fighter wearing the headcam makes a sarcastic crack about how the angle at which he fired the rocket managed to blow back a lot of smoke - some of which smudged the headcam. They then spend the next minute or so becoming increasingly agitated and trying to find additional explosives - including an incident where a fighter has to be reminded to take the safety cap off a rocket before attempting to fire it. Except this attempted reload is cut short when the nearby Peshmerga cleanly hit the ISIS vehicle with a single grenade shot. With their driver not exactly in fighting shape anymore, the three militants attempt to bail out and flee and... well, there's a reason this video is no longer in ISIS' hands. I'll leave it at that.
You can watch the video in full here:
The contents of the video are the effective antithesis of the image ISIS has tried to project for months on end. The fighters look pathetic and fundamentally doomed. They come across as weak, disorganized, and terrified. More than anything else, they look wholly and desperately unprepared to face truly cohesive and disciplined forces like the Peshmerga in Iraq or the YPG/YPJ guerrillas in Syria. Or, for that matter, the more capable of the local Iranian-backed Shia militias.
I'm reminded of a brief documentary I watched of Syrian Kurdish fighters from the all-women's YPJ units. The leader from this particular brigade of YPJ discussed previous engagements with ISIS militants throughout northern Syria, in particular focusing on one time she encountered an ISIS militant shuffling aimlessly near Kurdish barricades (this segment starts at around 14:39):
She mentions the distinct impression that this one fighter was likely hopped up on some form of amphetamine. He was scraggly, agitated, and carrying himself with such a complete lack of regard for standard battlefield protocol that it sounds like shooting him left her with an odd sense of pity - something resembling the feeling you'd get after putting down a rabid dog. The young woman also discusses how rapidly the fighting ability of the various ISIS brigades have degraded. The initial units she encountered seemed to have more fortitude and aptitude - with many of them possibly consisting of the more skilled, battle-tested jihadis who filtered in from Chechnya when ISIS was gaining territory in 2014.
As she goes on to discuss, the battlefield prowess of later ISIS militants dropped off sharply. A combination of relentless airstrikes, high fatalities, and constant defeats against the Kurds seems to have degraded their capacity to put up much of a fight at all. Which, inevitably, has led to rank amateurs like those from the VICE News capture spearheading ISIS' various offenses. I've always felt it was a fool's errand to believe in flawless karma, but ISIS' humiliating self-destruction comes pretty close. If anyone deserves to look pathetic as they ride out their own slow oblivion, it's ISIS' gibbering cavalcade of craven sadists.
As recently obtained ISIS documents have shown, the group is suffering crippling problems with utilities upkeep, financing, and morale. They're also having serious problems finding new recruits. Their existing soldiers don't want to fight, and the unstable ISIS bureaucracy can't even afford to pay livable wages anymore. The rise of the "Caliphate" was always a joke and a lie. With ISIS withering and collapsing, it sounds like even its foot soldiers have found that out.
Adam Patterson can be reached by email at "napalmintheAM@gmail.com" or on Twitter @AdamPattersonDC.