The Iranians seem to have this counterinsurgency thing down.
Dexter Filkins has a typically excellent piece in The New Yorker on Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Quds Force. It is a must-read for Middle East watchers seeking to understand Iran, the civil war in Syria, and Hizballah.
It also gives us a view of Iran’s own doctrine and practice of third-party counterinsurgency:
Suleimani began flying into Damascus frequently so that he could assume personal control of the Iranian intervention. “He’s running the war himself,” an American defense official told me. In Damascus, he is said to work out of a heavily fortified command post in a nondescript building, where he has installed a multinational array of officers: the heads of the Syrian military, a Hezbollah commander, and a coördinator of Iraqi Shiite militias, which Suleimani mobilized and brought to the fight. If Suleimani couldn’t have the Basij, he settled for the next best thing: Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, the Basij’s former deputy commander. Hamedani, another comrade from the Iran-Iraq War, was experienced in running the kind of irregular militias that the Iranians were assembling, in order to keep on fighting if Assad fell.
Late last year, Western officials began to notice a sharp increase in Iranian supply flights into the Damascus airport. Instead of a handful a week, planes were coming every day, carrying weapons and ammunition—“tons of it,” the Middle Eastern security official told me—along with officers from the Quds Force. According to American officials, the officers coördinated attacks, trained militias, and set up an elaborate system to monitor rebel communications. They also forced the various branches of Assad’s security services—designed to spy on one another—to work together. The Middle Eastern security official said that the number of Quds Force operatives, along with the Iraqi Shiite militiamen they brought with them, reached into the thousands. “They’re spread out across the entire country,” he told me.
Mentoring, advise-and-assist, improving the capacity of security forces…looks like the Iranians know a think or two about COIN. This isn’t to say they’ve taken a page out of Field Manual 3-24 – that would be ridiculous. No, the Iranians have their own robust tradition of irregular warfare, and it has come to Syria.
Photo Credit: dynamosquito, Flickr