Russia vs. ISIS: Some Truth about the Russkis and Daesh

| December 4, 2015
Categories: Learnin'

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Back in September Russia’s parliament authorized the use of military force to support the Syrian government “…in their fight against the Islamic State.” They did so at the behest of the Putin. Since then memes and social media mockery of POTUS have gone viral, many extolling President Putin while bashing President Obama for strength and willingness to flex military muscle. We’re no huge fans of this administration, but WTAF? Anyone who thinks the Russian Federation has done more to combat Daesh/ISIS/ISIL/”those assholes” needs to take the tinfoil off and look hard at Putin’s skillful but false narrative. Here’s none other than Pete Nealen to explain why.  Mad Duo


Some Truth about the Russkis and Daesh

or, Does Russia Give a Crap About ISIS?

by Pete Nealen

Does Russia give a crap about ISIS?

Short answer: “Only insofar as it can use it for propaganda purposes when dealing with the West.”

There’s been a lot of social media chest-thumping about how Putin is so much better a leader than Obama, and as proof, the Russians are going to “destroy ISIS.” Probably about the same way Linda is going to “destroy ISIS.”

Linda will destroy ISIS

Look, I get it. A lot of people in the mil and veteran communities don’t like Obama. But that neither makes Putin, the Chekist-in-Chief, a better leader, or the death knell for Daesh.

First of all, let’s look at the numbers. The US has been conducting airstrikes against Daesh since last summer. According to the DoD, the US has conducted 3,768 strikes against Daesh in Iraq, and another 2,703 in Syria. The Russians have been bombing for a considerably shorter period. While hard numbers are impossible to determine, as different sources have different (often wildly different) numbers, there have been considerable reports of a lot less accuracy on the Russians’ part. Considering what they’re working with, this should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Soviet weaponry.

Russian Jet over Syria

Russian aircraft apparently attacking ISIS formations, from a story on “” © Sputnik/Gerasimov

Next, let’s look where they’re bombing. Because, you see, Daesh isn’t the only game in Syria (no reported Russian strikes in Iraq at the moment). In fact, they’re a footnote. And the Russian strikes reflect this. The vast majority are concentrated near Aleppo and Idlib.

US vs Russian Airstrikes

That happens to be where the rebels actually fighting Assad’s forces are; it’s not where we find the other groups who talk a big game but let others do the fighting so that they can pick up the pieces afterward. This is what Daesh has been doing ever since the dispute over command and control erupted between what was Al Qaeda in Iraq (then the Islamic State in Iraq, then the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, aka Daesh) and the Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise. The rest of the Islamist groups fighting in Syria have as much of a beef with Daesh as Assad has, not because they disagree with them ideologically, but because they’re sitting in the rear (when they’re not taking on the paper tiger of the Iraqi Army), talking shit while the others do all the heavy fighting, but claiming they’re in charge.

Institute for the Study of War Russia - ISIS 1

From the Institute for the Study of War.

“The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) regularly releases disinformation in order to portray itself as an effective anti-ISIS actor in Syria. The Russian MoD claimed to strike ISIS in 45 discrete locations across Syria from September 30 to November 19. Credible local reporting confirmed that airstrikes occurred in 36 of the reported locations, although ISW assessed that 25 of these airstrikes targeted Syrian rebel groups rather than ISIS.” -Hugo Spaulding, Institute for the Study of War

Now, let’s look at the overall geopolitical situation. What’s going down in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and to some extent Lebanon, is a regional struggle for hegemony between the Saudis and their allies on one side, and the Iranians and their allies on the other. Sunni versus Shi’a mostly, though there’s a background of Arab versus Persian there, too. Iran and Damascus have been allies for a long time.

Guess who else is part of that little axis? Russia. So what are the Russians doing in Syria? Going after the Great Enemy, Daesh? Nope. Like I said, Daesh isn’t doing that much in Syria. It’s the Al Nusra Front, the Free Syrian Army, Ahrar al Sham, and dozens of other groups that are directly engaged with the Syrian Army, and the Russians are engaged in direct support of their allies, the Syrian government and their Iranian supporters.

A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier passes by tires set afire days before by ISIS extremists to hinder airstrikes on November 15, 2015, in Sinjar, Iraq. # John Moore / Getty

A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier passes by tires set afire days before by ISIS extremists to hinder airstrikes on November 15, 2015, in Sinjar, Iraq. Far more US airstrikes are actively supporting the Kurds, or interdicting Daesh, than are coming from the Russian Federation. John Moore / Getty

Kurdish Forces Occupy Ruins Of Sinjar After Liberation From Daesh

A Peshmerga soldier aims a Milan anti-tank missile towards an ISIS position, as a bulldozer builds berms and trenches on the new front line, on November 15, 2015, near Sinjar, Iraq. The German Bundeswehr gave Kurdish Peshmerga troops the wire-guided missiles to protect themselves against explosive-packed armored vehicles, which Daesh suicide bombers drive into Kurdish forces and detonate. John Moore / Getty


Finally, does anybody still think airpower alone can destroy an army, let alone one that has already shown a readiness to go back to its guerrilla/insurgent roots as soon as hostile air shows up in the sky? As soon as US strikes started last summer, Daesh stopped using the large, massed formations they’d entered Mosul with; they went back to little, dispersed knots, to make themselves harder to hit. Victory through Air Power was a great little tract for the airedales back in the day, but it hasn’t borne out in real-world warfare. Bombing can be good for support, and can be effective against an enemy’s industrial support structure (which Daesh generally lacks, aside from oil wells, and bombing them has its own drawbacks), but it will never, has never, defeated any army on the ground by itself.

Smoke from explosions over the horizon - Kurdistan - by Michael Garcia

View of strikes from inside Kurdish territory, from near a Peshmerga training range. Photo by Michael Garcia.

Sorry, folks, nobody’s “destroying ISIS” from the air.

PS: If you’re getting your news from Russia Today, stop. RT is the 21st Century equivalent of Radio Moscow during the height of the Cold War.

Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!

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AAuthor Peter Nealenbout the Author: Pete Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine, a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and the author of several books. A contributor here at Breach-Bang-Clear for many years now, Pete is a bad ass writer who continues to make the Duo’s efforts look pale and feeble (if less gritty and jaw-clenching-y) by comparison. You can follow Nealan on his own blog, American Praetorians. We encourage you to do so here. His author page on Facebook is at If you’d like to read some of his books, you can start the American Praetorians series (about a PMC in a post Greater Depression dystopia now 4 books long) with Task Force Desperate. He has a standalone action novel called Kill Yuan, which you can find here. You could also do worse than to start reading the Jed Horn series (a supernatural shoot ’em up series now on its 3rd volume) with Nightmares, then proceed with Silver Cross and a Winchester and Walker on the Hills and . His fiction is widely claimed for the realism of its combat scenes — this is no doubt because he hangs around with us. It could also have something to do with his skill as a writer and his background (multiple deployments, qualifications as a Combatant Diver, Navy/Marine Corps Parachutist, Marine Scout/Sniper and S/S team leader, Combat Tracker, et al). Continue below to see the only picture of Nealen smiling


Fortis cadere, cedere non potest.




  1. Wilson

    I’ve been saying this for a long time but most people won’t listen.

    Putin’s #1 care in the world is his naval base at Tartus. Everything else is secondary.

  2. T

    That’s not bulldozer, it’s a excavator.

  3. Agent_Orange

    The same allegations presented in this article are largely true for the US effort in “suppressing” ISIS. We have done no better than the Russians, despite having unloaded vastly more ordnance and spending vastly more sums of money on the so-called solution. I think it’s rather clear by now that neither superpower is particularly interested in effectively wiping out ISIS. Rather it appears that it’s more effective a propaganda tool to allow ISIS to fester and remain the elusive bogeyman it is.

    We all know air power alone will not take care of ISIS. Training foreign armies to handle ISIS has proven to be a joke. Providing military aid and equipment has proven to be a mess. Nobody is actually willing to pull the trigger and do what would actually be necessary. Hunting them down like the rabid dogs they are doesn’t seem to be a realistic consideration in Washington or Moscow.

  4. Trent Mauser

    And, if you are getting your news from any major U.S news affiliate STOP! The U.S. news is the biggest propaganda machine known in EXISTENCE.


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