From the specific pending fall of Mosul, to general notes on warfare:
He fled after living a year under the extremists, and his nostalgia is tangible. Now, the long-awaited military operations to retake Mosul are getting underway. What does he see for his future if the city is wrested back?
“I miss the home,” he says. “But going home is like killing myself.”
He says he expects chaos and violent retribution if ISIS is pushed out of Mosul. He fears that families who lost loved ones to the militants will take revenge not just on those who worked with ISIS, but on their whole families.
“There is no law, in the years to come,” he says. “The government is weak. I don’t trust these guys.”
He regards his life in Mosul as over. He never plans to go back, and says when he sits with his friends from Mosul in the nearby city of Irbil, they do not speak of home.
- Some Travellers can never return home.
- Being on the losing side of a war — civil or otherwise — is costly.
When asked about the families of such people, he says any family with a father or a brother in ISIS will all leave, including women and children, “maybe outside Iraq, maybe to Turkey, to Syria.”
This, he concedes, could number tens of thousands of people.
- For daring PCs, there’s money to be made on the refugee trade.
- Those both daring and cruel will no doubt be looking in local slavery networks… or worse.
- And there are those overloaded members of the Imperial government, labouring to give the Emperor’s Word teeth in difficult situations.
“Now everyone hates the Sunni, they think we are Daesh,” he says. “What about me? What about me who escaped? What about the doctors, the teachers? You cannot say everyone is Daesh.”
Although he doesn’t trust officials set to govern Mosul, he sees them merely as corrupt and inefficient. It’s ISIS he really blames for ripping his world apart.
“It makes me too angry,” he says. “They killed everything. Killed history. They killed people. They killed hope. Killed future. They killed everything.”
- And in the
Middle EastEmpty Quarter, blood cries out for blood.
And on and on it goes…
The peshmerga fired on enemy positions with artillery and rolled through the streets of Qaryat Kanhash in tanks and armored personnel carriers. US jets swooped in, destroying Islamic State vehicles, command-and-control centers, and barracks with precision air strikes. In two days, the Kurdish forces and their American allies killed one hundred ISIS fighters and sent the remaining two hundred fleeing thirty miles west to Mosul. The Kurds lost fifteen men—all killed by ISIS snipers firing from the top floors and rooftops of a hospital, a school, and other public buildings.
- Snipers are dangerous… but they are not enough. But then again, the same goes for airstrikes.
- High-tech friends are welcome, and valuable: but in the end, it’s usually the locals who have to put in the numbers to actually take & hold land.
Ten days after the fighting, two peshmerga fighters agreed to take me on a tour of the battlefield. We met in 110° heat at the Black Tiger base, a dusty military camp west of Erbil, the main city of Iraqi Kurdistan. The camp is named after its commander, Sirwan “Black Tiger” Barzani, a mobile phone company magnate and the nephew of the Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, who earned the name while fighting against Saddam Hussein’s forces in the mountains in the 1990s.
- Nobles have the cash to pay for the armies: and this is typically corporate cash.
- Despite the propaganda, not all nobles can lead their forces successfully. Some can; some can’t.
Just inside the entrance to the camp, Barzani’s fighters had piled a dozen burned and bullet-riddled pickup trucks. They were ISIS suicide vehicles, I was told, intercepted and shot to pieces as they sped toward Kurdish military checkpoints inside the town.
- Explosive air/rafts are fun… but expensive, and rare. Most mobile bombs are cheap and wheeled.
We crossed a badly damaged bridge over a canal leading from the Tigris—patched together by the Kurds after ISIS engineers had blown it up—and drove down the road into Qaryat Kanhash. Except for soldiers, the town was deserted: the peshmerga had evacuated the civilians to a nearby camp for displaced persons. Engineering teams were inside houses, searching for booby traps. Small red warning flags surrounded the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the roadside.
- Most Referees will skip the boring mine clearance part. Understandable, and justifiable from a storytelling perspective. After all, in real life, even heroes die from stray pieces of shrapnel or stupid accidents: however realistic, this makes for bad stories.
Moments after we arrived a thunderous explosion rocked the town when peshmerga engineers blew up a cache of ISIS bombs in a controlled detonation; thick smoke rose from inside a building a hundred yards away. A second explosion sounded just behind a barren brown hill half a mile to the north, followed by another plume of smoke. “Daesh is based just behind the hill, and the Americans are bombing them,” said my escort, Sadullah Abdullah, a husky lieutenant colonel, using a common Arabic term for the Islamic State.
- In a role-playing game, it’s hard to get across the noise, the terror and the chaos of the battlefield. It’s enough to drive some people crazy. Literally.
Abdullah told me that Kurdish forces had taken ten smaller villages up the highway during the offensive, but they had not yet secured the road, and there was a chance that Daesh stragglers still lurked in the fields. “It’s very dangerous,” he said. I saw half a dozen US soldiers relaxing on the porch of an opulent villa. According to Abdullah they were Special Forces advisers—so-called eyes. They entered combat zones alongside Kurdish troops and helped to identify targets for US bombers. The peshmerga were under orders, he said, not to allow journalists to speak to them.
- PCs who act as forward spotters for high-tech artillery/bombardment are very valuable assets… and priority targets. “Avoid the local women.”
The Iraqi military was decimated by the Islamic State, and the US military, which brought some five thousand soldiers to Iraq, is rushing to train thousands of raw recruits. Much of the Iraqis’ equipment—consisting mainly of Soviet-era and American weapons—is in desperate need of repair or replacement. The Islamic State has had two years to prepare for the assault, and according to Iraqi intelligence it has created formidable defenses against any attack. Rasoul told me, “The Iraqi army left behind many heavy weapons that can now be used against it, and the militants have laid booby traps and built a network of tunnels and defensive lines.” Between six and nine thousand ISIS fighters are inside the city, few of whom, presumably, would be prepared to surrender. “In Mosul,” the US diplomat predicted, “it will be a fight to the death.”
- Ancient equipment and whipped-up green troops, preparing to assault well-prepared positions manned by fanatics – many experienced insurgents – with nothing to lose. ‘Sounds like fun.’
- PCs who make urban combat a habit really need to look into ways to make Berlin/Stalingrad situations less expensive. I’ve always wanted to run an experiment with a single squad of TL 14 battledressed troops, attacking Stalingrad: how long can they last until they go down? (Answer: when their powered suits run out of juice.)
The three main forces advancing toward the city—the Iraqi army, the peshmerga, and the coalition of independent Shiite militias, some backed by Iran—are in conflict about their parts in the coming liberation.
- Three liberation armies, divided by allegiance and religion, none of which are welcomed much by the Sunni city. It makes a man wonder when internal squabbling will shift into internal shooting. “Probably three minutes after the last ISIS position has been taken out.”
There is a sense among Shiites that each time the government ratchets up its war against the Islamic State in the Sunni areas of the country such as Mosul, the consequence is revenge attacks against the predominantly Shiite population of Baghdad. “People are tired—they lost so many people, they might sometimes say stop the attacks [against the Islamic State],” said Haider Mohammed, the clothing shop owner. He disagrees with them. “If I would be burned one hundred times,” he said, “I would not let Daesh stay in this country. I would carry a weapon myself if I could.”
- There is more than one way to fight a war.
A note of respect for the Shiites here. If it were a Solomani minority attacking a Vilani-majority population, I doubt if said Solomani minority would be allowed to survive three months. Who knew that religiously-driven societies would be more tolerant and forgiving than a cooly pragmatic, intensely collectivistic culture?