Things for off-world mercenaries and deep-cover agents to watch out for:
The forces of so-called Islamic State, now besieged in Mosul, are in a state of “frenzy” inside the city, increasingly blaming and terrorising the local population and preparing to conceal themselves if defeated.
These are the close-up views provided by academics from Mosul, who have maintained covert contacts linking the city with the outside world.
They claim that foreign fighters, once visible in Mosul, have disappeared from the city.
“The frontline foreign fighters are rarely there. They’ve vanished. The houses they occupied are vacant,” said one source, speaking anonymously.
“They’re leaving it to the local fighters, who will become the scapegoats.”
- Often, it’s the ‘smarties’ — people who 1) are stubborn idealists, and 2) have a handle on technology — who leak critical information.
- This is true even in cities run by psychotic head-chopping religious fanatics. “Can’t stop the signal!”
- Here, the leakers are academics. But in Traveller, they could easily be retired spacers who have a few off-world contacts and a hidden cell phone…
- The terror amps up even as defeat looms on the horizon.
- The Holocaust, for example, really got going after the Nazis knew they could not win…
- The “darkest before dawn” moment can get very dark, indeed…
- The foreign fighters vanish when the money — a.k.a. the likelihood of being paid — fades away.
- The PCs may well be one of these foreign fighters!
- There’s always a patsy for the defeat. PC mercenaries should avoid being that patsy…
The IS leadership in the city is also described as “melting away”.
- Not all military leaderships are willing to die in the bunkers, in the Nazi style.
- “Gotta catch them all!” could well be the motto of a Imperial Army group, tasked with getting all the suspects for the coming war crime trials.
They also talk of “changed tactics”, with IS fighters trimming their beards and changing the way they dress to look more like the civilian population – with Mosul residents assuming this is to make them less distinguishable if the city is overrun.
Cars in the city have been forced to switch to Islamic State number plates, says one of the academics. The fear from civilians is that this could make all cars vulnerable to an air strike or put them at risk of being attacked in the battle for the city.
- Run and hide!
So far, air strikes have been carefully targeted at government buildings and military sites, according to this view from the city. Another says that this accuracy might seem “impossible” but so far the attacks have been on “confirmed” targets.
- Itchy trigger fingers on missile salvos are not a good thing. I wonder if the PCs will think this through, when their starship is frantically called upon for ortillery support against “an obvious enemy formation”. Frustration in the field and a pushed button might just equal a decade or more in the Imperial stockades… or an execution or four. “Look, then shoot!”
- Double check when it’s a Vilani officer making the call. His traditionalist definition of “acceptable targets” may or may not match those set by the Imperial Laws of War…
Mosul University, once one of the biggest universities in the Middle East, had been kept open by the IS authorities when they seized the city in 2014.
It had raised questions about whether its laboratories were being used to develop weapons, including for chemical warfare, which could be used in battle or against civilians.
But sources now say that this is “no longer an issue” as the university has been pulverised by air strikes.
“The university is completely inoperative and air strikes have made it a difficult place to go. Most of the buildings have been brought down, it’s virtually gone. The laboratories are destroyed.”
It is expected there will be “chlorine rockets”, but doubts about anything more sophisticated.
Another source says that “Daesh used the university to store some weapons” and had blocked access to some sections of laboratories.
“It is believed that they used laboratories for terrorist purposes, but it is almost impossible to confirm such claims.”
- Who knew that universities would become priority targets?
The city’s people are said to be in a “state of fear and terror”. As IS has been targeted by the coalition forces, they in turn have “put their anger on the people” claiming that Mosul’s residents are communicating with “hostile parties to Daesh”.
At Friday prayers last week, a pro-IS preacher talked of how local people were “hypocrites” who had let down the “caliphate”.
- It’s never the fault of the leadership. Never.
The religious police are also trying to assert their authority and show that nothing has changed in their control – and there have been more gruesome public executions of people claimed to be opponents or informants.
“They are trying to show they are in control of everything.”
There is a culture of “false accusations” and another Mosul academic says: “Daesh continues to hunt ‘offenders’ and punish them heavily,” which often means the death penalty.
- There is a distinct difference between “Surviving the occupation” and “Almost surviving the occupation.”
- Also, the love of false accusations is something for undercover agents to watch out for. That can kill you just as surely as having your cover blown.
- Some agents are OK with using such false accusations themselves, to cover their own tracks. I respect those PCs who refuse to compromise, but I hope they properly weighed the cost for their integrity: it could be higher than they thought.
The IS authorities have tried to clamp down on communications – but this doesn’t seem to be effective.
There had been highly-monitored public points for internet access, but these too have been shut down.
But as the Iraqi forces advance on the city, internet providers have been boosting access in Mosul.
It means that in some parts of the city it has been possible to make contact, but this is being carried out in elaborate and extremely cautious ways to keep such links secret.
Such communication is described as being immensely dangerous, but there is a great hunger for news. A source says there is a “great risk of punishment”, which would be execution.
- It’s easier, if you can keep ‘noisy off-worlders’ from poking their nose where it doesn’t belong. But even then,’easier’ is not the same as ‘easy’.
- If you have a starship, some portable microwave links/satellites, and a few thousand cheapo handsets, you can set up your own fast’n’furious communication network, to keep those leaks and pictures coming. “Just saying.”
“People in Mosul are jubilant at the prospect of the city being liberated,” says another local source.
This optimism, at the early stages of the battle, is said to outweigh fears of the loss of civilian lives and the destruction of buildings.
- What civilians and soldiers believe before a battle, is different from what they know after a battle.
- Still… sometimes, things break your way. Sometimes.
- “The Empty Quarter is not a place famous for happy endings.”
There are deep concerns about how the battle for Mosul might become a proxy for other sectarian disputes and score-settling, with so many opposing forces under the banner of the coalition attacking IS.
There are also fears that politicians, with their own militias, could exploit the battle for their own advantage.
- “Never let an opportunity go to waste.”
Arguments also exist that this is a city exhausted by bloodshed and desperate for peace and moderation.
For two years of the IS occupation and for a decade before, there has been so much conflict, destruction and extremism.
Mosul has been “saturated with violence” and this long “trauma” must end.
- And if wishes were horses…
- Still, most conflicts burn themselves off eventually… given enough decades.
- Keep an eye out for smouldering embers, though.