ISIS: Once You’re In, You’re In

ISIS has executed around 2,000 people since June, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, including “116 foreign fighters for trying to flee to their home countries” and four others for “violations of the extremist group’s code”. Adam Taylor finds it remarkable that ISIS has been killing its own and points to the group’s dwindling power:

SOHR’s report seems to be further evidence that although some foreign fighters are no doubt fearsome, others are quite clearly not. In fact, a few may be quite some way from fearsome:

In November, the French newspaper Le Figaro carried an account of French Islamic State fighters complaining to their family back home about their broken iPods and the cold winter. Even hardier fighters may have had second thoughts as the Islamic State, facing U.S. airstrikes, began to lose its momentum late in the year. …

The Islamic State, which has built much of its reputation on the fierce loyalty of its fighters, would no doubt be aware of how damaging returning fighters could be, both in terms of publicity and because they could be of value to international intelligence agencies. According to a report from the Financial Times, the Islamic State recently formed a military police unit to crack down on fighters not reporting for duty. Executing fighters attempting to flee also would send a powerful message to other fighters having second thoughts.

In an interesting parallel, the Assad regime is having trouble filling the ranks of its own army and has resorted to stringent – though not quite as stringent – measures to stop desertions:

In recent weeks, the regime … began upping threats to dismiss and fine state employees who fail to fulfill military obligations, according to Syrian news Web sites and activists. In addition, they say, new restrictions imposed this fall have made it all but impossible for men in their 20s to leave the country.

Since the start of the uprising in 2011, Syrian authorities have used arrests and intimidation to halt desertions, defections and evasion of military service — but not to the extent seen recently, Syrians and analysts say. Men who are dragooned into the army appear to be deserting in larger numbers, they say, and the government’s crackdown is driving many of these men as well as more of the large number of draft-evaders to go into hiding or flee abroad.

Furthermore, the shortfall in pro-regime troops may also be due to the departure of foreign militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, who moved on to Iraq this summer to fight ISIS. So all in all, it sounds like going off to war in Syria is a pretty dismal experience whichever side you’re on.