Well, this certainly turned into a bigger story than we expected: The Washington Post, The Independent, News Australia, La Stampa, The Huffington Post, RT, The Daily Mail and many more along with a flood of Abu Hajaar internet memes…
For those of you that haven’t seen it yet, Vice published a video that we provided to them yesterday:
A lot of people have asked me about the video and so I thought I would provide some additional details for those of you that are interested.
First of all, it was actually a series of four videos that Vice strung together (more on the videos below). We obtained the videos on our most recent trip to Iraq at the end of March from a Peshmerga unit – the all-volunteer Higra Agre Fire Force Unit 80 – that we stayed with on the front lines just outside of Mosul. The videos were discovered on a memory card the Peshmerga retrieved from the helmet-mounted GoPro camera of a dead ISIS fighter following the failed attack seen in the video. Fortunately, he was using a good camera and so the originals are all in HD.
The ISIS fighter/filmmaker in the video was found dead, slumped against one of the makeshift armored vehicles. Whether he returned to the original vehicle they arrived in or he was killed next to one of the other armored vehicles the Peshmerga disabled with rockets is unknown.
Did Abu Hajaar survive?
The short answer is that we don’t know… His tormentors certainly did not. However, the Peshmerga did tell us that some of the ISIS fighters escaped. So, perhaps Abu Hajaar had the last laugh on that day?
What was ISIS thinking with an attack like this?
These high cost/low result attacks with fighters used as cannon fodders are actually extremely common along the front lines. In fact, every single time we have gone out to the front lines or even near them, there has been an attack like this at some point during our visit.
So, what’s the point? Well, they keep the defenders on their toes… However, other than that, ISIS is not gaining any territory or military objectives now and instead are just grinding through men, money and equipment. Perhaps this is a way to keep the ISIS militants from getting too restless and starting to challenge the leadership of the Islamic State over their recent string of setbacks? Perhaps it is to provide the ISIS militants with something to hope for (a heroic military victory) in an effort to maintain morale? Perhaps it is a way of balancing out the extreme male/female imbalance (too many young men) in the territory controlled by the Islamic State? Maybe all of those and more? Tough to say, but it definitely serves as a reminder that Islamic State propaganda does not equal reality… Some significant figures have contacted us and said that this video is the best material that has surfaced in years to strike a blow against ISIS recruitment efforts. I don’t know if that is true or not, but it is true that the best way to emasculate a tyrant is to laugh at them. So, hopefully, the video has had some impact on impressionable minds out there…
What did Vice leave out?
We gave the rights to the videos to Vice and so I am not able to publicly post the raw, unedited videos for you (for those of you that know us personally, we can show you in person when we see you next if you are interested).
Vice certainly kept in the action highlights. So, don’t worry that you missed any big action sequences. What Vice edited out is more of the time in each segment. So, you missed more of the suicide bomber’s speech in the beginning, you missed more of the ISIS fighters saying goodbye to their suicide bomber friend, you missed seeing more of the village, you missed more of the journey to the front lines, you missed more of Abu Hajaar and the others giving him shit, you missed some of the fire on the Peshmerga positions, you missed seeing more of the aftermath of the rocket strike on the armored vehicle, you missed seeing another ISIS fighter being wounded and you missed a lot of rolling on the ground. See where I’m going? In other words, the videos are a bit slower, but you see more of the interactions between the ISIS militants, more death and destruction and the videos may seem a bit less disjointed.
The videos are described below in chronological order:
The first video, which is 27 seconds long, is filmed next to a vehicle that has been dramatically modified (it looks something like a Batmobile) to deliver a suicide bomber to his target and shows a militant delivering a passionate message while a young boy gazes up at him with what can only be described as hero worship.
In the second video, which is 52 seconds long, a suicide bomber has climbed into what appears to be the vehicle that was seen in the first video and we see his friends and fellow ISIS fighters bidding him farewell. It is somewhat surreal to see the man that is about to die casually receiving hugs and waves, knowing what is coming and knowing that these men are aware they will never see their friend again. No one is covering their face and so we can see all of the fighters quite clearly.
In the third video, which is 1 minute and 9 seconds long, we are riding along with a team of Islamic State fighters, including the infamous Abu Hajaar, through a field of rockets as they make their way toward Peshmerga defensive positions on the front lines.
In the fourth, and most dramatic video, which is 12 minutes and 54 seconds long, the tone is set by a continuous stream of gunfire and explosions in the background as we are in the middle of an unfolding assault by ISIS against a Kurdish Peshmerga base near Mosul. The Hiza Agre forces have seven small interlocking bases here that are all about 500 meters apart. Thus, even though the ISIS attackers are focusing on one base, the other bases are still able to fire on them (and, indeed, you can see a rocket from one of these other bases almost take out one of the ISIS armored vehicles in the initial stages of the attack at 1:59) The Islamic State fighters, being tossed around in the back of a makeshift armored vehicle speeding toward the Peshmerga positions, are firing haphazardly at their target. After several minutes of panicked activity in the back of the vehicle as the attack starts to go wrong and they try to maintain steady rifle and rocket fire, a massive explosion fills the screen as the armored vehicle is struck by a well-aimed rocket fired from the Peshmerga side, killing the driver. A militant drags himself a short distance away from the burning vehicle before appearing to die, while the other fighters, at least one of them injured, attempt to pull back from the disastrous attack by rolling along the ground while simultaneously maintaining fire toward the Peshmerga base. During this time our filmmaker/fighter is also shot and wounded for the first time.
As one can determine from the fact that the video came into our possession, these efforts to retreat were not successful for all but a couple of fighters…