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Taji Gas Plant attack sheds light on shifting IS tactics

May 15, 2016  

IS is known for shifting its operational, tactical and targeting strategy as a means of adapting to security operations and driving both media as well as recruitment efforts, while also manipulating local population sentiment. Over recent weeks IS has increasingly shifted its tactics to previously common and more “old school” approaches of headline-grabbing mass-casualty attacks and targeting along sectarian faultline areas, specifically intended to incite sectarian violence.

Notably however, two attacks targeting Government infrastructure over the last 48 hours, are a potential redirection of targeting towards infrastructure locations, with necessary considerations resulting and the potential for future focus along these lines. While the majority of IS efforts continue to be interdicted, recent successes are suggesting IS focus is increasingly shifting to methods which require security forces to redirect attention and assets to rear areas thereby weakening frontline effectiveness.

  • The 14 May indirect fire attack against Kirkuk’s North Gas Company and the 15 May attack against the Taji Gas Plant serve as the first notable government infrastructure targeting for a considerable period.
  • Increased mass-casualty attacks and complex attacks in areas experiencing sectarian shifts will necessitate additional security forces be assigned to these areas which are currently needed along frontlines.
  • There are no indications thus far of increased intent to target commercially related sites, with likely indications prior to any such shift which have yet to be seen. However, this remains an ongoing consideration and will continue to be monitored.
  • By diversifying its tactics IS is forcing security forces to once again focus in rear areas, thereby slowing additional offensive operations, most notably the retaking of Mosul.
  • Ongoing political issues and infighting within parties and between security elements will only further assist IS efforts, with IS expected to increasingly exploit such vulnerabilities as a means of further widening these gaps and weakening counter-IS operations.
  • Ramadan will remain a period of religious focus and historically reduced operational tempo. IS may seek to further exploit this period through such tactics and further foment instability nationally.

On the morning of 15 May, IS launched a complex suicide attack at the Taji Gas Plant (38SMC3160700211) north of Baghdad. The attack was initiated with a suicide vehicle borne IED detonation at the front gate of the facility. As many as six suicide bombers armed with explosive vests and light assault weapons subsequently made entry, clashing with security forces at the facility. In addition to the insurgents, at least 14 were killed and another 27 wounded, with many of these reportedly comprising security forces as well as two plant employees and a number of civilians. As part of the attack at least three gas storage tanks were destroyed, with efforts made to extinguish the fires. IS claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Ministry of Oil stated this attack would not affect the processing of gas supplying the capital, forming a typical disingenuous claim to downplay the effects of this highly effective attack. Meanwhile, engineers have begun to conduct an initial assessment of the damage and the full scope of necessary repair efforts.

تصوير من داخل معمل غاز التاجي بعد اخماد النيران

بالفديو..حجم الاضرار من داخل معمل غـــاز التاجي بعــــد الهجــوم الانتحاري ….!

Опубліковано ‎خبر عاجل‎ 15 травня 2016 р.

لحظة انفجار حد خزانات معمل غاز التاجيمنقول

Опубліковано ‎ستيفن نبيل :: Steven Nabil‎ 15 травня 2016 р.

Resurgence of attacks against oil and gas assets:
After the liberation of the Baiji Oil Refinery in October 2015, IS operations affecting oil and gas infrastructure has remained exceedingly limited. The 15 May Taji Gas Plant attack was significant as the first major complex suicide attack against oil and gas infrastructure in recent history, and one which was highly effective in terms of damage sustained. This attack also occurred hours after an ineffective rocket attack against the North Gas Company in Kirkuk on the evening of 14 May. Indirect fire attacks against this and other oil and gas facilities in Kirkuk were not uncommon during periods of 2015, but became much rarer as security forces expanded their zone of control along frontlines in the area. Forming the first confirmed indirect fire attack against oil and gas facilities in Kirkuk this year, the 14 May and 15 May events in Kirkuk and Taji are assessed to have been very possibly coordinated attack efforts, or at least conducted with similarly driven focus against a particular target set.

While two incidents, even if significant and in quick succession, do not prove a substantial shift in IS targeting focus, it will remain important to watch for additional events as indications of shifting intent by IS to attack infrastructure locations. Should such a renewed targeting of oil and gas related assets indeed continue, IS would seek through these efforts to reduce related pro-government sources of funding, with the full costs of the Taji Gas Plant attack yet to be better assessed. Likewise IS would also encourage security officials to divert additional security resources to defensive commitments supporting these critical assets. Following these events, and should this trend continue, additional attacks against oil and gas related targets along the lines of the 14 May indirect fire attack and 15 May complex suicide attack can be expected on an intermittent basis, respectively forming the most likely and most dangerous courses of action in such respects.

It remains important to note however, that the focus for such targeting is expected in the current environment to remain government-related infrastructure rather than that of the private sector, with a number of indicators expected prior to any potential more significant shift in any future focus against commercially-related interests. Thus far no such indicators have been increased, with the threat to international commercially related operations remaining largely unchanged from existing considerations.

Recent increase in complex suicide attacks:
The Taji Gas Plant attack also comes as part of a series of notable recent complex suicide attacks in areas extending west and north of Baghdad. Each of these attacks was characterized by teams of gunmen armed with explosive vests and light assault weapons, but with variations noted. The attack in Ameriyat al-Fallujah was notable for the largest number of gunmen, while the Taji Gas Plant attack was notable for arguably being the most sophisticated, with suicide vehicle borne IED initiation.

IS continues to diversify as a defensive mechanism:
While the tactics involved in the aforementioned resource-intensive complex attacks were relatively consistent, the target profiles were highly diversified between security-affiliated targets, Shi’a civilians, and oil and gas infrastructure. The IS campaign of high-impact attacks over the course of the Spring of 2016 continues to be characterized by significant fluctuations in tactics, target types, and regions affected. In terms of tactics, simple and complex vehicle borne IED attacks have attained much of the attention, with simple and dual suicide vest bombings also present and remaining highly effective in some instances, notably within Diyla and southern provinces where such events have become comparatively infrequent and still gain both international and local attention. Recently more sophisticated complex suicide attacks as noted above have taken the forefront. By continuing to vary tactics, IS makes the best use of available resources, for maximum kinetic and psychological effects.

Target types and areas during these attacks have also varied greatly and remain a key component. This includes attempts to exacerbate sectarian tensions, and more general unrest along sectarian faultlines in Diyala and Salah ad Din, in mixed sectarian environments around Baghdad and northern Babel, and in Shi’a strongholds of the deep Southern Region. Other attacks in these regions specifically against Hashd al-Shaabi elements and Iraqi military forces have been aimed at encouraging security forces to focus more on force-protection measures and controlling local sectarian responses, than proactive security operations.

This latest leg of the triad – attacks against oil and gas assets – is aimed at degrading pro-government revenue sources and again shifting necessary security assets to these locations, though it also serves the psychological impact of targeting assets which many have come to believe were no longer on the IS primary target list. In this respect while the psychological effects of horrific IS executions, vehicle borne IEDs and coordinated attacks have become comparatively dulled, these events have yet again served as a shift which will gain attention and serve IS propaganda purposes.

As regularly discussed through the course of individual events in the Spring of 2016, this approach continues to be associated with some degrees of success for the organization. Notable increases in security expenditures have been seen in multiple provinces of the Southern Region, and at least three battalions have been relocated from Baghdad to Diyala in order to control sectarian flareup. A myriad of security responses have been noted in the Capital, while the full nature of security redistribution in other areas continues to unfold. Meanwhile, unrest continues to foment, with wide-scale criticisms against the government due to the perception of continued failure to ensure their security.

Security forces Coalition advisors have historically attempted to set conditions for IS to be challenged on multiple fronts simultaneously in a broad approach to reduce their ability to amass forces. IS has now chosen to react to this effort with a similar strategy to delay pro-government offensive operations, particularly those threatening Mosul, and also achieve propaganda victories supporting recruitment. Through the current campaign of high-impact attacks, IS is illustrating its take on the historic military adage that “the best defense is a good offense,” in support of its own adage “to remain and expand.” The Coalition may very well seek to improve its commitments for counterterrorism measures, particularly intelligence, in order to degrade the potential for widening pro-government resource shortfalls.

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