Syria: «Khajin battle» with ISIS as the largest battle of our time (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Syria: «Khajin battle» with ISIS as the largest battle of our time (PHOTOS, VIDEO) | Русская весна

Translator’s note: Colonel Francois-Regis Legrieu (on the photo is on the far right), acting military, chief of staff of the 68th (African) artillery regiment, military journalist who adheres to conservative-traditionalist views both in military matters and in politics and culture.

Author of the book Si tu veux la paix, pré pare la guerre. Essai sur la guerre juste («If you want peace, prepare for war. Reflections on genuine war,» 2018 edition).

From October 2018 to February 2019, Legrie led Task Force Wagram (Wagram Task Force). Established in 2016 as part of the operational command “Shammal” of Operation “Unshakable determination”, this operational group of French artillerymen from September 2018 took part in a ground operation against ISIS* in Eastern Syria, providing, according to the US Central Command (CENTCOM ) support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (VTS). In the Google cache, you can find a note from the CENTCOM website that in the middle of December 2018, the French gunners valiantly prevented ISIS from breaking through the SDF defensive orders.

However, Legriet in his article did not mention in a word his own role in the Hajin battle, nor did he even write about the French artillery, although it is possible that the episodes mentioned by him that are effective in using rocket artillery related to the French.

His article La bataille d’Hajin: victoire tactique, défaite stratégique? It was published in February 817, the issue of the National Defense Review (RevDN défense nationale) (RDN). Historian Michel Goya submitted the material to the non-military audience, and the scandal began. The article was removed from the journal’s website. The PDF version of the publication with which the translation was made was available. After Colonel Legrieu was criticized by the French Minister of Defense, the article on the paid version of his website was published by the newspaper Le Monde. We offer it to the reader.

Khajin battle: tactical victory, strategic defeat?

The Khajin battle (September 2018 – January 2019), named for the small terrain east of the Euphrates near the Syrian-Iraqi border, is worthy of being written into military history with a capital letter. This is the last chord in the “decisive battle” with the pseudo-Islamic state, the final point in general in the elimination of its control over the territories.

And there is a lot of military experience in it, which we, Westerners, should take into account, especially with regard to the borders of war and the combination of proxy wars with our approach based on technological superiority.

In the XIX century, thousands of people converged in battles, the outcome of which was determined in one day – remember, for example, Austerlitz. In the twentieth century, battles could last for weeks – take the example of Dunkirk in 1940. And in the XXI century, it took five months and the total destruction of everything and everything to defeat two thousand militants who did not have air support, electronic warfare, special forces, or satellites. This reality of today’s war, which we have to wage, decision-making politicians and military commanders, must be critically analyzed in terms of our approach to the conduct of war.

Of course, the Khajin battle was won in too destructive fashion, at the cost of tremendous destruction. Of course, the West refused to use its troops on the ground, fearing excessive losses, which would have to be explained to public opinion. But this refusal provokes the question: why do we need an army that is not supposed to be used? Is the elimination of the last bastion of ISIS – not an important reason to attract regular troops? Extremely capable of filling high multinational headquarters with crowds of officers, Western nations do not have the political will to send a thousand experienced regular army personnel to solve the “Khajin pocket” problem in a few weeks and save the (local) population from the victims of a long war.

Instead, the American-led Coalition (Operation Unshakable Determination) delegated the right to conduct operations on earth to a subcontractor – the Syrian Democratic Forces (VTS), which can be called a proxy. Thus, the Coalition abandoned its freedom of action and lost control over the strategic pace [emphasis added].

SDF fighter in «Khajin pocket»

At the beginning of the year, Donald Trump’s decision was to withdraw troops from the north-east of Syria, leaving his VTS, and there was no better solution than to intensify the bombing to finish everything quickly, since the duration of the process of establishing control over the province had already compromised [the image of the Coalition].

As a result, the question of how to liberate the region was resolved by the destruction of its infrastructure (hospitals, places of worship, roads, bridges, housing, etc.). This was a simple approach, here and now, for Americans; it is not ours, and here I would like to point out how it would be possible to defeat the enemy without turning the Hajin district into ruins.

Characteristics of the Khajin battle: the concentration of all types of war

In September 2018, two thousand Islamists, mostly foreigners, were grouped in the “Khajin pocket”, which was at the center of a clash of interests between regional actors and world powers. Stretching for 30 kilometers along the Euphrates and only 200 square kilometers in area, this “pocket” on the territory of the Arabs and Syrian Kurds became the last bastion of the self-styled caliphate of the “Islamic state”, frankly, small. It is worth considering what is actually this piece of land, which became the scene of hostilities.

This is a V-shaped strip of desert territories along the Euphrates with the Iraqi-Syrian border in the east and the countryside (villages and Bedouin camps) in the west.

It is worth emphasizing that control of the Syrian regime is more or less established to the west of the Euphrates, and the Iraqi militia controls part of the border. The population of some thousand people is concentrated mainly in the north of the enclave, in the [city] district of Khajin.

To the south, on the tip of V, is the bend of the Euphrates and the Iraqi border, with the settlement of Al-Qaim. To the north of it, the border is under the control of the Iraqi army, which naturally provided the Coalition with the opportunity to equip positions for land-to-surface missiles. To the south, the Iraqi border is covered by the Katiba Hezbollah formations associated with Iran, a sort of small army with its own tanks and artillery.

Accordingly, in the north the border is tightly closed, and in the south it is very porous, since the militia is smuggling.

ISIS militant fires back at attacking Coalition’s forces, March 2019

Ground combat force is represented by a proxy – SDF, an Arab-Kurdish alliance, supported by American special forces and the Coalition’s ground-to-ground and ground-to-air missiles. No less numerous than the directed against LIH and at the same time more combat-ready contingent of Kurdish fighters concentrated in the north-east of Syria, constantly in readiness to confront the Turks, the Americans’ partners in NATO [the political orientation of the author is vividly demonstrated by the fact that same North Atlantic alliance – approx. translator].

At the end of October 2018, the Kurds announced the suspension of operations (against ISIS) due to the exacerbation of the threat from the Turks, which led to negotiations lasting several weeks aimed at encouraging the Kurds to resume hostilities. The same situation repeated in the middle of December, and as a result all the achievements in the Khajin direction were lost, we had to start all over again.

On the ground, the characteristics of this battle can be compared to the First World War: a positional front line, advancing 500 meters or a kilometer is considered a success, brutal counterattacks by the enemy with attacks from all sides to weaken the VTS, the massive use of artillery that alone could ensure effective those meteorological conditions, numerous breakthroughs, which forced the VTS to fiercely defend and fight for the restoration of the situation, sensitive for both sides losses in manpower, calculated from with fights of fighters.

Due to the scarcity of a tactical plan, this battle rediscovered the full value of using earth-to-surface missiles thanks to a combination of precision, explosive power and effectiveness of destruction, ensuring the destruction of ammunition and equipment at any time (day).

For example, on December 3, 2018, for the first time during the operation, anti-tank shells were effectively used against a column of pickups that followed to attack the SDF defensive lines.

As for the air, Western superiority was certainly obvious. As shown in the 2016 Gavin Hood film “Eye in the Sky” (Eye in the Sky), this was the quintessence of using, as it were, without the limitations of high technology with massive use of reconnaissance and adjustment, aviation surveillance and air strikes.

In six months, thousands of bombs fell on several dozen square kilometers, which naturally led to the destruction of infrastructure.

Has the enemy suffered from these blows? Yes, but not as much as I would like if we proceed from visual confirmation, and not from BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) reports with their impressive statistics.

US Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber strikes at ISIS positions in Khajin

Were the enemy’s fighting spirit broken, his will to fight? Apparently, no. With unwavering constancy, he benefited from every incident of bad weather that deprived SDF of air support in order to counterattack them, penetrating through many holes in their defenses and inflicting tactical defeats on them.

The elusive mobile groups infiltrated unattended zones to fight in an insurgent style (by partisan methods), without being tied to any particular place.

This wonderfully illustrates the prediction of General Deport (Vincent Desportes, “Lessons from today’s war for tomorrow’s day,” Le Cazuar magazine, n. 231, p. 19. [General Vincent Deport is known for his critical judgments about NATO and the United States – approx. translator]): “Always very effective weapon systems are constantly very disappointing with the results of their use.” Well marked. They disappoint not so much with their variety, as with poor use; to this we will come back.

As a result, the Khajin battlefront moved more from the physical scene of the fighting into the sphere of perception.

I have to admit by force that ISIS successfully passes out every tactical tactical success for strategic success. And the blows of the West with real or imaginary damage were no less successfully mediatized (their consequences swelled in the media). As a result, the Coalition, preoccupied with the reaction of public perception, tried to disown these attacks, mediating them even more. And, reflecting on the prospect, it becomes obvious that in the strategic plan in the eyes of the western audience, the Coalition will look both militarily and politically negative, and tactically it has lost to the enemy in the information field.

US Coalition airstrike

The borders of hybrid war and our techno-centric approach, proxy war or how to lose control of strategy

As mentioned above, by making a bet on proxies for conducting combat operations on the ground, the West obviously gained a political advantage in the short run, avoiding public protest against its policy due to the losses it suffered. But in the long run, this choice is catastrophic.

The fact that on the territory of the “pocket”, which became the scene of the Main Battle Area [“the main battlefield” in NATO terminology, that the author considered it necessary to translate into French, note translator], the Americans completely abandoned the use of ground-based fire weapons and even attack helicopters [this statement of the author, frankly, contradicts American propaganda on the Internet – approx. translator], testifies that they (the Americans) did not plan to end the battle quickly.

You can allow yourself to say that the “Khajin pocket” provided an excellent alibi to preserve the American presence in northeastern Syria, and especially to prevent the Coalition’s premature collapse. The goal of the hostilities should have been unequivocally formulated as “it is necessary to crush ISIS”, but compare it with (used by the Americans) the phrase “ISIS is practically destroyed in Syria, but regrouped in Iraq and other places, so it is still dangerous”. (Such a comparison) allows you to ask the question, what is the real goal of the long-term strategy, the real problem is the destruction of ISIS or the containment of Iran?

At the same time, a direct consequence of this approach is the loss of pace: the operation is initially given to the will of the proxy, who have their own agenda, including dragging out (hostilities) in order to bargain and reach compromises. This is called “pull the rubber.”

The matter was complicated when, on one great day, there was a discrepancy between Donald Trump and his military command. To fulfill the election promise, the President of the United States took advantage of the capture of Hadjin in order to declare victory in the middle of December over ISIS and the withdrawal of American troops from Syria. This sharply demonstrated that strategy is determined by the pace of politics, and not vice versa.

The refusal to follow the (former) strategy for the Middle East, in which this conclusion was announced with a two-year delay, led the US administration and the military along the wrong path. Driven by political will on the one hand and having lost control over the pace of ground operations on the other, deprived of any room for maneuver, (they) reacted in the only (possible) way – they intensified the bombardment, further increasing the amount of destruction. Hadjin will be remembered alongside Mosul and Raqqa: almost complete destruction.

But this tactical victory achieved in this way undermined the strategic prospects in the given province [the author has in mind Eastern Syria – approx. Translator] in terms of the interests of the Coalition. The future of the Syrian northeast is uncertain, and even more uncertain is the future of ISIS, which, having lost its territory, is clearly not going to abandon its further struggle.

The lesson is this: without freedom of maneuver, you cannot implement a strategy and achieve victory. Both politically and militarily.

The strategy must influence the policy and at the same time control the course of operations in all respects [in all domains, if literally, what matters in terms of modern Western military terminology – approx. translator], including ground operations, if one wishes to take into account various strategic options and political decisions. There are no other possible solutions (there is no alternative to this approach).

Technocentric approach or illusion of power

The emphasis on air assets, which turned out to be inapplicable in poor weather conditions and thus deprived the special forces of its effectiveness, led the Coalition to lose pace and LIH played its part well, bragging for months the successful opposition to the most powerful military force in the world.

It is worth looking inside the shock cell at some point in order to understand the limitations of our technocentric approach [Strike Cell, according to the author’s comment, an operational center that receives a picture of UAVs and airplanes on the screens, which corrects airplanesAn accidental defeat with artillery fire and evaluating the overall effectiveness of strikes. A translation of the “fire control point” is possible – approx. translator].

If it’s raining, there’s fog or a sand veil, guys play cards and watch movies. The war stopped for them until the next window in weather conditions.

In October 2018, in the midst of violent counterattacks of igilovtsy and requests for support from the VTS, the senior officer answered the same thing: “For meteorological reasons, we cannot provide aviation support.” Surprisingly, LIH did not respect the honest rules and preferred to attack precisely under such weather conditions!

No, we did not lose the game to the weather, we did not want to adapt to our opponent, such as he is. In the hybrid war, by proxy, we refused to use ground forces with the exception of inadequate (for the purpose of the operation) the participation of special forces and aviation. But special forces are designed to perform special tasks, and not for the conventional war in urbanized or desert terrain.

Once again, do not misunderstand, we do not criticize the use of special forces and the air force itself, we do not consider it ineffective. But it is a mistake to believe that they are enough to win the battle. This is an ultra-technological concept, invented to reduce the involvement of conventional troops and seductive for politicians. He encourages them to believe that you can get by with little means, but this is a hoax.

So how should we act?

The answer is simple – to understand that the battle is won at the tactical level, through adaptation to the conditions of the terrain and the enemy, and the war is won at the strategic and political level. And this opposition of wills [translation of the “dialectic of aspirations” provides a wider field for understanding the author’s thoughts – approx. translator], not just the destruction of the “villains.”

It seems that the battle for the Khajin should be viewed from a global point of view: as the destruction of the potential of ISIS to regroup on the one hand and as preservation for the future of the infrastructure of the Euphrates valley from useless destruction on the other.

At the tactical level, the battle is won by attracting funds that are adequate to the task and time (the principle of saving forces and concentrating efforts) in order to create the necessary superiority in strength. Relying on the VTS provided with fire support, it was necessary to minimally attract interspecific motorized tactical groups capable of quickly penetrating into the Hajinsky pocket (to seize it), with an insignificant limited destruction of (civilian) infrastructure.

Fighting is not shooting at targets in a fair shooting range. This is a combination of maneuver and fire, which allows you to knock out the enemy from positions, forcing him to abandon the continuation of the battle by capturing key points, suppressing his means of control and logistics. The taking of Khajin in December was a belated example: the enemy, deprived of the command center, could not provide further coordinated resistance and resist (advancing).

Finally, the battle must constantly be fought on the information field, and, one can say, ahead of time. This has been said many times before, but it is confirmed time after time and, therefore, this is a law that must be considered. A quick response should contribute to the timely popularization of one’s own successes and to discredit the enemy’s propaganda, (it’s not worthy) to excuse the damage after the fact.

Giving greater relevance to hostilities would allow us to consider the high sides of the war, strategy and politics.

Instead of localizing the operational space in the Khajin pocket, the Coalition should have combined its forces strategically, not dividing operationally the command of the special forces in Syria and the conventional command in Iraq, but creating a single space of military operations from Kirkuk in the northeast of Iraq to Al -Anbar in the west, including Khajin and Al-Qaim [the author once again demonstrates that he looks at the described area from the height of satellite images and locates himself at NATO bases in Iraq . Euphrates for him by default the border of the western zone of influence, Eastern Syria merges with Iraq – approx. translator].

Such a global vision of the problem would have allowed us to find a global strategy and avoid the bitter need to see how ISIS has been moving back and forth for two years. Only a global strategy can provide an effective political decision, allowing the policy to understand the need for a duration of action, instead of driving it into a framework of hopeless choices, which, as it turned out, turns into a stalemate.

It should be repeated after General Depart that a military victory should be viewed through a political prism and cannot be achieved without involvement and contact: “Distance war is a fallacy: it can have a military effect, but there is no political effect.

“Protection by might” means protection by destruction, not “Defense of the forces”, since the soldiers on the ground do not act. Irreversible destructions are made, chaos is created. There is an illusion of efficiency of the Air Force: indeed, this is some savings at first, but never reliance on them alone leads to the expected results. In the end, it is always necessary, in one way or another, to control space. ”


Yes, the battle for the Hajin ended in victory, at least in relation to the territory. But by refusing to engage on the ground, we extended the conflict and increased the number of victims among the population. We managed to completely smash the civilian infrastructure and leave the disgusting image of liberation in the Western style, left by local residents, sowing grain to form a new enemy. We could not demonstrate how to win the war on the basis of realistic policies and consistent adequate strategy. How many such Khajins need, so that we understand that our approaches are wrong?

Francois-Regis Legrieu, translation from French into Russian and comments by Roman Kargopolov

Translated into Englih by Russophile

*terror group banned in Russian Federation

The photos below depict ISIS militants shooting back deon attacking coalition forces, March 2019

Syria: «Khajin battle» with ISIS as the largest battle of our time (PHOTOS, VIDEO) | Русская весна
Syria: «Khajin battle» with ISIS as the largest battle of our time (PHOTOS, VIDEO) | Русская весна
Syria: «Khajin battle» with ISIS as the largest battle of our time (PHOTOS, VIDEO) | Русская весна
Syria: «Khajin battle» with ISIS as the largest battle of our time (PHOTOS, VIDEO) | Русская весна
Syria: «Khajin battle» with ISIS as the largest battle of our time (PHOTOS, VIDEO) | Русская весна
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