The Corner

Mosul Update: The Beard-Shaving Has Begun

Via Instapundit, an update on the battle for Mosul:

Jihadists with the Islamic State group were shaving their beards and changing hideouts in Mosul, residents said, as a major Iraqi offensive moved ever closer to the city.

With pressure building on the 10th day of the Mosul assault, Western defence chiefs were already looking ahead to the next target — IS’s other major stronghold of Raqa in Syria.

Recent advances on the eastern front have brought elite Iraqi forces to within five kilometres (three miles) of Mosul, and residents reached by AFP said the jihadists seemed to be preparing for an assault on the city itself.

“I saw some Daesh (IS) members and they looked completely different from the last time I saw them,” eastern Mosul resident Abu Saif said.

“They had trimmed their beards and changed their clothes,” the former businessman said. “They must be scared… they are also probably preparing to escape the city.”

Residents and military officials said many IS fighters had relocated within Mosul, moving from the east to their traditional bastions on the western bank of the Tigris river, closer to escape routes to Syria.

As ISIS continues its recent battlefield collapse — and allied forces move on Raqqa – Syrian and Iraqi barbers should expect a windfall. Beard-shaving a good proxy for the shifting “strong horse” alliances in the Middle East. To be sure, thousands and thousands of ISIS fighters were and are true believers, and any beard-shaving is for tactical purposes only. But we also know that others join jihadist movements out of sheer self-preservation, and when the incentives shift, they shift.

The American military and the American government are poorly-equipped to make the intellectual and religious arguments that are vital to suppressing jihadist Islam. But we can send a clear message — that a jihadist’s life will be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Applied consistently and relentlessly, that message does indeed make a theological statement, one that contradicts the jihadist promise of victory and deters the self-preservationist from making a fatal mistake.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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