The growing number of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) men who have been interrogated because they were captured, or deserted has provided a better picture of how ISIL is organized. Not surprisingly, given the number of ISIL leaders who once worked for Saddam Hussein, ISIL military organization is very similar to Saddam’s “Republic of Fear” of the 1990s. This includes having something every successful dictatorship has created; a "regime maintenance" force. For ISIL this is the Shield of Islam, a brigade of carefully selected (especially for loyalty), well-armed, well trained and well led men. The Shield of Islam protects ISIL leadership from unruly or dissenting ISIL members as well as hostile action by anyone else.
Having such a force handy has long been the key survival strategy for any security conscious dictator. Thus in Iraq Saddam Hussein had his Republican Guard, a force that was filled with the best paid, best armed men in the armed forces who were, above all, loyal to Saddam. All other successful dictatorships have similar forces. Soviet Russia had the KGB, which not only employed spies, but also several divisions of troops trained and equipped to deal with rebellions by the population, or the armed forces. Iran has a similar force, the Revolutionary Guard that serves a similar role as the old KGB. The Saudi monarchy has its National Guard and surviving monarchies usually have a least a ceremonial remnant of the once powerful “guards.” Even the pope still has a Swiss Guard. During World War II, Adolf Hitler had the SS, Gestapo and his private army, the Waffen SS, all of which kept Germany fighting until the very end.
For thousands of years monarchs had their “royal guard” who were, in purpose and practice identical to their modern counterparts. When the royal guard is destroyed (in combat or desertion because of demoralization) their boss is usually out of business. With this knowledge the coalition carrying out air attacks on ISIL has now turned some very specific attention to the Shield of Islam. So has the growing number of commandos operating in Syria and Iraq. Bring down the guard and you kill, or seriously injure, whoever the guard is protecting. The 4,000 man Shield of Islam won’t be easy to kill as it is composed of the most skilled and resourceful ISIL fighters, including many foreigners (especially hundreds of the much feared Chechens). But the Shield of Islam, like the Republican Guard it is modeled on, can be found and destroyed.