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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #600 on: May 04, 2015, 10:30:57 AM »

WSJ

http://www.wsj.com/articles/gulf-states-want-u-s-assurances-and-weapons-in-exchange-for-supporting-iran-pact-1430585002

Gulf States Want U.S. Assurances and Weapons in Exchange for Supporting Iran Nuclear Deal
Regional leaders seek quid pro quo of fighters, missile batteries, surveillance equipment
Gulf Arab nations are seeking advanced U.S. military hardware, such as the F-35 fighter pictured, in exchange for their support of a nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers with which it is negotiating.
By Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee
May 2, 2015 12:43 p.m. ET


WASHINGTON—Leading Persian Gulf states want major new weapons systems and security guarantees from the White House in exchange for backing a nuclear agreement with Iran, according to U.S. and Arab officials.

The leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, plan to use a high-stakes meeting with President Barack Obama next week to request additional fighter jets, missile batteries and surveillance equipment.

They also intend to pressure Mr. Obama for new defense agreements between the U.S. and the Gulf nations that would outline terms and scenarios under which Washington would intervene if they are threatened by Iran, according to these officials.

The demands underscore the complicated diplomatic terrain Mr. Obama is navigating as he drives toward a nuclear deal with Iran, one of his top foreign-policy goals. They also demonstrate how a pact aimed at stabilizing the Middle East risks further militarizing an already volatile region.

Gulf leaders have long sought to bolster their military arsenals, but the requests pose problems for U.S. officials who want to demonstrate support for Arab allies, many of whom host American military bases, while also ensuring that Israel maintains a military advantage in the region.


Any moves by Mr. Obama to meet Arab leaders’ requests could face headwinds in Congress and new friction with Israel, given the continuing negotiations on an Iran nuclear deal. “I’m very worried that President Obama will promise every military toy they’ve always wanted and a security agreement short of a treaty, with the understanding they have to be sympathetic to this deal,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). “If I get a hint of that, a whiff of that, then I would do everything I could to block every bullet and every plane.”

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said White House officials have indicated that Mr. Obama was seriously considering Arab leaders’ requests. He said he would be shocked if some of them weren’t granted.

“These countries are in the most vulnerable geographical areas, and I think they have a legitimate concern about Iran,” said Mr. Engel, who has discussed the requests with Arab officials in recent weeks. But, he said, “We have to make sure that Israel’s qualitative military edge is kept.”

Mr. Obama is scheduled to host the leaders of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. at the White House on May 13 and the following day at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

The Persian Gulf countries say they need more drones, surveillance equipment and missile-defense systems to combat an Iranian regime they see as committed to becoming the region’s dominant power. The Gulf states also want upgraded fighter jets to contain the Iranian challenge, particularly the advanced F-35, known as the Joint Strike Fighter.

A senior U.S. official played down chances that the administration would agree to sell advanced systems such as the F-35 fighter to those nations—though the planes will be sold to Israel and Turkey—because of concerns within the administration about altering the military balance in the Middle East.

Sales of such advanced equipment would also likely run into opposition from pro-Israel lawmakers who have the power to block transfers, the official said.

The challenge Mr. Obama faces at Camp David is to assuage growing fears among those Sunni countries that want military superiority over Shiite-dominated Iran, while not undermining longtime U.S. security guarantees to Israel. Current law mandates that the U.S. uphold Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.

Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Qatar share Israel’s concern about a nuclear deal with Iran but don’t have diplomatic ties with the Israeli government. A top concern among the Gulf nations and Israel is the expected unshackling of Tehran’s finances under the nuclear agreement that the U.S. and five other world powers are seeking with Iran by a June 30 deadline.

Iran’s neighbors fear such an influx of cash could allow the country to pour even more arms and funds into its military allies and proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

    ‘I’m very worried that President Obama will promise every military toy they’ve always wanted and a security agreement short of a treaty, with the understanding they have to be sympathetic to this deal.’
    —Sen. Lindsey Graham, on the Iran nuclear accord and the coming meeting between Mr. Obama and the Arab leaders.

The outlines of the nuclear agreement, announced last month in Switzerland, call for lifting international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its atomic work for at least a decade. Under terms being discussed, the U.S. and its allies would also be required eventually to release more than $100 billion of Iran’s oil revenues now frozen in overseas bank accounts.

In anticipation of such a change, the Gulf states have stepped up consultations with the White House on creating new security arrangements, according to U.S. and Arab officials. “We have to be very clear about what the future looks like,” said a senior Arab official involved in discussions with the White House.

Mr. Obama had lunch at the White House last month with U.A.E. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at which they had an extensive discussion about security issues, according to the White House.

Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet with the Gulf states’ foreign ministers on May 8 in Paris.

Some Arab officials, in recent meetings with Obama administration officials, have raised the possibility of the Gulf Cooperation Council forging a mutual defense treaty with the U.S., similar to Japan’s or South Korea’s, according to people briefed on the talks. This would require Washington to intervene militarily if any member of the group came under attack by Iran or another enemy.

    ‘These countries are in the most-vulnerable geographical areas, and I think they have a legitimate concern about Iran…[But] we have to make sure that Israel’s qualitative military edge is kept.’
    —Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee

The Gulf states tempered this ambition, however, after conceding the Obama administration would face major obstacles in convincing Congress to approve such a treaty, in part because of U.S. lawmakers’ steadfast support for Israel. Instead, the GCC is seeking to establish clear guidelines for when the U.S. would act to check Iranian aggression.

Reaching a common position between the Gulf states and the Obama administration is a difficult task, U.S. and Arab officials say. The Obama administration has at times differed from Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. in gauging the level of Iranian support for political rebellions in countries like Yemen and Bahrain.

More recently, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies launched airstrikes on insurgents in Yemen, who they argue are receiving arms and funds from Iran—something Tehran denies.

On Tuesday, tensions flared when Iranian warships confronted a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz, prompting the deployment of a U.S. Navy destroyer to the area and stepped-up U.S. measures to protect American commercial vessels.

A White House statement in advance of Mr. Obama’s GCC meeting said the session is designed for the leaders to “discuss ways to enhance their partnership and deepen security cooperation.”


Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the U.A.E. are already some of the largest arms buyers in the world. Last year, Riyadh purchased $80 billion worth of weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks the global arms business. The U.A.E. bought $23 billion.

“The Gulf monarchies need a military edge over Iran,” said an American official engaged in the deliberations between the GCC and U.S.

Some of the Gulf states, in particular Saudi Arabia, have argued they should be allowed to obtain the same nuclear technologies Iran maintains as part of any diplomatic agreement with Washington. “We think there should be nuclear parity between us and Iran,” said an Arab official involved in the discussions.

But the Obama administration is expected to push back against any initiatives that risk further spreading sensitive nuclear technologies across the Mideast.

The U.S. commitment to Israel’s military superiority could undercut hopes for substantive agreements being reached at Camp David.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shares the Arab governments’ belief that Iran poses the greatest security challenge to their region. But there remains fear in Israel that over the long term any sophisticated systems sold to the GCC countries could eventually be turned on Israel, according to Israeli officials.

Congress, as a result, may seek to block some of the arms deals being discussed. “We want to make sure that the one and only democracy in the region is never outgunned,” Mr. Graham said.

Write to Jay Solomon at jay.solomon@wsj.com and Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #601 on: May 10, 2015, 10:16:32 AM »

 Why Sunni Unity Is a Myth
Analysis
May 5, 2015 | 09:00 GMT

Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition that is conducting operations in Yemen, speaks to the media in Riyadh on March 26. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Summary

Yemen is the newest battleground in the growing struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two regional and sectarian rivals. With the Saudis leading a military intervention in Yemen against the Iranian-supported Houthi movement, there has been much talk of a Sunni camp mobilizing to counter the threat posed by ascendant Shiite forces. However, competing interests will hobble the fledgling Sunni alliance.

Forecast

    Competing interests will keep a Sunni camp from coalescing.
    Saudi Arabia and Turkey are at odds with each other over the future of the Arab world.
    Pakistan is far removed from the Middle East and does not feel close sectarian ties to Saudi Arabia.
    The Saudi-led coalition acting in Yemen is more an Arab grouping than a Sunni bloc, and differences exist even among the Arabs.

Analysis

The Houthi surge in Yemen triggered a response from several Sunni states. Saudi Arabia mobilized a 10-nation coalition of predominantly Arab countries for an air campaign and naval blockade against the Houthis. Turkey responded with a strong and unprecedented criticism of Iran for Tehran's support for the Houthis. Even Pakistan, which is outside the Middle East, got dragged into the conflict, though its role is still undefined. All of this activity from a diverse group of states whose populations are mostly Sunni created clamor about the emergence of a Sunni bloc.

The conflict in Yemen certainly has increased the geopolitical sectarian polarization in the region that was triggered by the rise of a government dominated by Shiites in Iraq in the mid-2000s and exacerbated by Syria's civil war. But the idea that Iran's attempt to expand its influence in the Arabian Peninsula has led the region's Sunnis to close ranks against Tehran and its allies is incorrect. The outcome of the Saudi-led effort to mobilize Sunni nations reveals great divisions between those countries.

Turkey

In Turkey, the most powerful Sunni nation in the region, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan harshly criticized Iran's support for the Houthis in late March. Erdogan said Iran is attempting to dominate the region, and in doing so is "annoying us, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries." He called the situation intolerable and asked Iran to withdraw whatever forces it has in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

However, Turkey has not committed any forces to the war in Yemen. It does not make sense for the Turks to be part of a Saudi-led coalition when Ankara desires regional leadership. The Saudis would like to see the Turks join the Saudi initiative, but they are wary of Turkish ambitions. After all, the Saudi polity emerged in the mid-18th century in opposition to Turkish domination over the Arab lands. Even if Turkey had not declined to participate, the Saudis and other Arab actors are not comfortable with the idea of aligning with Turkey; doing so would give Ankara the opportunity to dominate the region. The Arabs want Turkish help to counter Iran but do not want to facilitate Turkey's aspirations.

Moreover, there is great dissonance between the Turkish and Saudi visions of the future of the region. Turkey wants to recreate the Arab world in its own image, which is why it supports Muslim Brotherhood-type groups. For Saudi Arabia, political Islam and democratization are a lethal mix. That said, when it comes to Iran — specifically, conflicts such as those in Syria and Iraq, where the interests of Riyadh and Ankara align to an extent — the two can benefit from tactical-level cooperation.

The Iran-backed government in Syria is preventing Turkey from expanding its influence in the Arab world. Consequently, Ankara, which has been cooperating with Doha in Syria, is now coordinating with Riyadh, explaining, in part, the rebels' recent gains against Damascus. Likewise, the Saudis need to work with Turkey to topple the Syrian government and eliminate a major element enabling Iranian penetration of the Arab world. Yet their varying goals will make future competition between the Turks and the Saudis inevitable.
Pakistan

Unlike Turkey, Pakistan's conventional power is relatively weak. It is geographically removed from the Middle East and has no ambitions to lead the region. However, Saudi Arabia's relations with Pakistan are also problematic, even though the Pakistanis and Saudis historically have been close allies. Riyadh has been a great source of financial and energy assistance for Islamabad during Pakistan's long-standing dire economic conditions. The Pakistanis have provided military support for the Saudis, both in terms of the kingdom's security and its interests in the region. Moreover, their intelligence services have cooperated closely — first in the efforts to support Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan during the 1980s and 1990s and then in the fight against jihadists over the past decade.

Despite this close relationship, Pakistan openly declined to send forces to Yemen. From the Pakistanis' perspective, their military is already stretched thin as it combats an ideology that originated in Saudi Arabia and has inflicted a great deal of pain in Pakistan. After Iraq, Pakistan has been the deadliest sectarian battleground where Sunni militants have wreaked havoc against Shiites. Islamabad is already struggling to deal with these twin scourges, and the last thing it wants is to join Riyadh's competition with Tehran, particularly in Yemen.

Joining the fight in Yemen would reverse the gains Pakistan has made against religious extremists in the past six years. Moreover, Shiites make up 20 percent of Pakistan's population, and the state is expected to protect the minority against attacks by Sunni militants. Plenty of groups in Pakistan vociferously support a close alignment with Saudi Arabia and are shaping Islamabad's position that Pakistan will not tolerate any threat to the Saudi kingdom's territorial integrity. However, the general mood is that the Houthis pose no threat to the kingdom, because the Saudis are the ones on the offensive. Instead, the threat to the Saudi kingdom and the wider Muslim world comes from the kingdom's Salafist ideology and its renegades, such as the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

While a Sunni nation, Pakistan has little in common with Saudi Arabia or the Arab world. In addition to the geographic and ethnic difference, Pakistan's Sunni Islam is different from the Salafist interpretation of Saudi Arabia. Pakistan also emphasizes the difference between their democratic political culture and the authoritarian character of Saudi Arabia.

After the Pakistani legislature publicly rejected Saudi Arabia's request for military forces, Riyadh now knows it cannot depend on Islamabad as it has before. Effectively, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen consists of Arab nations — hence the efforts to create an Arab military force.
The Arab World

Thus, the much talked about Sunni camp is really an Arab camp. But Saudi Arabia and certain Gulf Cooperation Council states are doing the heavy lifting in Yemen because the three major Arab states — Egypt, Syria and Iraq — have lost strategic relevance since the 1970s. Egypt's attempts at regional leadership foundered when wars, intra-Arab competition and a structurally weak economy led to the decline of the Nasserite government. In Syria, the minority Alawite sect in Syria's Baathist government under President Hafez al Assad consolidated power and, along with Damascus' rivalry with Baghdad, took the Levantine country out of both the Sunni and Arab categories. The 1991 Gulf War weakened Iraq as a Sunni Arab state. The country later fell into Iran's orbit after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Moreover, the Sunni-dominated Arab world was long divided between conservative monarchies and radical republican states, a divide that has, in the past three decades, been largely replaced by the ideological struggle between Islamists and secularists or traditionalists. While the more institutionalized Arab states were weakening, the petroleum-rich monarchies emerged as leaders of the Arab world, which is why the Gulf Cooperation Council has been more effective than the Arab League.

For the longest time, the Gulf countries' main tool in shaping the region was their financial heft. Egypt historically was strong politically and militarily but weak financially, and it has since become heavily dependent on Gulf largesse in the post-Hosni Mubarak era. Turmoil in the region increased exponentially after the Arab Spring, which left the Saudis and their Gulf allies to assume greater leadership, especially as the United States began scaling back its involvement in the region and engaging with Iran. In this context, the Saudi-led coalition's military intervention in Yemen emerged.

Saudi Arabia, with 100 aircraft, some naval units and 150,000 troops, is doing the bulk of the work. The United Arab Emirates is a distant second, with 30 jets, even though it has developed a sophisticated defense establishment and engaged in action in Libya and Syria. Kuwait and Bahrain have contributed 15 and 12 aircraft, respectively, while Qatar has committed 10 warplanes. Jordan and Morocco reportedly have provided six jets each while Sudan sent four warplanes, though it is unclear if they have conducted airstrikes and if so how many.

The Arab country with the biggest military, Egypt, has offered some air and naval assets, but again it is unclear how many. The Saudis hoped that Egypt would provide ground forces. But Cairo, despite its financial dependence on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, has resisted. From the Egyptian point of view, the Houthi surge in Yemen is not as much of a threat as it is to the Saudis, and Egypt has other matters of concern in its immediate area, such as Libya and Gaza. While the Arab states depend on Riyadh to lead a coalition, they are not comfortable subordinating their national sovereignty to a supra-national institution dominated by Saudi Arabia.

These states have different priorities and face different challenges. Disagreements are bound to occur. Even regarding Yemen, Egypt has tried to maintain a minimal role, while the United Arab Emirates has concerns about how the war has been prosecuted. The change of leadership in Riyadh is also creating anxieties. Not only are Arab countries concerned about the political transition underway in the kingdom, but they are also worried that the kingdom's Salafist ideology remains a destabilizing factor that jihadists can exploit.

Herein lies the strategic dilemma: The Arab world needs Saudi Arabia, but it fears the kingdom's hegemony. Moreover, the character of the Saudi state hinders Riyadh's ability to provide leadership. Its monarchical system depends on Salafism in a unique arrangement that does not apply to other states such as Egypt or even other monarchies such as the United Arab Emirates. While all the Arab countries seek to limit democratic reforms, there is no coherent vision for how Arab governments will evolve and develop.

Despite these many hurdles, there is no alternative to Saudi Arabia assuming leadership of the Sunni Arab world. The Saudis would have to lead any joint Arab military force, but a key part of this effort will be to get Egypt, which has the forces to spare, to play a bigger role. Several critical issues such as logistics, interoperability and political decision-making have to be worked out. Even the United Arab Emirates' de facto ruler, Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nuhayyan, last week called for the creation of a political authority to oversee the envisioned Arab force.

While Saudi Arabia struggles to mobilize the Arab world, Turkey, whose political and economic progress offers a more attractive model for Arab youth, will challenge its decisions continuously. Turkey also has the advantage of being Sunni and better positioned to counter Iran, the sectarian "other."

For now, the Saudi-led Arab coalition is a relatively weak reactive force, which is why Riyadh and its Gulf allies are gearing up to secure U.S. assistance in the Camp David summit in mid-May. In many ways, the problems with forming a Sunni camp have arisen because majorities are typically internally fragmented, while minorities tend to have more cohesion. Similarly, Sunni leadership is contested while Iran faces no challenges from other Shiite states.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #602 on: May 10, 2015, 03:35:23 PM »

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In Turkey, Saudi Arabia Finds an Unlikely Partner Against Syria
Geopolitical Diary
May 7, 2015 | 22:47 GMT
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While the war in Yemen remains inconclusive, Saudi Arabia is escalating its intervention in Syria. Unlike the Yemeni theater, where the Saudis are the largest military force, the Syrian battleground will be more complex for Riyadh. The Saudis will be partnering with Turkey, and Riyadh and Ankara are not in complete agreement. Iran's support for the Syrian government will also complicate matters, as will U.S. nervousness about jihadists filling any vacuum left in Damascus if the government falls. Moreover, the U.S.-led coalition operations against the Islamic State in Syria will not make the situation simpler.

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have reportedly agreed on a deal to greatly enhance support for rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al Assad's government forces. Separately, AFP reported that Syrian opposition forces had said the Saudi kingdom wants to unite most of Syria's rebel factions and is organizing a gathering in mid-June to this end. Meanwhile, Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers are meeting to discuss Syria and other regional issues.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.

The Turks and the Qataris have long been allies, supporting each other in Syria and across the region. But the Saudis joining this group is a development that began when the new monarch, Saudi King Salman, took office back in late January. Earlier this week we published a report outlining how Turkey and Saudi Arabia may cooperate tactically, but they are strategic competitors for leadership of the Middle East.

In the context of Syria, Riyadh needs Ankara because Turkey's long border with Syria gives it a great deal of influence in the Levantine country. Likewise, Turkey knows it cannot act in an Arab country without Saudi Arabia being on board with the plan, especially since the kingdom's financial muscle enables it to influence many of the factions fighting in Syria. This mutual dependence does not make for more than an uneasy alignment because of the divergent natures of the region's two major Sunni players.

For now, though, the shared goal of toppling al Assad has Riyadh and Ankara cooperating, at least on unifying the rebels. Given the rebels' fractured nature, the key role al Qaeda's Syrian branch Jabhat al-Nusra played in rebel victories, the Islamic State factor and the involvement of Kurdish separatist forces, Turkey will have to take a more assertive military role at some point. To this end, Turkey has even talked of creating "safe zones" — or sending in forces — in northern Syria. Turkey is the only regional power that can insert troops into Syria. But in terms of air support, Turkey could collaborate with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states — especially the United Arab Emirates — and Jordan, which is escalating its involvement in its northern neighbor.

Another factor that has brought the two competing Sunni powers together is their shared frustration with U.S. unwillingness to take decisive action in Syria. From the U.S. perspective, the regional players ought to take the lead. At the same time, Washington has been wary of any plans to create a situation where the al Assad government falls and Syria becomes a vast ungoverned space that transnational jihadists are best positioned to exploit, which is precisely what happened in eastern Syria when the Islamic State declared its so-called caliphate.

In the light of the rebel victories in the northern province of Idlib, it is quite reasonable that at some point Turkish-Saudi-Qatari assistance will enable the rebels to topple the al Assad government. But such developments raise the question of what happens the next day in the minds of the rebels' state sponsors. They are planning to meet next month to specifically discuss what happens when Damascus is in the hands of the rebels.

In order to cooperate, Qatar finally convinced Saudi Arabia that to effectively combat Iran's growing influence in the region, Riyadh needed to ease its opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. This stance has allowed Saudi Arabia to work with Turkey, which, along with Qatar, has been among the main state backers of the mainstream Islamist movement. Riyadh has decided to prioritize fighting Tehran and its allies for the time being. But it does not mean Saudi Arabia is now embracing the Muslim Brotherhood. It cannot, because the movement is antithetical to Saudi religious and political foundations.

This issue is critical when it comes to a future Syrian government, which the West, the Turks and the Qataris would want to be democratic. Moreover, Ankara and Doha want Muslim Brotherhood-style Islamists to dominate the new Syrian state. Riyadh does not. Such a state would only undermine the Saudis on the home front, who are going through a delicate transition.

However, most of the Syrian rebels are of one Salafist-jihadist persuasion or another, and getting them to accept a post-al Assad democratic setup will be extremely difficult. This difficulty may appear to be to Saudi Arabia's advantage, but Riyadh has no alternative political model to offer either. Worse, jihadist forces will exploit this dispute, and the mess will pale in comparison to what happened when Islamist insurgents toppled the Marxist government in Afghanistan in 1992 — a process that catalyzed the growth of transnational jihadism.

And while Saudi Arabia and Turkey try to sort out how they will manage their joint aims in Syria, they also have to worry about the proxy war with Iran. For Tehran, losing Syria is unacceptable outcome.
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« Reply #603 on: May 11, 2015, 09:07:35 PM »



Here in pockets of the rugged mountains near the Lebanese border, the distinctive yellow flag of Hezbollah now flies where al-Qaeda militants once held sway. These gains in the Qalamoun Mountains represent a bright spot for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, now reeling from a unified insurgent assault in the country’s northwest. And again, they show the power and influence of the Lebanese militant group in Syria’s civil war, grinding on into its fifth year after killing more than 220,000 people. A team of Associated Press journalists traveling with Hezbollah into Syria found smiling Hezbollah fighters proudly showing newly dismantled booby traps and food quickly left behind by the Sunni insurgents as commanders promised further advances they say protect Lebanon. But in Lebanon, worries persist that Hezbollah’s battlefield successes only further entangle the tiny country in Syria’s violence, risking attacks back home as well. The Qalamoun Mountains are on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon. They tower near Syria’s capital, Damascus, and linking that base of Assad’s power to the coast, an enclave of his Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam.

But the Sunni militants of the local al-Qaeda chapter called the Nusra Front and the Islamic State group, have been dug into the terrain for years. Although Hezbollah officials say a full-blown assault to recover Qalamoun hasn’t started, Hezbollah fighters in recent days have captured large areas and strategic hills. On Thursday, Hezbollah fighters attacking from the fields of the Syrian border town of Assal al-Ward met comrades on the offensive from the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Brital. “The situation is better than perfect,” one smiling Hezbollah fighter said, speaking along with others anonymously as part of the conditions Hezbollah set to allow AP journalists to make the trip. Insurgents appear to have left their camps in a hurry. Groceries, medicines and other supplies littered their camps. At a Hezbollah position, fighters installed a 130 mm cannon pointed deeper into Syria. Wooden ammunition boxes nearby bore Persian words — a sign of the support of Iran, a major benefactor of both Hezbollah and Assad. Shelling could be heard in the distance, which Hezbollah fighters attributed to clashes around Syria’s Barouh mountain to the north. Two giant Hezbollah bulldozers ground out a sand road on one of the region’s mountains. Some 3,000 militants are in the Qalamoun region, almost equally split between the Nusra Front and the Islamic State group, a Hezbollah commander recently said in Beirut. He said Hezbollah and Syrian troops surround the Qalamoun from the north, the east and the south, as well as part of the west, squeezing the Islamic militants who remain.
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« Reply #604 on: May 12, 2015, 11:57:44 PM »



    15
    66

    Opinion
    Review & Outlook

Assad Still Has Chemical Arms
Inspectors find new evidence at an undisclosed site.
A Civil Defence member carries a damaged canister in Ibleen village in May. ENLARGE
A Civil Defence member carries a damaged canister in Ibleen village in May. Photo: Reuters
May 12, 2015 7:17 p.m. ET
20 COMMENTS

President Obama has often boasted that his diplomacy disarmed Syria’s Bashar Assad of his chemical weapons. Mark that down as another non-achievement following news that investigators in Syria have discovered new traces of the chemical precursors to sarin and VX nerve agents at a previously undisclosed military research site.

This is the latest blow to the credibility of the 2013 U.S.-Russia deal to remove chemical weapons from Assad’s hands. The finding, first reported by Reuters, is the clearest sign that Damascus lied about the size and whereabouts of its existing stockpiles. The deception makes it difficult to monitor compliance and highlights Damascus’s lack of commitment to implementing the deal.

A report last year by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found that weaponized chlorine gas has been used “systematically and repeatedly” against civilians in northern Syria. As anti-Assad rebels have made fresh gains on the ground, there has been an apparent uptick in the use of chlorine, which is delivered using barrel bombs dropped from regime helicopters.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken says there’s “strong and credible” evidence of chlorine attacks. “As you know, only the regime has helicopters,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power has said. “So we believe the factual record is straightforward and devastating in terms of regime use.”

The record is clear, but the deal Mr. Obama hailed in 2013 as an arms-control “breakthrough” suffers from the absence of an accountability mechanism. The OPCW lacked the mandate to assign responsibility for the chlorine attacks it documented, and under the U.N. resolution each violation has to be reported to the Security Council, where Moscow and Beijing protect Damascus.

All this casts doubt on the White House’s ability to hold Iran’s leaders to the terms of any deal they might strike over their nuclear program. As with Syria’s chemical weapons, the Iranian deal leaves the West in the dark about the Islamic Republic’s past weaponization activity, meaning international investigators won’t have a baseline against which to measure its future efforts.

And as with Syria, the Iranian deal ties investigators’ hands. Tehran has rejected snap inspections, and the Obama Administration has acquiesced. If the world won’t respond to evidence of cheating by a minor state like Syria, why should anyone believe it would act against cheaters in Iran?
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« Reply #605 on: May 14, 2015, 11:26:59 AM »

 Could the Islamic State Survive Losing Its Leaders?
Analysis
May 13, 2015 | 21:38 GMT
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Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also known as Abu Alaa al-Afari, is a high-ranking Islamic State official. (U.S. State Department)
Analysis

On May 13, Iraq's Ministry of Defense reported that the deputy leader of the Islamic State, Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also known as Abu Alaa al-Afari, was killed in a May 12 airstrike on the village of al-Iyadhiya, near Tal Afar in the northern Iraqi province of Ninevah. The ministry posted a video on its website purportedly depicting the airstrike, which the government said targeted al-Afari as he met with dozens of Islamic State leaders. A U.S. Defense Department representative was unable to confirm that al-Afari had been killed, but said that U.S. aircraft conducted two airstrikes near Tal Afar on May 12.

The Iraqi government previously reported that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was wounded in a March 18 airstrike in Ninevah's al-Baaj district and that al-Afari had assumed operational control of the group. The United States has denied that report.  However, even if the worst case scenario for the Islamic State is true, with al-Baghdadi seriously wounded and al-Afari killed, it is unlikely to have any significant and immediate impact on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.

If al-Baghdadi was wounded and incapacitated in March, the Islamic State's operations have shown no signs of it. The organization is large and highly institutionalized, containing sufficient redundancies and practicing extensive division of labor. It has also prepared for decapitation strikes and has weathered them in the past. For example, in the months following the June 2006 airstrike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, there was actually an increase in the attacks targeting coalition troops instead of a decrease. The group also survived an April 2010 airstrike that killed its two top leaders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri. Even since the United States and its partners began airstrikes against the Islamic State in September 2014, several of the group's regional emirs have been killed but were quickly replaced. Moreover, al-Afari is a cleric, not a military leader, and the men planning and conducting the group's military operations are still largely intact.

The report of al-Afari's death needs to be taken with some skepticism until it is confirmed. The Iraqi government has repeatedly announced the deaths of jihadist fighters only to have those claims later refuted. If the airstrike is confirmed, however, it will be another sign that the luster is coming off Islamic State's core narrative that it is favored by God and impossible to stop. This, along with reports of desertions, food and medical shortages and even the forced conscription of local men and boys will continue to erode the group's appeal as well as its ability to attract foreign fighters and financing.
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« Reply #606 on: May 16, 2015, 02:08:14 AM »

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2015/05/14/krauthammer_obamas_post-summit_presser_was_a_sellout_announcement_gulf_arabs_should_be_terrified.html
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« Reply #607 on: May 16, 2015, 12:01:06 PM »

second post:
=============

U.S. Special Forces Kill Senior ISIS Leader in Syria, Capture His Wife

Officials say Abu Sayyaf helped direct group’s oil, gas and financial arms, was emerging as a leader of military operations
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, shown here on May 1, on Saturday said a special forces raid that killed a senior Islamic State leader Abu Sayyaf and captured his wife was a significant blow to the militant group. ENLARGE
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, shown here on May 1, on Saturday said a special forces raid that killed a senior Islamic State leader Abu Sayyaf and captured his wife was a significant blow to the militant group. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press
By
Gordon Lubold
Updated May 16, 2015 12:29 p.m. ET
155 COMMENTS

WASHINGTON—A senior Islamic State leader was killed, and his wife captured, in a raid in eastern Syria by U.S. Special Operations, the first mission in that country targeting wanted ISIS militants, defense officials said early on Saturday.

The operation was conducted on the ground in Al-Amr near the eastern Syrian city of Deir-Ezzour to capture Abu Sayyaf and his wife, Umm Sayyaf, also thought to be part of the organization, Pentagon officials said.

During the mission late Friday, Abu Sayyaf “engaged U.S. forces” and was killed. Special Operations forces, however, captured Umm Sayyaf, the Pentagon said.  No American forces were injured or killed, the Defense Department said.  The mission was a rare example of U.S. forces conducting an operational maneuver on the ground. Last year, Special Operations forces conducted a risky but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to rescue American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and other hostages in eastern Syria.

“The operation represents another significant blow to ISIL, and it is a reminder that the United States will never waver in denying safe haven to terrorists who threaten our citizens, and those of our friends and allies,” according to a statement issued by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Islamic State is sometimes referred to as ISIS or ISIL.

Abu Sayyaf was said to have helped direct the terrorist organization’s illicit oil gas and some financial operations that help fund Islamic State’s operations. He was also emerging as a leader of the group’s military operations.  Umm Sayyaf was captured during the operation and is now being held by U.S. officials in Iraq. She is thought to have been holding a young Yazidi woman as a slave. The Yazidi woman was freed and will be reunited with her family in coming days, according to U.S. officials.

    ‘The operation represents another significant blow to ISIL.’
    —U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in discussing Friday’s raid.

“We suspect that Umm Sayyaf is a member of ISIL, played an important role in ISIL’s terrorist activities and may have been complicit in the enslavement of the young woman rescued last night,” according to National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan.

The White House has been reluctant to send U.S. forces into harm’s way in Syria and in Iraq, maintaining the pledge President Barack Obama have no “combat boots” on the ground in either country.  Mr. Obama authorized Friday’s raid with what the White House described as the unanimous recommendation of his national security team as well as the consent of Iraqi authorities.  The mission came after U.S. military officials had developed enough intelligence using drones and other means to be confident enough that the mission could be successful, likely taking extra precautions after the failed rescue attempt for Messrs. Foley and Sotloff last year.

—Carol E. Lee and Adam Entous contributed to this article.
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« Reply #608 on: May 16, 2015, 05:54:54 PM »

 Camp David and the U.S. Power of Choice in the Middle East
Geopolitical Diary
May 14, 2015 | 22:45 GMT
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U.S. President Barack Obama's Camp David retreat for Sunni Gulf leaders will not be remembered for the diplomatic snubs, defense deals or even the nuclear proliferation threats. It will be remembered as the most vivid illustration of a changing balance of power in the Middle East after three and a half decades of acrimonious U.S.-Iran relations

The last major shift in the U.S. relationship with the Persian Gulf states took place in the 1970s, in the thick of the Cold War. The 34-year-old deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and the 55-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, may be too young to fully understand what their royal elders struggled with in trying to ensure that the global hegemon would not sacrifice the House of Saud to its Persian allies. After all, an entire generation has only known a world in which U.S. support for Saudi Arabia and hostility toward Iran were a given. But the mandate of King Salman's successors at Camp David was clear: to prevent history from repeating itself.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.

Thanks to a wealth of declassified information from the Nixon-Kissinger years, we now have a much more colorful view of how the White House managed its relationships in the Persian Gulf at the time. The Shah of Iran sold himself to the Americans as the Guardian of the Gulf, worthy of an exorbitant amount of military toys, including squadrons of F-14 fighter jets fresh off the assembly line. The Nixon White House indulged the shah in most of these requests. The logic was that Iran, as a steadfast and modernized partner of the United States in contrast to the House of Saud and the arcane Wahhabism it practiced, would help the United States carry the burden of ensuring freedom of navigation through the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran also would help keep the Soviets at bay, and it would do all of this while serving as a reliable oil supplier to the West.

While Iran sat on a pedestal in Washington, the Saudis were of course more than unnerved. With Soviet-backed militant groups operating across the region and multiple eyes set on Saudi oil fields, the last thing the House of Saud needed was for Washington to place its trust in Riyadh's historical enemy to secure the Gulf. An account by U.S. Ambassador to Iran James Akins on a conversation he had with Saudi Oil Minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani in 1975 is particularly revealing of the Saudi perception of what they viewed as an intolerable U.S. foreign policy. Akins claimed that an infuriated Yamani confronted him about an alleged set of military contingency plans outlined by the shah and the White House. From the Saudi point of view, the Americans were effectively arming Iran to enable an Iranian invasion of the Arabian oil fields and the occupation of the "entire Arabian littoral of the Persian Gulf."

Though Riyadh certainly felt it had to compete for Washington's attention, the House of Saud and Washington also took important steps to build up their own strategic relationship. The United States needed Saudi Arabia to balance against Iran in OPEC policy and bankroll regional governments and proxies in a broader battle against Soviet influence. At Camp David 44 years ago, Nixon devised a plan to break from the gold standard, which relied heavily on Saudi cooperation. As Nixon sought to ensure global demand for the dollar for many decades to come, the House of Saud made a deal with Washington to price oil sales in dollars only and buy up billions of U.S. treasuries with surplus petrodollars. Thanks to the Saudis and Nixon's geopolitical backroom deals, the U.S. dollar has been able to build and preserve its position as the world's reserve currency, enabling the United States to spend beyond its means as any global empire would.

But it was not until the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the shah and elevated the mullahs that the U.S.-Saudi relationship really took off. From that point onward, the House of Saud and the White House forgave and forgot their many differences and remade the security architecture of the Persian Gulf to put the United States firmly behind the Sunni bloc while Iran remained isolated. However, that alliance structure started to crack in 2003, when the United States toppled the Sunni government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and wittingly opened the door for Iran to anchor itself in Mesopotamia through a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

The Gulf state leaders gathered at Camp David on Thursday may feel betrayed by the United States, but they cannot be surprised by the evolution of U.S. relations in the Persian Gulf. This shift was triggered a dozen years ago, even if it is only fully materializing now. Saudi editorials in the days leading up to the summit were full of contempt. Some argue that Obama's outreach is an admission that he made a losing bet on Iran and is now groveling for reacceptance by Gulf leaders. Another claims that Obama may want special relations with both Iran and the Gulf states at the same time, but that he simply cannot have it both ways.

But in fact, he can. A U.S. detente with Iran does not mean that Washington's relationship with the Sunni states of the Gulf is swept to the side. On the contrary, the United States will be working to build up these states, along with Turkey, to counterbalance Iran in the region. The chessboard is also somewhat simpler for the United States this time around. The United States and Russia may be experiencing Cold War nostalgia today, but Russia's influence in the Middle East is far more limited today than it was a couple of decades ago. That means the proxy battles in the region will primarily involve the local players rather than the overarching superpowers. Instead, the United States will be there when it comes to securing energy chokepoints and neutralizing jihadist threats, picking and choosing its battles wisely along the way.

And that is where the core frustration in Saudi Arabia will fester. The United States has revived the power of choice for itself in the Persian Gulf. When it comes to finding another security guarantor in the region, the Saudi royals will inevitably find themselves back in Washington in their time of need.
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« Reply #609 on: May 16, 2015, 08:32:36 PM »

A very clever analysis, and one in line with previous (and outside the box) Stratfor predictions, but for me the omission of the nuclear variable from the equation leads to GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

At any rate, here's what Iran makes of it:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/05/16/us-yemen-security-iran-khamenei-idUSKBN0O108O20150516?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews
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« Reply #610 on: May 17, 2015, 11:12:36 AM »

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/may/14/china-sell-jordan-missile-firing-drones-after-obam/
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« Reply #611 on: May 18, 2015, 10:00:40 AM »

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

Things fall apart. Iraqi forces broke and fled the city of Ramadi in the face of a renewed assault by the Islamic State on Sunday, recalling the full-fledged retreat from Mosul last summer that gave the extremist group access to whole divisions’ worth of American-supplied Iraqi military equipment.

Despite a top U.S. military official’s contention late last week that most of Ramadi was still solidly in government hands and that the Islamic State was “on the defensive,” the latest defeat heaps fresh doubt on Iraqi forces' ability  to hold ground, and the speed with which the 3,000 U.S. trainers there can churn out effective troops.

And in another echo of last summer, there have also been reports that the Iraqi Army has lost Camp Ar Ramadi just west of the city, home to the 8th brigade, leaving behind heavy weapons and scores of military vehicles.

Airstrikes and Iranian fighters. American air power – to the tune of over 165 airstrikes around Ramadi over the past month – has proven unable to prevent the Anbar provincial capital from falling. The loss has caused the local Sunni tribes to petition Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to again call for the assistance of Shiite militias (including some backed by Iran) to stem the losses.

The Shiite fighters were a key player in this spring's battle for the city of Tikrit, but have raised fears among some Sunnis of increased Iranian influence over the country’s security forces. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan arrived in Baghdad for talks on Sunday.

Remember, the U.S. suspended airstrikes around Tikrit last month when the Iranian-backed militias were in the thick of the fight. Only when Abadi convinced them to back off did American bombs begin falling again.

Let the dominoes fall. The next major prize for the Islamic State is the massive oil refinery at Baiji. The refinery remains mostly in government hands, despite weeks of ferocious assaults. Reflecting Washington’s scattershot policy in Iraq, there has been a real back and forth among American defense officials over Baiji's importance.

In April, chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey claimed that Baiji was critical to Iraq’s security, followed just weeks later by Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren claiming that the refinery wasn’t actually all that crucial.

With Fallujah and Ramadi in the hands of the Islamic State, and the Baiji assault still very much underway, it’s safe to assume that the refinery is next. Watch this space to see how important it really is to U.S. and Iraqi planners moving forward.

Read FP’s Colum Lynch and Sean Naylor on how the intelligence gathered during the weekend raid by Delta Force operators on the Syrian compound of the Islamic State’s “oil emir” Abu Sayyaf may lead to more strikes in the future.

Still on top. From drone strikes to secret prisons to torture, the CIA has been pulling the strings on American foreign policy in the Middle East since 9/11. In a new story in the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Yochi Dreazen and Sean Naylor report that despite complaints from Congress and others in government, the arrangement likely won’t change anytime soon.
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« Reply #612 on: May 20, 2015, 03:55:43 PM »

http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2015/05/20/claim-turkish-govt-arming-islamist-groups-in-syria/
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« Reply #613 on: May 21, 2015, 10:56:26 AM »

http://www.daybydaycartoon.com/comic/eyes-open/
http://www.daybydaycartoon.com/comic/assaults-2/
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« Reply #614 on: May 22, 2015, 03:28:02 PM »

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

BREAKING: The U.S. Central Command announced this morning that Iraqi forces have broken through the Islamic State’s months-long siege of the Baiji oil refinery and are now resupplying the beleaguered Iraqi troops inside the facility.

“In the past 72 hours, we have seen the ISF make steady, measured progress in regaining some of the areas leading to the Baiji Oil Refinery despite the significant Daesh resistance in the form of IEDs, suicide vehicle borne IEDs, as well as heavy weapon and rocket fire attacks,” Brig. Gen Thomas Weidley said in a statement. It's a start, but will it be enough to turn the tide?

Things may be bad, but business is good. The week is ending with a bang after announcements that the United States is looking to sell $3.8 billion worth of military equipment to Israel and Saudi Arabia. And not to be outdone, Russia is working hard to expand its defense business with Iraq.

In the first instance, Israel has requested 14,500 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) precision guided weapons for its Air Force in a potential deal worth $1.8 billion. If the sale goes through -- which it should -- Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Raytheon Missile Systems should all be pretty happy.

Similarly, the State Department has signed off on the sale of ten MH-60R helicopters with associated radars and dozens of Hellfire missiles -- and 380 laser-guided rockets -- in a $1.9 billion package. Those people you see smiling? They probably work for Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and Lockheed Martin, both of which should do pretty well when the deal is finalized.

Are the similar dollar amounts and the fact that the deals were announced within 24 hours of each other a coincidence? Your call, friends.

Russia and Iraq. In the midst of the most dire crisis his country has faced since the departure of the last U.S. combat troops in December 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi this week did the obvious thing to do: he got on a plane and flew to Moscow.

Iraqi officials insisted that the trip was simply part of a long-planned commitment to meet with Russian officials about potential energy and arms deals. No word yet on what those deals might be, but both Iraq and the U.S. have spent billions to buy dozens of Russian attack helicopters over the years (with Washington buying them for both Afghanistan and Iraq), along with some armored vehicles.

At the end of a second day of meetings on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow and Baghdad are “expanding cooperation in the area of military technology,” and that “our companies are working in your country and we are talking of investments in the order of billions of dollars.” Abadi also visited with a group of Iraqi officers being trained in Russia.

How confident is Washington in Abadi’s ability to lead his country through this crisis while navigating his way through the minefield of sectarian politics and rivalries? “He’s the only horse to back,” lamented one former CIA official. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov however, sees things a bit differently, saying recently that in the fight against the Islamic State, Moscow is ”helping both Iraq and Syria, possibly more effectively than anyone else, by providing weapons to their armies and security forces.”

And while all of this is happening, Iraqis are increasingly blaming the United States for the fall of Ramadi.
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« Reply #615 on: May 24, 2015, 11:38:33 AM »

With Victories, ISIS Dispels Hope of a Swift Decline

By TIM ARANGO and ANNE BARNARDMAY 23, 2015

BAGHDAD — Just last month, when Western and Iraqi officials talked about the Islamic State, it was mostly to list a series of setbacks to the terrorist group: defeated in the Syrian town of Kobani, battered by a heavy airstrike campaign, forced out of a growing list of towns and cities in Iraq.

But in just the past week, the Islamic State has turned that story around. Last weekend it solidified its hold on Iraq’s Anbar Province with a carefully choreographed assault on the regional capital, Ramadi. And on Wednesday, it stretched its territory in Syria into the historically and strategically important city of Palmyra.

Confounding declarations of the group’s decline, the twin offensives have become a sudden showcase for the group’s disciplined adherence to its core philosophies: always fighting on multiple fronts, wielding atrocities to scare off resistance and, especially, enforcing its caliphate in the Sunni heartland that straddles the Iraqi-Syrian border. In doing so, the Islamic State has not only survived setbacks, but also engineered new victories.

“Nobody here from the president on down is saying that this is something that we’ll just overcome immediately,” a senior State Department official said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, in which the ground rules demanded anonymity. “It’s an extremely serious situation.”

Within Iraq, the group’s offensive was taking shape almost immediately after the government’s victory last month in the central city of Tikrit.

Islamic State fighters took up simultaneous pressure campaigns on Iraq’s largest oil refinery, north of Baghdad in Baiji, and on Ramadi. In Diyala, the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, orchestrated a prison break, a signature operation it has carried out frequently over the years and which could help restore its capability in the eastern province.

The broad scope of operations now seems to have been designed to wear out the Iraqi security forces and make sure they were dispersed when the Islamic State began its heaviest push against Ramadi this month, said Jessica Lewis McFate, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a research organization in Washington that has advocated a more muscular response by the United States to the threat of the Islamic State.


The Islamic State has been battling for Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, since mid-April. The group launched a new assault on May 15 with the backing of sleeper cells to capture government facilities and take control of most of the city just two days later, on May 17. Ramadi is strategic to the Islamic State because of its proximity to

 , , ,

Within days, Iraqi security forces flee, and Islamic State fighters take control of key government facilities.



In particular, Ms. McFate said the offensives had depleted and exhausted Iraq’s elite counterterrorism force, known as the Golden Division, which is highly mobile and had long fought on both fronts, in Ramadi and Baiji. The unit, which worked closely for nearly a decade with the American Special Forces, is seen as the most effective government force, although its numbers, compared with the regular Iraqi Army and police forces, are small.

“ISIS tried to stretch the I.S.F. as much as it could to find their breaking point,” Ms. McFate said, using the abbreviation for the Iraqi Security Forces.

When the main Islamic State assault on Ramadi began late on the night of May 14, it employed resources that had been prepared long before and were unleashed in an intense burst of violence that broke the remaining defenders.



As usual, the Islamic State opened the attack with suicide bombers, but in this case on an even bigger scale: The militants sent in 10 bomb-laden vehicles, each believed to have explosive power similar to the truck bomb used in Oklahoma City two decades ago, the senior State Department official said. Entire city blocks were destroyed.

Sleeper cells of Islamic State loyalists then rose up, according to witness accounts, helping the group quickly take control as its fighters advanced into new parts of Ramadi.

Out of fear and exhaustion, local Sunni fighters who had defended the city for nearly a year and a half left in droves last Sunday, taunted by soldiers for abandoning their land.

Staying true to its doctrine of always pushing on multiple fronts, the Islamic State has not stopped with Ramadi: It has also swept into new territory in Syria. In taking Palmyra — a relatively small and remote but strategically located desert city near the country’s geographical center — the group has for the first time seized a Syrian city from government forces, rather than from other insurgents.

It attacked at a time and in a place in which government forces have been increasingly strained, exhausted and unwilling to fight for remote areas. In contrast to the barrage of suicide bombs it used in Ramadi, the Islamic State appears to have won Palmyra with a more ordinary arsenal of foot soldiers, tanks and antiaircraft guns mounted on trucks, relying on its adversary’s weakness and the extreme fear it has managed to instill with its well-publicized atrocities.

It is probably not a coincidence that several days before its main offensive on Palmyra, the Islamic State beheaded dozens of soldiers, government supporters and their families in an outlying village and widely disseminated the images.

The group also chose its target wisely. Palmyra has a relatively small population to provide for and control, but it is a disproportionate prize. It commands access to new oil and gas fields at a time when coalition bombings have targeted many Islamic State oil sources elsewhere; has a critical network of roads; and includes an ancient site that provides endless opportunities for both propaganda and illegal antiquities trafficking.

The offensives have allowed the Islamic State to become even more deeply entrenched in territory whose desert geography and disenchanted local population work in its favor. Particularly in Anbar Province, the group’s Sunni extremist fighters have been more of a native force than an invading one.

After its predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq, was driven underground by a long and bloody American military offensive late last decade, its fighters began regrouping among sympathetic Sunni tribes next door in eastern Syria.

The group survived years of battles against Syrian government forces and infighting with jihadist rivals. As it evolved, it engineered a wider hold on swaths of Syria and began plotting its return to power in western Iraq — a move that the group’s founding documents held out as a priority.


That campaign began late in 2013 and led to the takeover of the town of Falluja and other corners of Anbar. Then, in June 2014, the Islamic State made its biggest leaps into Iraq, suddenly seizing Mosul, the northern and Sunni-predominant city that is Iraq’s second largest, and driving all the way south to Tikrit.

In recent months, the group has been pushed back from some territories it seized last summer. These include cities and towns in the north near the autonomous Kurdish region and in eastern Diyala Province. In Syria, the Islamic State has pulled back in recent days from the northern parts of Homs Province, where it has had to compete with other groups and did not win as many locals to its side as it has in eastern Syria.

“ISIS overextended itself and is getting pushed back to areas where they can control more effectively,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism analyst at the New America Foundation, who has spent years studying Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State. “The historical homeland for this organization is Falluja, Ramadi, Anbar and Mosul.”

With the victory in Ramadi, the Islamic State claimed the last major center of the Sunni Arab heartland and, with the advance into Palmyra, has expanded it.

Hassan Hassan, an author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” saw the shift as a particular challenge to the group’s enemies. “It’s really hard to conquer these areas or retake them, because in the local population there’s almost no resistance to the group here.”

As it has consolidated, the Islamic State has been ruthless about beating down Sunni tribes who have opposed it, publicizing its mass slaughters of dissidents. Among the residents who have not actively opposed the group, it has also been skillful in building up its legitimacy as a local ruling force by tapping into Sunni grievances against the Shiite government in Baghdad and the Alawite government in Damascus.

“The only solution for the situation now is national reconciliation governments in both countries, Iraq and Syria, which is impossible now,” said Jalal Zein al-Din, a Syrian journalist who is part of an antigovernment news agency that operates partly in Islamic State territory. “So I.S. is going to remain in the region, a state from Raqqa to Mosul.”

In many ways, the group is staying true to a vision, laid out in documents years ago, of how it would carve out and govern a caliphate, or Islamic State. Even as it differed from Al Qaeda in its desire to hold territory, it envisioned itself as being at perpetual war with its surrounding enemies and saw its turf more as an ever-shifting zone of control rather than a place with boundaries.

In his studies of the group, Mr. Fishman has coined a term for what it has become: a “governmental amoeba.”

“They conceptualize the caliphate as the people living on territory the caliphate controls, rather than a fixed geography,” he said, adding, “What matters to them is commitment to the caliph.”

Indeed, Ramadi was coveted in part because it had taken on great symbolic value as a place where some Sunni tribes were holding out in resistance against the Islamic State. Now, the group again has the momentum, and seems more deeply entrenched than it did even before the setbacks in Kobani and Tikrit.

As with some American officials, Ms. McFate, the analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, saw Tikrit, in particular, as a devastating loss that had put the group on its heels. “I thought they had lost the capability to do what they just did,” she said. “The tide of the war really looked like it had shifted away from ISIS’s terms.”

Things are different now, she conceded.

“Ramadi was a bigger loss for us,” she said, referring to the United States coalition and its Iraqi partners, “than Tikrit was a loss to ISIS.”
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« Reply #616 on: May 25, 2015, 01:49:11 AM »

http://pamelageller.com/2015/05/isis-strategic-asset.html/
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« Reply #617 on: May 26, 2015, 08:10:31 AM »

    

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson   

Here it comes. In what may be the biggest test yet of the Iraqi armed forces’ strength -- and the ability of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to wrangle the various Shiite, Kurd and Sunni factions -- Baghdad on Tuesday launched what it says is a major offensive in Anbar province.

Abadi told the BBC over the weekend that the city of Ramadi would be retaken from the Islamic State “in days,” and Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq's Shiite militias and a member of Parliament, told reporters in Baghdad that the operation will "not last for a long time." He claimed Tuesday that Iraqi forces have almost completely encircled Ramadi.

Word of the day. While the Shiite-led Iraqi Army and some Iranian-backed Shiite militias head deeper into majority Sunni Anbar, the war of words the Obama administration has been having with itself over what happened in Ramadi shows no signs of abating. Over the long weekend, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Vice President Joe Biden sang pretty different tunes over the performance of Iraqi troops.

Appearing on CNN on Sunday, Carter took a shot at the performance of the Iraqi security forces in Ramadi, saying that they “vastly outnumbered the opposing force. And yet they failed to fight.” The situation was much more complicated than a simple failure to fight -- the exhausted Iraqi units had held a portion of the city for months with intermittent government support. But Carter maintained "that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis."

A White House readout of a Monday call between Biden and Abadi walked Carter's statement back a bit. Biden said that he recognized “the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past eighteen months in Ramadi and elsewhere.”

Baghdad calling. The heat isn’t only coming from Washington. With anger building in Baghdad over the performance of the Iraqi Army, in particular the highly-touted “Golden Division” of American-trained special operations forces who fled, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq told CNN on Monday that "it's not clear for us why such a unit, which was supposed to be trained by the Americans for years, and supposed to be one of the best units in the army, would withdraw from Ramadi in such a way." Al-Mutlaq -- a Sunni politician -- has long been a critic of Baghdad's Shiite-led governments, and most fiercely of Abadi's predecessor, former Premier Nouri al-Maliki.

War ensemble. The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq lit up dozens of armored vehicles, tanks, and artillery pieces in and around Ramadi over the weekend, destroying what we assume is millions of dollars worth of old American military equipment.

Iraqi forces left hundreds of U.S.-supplied vehicles behind when they “drove” out of Ramadi, but were not “driven out,” in the words of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey.

And now most of them are melted hunks of metal. On Friday, U.S. Central Command announced that airstrikes near Ramadi destroyed “five ISIL armored vehicles, two ISIL tanks, two ISIL vehicles, an ISIL armored personnel carrier...five abandoned tanks, two abandoned armored personnel carriers and two abandoned armored vehicles.”

Quite a haul, and note the emphasis on the word “abandoned.”

Sunday was even more intense, with airstrikes hitting an artillery piece and 15 armored vehicles. We’ve seen pictures of rows of U.S. Army surplus M113 infantry carriers that the Iraqis left behind, many of which -- Defense officials assured the press last week -- were allowed to lapse into such a state of disrepair as to be unusable.

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« Reply #618 on: May 26, 2015, 10:06:13 PM »

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/05/26/why-are-the-islamic-states-commanders-so-much-better-than-the-iraqi-army/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=*Editors%20Picks&utm_campaign=2014_EditorsPicksRS5%2F26
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