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The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR (Read 92778 times)
A nuclearized Middle East, armed to the teeth n the throes of a religious frenzy
Reply #600 on:
May 04, 2015, 10:30:57 AM »
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
and Carol E. Lee at
Stratfor: Why Sunni Unity is a Myth
Reply #601 on:
May 10, 2015, 10:16:32 AM »
Why Sunni Unity Is a Myth
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In Turkey, Saudi Arabia finds an unlikely partner against Syria
Reply #602 on:
May 10, 2015, 03:35:23 PM »
In Turkey, Saudi Arabia Finds an Unlikely Partner Against Syria
May 7, 2015 | 22:47 GMT
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.
Hezbollah vs. Al Nusra
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.
WSJ: Whoops! Syria still has chem weapons
Reply #604 on:
May 12, 2015, 11:57:44 PM »
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
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?
Copuld ISIS survive losing its leaders?
Reply #605 on:
May 14, 2015, 11:26:59 AM »
Could the Islamic State Survive Losing Its Leaders?
May 13, 2015 | 21:38 GMT
Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also known as Abu Alaa al-Afari, is a high-ranking Islamic State official. (U.S. State Department)
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.
Krauthammer analyzes Baraq's newest policy
Reply #606 on:
May 16, 2015, 02:08:14 AM »
US SF kill senior ISIS leader in Syria, capture wife
Reply #607 on:
May 16, 2015, 12:01:06 PM »
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
Updated May 16, 2015 12:29 p.m. ET
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.
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #608 on:
May 16, 2015, 05:54:54 PM »
Camp David and the U.S. Power of Choice in the Middle East
May 14, 2015 | 22:45 GMT
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.
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
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:
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #610 on:
May 17, 2015, 11:12:36 AM »
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
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.
Turkey arming jihadis in Syria?
Reply #612 on:
May 20, 2015, 03:55:43 PM »
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #613 on:
May 21, 2015, 10:56:26 AM »
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
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.
POTH: So much for ISIS being on the ropes
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.”
US backed ISIS in 2011-12?!?
Reply #616 on:
May 25, 2015, 01:49:11 AM »
FP; The fustercluck continues , , ,
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.
Why ISIS is better at winning than the Shia govt. of Baghdad
Reply #618 on:
May 26, 2015, 10:06:13 PM »
Numer of Humvees lost to ISIS in Mosul
Reply #619 on:
June 01, 2015, 12:23:56 PM »
Peshmerga begs for arms from Obama; situation desperate
Reply #620 on:
June 04, 2015, 12:28:17 PM »
Kurdish Peshmerga Say They Need Weapons After ISIS Seizes Iraqi Arsenal
Forces worry they cannot hold defensive lines
Lt. Jamal Derwish, pointing in center, commands the last outpost of Kurdish Peshmerga forces before Islamic-State controlled territory in Dabbis, Kirkuk province in Iraq. ENLARGE
Lt. Jamal Derwish, pointing in center, commands the last outpost of Kurdish Peshmerga forces before Islamic-State controlled territory in Dabbis, Kirkuk province in Iraq. Photo: Yaroslav Trofimov/The Wall Street Journal
June 4, 2015 7:06 a.m. ET
DABBIS, Iraq—Just before Islamic State territory begins, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have built a dirt wall across the road. But they don’t have much hope it would stop the militants’ favorite way of breaking front lines—armored trucks filled with explosives and driven by suicide bombers.
Lt. Jamal Derwish, the outpost’s commander, said his men already spotted three such armored vehicles in the area since Islamic State, or ISIS, overran the city of Ramadi last month and seized yet another arsenal of modern U.S.-made heavy weapons from the Iraqi army. Islamic State fighters, he said, have also filled trenches with oil to burn—something that would create a smokescreen to protect them from U.S. airstrikes.
“We’re facing a very serious threat. Without necessary weapons, this basic defensive line won’t be enough,” Lt. Derwish said shortly after his outpost came under Islamic State’s mortar fire. He held up an old rocket-propelled grenade, something that wouldn’t easily stop a massive armored truck barreling down the road.
“Right now, the only weapons we really have is this and the high morale of our Peshmerga,” he said.
The 160,000 Peshmerga—the troops of the autonomous Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq—may well be the most dedicated and combat-worthy units confronting Islamic State in Iraq. In a paradox of this conflict, they are also the least armed and equipped when compared with the Iraqi army, the Iranian-backed Shiite militias or, crucially, Islamic State itself. Peshmerga ammunition stocks are running low and whatever heavy weapons they have are mostly of Saddam Hussein-era vintage, commanders say.
While the Peshmerga also buckled under Islamic State’s rapid offensive last summer, they have since reconquered most lost territory and now are focused on holding the line. One of the most critical front lines is here near the Islamic State stronghold of Hawija, in the barren hill country punctuated by the burning gas wells of Kirkuk province. The area is home to a sizable chunk of the country’s oil wealth.
“If ISIS combines its forces and pushes into one area with multiple vehicles, they will break through—and then the whole line breaks,” warned Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a Kurdistan-based analyst for the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank.
Iraq’s Shiite-dominated central government—fearing that one day Kurdistan will seek independence from Baghdad—has long tried to limit arms transfers to the Kurdish Regional Government, which, not being a state, can’t legally buy weapons on its own. Because of budget disputes with Baghdad, which is supposed to share 17% of the entire country’s oil income with the Kurdish government, the Peshmerga also haven’t received their salaries for two months.
“Our enemy is very well-armed. The better weapons we get, the fewer sacrifices in lives we will have to make to resist it,” the Kurdish minister for Peshmerga affairs, Mustafa Sayid Qadir, said in an interview. “They target us with weapons that were abandoned in Ramadi. Wouldn’t it have been better if the Iraqi army had given them to us instead of giving them to ISIS?”
While Baghdad denied Kurdish requests for weapons in the past, the country’s current government led by Haider al-Abadi has authorized some U.S. shipments to the Peshmerga. They include 40 MRAP armored vehicles and some 1,000 AT-4 antitank systems, according to the Pentagon.
“Our policy remains that all arms transfers must be coordinated via the central sovereign government of Iraq,” said Pentagon spokeswoman U.S. Navy Cmd. Elissa Smith.
The most useful weapons supplied to the Peshmerga have come not from the U.S. but from allies such as Germany and France, Kurdish officials say. On top of their wish list: the German-supplied Milan guided antitank missiles with an effective range of 2,000 meters—a tool of choice against the suicide truck bombs often fashioned by Islamic State from American-made armored Humvees and MRAPs.
By contrast, the U.S.-supplied AT-4 has an effective range of only 300 meters. By the time it hits a large truck bomb, with its wide radius of destruction, it’s often too late, said Mr. Qadir.
“You are already within the range of the explosion,” he said.
Frontline commanders such as Lt. Derwish say they crave the Milans. However, there are only two such missile systems for 11 Peshmerga brigades along the 44-kilometer stretch of front line near Kirkuk. They are moved between outposts based on intelligence about imminent attacks, said the sector’s commander, Kemal Kirkuki, a former speaker of the Kurdistan regional parliament.
“Out of the two, one doesn’t even have night vision—which is problem considering that ISIS mostly attacks at night,” Mr. Kirkuki added.
Things aren’t better elsewhere. While exact numbers haven't been released, the U.S. military says coalition partners have supplied dozens of Milan launchers to the Peshmerga for a front line with Islamic State that stretches more than 1,000 kilometers .
“ISIS has very advanced weapons that it received from Iraqi army stores. If we do not receive help from our international partners, we may not be able to confront it,” said Lt. Col. Keifi Majid Abdulrahman, operations chief for the 108th Peshmerga brigade at the Hawija front line.
“ISIS is like a virus. It’s better to eliminate it today than let it grow tomorrow. We’d like to see our coalition partners pull up their sleeves and get serious.”
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #621 on:
June 05, 2015, 03:10:43 PM »
After losing much of the east to Islamic State and Kurdish rebels, the Syrian government could lose the north as Turkey and Qatar strengthen rebel forces there.
Iran will give Damascus the support needed to secure approaches to its strongholds in the capital and along the coast.
Russia will try to diversify its relationships in Syria as President Bashar al Assad's hold on power weakens, but it will not cut ties with the Alawite government.
Russia will try to use the Syrian government's vulnerabilities to shape a negotiation that will attract the United States' attention, but its efforts to craft a sustainable power-sharing agreement in Damascus will fail.
As al Assad's forces pull back to anchor themselves in Damascus and along the coast, the United States could increase the intensity of its air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria. However, it will lack a reliable ground force to complement the air campaign as regional players and rebels set their sights on al Assad.
A survey of the Syrian battlefield quickly reveals that the Syrian government is under enormous stress. Loyalist forces are clinging to the Alawite-concentrated coastal region and the core of Damascus as the approaches to both strongholds are looking more precarious. In the north, the rebels have all but taken Idlib province and are increasingly threatening the government's hold on Aleppo. In the critical central corridor, the rebels look set to advance on the government-held Hama from the north while the long-isolated rebel pocket north of Homs has become increasingly active. Furthermore, the rebels in Daraa and Quneitra continue to push up from the south toward Damascus. Meanwhile, the Islamic State is staging powerful attacks against government forces to the east of the Homs-Hama corridor after having consolidated its gains in the eastern desert.
It would be an exaggeration to say the government is cornered, but Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his troops are most certainly on the defensive and in danger of losing northern Syria. A confluence of more assertive external sponsorship, the distracting spread of Islamic State activity and a willingness among increasingly competent rebel factions to set aside their ideological differences and focus on the fight against al Assad have all led to the government's current predicament. Syrian Alawite and Hezbollah morale has plunged dramatically as momentum has risen among the rebels. In the coastal Alawite stronghold of Tartus, locals used to profess their loyalty for al Assad with the chant, "Al Assad, or we set the country on fire." Now, the proliferating mothers of the martyrs bitterly chant, "God willing, we will witness the funeral of your sons," in reference to the sons of the president.
Damascus Looks for Outside Support
In the government's time of need, it can only look to two key sources of external support: Iran and Russia. Iran understands the criticality of sustaining a friendly government in Damascus and a lifeline to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Financial aid from Iran still appears to be flowing into Syria, along with advisers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and various Shiite militia reinforcements who are deploying across the country to the front lines in Daraa, Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and more recently Idlib, where the government is preparing a counterattack. Retaking Idlib will be a critical step toward the government's goal of securing the coast, though its success is not assured.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah is sounding the alarm over a pocket of Jabhat al-Nusra militants in the outskirts of the Sunni town of Arsal in northeastern Lebanon, across from the Qalamoun Mountains. Hezbollah had previously flushed out these rebels to safeguard a corridor through Damascus and Homs to the Syrian coast. Hezbollah is steadily being drawn into more pressing battlefronts across Syria. At the same time, the organization is consolidating its hold on western Qalamoun by attempting to secure Zabadani while struggling to compel a weak, unmotivated and divided Lebanese army to extricate the politically delicate Arsal rebel pocket on Hezbollah's behalf. Unable to rely on the army to do the job, Hezbollah will carry out the Arsal operation, which will in turn raise the risk of sectarian violence in Lebanon.
Russia does not appear to be as willing as Iran and its proxies to make grand sacrifices for the Syrian government. In the past several days, Stratfor has received indications from Russian contacts in the region that Moscow's stance regarding Syria is changing and that Russia could withdraw, or at least start restricting, military support for the Syrian government. Iranians can compensate for a reduction in Russian technicians and planners in Syria, but a critical component of Russian support is the supply of spare parts to the Syrian air force. A Stratfor source signaled that the Kremlin believes the Syrian government's fight is futile and that it is time to start creating distance between itself and al Assad. An extensive report published May 31 in the Saudi-owned and anti-al Assad media outlet Asharq Al-Awsat elaborated on this sentiment. Citing its own sources, the report claimed Russia had withdrawn some 100 senior diplomatic and technical officials, many of whom worked at the main operations center in Damascus and were involved in conducting military strategy.
However, this is only part of the story. Russian leaders can see the battlefield as plainly as anyone else can. The Islamic State remains a formidable force and a powerful inspiration to Chechen jihadists that could wreak havoc back home in Russia. At the same time, radical Islamist fighters have spearheaded the major rebel push in the north while moderate forces struggle to maintain their relevance in the fight. In giving up on the government, Russia would be assuming that there are other actors to work with in preserving Russia's interests of maintaining a military foothold on the Mediterranean, some level of influence in the region's sectarian battlespace and the means to counterbalance jihadists who would carry their ambitions back to the northern Caucasus. At the moment, Russia has no such alternative.
Russia lacks the option to give up entirely on the Alawite government. But that does not mean Moscow will decline the chance to turn the Syrian conundrum into an opportunity when it comes to Russia's relationship with the United States. Washington can see the battlefield momentum lies with an array of radical Islamists who will demonize the United States along with the Syrian government. Though the United States is working more closely with regional players Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in selectively sponsoring Syrian rebel factions, it cannot effectively channel the direction of the fight against the Islamic State when that goal is competing with the aim of toppling Iran's ally in Damascus and strangling Hezbollah in Lebanon — a tantalizing prospect for the Sunni powers of the region.
Russia's Motivations in Syria
Just as Russia swooped in with an exit strategy for the United States in 2013 when it presented a plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons, it is now trying to draw the United States into a political settlement on Syria that will preserve an Alawite-heavy government, even if al Assad does not lead it. To that end, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who owns the Syria file in the Kremlin, has been trying to organize a Geneva conference that would include both Sunni regional players and Iran to work toward a power-sharing agreement.
The plan will not work, though. The Syrian civil war has devolved to a point where outside powers will have enormous difficulty in trying to impose a political reality on the deeply fractured country. Russia and Iran have some leverage with the Syrian government when it comes to drawing it toward a negotiation, but no one effectively speaks for the radical rebel factions that are most relevant on the battlefield. The United States and Russia may believe the fight is going too far in Syria, but there is little indication that the Turks, Qataris and Saudis are growing uncomfortable with its trajectory. On the contrary, their political designs for Syria are only now taking shape as the country's northern belt rapidly slips from Alawite hands. Though the region's Sunni powers do not have strong influence over Jabhat al-Nusra, it nonetheless will be important to see if Russia gets Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar to bring Islamist coalition Ahrar al-Sham to the negotiating table in the days and weeks ahead.
The Syrian government will double down on securing the approaches to its strongholds in Damascus and along the coast, holding out for an opportunity to thrust northward again toward Aleppo. Meanwhile, Turkey and Qatar will work on reinforcing the rebels' hold in the north while Saudi Arabia and Jordan continue to fuel the rebellion from the south. Russia will try to recast itself as a more neutral player in the conflict by spreading the message that it is distancing itself from the Syrian government while seeking out new partners. However, Moscow cannot afford to completely cut ties with the Alawites while it lacks a credible alternative. Moreover, a complete severing of ties between Moscow and the Syrian government would manifest in deep discord between Iran and Russia because Iran would be left alone to preserve the government in Damascus. So far, there are no signs that Iran is reacting to a fundamental shift in Russia's position on Syria.
The question, then, is how long the United States can remain in limbo, supporting nominally moderate rebel factions without actually controlling the direction of the insurgency. The United States' core interest in Syria is to contain the Islamic State, not to impose government change and be left with the messy aftermath of the transition. There is still room for the United States to significantly escalate its air campaign in Syria. If the Syrian government is forced to fall back to its core positions, abandoning most of the north and east, the United States will have to worry less about being perceived as providing air cover to government forces as its air campaign targets Islamic State positions. Stratfor will be watching for shifts in the U.S. military strategy in this direction. Still, any strategy to defeat the Islamic State on U.S. terms requires a reliable ground force to complement a heavier air campaign — a goal that remains elusive.
Directive 11: Obama's Secret Islamist Plan...
Reply #622 on:
June 08, 2015, 10:37:42 AM »
Directive 11: Obama’s Secret Islamist Plan
Posted By Daniel Greenfield On June 8, 2015
Behind the rise of ISIS, the Libyan Civil War, the unrest in Egypt, Yemen and across the region may be a single classified document.
That document is Presidential Study Directive 11.
You can download Presidential Study Directive 10 on “Preventing Mass Atrocities” from the White House website, but as of yet no one has been able to properly pry number 11 out of Obama Inc.
Presidential Study Directive 10, in which Obama asked for non-military options for stopping genocide, proved to be a miserable failure. The Atrocities Prevention Board’s only use was as a fig leaf for a policy that had caused the atrocities. And the cause of those atrocities is buried inside Directive 11.
With Obama’s typical use of technicalities to avoid transparency, Directive 11 was used to guide policy in the Middle East without being officially submitted. It is possible that it will never be submitted. And yet the Directive 11 group was described  as “just finishing its work” when the Arab Spring began.
That is certainly one way of looking at it.
Directive 11 brought together activists and operatives at multiple agencies to come up with a “tailored” approach for regime change in each country. The goal was to “manage” the political transitions. It tossed aside American national security interests by insisting that Islamist regimes would be equally committed to fighting terrorism and cooperating with Israel. Its greatest gymnastic feat may have been arguing that the best way to achieve political stability in the region was through regime change.
What little we know  about the resulting classified 18-page report is that it used euphemisms to call for aiding Islamist takeovers in parts of the Middle East. Four countries were targeted. Of those four, we only know for certain that Egypt and Yemen were on the list. But we do know for certain the outcome.
Egypt fell to the Muslim Brotherhood, which collaborated with Al Qaeda, Hamas and Iran, before being undone by a counterrevolution. Yemen is currently controlled by Iran’s Houthi terrorists and Al Qaeda.
According to a New York Times story, Obama’s Directive 11 agenda appeared to resemble Che or Castro as he “pressed his advisers to study popular uprisings in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia to determine which ones worked and which did not.”
The story also noted that he “is drawn to Indonesia, where he spent several years as a child, which ousted its longtime leader, Suharto, in 1998.”
The coup against Mubarak with its coordination of liberals, Islamists and the military did strongly resemble what happened in Indonesia. The most ominous similarity may be that the Muslim mobs in Indonesia targeted the Chinese, many of whom are Christians, while the Muslim mobs in Egypt targeted Coptic Christians.
Both were talented groups that were disproportionately successful because they lacked the traditional Islamic hostility to education, integrity and achievement. Islamist demagogues had succeeded in associating them with the regime and promoted attacks on them as part of the anti-regime protests.
Chinese stores were looted and thousands of Chinese women were raped by rampaging Muslims. Just as in Egypt, the protesters and their media allies spread the claim that these atrocities committed by Muslim protesters were the work of the regime’s secret police. That remains the official story today.
Suharto’s fall paved the way for the rise of the Prosperous Justice Party, which was founded a few months after his resignation and has become one of the largest parties in the Indonesian parliament. PJP was set up by the Muslim Brotherhood’s local arm in Indonesia.
His successor, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, was more explicitly Islamist than Suharto and his Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) conducted a campaign against Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. It helped purge non-Muslims from government while Islamizing the government and Indonesia’s key institutions.
Habibie had been the Chairman of ICMI and ICMI’s Islamists played a key role in moving Suharto out and moving him in. It was obvious why Obama would have considered the Islamization of Indonesia and the purge of Christians under the guise of democratic political change to be a fine example for Egypt.
While we don’t know the full contents of Directive 11 and unless a new administration decides to open the vaults of the old regime, we may never know. But we do know a good deal about the results.
In its own way, PSD-10 tells us something about PSD-11.
Obama’s insistence that human rights be made a core national security interest paved the way for political and military interventions on behalf of Islamists. Obama had never been interested in human rights; his record of pandering to the world’s worst genocide plotters and perpetrators from Iran to Turkey to Sudan made that clear. When he said “human rights”, Obama really meant “Islamist power”.
That was why Obama refused to intervene when the Muslim Brotherhood conducted real genocide in Sudan, but did interfere in Libya on behalf of the Brotherhood using a phony claim of genocide.
Positioning Samantha Power in the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council was part of the process that made over the NSC from national security to servicing a progressive wish list of Islamist terrorist groups that were to be transformed into national governments.
Power, along with Gayle Smith and Dennis Ross, led the Directive 11 project.
Secret proceedings were used to spawn regime change infrastructure. Some of these tools had official names, such as “The Office of The Special Coordinator For Middle East Transitions” which currently reports directly to former ambassador Anne Patterson who told Coptic Christians not to protest against Morsi. After being driven out of the country by angry mobs over her support for the Muslim Brotherhood tyranny, she was promoted to Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.
“The Office” is still focused on “outreach to emergent political, economic and social forces in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya” even though counterrevolutions have pushed out Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia, while Libya is in the middle of a bloody civil war in which an alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda controls the nation’s capital.
But even as Morsi’s abuses of power were driving outraged Egyptians into the streets, Gayle Smith , one of the three leaders of Directive 11, reached out to the “International Union of Muslim Scholars ”, a Muslim Brotherhood group that supported terrorism against American soldiers  in Iraq and which was now looking for American support for its Islamist terrorist brigades in the Syrian Civil War.
The men and women responsible for Directive 11 were making it clear that they had learned nothing.
Directive 11 ended up giving us the Islamic State through its Arab Spring. PSD-11’s twisted claim that regional stability could only be achieved through Islamist regime change tore apart the region and turned it into a playground for terrorists. ISIS is simply the biggest and toughest of the terror groups that were able to thrive in the environment of violent civil wars created by Obama’s Directive 11.
During the Arab Spring protests, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit had told Hillary Clinton that his government could not hand over power to the Muslim Brotherhood. “My daughter gets to go out at night. And, God damn it, I’m not going to turn this country over to people who will turn back the clock on her rights.”
But that was exactly what Hillary Clinton and Obama were after. And they got it. Countless women were raped in Egypt. Beyond Egypt, Hillary and Obama’s policy saw Yazidi women actually sold into slavery.
Directive 11 codified the left’s dirty alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood into our foreign policy. Its support for Islamist takeovers paved the way for riots and civil wars culminating in the violence that birthed ISIS and covered the region in blood.
And it remains secret to this day.
"You have enemies? Good. That means that you have stood up for something, sometime in your life." - Winston Churchill.
ISIS in Mosul
Reply #623 on:
June 10, 2015, 10:47:56 AM »
Iraqi City of Mosul Transformed a Year After Islamic State Capture
Beneath a veneer of order, residents live in fear
Updated June 9, 2015 7:49 p.m. ET
BAGHDAD—In Islamic State’s stronghold of Mosul, the extremist group is working day and night to repair roads, manicure gardens and refurbish hotels. Iraq’s second-largest city has never looked so good thanks to strict laws enforced by the Sunni militants.
But beneath that veneer, the group metes out deadly punishments to those who don’t comply with a long list of prohibitions imposed over the year since it took control of Mosul on June 10, 2014, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former city residents, refugees and Iraqi officials.
Gone are the illegal kiosks that crowded sidewalks and the tangled web of electrical wires once connecting rooftops. New lamps light up streets unusually clear of cigarette butts.
“I have not in 30 years seen Mosul this clean, its streets and markets this orderly,” said Omar, a resident. He said Islamic State has shown an unusual focus on civil works in recent weeks, which he and others described as part of efforts to win popular support.
A luxury hotel stamped with Islamic State logos. Rifle-wielding fighters chaperoning kids at an amusement park. Such is life through the lens of ISIS propaganda in the besieged Iraqi city of Mosul.
Mosul and its population are changed in other ways, too. Gone are the iconic shrines and mosques that towered over the city center. The radical fighters blew many of them up because they believe the veneration of shrines is unholy.
Ancient churches host garage sales where Islamic State members sell war booty or display wares available to members only. The native Christian population, a minority in the Sunni-majority city once peppered with other religious and ethnic groups, was driven out last year under threat of death.
When women step outside, they are fully cloaked with their faces covered. Men have grown mandatory beards.
Islamic State has gone unchallenged because residents from Iraq’s aggrieved Sunni minority are too scared of a military campaign that could bring massive destruction and an uncertain future under the Shiite-led government and allied forces who would retake the city, said current and former residents. Such is the dissonance of life for the more than one million people in the most populous city controlled by Islamic State across the territories it holds in Iraq and Syria. In the past year, the group has tightened its grip on Mosul mostly uncontested, building out its administrative and security apparatus. It has cut the city off from the rest of Iraq and the world beyond by shutting off cellphone towers and the Internet. A year after Mosul fell, Islamic State’s grip on the city stands as its biggest strategic and symbolic victory.
The campaign to retake Mosul is a linchpin of the U.S.-led coalition’s military strategy against Islamic State. But plans for the counteroffensive have been delayed—something the militants appear to be capitalizing on to persuade the population they are better off under the group’s control.
“Islamic State is doing everything to keep Mosul. It’s the capital of their caliphate here,” said Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to the president of the semiautonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, which borders Mosul. “It will be a disaster if it stays in their hands.”
Airstrikes have hammered areas around the northern city since a U.S.-led air campaign began in August. This year, Kurdish forces backed by the U.S.-led air attacks cut off a key Islamic State supply line from Syria into the city and now surround it from the east, west and north. The plans for a counteroffensive have been put off because Iraq and the U.S. have shifted their priority to driving Islamic State out of Anbar province and its capital Ramadi, which are closer to the capital Baghdad. Mosul is still almost fully inhabited—a contrast to cities where Iraqi and coalition forces have pushed Islamic State out. U.S. officials say it has about a million residents. Iraqi officials say the population is closer to 1.5 million, including people displaced from Tikrit and Beiji.
“Every prisoner in this oppressed city wants salvation from Daesh and a return to normal life,” said Omar, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “But everyone agrees if liberation happens like in Tikrit and Anbar, with destruction and barrel bombs, random shelling and looting, we do not want that kind of liberation.”
Another Mosul resident echoed that sentiment, showing how reports of looting and abuses by Shiite militias in Tikrit weigh heavily in the minds of residents, even though many of those accounts were exaggerated. The second resident said even Iraqi soldiers may be still unwelcome in an offensive.
“The best way to get rid of Daesh is to negotiate with them to leave to Syria,” he said. That seemingly unrealistic proposition reflects a desperation to find a local solution amid deep suspicions and fear of the Iraqi army and its Shiite militia allies.
In the early months of Islamic State rule, some Mosul residents said they thought the new regime was one they could live with, current and former residents said.
“Daesh managed in a short time to create a strong security organization similar, if not stronger, in order and harshness to that of the Saddam Hussein regime,” said Omar. “It governs people and runs life well like this.”
Food staples became more plentiful and cheaper because Islamic State flooded the market with their own products grown in Syria, though the cost of fuel and diesel—monopolized by the group—shot up.
Many stores shut down and local trade came to a halt. As Islamic State filled the ranks of a new security and police force and nearly all other public jobs with its members, thousands of people were left unemployed and idle. Islamic courts and a system of punishments became increasingly severe.
Doctors, judges, and professors who defied or questioned Islamic State laws have been executed, sometimes by public stoning or crucifixion. Prisons are filled with people awaiting their sentences from the Islamic court.
“Nearly no one gets out alive,” one of the residents said.
Then came the attacks on minorities.
“There are many things we do not consider Islamic at all, like the way Christians were treated,” said a female doctor from Mosul who is pious and veiled. “All of Mosul does not accept what has happened to the Christians,” said the woman, who now lives in the northern city of Kirkuk. The group’s attack on minorities “was a major mistake that cost them our support,” she added.
At the markets, lists of prohibited items and imports began to grow. Within months, restrictions that were a simple annoyance became hallmarks of Islamic State’s excessive and extreme rule. A 52-year old woman displaced from Mosul, now living on the outskirts of Baghdad, recalled getting a puzzled call from her daughter in Mosul late last year. The daughter complained that frozen chicken was banned because of possible additives that are prohibited.
“The cigarette ban was absolutely the biggest problem,” a current resident said. The ban has spurred an expensive underground trade in tobacco.
In November, Islamic State instituted an exit law from Mosul barring travel outside the city except in the case of a medical emergency, or to claim retirement benefits in Baghdad. In both cases, the request must be approved by a special court and requires a security deposit—including handing over a car—to ensure the person returns. Last month, fighters dug a deep trench around the city, adding to the feeling of many Mosul residents that they are trapped.
—Ali A. Nabhan and Ghassan Adnan contributed to this article.
Write to Nour Malas at
Stratfor Assessment in The Middle East
Reply #624 on:
June 10, 2015, 06:46:44 PM »
A Net Assessment of the Middle East
June 9, 2015 | 07:59 GMT
By George Friedman
The term "Middle East" has become enormously elastic. The name originated with the British Foreign Office in the 19th century. The British divided the region into the Near East, the area closest to the United Kingdom and most of North Africa; the Far East, which was east of British India; and the Middle East, which was between British India and the Near East. It was a useful model for organizing the British Foreign Office and important for the region as well, since the British — and to a lesser extent the French — defined not only the names of the region but also the states that emerged in the Near and Far East.
Today, the term Middle East, to the extent that it means anything, refers to the Muslim-dominated countries west of Afghanistan and along the North African shore. With the exception of Turkey and Iran, the region is predominantly Arab and predominantly Muslim. Within this region, the British created political entities that were modeled on European nation-states. The British shaped the Arabian Peninsula, which had been inhabited by tribes forming complex coalitions, into Saudi Arabia, a state based on one of these tribes, the Sauds. The British also created Iraq and crafted Egypt into a united monarchy. Quite independent of the British, Turkey and Iran shaped themselves into secular nation-states.
This defined the two fault lines of the Middle East. The first was between European secularism and Islam. The Cold War, when the Soviets involved themselves deeply in the region, accelerated the formation of this fault line. One part of the region was secular, socialist and built around the military. Another part, particularly focused on the Arabian Peninsula, was Islamist, traditionalist and royalist. The latter was pro-Western in general, and the former — particularly the Arab parts — was pro-Soviet. It was more complex than this, of course, but this distinction gives us a reasonable framework.
The second fault line was between the states that had been created and the underlying reality of the region. The states in Europe generally conformed to the definition of nations in the 20th century. The states created by the Europeans in the Middle East did not. There was something at a lower level and at a higher level. At the lower level were the tribes, clans and ethnic groups that not only made up the invented states but also were divided by the borders. The higher level was broad religious loyalties to Islam and to the major movements of Islam, Shiism and Suniism that laid a transnational claim on loyalty. Add to this the pan-Arab movement initiated by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who argued that the Arab states should be united into a single Arab nation.
Any understanding of the Middle East must therefore begin with the creation of a new political geography after World War I that was superimposed on very different social and political realities and was an attempt to limit the authority of broader regional and ethnic groups. The solution that many states followed was to embrace secularism or traditionalism and use them as tools to manage both the subnational groupings and the claims of the broader religiosity. One unifying point was Israel, which all opposed. But even here it was more illusion than reality. The secular socialist states, such as Egypt and Syria, actively opposed Israel. The traditional royalist states, which were threatened by the secular socialists, saw an ally in Israel.
Aftershocks From the Soviet Collapse
Following the fall of the Soviet Union and the resulting collapse of support for the secular socialist states, the power of the traditional royalties surged. This was not simply a question of money, although these states did have money. It was also a question of values. The socialist secularist movement lost its backing and its credibility. Movements such as Fatah, based on socialist secularism — and Soviet support — lost power relative to emerging groups that embraced the only ideology left: Islam. There were tremendous cross currents in this process, but one of the things to remember was that many of the socialist secular states that had begun with great promise continued to survive, albeit without the power of a promise of a new world. Rulers like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Syria's Bashar al Assad and Iraq's Saddam Hussein remained in place. Where the movement had once held promise even if its leaders were corrupt, after the Soviet Union fell, the movement was simply corrupt.
The collapse of the Soviet Union energized Islam, both because the mujahideen defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan and because the alternative to Islam was left in tatters. Moreover, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait took place in parallel with the last days of the Soviet Union. Both countries are remnants of British diplomacy. The United States, having inherited the British role in the region, intervened to protect another British invention — Saudi Arabia — and to liberate Kuwait from Iraq. From the Western standpoint, this was necessary to stabilize the region. If a regional hegemon emerged and went unchallenged, the consequences could pyramid. Desert Storm appeared to be a simple and logical operation combining the anti-Soviet coalition with Arab countries.
The experience of defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan and the secular regimes' loss of legitimacy opened the door to two processes. In one, the subnational groupings in the region came to see the existing regimes as powerful but illegitimate. In the other, the events in Afghanistan brought the idea of a pan-Islamic resurrection back to the fore. And in the Sunni world, which won the war in Afghanistan, the dynamism of Shiite Iran — which had usurped the position of politico-military spokesman for radical Islam — made the impetus for action clear.
There were three problems. First, the radicals needed to cast pan-Islamism in a historical context. The context was the transnational caliphate, a single political entity that would abolish existing states and align political reality with Islam. The radicals reached back to the Christian Crusades for historical context, and the United States — seen as the major Christian power after its crusade in Kuwait — became the target. Second, the pan-Islamists needed to demonstrate that the United States was both vulnerable and the enemy of Islam. Third, they had to use the subnational groups in various countries to build coalitions to overthrow what were seen as corrupt Muslim regimes, in both the secular and the traditionalist worlds.
The result was al Qaeda and its campaign to force the United States to launch a crusade in the Islamic world. Al Qaeda wanted to do this by carrying out actions that demonstrated American vulnerability and compelled U.S. action. If the United States did not act, it would enhance the image of American weakness; if it did act, it would demonstrate it was a crusader hostile to Islam. U.S. action would, in turn, spark uprisings against corrupt and hypocritical Muslim states, sweep aside European-imposed borders and set the stage for uprisings. The key was to demonstrate the weakness of the regimes and their complicity with the Americans.
This led to 9/11. In the short run, it appeared that the operation had failed. The United States reacted massively to the attacks, but no uprising occurred in the region, no regimes were toppled, and many Muslim regimes collaborated with the Americans. During this time, the Americans were able to wage an aggressive war against al Qaeda and its Taliban allies. In this first phase, the United States succeeded. But in the second phase, the United States, in its desire to reshape Iraq and Afghanistan — and other countries — internally, became caught up in the subnational conflicts. The Americans got involved in creating tactical solutions rather than confronting the strategic problem, which was that waging the war was causing national institutions in the region to collapse.
In destroying al Qaeda, the Americans created a bigger problem in three parts: First, they unleashed the subnational groups. Second, where they fought they created a vacuum that they couldn't fill. Finally, in weakening the governments and empowering the subnational groups, they made a compelling argument for the caliphate as the only institution that could govern the Muslim world effectively and the only basis for resisting the United States and its allies. In other words, where al Qaeda failed to trigger a rising against corrupt governments, the United States managed to destroy or compromise a range of the same governments, opening the door to transnational Islam.
The Arab Spring was mistaken for a liberal democratic rising like 1989 in Eastern Europe. More than anything else, it was a rising by a pan-Islamic movement that largely failed to topple regimes and embroiled one, Syria, in a prolonged civil war. That conflict has a subnational component — various factions divided against each other that give the al Qaeda-derived Islamic State room to maneuver. It also provided a second impetus to the ideal of a caliphate. Not only were the pan-Islamists struggling against the American crusader, but they were fighting Shiite heretics — in service of the Sunni caliphate — as well. The Islamic State put into place the outcome that al Qaeda wanted in 2001, nearly 15 years later and, in addition to Syria and Iraq, with movements capable of sustained combat in other Islamic countries.
A New U.S. Strategy and Its Repercussions
Around this time, the United States was forced to change strategy. The Americans were capable of disrupting al Qaeda and destroying the Iraqi army. But the U.S. ability to occupy and pacify Iraq or Afghanistan was limited. The very factionalism that made it possible to achieve the first two goals made pacification impossible. Working with one group alienated another in an ongoing balancing act that left U.S. forces vulnerable to some faction motivated to wage war because of U.S. support for another. In Syria, where the secular government was confronting a range of secular and religious but not extremist forces, along with an emerging Islamic State, the Americans were unable to meld the factionalized non-Islamic State forces into a strategically effective force. Moreover, the United States could not make its peace with the al Assad government because of its repressive policies, and it was unable to confront the Islamic State with the forces available.
In a way, the center of the Middle East had been hollowed out and turned into a whirlpool of competing forces. Between the Lebanese and Iranian borders, the region had uncovered two things: First, it showed that the subnational forces were the actual reality of the region. Second, in obliterating the Syria-Iraq border, these forces and particularly the Islamic State had created a core element of the caliphate — a transnational power or, more precisely, one that transcended borders.
The American strategy became an infinitely more complex variation of President Ronald Reagan's policy in the 1980s: Allow the warring forces to war. The Islamic State turned the fight into a war on Shiite heresy and on established nation states. The region is surrounded by four major powers: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey. Each has approached the situation differently. Each of these nations has internal factions, but each state has been able to act in spite of that. Put differently, three of them are non-Arab powers, and the one Arab power, Saudi Arabia, is perhaps the most concerned about internal threats.
For Iran, the danger of the Islamic State is that it would recreate an effective government in Baghdad that could threaten Iran again. Thus, Tehran has maintained support for the Iraqi Shiites and for the al Assad government, while trying to limit al Assad's power.
For Saudi Arabia, which has aligned with Sunni radical forces in the past, the Islamic State represents an existential threat. Its call for a transnational Islamic movement has the potential to resonate with Saudis from the Wahhabi tradition. The Saudis, along with some other Gulf Cooperation Council members and Jordan, are afraid of Islamic State transnationalism but also of Shiite power in Iraq and Syria. Riyadh needs to contain the Islamic State without conceding the ground to the Shiites.
For the Israelis, the situation has been simultaneously outstanding and terrifying. It has been outstanding because it has pitted Israel's enemies against each other. Al Assad's government has in the past supported Hezbollah against Israel. The Islamic State represents a long-term threat to Israel. So long as they fought, Israel's security would be enhanced. The problem is that in the end someone will win in Syria, and that force might be more dangerous than anything before it, particularly if the Islamic State ideology spreads to Palestine. Ultimately, al Assad is less dangerous than the Islamic State, which shows how bad the Israeli choice is in the long run.
It is the Turks — or at least the Turkish government that suffered a setback in the recently concluded parliamentary elections — who are the most difficult to understand. They are hostile to the al Assad government — so much so that they see the Islamic State as less of a threat. There are two ways to explain their view: One is that they expect the Islamic State to be defeated by the United States in the end and that involvement in Syria would stress the Turkish political system. The other is that they might be less averse than others in the region to the Islamic State's winning. While the Turkish government has vigorously denied such charges, rumors of support to at least some factions of the Islamic State have persisted, suspicions in Western capitals linger, and alleged shipments of weaponry to unknown parties in Syria by the Turkish intelligence organization were a dominant theme in Turkey's elections. This is incomprehensible, unless the Turks see the Islamic State as a movement that they can control in the end and that is paving the way for Turkish power in the region — or unless the Turks believe that a direct confrontation would lead to a backlash from the Islamic State in Turkey itself.
The Islamic State's Role in the Region
The Islamic State represents a logical continuation of al Qaeda, which triggered both a sense of Islamic power and shaped the United States into a threat to Islam. The Islamic State created a military and political framework to exploit the situation al Qaeda created. Its military operations have been impressive, ranging from the seizure of Mosul to the taking of Ramadi and Palmyra. Islamic State fighters' flexibility on the battlefield and ability to supply large numbers of forces in combat raises the question of where they got the resources and the training.
However, the bulk of Islamic State fighters are still trapped within their cauldron, surrounded by three hostile powers and an enigma. The hostile powers collaborate, but they also compete. The Israelis and the Saudis are talking. This is not new, but for both sides there is an urgency that wasn't there in the past. The Iranian nuclear program is less important to the Americans than collaboration with Iran against the Islamic State. And the Saudis and other Gulf countries have forged an air capability used in Yemen that might be used elsewhere if needed.
It is likely that the cauldron will hold, so long as the Saudis are able to sustain their internal political stability. But the Islamic State has already spread beyond the cauldron — operating in Libya, for example. Many assume that these forces are Islamic State in name only — franchises, if you will. But the Islamic State does not behave like al Qaeda. It explicitly wants to create a caliphate, and that wish should not be dismissed. At the very least, it is operating with the kind of centralized command and control, on the strategic level, that makes it far more effective than other non-state forces we have seen.
Secularism in the Muslim world appears to be in terminal retreat. The two levels of struggle within that world are, at the top, Sunni versus Shiite, and at the base, complex and interacting factions. The Western world accepted domination of the region from the Ottomans and exercised it for almost a century. Now, the leading Western power lacks the force to pacify the Islamic world. Pacifying a billion people is beyond anyone's capability. The Islamic State has taken al Qaeda's ideology and is attempting to institutionalize it. The surrounding nations have limited options and a limited desire to collaborate. The global power lacks the resources to both defeat the Islamic State and control the insurgency that would follow. Other nations, such as Russia, are alarmed by the Islamic State's spread among their own Muslim populations.
It is interesting to note that the fall of the Soviet Union set in motion the events we are seeing here. It is also interesting to note that the apparent defeat of al Qaeda opened the door for its logical successor, the Islamic State. The question at hand, then, is whether the four regional powers can and want to control the Islamic State. And at the heart of that question is the mystery of what Turkey has in mind, particularly as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's power appears to be declining.
Go Kurds go!
Reply #625 on:
June 16, 2015, 06:23:59 PM »
Ayla Albayrak And
Updated June 16, 2015 4:26 p.m. ET
AKCAKALE, Turkey—A quick and successful offensive by Kurdish fighters and allied rebels in a northern Syrian town has boosted a U.S.-backed effort to choke off Islamic State’s supply routes.
Emboldened by this week’s recapture of Tal Abyad on the Turkish border, Syrian Kurdish fighters and allied rebels said their next target is Raqqa, Islamic State’s main stronghold about 50 miles south of Tal Abyad. On Monday, these fighters said they had already begun to advance southward toward Raqqa, reaching the town of Ain Issa, only about 30 miles away.
“Now that we have just completed clearing Tal Abyad and the surrounding villages, we will move to liberate Raqqa in the near future. It’s our mission,” said Shervan Darweesh, a spokesman for rebel groups allied with the Syrian Kurdish militia known as YPG.
The YPG’s political affiliate, the Democratic Union Party or PYD, has ruled the three Kurdish-majority enclaves along the Turkish border in northern Syria since regime forces withdrew from the area in 2012.
The latest advance came amid stepped-up U.S. airstrikes in the region around Raqqa, Kurdish and Syrian fighters said. The U.S. carried out 23 airstrikes near Raqqa over the past two weeks, according to the U.S. military’s Central Command. That was more than double the number in the same area in all of May.
Tal Abyad’s capture is an important milestone for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State from the air in northern Syria and its allies on the ground. It is part of efforts to cut off the group’s supply lines not just to the city of Raqqa but into neighboring Iraq, where the coalition has struggled to stem recent gains by Islamic State.
The advance recalled a similar battle six months ago in the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, where U.S. airstrikes helped YPG and a smaller alliance of Syrian rebels seize the town. However, it was a much longer and bloodier fight that lasted about four months.
On Tuesday, fighters were clearing mines and booby-traps in the Tal Abyad area, Mr. Darweesh said.
Abdulrahman al-Salih, a spokesman for one of the non-Kurdish Syrian rebel groups in the alliance, the Raqqa Revolutionaries, said Islamic State, also known as ISIS, retreated from Tal Abyad on Monday after very little fighting.
He said the YPG-rebel coalition surrounded the town starting Sunday, while airstrikes “prevented ISIS from sending any resupply convoys from Raqqa.”
The offensive cut an important supply line for Islamic State across the porous Turkish border nearby.
Mr. Salih said that most Islamic State fighters withdrew south to Raqqa, or handed themselves over to Turkish forces policing the border. Turkish officials also said at least two Islamic State members had been detained after handing themselves over.
The Islamic State rout followed recent gains by the group that suggested efforts to contain the extremist group were failing. Last month, the militants captured Palmyra, the central Syrian town with a trove of ancient ruins, and Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s largest province.
Thousands of people fled in recent days as they anticipated a violent offensive, swarming Turkey’s border and cutting holes through a fence to get through when officials briefly closed the crossing. More than 23,000 Syrians have fled into Turkey since early June, mostly fleeing the Tal Abyad offensive, Turkish and United Nations officials said.
—Mohammad Nour Alakraa and Dana Ballout in Beirut contributed to this article.
Write to Ayla Albayrak at
and Dana Ballout at
Popular on WSJ
US and Iran sharing a base in Iraq
Reply #626 on:
June 24, 2015, 08:17:19 PM »
Re: US and Iran sharing a base in Iraq
Reply #627 on:
June 24, 2015, 08:22:59 PM »
Quote from: Crafty_Dog on June 24, 2015, 08:17:19 PM
I thought Obama ended all the wars?
I was told if I voted for Romney, the middle East would descend into chaos....
They were right!
WSJ: To many Iraqis, US isn't really trying to defeat ISIS
Reply #628 on:
June 26, 2015, 10:20:34 PM »
To Many Iraqis, U.S. Isn’t Really Seeking to Defeat Islamic State
American military response is criticized as too weak
By Yaroslav Trofimov
Updated June 25, 2015 5:13 p.m. ET
BAGHDAD—In a tent city under a highway overpass in Baghdad, refugees from Iraq’s Sunni province of Anbar were unanimous about whom to blame for their misery.
“I hold Americans responsible for destroying Anbar,” said former policeman Wassem Khaled, whose home was taken over by Islamic State, or ISIS, after the Iraqi army fled from Anbar’s provincial capital of Ramadi last month.
“We all know that America is providing ISIS with weapons and food, and that it is because of American backing that they have become so strong,” added Abbas Hashem, a 50-year-old who also escaped from Ramadi and now lives in the makeshift Baghdad camp that is only occasionally supplied with water.
Such conspiracy theories about America’s support for Islamic State are outlandish, no doubt. But they are so widespread that they now represent a political reality with real-world consequences—making it harder for the U.S. and allies to cobble together Iraqi forces that could regain the country’s Sunni heartland from Islamic State’s murderous rule one day.
Above all, these beliefs stem from the U.S.-led coalition’s inability to reverse Islamic State’s momentum in Iraq despite nearly 10 months of bombing. In contrast, local residents learned the hard way in past conflicts what the full force of U.S. military might looks like.
Ryan Crocker, who served as American ambassador to Baghdad in 2007-2009 when the U.S. tamped down the insurgency in Anbar by wooing and arming local Sunni tribes, said he’s not surprised by Iraqis’ growing frustration.
“It is a pervasive view throughout Iraq and throughout the region that we are simply disengaged, that we are not prepared to exercise the kind of weight that might actually make a difference,” said Mr. Crocker, now dean of the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University.
“And in the case of Iraq and Anbar, we are dealing with individuals, groups and tribes that remember a very different U.S. engagement. They know it, they lived it, and now the level of bitterness and mistrust is profound,” he said.
This spreading perception that the U.S. isn’t really interested in defeating Islamic State has undermined local resistance to the militant group in Anbar in recent months. It represents a major obstacle to recruiting local Sunni tribes—one of the U.S. strategies in the war—provincial leaders say.
“If you want to help someone, do it with strength to achieve results, not with drip-drip-drip as if you expect them to die anyway,” said Sabah Karhout, chairman of the Anbar provincial council. “The Americans are playing a very shy role—and if this American support had not been so shy, the Sunni tribes would not have gone over to the side of ISIS.”
U.S. officials deny that Washington somehow lacks commitment to routing Islamic State, which is also known in the region as Daesh.
“We could not be more clear in the purpose of the coalition campaign—the mission is to defeat Daesh,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley, chief of staff of the U.S.-led coalition task force against Islamic State. He said the U.S. bombing has had a “devastating” effect on the militant group, forcing fighters to move in small groups and civilian vehicles, and decimating its manpower.
That optimistic message, however, usually falls on deaf ears in Iraq—where the stubborn belief that the U.S. doesn’t really seek a victory against Islamic State has become one of the few things that still unites the country’s feuding Sunni and Shiite communities.
“We don’t have any trust in Americans anymore,” said Alia Nusseif, a prominent Shiite lawmaker from Baghdad. “We now think ISIS is being used as a tool by America to divide and weaken Iraq.”
Mowaffak Rubaie, Iraq’s national security adviser from 2004-2009 and another prominent Shiite lawmaker, added that—while he doesn’t personally subscribe to conspiracies—he understands why so many Iraqis believe in them.
“The Americans let down the people of Anbar,” Mr. Rubaie said. “But it’s not only the people of Anbar that are suspicious of the intentions of the Americans.”
After the fall of Ramadi, President Barack Obama sent 450 more U.S. troops to Iraq, largely to train Sunni fighters at a base in Anbar, adding to some 3,000 already in the country.
Mr Obama has listed his 2011 decision to withdraw all American troops from Iraq as one of his presidency’s main achievements, and he is loath to put American forces in harm’s way again—especially as Iraq’s own army has shown little will to fight.
In line with that stance, U.S. forces sent back to Iraq after Islamic State’s rise last year aren’t allowed to advise Iraqi units on the front lines or to serve as forward spotters who provide targeting for the air campaign. Partially as a result, the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq averaged 14 strikes per day since the operation began Aug. 8. The garrison in Ramadi had virtually no air support during last month’s Islamic State assault.
There were 953 strikes per day in the 1991 Desert Storm, and 641 strikes per day in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to the U.S. military.
U.S. military officials argue that the current operation against Islamic State can’t be compared to the wars of 1991 and 2003 because the U.S. isn’t fighting against a country with fixed installations and because precision weapons account for more than 99% of airstrikes today.
The U.S.-led coalition’s spokesman, Col. Wayne Marotto, said the current air campaign against Islamic State most closely resembles the 2004-2011 air operations against Iraqi insurgents, which averaged less than one strike a day.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who oversaw the 1991 Desert Storm bombing campaign and headed air operations during the 2001 ouster of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, disagreed.
“Islamic State is a state. It is not an insurgency. It has a leadership element, it has command and control, established lines of communications that can be halted and interdicted,” said Mr. Deptula, now dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies, a think-tank of the American Air Force Association. “Imagine just how crushing the similar kind of air operation would be if we increase its magnitude.”
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at
Stratfor: The jihadist trap of here and now.
Reply #629 on:
June 28, 2015, 02:48:17 PM »
The Jihadist Trap of Here and Now
June 25, 2015 | 06:00 GMT
By Scott Stewart
In recent weeks, I have found myself spending a lot of time thinking about the jihadist strategy of al Qaeda and how it compares to that of the Islamic State. Earlier this month, I wrote about the possibility that the al Qaeda brand of jihadism could outlast that of the Islamic State. Last week, I wrote about how ideologies are harder to kill than individuals, focusing on the effect that the death of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasir al-Wahayshi will have on the group and the wider global jihadist movement.
But beyond the impact of leaders like al-Wahayshi, there are other facets of strategy that will influence the war for the soul of jihadism. Specifically, I am talking about time and place. Both al Qaeda and the Islamic State seek to establish a global caliphate, but both differ quite starkly in how to accomplish this task and how soon it can be achieved.
Al Qaeda argues that the caliphate can be established only after the United States and its European allies have been defeated, to the extent that they can no longer interfere in Muslim lands — either because of a lack of ability or a lack of desire. The organization pursues a long-war approach that emphasizes the need to attack the United States, "the far enemy," before focusing on overthrowing local governments. The Islamic State takes the opposite tack. It has adopted a more urgent "why wait?" approach and concentrates its efforts on immediately taking, holding and governing territory. This strategy banks on being able to use any conquered territory and resources for the purposes of continued expansion. The direct approach explains the Islamic State's decision to quickly proclaim a caliphate at the beginning of Ramadan last year, after it had captured a large portion of Iraq and Syria. The group's message to the Muslim world is that the caliphate is here and now, and there is nothing the world can do to stop its inexorable expansion.
Since the fall of the Taliban's emirate in Afghanistan, several jihadist organizations have attempted to create Islamist polities, with the current attempt by the Islamic State (the organization's second try) being the most recent. So far, each of these attempts has ended in a spectacular failure and in each case, including the Taliban's emirate, western military intervention has played a key role in the downfall of the jihadist polity — and it will do so again in the case of the Islamic State's so-called caliphate.
In 2006, an array of jihadist groups led by al Qaeda in Iraq announced that they were forming an Islamic state in Iraq. They even began to refer to themselves as the Islamic State in Iraq. While the group initially eclipsed the al Qaeda core in terms of attracting foreign fighters, outside funding and publicity, the U.S. surge in Iraq and the Anbar Awakening greatly weakened the group. By 2010, when a U.S. airstrike killed Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri — the group's top two leaders — the organization had become only a shadow of its former self. The 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the sectarian policies of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government allowed the group to survive, and the civil war in Syria helped the organization recover its strength and grow into what it is today.
In 2011, as Yemen was struggling through a crisis that pitted elements of the military against each other, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula seized the opportunity afforded by the chaos to grab large quantities of weapons, while also extending its influence over large areas of territory in Yemen's south. However, by mid-2012, Yemeni forces aided by U.S. intelligence and training (and some air support) were able to recapture most of the territory taken by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
A unique window into the thoughts of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula during this period was revealed with the discovery of letters sent by al-Wahayshi to Abu Musab Abdel al-Wadoud, the leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. In the letters, which journalist Rukmini Callimachi discovered in the Malian city of Timbuktu, al-Wahayshi shared some of the lessons he learned — and mistakes his organization had made — so that al-Wadoud and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb would not repeat them.
According to one of al-Wahayshi's letters, his group suffered significant losses of men, materiel and money in 2012, far surpassing what they had gained in 2011. The group's higher profile and level of operational activity also resulted in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula losing a number of important members to U.S. airstrikes, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan.
In another of the letters, al-Wahayshi explained why his group purposefully did not proclaim an emirate in southern Yemen: "As soon as we took control of the areas, we were advised by the General Command here not to declare the establishment of an Islamic principality, or state, for a number of reasons: We wouldn't be able to treat people on the basis of a state since we would not be able to provide for all their needs, mainly because our state is vulnerable. Second: Fear of failure, in the event that the world conspires against us. If this were to happen, people may start to despair and believe that jihad is fruitless."
He encouraged al-Wadoud to also refrain from proclaiming an Islamic polity, but his advice went unheeded. Shortly after receiving the letter from al Wahayshi, jihadists aligned with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb declared an Islamic state called Azawad in northern Mali in April 2012. But the French intervention in Mali in January 2013 rapidly pushed the jihadists out of the territory they had conquered, ending the short-lived jihadist state of Azawad.
Past attempts to create an Islamic polity in Somalia were also thwarted by an international coalition. And in recent months Boko Haram, which now calls itself Wilayat al Sudan al Gharbi after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, lost most of the territory the group had previously seized in northern Nigeria.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula made another land grab in 2015 as the country fell into chaos. In April, the group took control of Mukalla, Yemen's fifth largest city and the capital of Hadramawt province. Meanwhile, jihadist groups in Libya, such as Ansar al-Sharia, the Mujahideen Shura Council and the Islamic State's three Libyan Wilayats (or provinces) are all fighting with secular, nationalist and tribal forces for control of the country.
And of course, the Islamic State took control of large portions of Iraq and Syria last year and declared the re-establishment of the caliphate there. The group's theatrical, genocidal violence resulted in the formation of the coalition that began an air campaign against it in September 2014. Since then, the group has lost much of its strategic momentum, as well as a great deal of its economic infrastructure and many weapons and personnel. The Islamic State also lost control of a good deal of territory in Iraq and Syria, including places such as Tikrit, Kobani and, most recently, Tal Abyad. Still, the Islamic State has taken control of the cities of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria, though the group is under attack from the international air campaign, as well as local ground forces.
Bin Laden's Strategy
The United States and the West played a critical role in the downfall of recent jihadist polities in Iraq, Yemen, Mali and Somalia. This fact would certainly not surprise Osama bin Laden, who lived to witness such events. From the beginning of his public campaign to establish the caliphate, and in his 1996 "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places," bin Laden warned that the United States had to be driven out of the region before progress could be made. Bin Laden noted the way that Hezbollah's activities in Lebanon had driven U.S. and French forces out of the Levant, which gave the group space to become a powerful player in the region. He sought to replicate that success elsewhere.
It was a strategic vision bin Laden held until his death. In a letter written to his assistant, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman — likely around March or April 2011, based upon the events commented on — he asked al-Rahman to dispatch a letter to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb asking it to focus on attacking U.S. embassies and oil companies, rather than local security forces. Bin Laden also wanted to warn the franchise about the dangers of prematurely proclaiming a caliphate:
We should stress on the importance of timing in establishing the Islamic state. We should be aware that planning for the establishment of the state begins with exhausting the main influential power that enforced the siege on the Hamas government, and that overthrew the Islamic emirate in Afghanistan and Iraq despite the fact this power was depleted. We should keep in mind that this main power still has the capacity to lay siege on any Islamic state, and that such a siege might force the people to overthrow their duly elected governments.
We have to continue with exhausting and depleting them until they become so weak that they can't overthrow any state that we establish. That will be the time to commence with forming the Islamic state.
Bin Laden understood that while the United States struggles with ephemeral, ambiguous entities, it is very good at attacking a well-defined enemy that it can identify and locate. Declaring an Islamic polity and attempting to hold and govern territory automatically makes an organization a fixed target on which the United States and its allies can focus their formidable power.
Yet, even knowing this fact, al Qaeda has not been immune to the trap of place. The al Qaeda core has always needed a sanctuary to operate effectively, like Sudan or the Taliban's Afghanistan. Lacking a suitable sanctuary, the group's operations since the invasion of Afghanistan have been limited. There are reports that the al Qaeda core sent a group of operatives from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area to Syria to attempt to establish a base there — the so-called Khorasan group. That group was struck by some of the first U.S. airstrikes in Syria in September 2014. Evidently, having an address has its downside.
It is also not entirely surprising that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has lost three senior leaders in Mukalla since the group conquered the city in April. After the loss of two of his lieutenants, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader al-Wahayshi still visited the city for some unknown reason — and it must have been an important reason to override security concerns. In the aforementioned letter to al-Rahman, bin Laden asked him to "send a letter to the brothers in Yemen to have them implement security measures, avoid moving about except for dire need."
Bin Laden knew that controlling territory is a dangerous trap, unless the United States and its allies are vanquished from a given region. But there are times when even groups affiliated with al Qaeda need to run the risk of exposing themselves in contested territory.
The Eventual Progression
When the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant broke from al Qaeda and declared a caliphate in a specific location, the organization once again made itself a fixed target. Its ideology and claims also serve to tie the group to a specific piece of terrain. It suffered major losses the last time it was so bold, surviving only by abandoning territory, reducing the group's overall profile and returning to a low-level insurgency and terrorism campaign. Of course, the group's survival was also greatly aided by Sunni sheikhs in Iraq who did not trust the government of former Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki government and thus sought to maintain some sort of jihadist presence as a tool to wield against Shiite sectarianism. Allowing the Islamic Sate to survive in Iraq is something those sheikhs surely regret now.
Despite the criticism that U.S. President Barack Obama has received over his administration's policy toward the Islamic State, the organization's expansion has been stopped and is beginning to be rolled back. There are some who would claim that the organization has not been contained, as demonstrated by the proliferation of existing jihadist groups and factions that have declared allegiance to the Islamic State. But make no mistake, these franchises clearly lack the resources and leadership of the Islamic State core, and they have not gained any capacity previously lacking. They are essentially the same groups with the same capabilities. Only their names have changed, as well as perhaps a little bit of their operational and media philosophies.
It may take some time, but eventually U.S. air power paired with local ground forces will drive the Islamic State from its perch in the same manner as the Taliban and the Islamic State in Iraq. It took seven years to cripple the group last time with U.S. forces on the ground. It will likely take years this time — especially without the presence of a reliable allied ground force in Syria. But there is little doubt that the group will slowly be strangled on the ground as it is repeatedly pummeled by precision airstrikes.
The Islamic State, consequently, will eventually follow the same strategy as the Taliban, al Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The group will abandon its territorial gains to return to an amorphous, low-level insurgency and terrorism campaign. It is, of course, the same strategic shift the group made in 2010. If it had not done so, it would not be here today. If the Islamic State does not abandon its here and now attitude, deciding to stand its ground and defend its caliphate to the end, it will be destroyed.
Stratfor: Will Turkey invade Syria?
Reply #630 on:
July 01, 2015, 08:31:26 PM »
Numerous but unverified reports in the Turkish media say the Turkish military will soon intervene in Syria. Notably, high-level officials including Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu have not denied the claims, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken to Twitter to emphasize that the Turks will not allow terror organizations to take advantage of the chaotic environment along Turkey's borders. However, the operation discussed in the media, especially the possibility of a ground incursion, is unlikely. Still, it is worth highlighting the risks that will constrain Turkey in the off chance it decides to pursue such a course of action.
Different scenarios have emerged amid the rumors of a Turkish invasion into Syria. Some reports suggest the military will deploy some 18,000 troops with substantial air support to secure a 30-kilometer (18-mile) deep territory across the border in Syria running from the city of Jarabulus westward to the areas occupied by the rebels around the city of Azaz. The operation would cover an area currently under Islamic State control, and it would attempt to secure a buffer zone for Turkey that would deeply hurt the extremist group, provide assistance to Syrian rebels and facilitate the resettlement of Syrian refugees. It would also drastically escalate Turkey's role in the conflict, making such a scenario highly unlikely.
Other far more plausible scenarios for Turkish involvement have also emerged, including an operation that would provide increased support for the Free Syrian Army and artillery and airstrikes, but that would avoid the more sensitive prospect of introducing ground forces. It is almost certain that the Turks will ramp up their border control efforts as well, hurting the Islamic State's core supply lines through Turkey. It will be important to watch for raids and crackdowns on Islamic State-affiliated smuggling rings in the border towns.
The Politics of War
Domestic political considerations could be motivating talk of invading Syria, especially in the case of more risky options. Talk of a significant unilateral military operation against the Islamic State comes directly after an indecisive election in Turkey. The ruling Justice and Development Party could be trying to mobilize a voter reaction, particularly among the Nationalist Movement Party, as it looks to either build a coalition government or stage early elections.
On top of domestic political motivations, the foreign implications of an operation in Syria are clear. Dealing a blow to the Islamic State would go a long way in repairing Turkey's relationship with the United States and NATO, which have accused Turkey of being complacent against the extremist group. That Turkey would largely avoid territory controlled by the Kurdish People's Protection Units will further mend the relationship. And targeting the Islamic State's flank, especially in the Jarabulus-Azaz zone, would greatly benefit the rebel forces in Aleppo province, enabling them to divert forces away from fighting the Islamic State to secure Aleppo city.
Despite the reasoning supporting potential operations, it is clear that any Turkish military campaign in Syria carries tremendous and varied risks. For instance, an operation to secure a buffer zone running from Jarabulus to Azaz in Syria would constitute nothing less than a major assault on the Islamic State. This specific border area is of paramount importance to the Islamic State, since it is its last significant link to foreign recruits and supplies. Thus, the extremist group could be expected to fight intensively against a Turkish intervention. The Turkish military would need to be prepared to sustain heavy casualties in difficult fighting against an enemy proficient in the use of guerilla strikes and suicide attacks.
Even more important, it is almost certain that the Islamic State would plan mass casualty terrorist attacks inside Turkey itself. The Turkish government probably has not cracked down on the Islamic State up to this point because it wants to avoid such attacks. The Islamic State has also, over time, developed an underground presence in Turkey, facilitating its lines of supplies and men into Syria. Given Turkey's delicate political and economic situation, numerous large-scale terrorist attacks in Turkish cities could have a significant destabilizing effect.
Blowback from the Islamic State is not the only risk of military intervention. It is unclear how the Syrian government would react to an operation, despite the fact that it has no control over the targeted area. Already angry at Turkey's support for Syrian rebels fighting against its forces in the north, Damascus could militarily engage the Turkish forces crossing the border through ballistic missile strikes or air raids. While these methods probably would not hurt or even disrupt the Turkish operation, they would raise the stakes in an already dangerous conflict and could draw Turkey and potentially its allies deeper into the Syrian civil war.
Iran and Russia, both of which still strongly back the Syrian government, would also be unhappy with direct Turkish involvement in the conflict. Turkey maintains substantial economic links with Iran and Russia, and these countries could punish Turkey economically if it chooses to intervene in Syria. Addressing the reports of an impending Turkish military operation, Iranian Ambassador to Turkey Ali Reza Bikdeli even said that any such move by Turkey would destroy Ankara's ability to influence a peaceful settlement in Syria.
Some extreme rebel groups fighting the Islamic State, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, pose yet another risk to Turkey. While rebel groups such as those within the Free Syrian Army, the Shamiya Front and even allies of Jabhat al-Nusra within the Islamic Front may welcome a Turkish military operation against the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra's reaction remains unpredictable and tenuous. It is entirely possible that Turkish soldiers may find themselves fighting against more than one powerful Islamist group in Syria.
Intervention Is Still a Remote Possibility
Furthermore, reports from Turkey demonstrate that the Turkish military is still hesitant about an operation in Syria, despite the political will to move forward. The Turkish military is fully capable of completing the mission, but it is understandable that commanders would not be keen on commencing such an important operation without a clear mandate, especially given the uncertain political climate following the indecisive elections. Any mandate at this point could potentially be revoked with the new government. Absent strong Turkish military motivation, the mission is likely to suffer from a lack of coordination and purpose.
It is also worth mentioning that for all these risks, the fear that the Kurds will be targeted is not realistic. Turkey has made it vehemently clear that it will not tolerate the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in Syria, and so there is naturally considerable tension with the Kurdish People's Protection Units. However, the operation, as presently discussed in Turkish media, would largely ignore the Kurds. It would take place not only in an area devoid of Kurdish forces, but also in an area that the already overstretched Kurds have no real ability to occupy, regardless of Turkish military intervention. Talk of the way the operation would prevent the future linking of the Afrin and Kobani cantons misses the geographic and capability constraints on the Kurdish People's Protection Units.
A Turkish military move into Syria is still far from certain, but it is more likely now than ever. Raising the potential of such an incursion could be a political maneuver by the ruling government to secure additional votes from other parties in the runup to early elections. But if Turkey undertakes such an operation, it will have to manage multiple and varied consequences, domestically and abroad.
Obama blocking heavy arms to the Kurds
Reply #631 on:
July 02, 2015, 12:13:12 PM »
If/when we defeat ISIS, then what?
Reply #632 on:
July 09, 2015, 05:01:49 PM »
Re: If/when we defeat ISIS, then what?
Reply #633 on:
July 09, 2015, 07:47:57 PM »
Quote from: Crafty_Dog on July 09, 2015, 05:01:49 PM
Let's cross that bridge when we get there.
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #634 on:
July 09, 2015, 09:20:03 PM »
Well maybe thinking about this question will guide us in how we get there.
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #635 on:
July 09, 2015, 09:24:59 PM »
Quote from: Crafty_Dog on July 09, 2015, 09:20:03 PM
Well maybe thinking about this question will guide us in how we get there.
Nope. You kill them until you run out of jihadi to target. At least, that is what you do if you want to win.
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #636 on:
July 09, 2015, 10:28:31 PM »
And so Iran says thank you very much for doing our work and now they bust their move?
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #637 on:
July 09, 2015, 10:36:26 PM »
Quote from: Crafty_Dog on July 09, 2015, 10:28:31 PM
And so Iran says thank you very much for doing our work and now they bust their move?
If we want to win, we crush both the Sunni and the shiite wings of the global jihad. Of course, this is if we wanted to win...
Interview with Steve Emerson
Reply #638 on:
July 10, 2015, 10:38:18 AM »
Interview: Present ISIL Middle East paradox?
by Jaime Ortega
The Daily Journalist
July 6, 2015
He is considered one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing and operations. He serves as the Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, one of the world's largest storehouses of archival data and intelligence on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups. Emerson and his staff frequently provide briefings to U.S. government and law enforcement agencies, members of Congress and congressional committees, and print and electronic media, both national and international. Since 9-11, Emerson has testified before and briefed Congress dozens of times on terrorist financing and operational networks of Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the rest of the worldwide Islamic militant spectrum.
1) Abu Sayyaf was killed a month ago, how will that affect ISI operations in IRAQ and Syria?
I think the effect will be short lived. ISIS is an organization that has actually learned from the demise of core Al Qaeda. Its leadership structure is only superficially in the form of a pyramid. But those intelligence specialists tell that ISIS has learned the lessons from the demise of the core Al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan by building in redundancy into parallel layers of leadership. So that if one leader goes down—killed or captured—his area of jurisdiction, whether it be ISIS finances or ISIS arms acquisitions or whatever, is not fatally affected. This by the way is one of the reasons why ISIS has remained so resilient in the face of some punishing US led strikes, albeit mostly ineffective. Its an asymmetric terrorist group that has created a symmetrical fighting organization—think of a conventional fighting force like the US Army which has multiple levels of built in leadership redundancy—that btw, is also fighting a symmetrical war unlike other terrorist groups. The only asymmetrical aspect of the ISIS strategy—and I don't mean to be callous here—is the headline grabbing horrific decapitations and executions of hundreds and hundreds of those it has designated the enemy which it has captured, ranging from Yazidi men to western journalists to Arab soldiers to Shiite civilians.
2) ISIL just captured Ramadi, and are trying to expel Syrian Armed Forces from Palmyra what message does that send to the those countries that support logistically and militarily govern by Haider Al-Abadi and Al-Assad?
Well, they have already as you know captured Palmyra and have gone on to carry out a massive killing spree in the city of Syrian soldiers who did not make it out as well as other "enemies" it designated. But I am not so sure of what your question means. If you are asking me, what is the effect of iSIS victory in Palmyra on those that support Al-Assad, frankly that is limited to only a few entities: Iran, Hizbollah and Russia. And we see that both Iran and Hizbollah have just redoubled their support of Assad's regime in the belief that ISIS has made too many inroads. If I have misinterpreted your question, let me know.
3) If ISIL theoretically defeated Syrian Armed Forces, and controlled mayor cities in Syria, will Jabat-Al-Nusra oppose an Islamic Caliphate govern by Al-Baghdadi? Would they fight each other, despite greeting their rhetorical alliance combating western forces?
Well, you raise a very interesting question that used to be very hypothetical but given the losses by Assad recently, is not so hypothetical any longer. It is my belief that if the Syrian Armed Forces were defeated, Jabat Al Nusrat would never concede that ISIS had achieved that victory but rather that Al Nusrat itself—not ISIS– was either mostly or partly responsible for the victory. Hence, Al Nusrat would never recognize ISIS as the dominant military and political conqueror of a "liberated" Syria. And since Al Nusrat is an outgrowth and effective franchise of Al Qaeda, it would not agreed to ISIS political dominance of territory that Al Nusrat has occupied or has sought to liberate. For the past year or so, we have witnessed a very tentative cease fire between ISIS and Al Nusrat, who prior to that had been fighting each other with vicious ferocity. But that defacto cease fire I believe would cease to exist if ISIS declared itself the sole political and military heir to the territory of a liberated Syria. And in that scenario, it is my belief that would be a "settling of accounts" between Al Nusrat and ISIS much as we witnessed in Afghanistan in the 1980's between the 7 different Mujahideen factions once they victoriously ousted the Soviets.
4) The US, and NATO, have financially supported Kurdish Pashmerga Troops, to help fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, but without ground troops are western forces doing enough?
In an answer, no. Vietnam taught us the limits of air power. Air power alone cannot win wars. Boots on the ground are also required. Without American and other Nato boots on the ground, I just don't see enough firepower by the valiant Kurds.
5) There is intelligence suggesting Recep Erdogan is supporting ISIL, with the help of Intra-Secret/Service-Intelligence in Pakistan because of their former ties with Saddam's Bathist party who is entwined with ISIL fighting Kurds. Is this possible?
You have now entered the Middle East "Twilight Zone" (remember Rod Serling's television series from the 1960s'?) where anything is possible and nothing is impossible. The only thing that I know for sure is that Erdogan has dragged his feet in joining the coalition against ISIS; he has refused to clamp down on the infiltration route to ISIS thru Turkey; he has refused to crack down on the illegal sale of black market oil by ISIS thru Turkish middlemen; he hatred for the Kurds is so visceral that he will do anything it seems to hurt them even if it means helping ISIS although indirectly; and finally because ISIS ultimately is the final perfection of the embodiment of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group whose values and belief system Erdogan religiously enforces (sometimes leading critics to charge him with being a self anointed Calif), then yes, anything is possible.
6) Is their a race between Al-Qaeda and ISIL to regain more power in the Middle East? The control of Lybia is not only ISIL's target, but also Al-Qaeda's?
Forget Al Qaeda. They are not looking to control the Middle East anymore. At this point they are looking only to hang on to franchises that are now defecting to ISIS. ISIS is the new kid on the block. ISIS is the only player in this race. Just look at the attacks in Saudi Arabia last week and in Tunis three weeks ago. And in northern Algeria. Al Qeda in Yemen is AQ's only remaining star franchise.
7) Is there any other group outside of ISIL and Al-Qaeda who can present a serious hazard to western targets like the US or Europe?
I don't see any other transnational group other than Hizbollah with the capabilities of hitting US or Europe. And Hizbollah's threat is totally controlled by what Iran wants. And since Iran wants a deal with the sanctions lifted, Iran is going to play nice for the time being. But don't expect that to last forever. And don't expect Hizbollah to retire into an old age home even while it is still a player to be reckoned with via Israel. Remember until 9-11, Hizbollah was the terrorist group that had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group.
If ISIS takes down Assad's regime, then it will be a battle between Al-Nusra, Ahrar- Al-Sham and ISIS because in Nov 2014, they started to attack each other. In case ISIS battled Al-Qaeda, and that is a high possibility, out of the two who would win? Who would receive more support from Qatar, Kuwait, KSA, Turkey and Pakistan? And who would be more successful in unifying with other jihadist groups like Ansar-Al Islam, Ansar Al-Sharia, Al-Tawid al Jihad, besides other smaller faction groups in the Middle East?
Already, ISIS has been battling the Taliban and winning their skirmishes as Taliban forces have been defecting to ISIS. Now when you raise the question of who would win in an Al Qaeda-ISIS confrontation, its hard to see that direct confrontation emerging at this time because the core Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has been decimated. What remains is Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS has not ventured forth into Yemen at this point. So the only possible convergence of a confrontation between AQ and ISIS would be between AQ surrogates, like Al-Nusrat and Ansar Al Sharia (not really a surrogate of AQ though). In this case, I think that ISIS would win hands down.
As for receiving support from those countries you mentioned, well you have to remember that ISIS is Sunni and so are those are countries overwhelmingly Sunni. Yet, there is no doubt that ISIS has been taking the battle to these Persian Gulf potentates, even though they are Sunni, because they are seen as Western puppets and committing apostasy. The question has been—ever since the US formed the Sunni coalition—how fierce will these Sunni oil rich regimes fight ISIS. Saudi Arabia certainly showed its military capabilities and willingness to flex it muscles going it alone but going against Iranian backed Shiites, a far more easily political target among its dominant Sunni population that ISIS.
Even though these Arab regimes have participated nominally in the joint US led coalition against ISIS, their participation has been quite wanting. In the case of Turkey, well its got so many conflicts of interests regarding its own interests visa-vis the players in the ISIS/Syria/Kurdistan/Iran spectrum that Turkey cannot be counted on to be a serious combatant against ISIS. Turkey despises the Kurds and sees their victories as threats to Turkish national security. Turkey also maintains good relations with Iran. And Turkey does not want to pick a fight with ISIS. Conversely ISIS has not shown any real desire to confront Turkey head on or destabilize it unlike ISIS' attitude towards Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Jordan, Libya and even Egypt.
As for who would be more successful in unifying the groups, all you need to do is watch how the once-AQ dominated brigades in the Sinai switched over ISIS as did Al Shabab and Boku Haram, certain Libyan factions like we now are seeing with Ansar al Sharia. Military momentum and Islamic ascendancy are certainly with ISIS and those two are as powerful magnets among certain Muslim populations as is the force of gravity in the earth's atmosphere.
9) Democracy does not to suit well the Middle East. Is this because politics will never take over religion? Is western democracy an illusion to reach in the Middle East?
Well, I would never use the term never. Remember the Protestant Reformation took hundreds of years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. It just seems at the present time that the stars of democracy are not in alignment for many countries in the Middle East. But I would not put the blame on religion or claim that this is a permanent status.
10) A lot of children seem to adopt religious radicalism with danger. Will the hate towards the west ever change the minds of these Middle Eastern children, of is frantic radicalization a process that cannot be achieved by democracy?
I am not so sure of your question here. There is good reason to associate religious radicalism with danger. And that doesn't just apply to Islam but applies to all religions. All religions, not just Islam, have their fanatics and killers.
Yet, Islamic terrorism is responsible for an average of about 65 to 70% of all international terrorism annually for the past decade according to US intelligence studies published by NCIS. Why the disproportionate amount of terrorism within the Islamic world? And when one looks at the state sponsored media and educational curriculum being studied in Islamic schools, not only in the Muslim world but also in the west, outside educators, ngo's and investigators have found a frightening level of continued incitement, conspiratorial allegations against the West and glorification of terrorist violence (rather than an emphasis on pluralism and non violence and equality) that is a natural breeding ground for violence.
When the Palestinian Authority names and honors public squares on the West Bank in the memory of the most horrific terrorists who carried out mass murders, what does that tell the youth? When groups like CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, tell followers in the United States that the FBI is responsible for more "terrorism" than Al Qaeda, what does that invoke in the minds of its followers? When the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, like Sheik Yousef Al Qardawi, issue fatwas saying its religiously ok to kill Americans and Jews, it doesn't take a genius to figure out the consequences. And when Muslim dissidents are murdered in the streets—let alone apostates—because they were condemned as blasphemous for their views, what lesson is drawn by the next generation? You ask whether democracy can reverse this radicalization? I am not so sure. I think we in the west make a huge mistake in equating civil society with democracy.
11) History has shown that in 1258 the brutal seizure of Mongols in Baghdad, gave lasting peaceful effects in the region up to 200 years. We have adopted democracy, but an Iron fist seems to be a better alternative to the sectarian violence shown in the Middle East. Has the issue of extermination, historically seen in 12th century by mongol troops ever been presented in congress as an alternative to defeat global Yihadist to secure national and international interest worldwide?
Whoa, this may be above my pay grade. If we equate modern day authoritarianism (eg the Mubarak regime, the Qaddafi regime) with what you call the "Iron Fist," there is no doubt that as they say in the American Express commercials, "membership has its privileges." I personally am not a fan of authoritarianism over democracy but we have to be real here: In the 1930's, Hitler used democracy to obtain power. So democracy in and of itself without the corollary values of an open pluralistic society is not a viable answer to sectarian violence. If anything, we have witnessed the tragedy of the Arab Spring turning into the Arab Winter because the nascent democratic movements were turned into violent jihadist power plays, leaving most of the populations more disenfranchised and more oppressed than even under their previous authoritarian rulers. But you have raised a civilization question that has never been answered and may never produce a final answer. .
- Will the issue of extermination be seriously examined only after another 9-11 strikes the United States?
Remember what Winston Churchill said right after Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Germans in 1938 with full complicity of Britain and France, " Democracies act only when there is blood on the street." How right he was.
12) What is the best issue to resolve the problem?
I don't have one. Sorry. I can only tell you that we in the west are being been eviscerated by the adopted and delusionally progressive notions of multi-culturalism where no set of moral values is greater than any other. I totally disagree. I believe that the values of western civilization, of the separation of church and state, of gender equality and secularism are values that are morally superior to other sets of value systems. Of course, I will be charged with chauvinism, maybe even "fascism" for saying such a thing. But that proves my point.
If I cede ground to my critics, why should Hitler's Nazi ideology be deemed morally inferior at the very least to other western value systems? Radical Islamic values are not mine. Nor ought they be accepted by the high priests of morality in today's world as nothing more than religious fascism? The same goes with the Christian Identity Movement. But no one seems to have a problem recognizing the latter for that dangerous anti-civizational movement it is. Why it is so hard to recognize other values systems for the other regressive movements?
Reliability of this source is unknown
Reply #639 on:
July 21, 2015, 09:49:16 PM »
WSJ: Turkey allows US to launch bombing from our base in Turkey
Reply #640 on:
July 24, 2015, 06:53:08 AM »
Turkey to Let U.S. Military Use Its Base to Launch Strikes Against Islamic State
By Dion Nissenbaum in Washington, Emre Peker and Ayla Albayrak in Istanbul
Updated July 23, 2015 8:28 p.m. ET
Turkey agreed to allow the U.S. to use air bases there to launch strikes against Islamic State forces in neighboring Syria, a major shift long sought by Washington and sealed hours before a deadly clash between Turkish forces and militants across the border.
After months of tense negotiations, reluctant Turkish leaders agreed to U.S. requests to use the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey to send fighter jets and armed drones to attack fighters based in Syria and Iraq, U.S. defense officials said.
Incirlik is a U.S. base about 60 miles from the Syrian border, giving U.S. jets and unmanned drones vastly improved logistics for daily attacks on the radical group compared with other sites across the region now in use. Military officials said the agreement also opens up other bases in Turkey for potential use in the campaign against Islamic State.
“This is a significant shift,” said a U.S. military official. “It’s a big deal.”
The decision to more closely ally with the U.S. also exposes Turkey to a heightened risk of attack by extremists. Thursday’s clash highlighted the dangers Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, already poses to Turkey, which has long served as the primary lifeline connecting the group’s de facto capital in Syria with the outside world.
“This is a threat at their doorstep,” said a senior U.S. defense official. “In the end, it’s in their self-interest to let us use the base to strike ISIL.”
The broad outlines of the deal were settled in a phone call Wednesday night between President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hours before Islamic State forces in Syria opened fire on a border outpost, killing one Turkish soldier and dragging the country even deeper into the chaotic regional conflict.
Turkey has long been accused of aiding Islamic State’s rise by allowing its fighters to freely cross its borders—something its leaders have vehemently denied. The country resisted American pressure to do more in the 60-member international coalition battling Islamic State ever since a bombing campaign started last year. Ankara’s hesitation was due partly to differences with Washington over strategy.
Until now, Turkey has only allowed the U.S. to fly unarmed surveillance drones out of Incirlik. But persistent American pressure, combined with increasing threats from Islamic State forces to turn their weapons on Turkey, finally convinced Turkish leaders to take more decisive steps to fight the militants, officials said.
“In the end, we too have become the target for the ISIS,” said a Turkish official at the Syrian border near Kilis—site of Thursday’s cross-border clash. “There’s a growing nervousness along the border.”
Turkey has pushed the U.S. to focus more attention on driving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power and establishing a no-fly zone in northern Syria. But the Obama administration has steadfastly opposed the no-fly zone idea, which would require intensive use of American air power to enforce and could draw the U.S. into a direct confrontation with the Assad regime.
Since the U.S. launched its war against Islamic State last fall, Turkey’s government has engaged in a high-stakes policy gambit: opting to sporadically crack down on the jihadists, but avoiding overt confrontation to limit the risk of retaliatory attacks on Turkish soil.
Declining to open Incirlik base to U.S. warplanes was long seen as a centerpiece of that strategy, allowing Ankara to distance itself from other Western and Muslim nations taking part in airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
The decision to open the base appears to move Turkey more definitively into the U.S. camp—and a more direct confrontation with the militants, with uncertain but potentially profound implications for Turkish security.
As the Islamic State threat has grown, Turkish leaders have slowly agreed to play a more active role in battling the group. Turkey has stepped up efforts to choke off the flow of fighters moving in and out of the country and cracked down on the organization in the country by arresting more than 100 suspected militants in recent weeks.
It has also started allowing the U.S. to train moderate Syrian rebels expected to serve as the ground forces battling Islamic State for control of the fractured country.
Turkey’s policy reversal comes as Ankara finds itself increasingly vulnerable to violence from within and beyond its borders. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization member has also been losing its regional prominence as the leading Western security ally over the past year, with Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq emerging as key forces in the fight against Islamic State.
Turkey blamed Islamic State for a suicide bombing Monday that killed 32 people in the Kurdish town of Suruç on the Syrian border, though the group hasn’t claimed responsibility for it.
If confirmed, it would be a sign that a long-dormant risk to Turkey is turning into an active conflict. It would also add to the regional policy challenges facing Ankara as Kurdish insurgents at home ramp up attacks against security forces, disrupting a two-year-old truce and threatening to derail peace talks.
Escalating violence within and across its southeastern borders increase the risk of civil strife in Turkey, where major security threats are all materializing just as a leadership struggle roils Ankara amid an effort to establish the country’s first coalition government since 2002.
The new danger Islamic State poses to Turkey became clear early Thursday when five militants attacked the Turkish military border post from an Islamic State-controlled area opposite a small border town called Elbeyli, possibly as they were prevented from trying to cross into Turkey, officials said. One soldier was killed and two were wounded, Turkey’s military said.
Turkish soldiers and tanks returned fire, killing one Islamic State fighter in what is believed to be the first direct clash between the rival forces.
Turkey is also facing new threats from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, which claimed responsibility for killing two Turkish police officers this week in separate attacks.
The PKK said it killed the two policemen for cooperating with Islamic State, and in retribution for the Monday suicide attack, which targeted volunteers preparing to cross into Syria to help rebuild the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.
Syrian Kurdish militants affiliated with the PKK defeated Islamic State in Kobani after a four-month fight that ended in January.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the European Union. The group has been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that killed 40,000 people.
The U.S. cooperates with the PKK’s Syrian affiliate against Islamic State, aiding the Kurdish militants with airstrikes—a policy that has caused friction between Washington and Ankara.
“It’s a very complex situation on the ground, with multiple enemies,” said Salih Akyurek, a former Turkish army colonel who is now a researcher at the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies in Ankara.
Write to Dion Nissenbaum at
, Emre Peker at
and Ayla Albayrak at
Obama blocking heavy arms to the Kurds
Reply #641 on:
July 24, 2015, 07:22:02 AM »
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Change of heart. The week began with a vicious attack by a suicide bomber with suspected links to the Islamic State in the Turkish border town of Suruc, killing 32 people and wounding more than 100. And it’s ending with Turkey rushing soldiers to the Syrian border to engage in a cross-border firefight with the jihadists, agreeing to allow American warplanes to hit Syria from the the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, and for the first time sending its own F-16 fighters to smack jihadists in Syria.
The reluctant ally in the fight against the Islamic State joins the coalition just as Kurdish forces have been making real gains in northern Syria -- alarming the Turks who have pledged not to allow a Kurdish state to spring up on its border -- and represents a major shift in Turkey’s willingness to allow the U.S. to use Incirlik. But events, and 1.5 million Syrian refugees straining Turkey’s ability to care for them, have been forcing Ankara’s hand, FP’s Dan De Luce writes, even if Washington continues to ignore Turkish proposals for establishing a no-fly zone over northern Syria.
Northern alliance. Defense Secretary Ash Carter continued his Iran and Islamic State-themed barnstorming through the Middle East on Friday, following up his visit with Iraqi officials in Baghdad with a hop over to the Kurdish city of Erbil in northern Iraq to meet with Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government, and other Kurdish government and military officials. It’s a significant visit, since the Kurds -- and some members of the U.S. Congress -- have been pushing for the Pentagon to start directly arming Kurdish fighters, who have been holding the line against the Islamic State in Iraq’s north. The administration of President Barack Obama isn’t as eager as some others in Washington to start pushing weapons to the Kurds, which would antagonize both Baghdad and Ankara, instead preferring to go through the government in Baghdad.
It’s always sunny in Kurdistan. The Kurds remain the darling of the western media and politicians, who love the hard fighters who have scrapped for decades to try and carve out their own homeland along the ethnic faultlines for northern Iraq, Iran, and Syria. But now that they have the excuse to do so, are they pushing out Sunni Arabs in the guise of fighting against the Islamic State? FP contributor Sara Elizabeth Williams writes from northern Iraq that witnesses there say the Kurdish Peshmerga, the military force of Iraqi Kurdistan, “has an agenda that goes beyond fighting the Islamic State: establishing the boundaries of a future Kurdish state and moving the Arabs out.”
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #642 on:
July 27, 2015, 12:34:18 PM »
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Just don’t call it a ‘no-fly zone.’ Reports emerged Sunday night that as part of the deal between Turkey and the U.S to allow American aircraft to use Turkish air bases to hit the Islamic State in Syria, the two countries will establish a safe zone in northern Syria.
Part of the deal involves pushing the Islamic State out of a corridor along the Euphrates River near Aleppo, which would then fall under the control of the ‘moderate’ Syrian opposition, with coalition air power flying in support. But the plan would also bring American warplanes close to Syrian government bases and air defenses, which gives rise to a whole new set of problems. It would, however, help out the rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, something that Washington has struggled to endorse.
While this all sounds pretty much how a traditional no-fly zone works, U.S. officials say not so fast. An official no-fly zone would require a vote by the U.N Security Council, where Russia and China would almost certainly block it.
State Dept seeking to silence Iraqi Christians
Reply #643 on:
July 27, 2015, 02:43:21 PM »
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #644 on:
August 03, 2015, 10:54:38 AM »
Russia's efforts to assemble a negotiation over a post-al Assad government in Syria may be gaining traction. The Syrian negotiation was on the agenda during a June 19 meeting between Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Konstantin Palace outside St. Petersburg. Following that meeting, Stratfor sources have reported, Syrian National Security Bureau chief Gen. Ali Mamluk made a quiet visit to Riyadh sometime in July and allegedly met with bin Salman.
It appears that Putin and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who has been Putin's point man on the Syrian negotiation, have pitched the idea of forging an anti-Islamic State alliance that would include Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. By using the anti-Islamic State platform, Moscow hopes to facilitate a dialogue between the regime and its Sunni adversaries about a power-sharing agreement in Damascus. As expected, in his meeting with Mamluk in Riyadh, the Saudi crown prince allegedly demanded a high price for cooperating with the Syrian regime: a cutoff of Syria's ties with Iran. Of course, the Alawite regime is not about to break ties with its only real ally in the region. But it is still highly notable that a dialogue between the Syrian regime and Riyadh is underway.
It is still unclear whether this dialogue will progress far enough to yield a viable power-sharing arrangement between Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Qatar on the one hand and Syria and Iran on the other. Saudi Arabia, with its deep misgivings about Tehran's intentions, is more in favor of counterbalancing Iran than of reaching an understanding with the Shiite power. Turkey, meanwhile, is deepening its involvement in northern Syria; it may be more compelled to allow the rebellion to play out and further weaken Syrian government forces before seriously considering any kind of negotiation. And even if all the rebel sponsors could come to an understanding amongst themselves, it is another question altogether whether they could compel enough rebels to come to the negotiating table and countenance sharing power with the Alawites.
At this stage of the crisis, Russia and the United States have their own reasons for supporting a negotiation. The United States is giving Turkey tacit approval to establish a buffer zone in northern Syria, but Washington needs the fight in Syria to stay focused on defeating the Islamic State — not on toppling the Assad government. Russia is trying to maintain leverage in Syria by shoring up its relations with the Sunni stakeholders in the conflict while also using its existing relationship with Damascus, but Moscow also wants to use the Syrian issue to bargain with the United States. This will be the topic of discussion when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Doha on Aug. 3. The question remains whether Russia's shuttle diplomacy will be enough to assemble a viable negotiation.
GCC cornered into backing Iran nuke deal
Reply #645 on:
August 03, 2015, 11:52:53 AM »
Gulf Arab States Voice Support for Iran Nuclear Deal
Positive response from Gulf Cooperation Council follows Kerry’s visit
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens during a meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Monday in Doha, Qatar. ENLARGE
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry listens during a meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Monday in Doha, Qatar. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Aug. 3, 2015 12:21 p.m. ET
DOHA, Qatar—Gulf Arab states on Monday cautiously backed the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran, giving the White House a potentially important diplomatic win as it seeks to build support for its signature foreign policy initiative.
The positive response from the Gulf Cooperation Council—which is comprised of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain—followed months of intense lobbying by the White House that included offers of increased arms sales, intelligence-sharing and military training.
Secretary of State John Kerry held a daylong summit on Monday with the council’s foreign ministers to explain the terms of the nuclear agreement and the need for increased cooperation between Washington and the GCC to guard against Iran expanding its influence in the region.
“This was the best option amongst other options in order to try to come up with a solution for the nuclear weapons of Iran though dialogue, and this came up as a result of the efforts exerted by the United States of America and its allies,” Qatar Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah said at a joint news conference with Mr. Kerry at the end of meetings in Qatar’s capital. The Persian Gulf monarchy currently serves as the chair of the GCC.
He said the GCC countries have welcomed the plan Mr. Kerry laid out. “He let us know that there’s going to be a kind of live oversight for Iran not to gain or to get any nuclear weapons,” he said. “This is reassuring to the region.”
President Barack Obama is locked in a fierce political battle in Washington to drum up support on Capitol Hill for the nuclear deal, which limits parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
Republicans and pro-Israel politicians are fiercely opposed to the agreement, arguing it will undermine the security of Washington’s key Middle East allies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
They also charge that Tehran will use tens of billions of dollars in new oil money and revenues to fund its militant proxies in the region, including the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen.
Congress is currently conducting a 60-day vetting period of the deal and will vote in September on whether to endorse or reject it.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly attacked the nuclear deal and pressed American lawmakers to vote against it. Saudi, Emirati and Qatari officials have privately groused about the deal and voiced concerns that Washington may weaken its decades-old alliance with the Gulf states as it pursues a rapprochement with Tehran, their regional rival.
The GCC’s public backing of the Iran deal could undercut criticism of the White House and leave Israel more isolated on the diplomatic stage. Mr. Kerry was quick on Monday to present a common front with the Gulf Arab states.
“Ministers agreed…that once fully implemented, the [nuclear deal] contributes to the region’s long-term security, including by preventing Iran from developing or acquiring a military-nuclear capability,” Mr. Kerry said at his appearance with Mr. Attiyah. “But frankly, most of the time that we spent this afternoon was spent articulating and working on the full measure of the relationship between the U.S. and the GCC going forward.”
Mr. Kerry is on a regional trip through the Middle East and Asia, which didn’t include a stop in Israel. Israeli officials have voiced a wariness of engaging with the Obama administration during the congressional review period, due Mr. Netanyahu’s strident opposition to the deal.
Write to Jay Solomon at
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There are 13 comments.
What else can they do when the U.S. presents them with a done deal other than to get as much as they possibly can in return. They are not dumb.
Charlie Mongoho 2 minutes ago
The end of this maybe Israel being confronted with heavily armed middle east nations....is that a peaceful outcome?
Terry Lesniak 2 minutes ago
..."a kind of oversight over Iran"...
Wow! How reassuring!
Andrei Chivvis 3 minutes ago
Anybody who has ever dealt with the ME in general and Arabs in particular know that "cautious support" means rejection, but with mitigating secrete conditions. Such as more arms or may be continuation of the US self-imposed oil export ban. We will find out, just not clear when.
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #646 on:
August 28, 2015, 08:01:29 AM »
Why Middle Eastern Conflicts Will Escalate
August 28, 2015 | 09:15 GMT
Editor's Note: This is the third installment of an occasional series on the evolving fortunes of the Middle East that Stratfor will be building upon periodically.
Tehran's competitors in the region will not sit idly by without attempting to curb the expansion of Iranian influence. This will not manifest in all-out warfare between the Middle East's most significant powers; Iran is not the only country well versed in the use of proxies. But the conflicts that are already raging in the region will continue unabated and likely only worsen. These clashes will occur on multiple fault lines: Sunni versus Shiite, for example, plus ethnic conflicts among Turks, Iranians, Arabs, Kurds, and other groups. The Iranian nuclear deal in the short term thus means more conflict, not less.
Stratfor has long predicted that the role of regional hegemon will eventually fall to Turkey, which boasts the largest economy in the Middle East and is strategically situated at the confluence of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, on the Sea of Marmara. It is not a coincidence that what is now the Turkish capital spent more than 1,500 years as the center of powerful empires, from 330 CE, when the Byzantine Empire was founded, until 1918, when the Ottoman Empire fell.
Like the United States, Turkey has some converging interests with Iran; its rivalry with its neighbor to the east is not a zero-sum competition. For one, Turkey depends on Iranian oil, which in 2014 made up 26 percent of Turkey's oil imports. Lifting sanctions on Iran will offer Turkey's commercial class, which is hungry for the potential economic returns, ample opportunity to invest. Besides the economic links between the two powers, Tehran and Ankara also share some strategic interests. For example, both oppose the rise of an independent Kurdish state from the ashes of the Syrian civil war and the Iraqi conflict. While Tehran has at times offered military support to Kurds fending off the Islamic State in Iraq, Iran has a significant Kurdish population of its own, with estimates ranging anywhere from 6 million to 7 million people. Almost 15 percent of Turkey's population is Kurdish, and Ankara has had to contend with Kurdish insurgency since 1984.
More broadly, however, Turkey and Iran are natural competitors. And even though Kurdish containment is a common interest between the rivals, the Kurds are also a useful tool for each to undermine the other. Thus, Kurdistan is the natural battleground between Turkey and Iran, and the two powers will use factions against one another as their competition increases. And though Turkey is predominantly Sunni and Iran predominantly Shiite, it is important to note that Ankara and Tehran seek to establish dominance over a region that is predominantly Arab. For many Arabs, choosing between Turkish or Persian rule is like choosing between death by drowning or by immolation.
Turkey's relationship with the Islamic State is unclear; only in recent months has Turkey's policy toward the militant group changed from passive acquiescence to active disruption. This may be because Turkey feels that Islamic State is becoming a domestic threat, with cells and operatives located across the country. Ankara may also have grown weary and frustrated with the fact that the West looks more favorably upon the prospect of Kurdish independence when it hears and sees that the Kurds seem to be the most effective force fighting the Islamic State.
Turkey has been adamant about seeing the downfall of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, actively supplying and training militants to fight Damascus. Ankara regards the Levant as its own sphere of influence, and it does not look kindly upon Iranian attempts to expand in the region. The possibility that Turkey will take a more active role in Syria also cannot be dismissed, especially in light of recent reports that Turkey is considering moving its military into northern Syria to create a buffer zone that would prevent Syrian Kurdish expansion and significantly weaken the Islamic State, enabling Sunni insurgents to focus their resources on continuing the assault on the al Assad government.
Unlike Turkey, Saudi Arabia has relatively few if any shared interests with Iran. The kingdom is an Arab, Sunni power, and the Wahhabism sect of Islam to which most Saudis subscribe views Shiites with deep suspicion. With a Shiite minority making up between 10 percent and 15 percent of its population, and with Iraq no longer a bulwark against Iran's ambitions, Saudi Arabia rightly sees itself on the front line of the conflict with Iran. That most of Saudi Arabia's Shiite population lives in close proximity to the country's massive oil fields, which are the source of Saudi wealth and power, makes the specter of Iranian expansion all the more alarming to Riyadh. As recently as 2011, Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to help put down unrest in the Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority country, precisely because it feared Iran might use the situation to extend its reach in the Gulf.
Like Turkey, Saudi Arabia wants to see the downfall of the al Assad government, which would deal a crippling blow to Iranian influence in the region. For a time, the Saudis thought that the Islamic State could help them achieve that goal. That plan has backfired on Riyadh, as it must now deal with threats from both the Islamic State and al Qaeda. Still, Saudi Arabia continues to support other Sunni militants in Syria fighting against loyalist forces, and it, along with Jordan, is reportedly providing arms to Sunni tribes fighting in Iraq.
Unlike Turkey and Iran, Saudi Arabia has no immediate Kurdish problem, and Stratfor is already observing signs that the House of Saud will assist Kurdish elements in Iraq militarily. How far the Saudis will pursue this strategy, and which Kurdish factions the Saudis will support, is unclear. But the Iranians are already trying to provoke minority groups in Saudi Arabia, so the Saudis will likely at least attempt to embolden an autonomous Kurdistan capable of affecting regional economic and security issues — even though supporting the Kurds will mar Riyadh's relationship with Ankara. After all, though both are Sunni powers, Saudi Arabia has almost as little interest in seeing Turkey dominate the Middle East as it does Iran.
In 2014, Saudi Arabia did attempt to start a diplomatic dialogue with Iran, but this effort quickly deteriorated with the beginning of the conflict in Yemen. With Riyadh focused on battling the Shiites and the Islamic State in the rest of the region, it was caught off guard when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels made significant military gains in Yemen, at one point even capturing Sanaa, the capital. Saudi Arabia has since committed air and land power to the conflict, and by April 2015 the tide had begun to turn. Since the six world powers agreed to a nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi-backed anti-Houthi forces in Yemen have won major victories in the Gulf of Aden. These types of conflicts are already the norm across the region, and the rehabilitation of Iran's international image coupled with Tehran's desires to expand its domain will lead to more of the same.
Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, is an Arab, Sunni power, but one whose ability to act is much more constrained than Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Still, Cairo is an important part of the balance of power that the United States is trying to establish in the Middle East, as evidenced by Washington's abrupt amnesia regarding the coup that ousted democratically-elected President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, as soon as Iranian-backed forces in Yemen reared their heads in 2014. In addition, from the U.S. perspective, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979 remains one of the defining features of the region. Yet Egypt faces serious internal issues of its own, as it tries to roll back a subsidy regime, elect a parliament, contain social unrest, and manage multiple jihadist threats in the country, including disturbingly competent attacks in Cairo and the Sinai Peninsula. Despite this, Egyptian forces are also active in Yemen, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was in Russia this week to discuss economic ties and the situation in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have increased cooperation in recent months and may try to pool their resources to protect the Arab heartland of the Middle East. A joint Arab defense force under development could easily become part of this plan and is one of Cairo's ways of attempting to maintain a prominent role in the regional alignment.
Overall, the Iran nuclear deal then will not mean less violence or war; it will mean more. The uprisings in the Arab world in 2011 created power vacuums across the region; proxies supported by outside powers, as well as local militias and groups, found new space in which to operate. Conflict in the region will become increasingly about Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt using various groups to compete against one other, rather than groups taking advantage of failed states to carve out small fiefdoms of power and responsibility for themselves.
STratfor: Did Iran just gift Saudis a terrorist?
Reply #647 on:
August 28, 2015, 08:15:40 AM »
Second post of morning
Did Iran Gift the Saudis a Terrorist Suspect?
August 27, 2015 | 21:18 GMT
Multiple sources, including CNN, AP and Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, reported Aug. 27 that Ahmed al-Mughassil was arrested in Beirut and transferred to Saudi Arabia. Al-Mughassil was identified in a 2001 U.S. Department of Justice indictment as the mastermind behind the Khobar Towers bombings, a 1996 attack against a Saudi housing complex where foreign military personnel lived. Nineteen U.S. servicemen were killed, and almost 500 were reported injured in the attack.
The details surrounding al-Mughassil's arrest are rather mysterious. Asharq Al-Awsat reported that al-Mughassil was actually arrested two weeks ago, after Saudi intelligence discovered he had traveled to Beirut from Iran and was in a southern Beirut neighborhood controlled by Hezbollah. CNN did not go so far, reporting merely that al-Mughassil had been "bundled into a plane" and taken to Saudi Arabia.
Stratfor sources have reported an additional detail not currently being covered in the mainstream media: that the Iranians, who had ostensibly provided al-Mughassil safe haven for years, informed the Lebanese Internal Security Forces of al-Mughassil's arrival in Beirut. Lebanon's security forces then picked up al-Mughassil at the Hezbollah-controlled airport and immediately turned him over to the Saudis on a private jet that was waiting for him. Though this account has not been confirmed, it fits within the larger realignment occurring across the region as a result of the U.S.-Iranian nuclear accord. For months, even years, leading up to the accord, Iran attempted to prod the Saudis into a diplomatic conversation, but the Saudis have thus far staunchly refused to participate. The rumors also come in the context of a great deal of diplomatic activity related to the Syrian civil war; both Iran and Saudi Arabia want to settle the conflict in a way that suits their respective, and divergent, interests.
When it occurred, the Khobar Towers bombing was not exactly a clear-cut case. A U.S. indictment claimed that evidence suggested covert Iranian involvement, but no Iranian officials were singled out. It was al-Mughassil, the leader of Hezbollah al-Hejaz (the Saudi faction of Hezbollah), who was identified as the plot's mastermind; numerous others were identified as being involved, many of whom the Saudis have already imprisoned. A U.S. federal judge even ruled in 2006 that Iran owed the families of 17 American victims of the bombings a total of $254 million.
However, history has cast some doubt over Iran's role in the attack. For one thing, Hezbollah al-Hejaz never actually claimed responsibility for the Khobar Towers bombing. Iran maintained that al Qaeda was the guilty party, and the Sept. 11 commission suggested an al Qaeda link. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry has also said in recent years that he believes al Qaeda, and not Iran, is to blame for the attack.
There has been no confirmation from the Saudi, Lebanese or U.S. governments that al-Mughassil has actually been detained; all reports have been from anonymous officials and confidential sources. But assuming that al-Mughassil has actually been arrested, perhaps the most confusing of the scant verifiable details available is that Lebanon was either actively or passively involved in offering al-Mughassil to the Saudis. Lebanon — the same country that passed a general amnesty law in 1991 giving sanctuary to figures such as Imad Mughniyah, Hassan Ezzeddine, Ali Atwa, Mohammed Ali Hammadi, and Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun — is not known for extraditing wanted individuals to foreign countries. In the past, Lebanon has not succumbed to U.S. pressure in similar circumstances, even when the United States demanded control over suspects in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847.
It is even less clear why Iran would have decided to offer up al-Mughassil in the first place, if it was in fact Iran that informed the Saudis of al-Mughassil's movements. Is it a show of good faith to Saudi Arabia, an Iranian attempt to show that the Islamic republic is interested in at least partially mending ties with the kingdom? It could be, but offering up one militant who authored a bombing in 1996 is not likely to have much of an effect on the Saudi-Iranian relationship. Was it a low-stakes understanding reached between the Americans and the Iranians, a way for Iran to show it is willing to cooperate with the United States in limited ways outside the framework of the understanding reached on Tehran's nuclear program? There is no evidence to support such a theory, but, to a degree, it seems credible. Next week, Saudi King Salman is due to make his first visit to the United States since he ascended the throne. Washington will likely press Riyadh to hand over al-Mughassil. The Saudis, as they have with previous suspects tied even to the case, will likely refuse but will enjoy having something to hold over U.S. President Barack Obama.
Whatever the details, this much is clear: A well-known militant with a $5 million bounty on his head flew from his safe haven in Iran to Lebanon, a country known for harboring wanted suspects, and to territory controlled by Iranian-backed Hezbollah. After landing in Beirut, he was whisked away to Riyadh. Something in the geopolitical relationship between Iran, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia made this possible. And though we can not yet delineate the precise chronology of events or identify who is responsible for what, the strangeness of the events should give us pause and force us to reconsider what other previously held notions about the Middle East need re-evaluation or may be obsolete altogether.
A good start
Reply #648 on:
August 30, 2015, 12:12:00 PM »
Will Russia Intervene in Syria?
Reply #649 on:
at 10:19:57 AM »
Will Russia Intervene in Syria?
August 31, 2015 | 19:38 GMT
Editor's Note: Stratfor closely monitors conflict zones from a geopolitical perspective. What is perhaps the most volatile conflict today can be found in the territories of Iraq and Syria that are controlled by the Islamic State. Though these areas are cartographically distinct, they are functionally linked: Sunni tribal structures, rebel operations, Kurdish interests, external influences and the suzerainty of the Islamic State bind them together as a single, coherent theater.
The Islamic State capitalized on the chaos of the Syrian civil war and the inadequacy of Iraqi security forces to take over a large swath of the Middle East. After making some impressive gains, including the taking of the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Islamic State now finds itself in an increasingly difficult position, against which a wide array of opponents are aligned. Nonetheless, the group is uniquely resilient and, as such, remains extremely dangerous and unpredictable.
In addition to examining the combatants inside the Syria-Iraq battlespace, Stratfor also tracks the political machinations, negotiations and goals of outside the battlespace, including Iran, Russia, the Gulf monarchies and the United States. For the first time, in one place, Stratfor is providing routine updates covering the gains, losses and extent of the Islamic State's so-called caliphate.
Obama's Strategy Meets Reality in Iraq and Syria
The Islamic State's Gains Mask Its Weakness
The Islamic State's Growth Has Limits
Arab Militaries' Weaknesses are the Islamic State's Strengths
Why Sunni Unity Is a Myth
Why Shiite Expansion Will Be Short-Lived
The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War
A Risky U.S. Proxy Battle Against Islamic State
Russia could be in the process of greatly expanding its involvement in the Syrian conflict, according to sources from Israeli news source Ynet. An Aug. 31 report suggests that a Russian expeditionary force has already arrived in Syria, setting up camp in a loyalist air base near Damascus. If the reporting is accurate, it could be an early indication that Russia will throw its heft behind the Syrian air campaign against the Islamic State and the rebel-aligned factions in the country. According to Ynet, thousands of Russian military personnel are expected to arrive in Syria in the coming weeks, including military advisers and instructors as well as logistics and technical personnel. Additionally, members of the aerial protection division are expected, alongside pilots who will fly an unknown number of fighter aircraft and attack helicopters.
It is Stratfor's assessment that Russia is steadily increasing its support for Damascus. This assistance ranges from the provision of extra materiel, weaponry and equipment to the greater sharing of intelligence on rebel positions and dispositions. Russian pilots and aircraft mechanics also have a long history of serving in foreign air forces in conflict zones, either at the behest of the government or as private contractors. Evidence that Russia is taking a more combative role is already emerging. Stratfor identified Russian-language speakers in recent combat footage obtained from Syria, further corroborating the likelihood that either Russian military personnel or Russian-speaking private military contractors are now actively involved in the conflict.
Nevertheless, Stratfor has yet to see concrete evidence of expanded Russian participation in the Syrian conflict on the scale suggested by Ynet. In fact, cases of false reporting are common, especially where direct Russian support is concerned. Previous reports of MiG-31 interceptor transfers to Syria were never proved, leading to subsequent Russian denials.
When it comes to providing decisive support to Syria, Russia is torn. Moscow is trying to position itself as a credible power that can negotiate a political solution to the Syrian conflict, yet the Kremlin is also keen to bolster the forces of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. If it hopes to reach a favorable settlement, Russia must ensure that loyalist forces do not suffer devastating losses: A weak Damascus would make it harder for Russia to reach an understanding with the rebels and their backers that would safeguard its overall interests in Syria and the region. Thus, it makes sense for Moscow to bolster Syria's defenses, but a full military commitment is unlikely. Such an intervention in the conflict would undermine Russia's position as a strong mediator, calling into question Moscow's overall objectivity. Regardless, given the inherent volatility of the Syrian conflict, Stratfor will closely watch for any further signs of increased Russian involvement in the conflict.
Elsewhere in Syria, Islamic State fighters battling Syrian rebels moved closer than ever to central Damascus. Street battles reportedly raged in the Asali neighborhood of the capital's southern Qadam district over the weekend, killing at least 15 fighters as Islamic State militants seized at least two streets. The district had been relatively quiet since rebels and government forces reached a localized truce a year ago. Stratfor sources indicate that Moscow may finally have been able to get Damascus and the mainstream rebel opposition to broadly agree on elements of a political transition of power in Syria.
Russia long supplied Syrian President Bashar al Assad's forces with the vast majority of their weaponry. Though Iran has since replaced Russia as the primary weapons-provider to the Syrian government, the Russians have continued to ship substantial volumes of small arms, ammunition, spare parts and refurbished material to pro-Damascus forces over the course of the Syrian civil war. This aid, along with support from Iran and other allies, has been vital in maintaining the loyalist armies. And over the last week, there have been indications that the Russians are increasing their support for the al Assad government.
On Aug. 20, the Alligator-class landing ship Nikolay Filchenkov from the Russian Black Sea Fleet was spotted in the Bosporus. On the deck of the amphibious warship, and within the cargo hold as well, were numerous army vehicles and armored personnel carriers, almost certainly headed for the Syrian coast. The same week, videos emerged of BTR-82A armored personnel carriers in action alongside the Syrian Republican Guard and National Defense Forces in the Latakia Mountains. Bearing markings unusual for Syrian equipment, the vehicles are likely recent deliveries from Russia. Recent photos show more Russian equipment recently arrived in Syria, including GAZ Tigr all-terrain mobility vehicles and UR-77 mine-clearing vehicles. Furthermore, on top of a recent rise in Russian military cargo flights into the two Syrian coastal provinces of Tartus and Latakia, reports from sources close to the Syrian government indicate Russia is enhancing its intelligence-sharing program with the Syrians, including the provision of satellite pictures of the battlefield.
The increase in Russian aid is a clear reminder that the Russians are not abandoning the Syrian government. Rather, even as Moscow attempts to mediate a negotiated solution to the Syrian crisis that will safeguard its interests in the region, it will continue to exert considerable effort to make sure the Syrian government can hold its own on the battlefield. It is unlikely that this aid alone will reverse the outcome of the conflict to favor al Assad's forces, because, although generous, it neither fulfills all the Syrian loyalists' weapons requirements nor solves their manpower problems. Still, additional equipment from Russia will bolster the forces as they seek to prevent further rebel gains into their core territories.
However, the origins of the funds being used for these weapons are a mystery. Russia may be providing the increased support without direct financial compensation or the Iranians may have financed the latest Russian shipments. Iran is widely suspected to be behind past aid to Syrian loyalists. It is clear, though, that the money is not coming from Syria itself. Al Assad's government is in dire economic straits and is likely unable to purchase more weapons on its own.
Stratfor receives insight from many sources around the world, along with reports not available for public consumption. It is important to caveat that many reports are unconfirmed or speculative in nature, though they provide valuable context. Interpreting information and compiling multiple data points to build a picture is part of intelligence analysis. Any and all reporting is carefully filtered before being disseminated by Stratfor, yet some insight is worth sharing on its own merits, such as this account from Syria, below.
Russia is heavily invested in the Syrian conflict and has a significant stake in shaping any enduring peace. Stratfor sources indicate that Moscow may have finally been able to get Damascus and the mainstream rebel opposition to broadly agree on elements of a political transition of power in Syria. Russia has long insisted that present Syrian President Bashar al Assad must remain in power during any transition. This is a sticking point for many of the rebel groups, but Moscow appears to have been able to negotiate a middle ground. As Stratfor previously noted Aug. 7:
A flurry of meetings is taking place as stakeholders in the Syrian conflict attempt to work out a power-sharing agreement to replace the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Russia has been driving the negotiation, while Oman acts as a neutral mediator relaying messages to and from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia and the United States. Though the diplomatic activity is picking up, it is still an outside effort divorced from the reality of the battlefield, where Syrian rebels are fighting the al Assad government on their own terms.
According to reports received by Stratfor, al Assad will remain in power during a transition, then cede his political responsibilities to Farouk al-Shara, who will assume the role of Syria's prime minister during the changeover period. In exchange for remaining as a politically neutered figurehead, al Assad will have to let go Syrian National Security Bureau chief Gen. Ali Mamlouk. The opposition will then choose a replacement for Mamlouk — a person that is acceptable to al Assad. The role of army chief of staff would be awarded to an unspecified Alawite and, in addition, the minister of defense portfolio would go to a former brigade commander from the Syrian Republican Guard, Manaf Tlass, who defected to the West in 2012. Stratfor had earlier received word from sources that Tlass, a Sunni, whose family has a long-standing alliance with the al Assad clan, was preparing to re-enter the political scene after spending much of the civil war in Paris.
After a highly publicized defection in 2012, Tlass has been in Paris, keeping a low profile and waiting for the right time to insert himself into negotiations. The Tlass family has a long history with the al Assad family: Manaf's father, Mustafa Tlass, helped rally strong military and Sunni support for al Assad when he took power in 2000. In 2012, we noted that the two families were likely to strike a deal to enable the Tlass family to leave Syria, and we forecast that Manaf Tlass would eventually return to play a role in a power-sharing arrangement. Given that Tlass is a Sunni with a military background who has also maintained close links with the al Assad administration, it is little wonder that he is now allegedly being proffered as a suitable candidate for defense minister in a new Syrian government.
Though Stratfor is unable to confirm the specificity of this insight, there is nothing that is particularly implausible. Farouk al-Shara is one of the more acceptable candidates for the opposition: He is Sunni Muslim, a known nationalist, and publically sought a negotiated solution to the crisis rather than a military one. He also has strong family ties to the rebel-dominated Daraa province. On the other hand, he is staunchly loyal to the al Assad government and is deeply embedded in the Baath Party. Tlass meets the criteria of being a Sunni, but it will be difficult for him to win the trust of the broader Sunni rebellion, which perceives him as being too close to the al Assads. He will also be regarded as out of touch with reality on the ground after spending years in Europe instead of joining the fight.
As Stratfor previously noted, any agreement between Moscow and the Syrian National Coalition is largely irrelevant if it does not have tacit support from fractious rebel groups. The Syrian National Coalition does not speak for the majority of rebel factions, many of which are achieving limited tactical success against Damascus and the Islamic State. This may influence the rebel's willingness to accommodate a political transition, or not. Stratfor closely monitors the behavior of all components of the Syrian conflict and is alert for any change in the political dynamic that could lead to a negotiated solution to the crisis.
Muhammad Haji Mahmud, secretary general of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party, said that U.S., U.N., and British representatives have asked Kurdish parties to allow Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani to remain in office past the expiration of his term on Aug. 20 and to postpone political reform for two years. According to Mahmud, foreign officials are worried that the Kurds will not be able to undergo political transformation while also effectively fighting the Islamic State and dealing with other regional issues.
A previously arranged cease-fire between Syrian rebels and loyalist forces, including Hezbollah elements, collapsed over the weekend. Originally scheduled to end Aug. 16, the cease-fire was in part mediated by Iran and Turkey four days earlier. Centering on the towns of Zabadani, Fuaa and Kafriyeh, the temporary cessation of hostilities showed promise when it was extended beyond the agreed-upon 48-hour duration. Ongoing negotiations seek an end to the conflict in Syria, and localized cease-fires provide important foundations on which to build. However, the collapse of the cease-fire amid entrenched disagreements and mistrust only serves to emphasize the deep divides that exist in Syria. Such divisions will make any comprehensive negotiated solution to the crisis extremely difficult to achieve.
Farther north, the Islamic State showed its determination to hold onto territory in Aleppo province, despite the overarching threat from U.S. and Turkish airstrikes. By continuing its attacks against rebel groups in the area, the Islamic States hopes to undermine a key component of the Turkish-American plan: to train and support certain rebel factions that can then be employed as proxy forces on the ground in Syria. The Islamic State made gains around the key town of Mare, undoubtedly assisted by the withdrawal of Jabhat al-Nusra forces from front-line positions against the Islamic State in Aleppo province.
Damascus recently launched its own offensive in Aleppo province, directed toward Kweiris Air Base, currently besieged by the Islamic State. The latest indications from the ground are that the offensive has already been halted, with little headway made against the extremist group. The loyalist forces simply could not muster enough combat power for a successful push against Kweiris, highlighting the precarious position the air base defenders find themselves in after years of being under siege.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the cancelation of four ministries and the merging of four others on Aug. 17. Overall, according to a statement from al-Abadi, the Council of Ministers will be reduced from 33 members to 22, plus the prime minister. The cuts include three deputy prime minister posts, as well as the ministries of state for women’s affairs and provincial affairs. Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani warned al-Abadi not to dismiss Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, Iraqi Arabic Sky Press reported. Entrenched sectarian interests in Iraq may prevent al-Abadi's reforms from being implemented or even plunge Iraq into deeper sectarian conflict.
Also in Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament referred to the judiciary a report calling for former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and numerous other Iraqi officials to face trial for their roles in the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State. The report alleges that al-Maliki had an inaccurate picture of the threat to the northern city and that he chose and failed to hold to account corrupt commanders. Also implicated in the report were the governor of Mosul, a former defense minister, a former army chief and a lieutenant general in charge of Nineveh province, among others.
Al-Maliki arrived in Tehran on Aug. 16 for talks on bilateral ties and the regional fight against terrorism. It is unlikely that he will simply go along with al-Abadi's reform agenda without attempting to secure his own power. He also has outside support, namely from Iran: Tehran threatened to withdraw its support for Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State and turn its militias against the government in Baghdad if al-Maliki is put on trial for his role in the fall of Mosul. The office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly has been in contact with al-Abadi, as well as other senior Iraqi leaders, in an effort to preserve al-Maliki’s immunity.
Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, released seven members of the U.S.-backed rebel group Division 30 that were abducted last month. The group also said it hopes Jabhat al-Nusra will release its commander. Following the abduction, Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the Division 30 command in northern Syria, leading to the near-collapse of the group. Jabhat al-Nusra, which withdrew from its positions in northern Aleppo ahead of a U.S.-Turkish operation, said it abducted the rebels because the United States trained them.
Elsewhere, string of Syrian government airstrikes on a marketplace in Douma, a rebel-held town near Damascus, killed at least 58 people. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 200 people were injured in attack. The airstrikes follow fresh loyalist offensives against the Islamic State in Aleppo province.
An Iraqi parliamentary panel found at least 30 security and political officials, including former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, responsible for the fall of the city of Mosul to the Islamic State. In the panel's report, the committee also placed responsibility for the June 2014 defeat with former Mosul Gov. Atheel al-Nujaifi, former Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi and Nineveh police commander Khalid al-Hamdani.
A representative of rebel group Ahrar al-Sham said that a cease-fire had ended with the government and Hezbollah in the towns of Zabadani, Fuaa and Kafriyeh. Neither Hezbollah nor the government of President Bashar al Assad have yet commented. The rebel group said that fighting resumed after negotiations brokered by Iran and Turkey broke down over rebel demands for prisoner releases. Ahrar al-Sham had been leading the rebel side of the talks, playing a key role in bringing about the cease-fire that began Aug. 12. Ahrar al-Sham is in the midst of an offensive east against the Islamic State in the buffer zone established by the United States and Turkey.
A spate of bombings across Baghdad left 24 people dead. The blasts went off in Taji to the north, Jisr Diyala, Madaen, Iskan and other areas. The deadliest of these was carried out in the Shiite district of Habibiya and killed 15, wounding 35 others. Earlier, an Islamic State truck bombing in Sadr City killed 70 people Aug. 13.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad have launched an offensive in rural Aleppo province aimed at reaching the government-held Kweiris air base, which is currently under siege by the Islamic State. With the disastrous August 2014 loss of Tabqa air base fresh in their minds, the Syrian government is keenly aware that an Islamic State massacre of the Kweiris defenders could trigger another wave of popular discontent among the loyalist population. Indeed, over the last few days, there have been a few demonstrations in the government stronghold of Tartus calling on Damascus to break the siege and to get its soldiers out of Kweiris air base.
The air base is around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the nearest loyalist lines. The government push to break the siege is a risky endeavor because it is being launched with hastily gathered forces at a time when the loyalists are under significant pressure across the country. The forces will have to contend with potential Islamic State attacks on both flanks and the possibility that the relief force might itself become cut off from assistance. For the defenders of the Kweiris air base, however, the relief force may be their last chance: They have been under siege now for years and are suffering from steady attrition.
To the north of Kweiris air base, also in Aleppo province, Ahrar al-Sham is leading an offensive into Islamic State territory inside the buffer zone that United States and Turkey are trying to establish with airstrikes and allied rebel forces on the ground. The Ahrar al-Sham offensive has made considerable initial progress, seizing two border villages and a natural gas plant, although a successful Islamic State counterattack has complicated their advance. It is still too early to make a call on the outcome. One explanation for Ahrar al-Sham's push is that the group is trying position itself as a vital rebel force to occupy the buffer zone in a coalition operation against the Islamic State. However, Ahrar al-Sham is carrying out its most recent offensive alongside other rebel factions that maintain very close ties with Turkey, including the Nour al-Din al-Zenki battalions, meaning the group is more likely to be coordinating its efforts with Ankara.
Ahrar al-Sham is one of the most powerful rebel factions in Syria and has deftly maneuvered to increase its influence and position within the country. The group has especially benefitted from the increased flow of aid reaching the rebels in Syria. Ahrar al-Sham, alongside other key rebel factions such as Jaish al-Islam, has also sought to promote an image of pragmatism and willingness to cooperate with regional and international efforts. Ahrar al-Sham's leadership has aggressively pursued this public relations effort, even publishing op-eds in Western media including in the Washington Post. This is in spite of opposition from fellow Islamist group and ally Jabhat al-Nusra. Because of Ahrar al-Sham's strong links with Jabhat al-Nusra and its goals for a future Syria, the United States is still hesitant to engage with the group.
Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, however, simply must be part of any search for a solution to the Syrian conflict. The successful establishment of a cease-fire in the towns of Zabadani, Fuaa, and Kafriyeh illustrated the value of working with Islamist organizations, given Iran and Turkey mediated the agreement with the involvement of Ahrar al-Sham and Hezbollah. Involving such groups is especially important in northern Syria, where powerful Islamist factions overshadow groups that the United States favors. The United States will have to contend with this reality as it works with Turkey to push the Islamic State out of Aleppo province.
Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, will leave many of its major positions along the front line with the Islamic State. Over the weekend, the militant group declared that it would neither oppose nor aid the upcoming Turkish- and coalition-led effort against the Islamic State in Aleppo province. Jabhat al-Nusra understands that it risks heavy damage if it fights against the Turkish-U.S. operation and would rather see its Islamic State enemies be the full target of any upcoming operation.
A retreat by Jabhat al-Nusra from its positions in northern Aleppo, even if it loses territory directly under its control, is advantageous for the group in a number of ways. According to Stratfor sources, the United States has agreed to halt its attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra in exchange for the pullback, a major gain since persistent U.S. attacks over the past months have damaged the group's operational leadership. Furthermore, Jabhat al-Nusra can consolidate its forces on other fronts as Turkey, the United States and other rebel forces effectively secure its flanks from attacks by the Islamic State.
It is important to note that Jabhat al-Nusra has already made its mark with successful attacks on the first batch of the New Syrian Force. Having delayed and damaged the program, Jabhat al-Nusra has created more space and time to retreat from the Aleppo border with Turkey. Nevertheless, the Jabhat al-Nusra retreat does not herald an end to its conflict with the West or determine its future position in Syria. As part of al Qaeda and an enemy of the West, the United States will have to address Jabhat al-Nusra eventually, even if the Islamic State is now the priority.
As Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States discuss issues related to the ongoing conflict, including the shape Syria might take following the exit of President Bashar al Assad, there were a number of developments on the battlefield in Syria. These are important to monitor — credible rebel factions have yet to come to the table to discuss a power-sharing agreement. On Aug. 8, the Syrian government carried out airstrikes in the countryside near the capital of al-Hasaka province as well as across Idlib and in northern Latakia province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Unconfirmed reports also indicate that U.S.-led coalition aircraft have carried out strikes near Raqqa that killed two Islamic State fighters.
Clashes between loyalist troops and rebel Islamist forces have been reported ongoing around Tabliseh, Homs province. Government troops also managed to rebuff an Islamic State attempt to take control of the area around Jazal oil field in Homs province. In Rif Dimashq province, government troops bolstered by Hezbollah also fought Islamist rebels in the area of Daraya and Zabdani. Fighting began once again in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus. Aleppo province also saw engagements between government forces and Islamist rebels in the al-Rashdin, al-Sakhour and Jam'ia al-Zahraa neighborhoods. Islamic State clashed with other rebels near Om Hosh village as well.
A flurry of meetings is taking place as stakeholders in the Syrian conflict attempt to work out a power-sharing agreement to replace the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Russia has been driving the negotiation, while Oman acts as a neutral mediator relaying messages to and from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia and the United States. Though the diplomatic activity is picking up, it is still an outside effort divorced from the reality of the battlefield, where Syrian rebels are fighting the al Assad government on their own terms.
Following a trip to Tehran, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who has been leading the negotiations on behalf of the al Assad government, traveled to Muscat, where he met with his counterpart, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah. Though Saudi Arabia has preferred to keep these negotiations more private, the Syrian government is eager to telegraph its involvement in such meetings to boost its legitimacy after years of diplomatic isolation.
The discussion between al-Moallem and bin Alawi allegedly centered on an exit strategy for al Assad. The Syrian government knows that proposing elections in which al Assad runs is a non-starter for negotiations with the Sunni powers, but al Assad is still angling for a graceful exit. Negotiating amnesty for al Assad will be a challenge, however. It is still unclear just how flexible the United States will be on the subject, especially with charges against al Assad pending over his government's use of chemical weapons and other war crimes. Syria has signed but not ratified the International Criminal Court's Rome statute, the founding document for the International Criminal Court, which means the country falls outside its jurisdiction. Unless a future Syrian government ratified the Rome statute or somehow accepted the court's authority, the only way the ICC could bring suit against Syria would be if the United Nations Security Council referred the case to it. However, this is unlikely as long as Russia retains its veto power, which will come in handy during amnesty negotiations. The possibility of a subsequent government charging al Assad in the ICC will also complicate where he can take refuge as part of any deal.
Moreover, Stratfor has received word that Russia invited defected Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a Sunni, to Moscow later this month. After a highly publicized defection in 2012, Tlass has been in Paris, keeping a low profile and waiting for the right time to insert himself into negotiations. The Tlass family has a long history with the al Assad family: Manaf's father, Mustafa Tlass, helped rally strong military and Sunni support for al Assad when he took power in 2000. In 2012, we noted that the two families were likely to strike a deal to enable the Tlass family to leave Syria, and we forecast that Manaf Tlass would eventually return to play a role in a power-sharing arrangement. Given that Tlass is a Sunni with a military background who has also maintained close links with the al Assad administration, it is little wonder that he is now allegedly being proffered as a suitable candidate for defense minister in a new Syrian government.
Meanwhile, the dialogue over the political transition continues. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will head to Turkey on Aug. 11 and then to Moscow later in the month. Russia will also host another round of talks with the highly fragmented Syrian National Council opposition coalition. Multiple factors have been speeding up negotiations: loyalist forces in Syria are suffering setbacks, the United States is trying to avoid a power vacuum in Damascus, and Russia is trying to strike a diplomatic win over Syria. Our assessment remains, however, that these negotiations are largely disconnected from the reality on the battlefield. Sunni rebel forces have the momentum in the fight and are unlikely to agree to a deal at this stage, much less cede power to controversial Sunni figures such as Tlass who have lived comfortably in Paris while others continued the fight in Syria. For this negotiation to yield an effective outcome, it will be vital that Syrian rebel factions get involved.
Two ongoing offensives in Syria, staged by Jaish al-Fatah and the Islamic State, are problematic for Damascus as it scrambles to contain multiple threats. Loyalist forces are spread thin across many fronts but still doggedly attempting to defend their positions and mount counterattacks.
Having largely secured Idlib province, Jaish al-Fatah is now channeling its efforts into pushing down through the strategic Sahl al-Ghab plain corridor in northwest Hama province. Securing the plain would improve rebel access to Latakia province while positioning them for a combined assault on the rest of Hama province alongside other rebels positioned close to the town of Morek.
Against considerable loyalist forces massed on the Sahl al-Ghab plain, supported by large numbers of artillery and armored units, fighting has devolved into fluid battles comprising numerous attacks and counterattacks. The overall advantage lies with the rebels, who are adept at using the heights around the plain to their advantage, relying heavily on anti-tank guided missiles to neutralize the government's superiority in armor. Over the last 48 hours, the rebels succeeded in taking the village of Bahsa, approximately 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Joureen. If they can maintain their progress and take Joureen itself, the rebels would be able to largely isolate the remaining loyalist forces, essentially securing control over the plain.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State capitalized on its inherent mobility and staged a successful surprise offensive, seizing the crossroads town of al-Qaryatayn, not far from Homs. The Islamic State is attempting to hold off a loyalist offensive to take back the ancient city of Palmyra. The militant group's offensive on al-Qaryatayn fundamentally undermines the loyalist advance toward Palmyra by hitting the outer lines of Damascus' forces on the flank and threatening essential supply lines feeding the loyalist advance. With al-Qaryatayn taken, currently the loyalists only have access to one road to reinforce their vital T4 Airbase and support the push on Palmyra.
The recent gains against loyalist positions by the rebels and the Islamic State are, however, far from assured. The inevitable backlash from Damascus may restore its lost positions. But the dual offensives from the north and the east threaten key defended areas, highlighting the increasingly precarious situation of the Syrian government, which is trying to protect its core territories in Hama and Homs provinces.
In Aleppo province to the north, reports indicate that Jabhat al-Nusra is pulling back from some of its positions and handing them over to its allies. Stratfor sources suggest this may be a potential accord mediated by Turkey, whereby Jabhat al-Nusra would vacate northern Aleppo province in return for the cessation of airstrikes on its forces by the United States. Stratfor is watching carefully for any change in U.S. air activity to confirm this possibility.
On the political front, diplomatic efforts to secure a solution to the Syrian crisis proceed. Multiple meetings, visits and proposals are underway, involving all the main countries with a stake in the crisis. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met for the third time this week. And the officials are making some headway. For example, the Russians have agreed to support a draft United Nations resolution to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. With this agreement, Moscow could be setting itself up as a credible mediator by offering a way to secure more concessions from Damascus pending the outcome of the U.N. investigation, which will very likely identify loyalist forces as being the main offenders in the use of chemical weapons.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem continues to engage in shuttle diplomacy with a trip to Oman, which marks his first visit to a Gulf country since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. Because of its more neutral stance, Oman is best positioned among the Gulf nations as a forum for al-Moallem to convey Damascus' position to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Iran has also announced it is about to present a peace plan for Syria to the United Nations, without going into further detail. But despite the considerable effort underway to mediate a solution to the Syrian conflict, it will be very difficult to reach a successful outcome given the widely disparate positions of the key actors.
Turkey, Syria, United States
The United States launched its first airstrike in Syria from the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey. On July 23, leaks emerged that Turkey had agreed to allow the United States to use the air base to intervene in neighboring Syria. The U.S. mission in Syria against the Islamic State is complicated by the plethora of armed actors, each with their own intricate web of alliances and interests. U.S. aircraft and drones have been steadily arriving in Turkish air bases for a comprehensive battle against Islamic State militants, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. The plans involve cutting off the Islamic State’s access to the Turkish border to cut off cross-border flows of weapons and militants, unnamed diplomats familiar with the negotiations said. Satellite images showing armored vehicles in defensive positions reveal Ankara's concern about retaliation following its recent intervention in Syria. Qatar has also given its full support for the ongoing Turkish campaign of airstrikes in northern Iraq, breaking ranks with the rest of the Arab League, according to a Qatari Foreign Ministry statement.
Analysis: Satellite images taken at the Turkey-Syria border corroborate what Stratfor predicted weeks ago: that Turkey, now partnered with the United States, will strike at Islamic State-controlled territory adjacent to the Turkish border. The Turks reportedly began to reinforce their southern border with troops and equipment as early as July 3. But according to these images, which were taken July 26, we now know that that equipment includes Turkish-made main battle tanks and support units poised in a defensive position on the Turkish side of the border.
The areas shown in the images are located near the Turkish town of Elbeyli, on the border with Syria. On July 23, just three days before the images were captured, Islamic State militants fired across the border from the Syrian village of al-Raaee and traded fire with Turkish forces, resulting in the death of a Turkish soldier and a Syrian militant. The next day, Turkish fighter aircraft bombed Islamic State positions in Syria. Soon after, Washington and Ankara came to an official agreement allowing the United States to use Incirlik Air Base to strike against Islamic State positions. Read the full analysis here: Bringing Turkey's Border Strategy Into Focus.
The al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra militant group captured five more U.S.-trained rebels in Syria. The fighters were captured during overnight raids in the village of Qah, near the Turkish border. On July 30, at least eight rebels from the same unit, known as the New Syrian Force, were also abducted by the jihadist group. Meanwhile, the United States confirmed Aug. 4 that it is providing air cover for the New Syrian Force, with the first airstrike carried out on July 31.
Analysis: The U.S. struggle to set up a viable Syrian rebel force on the ground were put in stark relief by recent clashes between the Western-backed New Syrian Force and the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. Over the past weekend, the New Syrian Force was forced to withdraw from its headquarters in rebel-held northern Aleppo province to Afrin canton, controlled by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
The plethora of armed actors in Syria, each with their own intricate web of alliances and interests, makes a unified effort against the Islamic State very difficult. This divergence is equally as strong, if not as hostile, at the Syrian combatant and the state levels, as reflected by the differences of opinion between the United States and Turkey regarding which factions to back. Though the Islamic State's presence in northern Aleppo is increasingly vulnerable, and though it almost certainly will be driven from the area, infighting among its various opponents will delay this eventuality. Read the full analysis here: In Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra Complicates U.S. Strategy.
Iraq, United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is extending its participation in U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State by another year to March 2017, British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said. The extension is the second for the squadron of Tornado GR4 fighter bombers based in Cyprus. The United Kingdom is not taking part in the air operations in Syria, but British Prime Minister David Cameron is planning to ask lawmakers next month to vote on whether to join.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may give up on Syrian President Bashar al Assad and withdraw the Kremlin’s wholehearted support for him in the future, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Aug. 3. Putin’s attitude toward Syria has become more encouraging, Erdogan said, and he no longer believes that Russia will support al Assad to the end. Erdogan was citing his impressions from his meeting with Putin in Baku on June 13. Russia has been facilitating a dialogue between the Syrian regime and Saudi Arabia.
The United States will allow airstrikes to back the rebel groups it is supporting against any attackers, including those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Washington says the mission's goal is still to combat the Islamic State but that the U.S. airstrikes would be used against anyone inhibiting the U.S.-backed rebels from achieving their purpose. Russia criticized the decision, saying it would hinder Damascus from effectively fighting the Islamic State. The United States is hoping to advance the Syrian civil war to a position whereby a negotiated settlement could remove President Bashar al Assad from power.
Fighter jets, thought to be part of the U.S.-led alliance, targeted the al Qaeda-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra near the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo. Meanwhile, the United States denied reports July 30 that rebels it had trained were kidnapped by the jihadist group, Naharnet reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had said earlier that Jabhat al-Nusra kidnapped at least eight members of a U.S.-trained rebel unit. According to the Pentagon, none of 54 graduates of the U.S. training program, known as the New Syrian Force, have been kidnapped.
Analysis: The past three years have been heady times for Syria's Kurds. Since forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad withdrew from the northeast in July 2012, the Kurds have enjoyed more autonomy than at any other time in recent history. Presiding over this autonomous region is the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish political party founded in the wake of 2004 riots in the majority Kurdish city of Qamishli. The PYD's primary objective is to attain Kurdish autonomy within the context of a democratic Syria and its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), has proved capable on the battlefield. YPG fighters have managed not only to fend off Arab attacks on Kurdish territory but have also scored victories against Islamic State targets with U.S. support, even entering alliances with some of the Free Syrian Army militias fighting the Islamic State.
But Turkey's recent decision to also target the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey as part of its direct intervention against the Islamic State does not bode well for the Kurds preserving their gains in Syria. There are few if any parties interested in propping up Kurdish autonomy. It will be difficult for the Kurds to maintain the autonomy they have seized, and Turkey's forays into the Syrian conflict directly challenge the relative autonomy the PYD has been able to establish in northeastern Syria. Read the full analysis here: The Fragile Gains of Syria's Kurds.
United States, Turkey, Syria
A U.S.-backed rebel group known as Division 30 released a statement claiming that its leader, Col. Nadim al-Hassan, was kidnapped by al Qaeda-affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Al-Hassan was on a mission to establish connections with other rebel groups near Aleppo when he was captured, along with a number of his colleagues. Most of the 54 graduates from the U.S.-sponsored train and equip program in Turkey came from Division 30.
This is a major setback during the first week of formalized cooperation between Turkey and the United States. After years of political impasse, the countries have finally agreed to work together to fight the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The United States and Turkey hope that cooperation will advance the Syrian civil war to a position whereby a negotiated settlement could remove President Bashar al Assad from power.
Though Ankara and Washington are actively working together, there is no agreement on which Syrian rebel groups with whom to partner. Turkey is more pragmatic than the United States about who to include and would like to accommodate groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, which is already an effective fighting force. But Washington is extremely wary of associating with an organization directly linked to al Qaeda.
Jabhat al-Nusra most likely staged the kidnapping to make a point; which is to highlight their relevancy and ensure the group is not left out of U.S.-Turkish discussions over which group to support. Meaningful resources are scarce in Syria, so backing from major countries like the United States or Turkey is extremely desirable. Whether al-Hassan and his cohort are released will indicate how cooperative Jabhat al-Nusra is likely to be in the future.
Overall U.S.-Turkish cooperation is predicated on the idea that Ankara will be able to get Syrian rebel groups to cooperate with each other. This is key to achieving any kind of success on the ground. Washington and Ankara provide aid and air support to select rebel groups, but neither Turkey nor the United States is willing to commit ground forces in significant numbers. If Ankara is unable or unwilling to facilitate a solution to the rebel-partnering issue, or selects unpalatable allies, Washington could well back away from Turkey, withdrawing U.S. forces from Incirlik air base and reinvigorating its relationship with the Kurds.
Saboteurs attacked a pipeline transporting crude oil between the Iraqi city of Kirkuk and the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, halting the flow of oil, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said. The attack, which took place near the Iraqi border in Turkey’s Sirnak province, comes a day after militants attacked a natural gas pipeline in Agri province, near the Iranian border. The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq relies on part of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline for its own exports. The pipeline has been carrying around 300,000 barrels of oil per day, down from its maximum operational capacity of 400,000 barrels daily, because of other recent attacks, according to Iraqi government figures.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that his council of ministers views the ongoing Turkish campaign of airstrikes in northern Iraq as a dangerous escalation that violates Iraqi sovereignty. The prime minister said via Twitter that the council is committed not to allow any attack on Turkey from Iraqi territory and called on Ankara to respect good relations between the two countries. An Iraqi Kurdish official also condemned Turkey’s recent attacks against militant Kurdish targets in Iraq, Syria and inside Turkey itself, calling for Kurdish locals in Dohuk province to protest against Turkish military bases in the region. The official, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Central Council chief Adil Murad, said Turkey’s long-established military presence in Dohuk amounts to a foreign occupation.
Israeli aircraft struck a car in a rural part of Quneitra in the Syrian Golan Heights, killing three people. A report by the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar said the strike was carried out by an Israeli drone, and that the two deceased were members of a militia that supports Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The Israeli military would not comment on the report. Israel will continue to prove integral to U.S. aims in Syria by also preventing Turkey from being able to claim the region as its own personal sphere of influence.
Syria’s territorial integrity must be preserved, the Egyptian foreign ministry said in an apparent expression of disapproval of Turkey’s military operations in the country. Cairo supports efforts to combat terrorist groups in Syria, but such efforts must occur within the context of preserving the unity and integrity of Syrian territories, in accordance with international legal norms and decisions. The statement did not mention Turkey by name.
United States, Turkey
Ankara formally signed a deal with the United States over the use of Turkey’s Incirlik air base in the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against the Islamic State, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. The agreement covers only the fight against the Islamic State and does not include air support for allied Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, a spokesman for the ministry said. Strategically, Turkey has no interest in an independent Kurdish state appearing on its border with Syria, which would set the stage for Kurds with similar aspirations in Turkey and beyond.
Syrian rebels launched an offensive on government-held northwestern Syria in a bid to eventually take over the coastal mountains that are the heart of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's power base. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the insurgents, including Jabhat al-Nusra, took over government-held positions in Jisr al-Shughour and pushed into the northern edge of the Sahl al-Ghab plain. Meanwhile, Syrian Kurds and the Syrian army pushed the Islamic State from al-Hasaka.
Turkish fighter jets continued to attack militant targets both inside Turkey and across the border in northern Iraq. After taking off from an air base in Turkey’s southeastern Diyarbakir province, two F-16s hit six targets in Iraq, an unnamed official said, Reuters reported. Airstrikes also hit anti-aircraft and mortar positions of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey’s southeastern Sirnak province, near the Iraqi border. The Turkish General Staff said the anti-PKK action was taken following an attack on Turkish gendarmerie forces in the region by suspected PKK militants.
NATO stands in strong solidarity with Turkey against the acts of terror and instability the country is facing along its southern border with Syria and Iraq, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the opening of an emergency meeting requested by Ankara of all 28 member states, AFP reported. Stoltenberg did not comment specifically on Turkey's recently launched campaign of airstrikes targeting Islamic State and Kurdish militant targets in Iraq and Syria. On July 26, the secretary-general said self-defense has to "proportional." On both the domestic and the strategic levels, Turkey's interests have finally brought Ankara into the fight.
Geopolitical Diary: Turkey's decision to take a more active role in the Syrian conflict will be welcomed by many, including the United States. But, for fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (or YPG) in the small northern Syrian town of Zur Maghar, the intervention is decidedly less welcome. Citing Kurdish sources, Hurriyet newspaper reported July 27 that Turkish tanks fired on U.S.-backed YPG elements in Zur Maghar. The Turkish Foreign Ministry was quick to deny the report, insisting that the target set for Turkish forces was limited to Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq and Islamic State positions in Syria.
This raises speculation that the attack was either an accident resulting from misidentification or that Turkish forces exploited an opportunity to target YPG militants with plausible deniability. A co-chairman of YPG's political parent group — the Kurdish Democratic Union Party — told Al Hayat newspaper that the Kurdish militia might be willing to join Syrian government forces, presumably in response to the developing tension between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds. Read the full Geopolitical Diary here: An Invigorated Turkey Lashes Out.
Turkey, Iraq, Syria, United States
The Turkish military attacked Kurdish insurgent camps for the second consecutive night. The strikes occurred shortly after the Turkish government blamed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for a July 25 attack that killed two Turkish soldiers wounded another four, when a car bomb and roadside explosives hit a passing military vehicle near the Diyarbakir air base. Gunmen also opened fire on a nearby police station; no casualties were reported. The July 27 airstrikes targeted PKK positions near the northern Iraqi border town of Harkuk. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the operations have changed the regional game, and he called for a meeting of NATO states on July 28 to discuss the campaign in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey and the United States agreed to the shared goal of establishing an "Islamic State-free zone" along Turkey’s border with Syria. The agreement involves a roughly 110-kilometer-long (68-mile) area west of the Euphrates River and into Syria’s Aleppo province. This zone would eventually come under control of the Syrian opposition. Several issues, such as the composition of moderate Syrian opposition ground forces that would be used to hold the protected area, are still under discussion, sources said. Washington is reportedly adamant that any joint efforts will not include a formal military-enforced no-fly zone, though Ankara still envisions air cover and protection for the opposition fighters. Ankara's decision to cooperate with the United States and actively battle the Islamic State will have repercussions throughout the Syrian-Iraqi battlespace and within Turkey itself.
Esewhere, Syrian Kurdish forces known as the YPG, or People’s Protection Units, say their positions were hit in cross-border shelling by the Turkish army. The attack occurred on the outskirts of the Islamic State-held town of Jarablus, where the YPG has been fighting the jihadist group. In response, the Turkish military said it has not been targeting Syrian Kurdish forces in northern Syria who say they were hit by cross-border shelling earlier on July 27. A military official said the ministry was investigating claims that Turkish elements engaged positions held by forces other than the Islamic State in Syria or the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Iraq. Earlier, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which has been fighting the Islamic State, said Turkish tanks hit its positions and those of allied Arab rebels in the Aleppo province border town of Zur Maghar and another nearby village. Activists with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the Turkish fire. In a provocative statement, the co-chairman of the Kurdish group the Democratic Union Party, Salih Muslim, said that under the right conditions the YPG could join the Syrian army. According to Muslim, if the Syrian army abandoned the Baathist stance, the group would consider joining it.
Finally, The YPG also captured the town of Sarrin from the Islamic State. The success comes after a monthlong offensive intended to cut the jihadist group’s supply lines. Islamic State fighters had used the town as a launchpad for raids on the Kurdish-held town of Kobani further north. Airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition supported the assault.
More Syrians need to join the army for the military to win the country's civil war against rebel forces, Syrian President Bashar al Assad said in an address July 26. Al Assad, speaking a day after he issued an amnesty for deserters, said that while more people have been joining the army, the number of soldiers was not enough to win a conflict fought on multiple fronts. He also said that his appeal does not mean the military is collapsing.
Turkey, Syria, Iraq
Turkish ground forces and fighter jets targeted Islamic State militant positions in northern Syria as well as Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camps in Iraq on July 25. In a press conference that same day, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey's more direct involvement would continue and as long as the threat to Turkey remains. Ankara's stepped up involvement in Iraq and Syria followed a July 20 Islamic State suicide bombing of a cultural center in Suruc near the Syrian border. Davutoglu added that the goal was to create a "safe zone" in northern Syria by clearing the area of Islamic State militants. Turkish police also began a push to detain people across the country suspected of being Islamist or Kurdish militant group members, arresting almost 600 by July 25. The PKK responded to the airstrikes and arrests with an official statement saying that the group's truce with Ankara had "no meaning anymore."
Turkey, United States
Ankara is expected to allow the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State to station aircraft at a NATO base in southern Turkey, according to a July 23 White House statement. U.S. President Barack Obama and his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reportedly finalized an agreement on use of the Incirlik Air Base in Adana during a telephone call July 22. The two sides initially agreed in principle on use of the base during talks July 7-8. Turkey also announced July 23 that it plans to fly airships and build a two-fenced border system with a moat along its border with Syria. On July 22, Turkey's deputy prime minister said that Turkish authorities had arrested at least 102 Islamic State suspects over the past six months. The United States is coaxing Turkey into playing a more active role in the conflict in Syria.
Geopolitical Diary: Multiple leaks in U.S. and Turkish media on Thursday claimed that the United States and Turkey have reached a deal for U.S.-led coalition forces to use Turkey's Incirlik base for operations against the Islamic State following a phone call late Wednesday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama. Our team has been closely tracking a number of events over the past month, including a Turkish military buildup at the Syrian border, an intensification of anti-Islamic State security operations in Turkey, a recent visit to Ankara by a high-level U.S. delegation and the recent Islamic State suicide attack in Suruc near the Syrian border. Though it was clear to us that some kind of understanding was developing between Washington and Ankara that would inevitably deepen Turkey's military footprint, the scope and details of that understanding were foggy until now. Read the full Geopolitical Diary here: Hints and Leaks Converge on a Turkish Air Base.
Shots fired from the Syrian side of the Turkish border killed one Turkish soldier and wounded at least one more July 23. According to Turkish outlet Dogan News Agency, the shots came from an area controlled by the Islamic State. So far, Ankara has been reluctant to send troops into Syria to confront Islamic State militants directly, instead cracking down on the Islamic State network within Turkey.
Iraq, United States
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made a surprise visit to Baghdad July 23 to assess the success of the campaign against the Islamic State. This is Carter's first trip to Iraq since becoming defense secretary in February. He will meet with U.S. commanders and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Meanwhile, Iraqi forces are reporting that the first stages of the operation to liberate Anbar were successful.
Iraqi Federal Police forces attacked Islamic State sites in al-Madyaq and al-Sadiqah, east of Ramadi, killing 25 militants and destroying six vehicles. The same day, troops trained and equipped by a U.S.-led coalition also joined Iraqi operations for the first time to retake Anbar province, Al Arabiya News reported. The United States has over 3,000 troops in the country to train and advise the Iraqi military.
Muhsin al-Fadhli, allegedly the leader of a group of senior al Qaeda members known as the Khorasan Group, was killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike July 8, a Pentagon spokesman said July 22. Al-Fadhli was traveling in a vehicle near the northwestern Syrian town of Sarmada. The Kuwaiti-born jihadist was reportedly a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle and had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Airstrikes in Syria will weaken, but not destroy militant groups.
An alleged member of the Islamic State was shot and killed late July 22 in Istanbul by a member of a militant group allied with an outlawed Kurdish party. According to a statement released by the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement, a wing of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (known commonly as the PKK), the man had come to Istanbul seven months ago to receive treatment for wounds sustained while fighting with the Islamic State in the Syrian town of Kobani. The group said it had been tracking his movements for three months and that he was planning attacks in the city. Such assassination operations would continue, the group said. Amid four intersecting crises, Ankara's strategy is to be consistently ambiguous.
At least 27 were killed and 100 more wounded July 20 by an explosion in the Turkish town of Suruc, near the Syrian border. The town is located around 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the Syrian town of Kobani, which has been a center of conflict. The blast reportedly targeted a cultural center that housed at least 300 members of a youth organization working to rebuild Kobani. The Islamic State is suspected to be responsible for the attack; Turkey has been considering playing a more active role against the group in Syria.
Analysis: The bombing was carried out in the vicinity of an event at the cultural center, against a soft target and among large crowds. The event drew many volunteers from Istanbul who were on their way to perform relief work in the Syrian city of Kobani. The Islamic State's extensive reach throughout Turkey means it has the capacity to carry out similar attacks in the future. This is particularly true in the region near the Syrian border, where the Islamic State has built up a vast network of safe-houses and agents who facilitate the transfer of recruits and supplies into Syria.
Turkey's decision to crack down on the Islamic State's network in the country left the group with two options: First, it could respond by retaliating against Turkey with terrorist attacks and cross-border raids launched from Syria. Second, the Islamic State could choose not to retaliate to avoid a broader Turkish offensive that could potentially include attacks against Islamic State targets within Syria. Of the two courses of action, the second was always rather unlikely given the Islamic State's previous behavior and its propensity to respond to any pressure with force. Read the full analysis here: The Islamic State Retaliates Against Turkey.
Kurdish forces are in near full control of al-Hasaka city, following an attack by the Islamic State in the area last month. Control of al-Hasaka had been split between government forces and Kurdish militias. If Kurdish militias backed by the United States gain full control of the city, it would be a major blow to Damascus. The Kurds have accused Damascus of being unable to protect the city from Islamic militants.
The Syrian army stepped up airstrikes and retook villages in a new offensive on Islamist rebels in the northeastern coastal Latakia province, army sources said July 19. The army also said it bombarded rebel supply lines and wrested back five villages and hilltops. Islamist rebels, including Jabhat al-Nusra, control many villages in the borderlands north of the government-held port city of Latakia. Governm
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