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Author Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR  (Read 71598 times)
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« Reply #500 on: October 16, 2014, 08:20:56 AM »


U.S.-led airstrikes and Kurdish forces are continuing to push back Islamic State militants from the predominantly Kurdish Syrian town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab), near the border with Turkey. As of Wednesday, coalition forces had conducted over 100 strikes around Kobani, which the Pentagon reported had killed several hundred Islamic State fighters. A Kurdish official reported militants are retreating from parts of the town, though U.S. military officials cautioned Kobani could still fall to the Islamic State group. Additionally, the retired general leading the coalition, General John Allen, noted Islamic State militants have made "substantial gains" in Iraq's western Anbar province, despite U.S.-led airstrikes. He mentioned, however, that coalition forces had pushed militants back in other areas of Iraq.

•   Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is expected to nominate a candidate from the Iranian-backed Shiite militia the Badr Corps as interior minister.  (Well, that will sure help persuade Sunnis to work with the Govt. of Baghdad)
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« Reply #501 on: October 17, 2014, 11:36:10 AM »

Arm the moderate Syrian rebels, they said. Then we'll be able to counter ISIL effectively, they said. Well, say goodbye to the Free Syrian Army as an American ally. "John Allen, the retired Marine general in charge of coordinating the U.S.-led coalition's response to the Islamic State, confirmed Wednesday what Syrian rebel commanders have complained about for months: that the United States is ditching the old Free Syrian Army and building its own local ground force to use primarily in the fight against the Islamist extremists," reports Stars and Stripes. The reasons are simple and entirely predictable. The FSA suffered from "a lack of cohesion, uneven fighting skills and frequent battlefield coordination with the al-Qaida loyalists of the Nusra Front." The Obama administration is going to have a tough time explaining how, without American boots on the ground, we're going to select, form and train an army to oppose ISIL in Syria
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« Reply #502 on: October 21, 2014, 01:18:14 PM »


Kurdish People's Protection Units and Free Syrian Army forces continue to battle Islamic State fighters in the Syrian border town of Kobani. The United States announced Oct. 19 that U.S. Air Force C-130 transport aircraft dropped containers of weapons, ammunition and medical aid to the town’s defenders. Washington reportedly informed Turkey of the move in advance. Now, Ankara has said it will allow Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters to cross Turkish borders and move into Kobani to bolster the town's defenses.

Given Turkey’s previous reluctance to support Kurdish fighters, Ankara appears to be altering its approach following considerable pressure from Washington and other allies. Turkey is keen to maintain strong ties with the United States and is willing to make compromises, which will also help preserve the integrity of its alliances in Europe and the Middle East. Despite this shift, however, Ankara remains wary of directly aiding the People's Protection Units, commonly viewed by the government as terrorists and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK. Regardless, allowing Kurdish fighters to cross the border will only make it harder and costlier for the Islamic State to take Kobani.

The Islamic State arguably accomplished its objectives in Kobani weeks ago when it seized virtually all of the area except for the town itself. This allowed Islamic State fighters to shorten the route between the captured border crossing towns of Jarabulus and Tal Abyad by not having to circumvent Kobani. Stratfor previously noted that Kobani is of very little strategic or even operational value to the Islamic State, and the taking of the town will have extremely little effect on the direction of the conflict in Syria. Numerous Islamic State fighters apparently recognized this fact early on and reportedly sought to prioritize other battlefronts, but were overruled by top Islamic State commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Nevertheless, it is clear by now that the Islamic State -- perhaps for symbolic reasons or because of operational momentum -- has greatly prioritized the seizure of Kobani and has devoted significant resources and manpower to the effort.
Kobani's Fatal Lure
Click to Enlarge
Echoing Germany's disastrous obsession with Stalingrad in 1942, despite having already isolated and reduced the city, the Islamic State's leaders have elected to continue pouring hundreds of fighters into Kobani. They now face a difficult urban battle against determined fighters who are entrenched in prepared positions and supported by coalition air power. By assembling large numbers of fighters and equipment, the Islamic State has created a target-rich environment for the U.S.-led coalition. From the start of the battle, weeks ago, surveillance and reconnaissance overflights have progressively improved the coalition's situational awareness, leading to airstrikes of more damaging accuracy and intensity. Over the last four days alone the United States and its Arab allies executed more than 60 airstrikes in Kobani.

The strikes have been disastrous for the Islamic State, which has lost hundreds of experienced fighters. Reports indicate that the group is doubling down on its flawed strategy by sending further reinforcements from its bastions of Raqaa and Tabqa to continue the assault. Ankara's decision to open a route for Kurdish reinforcements into Kobani further hinders the Islamic State's mission, but it is not as damning for the extremists as a Turkish committal of ground forces. Such a move appears unlikely for the time being. Although Turkey has significant amounts of men and materiel amassed on the border, there is no political will to become embroiled in the Syrian conflict. Ankara will make limited concessions, stopping short of full engagement against the Islamic State. With a coalition willing to maintain air operations and facilitate training for select rebels, Turkey can afford to bide its time for now while dealing with more pressing domestic issues.
A Risky Strategy

The Islamic State has mired itself in a foolhardy frontal assault against a marginal objective, and in doing so it has failed to address ominous developments in more vital Islamic State-controlled areas of Syria. In particular, Syrian forces have capitalized on a weak extremist presence in the critical and far larger city of Deir el-Zour, launching attacks against a reduced enemy. These attacks have enjoyed considerable success, driving Islamic State fighters from several neighborhoods in the city and destroying a number of bridges critical to the jihadists' logistical operations.

The Islamic State continues to make gains in Iraq's Anbar province, mainly because of its superior tactical skill and operational acumen against Iraq's security forces. Had the Islamic State elected to send hundreds or thousands of fighters to Anbar instead of exposing them to the concentrated attacks in Kobani, it is highly likely that the jihadist organization would have been able to achieve considerably more success in a far more vital region.

The battle for Kobani is not yet over, and there remains the possibility that the Islamic State could prevail and seize the town. Were that to happen, however, the damaging truth is that the Islamic State’s obsession with Kobani has already set the group back considerably. With world media focused on the defensive Kurdish and Free Syrian Army fighters holding out against repeated Islamic State attacks, the extremists are handing a propaganda victory to their enemies. Even when the Islamic State does take ground, any success turns into a rallying cry for its opponents. Most important, replacing the severe losses it has already suffered will be difficult for the Islamic State. By devoting disproportionate resources and personnel to seize a town of marginal importance, the Islamic State has distracted itself from more pressing issues in Syria, thereby missing opportunities to achieve further success in Iraq.

Read more: Kobani Ensnares the Islamic State | Stratfor
Follow us: @stratfor on Twitter | Stratfor on Facebook
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« Reply #503 on: October 21, 2014, 11:10:52 PM »

U.S. Cooperated Secretly with Syrian Kurds in Battle Against Islamic State
Kobani Became too Symbolically Important to Lose
Kurds at a cemetery Tuesday mourn three fighters who died in clashes with Islamic State in Suruc, Turkey, near the Syrian border. ENLARGE
Kurds at a cemetery Tuesday mourn three fighters who died in clashes with Islamic State in Suruc, Turkey, near the Syrian border. Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Adam Entous,
Joe Parkinson and
Julian E. Barnes
Updated Oct. 21, 2014 9:35 p.m. ET

In public, the Obama administration argued for weeks that Kobani wasn’t strategically vital to the air campaign against Islamic State extremists. Behind the scenes, however, top officials concluded the Syrian city had become too symbolically important to lose and they raced to save it.

As the U.S. role rapidly evolved, U.S. and Syrian Kurdish commanders began to coordinate air and ground operations far more closely than previously disclosed. A Syrian Kurdish general in a joint operations center in northern Iraq delivered daily battlefield intelligence reports to U.S. military planners, and helped spot targets for airstrikes on Islamic State positions.

In contrast to the lengthy legal debate over U.S. aid to rebels fighting the Syrian regime, U.S. airdrops of weapons to Kobani got a swift nod from administration lawyers—a sign of its importance to the administration.

    Syrian Kurdish Forces Assess Air-Dropped Supplies
    Cost of War Against ISIS So Far: $424 Million

The change in thinking over the fate of one city, described by U.S., Kurdish, Turkish and Syrian opposition officials, shows how dramatically U.S. war aims are shifting. After Islamic State made Kobani a test of its ability to defy U.S. air power, Washington intervened more forcefully than it had initially intended to try to stem the group’s momentum.

In doing so, the U.S. crossed a Rubicon that could herald a more hands-on role in other towns and cities under siege by Islamic State at a time when some U.S. lawmakers question the direction of American strategy and warn of mission creep.

“This is a war of flags. And Kobani was the next place Islamic State wanted to plant its flag,” a senior U.S. official said. “Kobani became strategic.”

The U.S. now is relying on two separate, stateless Kurdish groups in Iraq and Syria as ground forces to back up its air campaign against the extremists.

This has strained U.S. relations with another strategically important ally, Turkey. The U.S. has conferred newfound legitimacy on the Syrian Kurdish militia fighting in Kobani, which is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in neighboring Turkey. The U.S. and Turkey both list the PKK as a terrorist group.

Washington’s decision to send in supplies by air to fighters loyal to the Democratic Union Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PYD, followed a U.S. assessment that the Syrian Kurdish defenders would run out of ammunition in as little as three days.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders told American officials they were considering sending reinforcements from their region to Kobani. To reach the town, they would have to pass through other parts of Syria. U.S. defense officials looked at the route and told the Kurds it would be a suicide mission.

The U.S. asked the Turkish government to let Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross through Turkish territory to reinforce Kobani. U.S. officials said Turkey agreed in principal and that Massoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, proposed sending a specially trained force of Syrian Kurdish refugees.

But events on the ground forced Washington’s hand. U.S. contacts in Kobani sent out an urgent SOS.

“We needed weaponry and fast,” said Idris Nassan, the deputy foreign minister of the Kobani regional government.

To tide the Kurds over until Turkey opens a land corridor, U.S. Gen. Lloyd Austin, who runs the air campaign against Islamic State, decided on a delicate plan: dropping supplies using C-130 cargo planes.

The U.S. didn’t think Islamic State fighters had sophisticated antiaircraft weapons, but the Pentagon decided out of caution to fly under cover of darkness.

Gen. Austin presented the proposal to the White House on Friday. President Barack Obama approved it immediately, U.S. officials said.

Until recently, the White House wouldn’t even acknowledge U.S. contacts with the PYD because of its close ties to the PKK and the diplomatic sensitivities over that in Turkey.

At the White House, Gen. Austin argued last week for resupplying Kobani without Turkey’s consent, U.S. officials said. He warned that the city’s fall would be a recruitment bonanza for Islamic State, leading to an infusion of fresh fighters and newfound momentum while reinforcing its narrative of inevitable expansion.

Resupplying fighters in Kobani wouldn’t normally be a quick decision, both for logistical and political reasons. But administration officials said they saw few alternatives. The U.S. had long kept the Syrian Kurds at arm’s length out of deference to Turkey.

But officials were desperate for partners on the ground on the Syrian side of the border. In recent days, the Kurdish fighters had made gains.

U.S. contacts with the Syrian Kurdish leadership began as indirect and secret.

Then-U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, during stops in Paris, started meeting in early 2013 with an intermediary there of the PYD. After each contact, U.S. officials briefed Turkish counterparts. Daniel Rubinstein, Mr. Ford’s successor, and other officials expanded the dialogue.
Embattled Kobani DigitalGlobe/UNITAR/UNOSAT

The Syrian Kurdish group’s objective during the talks was to persuade the Americans to provide them with military support to fight Islamic State.

“If there is one moderate force in Syria, that’s us,” said Khaled Saleh, the group’s representative in France who took part in many of the preliminary discussions.

For the Syrian Kurdish leaders, progress at first was frustratingly slow.

The U.S. became more responsive over the summer, after Islamic State seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.

U.S. intelligence officers were impressed with the Syrian Kurdish fighters’ track record in combating Islamic State. When the fighters crossed the border into Iraq to help save members of the Yazidi religious minority, policy makers in Washington took note, U.S. officials said. Some Syrian Kurdish commanders are Yazidis by religion.

The Syrian Kurds had other appeal to U.S. policy makers. The fighting force is avowedly secular and pro-Western. It fields female fighters and is committed to combating Islamic State. Kurdish officials say several Americans, including two ex-marines, and dozens of European volunteers, have enlisted to fight alongside the Kurds in Kobani.

Impressed by its military performance, the U.S. decided to invite a representative of the group to sit in the coalition’s joint operations center in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, to liaise with special military units in Kobani collecting battlefield intelligence and coordinates for airstrikes.

Kurdish officials said Islamic State turned its sights on Kobani to make an example of the Syrian Kurdish fighters, whose battlefield successes in Iraq had embarrassed the group.

When the U.S. first started bombing Islamic State targets near Kobani, the goal was to kill as many Islamic State fighters as possible.

“When we see them in great numbers, we take them out,” a senior U.S. official said, adding that extremists “kept coming, so we kept hitting them.”

As Islamic State poured resources into the battle, views in Washington of Kobani’s importance began to change.

Mr. Obama’s special envoys in the campaign against Islamic State, Gen. John Allen and Brett McGurk, arrived in Ankara Oct. 9 for talks. By then, the U.S. already had planned to step up the pace of airstrikes in Kobani, but also knew that wouldn’t be enough.

Turkish officials made clear to the U.S. delegation that they didn’t want Kobani to fall—but they didn’t want to inadvertently empower Kurdish fighters close to the PKK. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the PKK and the Syrian Kurdish fighters as one in the same.

The Turkish and American officials agreed broadly that the Iraqi Kurdish forces known as Peshmerga should play a significant role in Kobani’s defense, but the details about how to bring Kurdish reinforcement to Kobani still needed to be worked out.

After the talks in Ankara, Secretary of State John Kerry called Mr. Barzani, who proposed sending the special security force made up of Syrian Kurdish refugees who had been trained in northern Iraq.

The U.S. and Turkey disagreed about how long Kurdish forces in Kobani could hold out, with the U.S. assessing it would be only a few days while the Turks thought it could be longer.

When Kurdish commanders sent out their urgent appeal, Gen. Austin decided the U.S. couldn’t afford to wait, officials said.

He saw an opportunity, defense officials said.

“By stopping them, and by doing tremendous damage to them, you begin to blunt the sense of momentum, particularly in Syria,” a senior administration official said.

The proposal drew legal scrutiny from lawyers at the White House, State Department and Pentagon. Technically, the Syrian Kurdish leadership wasn’t on the terror list, as was the PKK, they said.

The lawyers also found that the legal bar was lower in this case because the U.S. would be sending Mr. Barzani’s arms, rather than delivering U.S. weapons. There was little debate, meeting participants said.

In the final White House meeting, National Security Adviser Susan Rice laid out the potential diplomatic and legal implications of the airdrop. She didn’t say ‘no’ but she wanted concerns to be raised, a senior U.S. official said. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Mr. Obama the operation was urgently needed.

The equipment that was to be delivered beginning on Sunday was shipped from Erbil to Kuwait, the major U.S. logistics hub in the Middle East. There, soldiers prepared packages for the airdrop, defense officials said.

Medical supplies were rigged to drop with high velocity parachutes that are accurate, but that hit the ground with force. Ammunition, however, would be at risk of exploding if dropped with a high velocity chute. So soldiers in Kuwait rigged the ammunition packages with equipment known as the Joint Precision Airdrop System, or JPAD. The JPADs are guided by GPS, making them highly accurate despite the fact they drop slowly from over 10,000 feet.

As planes crossed over Kobani, nearly all of the high velocity parachutes hit their mark.

At least one of the JPADs sustained a malfunction in its parachute, drifting away from its target zone and into an area controlled by Islamic State.

Turkey on Monday confirmed it would allow the Peshmerga to cross its territory but as of Tuesday, no forces had reached Kobani and talks on the parameters of their mission were ongoing, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

U.S. officials said the outcome in Kobani remains far from certain but the operation could have implications for fighters in other towns facing Islamic State.

“Given where we are now, we’re there to help the people who are able to resist,” a senior U.S. official said.
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« Reply #504 on: October 22, 2014, 01:22:56 PM »

One of the most influential Army officers of the Iraq theater on why the United States seems destined to repeat the mistakes of the past.
•   BY John A. Nagl
•   OCTOBER 21, 2014
The United States is now at war in Iraq for the third time in my lifetime, and after being in the middle of the first two I'm planning to sit this one out.

The first Iraq war was necessary and conducted well, as wars go; the second was unnecessary and conducted poorly at first, but ended up in a reasonable place given what a fiasco it had been at the start. This third war was entirely preventable, caused by a premature departure of U.S. troops after the second. Although it's too soon to say how it will turn out, it is not too early to say that unless we get the endgame right, the United States will fight yet another war in Iraq before too long.

My first Iraq war was Operation Desert Storm, when half a million U.S. troops joined an international coalition to expel Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait in 1991.

Although that war appeared to settle some things at the time, within months of the cease-fire it became clear that Saddam had survived the thrashing we had given his army and was not going to fall to indigenous rebel forces as we had hoped. Instead, we began a decade of containment called Operation Southern Watch, with American war planes flying combat missions around the clock to deter Saddam from further adventurism.

Southern Watch continued until March 2003, when the tempo of combat operations increased sharply during the second Iraq war. Operation Iraqi Freedom began in an air of national panic after al Qaeda's attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the unrelated but frightening anthrax attacks on the U.S. capital. Saddam was working to develop weapons of mass destruction, we were told, and the United States did not want to discover that he had completed them only after seeing a mushroom cloud over Washington or New York. Throwing aside generations of deterrence theory -- which predicts correctly that states will not deploy weapons of mass destruction against another state that possesses them for fear of reprisal -- we invaded Iraq again, this time unnecessarily.

(MARC: He is correct that “States will will not deploy weapons of mass destruction against another state that possesses them for fear of reprisal” but this misses the point with regard to NON-state actors to whom chem, radioactive, and bio weapons could be handed off—as we were seeing for example with the anthrax attacks.  The author apparently has fallen here into the mistaken meme that Iraq War-2 was purely about WMD.  This is not right, the list of reasons was quite wrong; WMD was simply the one of them used to seek legal cover/approval from the UN)

Not just unnecessarily, but also poorly. Iraq was three nations inside a single state, held together by a brutal dictatorship. Although there were prewar warnings that hundreds of thousands of troops would be required to police Iraq after the government collapsed, we invaded with a fraction of that number. We had no plan to create a new order in postwar Iraq or even to secure the weapons-storage depots that were the supposed reason we were invading. Decisions made in the immediate aftermath of the invasion to disband the Iraqi Army and forbid any former members of the ruling Baath Party from again holding positions of influence poured fuel on the embers of a Sunni insurgency that burst into flames.

(MARC:  True enough, but completely fails to address the concerns of the Shia—whom along with the Kurds Bush-1 had left to be brutalized by Saddam after encouraging them to rise up.  Understandably the Shia wondered as to our intentions this time around—seeing that the Sunnis would not continue to oppress them in a new form was a logical concern on their part and one which we had to address.)

Rather than coming home by Christmas, the invasion force called for reinforcements, including my tank battalion.
We arrived in Anbar province in September 2003, right in the heart of the insurgency, and immediately discovered that our prewar training to fight other armies would be of little help. We were fighting insurgents who, in Mao's clever phrase, were fish swimming among the sea of the people -- Sunnis who hated us and their new Shiite overlords in Baghdad, whom they saw as collaborators with the occupiers.

It got worse. We had been told that Saddam was collaborating with al Qaeda, which was not true, but in the power vacuum that followed his demise, radical Islamists found a toehold. They named themselves al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and increased the sophistication of the weapons they deployed against U.S. troops. Simple improvised explosive devices made of the artillery rounds that literally littered the desert were replaced by sophisticated AQI car bombs like the one that destroyed the Khalidiya police station one Sunday morning, killing 34 Iraqi police officers we had trained and equipped. When my tank battalion left Anbar after a year of fighting, we made coffee cups that said "Iraq 2003-2004: We Were Winning When I Left."

We weren't, and we knew it. I went to work in the Pentagon and became reacquainted with my former West Point professor David Petraeus, who was then a lieutenant general returning from his own second combat tour in Iraq. In 2006, I helped him write an Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual that suggested fighting a very different kind of war from the one we were then waging. Appointed to command the whole Iraq war effort shortly thereafter, General Petraeus put the new counterinsurgency doctrine into practice, building an Iraqi Army and eventually persuading the Sunnis who had been our enemies to switch sides and fight with us against the increasingly brutal AQI. Within 18 months, violence dropped by two-thirds, and we put Iraq on a path to stability (if not perfect democracy).

We seized defeat from the jaws of not-quite victory by not leaving behind a force of some 20,000 American advisors to stiffen the spine of the Iraqi Army and, perhaps more importantly, moderate the anti-Sunni tendencies of the Shiite politicians. But once he came into office, U.S. President Barack Obama overruled the advice of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Petraeus, who had since become director of the CIA. Obama's advisors urged him to keep troops in Iraq. Instead, the president chose to fulfill a campaign promise that he would end the war in Iraq during his first term. He abandoned a country in which Americans had been working and fighting continuously for more than 20 years in an effort to build a stable state.

In our absence, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave in to his worst sectarian tendencies, firing Sunni leaders of the Iraqi Army and replacing them with incompetent Shiite cronies. Al Qaeda in Iraq staged a comeback across the border in Syria, where another civil war raged without American involvement to moderate it. And this year, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham came roaring to life, seizing most of the Sunni territory in Iraq. Maliki's stooges abandoned their units under fire, and the Iraqi Army, built with billions of U.S. dollars and at the cost of many American soldiers' lives and limbs, crumbled in the absence of American air power and advisory support. Two years without Americans engaged in combat in Iraq ended in tragedy, and last month the president announced that U.S. combat troops were returning to Iraq to fight yet another war there, this time against the Islamic State.

With luck, we have learned a few things from these decades of war in Iraq: that the enemy has a say about when wars end, that in the absence of American leadership such evil forces will rise to power that we get dragged back in to fix things again, that wars are messy and slow and last a long, long time. Unless we finally get it right, I expect a fourth war in Iraq. I'm not optimistic.
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« Reply #505 on: October 22, 2014, 01:31:40 PM »

Second post

Before we get to today's news, KP's Kate Brannen has an interesting tidbit on how the air campaign against the Islamic State is being fought. When the Obama administration announced the start of a U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria last month, much was made of the five Arab states recruited to confront the group. According to Kate, the role these nations are playing in the coalition is now less transparent.   

"In fact, the Pentagon won't be talking about allied contributions anymore at all: On Tuesday, in a quiet change, the Defense Department said it would no longer provide daily information on what its coalition partners were doing in the fight against the Islamic State.

"U.S. Central Command announced the shift Tuesday in its daily update about airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. 'Beginning with this news release, out of respect for participating nations, U.S. Central Command will defer to partner nations to publicly comment on their airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq,' the release said.

"The policy change comes after a week's gone by without any mention of participation by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan or Bahrain in airstrikes in Syria. The last day it noted help from coalition partners was Oct. 14."

Now, on to the news.

A report in the Washington Post indicates that the United States and Iraq are planning an offensive to take back territory won by the Islamic State. From WaPo's Karen DeYoung: "The plan, described as methodical and time-consuming, will not begin in earnest for several months and is designed to ensure that Iraqi forces¬ do not overextend themselves before they are capable of taking and holding territory controlled by the militants." More here.

The devil is in the details. According to the Post, this new campaign might require "U.S. advisers in the field with the Iraqis, should that be recommended by American military commanders." This could represent an escalation of the American role in the conflict, as well as a potentially explosive political issue for the White House; President Obama has consistently maintained that no American boots would be on the ground in Iraq. But there is growing doubt that this promise will be kept: a new survey of readers show that 54 percent believe American troops will return to Iraq.

Iraq's new defense minister has strong words for the Islamic State. Al Awsat's story: "In his first televised speech following his appointment on Saturday, Iraq's new Defense Minister Khalid Al-Obeidi pledged that Iraqi forces would retake all areas of the country that have been taken over by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 'We are committed to the liberation of the provinces that have fallen under ISIS control and securing the return of refugees to their homes, securing peace and stability for our country,' the new defense minister pledged on Tuesday." More here.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the Arab spring continues. Four year ago, the Arab Spring was celebrated in the west as the potential birth of new democracies across the Middle East. Now, it's clear that the protests-and the issues that drove them-are much more complex that Western media made them out to be at the time. Tunisia is the latest example.

Tunisia is among the Arab world's most educated countries, but militants are recruiting heavily there. The NYT's David Kirkpatrick: "Nearly four years after the Arab Spring revolt, Tunisia remains its lone success as chaos engulfs much of the region. But that is not its only distinction: Tunisia has sent more foreign fighters than any other country to Iraq and Syria to join the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State.

"nstead of sapping the appeal of militant extremism, the new freedom that came with the Arab Spring revolt has allowed militants to preach and recruit more openly than ever before. At the same time, many young Tunisians say that the new freedoms and elections have done little to improve their daily lives, create jobs or rein in a brutal police force that many here still refer to as 'the ruler,' or, among ultraconservative Islamists, 'the tyrant.'" More here.

Not only is it wrong to blame the Islamic State's rise on the U.S. failure to secure a two-state solution-it's also flat-out dangerous. Aaron David Miller for FP: "In any conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian problem, I'd be the first to concede that failure to resolve it damages U.S. interests in the Middle East and undermines American credibility. But what has become even more stunningly clear in recent years is that even if the United States could fix the Palestinian issue and produce a two-state solution, that accomplishment alone would not stabilize the angry, broken and dysfunctional Middle East. The region is already in the process of melting down for a tsunami of reasons that have nothing to do with the Palestinians. But talking about the consequences of not fixing the Palestinian issue, particularly in Chicken Little the 'sky is falling' terms, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been wont to do, doesn't help matters-it makes them worse." More here.

One of the most influential Army officers of the Iraq theater on why the United States seems destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. For FP, John Nagl reflects on his experiences during the 2003 Iraq War: "The United States is now at war in Iraq for the third time in my lifetime, and after being in the middle of the first two I'm planning to sit this one out...Although it's too soon to say how it will turn out, it is not too early to say that unless we get the endgame right, the United States will fight yet another war in Iraq before too long.

"...With luck, we have learned a few things from these decades of war in Iraq: that the enemy has a say about when wars end, that in the absence of American leadership such evil forces will rise to power that we get dragged back in to fix things again, that wars are messy and slow and last a long, long time. Unless we finally get it right, I expect a fourth war in Iraq. I'm not optimistic." More here.

Kobani has become the focal point of the fight against the Islamic State. This Syrian border town has emerged as the most important battle of the American campaign. Whether or not it's strategically important-and DOD officials insist it isn't-the optics of the fight have elevated it in the eyes of the international press.

If Kobani wasn't strategically important to begin with, it is now. FP's Brannen and Gopal Ratnam: "The Obama administration's rapidly intensifying efforts to prevent Kobani from falling into the hands of the Islamic State have backed the United States into a corner. While Pentagon officials maintain that the town isn't strategically significant, the United States has invested so much in saving Kobani that its fall would hand the Islamic State a publicity win and deal a symbolic blow to the U.S.-led war effort.

Shashank Joshi, a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London to FP: "I think the U.S. was caught between trying to discount the significance of Kobani and then realizing that it had no choice but to be drawn in, because Kobani has become a token for the campaign's ability to succeed with airpower alone... I think against their better judgment the U.S. found itself compelled to provide greater and greater airpower, even when that came at the expense of more consequential areas like Anbar province." More here.

From WSJ, U.S. Cooperated Secretly with Syrian Kurds in Battle For Kobani. More here.

Turkey has been a reluctant participant in the fight against the Islamic State. But with Kobani on the brink, there are new signs that Ankara might be forced to do more. Here's the latest evidence: A kidnapping in Turkey shows the Islamic State's broad reach. More from WaPo here.   
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« Reply #506 on: October 23, 2014, 10:39:55 PM »
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« Reply #507 on: October 26, 2014, 01:23:14 AM »
Power User
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« Reply #508 on: October 27, 2014, 01:33:16 PM »

In the aftermath of the fall of Kaddaffy in Libya I noted several times with vigor the importance of the many, mnay MANPAD anti-aircraft missiles from Kaddaffy's armory that were falling into AQ hands and the dangerous implications thereof.

Note too how the Russians may be adding to the problem.

Missiles of ISIS May Pose Peril for Aircrews

BAGHDAD — From the battlefield near Baiji, an Islamic State jihadist fired a heat-seeking missile and blew an Iraqi Army Mi-35M attack helicopter out of the sky this month, killing its two crew members.

Days later, the Islamic State released a chilling series of images from a video purporting to capture the attack in northern Iraq: a jihadist hiding behind a wall with a Chinese-made missile launcher balanced on his shoulder; the missile blasting from the tube, its contrail swooping upward as it tracked its target; the fiery impact and the wreckage on a rural road.

The helicopter was one of several Iraqi military helicopters that the militants claim to have shot down this year, and the strongest evidence yet that Islamic State fighters in Iraq are using advanced surface-to-air missile systems that pose a serious threat to aircraft flown by Iraq and the American-led coalition.

As the counteroffensive against the Islamic State enters a more aggressive phase in Iraq, allied airstrikes will also intensify. American officials say they fully expect that the push will bring out more proof of the jihadists’ antiaircraft abilities, with potentially serious consequences for how the Iraqis and their coalition partners wage their war.

“Based on past conflicts,” said one senior American military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate intelligence assessments, the missiles “are game changers out there.”

The proliferation of antiaircraft weaponry has also heightened concerns about the vulnerability of Iraq’s airports, particularly Baghdad International Airport, the country’s most important transportation hub and a lifeline for military supplies and reinforcements to Iraq.

Signaling its intent to challenge American supremacy in the skies, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, recently published an online guide describing how to use shoulder-fired missiles to shoot down an Apache attack helicopter, one of the most fearsome weapons in the United States Army’s conventional arsenal.

“Choosing the launching spot: Preferably somewhere high,” the guide says in Arabic. “The roof of a building or a hill with a solid surface to prevent the appearance of dust following launching.”

The authors urged “strong confidence in God and composure,” and certainty “that this operation will cause a disaster to the foes and destroy their arrogance.”

The United States has stationed about a half-dozen Apaches at Baghdad International Airport, but they have been used only rarely in the two-and-a-half-month-old aerial campaign against the Islamic State, in part because of worries about their vulnerability to ground fire and because of a lack of American search-and-rescue teams in Iraq that could respond to downed aircrews. The concerns also reflect the White House’s insistence on limiting the number of American troops in Iraq and their exposure to hostile fire.

This month, Apaches entered the battle for the first time, in coordination with United States Air Force jets, to carry out four airstrikes on a large Islamic State force northeast of Falluja, in the sprawling desert and agricultural province of Anbar. The militants have established several strongholds there, and have continued to gain ground there against Iraq’s security forces in recent weeks.

Now, though, the Iraqi military is beginning to mount larger and more complex efforts around the country to retake territory from the Islamic State, including a counteroffensive that began a week and a half ago to break the militants’ stranglehold on a key refinery in Baiji, north of Baghdad. The new phase will mean an increase in the frequency of combat missions by coalition aircraft, and will likely demand a greater use of lower-flying American attack helicopters and gunships, which have important advantages in urban warfare.

Since much of the most difficult fighting in the coming months is expected to unfold in the towns and cities of Anbar, American generals may be inclined to order more Apaches to support Iraqi ground troops. They may also make greater use of AC-130 gunships, a lumbering, propeller-driven plane bristling with cannons that circles at altitudes at the outer limits of some shoulder-fired missiles.

As Iraqi and American officials weigh the added risk to their aircrews and, potentially, to civilian aircraft, they are particularly concerned about the threat of shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles, commonly known as Manpads, short for Man-Portable Air Defense Systems.

Syrian rebels have amassed multiple Manpad models since 2012, and the Islamic State has generally had little trouble acquiring any weapon used by Syrian rebels either through purchase or capture, military analysts say. Though the Pentagon’s Central Command acknowledges this concern, it said it had no conclusive evidence yet that the Islamic State had such weapons.

The maximum ranges and altitudes of Manpads vary from system to system, but they are generally used against low-flying aircraft, such as fixed-wing aircraft soon after takeoff or shortly before landing, or helicopters.

Sunni militants in Iraq have long maintained a limited, aging stock of SA-7 Manpads, a ubiquitous Soviet-designed system that they periodically used during the American occupation from 2003 to 2011, said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.

Since at least late 2013, however, the Islamic State’s forces in Iraq appear to have acquired more sophisticated antiaircraft missile systems, including the Chinese-made FN-6, originally provided by Qatar and possibly also Saudi Arabia to Syrian rebels.

In the images purporting to show the shooting down of the Iraqi attack helicopter, on Oct. 3 in Baiji, the militant, a scarf wrapped around his face, is wielding a Chinese-made FN-6 missile system — apparently the first documented use of the weapon by Islamic State jihadists in Iraq, analysts said.

The militants claimed to have shot down several other Iraqi military helicopters this year, most recently a Bell 407 on a surveillance mission near Baiji on Oct. 8.

“Judging by reports from Iraq, and in particular Anbar Province, over the last three to four months, it would seem ISIL have been using Manpads far more frequently and more successfully than Syrian rebels have ever done,” Mr. Lister added.
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An even greater potential concern is that militants might get their hands on SA-24’s, a more sophisticated system that Russia recently sold to Iraq, and first showed up in militant videos in September, said Matthew Schroeder, a missile proliferation analyst at Small Arms Survey, an independent research project based in Geneva.

The SA-24’s have a longer range than older models and use faster and more maneuverable missiles, Mr. Schroeder said.

Newer systems also have a greater ability to hit targets from a wider range of angles, such as a perpendicular shot at a moving target like a plane on its approach to a runway.

As Iraqi and United States officials have weighed the threats to their military aircraft, they have also taken steps to safeguard the nation’s airports. The protection of Baghdad International Airport, on the western edge of the capital, has been of special concern, especially since the early summer when the Islamic State’s advances in Anbar and on the western fringes of greater Baghdad brought it to within 15 miles of the airport.

Officials acknowledge that any disruption to the airport’s services by an insurgent attack of any type would have an outsize psychological and logistical impact.

In July, the Pentagon rushed the Apaches, plus Shadow surveillance drones and 200 American soldiers, to the airport based on a classified intelligence assessment that the sprawling complex was vulnerable to attack, American officials say.

But although the Islamic State has continued to score victories in nearby Anbar, the militants have not advanced closer to the city since the summer, easing fears that the airport was going to be overrun. Iraqi and American military officials have insisted in interviews that they have taken the necessary precautions to protect the airport and aircraft there, and that there is not an imminent danger of attack.

Vehicle access to the passenger terminal area is tightly controlled with special permission granted on a case-by-case basis. The airport is bordered on the east and northeast by a large military complex. In the farmlands that abut the rest of the complex, the government has militarized the roads with a heavy police and military presence and checkpoints, and, officials said, infiltrated the neighborhoods with intelligence officers.

“We’re very sure that Baghdad International Airport is safe for departure and for arrival,” said Capt. Saad M. Saeed, the general director of Iraqi Airways, Iraq’s national carrier. “I’m a pilot. If I know there’s one-in-a-million chance, I won’t take the risk.”

Yet in August, an Iraqi Airways captain told colleagues that his plane had been hit by gunfire as it approached the airport from the north, a route that would have passed over the restive Sunni district of Abu Ghraib. The plane, which landed safely, was hit by at least two bullets, according to two Iraqi Airways pilots who said they had been told about the shooting.

Ali al-Bayati, deputy director of Iraqi Airways, denied that such an event had occurred. Rumors, he said, were part of the Islamic State’s arsenal. “Considering that the airport is a very high-value target for them,” he said, “they’re spreading a lot of rumors.”

Kirk Semple reported from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington and MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Reporting was contributed by C.J. Chivers from the United States, Kareem Fahim from Baghdad, Karam Shoumali from Istanbul, and Rena Netjes from Amsterdam.
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« Reply #509 on: October 27, 2014, 11:34:13 PM »

Children of the Caliphate
The Islamic State is raising an army of child soldiers, and the West could be fighting them for generations to come.

    BY Kate Brannen
    OCTOBER 27, 2014

They stand in the front row at public beheadings and crucifixions held in Raqqa, the Islamic State's stronghold in Syria. They're used for blood transfusions when Islamic State fighters are injured. They are paid to inform on people who are disloyal or speak out against the Islamic State. They are trained to become suicide bombers. They are children as young as 6 years old, and they are being transformed into the Islamic State's soldiers of the future.

The Islamic State has put in place a far-reaching and well-organized system for recruiting children, indoctrinating them with the group's extremist beliefs, and then teaching them rudimentary fighting skills. The militants are preparing for a long war against the West, and hope the young warriors being trained today will still be fighting years from now.

While there are no hard figures for how many children are involved, refugee stories and evidence collected by the United Nations, human rights groups, and journalists suggest that the indoctrination and military training of children is widespread.

Child soldiers aren't new to war. Dozens of African armies and militias use young boys as fighters, in part because research has shown that children lack fully formed moral compasses and can easily be persuaded to commit acts of cruelty and violence.

The young fighters of the Islamic State could pose a particularly dangerous long-term threat because they're being kept away from their normal schools and instead inculcated with a steady diet of Islamist propaganda designed to dehumanize others and persuade them of the nobility of fighting and dying for their faith.

"[The Islamic State] deliberately deny education to the people who are in the territory under their control, and not only that, they brainwash them," said Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who's tasked with thinking about future threats and planning for the Army's future. "They engage in child abuse on an industrial scale. They brutalize and systematically dehumanize the young populations. This is going to make this a multigenerational problem."

Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, recently returned from a visit to Iraq, where he interviewed displaced Iraqis in Baghdad, Dohuk, and Erbil. He said there is a "large and dangerously successful recruitment" program.

Speaking to a small group of reporters at the U.N., he said the fighters "appeal" to some of the youngsters and that they have approved adept at "manipulating young men and children." He explained that "they project an image of being victorious" and offer the promise that those who fall in battle will "go straight to heaven."

"What is striking for me is to meet mothers who [tell us], 'We don't know what to do,'" he said. "Our sons are volunteering and we can't prevent it."

On the front lines of Iraq and Syria, the boys who join or are abducted by the Islamic State are sent to various religious and military training camps, depending on their age. At the camps, they are taught everything from the Islamic State's interpretation of sharia law to how to handle a gun. They are even trained in how to behead another human and given dolls on which to practice, Syria Deeply, a website devoted to covering the Syrian civil war, reported in September.

Children are also sent into battle, where they are used as human shields on the front lines and to provide blood transfusions for Islamic State soldiers, according to Shelly Whitman, the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, an organization devoted to the eradication of the use of child soldiers.

Eyewitnesses from the Iraqi towns of Mosul and Tal Afar told United Nations investigators they have seen young children, armed with weapons they could barely carry and dressed in Islamic State uniforms, conducting street patrols and arresting locals.

U.N. human rights experts have "received confirmed reports of children as young as 12 or 13 undergoing military training organized by ISIL in Mosul," according to a report written jointly by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the human rights office of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq.

In al-Sharqat district in Salah al-Din, the number of youngsters manning checkpoints "drastically increased" during the last week of August, the report said. And in the Nineveh Plains and Makhmour, male teenagers were swept up in August in a recruiting drive by advancing fighters from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Some of these boys reported that they "were forced to form the front line to shield ISIL fighters during fighting, and that they had been forced to donate blood for treating injured ISIL fighters," according to the report.

Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, the pseudonym of a 22-year-old man who lived in Syria until about a month ago, is the founder of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a Twitter account and Facebook page that documents the brutality of life in Raqqa, the city where he grew up. In addition to him and three others now living outside of Syria, there are 12 people inside of Raqqa, who contribute photos and information about what's going on inside the city.

Reached via Skype, he told Foreign Policy that the Islamic State has stepped up its youth recruitment program, including a boot camp for young boys where they're taught combat skills.

He said teenagers from Raqqa were being trained and then quickly sent to fight in Kobani, the Syrian-Turkish border town where the Islamic State has been in a brutal fight with Kurdish fighters for several weeks. U.S. and coalition aircraft have conducted more than 135 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in and around the town, killing hundreds of the militants.

In Raqqa, where poverty is widespread after more than three years of war, the group often persuades parents to send their children to the camps in exchange for money, Raqqawi said. Sometimes, the Islamic State appeals directly to the children themselves, holding public recruiting events or parties and then offering the children money to attend training. With all of the schools closed in Raqqa, there is little else for children to do, Raqqawi said.

There are several well-known youth training camps across Raqqa province, he said, including al-Zarqawi Camp, Osama Bin Laden Camp, al-Sherkrak Camp, al-Talaea Camp, and al-Sharea Camp.

Raqqawi estimated that there are between 250 and 300 children at al-Sharea Camp, which is for kids under the age of 16.

He provided photos of children at this camp, including one of young boys sitting down to a meal together, and another of a young boy smiling as he completed an obstacle course.

When there is a big battle, like the one in Kobani, the training is accelerated, Raqqawi said.

In Iraq, there is also substantial evidence that children are being forced into military training.

Fred Abrahams, special advisor at Human Rights Watch, interviewed Yazidis in Iraq who had escaped Islamic State detention. They said they had witnessed Islamic State fighters taking boys from their families for religious or military training.

    One Yazidi man who escaped said he watched his captors separate 14 boys ages 8 to 12 at a military base the Islamic State had seized in Sinjar and take them off to learn how to be jihadists.

One Yazidi man who escaped said he watched his captors separate 14 boys ages 8 to 12 at a military base the Islamic State had seized in Sinjar and take them off to learn how to be jihadists.

This summer, Vice News gained extraordinary access to the Islamic State, producing a five-part video documentary about life under the group's control. The second installment focused on how the Islamic State is specifically grooming children for the future.

"For us, we believe that this generation of children is the generation of the caliphate. God willing, this generation will fight infidels and apostates, the Americans and their allies," one man tells Vice.

The video shows a 9-year-old boy saying that he's headed to a training camp after Ramadan to learn how to use a Kalashnikov rifle.

An Islamic State spokesman told the Vice journalists that those under 15 go to sharia camp to learn about religion, but those older than 16 can go to military training camp.

The Islamic State's command of social media also helps it convince people from all over the world to travel to Iraq or Syria to join the group.

Part of this effort involves using children as propaganda tools, posting photographs on social media sites of them dressed in Islamic State uniforms marching alongside grown-up fighters. "In mid-August, ISIL entered a cancer hospital in Mosul, forced at least two sick children to hold the ISIL flag and posted the pictures on the internet," the U.N. report said.

The Islamic State's online recruitment has proved successful, drawing more than 3,000 Europeans. The FBI says it knows of roughly a dozen Americans fighting with the group, but acknowledges there could be more.

Three American high school girls from Colorado were caught last week in Frankfurt, Germany, apparently on their way to join the Islamic State in Syria. Reports say they were radicalized online.

The Vice News video shows a Belgian man who traveled to Raqqa with his young son, who appears to be 6 or 7 years old.

The father coaches his son to tell the cameraman that he's from the Islamic State and not Belgium, and then asks him whether he wants to be a jihadist or a suicide bomber. The young boy says, "Jihadist."

Raqqawi told FP that when he was still living in Raqqa he saw an American woman, her Algerian husband, and their daughter, who looked to be about 4 years old.

He says he also saw a French fighter with two kids: a blond boy who looked to be 6 years old and a daughter who was about a year old.

"We see a lot of foreign fighters inside the city. It is shocking," he said.

In Syria and Iraq, children are not just being radicalized, but are also being exposed to extreme levels of violence every day.

Raqqawi provided FP photos he took while still living in the city, of children watching crucifixions.

He said the children have become so accustomed to these executions that the sight of a head separated from a human body no longer seems to faze them.

"The Islamic State destroys their childhood, destroys their hearts," he said.

Misty Buswell, who's based in Jordan as the Middle East regional advocacy officer for Save the Children, said, "It's not an exaggeration to say we could lose a whole generation of children to trauma."

Buswell said the child refugees she's interviewed are having nightmares, avoiding interactions with their peers, and showing signs of aggression toward other children.

"I have met children who have stopped speaking, and who haven't spoken for months, because of the terrible things that they witnessed," Buswell said. "And those are the lucky ones who actually made it across the border to safety."

With time and the right kind of intervention those children can be helped and can be able to have somewhat more of a normal life, Buswell said. "But for the kids who are still inside and who are witnessing this on a daily basis, the long-term effects are going to be quite significant."

Buswell said that refugees almost always want to return home once the situation there stabilizes and peace returns.

When she asked refugees from Sinjar that question a few weeks ago, however, she was surprised by their answer. "It's one of the first times I've actually heard people telling me that the things that they saw and experienced were so horrific and traumatic -- and the things that their children saw -- that they didn't want to go back, because there are too many bad memories."

Colum Lynch contributed reporting to this article.
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« Reply #510 on: November 03, 2014, 06:23:56 AM »

Iraqis Prepare ISIS Offensive, With U.S. Help

WASHINGTON — Iraqi security forces, backed by American-led air power and hundreds of advisers, are planning to mount a major spring offensive against Islamic State fighters who have poured into the country from Syria, a campaign that is likely to face an array of logistical and political challenges.

The goal is to break the Islamic State’s occupation in northern and western Iraq, and establish the Iraqi government’s control over Mosul and other population centers, as well as the country’s major roads and its border with Syria by the end of 2015, according to American officials.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have made inroads in recent weeks in securing territory threatened or captured by the Islamic State, including the Rabia border crossing with Syria, the oil refinery in Baiji north of Baghdad, the northern town of Zumar, and Jurf al-Sakhar southwest of Baghdad.

But the major push, which is being devised with the help of American military planners, will require training three new Iraqi Army divisions — more than 20,000 troops — over the coming months.

"It is a balance between letting them develop their own plan and take ownership for it, and ensuring that they don’t stretch themselves too far and outpace their capability,” said one United States military official, who asked not to be identified because he was discussing war planning.

Though the United States began to carry out airstrikes to protect Erbil in August, the longer-term campaign plan has remained under wraps. Now that the planning has advanced, more than a dozen Iraqi and American officials provided details about a strategy that is certain to become increasingly visible.

The basic strategy calls for attacking fighters from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, with a goal of isolating them in major strongholds like Mosul.

That could enable Iraqi troops, Kurdish pesh merga units and fighters that have been recruited from Sunni tribes to take on a weakened foe that has been cut off from its supply lines and reinforcements in Syria, which are subject to American airstrikes.

To oversee the American military effort, a new task force is being established under Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, who oversees Army forces in the Middle East and who will operate from a base in Kuwait. Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II will run a subordinate headquarters in Baghdad that will supervise the hundreds of American advisers and trainers working with Iraqi forces

As the push to train Iraq’s military gathers momentum, the American footprint is likely to expand from Baghdad and Erbil to additional outposts, including Al Asad Air Base in Iraq’s embattled Anbar Province in the west, and possibly Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad.

The effort to rebuild Iraq’s fighting capability faces hurdles, including the risk that the Islamic State will use the intervening months to entrench in western and northern Iraq and carry out more killings.

The United States currently does not plan to advise Iraqi forces below the level of a brigade, which in the Iraqi Army usually has some 2,000 troops. Nor is it clear under what circumstances the White House might allow American advisers to accompany Iraqi units on the battlefield or to call in airstrikes, as Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has indicated might be necessary.

Iraq’s recent history suggests that such a battlefield advisory role is likely to be needed. Iraqi forces faltered during their 2008 offensive against Shiite militias in Basra until American commanders sent their troops to advise Iraqi forces below the brigade level and facilitate airstrikes.

As the plan stands now, no American agency has been assigned to train Iraq’s police, although they will be responsible for protecting areas that have been cleared by the army.

Iraq’s Shiite militias, some of which have been supported by Iran, pose another obstacle. Antony J. Blinken, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said last week that it was important that the Shiite militias be withdrawn, disband or have their members integrated into Iraq’s security forces.

But Fuad Masum, the Iraqi president, has suggested that the militias could be needed until the Islamic State was thoroughly defeated.

A major challenge will be synchronizing the Iraqi campaign with the American effort to train the beleaguered moderate Syrian opposition. The Pentagon’s program to train 5,000 Syrian rebel fighters a year in Saudi Arabia and Turkey has yet to get underway, which raises the possibility that Islamic State fighters could be pushed back into Syria well before there is a trained and equipped Syrian rebel force to oppose them.

Another constraint is self-imposed. Military officials say the White House has limited the number of United States advisers, analysts and security personnel in Iraq to 1,600. There were 1,414 troops in Iraq as of Friday, about 600 of whom were acting in advisory roles from joint operations centers in Baghdad and Erbil, and at division and higher headquarters.

A White House spokesman, Alistair Baskey, said the figure was not a limit, just the number of troops required for the current missions. One senior United States official, who asked not be identified because he was discussing internal planning, said it was likely that the number would need to be raised. Army planners have drafted options that could deploy up to an additional brigade of troops, or about 3,500 personnel, to expand the advisory effort and speed the push to rebuild the Iraqi military.

The Iraqi military has been active in recent weeks, but these operations have taken a toll on its forces. United States officials say that the initial force they are planning to advise consists of only nine Iraqi brigades and three similar Kurdish pesh merga units — roughly 24,000 troops.

The counterattack plan calls for at least doubling that force by adding three divisions, each of which could range from 8,000 to 12,000 troops.

The United States is relying on allies to augment American trainers. Australia, Canada and Norway have committed several hundred special forces to one or more of the training or advisory missions, a senior United States military official said.

The national guard initiative has been promoted by American officials as a way for Sunnis in western and northern Iraq to play a major role in defending their territory, which would ease sectarian frictions.

But the Iraqi Parliament has yet to enact legislation to establish the brigades, which would still need to be trained and equipped.

As a result, a “bridge” policy would be needed so that the Iraqi government, with American help, could work directly with Sunni tribes in the meantime, Mr. Blinken said at a conference hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last week.

General Dempsey said Friday that ISIS’ recent gains in Anbar show “why we need to expand the train, advise and assist mission into” Anbar Province.

A senior United States official said that much of this bridging initiative has yet to be defined. But an early test is expected to unfold soon in Anbar, where about 5,000 Sunni tribesmen could join the fight against the Islamic State in a replay of the pivotal American effort in 2007 to enlist Sunni tribal leaders to turn against Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, the forerunner of the Islamic State.

Overcoming Sunni wariness of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad will be challenging, American officials said.

James M. Dubik, a retired three-star Army general who oversaw training of the Iraqi military during the surge in 2007 and 2008, said the most critical part of the campaign would be the effort to win the allegiance of Iraqis after the Islamic State is routed.

“Behind it has to come some reasonably legitimate, evenhanded and nonsectarian governance over those areas that are taken back from ISIS,” he said.

Even if the overall Iraqi plan succeeds by the end of 2015, American officials say, pockets of resistance could remain. American commanders acknowledge that the effort to defeat ISIS will be lengthy.

“This is not going to happen in three weeks, a month, two months,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff and a former top commander in Iraq, told CNN on Wednesday. “It’s a three- to four-year effort.”
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« Reply #511 on: November 03, 2014, 07:18:10 AM »

The Govt of Baghdad is one half of Obama's strategy. 

Here is how it is going with the other half:*Situation%20Report&utm_campaign=SitRep%20November%203%2C%202014
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« Reply #512 on: November 03, 2014, 08:03:16 PM »

The Govt of Baghdad is one half of Obama's strategy. 

Here is how it is going with the other half:*Situation%20Report&utm_campaign=SitRep%20November%203%2C%202014

Remember when the left laughed off concerns about Obama's lack of experience....
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« Reply #513 on: November 03, 2014, 10:33:40 PM »

They called it "smart diplomacy" , , ,
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« Reply #514 on: November 14, 2014, 10:20:56 AM »

Daniel Serwer, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of Righting the Balance, who blogs at and tweets at @DanielSerwer:

"Conceding on this point would be a major concession to the Islamic State that would be unwise and completely counterproductive if we want to defeat it. If eastern Syria and western Iraq break off from their respective states, there will be precious little to prevent IS from dominating the resulting "caliphate," which would have few resources but big ambitions. Most of Iraq's oil is in its southern "Shiastan." The Kurds would control most of the remainder. Syria's eastern oil fields are declining rapidly. The caliphate would be a mostly desolate, non-viable rump Sunnistan with ambitions to capture Baghdad and Damascus, which are the historical capitals of past caliphates. It would also be a haven for international terrorists.

The result would be a war of all against all to determine the borders of the caliphate and other states emerging from Syria and Iraq. The Kurds would likely want part of northern Syria and possibly part of Turkey as well. Kurds in Iran would want to join any sovereign Kurdistan. Turkey would oppose such a "greater Kurdistan," as would Iran. Saudi Arabia would be unhappy to see the formal emergence of Shiastan on its border (it already regards the Iraqi government as such). The Alawites in western Syria would seek to collapse the Lebanese state and incorporate much of its Shia-controlled territory. The Alawite state would be a firm ally of Iran and Russia.

The notion that this process can be managed to American advantage is nonsense. We saw what a comparable effort to redraw boundaries to accommodate ethnic differences did in the Balkans in the 1990s. The chaos emerging in the Levant would be many times worse, and far worse than anything we have seen happen so far."
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« Reply #515 on: November 15, 2014, 08:58:41 AM »

Iraq's Kurds, Baghdad Take a Shaky Step Toward Compromise
November 14, 2014 | 1536 Print Text Size
Iraq's Kurds and Baghdad Take a Step Toward Compromise
Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani speaks during a press conference in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil on Sept. 18, 2013. (SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leadership and Iraqi Oil Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi announced Nov. 13 that they have reached an agreement for the KRG to send 150,000 barrels per day of oil to the central government and for the central government to send $500 million to the KRG to pay salaries for civil servants for the month of October. Financial stress has pushed the Kurds to negotiate with Baghdad, but the core points of contention between Baghdad and Arbil that hamper a more comprehensive and enduring compromise remain.

Despite the KRG's repeated claims that it can develop enough energy revenue to exist independently of Baghdad, financial and political factors keep Arbil from having that option. Without a deal with Baghdad, the KRG is losing out on roughly $1.2 billion per month, the bulk of which goes toward paying the salaries of civil servants -- a critical component of the patronage networks underpinning the KRG's two main parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The lack of budget allocations has put the KRG in more than $9 billion of debt. The KRG claimed in September that it has made only $1.3 billion from the legally questionable export of 14 million barrels of oil over the course of eight months. As of October, the KRG has shipped a total of 17 million barrels of crude from Ceyhan, in Turkey, and is pumping about 300,000 barrels per day through the KRG-Turkey pipeline.

The KRG had to sell its oil at a sizable discount -- at least 15 percent below market value, on average -- due to the legal risk of defying Baghdad's authority and the insurance premium on crude cargoes sitting for months in tankers in search of willing buyers. With the price of Brent crude now below $80, the profits are becoming even slimmer. This financial strain is intolerable for the KRG: It has to pay the monthly salaries of peshmerga fighters on the front line with the Islamic State, pay off debt to international oil companies and contractors operating in the region and manage the growing financial burden of a large influx of refugees.

Baghdad has also lost out on revenue from Kirkuk crude sales while its conflict with the KRG has persisted, but southern Iraqi oil production continues to grow at a steady pace, with southern terminals averaging 2.55 million barrels per day for October. Baghdad could certainly use extra revenue from northern oil exports to help manage growing costs from the war against the Islamic State, but the central government is under far less financial stress than the KRG. Thus, the burden of the compromise lies on Arbil.
The New Agreement's Limitations

The central government and the KRG have kept the details of the preliminary agreement vague, but it is unlikely that Baghdad would agree to release funds without the KRG conceding that at least a portion of the oil exported from the KRG be marketed through the Baghdad-controlled State Oil Marketing Organization and that Baghdad distribute the revenue from those exports. Knowing that the KRG will be loathe to give up physical control of the export and marketing of this oil, Baghdad will have the right to restrict budget allocations at any time. And knowing that Baghdad will be able to withhold payments at any time, the KRG will resist sacrificing full authority to the State Oil Marketing Organization and will seek additional funding sources to scrape by and maintain some leverage in its ongoing negotiations with Baghdad. (The KRG has been rumored to have negotiated a $5 billion loan with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank to help create a financial buffer.) This is the state of limbo in which the preliminary deal has been set.

But the complications do not end there. The status of Kirkuk will continue to be a major impediment to a lasting deal. During the Islamic State siege, Kurdish peshmerga occupied the Baba and Avana domes of the Kirkuk field and the nearby Bai Hassan field. These fields are still legally under Baghdad's control through the North Oil Company but are now under the Kurds' physical control. Without Baghdad's permission, the KRG reportedly has been producing roughly 120,000 barrels per day from the Avana dome and Bai Hassan field collectively and has been blending that crude for both domestic use and export. The KRG was already facing legal challenges in exporting crude from the Tawke, Taq Taq and Shaikan fields that lie indisputably in KRG territory, but exporting crude from clearly disputed fields will only add to the legal ambiguity surrounding KRG exports, even as the KRG will try to use the preliminary deal with Baghdad to convince investors of a new level of Kurdish energy autonomy.
The Outside Players

Turkey will also be a key factor in determining just how far KRG energy autonomy will expand. Ankara sees the need to keep the KRG dependent on Turkey for export routes and ultimately its economic survival. Though Turkey is eager to exploit Kurdish energy and is building out infrastructure to this end, its strategy toward the KRG is still driven by containment as Ankara struggles to limit a kaleidoscope of Kurdish factions seeking autonomy through political, financial and militant means within and beyond Turkish borders. It is no coincidence that the KRG-Baghdad preliminary agreement came after Turkey hosted Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jaafari on Nov. 7 in Ankara, where Turkey made a point to reiterate its respect for Iraq's territorial integrity.

What remains to be seen is whether Baghdad and Ankara come to an agreement on how revenue from KRG oil export sales will be handled. To date, Turkey has deposited revenue in a Halkbank account, parsing it out in small amounts to the KRG but keeping the Kurdish region financially strapped. Ankara and Baghdad will want to maintain that financial leverage over the KRG, but Baghdad will not allow Arbil to export its own oil while Turkey determines revenue distribution. The KRG naturally would prefer to control its own revenue, but deprived of that option, it will demand that Turkey or another outside arbiter manage the account to avoid being held hostage to Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the evolution of the battle against the Islamic State will have a degree of influence over the level of cooperation between Baghdad and Arbil. The Islamic State threat has placed the United States at the center of Iraq once again, and Washington's interest is to maintain Iraq's cohesion and instill enough cooperation among factions to develop a ground fighting force capable of containing jihadist forces. Indeed, the KRG has tried to leverage any peshmerga support it would offer in an offensive to retake Mosul in its energy negotiations with Baghdad. The Islamic State threatens both the KRG and Baghdad sufficiently to compel the two sides to cooperate for now. But as the jihadist movement weakens over time, so will this aspect of their cooperation.

The thorniest details have yet to be sorted out, and those details strike at the fundamental issue of sovereignty and territorial integrity for Arbil, Baghdad and Ankara alike. Though constraints have pushed the KRG to the negotiating table with Baghdad, this highly tenuous agreement still faces many hurdles.

Read more: Iraq's Kurds, Baghdad Take a Shaky Step Toward Compromise | Stratfor
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« Reply #516 on: December 04, 2014, 07:57:21 PM »

By David Francis and Sabine Muscat

Iran asserts its power with airstrikes against the Islamic State. U.S. officials insisted there was no coordination between Washington and Tehran. Iran's actions against the Islamic State show a willingness to openly engage in military operations. They also force Washington to acknowledge the United States and Iran are fighting a common enemy.

The New York Times' Tim Arango and Thomas Erdbrink: "Iranian fighter jets struck extremist targets in Iraq recently, Iranian and American officials have confirmed, in the latest display of Tehran's new willingness to conduct military operations openly on foreign battlefields rather than covertly and through proxies. The shift stems in part from Iran's deepening military role in Iraq in the war against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. But it also reflects a profound shift in Iran's strategy, a new effort to exert Shiite influence around the region and counter Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia. Analysts also say it follows a calculation that what Iran's rulers see as a less-engaged United States will tolerate or even encourage their overt military activities."
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« Reply #517 on: December 07, 2014, 02:40:40 PM »

'Israeli Jets' Pound sites near Damascus


Click here to watch: 'Israeli Jets' Pound sites near Damascus
Israeli fighter jets launched airstrikes on two military sites outside Damascus, Syrian state media and local activists reported Sunday. Israel made no official comment on the reports. Israeli media speculated that missiles intended by Syria for delivery to Hezbollah were targeted. The Israeli jets hit military sites at Damascus’s main airport and at the town of Dimas on a key road near the Syrian-Lebanese border, the reports stated. The alleged attack was reported by Syria’s official SANA news agency and by Shiite terror group Hezbollah’s official television station al-Manar, as well as the the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict in Syria. “The Israeli enemy attacked Syria by targeting two security areas in Damascus province, namely the Dimas area and the area of Damascus International Airport,” said SANA, adding that no casualties were reported. SANA called the attack “an aggression against Syria.” Syrian TV and Hezbollah media outlets said the attack was intended by Israel to “help the terrorists” against whom the Assad regime is engaged in a bitter war. The Syrian armed forces’ general command said Sunday’s “flagrant attack” caused material damage, but did not provide any details.

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“This aggression demonstrates Israel’s direct involvement in supporting terrorism in Syria along with well-known regional and Western countries to raise the morale of terrorist groups, mainly the Nusra Front,” the military said in a statement carried by SANA. There is no evidence Israel has provided any support to the Nusra Front, which is al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria. Israeli officials did not respond to the reports or make any comment on the alleged attack. Israel’s policy has been to prevent the transfer from Syria of long-range missiles to Hezbollah. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Dimas was a military position. The Observatory also said the strike near the Damascus airport hit a warehouse, although it was unclear what was in the building. Operations at the Damascus international airport are both civilian and military. According to the Observatory, around 10 explosions could be heard outside a military area near Dimas. It had no word on casualties in either strike. Israel has carried out several airstrikes in Syria since the revolt against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. Most of the strikes have targeted sophisticated weapons systems, including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles, believed to be destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist group. Other strikes have been attributed to the IDF, though officials in Jerusalem have not confirmed them. Several videos uploaded to YouTube Sunday purported to show the alleged Israeli strikes. During a cabinet meeting earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that Israel was prepared to “deal” with ongoing “threats and challenges,” though he did not specify which threats he was referring to. “We are closely monitoring the Middle East and what is happening with open eyes and ears, and a lot is happening,” Netanyahu said. “We will stay informed and we will deal with these unremitting threats and challenges. We will deal with them with the same responsibility that we have up until now.” Netanyahu’s comment was interpreted in some quarters as a hint at the imminent alleged Israeli action.

Source: Times of Israel

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« Reply #518 on: December 08, 2014, 11:52:09 AM »

In response to this article   (previously posted around Oct. 12th), an Special Forces friend with personal experience writes:


As I reviewed the recommended article, many of Mr. Hall’s comments relate directly to what many U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have experienced in some form or factions. Since September 11, 2001, military and governmental organizations have shifted operations in effort of addressing the unique circumstances in regions such as Afghanistan and Iraqi. What are these unique circumstances that exist? Well, first the U.S. had to address the fundamental issue of sharing of information among it’s military and civilian organizations. Military branches such as Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines now acknowledged the extreme importance of sharing of information and operations. In military terms, this means nothing more than “deconfliction” among ALL military branches with the intent of successfully initiating joint operations. In addition, joint operations among military units does not necessarily solve the information sharing issues. Therefore, joint environments now included more civilian governmental organizations, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGO) within the battle space.

As Mr. Hall explains, ground truth always paints the picture of reality. Although much of my time was spent detailing “ground truth”, I learned early on that things are much different within specific regions and cultures. From ideology, beliefs and discontent to the outside world, people have their own specific reasons for their actions. In many ways, it is as simple as “people have their own map of reality”. In regards to Iraqi and Afghanistan, people function based on tribes, culture and their own reality or view of the world. Hall discusses ethnic cleansing within his writings, however, many of rural tribal leaders in select areas solely function from enforcing their beliefs or customs amongst its members. Furthermore, in the case of Afghanistan, many of the extremely rural areas are still influenced by Taliban leaders or lower ranking members. Why is this an important issue to analysis? Well, it’s fairly simple. If U.S. forces conduct combat operations in select areas without a follow-on Civil Affairs campaign, the creditability and efforts of the U.S. may be damaged by virtue of combat operations, and not winning the hearts and minds of the local populace. Moreover, the Taliban influence increases due to US or coalition combat efforts.
War or military campaigns will never be considered a pretty or well-balanced operation that meets the approval of all political parties, nor will it ever meet the 100% approval rating for the civilian or military members. However, any campaign that has been waged, whether with United Nations (UN) or North AtlanticTreaty Organization (NATO) approval requires in-depth political, economic and financial risk analysis at the least. These styles of risk analysis are important by virtue of organizations such as the Islamic State of Syria’s (ISIS) ability to successfully fund it’s organization and continue it’s growth through political, economic and financial gain. Under the UN Charter, Article 51, members are authorized self-defense against any threat against a region. With regards to Iraqi, the sole purpose of the war was allegedly justified to remove Saddam Hussein and the alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In this case of the UN Charter, Article 51, President Bush framed the invasion as an act of self-defense. Hall mentions the arming of so called “moderate” rebels. Although this strategy may have been successful in past campaigns, today’s conflicts do not necessary arrange agreements with U.S. allies, nor does it guarantee allegiance by any coalition that is not part of the UN or European Union (EU). Additionally, Hall discusses strategies that outline borders for Syria and Iraqi. Although this strategy may produce a border that allows a State to operate as a solidified belligerent State, it does not address the long-term allegiance by any given State. As the U.S. and the international community moves forward, at what point may ISIS contend for belligerency status. Although ISIS is considered a terrorist organizations, belligerent status means rights or duties, therefore, this action would alter all interactions with this organization and cause a major shift in the Middle East. In contrast, ISIS’s ability for belligerency is really not a question; however, if the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) can claim belligerency status, what would prevent ISIS from claiming the same status?

Moving forward, the U.S. strategy for the war on terror has to shift to a “must win” campaign. ISIS has made critical threats against the U.S. and it’s allies; therefore, the U.S. must adapt it’s strategy to an advanced Unconventional Warfare (UW) campaign that incorporates unique non-traditional tactics against an unpredictable adversary. Traditional operations or reactive campaigns against an enemy that is well-advanced in their own technology, tactics and overall strategy, its not the way to eliminate an impeding threat to U.S. national security. 

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