Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts

26 September 2017

*** ISIS'S EXPANDING CAMPAIGN IN EUROPE

By Jennifer Cafarella with Jason Zhou

Key Takeaway: ISIS’s attack campaign in Europe is expanding despite ISIS’s losses of terrain and senior leadership in the Middle East and North Africa. ISIS continues to plan, resource, and execute attacks from its remaining safe havens in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. ISIS has successfully expanded its coordinated attack campaign in Europe to target the UK and Spain. Rising levels of ISIS-inspired attacks in Sweden and Finland may signal growing online ISIS activity targeting vulnerable populations in those states and receptivity among those populations to the ISIS message. Coordinated attack attempts could follow. ISIS is sustaining its attack efforts in its initial target states of France and Germany, meanwhile. ISIS’s activity in Belgium, also an initial target state, is much lower, but the lack of ISIS attacks in Belgium does not signal incapacity. ISIS may be using its networks in Belgium to support attack cells elsewhere in Europe. ISIS also appears increasingly successful at inspiring low-level attacks in Europe despite its territorial losses, indicating its messaging is still resonant. ISIS’s campaign in Europe will continue and may even increase despite its losses in Iraq and Syria. Download the PDF

19 September 2017

Why Britain Is the Perfect Terror Target

Robin Simcox

At least twenty-nine people were injured when an improvised explosive device detonated on a London underground train during rush hour last week. None of those injuries is believed to be life-threatening. The device, though not a total dud, malfunctioned, failing to explode with the intended ferocity. The UK has—at least so far—caught a break.

Two men have been arrested in connection with the attack. British interior minister Amber Rudd has said that there is no evidence that the Islamic State (ISIS) played a role in the attack, but ISIS has claimed credit for it. Investigators have assessed it to be “highly likely” that the bomb contained TATP: the explosive dubbed “Mother of Satan” and associated with recent ISIS operations.

The use of explosives in the attack was unsurprising. Recently, those in the counterterrorism business have shifted more of their attention toward how terrorists are increasingly drawn to low-tech attacks that involve vehicles and knives. Yet my recent analysis, which encompasses all Islamist terror plots in Europe between January 2014 and May 2017, shows that explosives are still the most popular form of weapon for Islamists plotting in Europe.

Explosives were the weapon of choice in 28 percent of these 142 plots. The good news is that only six of the plots led to injuries or deaths. After all, it is harder for terrorists to acquire suitable material, avoid detection and possess the level of expertise required to build the device.

ISIS' Terrorist Revolution: Sophisticated Drone Operations Pose Grave Threat to American Forces


One reason it has proven so difficult to defeat terrorist organizations such as ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban is that they are free of the burden imposed by a stultifying acquisition bureaucracy. Terrorist organizations don’t have military academies, national laboratories, large aerospace and defense companies or massive treasuries. The absence of formal institutions and traditional ways of thinking may actually give these groups an advantage. In the U.S. military, a service can’t even begin to develop a new weapons system without a formal requirement, which can take several years to write. The acquisition process often takes twenty years or more before a new weapon system is deployed. ISIS has it easy: no contracting regulations, no lawyers or accountants, no office of operational test and evaluation, no GAO protests or court challenges to procurement decisions and definitely no Congressional oversight.

Terrorist organizations acquire what is available, use the battlefield as their laboratory, tolerate mistakes, extol improvisation and keep trying. While they can’t build major weapons systems, they certainly know how to employ many of them. ISIS has happily incorporated captured armored fighting vehicles, artillery pieces, mortars and other weapons into its arsenals. More significantly, terrorists are extremely good at figuring out how to adapt readily available technologies for military purposes.

The terrorists have made the term improvised explosive device (IED) part of the modern lexicon; the phrase is in the Oxford American Dictionary. But these three simple words belie the variety of such devices, the sophistication with which terrorist organizations have employed them and the implications for the future of counterinsurgency warfare. The IED threat nearly defeated the Coalition in Iraq during the early years of the campaign. More than 60 percent of Coalition casualties were inflicted by IEDs. The Pentagon set up a brand new organization, the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) and spent tens of billions of dollars on armored vehicles, bomb detectors, jamming devices and other force protection measures. As fast as the Coalition figured out means of defeating a particular type of IED, the terrorists changed the way they made, implanted and/or triggered their IEDs.

When the Islamic State Comes to Town


At its peak, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) controlled vast portions of territory in Iraq and Syria with several million inhabitants. Unique amongst similar jihadist groups, the Islamic State's territorial ambition and desire to conduct state-like governance over this territory is integral to its global ideological appeal.

A RAND project – not funded by an external sponsor, but pursued for the public interest – examined ISIL's governance over its self-styled caliphate, by examining the group's impact on local economic activity in Iraq and Syria.

Using satellite imagery and a novel analytic approach, a team of RAND researchers developed a fine-grained, data-driven assessment of economic life inside ISIL's caliphate.

This site tells the story.

ISIL Occupation Status

Although significant attention has been devoted to the humanitarian impact of ISIL’s brutal rule, this project focuses on the economic impact of the group’s efforts to govern the territory and population under its control.

The Islamic State has proven a resilient insurgent force capable of controlling territory and administering local governance. At its peak, the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or by the acronyms ISIL or ISIS, controlled vast portions of territory in Iraq and Syria. At times, ISIL was able to build a dense governing apparatus that helped maintain stable local commercial activity, particularly within its strategic capitals in Raqqah and Mosul. At other times, the group inadvertently mismanaged key resources or sought to punish its citizenry rather than govern it.

These Are the Do-It-Yourself Tanks of ISIS


Mix-and-match tanks are nothing new. The Nazis mounted captured Russian artillery pieces on looted Czechoslovakian tank chassis to create the Marder self-propelled antitank gun. The Israel Defense Forces put British tank cannon on American-made Pattons and American engines on British-made Centurions.

But a surprising source of do-it-yourself armor has been Islamic State. ISIS has modified its arsenal of captured, mostly Soviet- and Russian-made armor to create some bizarre vehicles. The Oryx Blog, run by two Dutch military analysts, has put together a fascinating collection of information and photos of these homebrew vehicles.

In Syria, ISIS created two workshops at Raqqa and Deir al-Zour. Among the handiwork of the Deir al-Zour group were BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles with their turrets replaced by a rapid-fire ZU-23 antiaircraft gun (which presumably was deemed more useful than the BMP-1’s original seventy-three-millimeter cannon and Sagger antitank missile launcher). The thinly armored BMPs were also up-armored with sheet metal and slat armor (that looks like metal chain-link fencing) on the hull, and side skirts protecting the treads. Yet the BMP’s turret didn’t go to waste: some were mounted on the back of Toyota Land Cruisers.

ISIS armorers also modified T-55 and T-62 tanks with homemade armor. And, in one case, very homemade: the Oryx Blog points to a photo of a T-62 with a frame that apparently braces some sort of foam armor. “Certainly a curious choice for increasing your armor protection,” the blog adds.

When the Islamic State Comes to Town

by Eric Robinson
Source Link

How effective is Islamic State governance?

At its peak, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) controlled vast portions of territory in Iraq and Syria with several million inhabitants. ISIL's territorial ambition and desire to conduct state-like governance over this territory are integral to its global ideological appeal. By examining ISIL's impact on local economic activity in Iraq and Syria, this report seeks to assess the effectiveness of ISIL's governance over its self-styled caliphate.

This report leverages remote sensing data and commercial satellite imagery to offer a unique, data-driven look inside areas controlled by the Islamic State. It paints a bleak picture of economic life under ISIL, replete with shortages of electricity, massive refugee flows, reductions in agricultural output, and upticks in violence all associated with ISIL control.

At times, ISIL was able to build a dense governing apparatus that helped maintain stable local commercial activity, particularly in its strategic capitals in Raqqah and Mosul. At other times, ISIL mismanaged key resources or sought to punish its citizenry rather than govern it. However, this report suggests that decaying economic conditions in ISIL-held territory are also a product of ISIL's inability to insulate its territory from opposing military forces. Outside pressure against ISIL successfully prevented the group from realizing its governing ambitions across significant parts of its caliphate, with major consequences for its ability to support functioning local economies.

This report is important for those trying to understand the group's impact on local populations in Iraq and Syria, for those seeking to counter its financing or conduct post-conflict stabilization, and for broader efforts to understand the economic impact of insurgent governance.

Key Findings

Russia rejects allegation it bombed U.S.-backed fighters in Syria


A fighter from Deir al-Zor military council which fights under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) holds the council's flag in the village of Abu Fas, Hasaka province, Syria September 9, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Defence Ministry on Sunday rejected allegations it had bombed U.S.-backed militias in Syria, saying its planes only targeted Islamic State militants and that it had warned the United States well in advance of its operational plans.

U.S.-backed militias said they came under attack on Saturday from Russian jets and Syrian government forces in Deir al-Zor province, a flashpoint in an increasingly complex battlefield.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting with the U.S.-led coalition, said six of its fighters had been wounded in the strike.

But Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry, dismissed the allegations in a statement on Sunday.

Konashenkov said Russian planes had only carried out carefully targeted strikes in the area based upon information that had been confirmed from multiple sources.

The strikes had only hit targets in areas under the control of Islamic State, he said.

“To avoid unnecessary escalation, the commanders of Russian forces in Syria used an existing communications channel to inform our American partners in good time about the borders of our military operation in Deir al-Zor,” Konashenkov said.

“In the last few days, Russian surveillance and reconnaissance did not detect a single clash between Islamic State and armed representatives of any ‘third force’ on the eastern bank of the Euphrates,” he added.

Separately, Franz Klintsevich, a member of the upper house of parliament’s security committee, said there was no proof to underpin the accusations against Moscow.

Iraq PM: Half of ISIS families detained near Mosul are Turkish


BAGHDAD (AP) — Turkish nationals make up half of the hundreds of families being held in a camp near Mosul for suspected links to the Islamic State group, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press Saturday.

The Iraqi leader also confirmed that the German teenage girl found in Mosul last month is still being held in a Baghdad prison and may face the death penalty.

At the camp near Mosul, Iraqi forces are holding 1,333 women and children who surrendered to Kurdish forces. The families handed themselves over after an Iraqi offensive drove the extremist group from the northern town of Tal Afar, near Mosul at the end of August.

Many of those detained at the camp are not guilty of any crime, al-Abadi said and his government is “in full communication” with their home countries to “find a way to hand them over.”

So far, al-Abadi said, Iraq has repatriated fewer than 100 people.

“But we are working very hard to accelerate this. It is not in our interest to keep families and children inside our country when their countries are prepared to take them,” he added.

Sixteen-year-old Linda W. ran away last summer from her hometown of Pulsnitz in eastern Germany after communicating with extremists from the Islamic State group online. She was found in the basement of a home in Mosul’s Old City by Iraqi forces, arrested and brought to Baghdad.

Iraqi intelligence officials told the AP the girl allegedly worked with the IS group’s police force.

18 September 2017

Steady Progress Marks Success in Iraqis’ Fight Against ISIS, Official Says

By Terri Moon Cronk

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2017 — Progress is steady in the fight to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as Iraqi security forces push ahead to eradicate the enemy from Iraq, Army Col. Ryan S. Dillon, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, told Pentagon reporters today during a news briefing live from Baghdad.

Clearance operations in around Tal Afar continue, the colonel said, and the ISF have defeated pockets of remaining ISIS fighters mostly north of Tal Afar.

“The handover to hold forces in cities and towns of northern Nineveh [governorate] continues as the ISF prepare for their next offensive to defeat ISIS,” Dillon said.

He added that remaining ISIS holdouts in Iraq include Hawija and a cluster of towns in western Anbar.

“The coalition will continue our support to the ISF with training, equipment; intelligence, precision fires; and combat advice,” he said.

The Islamic State is on the run in Iraq, but some major battles remain

By Tamer El-GhobashyJoby Warrick and Mustafa Salim

IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi security forces have freed most of northern Iraq from the grip of the Islamic State. But U.S. and Iraqi officials warn that thousands of militants remain in the country and are ready to wage a ferocious fight in a desert region bordering Syria.

The bulk of the war against the Islamic State was finished when Iraqi security forces reclaimed the cities of Mosul and Tal Afar this summer. But the battle looming in western Anbar province is expected to be one of the most complex to date. 

The vast region will be difficult to surround, and clearing it will probably involve coordination among the U.S.-backed forces and the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran. U.S. officials also believe that the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is hiding there.

Iraqi forces retook Tal Afar in just eight days, but officials say that was an anomaly and not a new rule. Shiite militias encircled the city for eight months while U.S.-led airstrikes pounded weapons facilities and targeted groups of fighters and their commanders before the ground operation began late last month.

“While I’d like to say that we would see this elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, we’re not really planning for that,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who until last week was the commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Syria. “We’re planning for tough fights ahead.”

Who Will Rule Raqqa After the Islamic State?

BY WLADIMIR VAN WILGENBURG

AIN ISSA, Syria — For three months, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been fighting to liberate Raqqa from the Islamic State and have reportedly captured 70 percent of the city. The jihadi group will eventually be kicked out of the city, but what happens after the dust settles remains a matter of some dispute. Some reports contend that the city will be handed over to a council friendly to Damascus — a contention vigorously denied by the SDF, which says it aims to set up institutions that exclude the regime’s security branches from the city.

The struggle for Raqqa is occurring amid intense regional competition for influence in northern and eastern Syria. Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian government forces are advancing to the east in Deir Ezzor and have approached close to SDF lines south of Raqqa, briefly resulting in clashes between the regime and the Kurdish-led forces. To the west of Raqqa, Turkish troops and rebels backed by Ankara have threatened to launch further attacks on SDF positions — but have seemingly so far been held back by Russia.

The SDF has shown no inclination to hand Raqqa over to one of its rivals. The city will likely become part of the federal region in the future or will remain somehow linked to it. And that means that the best indicator of its fate is the local institutions that have been established in areas already liberated by SDF forces.

17 September 2017

In Persian Gulf, computer hacking now a cross-border fear

By: Jon Gambrell 

Tony Cole, Vice President of FireEye Inc., a cybersecurity firm headquartered in Milpitas, California, speaks at the FireEye Cyber Defence Live conference, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. State-sponsored hacks have become an increasing worry among countries across the Persian Gulf. They include suspected Iranian cyberattacks on Saudi Arabia to leaked emails causing consternation among nominally allied Arab nations.

From suspected Iranian cyberattacks on Saudi Arabia to leaked emails causing consternation among nominally allied Arab nations, state-sponsored hacks have become an increasing worry among countries across the Persian Gulf.

Defending against such attacks has become a major industry in Dubai, as the city-state home to the world’s tallest building and the long-haul airline Emirates increasingly bills itself as an interconnected “smart city” where robots now deliver wedding certificates.

They fear a massive attack on the scale of what Saudi Arabia suffered through in 2012 with Shamoon, a computer virus that destroyed systems of the kingdom’s state-run oil company.

“It was and still is the worst physical attack we’ve ever seen,” said Tony Cole, a vice president at FireEye Inc., a cybersecurity firm headquartered in Milpitas, California. “Destruction was what the adversary had in mind.”

How Al-Qaeda Benefits From America’s Political Divisions

BY ALI SOUFAN

If the United States wishes to defeat bin Laden's heirs and the toxic potency of their message, it needs to recommit to its most basic values. 

As someone who has dedicated years to fighting terrorism, both before and after 9/11, I find the anniversary of the attacks a moment for reflection. Amid the tragedy, 9/11 prompted heartening displays of unity. At home, left and right joined hands—literally, in the case of the members of Congress who came together to sing “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps. Social cohesiveness is one of the best predictors of a society’s resilience to terrorism; and our sense of common purpose and shared values in the weeks after the attacks helped preserve our commitment to free speech and the rule of law in the face of huge pressure.

By contrast, the principal goal of terrorism is to create and capitalize on disunity within the target society. Al-Qaeda has long sought to do this with respect to the United States: In 2010, from his Abbottabad lair, Osama bin Laden studied the American people’s dissatisfaction with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, giving orders to his commanders to seek ways of exploiting the discontent. Around the same time, Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American preacher who made English-language propaganda videos for al-Qaeda, declared with evident relish that “The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens!”—a quote that began trending once again in the wake of President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel from Muslim countries. 

IRGC Touts Drone Strikes Against the Islamic State

By Amir Toumaj

Late last month, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) publicized its drone strikes against the Islamic State near the Iraqi border in Syria. The IRGC deployed the drones as part of its revenge campaign against the Sunni jihadists, and also to show off Iran’s growing fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

In early August, the Islamic State raided an IRGC position near Jamouna, about 37 miles northeast of the US base in Tanf, Syria. The self-declared caliphate’s offensive led to the deaths of dozens of Iraqi militiamen fighting for the Seyyed al Shuhada Brigades. Several Iranian operatives embedded in the militia were killed as well.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists captured and beheaded an Iranian officer. Photos of the dead Iranian, portrayed as a “martyr” by IRGC-affiliated sites, subsequently went viral. So the IRGC and allied Shiite jihadists vowed to exact retribution.

But first, in an attempt to cover up its embarrassing loss, the IRGC peddled a conspiracy theory saying the US struck the Iranian-led forces right before the Islamic State’s assault. The conspiracy was entirely self-serving, as the IRGC did not want to admit that Baghdadi’s goons delivered a stinging blow to its forces. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, IRGC-controlled militia accuses US of strike to hide Islamic State raid near Syrian border.]

16 September 2017

*** When the Islamic State Comes to Town The Economic Impact of Islamic State Governance in Iraq and Syria

by Eric Robinson

How effective is Islamic State governance?

At its peak, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) controlled vast portions of territory in Iraq and Syria with several million inhabitants. ISIL's territorial ambition and desire to conduct state-like governance over this territory are integral to its global ideological appeal. By examining ISIL's impact on local economic activity in Iraq and Syria, this report seeks to assess the effectiveness of ISIL's governance over its self-styled caliphate.

This report leverages remote sensing data and commercial satellite imagery to offer a unique, data-driven look inside areas controlled by the Islamic State. It paints a bleak picture of economic life under ISIL, replete with shortages of electricity, massive refugee flows, reductions in agricultural output, and upticks in violence all associated with ISIL control.

At times, ISIL was able to build a dense governing apparatus that helped maintain stable local commercial activity, particularly in its strategic capitals in Raqqah and Mosul. At other times, ISIL mismanaged key resources or sought to punish its citizenry rather than govern it. However, this report suggests that decaying economic conditions in ISIL-held territory are also a product of ISIL's inability to insulate its territory from opposing military forces. Outside pressure against ISIL successfully prevented the group from realizing its governing ambitions across significant parts of its caliphate, with major consequences for its ability to support functioning local economies.

This report is important for those trying to understand the group's impact on local populations in Iraq and Syria, for those seeking to counter its financing or conduct post-conflict stabilization, and for broader efforts to understand the economic impact of insurgent governance.

Key Findings

Zev Chafets: If Israel played by America's rules, Iraq and Syria would have nuclear weapons



Israel and North Korea are on opposite sides of the Asian landmass, separated by 5,000 miles. But Israelis feels close to the nuclear standoff between Washington and Pyongyang. They have faced this sort of crisis before, and may again.

In the mid-1970s, it became clear to Israel that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was working on acquiring nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. Saddam had already demonstrated an uninhibited brutality in dealing with his internal enemies and his neighbours. He aspired to be the leader of the Arab world. Defeating Israel was at the top of his to-do list.

After coming to office in 1977, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin tried to convince the U.S. and Europe that Saddam was a clear and present danger to the Jewish state, and that action had to be taken. Begin was not taken seriously.

Israelis feels close to the nuclear standoff between Washington and Pyongyang

But Begin was serious, and in 1981 he decided that Israel would have to stop the Iraqi dictator all by itself. His political opponents, led by the estimable Shimon Peres, considered this to be dangerous folly. Foreign minister Moshe Dayan, the legendary former military chief of staff, voted against unilateral action on the grounds that it would hurt Israel’s international standing. Defense minister Ezer Weizmann, the former head of the air force (and Dayan’s brother-in-law) was also against a military option. He thought the mission would be unacceptably risky.

Hamza bin Ladin: From Steadfast Son to Al-Qa`ida’s Leader in Waiting


Abstract: Hamza bin Ladin was among his father’s favorite sons, and he has always been among the most consistently fervent of his siblings in his support for violent jihad. Now in his late 20s, Hamza is being prepared for a leadership role in the organization his father founded. As a member of the bin Ladin dynasty, Hamza is likely to be perceived favorably by the jihadi rank-and-file. With the Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’ apparently on the verge of collapse, Hamza is now the figure best placed to reunify the global jihadi movement. 

One day in early November 2001, on a hillside south of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Usama bin Ladin bade farewell to three of his young sons.1 a In the shade of an olive tree, he handed each boy a misbaha—a set of prayer beads symbolizing the 99 names of God in classical Arabic—and instructed them to keep the faith. The scene was an emotional one. “It was as if we pulled out our livers and left them there,” one of the boys would later recall in a letter to his father.2 Having taken his leave, bin Ladin disappeared into the mountains, bound for a familiar redoubt known as the Black Cave, or Tora Bora in the local Pashto dialect.

The three boys who received the prayer beads that day would face three very different destinies. One, Bakr (also known as Ladin), would distance himself from al-Qa`ida, both geographically and ideologically. Another, Khalid, would die protecting his father at their compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. The third, Hamza, would vanish for years before reemerging in 2015 as the most likely candidate to reunite a fractured jihadi movement and lead al-Qa`ida to a future still more violent than its past.

Groomed to Lead 

15 September 2017

Myanmar's Rohingya insurgency has links to Saudi, Pakistan - report

Simon Lewis

YANGON (Reuters) - A group of Rohingya Muslims that attacked Myanmar border guards in October is headed by people with links to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Thursday, citing members of the group.

The coordinated attacks on Oct. 9 killed nine policemen and sparked a crackdown by security forces in the Muslim-majority northern sector of Rakhine State in the country’s northwest.

At least 86 people have been killed, according to state media, and the United Nations has estimated 27,000 members of the largely stateless Rohingya minority have fled across the border to Bangladesh.

Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar’s government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, blamed Rohingyas supported by foreign militants for the Oct. 9 attacks, but has issued scant additional information about the assailants it called “terrorists.”

A group calling itself Harakah al-Yakin claimed responsibility for the attacks in video statements and the Brussels-based ICG said it had interviewed four members of the group in Rakhine State and two outside Myanmar, as well as individuals in contact with members via messaging apps.

‘I Want to Finish This’: US Special Ops Leaders Urge Washington to Stick by the Syrian Kurds

BY GAYLE TZEMACH 

Commanders inside Syria say rebels are doing all they hoped for — and are the best shot to break the region's cycle of terrorism.

KOBANI, Syria – Talking with American special operators as we walk in the summer heat through the sprawling training facilities of the Syrian Arab Coalition, one sentiment is immediately obvious: relief.

It is not that these elite American troops are relaxed about the mission; it is that they make clear they think it’s working and see that the end is achievable. And for those of us who have written about and covered the post-9/11 wars, that is indeed a shift.

“My military guidance is clear; what we are trying to do here in terms of the campaign against Daesh is clear; the direction that we receive from CENTCOM is clear,” said one senior U.S.commander, a leader of the mission to train and assist the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the Syrian Arab Coalition are a part. “We help the SDF clear territory, we help the internal security force hold territory, and to the extent we can within our authorities, there is a bit of building going on.”

The view from this dusty base in northern Syria is that the mission – and the Washington policy decision to fight ISIS “by, with, and through” local forces trained by elite Americans – is succeeding. But that mission is on a collision course with geopolitical reality. Washington has backed the Syrian Kurds’ central role in the SDF, while Turkey considers those forces to be separatist terrorists. U.S. special operations forces leaders here say they feel Syrian Kurds have a chance to help end the cycle of insurgency that has burned across Iraq and Syria since 2003, and turn at least part of a war zone into a governable peace. But if Washington turns its back on the SDF to placate a NATO ally, these leaders say the American-trained and -armed Syrian forces could be overrun, their gains lost – and this special operations mission will be for naught. 

14 September 2017

Afghanistan: Extremism & Counter-Extremism


On August 5, 2017, Taliban militants captured the Mirzawalang village in the Sar-e Pul province after a 48-hour battle with security forces. At least 50 people—mostly civilians—died during the fighting. Afghan officials believe the Taliban and ISIS jointly coordinated the attack, but the Taliban claimed they operated alone. (Sources: Reuters, CNN, Al Jazeera)

On July 31, 2017, an ISIS suicide bomber and gunmen attacked the Iraqi embassy in Kabul, killing two Afghan employees. The following day, ISIS suicide bombers attacked a Shiite mosque in Herat, killing at least 33 and wounding another 64. The attacks came three weeks after ISIS lost its last major stronghold in Iraq to U.S.-backed Iraqi forces, prompting Afghan security officials to question whether the terror group was ramping up its attacks in Afghanistan in response to its losses in Iraq. 

According to the United Nations, 3,498 Afghan civilians died in terror-related attacks in 2016. By July, more than 1,700 Afghan civilians have died in terror attacks in 2017. According to a July 2017 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to the U.S. Congress, 40 percent of Afghanistan remains under the control of the Taliban or other armed groups.

Overview

Afghanistan—officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan—has a tumultuous history of uprisings against the government, guerilla warfare, and foreign occupation dating back to the 19th century. The country now faces violent insurgencies by the Taliban and ISIS. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan suffered a record number of casualties in 2015, with more than 3,500 civilians killed and almost 7,500 wounded. (Sources: CNN, New York Times)

Bin Laden used Afghanistan as a base of operations from which to build his al-Qaeda network.