Petraeus: Use Al Qaeda Fighters to Beat ISIS

The Daily Beast, by Shane Harris and Jason Reed,  Sep. 1, 2015:
To take down the so-called Islamic State in Syria, the influential former head of the CIA wants to co-opt jihadists from America’s arch foe.
Members of al Qaeda’s branch in Syria have a surprising advocate in the corridors of American power: retired Army general and former CIA Director David Petraeus.The former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has been quietly urging U.S. officials to consider using so-called moderate members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front to fight ISIS in Syria, four sources familiar with the conversations, including one person who spoke to Petraeus directly, told The Daily Beast.

The heart of the idea stems from Petraeus’s experience in Iraq in 2007, when as part of a broader strategy to defeat an Islamist insurgency the U.S. persuaded Sunni militias to stop fighting with al Qaeda and to work with the American military.

The tactic worked, at least temporarily. But al Qaeda in Iraq was later reborn as ISIS, and has become the sworn enemy of its parent organization. Now, Petraeus is returning to his old play, advocating a strategy of co-opting rank-and-file members of al Nusra, particularly those who don’t necessarily share all of core al Qaeda’s Islamist philosophy.

However, Petraeus’s play, if executed, could be enormously controversial. The American war on terror began with an al Qaeda attack on 9/11, of course. The idea that the U.S. would, 14 years later, work with elements of al Qaeda’s Syrian branch was an irony too tough to stomach for most U.S. officials interviewed by The Daily Beast. They found Petraeus’s notion politically toxic, near-impossible to execute, and strategically risky.

It would also face enormous legal and security obstacles. In 2012, the Obama administration designated al Nusra a foreign terrorist organization. And last year, the president ordered airstrikes on al Nusra positions housing members of the Khorasan Group, an al Qaeda cadre that was trying to recruit jihadists with Western passports to smuggle bombs onto civilian airliners.

Yet Petraeus and his plan cannot be written off. He still wields considerable influence with current officials, U.S. lawmakers, and foreign leaders. The fact that he feels comfortable recruiting defectors from an organization that has declared war on the United States underscores the tenuous nature of the Obama administration’s strategy to fight ISIS, which numerous observers have said is floundering in search of a viable ground force.

According to those familiar with Petraeus’s thinking, he advocates trying to cleave off less extreme al Nusra fighters, who are battling ISIS in Syria, but who joined with al Nusra because of their shared goal of overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Petraeus was the CIA director in early 2011 when the Syrian civil war erupted. At the time, he along with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly urged the Obama administration to work with moderate opposition forces. The U.S. didn’t, and many of those groups have since steered toward jihadist groups like the Nusra Front, which are better equipped and have had more success on the battlefield.

How precisely the U.S. would separate moderate fighters from core members and leaders of al Nusra is unclear, and Petraeus has yet to fully detail any recommendations he might have.

Petraeus declined a request to comment on his views from The Daily Beast.

“This is an acknowledgment that U.S. stated goal to degrade and destroy ISIS is not working. If it were, we would not be talking to these not quite foreign terrorist groups,” Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst with the Middle East Security Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War, told The Daily Beast. “Strategically, it is desperate.”

Privately, U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that any direct links with al Nusra are off the table. But working with other factions, while difficult, might not be impossible.

Still, the very forces that Petraeus envisions enlisting, and who may have once been deemed potential allies when they were fighting Assad, now may be too far gone. Moreover, there is no sign, thus far, of a group on the ground capable of countering ISIS, at least without U.S. assistance.

“As prospects for Assad dim, opposition groups not already aligned with the U.S. or our partners will face a choice,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “Groups that try to cater to both hardliners and the West could find themselves without any friends, having distanced themselves from groups like al Qaeda but still viewed as extremists by the moderate opposition and their supporters.”

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ISIS Chemical Warfare Attack on Kurds in Iraq Raises Questions


Kurdish dead from Saddam Hussein Gas attack, Halabja, Iraq March 1988

New English Review, by Jerry Gordon, August 14, 2015:

The reports about prohibited mustard gas attacks by ISIS against Kurdish peshmerga near Erbil in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq indicate that ISIS has acquired the capabilities either from caches of the Assad regime in Syria or in Iraq. They are similar to reports of similar chemical attacks on Syrian YPG  forces  during the Kobani siege in  2014 and eerily familiar to Iraqi Kurds given the thousands killed in Saddam Hussein gas attacks in March 1988 at Halabja.  The Wall Street Journal reported in today’s edition on the significance of what American  military believe that the efforts by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons  (OPCW)  had not secured these unconventional weapons during operations in 2013, “US Believes ISIS Used Chemical Weapons on Kurds:”

Islamic State fighters likely used mustard agent against Kurdish forces in Iraq this week, senior U.S. officials said Thursday, in the first indication the militant group has obtained banned chemicals.

The officials said Islamic State could have obtained the mustard agent in Syria, whose government admitted to having large quantities in 2013 when it agreed to give up its chemical-weapons arsenal.

The use of mustard agent would mark an upgrade in Islamic State’s battlefield capabilities, and a worrisome one given U.S. intelligence fears about hidden caches of chemical weapons in Syria, where Islamic State controls wide swaths of territory.

It raises new questions about the evolving threat posed by Islamic State and the ability of U.S. allies on the ground to combat it. Frontline Kurdish, Iraqi and moderate Syrian forces say they aren’t getting enough U.S. support now to counter Islamic State’s conventional capabilities.

Officials say these forces may need specialized equipment and training to help protect them against unconventional weapons if they become a fixture on the battlefield.


The attack in question took place late Wednesday, about 40 miles southwest of Erbil in northern Iraq. A German Defense Ministry spokesman said about 60 Peshmerga fighters, who help protect Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, were reported to have suffered injuries to their throats consistent with a chemical attack while fighting Islamic State.

map 3Not all suspected sites in Assad’s Syria were cleared by the OPCW and chemical weapons may have been transferred to Iraq:

“These were apparently chemical weapons. What it was exactly we don’t know,” the German ministry spokesman said, adding that experts were on their way to the scene to conduct a fuller analysis. He said German personnel weren’t present at the scene of the attack.

The possibility that Islamic State obtained the agent in Syria “makes the most sense,” said one senior U.S. official. It is also possible that Islamic State obtained the mustard agent in Iraq, officials said, possibly from old stockpiles that belonged to Saddam Hussein and weren’t destroyed.

U.S. intelligence agencies are still investigating the source and how it could have been delivered this week on the battlefield, officials said.

Islamic State has taken control of territory in Syria close to where President Bashar al-Assad’s forces stored chemical weapons, including mustard agent. The regime said in 2013 that all of its mustard stockpiles had been destroyed, either by Syrian forces themselves or by international inspectors.

Inspectors, however, have subsequently said they weren’t able to verify claims by the Syrian government that it had burned hundreds of tons of mustard agent in earthen pits. U.S. intelligence agencies now say they believe Damascus hid some caches of deadly chemicals from the West, possibly including mustard.

Intelligence officials and chemical-weapons experts have expressed concerns in recent months that some of those banned chemicals could fall into the hands of Islamic State or other extremist groups.

U.S. intelligence agencies have also warned the White House that the Assad regime could use chemical agents it still has to defend its remaining strongholds if they come under siege.

In addition to mustard, the Assad regime admitted to having deadlier nerve agents, such as sarin and VX. But officials said U.S. intelligence agencies don’t have any evidence to suggest Islamic State has either sarin or VX, which would be far more lethal on the battlefield.

ypg kurdish


Dead YPG Kurdish woman fighter in Avdiko, Syria July 2014

Source: MERIA

For Kurds, whether in Iraq or Syria, chemical warfare by ISIS has bitter memories of lethal gas attacks by Saddam Hussein’s regime at Halabja, Iraq in 1988 and in July 2014 at Kobani, Syria.  We wrote about these in an October 2014 NER/Iconoclast post on a MERIA investigation by Jonathan Spyer.

The MERIA special report contradicts the observations of Ms. Psaki and other military experts. Clearly, ISIS has former Hussein Ba’athist commanders who knew about Al Muthanna and what it contained. These same commanders may have even been involved in the infamous genocidal CW attack that killed 5,000 Kurds in Halabja, Iraq in March 16, 1988 in the final year of the Iran-Iraq War.  In a September 2013 Iconoclast post about a previous Spyer essay advocating establishment of an independent Kurdistan, we wrote:

Fast forward to the mid-1970’s when the Iraqi Kurds were a pawn in an unsuccessful covert war for autonomy against Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein which ended in 1975 when the late Shah of Iran inked a treaty with Hussein in Algiers. Effectively the Kurds were abandoned and covert Israeli military and technical assistance to Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani was shut down at the request of Dr. Kissinger as national security advisor to President Ford. That set the stage for retaliation by Saddam Hussein, when he undertook punitive action against the Kurds who had joined up with the Islamic Republic in Tehran. In 1985, Saddam Hussein launched chemical warfare attacks against Kurdish villages in northwestern Iraq, the ancient Kurdish homeland. An estimated 5,000 Kurds were killed in the village of Halabja. This was part of the genocidal 1988 Al-Anfal Campaign that slaughtered in excess of 50,000 Iraqi Kurds.

Spyer notes the circumstances behind this latest CW attack on Kurdish fighters in the vicinity of Kobani in July2014:

Prior to the current campaign, the most serious (but unsuccessful) attempt to conquer Kobani came in July 2014; shortly following the dramatic IS advance into Iraq.

It was during this assault on Kobani that evidence emerged which appeared to point to the use by the Islamic State on at least one occasion of some kind of chemical agent against the Kurdish fighters of the YPG (Peoples’ Protection Units).

The July offensive commenced on July 2nd.  According to Kurdish activists, the use of the chemical agent took place on July 12th, in the village of Avdiko, in the eastern part of the Kobani enclave (now in IS hands.)

Nisan Ahmed, health minister of the Kurdish authority in Kobani, established a medical team to examine the incident.  According to Ahmed, the bodies of three Kurdish fighters showed no signs of damage from bullets.  Rather “burns and white spots on the bodies of the dead indicated the use of chemicals, which led to death without any visible wounds or external bleeding.”

According to expert Israeli sources who have seen the pictures, they appear to indicate the use of some form of chemical agent, probably mustard (blister agent), but it is not possible to conclusively confirm this without further investigation.



Obama Admin Backs NATO Ally Turkey’s Double Game with Islamic State After Turks Bomb Anti-ISIS Kurdish Groups

1436985867gory-23PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, July 26, 2015:

A bizarre situation unfolded this past week, one that could possibly drag the U.S. into a new war in the Middle East.

On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked a rally in Suruc, Turkey, targeting a news conference of the Kurdish Federation of Socialist Youth Associations, killing 32. The suicide bomber was identified by Turkish authorities as an Islamic State supporter who had returned from Syria.

NYT tweet

In response the Islamist government in Ankara, led by Obama’s pal Recep Erdogan (one of Obama’s top five international friends), launched airstrikes targeting not the Islamic State, but Kurdish groups in Iraq.

CNN Turk

CNN Turk m2

This comes as more evidence emerges that Turkey has been playing a double game with the Islamic State. The evidence was obtained in a U.S. special forces raid of a senior ISIS leader in Iraq.

The Guardian reports today:

When US special forces raided the compound of an Islamic State leader in eastern Syria in May, they made sure not to tell the neighbours.

The target of that raid, the first of its kind since US jets returned to the skies over Iraq last August, was an Isis official responsible for oil smuggling, named Abu Sayyaf. He was almost unheard of outside the upper echelons of the terror group, but he was well known to Turkey. From mid-2013, the Tunisian fighter had been responsible for smuggling oil from Syria’s eastern fields, which the group had by then commandeered. Black market oil quickly became the main driver of Isis revenues – and Turkish buyers were its main clients.

As a result, the oil trade between the jihadis and the Turks was held up as evidence of an alliance between the two. It led to protests from Washington and Europe – both already wary of Turkey’s 900-mile border with Syria being used as a gateway by would-be jihadis from around the world.

This comes as more evidence emerges that Turkey has been playing a double game with the Islamic State. The evidence was obtained in a U.S. special forces raid of a senior ISIS leader in Iraq.

The Guardian reports today:

When US special forces raided the compound of an Islamic State leader in eastern Syria in May, they made sure not to tell the neighbours.

The target of that raid, the first of its kind since US jets returned to the skies over Iraq last August, was an Isis official responsible for oil smuggling, named Abu Sayyaf. He was almost unheard of outside the upper echelons of the terror group, but he was well known to Turkey. From mid-2013, the Tunisian fighter had been responsible for smuggling oil from Syria’s eastern fields, which the group had by then commandeered. Black market oil quickly became the main driver of Isis revenues – and Turkish buyers were its main clients.

As a result, the oil trade between the jihadis and the Turks was held up as evidence of an alliance between the two. It led to protests from Washington and Europe – both already wary of Turkey’s 900-mile border with Syria being used as a gateway by would-be jihadis from around the world.

Turkey oil link t0 ISIS


This is not the first time that Turkey has been caught double-dealing against their U.S. NATO ally. There was the “gas for gold” scheme with Iran that allowed the Islamic Republic to skirt international sanctions, and Erdogan and the Turkish intelligence chief had a photographed meeting with U.S. designated Al-Qaeda global terror financier Yasin al-Qadi.

Curiously, shortly after those reports showing photographs of Erdogan meeting with al-Qadi appeared in the Turkish media, the Treasury Department under Obama removed al-Qadi’s terror designation.

The preferred route of thousands of foreign fighters now in the ranks of ISIS appears to have been mostly coming from Turkey and crossing the border into Syria, bringing complaints that Turkey was not doing enough to combat the group’s growth and that the border was becoming “a two-way jihadist highway.”

But a series of published reports going back to last year seem to show direct and indirect Turkish support for the Islamic State.

  • In April 2014, Turkish media reports showed photographs of ISIS commander Abu Muhammad being treated at the Hatay State Hospital after being injured fighting in Syria. Opposition politicians also claimed that fighters with Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, were allowed to stay at the guesthouses of the government’s Religious Affairs Directorate.
  • Last November, Newsweek published an interview with a former ISIS fighter who said that ISIS fighters faced no obstructions entering from Turkey. Meanwhile, ISIS commanders bragged about the “full cooperation with the Turks,” while anti-ISIS Kurdish fighters were blocked by Turkish authorities.
  • This account seems to be confirmed by a report from Aydınlık Daily, which reported in July 2014 that the Turkish intelligence service, the MIT, had transported members of Syrian terrorist groups and their weapons across the border.
  • Two weeks after that report, at an event site approved by Erdogan’s ruling AKP Party and sponsored by a publication known for its ISIS sympathiesa rally was held in Istanbul where video showed speakers openly calling for jihad. There were also reports that recruiting for ISIS fighters took place.
  • In January, Turkish military documents from the Gendarmerie General Command leaked online showed that Turkish intelligence were transporting missiles, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition for Al-Qaeda and actively obstructed the military from documenting the transfers.
  • The New York Times reported in May that massive amounts of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer used for making bombs, were being prepared in a Turkish town near Syria and transported across the border. The report quoted an opposition politician who admitted that the fertilizing was not for farms, but for bombs.
  • Reuters reported exclusively in late May that court documents and prosecutor testimony revealed that Turkish intelligence had transported weapons across the border in 2013 and early 2014, aiding the offensive push by ISIS into Iraq in June 2014. Erdogan himself had said that the shipments were aid.

And then there’s this, though it’s unlikely that it’s much of a secret…

Turkey recruting IS

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Saddam’s Former Loyalists Are Leading ISIS — as True Believers

isis-run-by-true-believers-rNational Review, by Kyle Orton, July 20, 2015:

After long neglect, the media has finally recognized the role of the FREs — former (Saddam) regime elements — within the Islamic State (ISIS). But the pendulum has now swung too far: Some reports are now claiming that the FREs have transformed the leader of the terror army, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, into nothing more than a front man for the Baathists.

These suppositions are mistaken. Most FREs within ISIS have not been ideologically Baathists for a long time.

Let’s consider some specifics.

First, the ISIS-as-front-for-Baathists storyline relies on a misreading of ISIS’s revival after the 2007 Surge. It is true that after ISIS’s former leader was killed in April 2010, ISIS intensified its “Iraqization” process. (This began with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s effort in 2006 to reverse ISIS’s negative image as a foreign imposition on Iraqi Sunnis.) Within three months between April and June 2010, Iraqi and American forces picked off 34 of 42 senior ISIS operatives in the region. But the rise to predominance of the FREs was an internal shift in ISIS — not an external coup. It came about because ISIS — at its nadir and with a decreased flow of foreign-fighters — turned to its most militarily skilled members.

Second, the ISIS-as-front-for-Baathists storyline has a very serious timeline problem. One of the infamous FREs within ISIS was Haji Bakr (real name: Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi), a former colonel in Saddam’s army, who masterminded ISIS’s expansion into Syria; he was killed by Syrian rebels when they rose against ISIS in January 2014. What is noteworthy is that al-Khlifawi had joined ISIS in 2003 when it was a foreign-led organization with Zarqawi — the patron saint of the takfiriyeen (those who regard only Salafi-purists as Muslims) — as its emir. A “socialist infidel” — as ISIS refers to Baathists — was not going to pass muster in ISIS at that time.

Abu Abdulrahman al-Bilawi (real name: Adnan Ismail Najem al-Bilawi), a former captain in Saddam’s army and until his death in June 2014 the head of ISIS’s military council (believed to be the most important ISIS military institution), also joined ISIS in 2003. Abu Ali al-Anbari, the overseer of ISIS-held territory in Syria, joined ISIS in 2003 as well.

It’s no surprise that al-Khlifawi, al-Bilawi, and al-Anbari were already Islamic militants in 2003. From the mid 1980s, and with added intensity after the formal onset of Saddam’s “Faith Campaign” in June 1993, Saddam’s regime Islamized. This was “most likely a cynical step” on the part of Saddam, wrote Amatzia Baram, an expert on Iraqi Islam with the University of Haifa, but it gave Iraq “an extra push in the direction of an authentic Islamization process.” In other words, it took on a life of its own.

Saddam feared the Muslim Brotherhood, so he chose Salafism as a counterweight. With significant resources devoted to producing this regime-loyal Saddamist-Salafism, the Faith Campaign produced a more sectarian, Salafized population, with its focal points on clerics and mosques. Without this campaign, Zarqawi’s project could never have gotten off the ground in Iraq.

“[Zarqawi] thought that the Sunni in Iraq . . . had been ruined by Saddam and that a long period of dawa (proselytization) would be needed,” Craig Whiteside, a professor at the Naval War College who has worked extensively with internal ISIS documents, told me. “He was pleasantly surprised instead by the underground Salafist movement that existed in Iraq and produced so many early local Iraqi supporters.” Whiteside added: “[Saddam’s] regime was really tottering at the end, and people were looking for more successful ideologies.”

Many of ​Saddam’​s officers who encountered Salafi teachings became more loyal to Salafism than to Saddam.

Indeed, the Faith Campaign worked almost too well. Saddam sent military and intelligence members of the Baath Party to mosques with the dual task of religious instruction and keeping tabs. “Most of the officers who were sent to the mosques were not deeply committed to Baathism by that point,” writes Joel Rayburn, a former U.S. military intelligence analyst in Iraq, inIraq After America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance. “And as they encountered Salafi teachings, many became more loyal to Salafism than to Saddam.” The empowerment of long-standing anti-regime “pure” Salafists, alongside the Baathist-Salafists the regime wanted, led to some acts of terrorism, for which some Salafists were executed by Saddam. But the Faith Campaign went on, not least because the dictator himself had a kind of “born-again” experience.

Additionally, Saddam had instrumentalized the Islamists in his foreign policy from as early as 1983 — and, as with the Faith Campaign, stuck with it despite significant internal opposition from the party. A most significant connection was with a Salafi-jihadist group, formed by Zarqawi loyalists with al-Qaeda seed money, in northern Iraq between 1998 and early 2000 that became Ansar al-Islam in late 2001. Ansar al-Islam received money and weapons from Saddam, and it seems that the actual decision-maker in the group was an agent of Saddam’s intelligence. Ansar, by then led directly by Zarqawi, fled to Iran during the invasion and then returned to Iraq with the help of the senior members of Saddam’s regime. Ansar is now formally part of ISIS.

The Faith Campaign was implemented by Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri, Saddam’s deputy. Douri was tasked with setting up what was effectively an organized-crime network whose goal was to evade the sanctions by smuggling across Iraq’s borders, and to provide for an internal patronage network that would give the regime some pillars of support. Patronage went especially to the Sunni tribes of western Iraq, and the removal of this income after the U.S.-led invasion was chief among the many reasons the tribes tactically sided with the Zarqawi’ists in an attempt to restore Sunni hegemony. Not just among the tribes, these networks largely passed to ISIS. This began early: In 2003, for instance, the stolen cars Douri imported through Jordan were put at the service of ISIS’s suicide bombers.

It is also notable that ISIS’s Syria strategy was not made up on the fly after the uprising began in March 2011. Haji Bakr was appointed to oversee operations in Aleppo in late 2010, and ISIS’s presence in Syria dates from 2002 and 2003 when Assad invited them in to wage war against the Americans and the constitutional government in Iraq. ISIS already had deeply embedded logistics networks in Syria that were easily “flipped” when ISIS wanted to move from Iraq into Syria, and ISIS already saw the potential of Syria, having run a low-level insurgency against Assad between 2007 and 2010. ISIS did send further agents into Syria in the summer of 2011 to form Jabhat an-Nusra, which would split from ISIS in April 2013 when ISIS tried to bring its covert subordinates under its command. By that time, however, ISIS had established itself well enough to weather the Nusra defection.

The FREs matter because they highlight the hybrid nature of ISIS — its fusion of elements of Baathism with Salafism — and also how difficult ISIS will be defeat. The REs are the products of a military-intelligence service trained by the KGB. They have brought to ISIS unique military and counterintelligence skills, directly in battle and in propaganda. Their skills are aiding ISIS’s military effort, bringing in fanatical foreigners to use as shock troops, and helping ISIS restructure the identities of local populations who have joined ISIS only out of necessity or convenience (as a means to restore order or against Iran’s proxies, for example).

The Iraqi nativism some detect within ISIS is probably a confusion borne of the fact that ISIS is also a hybrid of a locally and internationally focused organization. ISIS has more depth in Iraq because it has been there for decades in one way or another, and it has more popularity there because it is the vanguard of an attempt to restore Sunni dominion.

Even if ISIS was led by cynics, it has taken on a life of its own now, just like the Faith Campaign; there are too many true believers for the cynics to sideline. But, precisely because of the Faith Campaign, there is every reason to think that ISIS’s leaders mean what they say.

Kyle Orton is a Middle East analyst. Follow him on Twitter @KyleWOrton. 


16036681031_00fbd6d2df_kPhilos Project, by Andrew Harrod, July 13, 2015:

Would a true Islamic state respect universal human rights? Pakistani-British Anglican Bishop Michael Nazi-Ali would like to believe so – but history has cautioned him otherwise. His presentation “Freedom and a Culture of Intolerance: Will Religious Minorities Survive in the Middle East?” at the Washington, D.C. Heritage Foundation grimly determined that there is precious little evidence of tolerance in the global Islamic faith.

To begin his foray into the exploration of Islamic prejudice, Nazir-Ali explained how much a recent visit to northern Iraq opened his eyes to the pervasiveness of religious intolerance. The “radically disordered society” of Iraq is home to political parties that represent only the sectarian interests of the country’s ethnic and religious groups. In the bishop’s opinion, to continue on as a unitary state, Iraq must seek the “confederal future” of its Shiite and Sunni Arab and Kurdish regions.

Interestingly, the only Iraqi entity Nazir-Ali could name that was at all well organized was the nearly independent Kurdish Regional Government, which has continually expressed a commitment to secular governance. The KRG has even embraced many Christians and other refugees fleeing the Islamic State’s fearsome jihad in western Iraq, even though such expats could upset the KRG’s ethnic balance. Nazir-Ali even advocated direct aid to the KRG’s Peshmerga militia, one of the few effective units in the fight against ISIS – although he admitted that the group is definitely out-gunned.

Nazir-Ali said that he was encouraged to see how much hope generous aid from Christians worldwide gave to the KRG refugees. Despite the overcrowding in the furnished containers that often house these expats, he said that the people’s morale is still high – better than any he has seen in other refugee camps around the world. But the conditions could certainly be better, and he begged for additional assistance in the form of education for the young people and micro-enterprise for the adults. “Indefinite idleness cannot be good for people,” he pointed out. Some of the Christian refugees he interviewed – particularly those who had lost their homes to their Muslim neighbors in Mosul – said that they desired above all to leave the country. Yet others desperately wish to return to their Iraq homes – provided that a transitional international force can protect them.

Iraq exemplified for Nazir-Ali the grim fact that the Middle East is not a fairytale land with heroes and villains, angels and monsters. Instead, its people are put in the impossible position of having to face several different types of monsters and literally pick their poison. “And sometimes it is better to leave a monster alone,” he said, postulating that the Islamic State is worse even than Bashir Assad’s Syrian dictatorship – one that had provided a tradeoff between personal freedom and political suppression directed against the Muslim Brotherhood. His prediction was that stabilizing Syria – where ISIS grew out of “unnecessary disorder” – will require negotiations with the feared Assad.

But the conflict with Islam is not confined to the Middle East. Nazir-Ali quoted Pakistani-British Muslim Member of Parliament Rehman Chishti’s estimate that 80 percent of global religious minority persecution takes place in Muslim-majority locales. Some in Islam’s modern revival look to the faith’s seventh-century founding with not just nostalgia, “but for a political program with a backward-looking attitude,” the bishop said. This orthodox adherence to the Islamic law demands “great suspicion of any diversity, including non-recognition of certain kinds of Muslims” such as the Iraqi Shiites and Sufis, whose shrines the Islamic State destroys along with churches. Yet Christianity remains the prime target for Islamic militancy because as he put it, “Christianity and Islam are now the two great missionary faiths of our day.”

Despite Western claims, Nazir-Ali argued that there was never actually an Arab Spring. The wave of demonstrations and protests the rest of the world calls the Arab Spring was merely the Islamists’ “seeing a tumultuous moment that they could seize” and attempting to establish a democratic tyranny of the majority in places like Egypt.

Islamic intolerance extends to Nazir-Ali’s native Pakistan, where a blasphemy law formed a “dead hand on free speech, and complemented a teaching of hate in the textbooks.” Despite the leverage given by British-Pakistan aid, British diplomats have agreed to discuss these matters in private, with only Pakistani officials.

It is also seen in neighboring Afghanistan, where Western billions that were spent over the course of several years to create a stable society did not prevent a 2006 apostasy death sentence for Christian convert Abdul Rahman (who was later given asylum by Italy). “We have tried our best,” a progressive Afghan told Nazir-Ali, while noting the 2004 Afghan constitution’s reference to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “But no can trump the sharia,” he added, with another constitutional reference.

Nazir-Ali questioned the oft-touted hypothesis that Islam was caused by social and economic factors and pointed out that well-educated, oil-rich Gulf State citizens as well as the uneducated and unemployed find allure in Islamic militancy. Muslims could begin their political journeys with organizations like the MB or the South Asian Tablighi Jamaat, whose past professions of nonviolence he surprisingly accepted, but could then (in what the bishop called a “phenomenon of mutation”) easily move on to something much more violent.

Considering such ideologies and with a nod to his United Kingdom home, Nazir-Ali stressed that the British “must get beyond the multicultural discourse. The British people no longer [know] who they are.” Unable to assimilate Muslims and other immigrants, the British historically turned to governmental social programs that did not encourage a view of a common citizenship and segregated communities that extremists infiltrated over time.

Nazir-Ali brought his presentation to a close by verbally questioning why Islam’s historic heartland lacks religious tolerance, since documents such as the liberation edict of ancient Persian Emperor Cyrus or the Roman Empire’s 313 Edict of Milan point to the concept as previously fairly common in the region. He said that Muslims often tell him that they want an Islamic state, but Nazir-Ali responds by asking, “Will it be like the first Islamic state?”

The Constitution of Medina under Islam’s founding prophet Muhammad claimed an equality between Jews and Muslims. Yet Nazir-Ali conceded that this “constitution” is actually little more than a tribal alliance that eventually ended in the destruction of Medina’s Jewish community in conflict with the Muslims. So that one glimmer of hope for Jewish/Muslim coexistence still remains but a flicker in Islam’s past.

Concerns Raised Over US Co-existence with Iranian-Backed Militias in Iraq

Iraqi fighters of the Shiite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq (The League of the Righteous) gesture upon their return to the southern city of Basra, on June 14, 2015. The group is fighting alongside Iraqi security forces against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in an attempt to try to retake the strategic northern town of Baiji. At least 11 members of the Iraqi security forces were killed the previous day near the town of Baiji in a series of suicide attacks claimed by IS jihadists. AFP PHOTO / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI

Iraqi fighters of the Shiite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq (The League of the Righteous) gesture upon their return to the southern city of Basra, on June 14, 2015. The group is fighting alongside Iraqi security forces against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in an attempt to try to retake the strategic northern town of Baiji. At least 11 members of the Iraqi security forces were killed the previous day near the town of Baiji in a series of suicide attacks claimed by IS jihadists. AFP PHOTO / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI

Center for Security Policy, by Jennifer Keltz June 30, 2015:

Last week, news reports surfaced that US troops in Iraq have been sharing the Taqqadum military base with Iranian-backed Shia militias, some of which have killed US troops in the past. The Pentagon said that US forces are separated from the militias, which are operating on a different part of the base, though liaisons that are members of the militias have been working with the US and Iraq.

Iran has been a key contributor to the Iraqi fight against the Islamic State (IS), and this fact has been acknowledged by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. In recent a conversation with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Abadi told Khamenei that Iran’s support of Shia militias fighting IS is essential to defeating the organization.

Iraq has also greatly benefited from US involvement in the fight against IS, as the US has been providing training and supplies to Iraqi and Kurdish forces. In March, the US officially began to provide more concrete support, beyond simply training Iraqi troops, for the offensive against IS in Tikrit. The US began providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance at the request of the Iraqi government.

Throughout the fight against IS, the US has maintained a military presence of 3,100 troops in Iraq. After the fall of Ramadi, the US decided to deploy approximately 400 more troops, signifying its investment in staying involved in the fight. Along with these additional troops to supplement those already in Iraq, senior members of the military have advised expanding the operational capacities of the US troops to allow them to conduct on-the-ground missions.

An escalation of US involvement in Iraq, coinciding with increased coexistence and cooperation between US and Iranian-backed Shia militias, raises some questions.

The first issue that must be addressed is that of the safety of US forces sharing space with the Shia militias. According to the Pentagon, Shia militias left the base before the US troops arrived. However, they are actually staying in a different area on the base, though the base is reportedly very large (larger than Vienna, VA, a town in the Washington, D.C. suburbs). Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an Iraq War veteran, is apprehensive of the arrangement because many Americans were killed in Iraq as a result of bombs supplied by Iran. Adding to this concern, the militias are headed by the leader of Hezbollah in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and include the League of the Righteous, which still boasts about a roadside execution of five US soldiers near Karbala in 2007. US troops have not clashed with the militias in the 11 months that US special operations forces will be in Iraq, but a senior administration official said that “there’s no real command and control from the central government. Even if these guys don’t attack us … Iran is ushering in a new Hezbollah era in Iraq, and we will have aided and abetted it.”

The second issue regards the potential for an armed offensive jointly led by US, Iraqi, and Iranian-backed forces. The US gives weapons to the Iraqi government only, but knows that many end up being used by the Shia militias. Additionally, some militia commanders have been allowed to be present at US military and intelligence briefings for the Iraqi government-controlled Iraqi Security Forces. As previously stated, the Shia militias have a history of violence toward US troops, which could prove disastrous if they turn on the US on the battlefield.

Additionally, the US is still engaged in nuclear negotiations with Iran. A short-term military alliance between the US and Iranian-backed forces in Iraq could lead to US officials developing a false sense of security over the veracity of Iran’s commitment to peace.

In reality, Iran will almost certainly use the nuclear capabilities it will gain in the deal with the US for military purposes while continuing to spread weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah, terrorizing the Middle East and the world. Iran views itself as a lostempire and the leader of a global Islamic revolution. The Iranian regime seeks to seize territories formerly controlled by the Persian empire, including Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Iran recently trumpeted its control of four Arab capitals, including Baghdad, San’aa, Damascus and Beirut.

A battlefield alliance with US forces gives an unacceptable appearance of legitimacy to all of Iran’s military and foreign policy goals. The United States must find a strategy to advance its efforts against the Islamic State without empowering Iran’s Islamic revolution.

Also see:

Is Kurdistan Rising?

The State of the Kurds  WSJ 6-20-15

NER, by Jerry Gordon, June 21, 2015:

In the Wall Street Journal Weekend edition, June 20-21, 2015, Yaroslav Trofimov writes of the possible rise of an independent Kurdistan, “The State of The Kurds”.  An independent Kurdistan was promised by the WWI Allies in the Treaty of Sevres that ended the Ottoman Empire in 1920. That commitment was dashed by the rise of Turkish Republic under the secularist Kemal Atatürk confirmed in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne denying an independent Kurdistan in what is now Eastern Turkey. Combined a future Kurdistan encompassing eastern Turkey, Northern Syria, northwest Iran and northern Iraq might comprise a landlocked republic of 30 million with significant energy and agricultural resources.  The rise of Kurdistan is reflected in these comments in the Trofimov WSJ review article:

Selahattin Demirtas, Chairman of the HDP party in Turkey:

The Kurds’ existence was not recognized; they were hidden behind a veil. But now, after being invisible for a century, they are taking their place on the international stage. Today, international powers can no longer resolve any issue in the Middle East without taking into account the interests of the Kurds.

Tahir Elçi, a prominent Kurdish lawyer and chairman of the bar in Diyarbakir, Turkey:

In the past, when the Kurds sought self-rule, the Turks, the Persians and the Arabs were all united against it. Today that’s not true anymore—it’s not possible for the Shiite government in Iraq and Shiite Iran to work together against the Kurds with the Sunni Turkey and the Sunni ISIS. In this environment, the Kurds have become a political and a military power in the Middle East.

Elçi, amplifies a concern that Sherkoh Abbas, leader of the Kurdish National Syria Assembly (KURDNAS) has expressed in several NER interviews an articles with him:

The PKK has made important steps to adopt more democratic ways. But you cannot find the same climate of political diversity in [Kurdish] Syria as you find in [northern Iraq], and this is because of PKK’s authoritarian and Marxist background. This is a big problem.

As effective as the KRG government and peshmerga have been in pushing back at ISIS forces threatening the capital of Erbil, the real problem is the divisiveness in the political leadership. That is reflected in the comment of  Erbil province’s governor, Nawaf Hadi cited by Trofimov:

For 80 years, the Arab Sunni people led Iraq—and they destroyed Kurdistan. Now we’ve been for 10 years with the Shiite people [dominant in Baghdad], and they’ve cut the funding and the salaries—how can we count on them as our partner in Iraq?” All the facts on the ground encourage the Kurds to be independent.

That renewed prospect reflects the constellation of  events in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Supporters cheer Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, HDP, in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, 2015. Source: Emrah Gurel/AP

Supporters cheer Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP, in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, 2015. Source: Emrah Gurel/AP

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A new strategy for Iraq and Syria

Iraq forcesWashington Post, by Charles Krauthammer, June 18, 2015:

It’s time to rethink Iraq and Syria. It begins by admitting that the old borders are gone, that a unified Syria or Iraq will never be reconstituted, that the Sykes-Picot map is defunct.

We may not want to enunciate that policy officially. After all, it does contradict the principle that colonial borders be maintained no matter how insanely drawn, the alternative being almost universally worse. Nonetheless, in Mesopotamia, balkanization is the only way to go.

Because it has already happened and will not be reversed. In Iraq, for example, we are reaping one disaster after another by pretending that the Baghdad government — deeply sectarian, divisive and beholden to Iran — should be the center of our policy and the conduit for all military aid.

Look at Fallujah, Mosul, Ramadi. The Iraqi army is a farce. It sees the enemy and flees, leaving its weapons behind. “The ISF was not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi,” said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Our own secretary of defense admitted that “the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight.”

We can train them forever. The problem is one of will. They don’t want to fight. And why should they? They are led by commanders who are corrupt, sectarian and incompetent.

What to do? Redirect our efforts to friendly forces deeply committed to the fight, beginning with the Kurds, who have the will, the skill and have demonstrated considerable success. This year alone, they have taken back more than 500 Christian and Kurdish towns from the Islamic State. Unlike the Iraqi army, however, they are starved for weapons because, absurdly, we send them through Baghdad, which sends along only a trickle.

This week, more Kurdish success. With U.S. air support, Syrian Kurds captured the strategic town of Tal Abyad from the Islamic State. Which is important for two reasons. Tal Abyad controls the road connecting the terror group’s capital of Raqqa to Turkey, from which it receives fighters, weapons and supplies. Tal Abyad is “a lung through which [the Islamic State] breathed and connected to the outside world,” said Kurdish commander Haqi Kobane.

Moreover, Tal Abyad helps link isolated Kurdish areas in the Syrian north into a contiguous territory, like Iraqi Kurdistan. Which suggests that this territory could function as precisely the kind of long-advocated Syrian “safe zone” from which to operate against both the Islamic State and the Bashar al-Assad regime.

More good news comes from another battle line. Last week, the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front, backed by and trained in Jordan, drove the Syrian government out of its last major base in eastern Daraa province, less than 60 miles from Damascus.

These successes suggest a new U.S. strategy. Abandon our anachronistic fealty to the central Iraqi government (now largely under Iran’s sway anyway) and begin supplying the Iraqi Kurds in a direct, 24-hour, Berlin-style airlift. And in Syria, intensify our training, equipping and air support for the now-developing Kurdish safe zone. Similarly, through Jordan, for the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front. Such a serious and relentless strategy would not only roll back Islamic State territorial gains, it would puncture the myth of Islamic State invincibility.

In theory, we should also be giving direct aid to friendly Sunni tribesmen in Iraq whose Anbar Awakening, brilliantly joined by Gen. David Petraeus’ surge, utterly defeated the Islamic State progenitor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, in 2006-2007. The problem is, having been abandoned by us once, when President Obama liquidated our presence in 2011, why should the Sunnis ever trust us again?


A Plan to Defeat ISIS

Published on Jun 18, 2015 by securefreedom

Center for Security Policy Exec. VP Jim Hanson announced CSP’s plan to topple that Caliphate and Defeat ISIS at the National Security Luncheon held at the Capitol Visitor’s Center 17 July 2015

Also see:

Inside Islamic State group’s rule: Creating a nation of fear

Jun. 18, 2015:

ESKI MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Inside the Islamic State’s realm, the paper testifying that you have “repented” from your heretical past must be carried at all times. Many people laminate it just to be safe. It can mean the difference between life and death.

Bilal Abdullah learned that not long after the extremists took over his Iraqi village, Eski Mosul, a year ago. As he walked down the street, an Islamic State fighter in a pickup truck asked directions to a local mosque. When Abdullah didn’t recognize the mosque’s name, the fighter became suspicious.

“He told me my faith is weak and asked, ‘Do you pray?'” Abdullah recalled. Then the fighter asked to see his “repentance card.” Abdullah had been a policeman until the IS takeover, and policemen and soldiers are required to have one. So are many other former government loyalists or employees — even former English teachers, since they once taught a “forbidden” language and tailors of women’s clothes because they once designed styles deemed un-Islamic.

Abdullah had left his card at home. Terrified, he sent his son running to get it.

“They are brutal people,” he told The Associated Press. “They can consider you an infidel for the simplest thing.”

The Islamic State’s “caliphate,” declared a year ago, stretches across northern Syria through much of northern and western Iraq. Untold numbers have been killed because they were deemed dangerous to the IS, or insufficiently pious; 5-8 million endure a regime that has swiftly turned their world upside down, extending its control into every corner of life to enforce its own radical interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah.

The Islamic State’s domain is a place where men douse themselves with cologne to hide the odor of forbidden cigarettes; where taxi drivers or motorists usually play the IS radio station, since music can get a driver 10 lashes; where women must be entirely covered, in black, and in flat-soled shoes; where people are thrown to their deaths off buildings on suspicion of homosexuality; where shops must close during Muslim prayers, and everyone found outdoors must attend.

There is no safe way out. People vanish— their disappearance explained by a video of their beheading, an uninformative death certificate, or nothing at all.

“People hate them, but they’ve despaired, and they don’t see anyone supporting them if they rise up,” said a 28-year-old Syrian who asked to be identified only by the nickname he uses in political activism, Adnan, in order to protect his family still living under IS rule. “People feel that nobody is with them.”

The AP interviewed more than 20 Iraqis and Syrians who survived life under the group’s rule. One AP team travelled to several towns in northern Iraq, including Eski Mosul, north of Mosul, where residents are just emerging from nearly seven months under IS rule. Another AP team travelled to Turkish cities along the border, where Syrians who have fled IS territory have taken refuge.

What follows is based on their accounts, many of which were verified by multiple people, as well as on IS social media and broadcast operations and documents obtained by the AP, including copies of repentance cards, weapons inventories, leaflets detailing rules of women’s dress and permission forms to travel outside IS territory — all emblazoned with the IS black banner and logo, “Caliphate in the path of the prophet.”

The picture they paint suggests the Islamic State’s territory, now an area roughly the size of Switzerland, has evolved into an entrenched pseudo-state, one based on a bureaucracy of terror.

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Iraq’s PM introduces US-designated terrorist to Iran’s President

Abu Mahdi al Muhandis (left) shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi’s hand is also extended.

Abu Mahdi al Muhandis (left) shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi’s hand is also extended.

LWJ, BY BILL ROGGIO | June 18th, 2015:

During yesterday’s meeting in Tehran between Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the former introduced the latter to Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the operations chief for the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Committee and a US-listed Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

Muhandis, who the US government has described as “an advisor to” Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’s Qods Force, was photographed with Abadi earlier this month. And he also has been photographed with Soleimani in Baghdad just last month.

Muhandis’ prominence in the top circles of power demonstrates just how much the Iraqi government has relied on the Popular Mobilization Committee to fight its battles after Iraqi security forces all but collapsed in the face of the Islamic State’s advance last summer.

The paramilitary Popular Mobilization Committee is dominated by Shiite militias such as Hezbollah Brigades (directed by Muhandis), Asaib al Haq (the League of the Righteous, led by Qais Qazali, who was in US custody for his role in murdering five American soldiers), Saraya al Salam (Muqtada al Sadr’s Peace Brigades), Harakat Nujaba (led by Akram Abbas al Kabi, a SDGT), Saraya Khorasani (Khorasan Brigades), the Imam Ali Brigades (directed by Muhandis), and the Badr Organization. Hezbollah Brigades is listed by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organization while top leaders of Asaib al Haq, the Imam Ali Brigade, and Harakat Nujaba are listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. All of these groups remain hostile towards the US. Two of them, Harakat Nujaba and Saraya al Salam, have threatened to attack US interests as recently as this spring.

Despite the Popular Mobilization Committee’s deep ties to Soleimani and Qods Force, as well as known key leaders being listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists, the US government has embraced the group as a moderating force in Iraq, and one worth backing. [See Threat Matrix report, US support for Iranian-backed Shiite militias ‘should not alarm us,’ General Allen says.]


Also see:


FDD Senior Fellows Bill Roggio & Thomas Joscelyn speak on the conflicts in the Middle East:

Green Berets’ efforts to take down ISIS undermined by shoddy U.S. intelligence

U.S. Special Forces (USSF) soldiers scan the ground below for threats while flying on a MH-60 Black Hawk during a Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System training exercise. USSF fast roped onto a specific target during the Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance, Target Analysis, and Exploitation Techniques Course, John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School on Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 28, 2012. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Justin P. Morelli)

U.S. Special Forces (USSF) soldiers scan the ground below for threats while flying on a MH-60 Black Hawk during a Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System training exercise. USSF fast roped onto a specific target during the Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance, Target Analysis, and Exploitation Techniques Course, John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School on Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 28, 2012. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Justin P. Morelli)

The Washington Times – Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Army Green Berets planned for a wide range of actions in Iraq this year but bemoaned the sorry state of U.S. intelligence assets in the country to help the local security forces find and kill Islamic State terrorist targets, an internal Army memo says.

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, states that when U.S. forces exited Iraq in December 2011, “all theater-level enterprise databases were terminated.”

This was forcing U.S. special operations forces in Iraq to track a wide range of intelligence reports “on individual service member laptops and share drives,” the memo says.

The memo was written in December by the commander of 1st Special Forces Group, a Tacoma, Washington-based command of about 1,400 Green Berets and support personnel, as it prepared to deploy some commandos to Iraq. The commander is now the top U.S. special operations officer in Iraq.

The commander asked Army headquarters to provide an intelligence architecture called Palantir. Its network specializes in storing and sorting all sorts of intelligence data that can be mined to create links between individuals and terrorist cells, such as the ones controlling parts of Iraq and Syria.

“This is proving to be a repeat of past mistakes from Iraq and Afghanistan where critical information at the early onset of a conflict is lost, and operational opportunities are missed throughout the remainder of the convict,” said the commander. “The lack of an enterprise-level intelligence infrastructure degrades [special operations forces’] ability to collaborate across formations and echelons, and reduces our ability to target ISIL.”

ISIL and ISIS are other names for the Islamic State.

The seven-page memo is, in a sense, an indictment of the ability to deploy U.S. war theater intelligence capabilities nearly 14 years after the declaration of the war on terrorism.

A military source said the Army has granted the commander’s request for Palantir and that other special operations units have the same pending requests.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, has pressed Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command, to improve intelligence for commandos sent back to Iraq.

Mr. Hunter says the Army’s own intelligence network, the Distributed Common Ground System, is plagued with numerous flaws. He has pushed the Army to provide proven commercially available networks to the troops. SOCOM is operating its version of the common ground system.

In a letter sent to Gen. Votel on Monday, Mr. Hunter, a former Marine officer, took issue with the four-star general’s upbeat report to him on how well the common ground system is working.

He accused Gen. Votel’s staff of “discouraging commanders from requesting alternative solutions, and spending money duplicating capabilities that exist on the commercial market. In my oversight role, my objective is to help USSOCOM field tools that work right now.”

Mr. Hunter took issue with the general’s contention that requests for Palantir did not reflect a lack of capability by the common ground system. “The requested capability does not exist in the Army inventory and is not provided by the DCGS-SOF system,” he said.

The congressman said the Army plans to rush some common ground components to special operations forces who have told superiors that the system does not meet their needs.

In a March 26 letter to Gen. Votel, the congressman said SOCOM’s handling of the common ground system “appears to be following the failed path taken by the Army.”

The special operations version, Gen. Votel responded, “is USSOCOM’s overarching umbrella program to deliver world-class intelligence support to our deployed forces.”

He said “one of the strengths of the DCGS-SOF program” is “its open architecture and integration of commercial technology.”

Army Col. Thomas A. Davis, a SOCOM spokesman, told The Times, “Gen. Votel welcomes the opportunity to meet with Rep. Hunter to address any and all concerns he has regarding the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System — Special Operations Forces (DCGS-SOF) program. It would be premature to discuss any specifics related to this matter until after the two leaders have had the opportunity to meet.”

The 1st Special Group commander’s memo frequently used the word “no” to describe intelligence assets awaiting Green Berets in Iraq. They, like conventional U.S. troops, are there to perform the “advise and assist” role to organize Iraqi Security Forces into units that are capable of fighting the Islamic State.

“No common operating picture exists for USSOF partnered tactical operations centers,” the commander wrote. “No real time information collection capability exists for Iraqi soldier sensors. No capability exists for automated bilingual data sharing.”

The U.S. left the Iraqi army equipment to store ground intelligence data, but “No U.S. repository exists for this information and the information resides in Arabic only,” the memo says.

The commander then expressed effusive praise of Palantir and called it “the only solution that meets several” special operations goals and provides a network that lets analysts in the U.S. look at the same information.

Palantir virtually synchronizes personnel and capabilities regardless of location,” the commander said. “It is the only platform that bridges the critical seams of SOF conventional and SOF interagency data sharing to effectively contribute to unified action.”

The plan, the commander said, is to install a Palantir mobile tactical command and collection center and then link it to Iraq’s commercial communications infrastructure.

Though Obama administration policy prohibits the Green Berets from taking part in combat, the memo shows they planned to operate throughout Iraq in “remote outstages” and “team houses.”

“In the current operational environment, USSOF is not permitted to provide direct side-by-side advise-and-assist support to Iraqi tactical informations,” the memo says. “This operational constraint inhibits the rapid and accurate sharing of tactical information with troops on mission.”

The 1st Special Forces Group is not the first combat unit to ask higher-ups to let it deploy with Palantir, a system built by Palantir Technologies Inc. in Palo Alto, California, and now used by law enforcement as well as the military.

A stream of memos obtained by The Washington Times in recent years shows Army and special operations forces clamoring for Palantir and knocking the Distributed Common Ground System as too slow and prone to crashes.

Some memos showed that Army headquarters tried to block emergency requests for Palantir, a move Mr. Hunter said was an attempt by the Army’s top brass to protect congressional funding for the Distributed Common Ground System.


Pete Hoekstra: Obama Hung Iraqi Soldiers ‘Out to Dry’ With Pullout – Newsmax, by Tod Beamon, June 17, 2015:

The United States “hung” Iraqi soldiers “out to dry” when President Barack Obama pulled troops out of Baghdad in 2011 — and that will hamper any major effort to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra told Newsmax TV on Wednesday.

“We had an integrated system that really gave us ground truth in real time for our troops,” Hoekstra, the former Michigan Republican who headed the panel from 2004 to 2007, told “Newsmax Prime” host J.D. Hayworth.

“When we pulled out, we pulled out the signals’ intelligence, we pulled out the overhead — but most importantly, we left our human intelligence.

“Those Iraqis that were partnering with us; we hung them out to dry,” he added. “As we now go back in and try to re-establish with the Iraqis, the people who we need in the ground to tell us what’s actually happening, they’re not going to partner with us.

“They saw what we did to the last folks that put their lives on the line,” Hoekstra added.

“They’re not going to take that risk again.

“It’s absolutely outrageous what we did in Iraq. We took great intelligence and we totally destroyed it — and now, we’ve got to try to recreate it.”

National defense expert Clare Lopez noted that U.S. intelligence has suffered greatly because of the lack of troops in in Iraq.

“It’s tough when you don’t have a presence on the ground in the person of troops, of Special Forces, or other intelligence operatives,” she told Hayworth. “When that goes away and when our troops are withdrawn, so do the intelligence-collection capabilities.

“The other part about that is we can operate out of different places, but it’s difficult when you don’t have the same amount of presence on the ground that we had back then,” Lopez said.

Hoekstra added that the charges filed Wednesday against a 20-year-old New York college student arrested over the weekend for allegedly plotting to set off a pressure-cooker bomb to support ISIS proved that Islamic jihadism is rapidly growing in the United States.

“The threat is alive and well in the United States, and congratulations to our law enforcement for continuing to catch these folks — but they’re not going to be able catch them all,” he said.

“The threat is real and it’s here in the homeland.”


Is Obama Supporting a Shiite ISIS?

Asaib-ahl-alhaq_logo-450x300Frontpage, by Daniel Greenfield, June 12, 2015:

Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie was the last American soldier to come home from Iraq. His body was turned over by Asaib Ahl al-Haq or The League of the Righteous; a Shiite terrorist group funded and trained by Iran.

Altaie had been kidnapped, held for ransom and then killed.

It was not Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s only kidnapping and murder of an American soldier. A year after Altaie’s kidnapping, its terrorists disguised themselves as Americans and abducted five of our soldiers in Karbala. The soldiers were murdered by their Shiite captors after sustained pursuit by American forces made them realize that they wouldn’t be able to escape with their hostages.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s obsession with American hostages was a typically Iranian fixation. Iran’s leaders see the roots of their international influence in the Iran hostage crisis. Its terrorist groups in Lebanon had abducted and horrifically tortured Colonel William R. Higgins and William Francis Buckley.

Higgins had been skinned alive.

Most Americans have never heard of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, sometimes referred to as the Khazali Network after its leader, even though it has claimed credit for over 6,000 attacks on Americans. Its deadliest attacks came when the Democrats and their media allies were desperately scrambling to stop Bush from taking out Iran’s nuclear program. Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s ties to Iran were so blatant that the media could not allow it to receive the kind of coverage that Al Qaeda did for fear that it might hurt Iran.

Obama had campaigned vocally against the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment which designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the hidden force behind Asaib Ahl al-Haq and much of the Shiite terrorist infrastructure, a terrorist organization. He had accused its sponsors of “foolish saber rattling”.

Nancy Pelosi joined the Democratic Party’s pro-Iranian turn, rejected a vote on the amendment and sneered that if the kidnapping and murder of American soldiers was “a problem to us and our troops in Iraq, they should deal with it in Iraq.” Earlier that year, she had visited Syria’s Assad to stand with him against President Bush even while Assad was aiding the terrorists massacring American soldiers.

Once Obama took power, coverage of the war was scaled down so that Americans wouldn’t realize that the rising power of ISIS and Asaib Ahl al-Haq were already making a mockery of his withdrawal plans.

But Asaib Ahl al-Haq was not merely an anti-American terrorist group; it was an arm of the Shiite theocracy. As a Shiite counterpart to what would become ISIS, it had most of the same Islamic goals.

While Obama was patting himself on the back for the end of the Iraq War and gay rights, Asaib Ahl al-Haq was throwing those men and women it suspected of being gay from the tops of buildings.

When buildings weren’t available, it beat them to death with concrete blocks or beheaded them.

Its other targets included shelters for battered women, which the Islamist group deemed brothels, men who had long hair or dressed in dark clothing. And even while its Brigades of Wrath were perpetrating these atrocities, Obama and the Shiite Iraqi government embraced the murderous terrorist group.

Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and his brother Laith al-Khazali along with a hundred other members of the terror group were freed during Obama’s first year in office. (But to provide equal aid and comfort to the other side, Obama also freed the future Caliph of ISIS in that same year.)

“We let a very dangerous man go, a man whose hands are stained with US and Iraqi blood. We are going to pay for this in the future,” an unnamed American officer was quoted as saying. “This was a deal signed and sealed in British and American blood.”

“We freed all of their leaders and operatives; they executed their hostages and sent them back in body bags.”

The releases were part of Obama’s grand strategy of reconciliation for Iraq. The miserable reality behind the upbeat language was that Obama was handing over Iraq to ISIS, Iran and its Shiite militias.

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ISIS’s Next Target: Baghdad

2348070765Secure Freedom Radio, June 11, 2015:

With Michael Pregent, Bing West, Michael Auslin, Max Abrahms

MICHAEL PREGENT, Senior Middle East Strategic Analyst and Consultant, Visiting Fellow at the National Defense University:

  • President Obama’s plan for fighting ISIS
  • The sectarian divide in Iraq
  • Thoughts on the U.S. training of Iraqi military and Sunni tribes
  • ISIS’s threat to Baghdad

BING WEST, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs:

  • Effects that American troops can have assisting Iraqi security forces
  • What must the United States do to defeat ISIS?
  • The spread of Iranian militias in the Middle East

MICHAEL AUSLIN, Director of Japan Studies at AEI:

  • What makes China’s hack of OPM unique, and how much might the U.S. retaliate?
  • How American taxpayers are inadvertently subsidizing the growth of the Chinese military
  • Japan’s burgeoning leadership role in Asia
  • Finding an “Asia Policy,” and not merely a “China Policy”

MAX ABRAHMS, Asst. Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University:

  • The Administration’s reasoning for the deployment of troops to train Iraqi security forces
  • Risks behind arming a Sunni force in Iraq
  • Prospects of a partitioned Iraq

U.S. prepares plans for more troops, new base in Iraq: officials

General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrives to deliver a statement after a welcoming ceremony in Tel Aviv June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrives to deliver a statement after a welcoming ceremony in Tel Aviv June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Reuters, Jun 10, 2015:

The United States is expected to announce on Wednesday plans for a new military base in Iraq’s Anbar province and the deployment of around 400 additional U.S. trainers to help Iraqi forces in the fight against Islamic State, a U.S. official said.

The plan would expand the 3,100-strong U.S. contingent of trainers and advisers in Iraqand would mark an adjustment in strategy for President Barack Obama, who is facing mounting criticism for not being tougher in combating Islamic State.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed hope that even a modestly strengthened U.S. presence could help Iraqi forces plan and carry out a counter-attack to retake Anbar’s capital Ramadi, which insurgents seized last month.

However, Obama was expected to stick to his stance against sending U.S. troops into combat or even close to the front lines, officials said.

Obama said on Monday the United States did not yet have a complete strategy for trainingIraqi security forces to regain land lost to Islamic State fighters, who have seized a third ofIraq over the past year in a campaign marked by mass killings and beheadings.

The fall of Ramadi last month drew harsh U.S. criticism of the weak Iraqi military performance and Washington has begun to speed up supplies of weapons to the government forces and examine ways to improve the training program.

The expected troop announcement was unlikely to silence Obama’s critics, who say the modest contingent of U.S. forces is far from enough to turn the tide of battle.

The U.S. deployment would likely entail around 400 trainers, one U.S. official said, adding an announcement was expected on Wednesday. Two other officials also confirmed an expected troop increase of hundreds of troops.


U.S. forces have already conducted training at the al-Asad military base in western Anbar but U.S. officials said planning was underway for a new installation near the town of Habbaniya, the site of an Iraqi army base.

A new site would allow U.S. trainers to provide greater support for Sunni tribal fighters, who have yet to receive all of the backing and arms promised by the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

“We are considering a range of options to accelerate the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces in order to support them in taking the fight to ISIL. Those options include sending additional trainers to Iraq,” said Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made clear during a visit to Jerusalem that there were no plans to fundamentally alter Obama’s military strategy.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him, Dempsey did not say how many extra U.S. troops may be involved in the effort to accelerate the training of Iraqis.

As of last Thursday, 8,920 Iraqi troops had received training at four different sites and another 2,601 were currently in some stage of training, he said.


Thousands of US paratroops head for Iraq. Tehran braces for onset of ISIS terror attacks on cities (

The United States this week began transferring to Iraq and Gulf bases elite units of the US 82nd Airborne Division. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the first batch of 500 officers and men will be deployed in Baghdad and the Kurdish republic’s capital of Irbil, followed by another 500 in July and 250 in December. Altogether, by the end of 2015, the US will have posted another 1,250 officers and men to augment the American force already present at a base ner Habbaniya in the western Iraqi Anbar province. This force, roughly the same size as the incoming contingents, came from the US 3rd Division’s Combat Team which set up the base six months ago to train Iraqi troops to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIS.
By the end of the year, therefore, the number of US troops on the ground in Iraq will rise to several thousand. Our military sources define their mission as being to intensify raids on ISIS commanders, command centers and bases and striking columns on the move. Their operations will draw on the successful attack mounted by SEAL commandos on May 16 in the heart of the Islamist stronghold in eastern Syria. The group’s chief of finances was killed in that raid and, according to American sources, the troops carried off a rich intelligence trove of digital and telephone data on the Islamist State’s tactics and structure.
The 82nd division has abundant experience of combat in the Iraqi arena. Between the 2003 US invasion and up until 2009, its members fought in critical engagements, especially in Anbar province, which ISIS has made the its main depot for large military concentrations and a launching pad for attacks across Iraq.

The figure of 3,000 American soldiers in Iraq understates the case by far. A much larger pool of combat forces is available close at hand for inserting into the cycle of war on ISIS.
Posted in Jordan just across the border from Anbar is a sizeable number of US special operations forces, and air units of F-16 fighter bombes and UH-60 Black Hawk assault helicopters. Their numbers have never been released.  Another several thousand troops are stationed in Kuwait. The Pentagon therefore has a reserve force present and available for a directive to go into action, oncef a decision for the US military to step into combat against the Islamists in Iraq and Syria is confirmed by President Barack Obama.

All these units are geared to fighting in the two arenas in the framework of the 82nd Airborne Division.

This week, too, the Pentagon started pumping new weapons to the Iraqi army under the US commitment of $1.6 billion from the Iraq Train and Equip Fund – ITEF – to equip its units with appropriate arms for combating ISIS.

Tuesday, June 9, ISIS appeared unfazed by the United States inching ever closer to a direct confrontation.  Iranian cities included Tehran were placed on terror alert, DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counter-terror sources report, after intelligence discovered that the Islamic State had started sending squads of terrorists and lone suicide bombers to execute Baghdad-style terrorist attacks on urban areas in Iran.
ISIS tacticians were said to be so encouraged by their success in blowing up two Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province in recent weeks that they decided to have a go at Iranian cities too.
Also Tuesday, ISIS claimed in a new video that it had come up with a new strategy for taking Baghdad, not to conquer, but to “liberate” the Iraqi capital.


Shoshana Bryen: The Kurds – A Guide for U.S. Policymakers

Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director, Jewish Policy Center; Former Senior Director for Security Policy, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)

Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director, Jewish Policy Center; Former Senior Director for Security Policy, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)

Center for Security Policy, by Rachel Silverman, June 8, 2015:

On Sunday, June 7th Turkish voters delivered a dramatic blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In a historic first, a party dominated by ethnic Kurds surged into the Grand National Assembly in Ankara, marking a new moment in the evolution of Turkey’s democracy. According to Akin Unver, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, it’s now “impossible to sideline Kurdish politics. Despite the civil war of the 1990s, Kurds have evolved politically and established a lasting legacy” on the Turkish national stage.

Professor Unver, is not the only one who believes that the Kurds should be recognized politically. On June 4th, during the Center for Security Policy’s National Security Group Lunch on Capitol Hill, Shoshana Bryen who is the Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center offered three practical steps that the U.S. can do to help assist the Kurds and advance U.S. interests in the region.

Bryen says that the first step, which coincides with Professor Unver, “is for the U.S. to recognize the Kurds politically, as an ally, as a partner in the fight against ISIS.” She mentions that there was a meeting in Paris last week between coalition members to discuss Iraq and Syria and the Kurds were not invited, despite the fact that there are 160,000 or so Kurdish fighters on the ground doing the job.

The second step, according to Bryen, is for the U.S. to talk to the Kurds directly and not through Baghdad:

“Right now all the aid that we give them, which is not a whole lot, goes through Baghdad. The Kurds probably get about 25 or 35 percent of that, which means we need to talk to them directly instead. The U.S. needs to figure out how to give them military equipment directly. The Turks, Iraqis, and Iranians will not like it, but if the Germans and the French can supply the Kurds directly which is what they do now, then the U.S. ought to as well.”

Bryen’s third step is that the U.S. needs to figure out how to get the Kurds to the United States to talk. Bryen stresses that “the Kurdish voices are not being heard around the United States and they need to be. They need invitations, they need to be invited to testify on Capitol Hill, and they need to be invited to conferences.”

Bryen also stresses that U.S. interests actually lie with the minority communities in the Middle East, which includes Israel and the Kurds. She says that “we have allies in the region and we need to lean on them instead of trying to pretend that our enemies are our allies.” Bryen ends with saying that if we follow these three crucial steps, then that is “the beginning of wisdom for the United States.”

Becoming allies with the Kurds would offer the United States tremendous strategic advantages that would help defeat the Islamic State, especially now after the Turkish election results. Unlike several of the countries from which the U.S. flies their aircrafts or bases their ships, the Kurdish leaders and people are pro-American, its ruling regime is not a monarchy ripe for Arab-Spring-style overthrow, and it does not sponsor Islamist terrorism. It is clearly time for America to form an alliance with the Kurds.