Islamist foreign fighters returning home and the threat to Europe

Editor’s note: Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony to the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats.

Tom_Large (1)By

Chairman Rohrabacher, Ranking Member Keating and members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the threat posed by Islamist foreign fighters returning home to Europe. We have been asked to answer the question, “How are European countries addressing the threat, and how can the US assist in those efforts to thwart future terrorist attacks?” I offer my thoughts in more detail below.

But I begin by recalling the 9/11 Commission’s warning with respect to failed states. “In the twentieth century,” the Commission’s final report reads, “strategists focused on the world’s great industrial heartlands.” In the twenty-first century, however, “the focus is in the opposite direction, toward remote regions and failing states.” A few sentences later, the Commission continues:

If, for example, Iraq becomes a failed state, it will go to the top of the list of places that are breeding grounds for attacks against Americans at home. Similarly, if we are paying insufficient attention to Afghanistan, the rule of the Taliban or warlords or narcotraffickers may reemerge and its countryside could once again offer refuge to al Qaeda, or its successor.

Those words were written more than a decade ago. Unfortunately, they still ring true today, not just for the US, but also for Europe. Except, we no longer have to worry about just Iraq becoming a failed state. We now have to contend with a failed state in Syria as well. And Syria is not “remote.” It is much easier for foreign fighters to travel to Syria today than it was for new jihadists to get to Afghanistan in the 1980s. This is one reason that there are likely more foreign fighters in Syria than there were in Afghanistan at the height of the jihad against the Soviets. Estimates vary, but the total number of foreign recruits in Syria easily tops 10,000. A CIA source recently told CNN “that more than 15,000 foreign fighters, including 2,000 Westerners, have gone to Syria.” They “come from more than 80 countries.”

This, of course, is an unprecedented security challenge and one that counterterrorism and intelligence officials will be dealing with for some time to come. It requires exceptional international cooperation to track the threats to Europe and elsewhere emerging out of Iraq and Syria. My thoughts below are focused on what I consider to be some of the key aspects of dealing with this threat.

At the moment, most people are understandably focused on the Islamic State (often called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, or ISIS). There is certainly a strong possibility that some foreign fighters will return from fighting in the Islamic State’s ranks to commit an act of terror at home, either on their own accord or under the direction of senior terrorists.

However, I also want to focus our attention today one of the other significant threat streams coming out of Syria. Al-Qaeda’s official branch in the country, Jabhat al-Nusrah, has experienced al-Qaeda veterans in its ranks. I think they pose more of a near-term threat when it comes to launching catastrophic attacks in the West than do their Islamic State counterparts. And even though al-Nusrah and the Islamic State have been at odds, we should not rule out the possibility that parts of each organization could come together against their common enemies in the West. Indeed, two of al-Qaeda’s leading branches are currently encouraging the jihadists in Syria to broker a truce, such that they focus their efforts against the US and its allies. There is also a large incentive for terrorists in both organizations to separately lash out at the West, portraying any such attacks as an act of retaliation for the American-led bombings.

Read more at Long War Journal

LOPEZ: Obama pledges additional support for Iranian puppet regimes

In this photo released by an official website of the Iranian supreme leader's office, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014.  (AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader)

In this photo released by an official website of the Iranian supreme leader’s office, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader)

By Clare Lopez:

In a prime time address to the nation on the eve of 11 September 2014, President Obama pledged an expanded U.S. effort to destroy the Islamic State (IS), which he still calls “ISIL” (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). American air power, stepped-up training for anti-Assad Syrian jihadis (which he calls “moderate rebels”), an additional $25 million in financial aid to Baghdad, and partnership with “a broad coalition” (that currently consists of 9 countries) comprise the key elements of the new military campaign.

Given that the only territory IS currently threatens are the regimes of two Iranian puppets – one in Baghdad, one in Damascus – Obama’s announcement in effect amounts to a renewed U.S. commitment to support Tehran’s grip on regional hegemony. The nuclear talks about how quickly the U.S. will accede to the Iranian bomb resume in another week.

Remarkably, the president opened his remarks with the rather preposterous claim that “ISIL is not Islamic.” Now, Obama himself has admitted in his autobiography “Dreams From My Father” that he “made faces during Quranic studies.” Still, it might be expected that he retained something of those madrassa lessons—or at least that White House advisors (not the Muslim Brotherhood ones, though) would have steered him away from such an egregious misstatement.

As it is, one of the reasons that the Saudi regime is so shaken by the approach of IS forces toward its borders is precisely because Riyadh royals know full well their Islamic piety doesn’t begin to measure up to the purity of IS practice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader, not only boasts a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from a Baghdad university, but wears the black turban to signify descent from Muhammad. Whether entitled to claim the Islamic prophet’s bloodline or not, al-Baghdadi models his every action on the example Muslims believe set out for them centuries ago by the founder of their faith. For Muslim purists like al-Baghdadi, the Qur’anic verse 33:21 that tells them “Ye have indeed in the Apostle of Allah a beautiful pattern of conduct for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day…” is taken quite literally (amputations, beheading, crucifixions, flogging and all).

Obama rambled on, claiming next that “ISIL is certainly not a state.” Unfortunately for the Iranian proxies in Baghdad and Damascus that are his intended beneficiaries, it is their former states that no longer exist—because the Islamic State, the Caliphate, has dismantled them. Obama did seem to recognize the effective erasure of the 1916 Sykes-Picot borders at least in some measure, though, as he declared his intent to expand U.S. air strikes more evenly throughout the Caliphate (including into what used to be called Syria as well as the former Iraq).

Apparently in pursuit of a public relations coup that’s eluded him of late, Obama nevertheless offered up additional glimpses of his unenviable conundrum about which jihadis to support on the ground in the intra-Islamic sectarian struggle that’s torn the region apart since the Islamic Uprising began in 2011.

For example, he seems to have conveniently forgotten that the ranks of today’s IS are full of Syrian jihadis armed, funded, and trained by U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) in cooperation with the now-terrified Hashemites, NATO ally Turkey, Muslim Brotherhood sponsor Qatar, and the flailing Saudi monarchy. A monster has slipped the leash but the American president says he’s more than ready to provide even more support to more Syrian rebels, who, this time, definitely will be exclusively the ‘moderate’ ones.

But what about the threat to the homeland if IS is allowed to exist and consolidate? Well, the question somehow is never asked about how either individual jihadis or small jihadi cells that an IS enclave might direct to attack the homeland are in any way different than the jihadis the Iranian or the Saudi state have launched our way over the decades—to include the hijackers of September 11, 2001 or the uncounted numbers of Hizballah cells operating across the Americas today. But there’s never been a hint of a suggestion that those jihadist sponsoring states constitute a compelling national security threat to the U.S. that requires an international coalition to deal with them.

Read more at Washington Times

Clare M. Lopez is the Vice President for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy.

Obama Pushes U.S. Deeper Into Middle East to Fight Islamic State

President Obama Addresses the Nation on the ISIL Threat

FULL WH TRANSCRIPTION OF SPEECH HERE

By CAROL E. LEE and JULIAN E. BARNES:

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama authorized the start of U.S. airstrikes in Syria and expanded a monthlong bombing campaign in Iraq to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic militants who recently beheaded two Americans.

The decisions, outlined Wednesday in a prime-time address to the nation on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, considerably deepen U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. They also mark an acknowledgment by Mr. Obama that the intensity of the threat from the militant group Islamic State requires the type of long-term, open-ended conflict he has resisted since taking office—and which he campaigned for the White House saying he would avoid.

In asking Americans to support another military incursion in the Middle East, Mr. Obama said his strategy to combat Islamic State, also called ISIS and ISIL, would be bolstered by a coalition of Arab and European nations. His plan builds on his authorization in August of airstrikes in Iraq to protect American personnel threatened by Islamic State and to provide humanitarian assistance to besieged Iraqis.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. goal now is to help Iraqis reclaim large swaths of territory the group has rapidly overtaken in recent months since spilling over from its stronghold in neighboring Syria. His speech paves the way for the first U.S. strikes at the group’s bases and havens in Syria.

“America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” Mr. Obama said in remarks from the White House. “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

The president gave no timetable for the new, U.S.-led fight against what he described as “a terrorist organization” with members “unique in their brutality.”

In addition to launching airstrikes against the militants in Syria, Mr. Obama pledged a new dose of support for moderate Syrian fighters also battling the extremist group. Taken together, the steps draw the U.S. closer toward the volatile Syrian civil war and open a new front for American efforts in the region.

Saudi Arabia has offered to host a U.S.-run training facility for moderate Syrian rebels, U.S. and Arab officials said. The facility is expected to be able to handle as many as 10,000 fighters, but details are still being worked out, the officials said.

Read more at WSJ

Also see:

 

Global drive to stop jihadis going to Syria, Iraq

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By Lori Hinnant:

PARIS: New laws make it easier to seize passports. Suspected fighters are plucked from planes. Authorities block finances and shut down radical mosques. And behind the scenes, Silicon Valley firms are under increasing pressure to wipe extremist content from websites as Western intelligence agencies explore new technologies to identify returning fighters at the border.

Governments from France to Indonesia have launched urgent drives to cut off one of the ISIS’ biggest sources of strength: foreign fighters. At the heart of the drive is mounting concern that the organization is training the next generation of international terrorists.

Those fears have gained urgency from the group’s horrific methods: A British militant is suspected of beheading two American journalists, and a Frenchman who fought with the ISIS is accused in a deadly attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium.

With each video that ricochets around social networks, the militants gain new recruits.

Britain has taken a particularly active role in censoring content deemed to break the country’s strict rules against extremist propaganda. U.K. officials recently revealed they have been granted “super flagger” status on sites such as YouTube, meaning their requests to remove videos with grisly content or that encourage terrorism are fast-tracked.

Over the past four years, an Internet-focused counterterror unit of London’s Metropolitan Police instigated the removal of 45,000 pieces of content, the force said last week. ISIS, however, have just as quickly found other, more decentralized platforms.

In the United States, officials are trying to identify potential jihadists by comparing travel patterns with those of people who have already joined the fight, a counterterrorism official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters.

A French law to seize passports is being fast-tracked through parliament, and the government is ramping up arrests of increasingly young teenagers making plans for jihad.

That can mean last-minute arrests at the airport, as happened to a 16-year-old girl and her alleged recruiter trying to pass through security in Nice Saturday, and to a man at Australia’s Melbourne Airport who was pulled off a flight last week carrying tens of thousands of dollars in cash and ISIS’ black-and-white flag in his luggage.

Britain proposed laws Monday to let police seize the passports of those suspected of having traveled abroad to fight, while the Netherlands is making it easier to strip people of their nationality and go after Internet providers that spread propaganda.

In Bosnia, authorities carried out a major anti-terror sweep Wednesday. They detained 16 people suspected of fighting in Syria and Iraq and recruiting Balkan men to join militants there.

Anti-jihadist efforts are being ramped up in traditionally Muslim countries as well: Indonesia is breaking up meetings of ISIS supporters and seizing T-shirts and other items promoting the group, and Tunisia is shutting down mosques and suspected financiers.

For the radicals who have already reached Syria, the focus of European spy agencies is on trying to identify them when they return. That can mean scouring social media sites for photos of foreign fighters or electronic intercepts for hints of terrorist activity abroad.

Officials are considering the deployment of more advanced techniques like voice recognition to identify suspected jihadis at border control by matching their conversations to those heard on militants’ videos, former U.K. counterterrorism chief Bob Quick told the Associated Press earlier this year.

There is huge interest, he said, in “being able to identify these people at the border.”

The concern is that returning fighters will launch attacks at home. Australia draws on lessons from Afghanistan a decade ago, saying of the 25 citizens who returned to Australia after fighting against Western interests there, two-thirds became involved in terrorist activities back home. Some remain in prison.

“The Australians and their supporters who have joined terrorist groups in the Middle East are a serious and growing threat to our security,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament Monday. “People who kill without compunction in other countries are hardly likely to be law-abiding citizens should they return to Australia.”

A compilation of government estimates shows more than 2,000 people with European passports have fought or are fighting in Syria and Iraq – with most looking to join ISIS.

Read more at Daily Star

 

US-Iranian military, intelligence cooperation in war on ISIS reaps first successes in Syria and Iraq

IraqSyriaBombing

DEBKAfile, Sep. 5, 2014:

At least 18 foreign ISIS fighters including Americans and Europeans were killed Thursday, Sept. 4, in a Syrian air raid of the Al Qaeda-ISIS’ northern Syrian headquarters in the Gharbiya district of Raqqa. The raid caught a number of high Al Qaeda commanders and a large group of foreign adherents assembled at the facilty.

A second group of high ISIS officers were killed or injured in another Syrian air raid over their base in Abu Kamal near the Iraqi border.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that top men of the Islamist terrorist group were holding meetings at both places Thursday to coordinate IS strike plans in Syria and Iraq.  For Syria, these plans center on the Deir a-Zor and Al Qaim areas, while in Iraq, they focus on targets in the east and center of the country.

The twin Syrian air offensive coincided with the opening of the two-day NATO Summit outside the Welsh town of Newport .

The information about the two Al Qaeda meetings at Raqqa and Abu Kamal could have come from only two sources: US surveillance satellites and aircraft or Iranian agents embedded at strategic points across Syria.

Syria does not have the necessary intelligence capabilities for digging out this kind of information. Nor does its air force normally exhibit the surgical precision displayed in the two strikes on Al Qaeda bases.

It is therefore more than likely that they owed their success to the widening military and intelligence cooperation between the United State and Iran in Iraq and Syria.

President Barack Obama will have taken his seat at the NATO summit to discuss ways of fighting ISIS after word of the successful Syrian strikes was already in his pocket. While they must be credited to top-quality US aerial surveillance over Syria and Iraq, they were undoubtedly made possible by the Obama administration’s deepening military and intelligence ties with Iran.

Many of the allies present at Newport will not welcome these tidings – Britain, Germany and Australia, in particular. They deeply resent being displaced as America’s senior strategic partners by the Revolutionary Republic of Iran, after their long partnership with the US in fighting terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But they will find it hard to argue with success.

On Aug. 31, our military sources reveal, US and Iranian special forces fighting together, broke the 100-day IS siege of the eastern Iraqi town of Amerli, 100 km from the Iranian border, to score a major victory in their first joint military ground action.

Then, Wednesday, Sept. 3, US jets struck an IS base in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, killing its commander, Abu Hajar Al-Sufi, and two lieutenants of the IS chief Abu Baker Al-Baghdadi.
While President Obama has denied having a strategy for fighting ISIS, a working mechanism appears to have been put in place to support a trilateral military offensive against al Qaeda’s Islamist State. The successful attacks in the last 24 hours were apparently made possible by this mechanism: Iranian intelligence collected US surveillance data from the Americans and passed it on to Syria for action.

Also see:

Kurdistan deputy PM: ‘Great imbalance’ between weapons used by Kurdish forces, ISIS

(Go to 8:14 in the video to see interview with Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani)

Fox News:

Kurdistan Regional Government Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani told Fox News’ Bret Baier Wednesday that there is a “great imbalance” between the weaponry used by the Islamic State militants and that of the Kurdish peshmerga security forces, imploring the U.S. to provide the Kurds with advanced weapons.

Talabani said on “Special Report with Bret Baier” that the caliber of the weapons used by the Islamic State fighters, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is far greater than that of the Kurdish forces.

“There is a great imbalance in the weaponry because ISIS have state of-the-art, U.S.-supplied weaponry that they were able to take with ease from the Iraq armed forces,” he said.

Talabani was referring to the fact that the militant group seized a large arsenal of U.S.-supplied weapons from the Iraqi army when the group captured the city of Mosul. In contrast, Talabani said the Kurdish forces are working with decades-old Soviet weaponry previously used in many other battles.

“Our weaponry cannot be compared to the weaponry that ISIS has, but we have the heart, the spirit, the bravery, and we have the dedication required to win this fight,” he said, “if that is coupled with upgraded weaponry, with updated cooperation with our friends and allies in the United States, we will have no doubt eliminate ISIS from Iraq.”

Talabani emphatically insisted that if the U.S. would supply the Kurdish peshmerga security forces with advanced weaponry, the Kurdish troops can be an effective, boots-on-the-ground force to drive out the militants.

“Collectively Iraq, Kurdistan and the United States can do this, can accomplish this mission and drive ISIS from Iraq,” he said. “But this requires decisive action and decisive action now.”

The U.S. has provided small arms and mortars to the Kurds, but has not armed them directly. A defense official told Fox News Wednesday that the U.S. is not planning on changing its policy.

“The Department of Defense has not provided direct arms to the Kurds and has no plans to do so in the future,” the official said.

Iraq’s Jihad: Past as Prologue

plus ça change…

American Thinker, By Andrew G. Bostom, June 8, 2005: 

We are now in the middle of a full—blown Jihad, that is to say we have against us the fiercest prejudices of a people in a primeval state of civilization.

Gertrude Bell, Baghdad, Iraq, September 5, 1920

Gertrude Bell (Wikipedia)

Gertrude Bell (Wikipedia)

 

The carnage in Iraq continues——much as Bell described 85 years ago——despite Saddam Hussein’s removal, and capture, along with many of his former high ranking administrators.  And this bloody contemporary “insurgency” is also a jihad—waged by jihadists of two ilks: Al Qaeda types (like Zarqawi) united with so—called “secular” Baathist jihadists. This is hardly surprising as Baathist Arabism is deeply rooted in Islam, and bears no resemblance to Western conceptions of secularism. (Other than perhaps Saddam Hussein’s expensive ‘secular’ wardrobe—as Fouad Ajami once uttered on live television, doing his best Saddam impersonation, to a stunned Dan Rather: ‘You wear pants…I wear pants!’).

Indeed, the very founder of the Baath Party, Michel Aflaq, was a Greek Orthodox Christian who converted to Islam, and declared emphatically, ‘Islam is to Arabism what bones are to the flesh.’ (For an enlightening discussion of the Baathism is secularism canard, see this blog by Professor Frank Salameh  , Monday May, 9, 2005, ‘The Myth of Arab Nationalism’). The Baathists just added another incendiary element to Iraq’s long brewing cauldron of sectarian strife, which was so apparent during the British attempt at statecraft during the 1920s, through early 1930s.

It is edifying to review that experience through the writings, and unfulfilled hopes of the British diplomat, Gertrude Bell. One wishes that a careful reading and thoughtful discussion of Bell’s detailed analyses were a required exercise for all our policymaking elites and chattering classes. Regardless, Bell’s narrative sounds eerily familiar as the cast of characters—from the 1920s, versus the present—seems quite literally frozen in time: Shi’ites led by the very same Sadr family; irredentist Sunnis educated in the Wahhabi tradition; Kurdish ‘separatists'; and the indigenous, pre—Islamic community of Assyrian Christians, soon to be preyed upon, primarily by their traditional Kurdish Muslim enemies, joined by the other Muslim communities.

Fond Foolishness Redux — Iraq Through Gertrude Bell’s Prism

Gertrude Bell (1868—1926) was a brilliant archaeologist and explorer, who traveled extensively in the Middle East, later becoming a British intelligence officer and diplomat in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Due to her unparalleled knowledge of the Middle East, Bell was made part of the delegation to the Paris Conference of 1919, and worked subsequently with British officials attempting to create the modern state of Iraq from three disparate ethnic and religious vilayets (i.e., Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra) of the collapsed Ottoman Empire.

Bell, perhaps the most important female Civil Servant in the entire British Empire during this period, also persuaded Winston Churchill to appoint Faisal, the recently deposed King of Syria, as the first King of Iraq. Her letters written from Baghdad, excerpted below, were originally published in a compilation, ‘The Letters of Gertrude Bell’, [Volume II, New York, 1927]. Bell’s brief, worried comments about the Assyrians foreshadowed their terrible plight, within seven years of her death.

In the last years of her life, Gertrude Bell created, and was the first Director of the Baghdad Archaeological Museum; she died in 1926, and may have committed suicide. Bell’s utopian dreams for Iraq, what the historian Elie Kedourie termed her ‘…fond foolishness…thinking to stand godmother to a new Abbasid Empire…’,  went unfulfilled. Indeed, one of her worst fears was realized: Muslim violence directed against the Assyrian Christian minority.

Read more at American Thinker

Iraqi Sunnis who fought al-Qaeda not keen to quell ISIS

Tribal fighters carrying their weapons pose for photographs during an intensive security deployment to fight against ISIS in the town of Haditha, northwest of Baghdad. (File photo: Reuters)

Tribal fighters carrying their weapons pose for photographs during an intensive security deployment to fight against ISIS in the town of Haditha, northwest of Baghdad. (File photo: Reuters)

By Dina al-Shibeeb, Al Arabiya News, Aug. 29, 2014:

While Iraqi Sunni tribes were crucial in defeating al-Qaeda in 2005, they have not shown the same determination in battling the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) despite reports of them fighting the militant group.

Political observers say this is due to the disfranchisement of the Sunni population by outgoing Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

“Malki’s government and its Iranian allies suppressed the Iraqi Sunnis so much that ISIS was able to sweep through Sunni areas without much resistance at first because of resentment toward the premier,” Walid Phares, an advisor to the U.S. Congress on the Middle East, told Al Arabiya News.

“ISIS is taking advantage and seizing more land, power, and eliminating Arab Sunni moderates in Iraq,” Phares said.

Michael Pregent, an adjunct lecturer at the National Defense University in Washington, said the central government broke its promise to integrate 90,000 Sunnis who fought al-Qaeda into the security apparatus, and provide them with jobs.

“They helped get rid of al-Qaeda, but the government fired all of them and put a lot of their leaders in jail,” Pregent, a former U.S. Army officer who was embedded with Iraqi Kurdish forces, told Al Arabiya News.

“The problem is that the government viewed them as a threat” because of the number of Sunni fighters, he added.

Phares said: “ISIS knows that the only possible threat against them, short of an all-out international ground campaign, is an uprising by [Sunni] tribes.”

Sheikh Ali al-Hatem, head of the Dulaim tribe, on Saturday urged Sunni leaders to withdraw from talks to form a new government, despite designated Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi being considered more moderate than Maliki.

Hatem also called on Sunni authorities to fight Shiite militias.

Similarly, on Aug. 17 the Revolutionary Tribal Council called for the formation of regional guards to protect Anbar province.

It called on the international community to label “crimes by Shiite militias as terrorism,” and to “confront” them “the same way they are confronting ISIS in Kurdistan and Mosul.”

However, Sunni leader Ahmed Abu Risha has vowed to take revenge on ISIS for killing his nephew Mohammed Khamis.

Abu Risha said fighting ISIS was a “duty,” taking a similar stance to that of the central government in Baghdad.

Abu Risha met with the head of the Shiite National Iraqi Alliance, Ibrahim al-Jafaari, on Thursday, and both confirmed the importance of forming a government.

Analysts predict that Sunnis will turn on ISIS.

“Soon, ISIS will start oppressing [Sunnis] as well,” Phares said. “Sunni moderates will rise, but chances are that ISIS will meet them with extreme violence.”

The unlikely alliance between ISIS and remnants of late President Saddam Hussein’s regime seems to be unravelling.

On July 14, Reuters reported clashes between ISIS and the Naqshbandi Army, led by Saddam loyalists, which killed at least 12.

“ISIS is now targeting the Naqashbandis, and is trying to disarm them. ISIS is acting strategically. They’re pre-empting,” said Phares.

Pregent said ISIS “relies on intimidation, fear, services, rewards and punishments, and tacit support from the disenfranchised Sunni population to thrive. I believe ISIS sheds as many supporters as it gains when it moves into new areas.”

Phares said: “Despite its power, ISIS is still small in size compared to the large mass of Arab Sunni tribes.

“What is needed at this point is for a Sunni area to be liberated from ISIS but not taken by Baghdad’s forces. This could become the basis of a possible liberation later.”

The militant group is already showing some “cracks,” said Pregent.

“ISIS is no longer travelling from town to town with their convoys. They’re losing their propaganda war… there is no footage since the start of U.S. airstrikes of ISIS rolling into Sunni towns in victory parades – those days are gone.”

Iraqi forces claim to have broken ISIS siege of Shiite town

 

Fox News,  August 31, 2014:

Iraqi security forces, along with Shiite militiamen, broke a nearly two-month siege by Islamic State militants on the northern Shiite Turkmen town of Amirli, Iraqi officials said on Sunday.

Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the operation started at dawn Sunday and the forces entered the town shortly after midday, The Associated Press reported.

Speaking live on state TV, al-Moussawi said the forces suffered “some casualities,” but did not give a specific number. He said fighting was “still ongoing to clear the surrounding villages.”

Breaking the siege was a “big achievement and an important victory” he said, for all involved: the Iraqi army, elite troops, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias.

However, U.S. officials would not confirm reports that security forces had broken the siege and Pentagon sources told Fox News to expect more U.S. airstrikes in the Amerli area throughout Sunday.

About 15,000 Shiite Turkmens had been stranded in the farming community, some 105 north of Baghdad. Instead of fleeing in the face of the Islamic State drive across northern Iraq, the Shiite Turkmens have stayed and fortified their town with trenches and armed positions.

Iraqi troops began the push to retake the town from ISIS on Saturday. Its water and electricity have been cut off since June and surrounded by militants since mid-July.

Some residents have said that the Iraqi military’s efforts to fly in food, water and other aid have not been enough amid oppressive heat, lack of electrical power — the town’s power station was destroyed weeks ago — and shelling from the militants.

The U.S. had been watching the area closely in case a slaughter of the Turkmen appeared imminent and air support was needed, said Michael Knights, who studies Iraq and the Persian Gulf as a fellow of The Washington Institute. U.S. airstrikes will hasten the success of the relief effort on the ground, he said.

About half of the town’s population is age 15 and under while many others are elderly, sick or wounded, Knights said.

“They are remarkably vulnerable, and ISIS is determined to kill as many of these people as possible,” Knights said, referring to an acronym for the Islamic State group. “As the Nazis felt about the Jews, so ISIS feels about the Shia Muslims.”

The Turkmen are Iraq’s third largest ethnic group after Arabs and Kurds. They make up about 4 percent of Iraq’s population. Iraqi forces were airlifted into the area on Saturday

“We thank God for this victory over terrorists,” al-Bayati told The Associated Press by phone from the outskirts of Amirli. “The people of Amirli are very happy to see that their ordeal is over and that the terrorists are being defeated by Iraqi forces. It is a great day in our life.”

State TV stopped regular programs and started airing patriotic songs following the victory announcement, praising the country’s security forces. They have been fighting the militants for weeks without achieving significant progress on the ground.

On Saturday, the U.S. conducted airstrikes against the Sunni militants and air-dropped humanitarian aid to residents. Aircraft from Australia, France and Britain joined the U.S. in the aid drop, which came after a request from the Iraqi government.  The U.S. Central Command said another airstrike on Sunday damaged a tank used by Islamic State fighters.

The Pentagon’s press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said military operations would be limited in scope and duration as needed to address the humanitarian crisis in Amirli and protect the civilians trapped in the town.

The Islamic State extremist group has seized cities, towns and vast tracts of land in northeastern Syria and northern and western Iraq. It views Shiites as apostates and has carried out a number of massacres and beheadings — often posting grisly videos and photos of the atrocities online.

The Associated Press and Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.

Kurdish Female Warriors On The Front Lines Fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria

kurdish-womenjpgBreitbart, by DEBRA HEINE, Aug. 24,2014:

A  notoriously fierce segment of the Kurdish security forces are striking terror into the hearts of ISIS terrorists – female fighters. The Jihadists have no problem slaughtering defenseless women but they don’t like facing armed female warriors in battle — because they don’t believe they’ll go to heaven if they’re killed by one of them.

The first official female unit was formed in 1996 when women began combat training in opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime. They’ve earned a  reputation for bravery and skill in the battlefield – so much so Peshmerga women are sometimes compared to Amazons.  You could call them the Kurdish Peshmerga’s First Cavalry Amazon Battalion.

Via PBS News, the all female unit’s commander, Col. Nahida Ahmed Rashid, said “more women are enlisting today to defend Iraq’s Kurdish region from Islamic State extremists.”

And these soldiers don’t only swell the fighting ranks; they’ve recently become a part of front-line strategy.

“The jihadists don’t like fighting women, because if they’re killed by a female, they think they won’t go to heaven,” one female soldier said.

Women are also involved in Kurdish resistance to the Islamic State’s advances in Syria. Some 30 percent of the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) there, which also fights against Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, are female.

Such soldiers join up not simply to defend their cities from invading armies, said the commander of the first all-woman PYD brigade, but from the extremist ideas they would carry with them.

“I believe in a greater cause, which is protecting our families and our cities from the extremists’ brutality and dark ideas,” she said. “They don’t accept having women in leadership positions. They want us to cover ourselves and become housewives to attend to their needs only. They think we have no right to talk and control our lives.”

Kurdish female partners

Here is a documentary of the women fighters of Kurdistan:

How Iraq’s black market in oil funds ISIS

ISIS sells $3M of black-market oil daily

ISIS sells $3M of black-market oil daily

By Luay al-Khatteeb:

London (CNN) — Luay al-Khatteeb spoke to CNN about the impact of ISIS’ march through northern Iraq, and the militant group’s control of some oil fields. He explained how they used the oil fields to raise funds, and how it could impact global prices. This is an edited version of the conversation.

How much of Iraq’s oil market do ISIS control?

ISIS control just a few marginal fields in Iraq’s north, but they are enough to fund the terrorist group’s self-sufficiency.

A month ago, the ISIS–controlled oil market in Iraq was reported to be worth $1 million a day. Now, with expansion, further control of oil fields and smuggling routes, the market is believed to be raising at least $2 million a day.

This could fetch them more than $730 million a year, enough to sustain the operation beyond Iraq.

ISIS have been battling over Baiji and the refinery is still under siege. However, if ISIS succeed in capturing it, the refinery would be very difficult to operate without capable and technical staff.

One important factor for the stability of global markets: ISIS is not yet in the south of Iraq, where the country’s true oil bounty lies. Capturing the southern assets of the country would be mission impossible for the group.

The territory is far from fault lines, and is dominated by Shia, which makes dominating the region difficult for the Sunni militant group.

What do ISIS do with the oil they get?

ISIS smuggle the crude oil and trade it for cash and refined products, at a reduced price. They also have their own small and rudimentary refineries in Syria.

Refined oil is returned to ISIS for selling locally, in Iraq and Syria. ISIS also use the oil in their own warfare.

ISIS controls smuggling routes and the crude transported by tankers to Jordan via Anbar province, to Iran via Kurdistan, to Turkey via Mosul, to Syria’s local market and to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where most of it gets refined locally.

Turkey has turned a blind eye to this and may continue to do so until they come under pressure from the West to close down oil black markets in the country’s south.

ISIS’ oil will remain limited to these black markets, and the group will have no chance to establish a sophisticated pipeline network. Fixed distribution networks are complex, require investment and can become targets by the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga.

What is ISIS’ ultimate aim and how does oil wealth play into it?

At present, ISIS are trying to establish a self-sufficient state and a capital in what is known as the “Sunni triangle” (west and north Iraq), and oil production will be part of this.

They want to be self-sufficient, expand their territorial control, recruit more jihadists — with focus on extremists with foreign passports — and extend their operations, to eventually launch attacks on Western countries.

ISIS declared its Caliphate by turning Iraq and Syria into a hub to attract extremists. They are aiming to take over the Arabian Peninsula as their epicenter to launch attacks globally.

If this happens, they will be in control of a region that holds 60% of world’s conventional energy reserves and produces 40% of global oil and gas production.

And the only way to do it is by attracting the masses of jihadists and extremists from all over the world to eventually outnumber the locals, which will endanger global security and economies.

Read more at CNN

Luay al-Khatteeb is visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, focusing on the geopolitics and political economy of the GCC and Iraq. He is the founder and director of the Iraq Energy Institute and serves as senior adviser to the federal parliament of Iraq for energy policy and economic reform.

Taking the US fight against IS into Syria would consolidate Assad and his Iranian-Hizballah allies

Raqqa_IS-20.8.14Debka:

British and German intelligence sources reported Saturday, Aug. 23, that US intelligence aid to the Assad regime, channeled through German BND intelligence, had enabled the Syrian air force to more precisely target al Qaeda units. These reports tie in with proliferating accounts from Washington that President Barack Obama is on the point of a decision to extend military strikes into Syria for targeting the Islamic State’s terrorist base. He has been warned by some top US generals that IS poses a threat to the United States and cannot be seriously engaged without dealing with the group’s Syrian stronghold. “We’re not going to be restricted by borders,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, in a comment Thursday.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that there is no confirmation from the ground in Syria that Washington is indeed passing intelligence to Syria through Berlin to help the Syrian air force reach IS targets. The fact is that Syria is falling well short of arresting the IS advance on two critical fronts:

1. Aleppo. The Islamist threat looms grimly over an approaching Syrian-Hizballah military victory, under Iranian commanders, in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. They have come close to dislodging rebel forces from their last footholds, only to be faced with a new enemy. In the last fortnight, al Qaeda forces armed with American weapons taken booty in Iraq have surged out of their northern Syrian stronghold of Raqqa to capture dozens of villages around the city. Syrian and Hizballah forces, after completing their takeover of Aleppo, will find themselves encircled by Islamist units.
2. Tabqa Air Base.  IS forces have pinned down some 1,000 Syrian air force and military personnel in the Tabqa air base southwest of Raqqa. They are locked in fierce combat. Every attempt by the Syrian army in the last two weeks to break the siege has been repelled by the Islamists. The latest attempt by the new Syrian Republican Guard’s 124th Brigade to reverse the battle has not so far broken the extremists’ stranglehold.

The fall of Tabqa air base would represent the Islamic State’s next major victory after the capture of Iraq’s second city of Mosul in July. It would open the road to Hama, 480 km to the west, and the main highways to Syria’s most important ports and naval bases in Latakia and Tartus in the Assad clan’s heartland.

In a word, by taking Tabqa, IS would virtually roll back a year of advances made by the Hizballah-backed Syrian military against the insurgency, and replace the former threat to the Assad regime with a new one from the Islamic State.
So in any decision to extend US military action from Iraq to Syria, President Obama must take into consideration its likely collateral effect – if successful, which would be to rescue Assad’s rule in Damascus from the Islamist peril and relieve his Hizballah and Iranian allies of this pressure.

After declaring for nearly four years that Bashar Assad must go, the US president may end up sending a US aircraft carrier to save him.
This decision by the US president would bear heavily on the security of two of Syria’s neighbors, Israel and Jordan. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources add that, in view of Egyptian president Abdel Fatteh El-Sisi’s recent clandestine contacts with President Assad, an American decision to strike al Qaeda in Syria may also influence El-Sisi’s calculations about hosting diplomacy for an accommodation of the Gaza conflict.

RET USAF GENERAL WARNS OF POSSIBLE 9/11/14 COMING

btvBreitbart:

Saturday on Fox News Channel’s “America’s News HQ,” network military analyst Ret. Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney told host Uma Pemmaraju that in oder to address the current threat ISIS posses, the Untied States should “go to DEFCON 1, our highest state of readiness and be prepared as we lead up to 9/11,” because he warned “we may even see a 9/11/14.”

McInerney referenced the missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 from earlier this year and said, “On the seventh of September, a major news network and publishing network are going to put out a book. It is going to be earth shattering of what’s happening and what happened. The fact is we may even see a 9/11/14 MH-370 surface again. We should go to DEFCON 1, our highest state of readiness and be prepared as we lead up to 9/11.”

Pemmaraju asked, “When you say a major news organization is coming forward with a publication, what are you referring to specifically? Can you allude to that, give us more details?

McInerney continued,”I can’t give you any more than what I’ve just said. But it is going to be extremely important  and America should take notice. We are less safe today than we were six years ago.”

The general again confirmed America should raise the terror level threat at this point ahead of the anniversary of 9/11.

‘They’re fighting off death': Fears of another Mount Sinjar grow after ISIS surrounds 18,000 Shi’ite Muslims in Iraqi town of Amerli

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  • Senior Iraqi cleric expresses grave concern for Shi’ite Turkmen community
  • Town faces starvation after food, water and medical supplies are cut off
  • Doctor: ‘It’s a disaster. Children are eating only once every three days’
  • Victims plead for West to intervene like it did to save Yazidis on Mt Sinjar
  • One said: ‘How much suffering must we see? We have been forgotten’
  • ISIS suicide bomber kills 46 at mosque 75 miles northeast of Baghdad
  • Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says ‘UK may send support to besieged town’ but added we ‘do not need Assad’s permission for intervention’

 

By SIMON TOMLINSON FOR MAILONLINE and DAVID WILLIAMS FOR THE DAILY MAIL

Fears are growing for thousands of Muslim Iraqis who have been surrounded by Islamic State militants in a chilling repeat of the siege of Mount Sinjar.

Iraq’s most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, today expressed grave concern for 18,000 Shi’ites in the town of Amerli after their food, water and medical supplies were cut off.

The Shi’ite Turkmen community say they have been living under siege for the last two months after the Sunni jihadists captured the surrounding towns and villages.

Dr Ali Albayati, who lives in Amerli, said: ‘It is a humanitarian disaster – 20,000 people in Amerli are fighting off death.

‘There are children who are only eating once every three days.’

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond revealed that Britain was closely monitoring the situation and would be willing ‘in principle’ to join an international effort to send support to the besieged town.

But he revealed Britain will not work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to combat Islamic State fighters in the country – and his permission would not be needed for any military intervention.

Hammond also said Britain had no plans to arm moderate fighters in Syria’s civil war, and insisted that Western troops on the ground in Iraq would only make the situation worse.

His comments came as a militant suicide bomber targeted a Sunni mosque in town 75 miles north-east of Baghdad, killing at least 46 people and wounding 50 others.

Read more at Daily Mail

 

White House Changing Its Tune On ISIS – The Kelly File

Published on Aug 23, 2014 by UNIVERSAL

 

ISIS Communicating With Mexican Cartel – Islamic Extremism On The Rise:

 

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