The Real Turkish Agenda…

ISIS Study Group , November 21, 2014:

Recent reporting has shown that the Erdogan government is still pushing for the PKK to accept the cease-fire they originally agreed to after having been targeted in Turkish military operations last month. The PKK has vehemently denied agreeing to turn their weapons and themselves over to the Turkish government, not that we’re surprised or anything.

PKK rules out government’s talk of disarmament
http://www.todayszaman.com/national_pkk-rules-out-governments-talk-of-disarmament_364726.html

erdogan 33
Erdogan: Really a “generous” kind of guy
Source: Associated Press

One would think that the Turkish Army would’ve taken action in Kobani in light of the death and destruction the Islamic State (IS) has waged along the border. Instead they launched operations against Pehsmerga forces in the village of Daglica, located in the Turkish part of the tri-border region shared with Iraq and Iran. As we’ve predicted, the Turkish military waited until the joint-PKK/YPG Peshmerga forces were degraded to a certain point before launching operations – possibly part of a bid towards establishing that buffer zone they’ve been talking so much about. Other reporting coming out of Turkey last month described clashes taking places in the Tunceli-area of Turkey involving Turkish forces and the PKK. The Turkish government claims their operations are in response to the PKK attacking one of their outposts in the area, but we’re not so sure that’s the real reason for the operations.

Turkish jets bomb Kurdish PKK rebels near Iraq
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29611582

Is Turkey a Reliable Partner In The Fight Against ISIS?
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1916

turkish air force
Turkish F4s (pictured above) and F16s participated in the OPs against the PKK
Source: BBC

The fact that Erdogan is more concerned with ousting the Assad regime should’ve been the first red-flag to the US government when it was framing it’s pseudo-strategy to combat IS, but it would appear this is a case of incompetent analysts working the problem-set or a senior leadership willfully ignoring the recommendations of said analysts. We suspect that it’s the latter in this case since we personally know several analysts who are working the problem-set. They’ve voiced to us their frustrations at being ignored by decision-makers who would prefer to be told “what they want to hear” instead of what they need to hear. Had they listened to their analysts, they would know that Turkey isn’t a dependable ally (and we use the term quite loosely here), and is operating on their own agenda that’s to our detriment. Even after the Erdogan government initially came out with their public statement denying they’re allowing the US military to use their air bases to launch airstrikes against IS, the US government continues to insist that it can get Turkey to get involved and target IS. Unfortunately, the US government’s drumbeat being fed to the mainstream media doesn’t mirror reality. In fact, the much-vaunted “Anti-IS Coalition” appears to be every bit the “Coalition of the Reluctantly Willing” that we’ve assessed it to be.

Read more

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Erdogan: Turkey the Hope of All Peoples in the Region, We Will Be the Architect of a New Middle East

Published on Nov 18, 2014 by MEMRITVVideos

In an October 13, 2014 speech given at Marmara University, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denounced what he claimed was the continued efforts by Western powers to divide the Middle East. He claimed that the hopes of the peoples of the region lie, once again, with Turkey as it was during the days of the Ottoman Empire.

Also see:

Jabhat al-Nusra Squeezes Out U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels

JABHAT-AL-NUSRAIPT, by John Rossomando:

Gains by al-Qaida linked Jabhat al-Nusra in northwestern Syria threatens to leave the U.S. with few options on the ground in that region.

Jabhat al-Nusra recently attacked and overran Harakat al-Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) led by Jamal Maarouf, two key American aligned militias that the Obama administration saw as key parts of its strategy against the Islamic State (IS).

Maarouf fled to Turkey and no longer has any brigades in the area around Idlib, located in northwestern Syria near the Turkish border. He previously proclaimed his solidarity with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in a January Twitter post.

“The front of the Syrian revolutionizes, The Islamic Front, and Jabhat al-Nusra, Muhajreen and Ansar, we are all in the fighting front together against the regime. What happened now is a fitna (strife), God damn who ignited it,” Maarouf wrote.

Al-Nusra also killed a commander belonging to the Free Syrian Army’s Dawn of Freedom Brigades in the fighting.

Jabhat al-Nusra confiscated heavy gear and weapons that the West had provided to its allies.

The Islamist group decided to attack the U.S.-backed rebel groups after the Obama administration bombed its fighters and those belonging to IS. This decision also opened the way to an agreement between Al-Nusra and IS to cooperate in destroying Maarouf’s faction.

President Obama said in September that a “moderate” force would be created and that their first targets were jihadists.

The U.S.-led coalition, along with “U.S. spies,” aim to eliminate all Islamic factions that “do not comply with Western policy,” Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani said in the Al-Monitor story.

“We have made the decision to cancel the SRF,” Golani said.

This opens the way for the al-Qaida linked group to carve out an Islamic emirate in the area around Idlib.

It hopes that such an emirate would increase its credibility among global jihadists and compete with the Islamic State to attract new fighters. Jabhat al-Nusra already has created its own courts in towns surrounding Idlib, an area isolated from direct contact with Assad’s forces and from those with the Islamic State.

The U.S.-aligned rebels blamed the Obama administration for their failures. Although President Obama promised to arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State and the Assad regime, supplies trickled in, slowed in part by bureaucracy.

“We decide on the mission that we want to do. Then we apply to the operations room for the weapons. If they agree with our military plan, some weapons arrive,” a commander calling himself Abu Ahmed told the Daily Telegraph. “If we receive TOW anti-tank missiles, we have to film every time we use one to prove we haven’t sold it on.”

Abu Ahmed also complained that other FSA units didn’t come to help, fearing Al-Nusra would attack them too.

The U.S.-backed rebels have also witnessed a stream of defections to Al-Nusra and IS.

The Obama Administration’s Strategic Schizophrenia

obamasCSP, By Kyle Shideler:

Last week in the Wall Street Journal it was reported that the Obama administration sought an agreement on fighting ISIS with Iran:

The correspondence underscores that Mr. Obama views Iran as important—whether in a potentially constructive or negative role—to his emerging military and diplomatic campaign to push Islamic State from the territories it has gained over the past six months. Mr. Obama’s letter also sought to assuage Iran’s concerns about the future of its close ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, according to another person briefed on the letter. It states that the U.S.’s military operations inside Syria aren’t targeted at Mr. Assad or his security forces.

It is now being reported that the same administration believes ISIS cannot be defeated without overthrowing Assad:

President Barack Obama has asked his national security team for another review of the U.S. policy toward Syria after realizing that ISIS may not be defeated without a political transition in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, senior U.S. officials and diplomats tell CNN. The review is a tacit admission that the initial strategy of trying to confront ISIS first in Iraq and then take the group’s fighters on in Syria, without also focusing on the removal of al-Assad, was a miscalculation. In just the past week, the White House has convened four meetings of the President’s national security team, one of which was chaired by Obama and others that were attended by principals like the secretary of state. These meetings, in the words of one senior official, were “driven to a large degree how our Syria strategy fits into our ISIS strategy.”

The contradiction between these two policies should be obvious, as Iran has expended ample time, funds, and men (primarily through proxy forces like Hezbollah and other Shia militias) to keep Assad in power. In fact overthrowing Assad would by necessity require the targeting and destruction of some of the very same forces that the Obama administration envisioned fighting ISIS on our behalf in Iraq.

The administration’s utter strategic incoherence is founded on an unwillingness to comprehend what drives both the Iranian aims (through proxies in Iraq and Syria), as well as the forces arrayed against them.  As we have repeatedly pointed out here on the Free Fire blog (See here, here, and here), the Syrian opposition is dominated by Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-allied Islamist militias connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Obama Administration’s policy for Syria has involved alternatively partnering with these Islamists, while also bombing certain units of them during the course of the air campaign against ISIS. All sides in the current regional conflict are motivated by the same ideological agenda, establishing their hegemony in the region in order to extend (their particularly sectarian brand) of Islamic law, and to use future gains as a base for further jihad against their enemies, including principally the United States. Whether the U.S. attempts to partner with Iran against ISIS, or Al Qaeda against ISIS, or the Muslim Brotherhood against Al Qaeda, or Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood against Iran, every permutation will result in the same eventual outcome. Victory for enemies of the United States.

The Obama administration has prided itself on it’s attention to “nuance”. In its dealings in the Middle East, it has repeatedly attempted to tease out differences and distinctions that are at best irrelevant, leading to the construction of a world view that is ultimately divorced from reality in any meaningful way. The result is that this Administration finds itself simultaneously on all sides, and still the wrong sides, of every strategic challenge.

The Beltway’s Syria Fairy Tales

pic_giant_111114_SM_Syria-Civil-WarNational Review, By Andrew C. McCarthy, Nov. 11, 2014:

Since the outbreak of the latest Middle East war a few years back, we have been chronicling the Washington political class’s Syria Fairy Tales. In particular, there is the story line that Syria is really teeming with secular democrats and authentic moderate Muslims who would have combined forces to both overthrow Assad and fight off the jihadists if only President Obama had helped them. But his failure to act created a “vacuum” that was tragically filled by Islamist militants and gave rise to ISIS. At this point in the story, you are supposed to stay politely mum and not ask whether it makes any sense that real democrats and actual moderates would agree to be led by head-chopping, mass-murdering, freedom-stifling sharia terrorists.

In point of fact, there simply have never been enough pro-Western elements in Syria to win, no matter how much help came their way. There was never going to be a moderate, democratic Syrian state without a U.S. invasion and occupation for a decade or more, an enterprise that would be politically untenable — and, as the Iraq enterprise shows, unlikely to succeed. The “moderate rebels” had no chance against Assad unless they colluded with the Islamist militants, who are vastly superior and more numerous fighters. And they would have even less chance of both knocking off Assad and staving off the jihadists.

The Obama administration and the Beltway commentariat have done their best to obscure these brute facts. Their main tactic is to exploit the American public’s unfamiliarity with the makeup of Syria. Obama Democrats and much of the Beltway GOP continue to invoke the “moderate Syrian rebels” while steadfastly refusing to identify just who those purported “moderates” are.They hope you won’t realize that, because of the dearth of actual moderate Muslims and freedom fighters, they must count among their “moderate rebels” both the Muslim Brotherhood (which should be designated as a terrorist organization) and various other Islamist factions, including . . .  wait for it . . . parts of al-Nusra — i.e., al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise.

We’ve also noted that a new wrinkle has recently been added to the Beltway’s Syria Fairy Tales: Obama’s Khorasan Fraud. In a desperate attempt to conceal the falsity of Obama’s boasts about destroying what is actually a resurgent al-Qaeda, the administration claimed that the threat to America that impelled Obama to start bombing Syria was not ISIS (supposedly just a “regional” threat), not al-Qaeda (already defeated, right?), but a hitherto unknown terrorist organization called the “Khorasan group.”

To the contrary, the Khorasan group, to the extent it exists at all, has never been a stand-alone terrorist organization. It is an internal component of al-Qaeda — specifically, an advisory board (or, in Islamic terms, a shura council) of al-Qaeda veterans who advise and carry out directives from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s emir. During the fighting in Syria, some of these operatives were sent there by Zawahiri to conduct operations under the auspices of al-Nusra. These operations have included jihadist activity against both the United States and Assad allies, plus negotiations for a rapprochement with the Islamic State (or ISIS). The limited success of those negotiations has led to fighting among the jihadists themselves.

The ball to keep your eye on here is al-Qaeda. The al-Nusra terrorist group is just al-Qaeda in Syria. Even ISIS is just a breakaway faction of al-Qaeda. And the Khorasan group is just a top-tier group of al-Qaeda veterans doing al-Qaeda’s work in conjunction with al Nusra — i.e., al-Qaeda.

The Obama administration disingenuously emphasizes these various foreign names to confuse Americans into thinking that there are various factions with diverse agendas in Syria — that al-Qaeda is no longer a problem because Obama has already dealt with it, and what remains are sundry groups of “moderate rebels” that the administration can work with in the effort to vanquish ISIS. Meanwhile, you are supposed to refrain from noticing that Obama’s original Syrian project — remember, he wanted Assad toppled — has given way to fighting ISIS . . . the very Sunni jihadists who were empowered by Obama’s lunatic policies of (a) switching sides in Libya in order to support the jihadists against Qaddafi and (b) abetting and encouraging Sunni Muslim governments in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to arm Sunni militias in the fight against Assad — those militias having all along included al-Qaeda elements, some of which split off to become ISIS and now threaten to bite off the very hands that once fed them.

If you thought the Khorasan fraud was just a passing fad to get Obama through the initial stages of trying to rationalize his incoherent Syria air campaign, think again.

You see, Obama continues to have a problem. Everyone knows that ISIS, the main target of U.S. bombings in Syria and Iraq, cannot be defeated — or even stalled much — by a mere air campaign, which has been half-hearted at best anyway. Ground forces will be needed. So the administration and Washington’s foreign-policy clerisy keep telling Americans: Never fear, there is no need for U.S. ground troops, because we can rely on “moderate rebels” to fight ISIS. But the so-called “moderates” Obama backs have been colluding with al-Qaeda (i.e., al-Nusra) for years — at least when not being routed by al-Qaeda/al-Nusra.

Now, the sensible thing at this point would be to concede that there are no viable moderate forces in Syria, and that it would be folly for us to continue pretending those forces either exist or will materialize anytime soon. But no, that would be honest . . . which is not the Obama way — nor, frankly, is it the Washington way — to end our willful blindness to the lack of moderation among Middle Eastern Muslims.

So if honesty is not an option, what to do? Simple: Let’s just pretend that al-Nusra — part of the al-Qaeda network we have been at war with for 13 years — is, yes,moderate!

But wait a second? How can we possibly pull that off when we know al-Nusra/al-Qaeda is also plotting to attack the United States and the West?

Easy: That’s why we have the “Khorasan group”!

I kid you not. Even as al-Nusra/al-Qaeda mow down any “moderate rebels” who don’t join up with them, the Obama administration is telling Americans, “No, no, no: The al-Nusra guys are really good, moderate, upstanding jihadists. The real problem is that awful Khorasan group!”

Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio have the story at The Long War Journal:

CENTCOM draws misleading line between Al Nusrah Front and Khorasan Group

US Central Command [CENTCOM] attempted to distinguish between the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and the so-called Khorasan Group in yesterday’s press release that detailed airstrikes in Syria.

CENTCOM, which directs the US and coalition air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, denied that the five airstrikes targeted “the Nusrah Front as a whole” due to its infighting with the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front, but instead claimed the attacks were directed at the Khorasan Group.

“These strikes were not in response to the Nusrah Front’s clashes with the Syrian moderate opposition, and they did not target the Nusrah Front as a whole,” CENTCOM noted in its press release.

The CENTCOM statement goes a step further by implying that the Al Nusrah Front is fighting against the Syrian government while the Khorasan Group is hijacking the Syrian revolution to conduct attacks against the West.

“They [the US airstrikes] were directed at the Khorasan Group whose focus is not on overthrowing the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people,” CENTCOM continues. “These al Qaeda operatives are taking advantage of the Syrian conflict to advance attacks against Western interests.”

[Emphasis added.]

Read Tom and Bill’s entire report, which sheds light on the web of jihadist connections.

Understand, the Khorasan group is al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda. The “moderate Syrian rebels” are neither moderate nor myopically focused on Assad and Syria. (Indeed, Syria does not even exist as the same country anymore, now that ISIS has eviscerated its border with Iraq while capturing much of its territory.) The overarching Islamic-supremacist strategy of al-Qaeda has never cared about Western-drawn borders. The ambition of al-Qaeda, like that of its breakaway ISIS faction, is to conquer both the “near” enemies — i.e., the Middle East territories not currently governed by its construction of sharia — and the West. Al-Qaeda (a.k.a. al-Nusra, a.k.a. the Khorasan group) wants to overthrow Assad, but it still regards the United States as its chief nemesis.

The Khorasan group exists only as an advisory group around Zawahiri. The Obama administration’s invocation of it to divert attention from al-Qaeda and launder al-Nusra into “moderate Syrian rebels” is sheer subterfuge.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s

ISIS and Al Qaeda Ready to Gang Up on Obama’s Rebels

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At a secret meeting in Syria brokered by the dreaded Khorasan group, the terrorist rivals discussed a merger.
By Jamie Dettmer:
ISTANBUL—Jihadi veterans known collectively as the Khorasan group, which have been targeted in two waves of airstrikes by U.S. warplanes, are trying to broker an alarming merger between militant archrivals the Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra, the official Syrian branch of al Qaeda.
The merger, if it comes off, would have major ramifications for the West. It would reshape an already complex battlefield in Syria, shift forces further against Western interests, and worsen the prospects for survival of the dwindling and squabbling bands of moderate rebels the U.S. is backing and is planning to train.

“Khorasan sees its role now as securing an end to the internal conflict between Islamic State and al Nusra,” says a senior rebel source. The first results are already being seen on the ground in northern Syria with a coordinated attack on two rebel militias favored by Washington.

All three of the groups involved in the merger talks—Khorasan, Islamic State (widely known as ISIS or ISIL), and al Nusra—originally were part of al Qaeda. Khorasan reportedly was dispatched to Syria originally to recruit Westerners from among the thousands of jihadi volunteers who could take their terror war back to Europe and the United States. But among ferocious ideologues, similar roots are no guarantee of mutual sympathy when schisms occur.

Current and former U.S. officials say they are unaware of any cooperation between ISIS and al Nusra, and they doubt that a merger or long-term association could be pulled off. “I find it hard to believe that al Nusra and Islamic State could sink their differences,” says a former senior administration official. “The rift between them is very deep,” he adds.

But senior Syrian opposition sources say efforts at a merger are very much under way and they blame Washington for creating the circumstances that make it possible. Moderate rebels accuse the Obama administration of fostering jihadi rapprochement by launching ill-conceived airstrikes on al Nusra while at the same time adamantly refusing to target the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the U.S. military intervention in the region.

This, they say, has created the opening for a possible understanding between the jihadists and is creating sympathy for al Nusra. Other Islamist rebels and the wider population in insurgent-held areas in northern Syria question American motives and designs and remain furious at the U.S. decision not to help topple Assad.

“Al Nusra knows more airstrikes are coming, so why wait,” says an opposition source. If the Americans are going to lump them together with ISIS, maybe best to join forces. “What made the possibility of their coming together are the airstrikes.”

The opposition sources, who agreed to interviews on the condition they not be identified, warn that mounting cooperation between the two jihadist groups already is evident in specific operations.

Read more at The Daily Beast

Also see:

Inside the CIA’s Syrian Rebels Vetting Machine

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo. Hosam Katan/Reuters

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo. Hosam Katan/Reuters

By Jeff Stein:

Nothing has come in for more mockery during the Obama administration’s halting steps into the Syrian civil war than its employment of “moderate” to describe the kind of rebels it is willing to back. In one of the more widely cited japes, The New Yorker’s resident humorist, Andy Borowitz, presented a “Moderate Syrian Application Form,” in which applicants were asked to describe themselves as either “A) Moderate, B) Very moderate, C) Crazy moderate or D) Other.”

After Senator John McCain unwittingly posed with Syrians “on our side” who turned out to be kidnappers, Jon Stewart cracked, “Not everyone is going to be wearing their ‘HELLO I’M A TERRORIST’ name badge.”

Behind the jokes, however, is the deadly serious responsibility of the CIA and Defense Department to vet Syrians before they receive covert American training, aid and arms. But according to U.S. counterterrorism veterans, a system that worked pretty well during four decades of the Cold War has been no match for the linguistic, cultural, tribal and political complexities of the Middle East, especially now in Syria. “We’re completely out of our league,” one former CIA vetting expert declared on condition of anonymity, reflecting the consensus of intelligence professionals with firsthand knowledge of the Syrian situation. “To be really honest, very few people know how to vet well. It’s a very specialized skill. It’s extremely difficult to do well” in the best of circumstances, the former operative said. And in Syria it has proved impossible.

Daunted by the task of fielding a 5,000-strong force virtually overnight, the Defense Department and CIA field operatives, known as case officers, have largely fallen back on the system used in Afghanistan, first during the covert campaign to rout the Soviet Red Army in the 1980s and then again after the 2001 U.S. invasion to expel Al-Qaeda: Pick a tribal leader who in turn recruits a fighting force. But these warlords have had their own agendas, including drug-running, and shifting alliances, sometimes collaborating with terrorist enemies of the United States, sometimes not.

“Vetting is a word we throw a lot around a lot, but actually very few people know what it really means,” said the former CIA operative, who had several postings in the Middle East for a decade after the 9/11 attacks. “It’s not like you’ve got a booth set up at a camp somewhere. What normally happens is that a case officer will identify a source who is a leader in one of the Free Syrian Army groups. And he’ll say, ‘Hey…can you come up with 200 [guys] you can trust?’ And of course they say yes—they always say yes. So Ahmed brings you a list and the details you need to do the traces,” the CIA’s word for background checks. “So you’re taking that guy’s word on the people he’s recruited. So we rely on a source whom we’ve done traces on to do the recruiting. Does that make sense?”

No, says former CIA operative Patrick Skinner, who still travels the region for the Soufan Group, a private intelligence organization headed by FBI, CIA and MI6 veterans. “Syria is a vetting nightmare,” he told Newsweek, “with no way to discern the loyalties of not only those being vetted but also of those bringing the people to our attention.”

A particularly vivid example was provided recently by Peter Theo Curtis, an American held hostage in Syria for two years. A U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) unit that briefly held him hostage casually revealed how it collaborated with Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, even after being “vetted” and trained by the CIA in Jordan, he wrote in The New York Times Magazine.

“About this business of fighting Jabhat al-Nusra?” Curtis said he asked his FSA captors.

“Oh, that,” one said. “We lied to the Americans about that.”

Read more at Newsweek

The Clearing of the Pawns

Members of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra pose for a picture at a checkpoint at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing in Syria Photo: MOLHEM BARAKAT/REUTERS

Members of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra pose for a picture at a checkpoint at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing in Syria Photo: MOLHEM BARAKAT/REUTERS

CSP, By Kyle Shideler:

It is now being reported that Al Qaeda’s Syrian group, the Al Nusra Front has accepted the surrender of the U.S.-Armed Harakat Hazm (HZM), and effectively neutralized the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) by seizing it’s remaining bases. As the UK Telegraph notes:

For the last six months the Hazm movement, and the SRF through them, had been receiving heavy weapons from the US-led coalition, including GRAD rockets and TOW anti-tank missiles.
But on Saturday night Harakat Hazm surrendered military bases and weapons supplies to Jabhat al-Nusra, when the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria stormed villages they controlled in northern Idlib province.
The development came a day after Jabhat al-Nusra dealt a final blow to the SRF, storming and capturing Deir Sinbal, home town of the group’s leader Jamal Marouf. The attack caused the group, which had already lost its territory in Hama to al-Qaeda, to surrender.

According to reports, HZM surrendered its positions to Al Nusra and turned over its U.S.-provided arsenal without offering any resistance. Harakat Hazm has never been shy about fighting alongside Al Nusra, as one fighter proclaimed to the LA Times less than a month ago, “But Nusra doesn’t fight us, we actually fight alongside them. We like Nusra.” This coziness with al Qaeda is something that investigative reporter Patrick Poole has repeatedly noted, and raises the question of whether these surrogates upon which President Obama’s Syria and anti-ISIS strategy depends were ever really “our surrogates” to begin with? The, admittedly pro-Assad, Beirut paper Al-Akbar has claimed that HZM was explicitly created by the Muslim Brotherhood, and with the support of Turkey and Qatar, in order to serve as a recipient of U.S. aid.

Whether HZM was a Muslim Brotherhood front designed to fool the West from day one, or whether they simply lack the strength to continue resisting Al Nusra, the result is the same.  SRF and HZM  have now being cleared from the board, rendering painfully obvious what should have been clear some time ago. There is no force of “moderation” capable of ruling an intact Syria. U.S. airstrikes cannot defeat ISIS alone, and could not, even were they not hamstrung by a gun shy Administration that insists on controlling every aspect of the air war from the White House. Further escalation, through “boots on the ground” is, as reporter Michael Totten has noted,  a political non-starter, and for very good reason.  The idea that a force of Syrians can be extracted from Syria, tabula rasa, and then reinserted a few years later once they’ve been adequately armed and trained, as some have proposed, is a flight of fancy.  The future of Syria is likely to be decided between Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Assad regime, backed by Iran and Hezbollah.

Recognizing our lack of pieces to move should be the first step in crafting a new strategy, one which takes into account not just Syria, but the whole rapidly changing face of the region.

Obamas-Middle-East-Chess-Board-360-X-275

How Obama Walked Boehner and GOP Leadership Off the Syrian Rebel Cliff

 r-GOP-LEADERSHIP-large570PJ Media, By Patrick Poole, Nov. 3, 2014:

One of the last acts Congress undertook before leaving Washington, D.C., in September for the midterm election break was to add $500 million in new funding to arm and train the so-called “vetted moderate” Syrian rebels. The $500 million in funding had been an agenda item for Obama since June, when ISIS began making quick gains in an offensive push back into Iraq.

But the political net effect of this vote was to get the GOP leadership in Congress to publicly buy into Obama’s rapidly crumbling Syria policy. Led by Boehner in the House and McConnell in the Senate, the congressional GOP leadership allowed Obama to walk them off the Syrian rebel cliff.

As I reported here at PJ Media yesterday, the most important “vetted moderate” rebel groups are in retreat, having surrendered or defected to Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria.

This development should come as no surprise to any member of the congressional GOP. In the week before the rebel amendment funding vote, I was asked to brief a number of GOP members and prepared a presentation on the collapse of the U.S.-backed Syria rebels that was widely circulated amongst both the House and Senate GOP conferences.

Among the chief trends I noted in these briefings — and that I was concurrently reporting on here — was that large groups of Free Syrian Army (FSA) units were defecting to al-Qaeda and ISIS, surrendering their U.S.-provided weapons along the way, and that other FSA units were forging peace deals and fighting alongside al-Qaeda and ISIS in some areas.

Even before the votes on the rebel funding, there was growing evidence that these “vetted moderate” forces were not moderate at all, and certainly would provide little assistance in fighting against ISIS.

Obama was hinting at where his policy was headed, too. Just a month before those congressional votes, in an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Obama said that the belief that arming the Syrian rebels would have changed the situation had “always been a fantasy”:

With “respect to Syria,” said the president, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy. This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”

Even now, the president said, the administration has difficulty finding, training and arming a sufficient cadre of secular Syrian rebels: “There’s not as much capacity as you would hope.”

Again, this was more than a month before congressional GOP leadership took up the cause of sending $500 million more to the Syrian rebels, even though there were reports that the FSA had already lost at least $500 million in arms to ISIS and other jihadist groups.

GOP leaders also bought in on another highly controversial element to Obama’s Syrian rebel policy. In September 2013, it was reported that Obama had signed a waiver circumventing a federal law intended to prohibit aid from going to terrorist groups. But when GOP leadership rolled out their amendment to fund the “vetted moderate” Syrian rebels, it contained hardly any substantial limits to Obama’s waiver policy.

In order to pass the amendment in the House, Boehner and GOP leadership had to buck considerable resistance from their own party and join with House Democrats to pass the amendment. The September 17 vote was 273-156, with 71 Republicans voting against the amendment.

And yet even more House Democrats — 85 in all — voted against the funding amendment, giving them cover for the upcoming midterm elections.

The 78-22 vote in the Senate also received support from Senate GOP leadership, with notable Senate Republicans voting against the measure, including Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

Congress had barely left Washington, D.C., for the break before events would demonstrate the GOP leaders buying into Obama’s policy was a fool’s errand. As U.S. airstrikes began hitting ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra positions, the attacks were widely condemned by the same “vetted moderate” groups that Congress had just approved another $500 million for.

At the same time, the Obama administration began to quickly back away from the rebels that congressional GOP leadership had now jumped into bed with. A week after the House amendment vote, administration officials began complaining that there were no reliable partners on the ground in Syria. A few weeks later, the administration leaked a CIA assessment of past funding of rebel groups that found such aid as Congress had just approved rarely works.

The coup de grâce came less than a month after the House vote. Obama’s envoy trying to build the anti-ISIS coalition, retired Marine General John Allen, told reporters that the administration was ditching the FSA. Now, two weeks later, the FSA is near collapse.

The only successful move of Obama’s disastrous Syria policy was to get the GOP leadership in Congress to buy into it at the last minute.

So how could GOP leaders be so easily duped?

1) The absence of a coherent GOP foreign policy. Republicans in Congress are torn by two opposing foreign policy poles: on one side is John McCain’s “war at any price” caucus, and on the other is Rand Paul’s neo-isolationist “pull up the drawbridge” approach. The McCain position has blindly given a blank check to the administration’s military misadventures (e.g. Libya, et al.), and the Paulian approach flies in the face of reality — there is no drawbridge to pull up anymore in our global society, and the growing threats to America’s interests overseas are growing rapidly.

2) “We’ve got to do something!” When I talked to members and staff, this was a recurring theme. GOP leaders during the debate over the amendment used this as a bludgeon against the amendment’s detractors. But without American boots on the ground, which no one in Congress was going to support weeks before midterm elections, there’s little the U.S. can do to directly change events on the ground. Even the airstrikes targeting ISIS are having a very limited effect. And less than a month after GOP leaders were publicly castigating their own members for not falling into line, the administration was abandoning the very position they had just embraced.

3) Congress is reliant on the administration for all their information. This is a recurring problem on the Hill. Congress has few means to vet the information the administration gives them, or to know if information is being withheld.

When I briefed members during that week prior to the rebel amendment vote, particularly those sitting on committees that had national security responsibilities, very few were aware of the ongoing difficulties of the defections, peace deals, and alliances with jihadist groups that the U.S.-armed and trained “vetted moderate” groups were engaged in. I’ve previously said that Congress needs to revive something along the lines of the House Task Force on Unconventional Warfare and Terrorism that gave them a back door to the SPECOPS world and intelligence community to be better informed regardless of what party controls the White House.

The midterm elections tomorrow might rearrange the chairs on the Hill come January, but the GOP leadership problems demonstrated by the rebel funding this past September are likely to remain.

Even worse, rushing the Syrian rebel funding through at the last minute meant there was no serious discussion of the growing national security threats metastasizing in Syria and Iraq and on what Congress intended to do. By buying into Obama’s rebel funding proposal, they allowed Obama to walked them over the cliff just as he was stepping back from it. Pure amateur hour.

By the time the new Congress convenes in January, events could transpire in the Middle East that will require Congress and leaders of both parties to make choices more difficult than throwing $500 million at the problem. By then, the situation could be more stark than anyone now realizes.

Foreign jihadists flocking to Iraq and Syria on ‘unprecedented scale’ – UN

An image grab taken from a video released by Islamic State group's official Al-Raqqa site via YouTube. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

An image grab taken from a video released by Islamic State group’s official Al-Raqqa site via YouTube. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

By Spencer Ackerman:

The United Nations has warned that foreign jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale” and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants to global terrorism.

A report by the UN security council, obtained by the Guardian, finds that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State (Isis) and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries, the report states, “including a tail of countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to al-Qaida”.

The UN said it was uncertain whether al-Qaida would benefit from the surge. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida who booted Isis out of his organisation, “appears to be maneuvering for relevance”, the report says.

The UN’s numbers bolster recent estimates from US intelligence about the scope of the foreign fighter problem, which the UN report finds to have spread despite the Obama administration’s aggressive counter-terrorism strikes and global surveillance dragnets.

“Numbers since 2010 are now many times the size of the cumulative numbers of foreign terrorist fighters between 1990 and 2010 – and are growing,” says the report, produced by a security council committee that monitors al-Qaida.

The UN report did not list the 80-plus countries that it said were the source of fighters flowing fighters into Iraq and Syria. But in recent months, Isis supporters have appeared in places as unlikely as the Maldives, and its videos proudly display jihadists with Chilean-Norwegian and other diverse backgrounds.

“There are instances of foreign terrorist fighters from France, the Russian Federation and and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland operating together,” it states. More than 500 British citizens are believed to have travelled to the region since 2011.

Read more at The Guardian

Sources: Former Guantanamo detainees suspected of joining ISIS, other groups in Syria

397ISIS_20141030_083658Fox News, By Justin Fishel, Jennifer Griffin, October 30, 2014:

As many as 20 to 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees released within the last two to three years are suspected by intelligence and Defense officials of having joined forces with the Islamic State and other militant groups inside Syria, Fox News has learned.

The development has cemented fears that the U.S. military would once again encounter militants taken off the battlefield.

The intelligence offers a mixed picture, and officials say the figures are not exact. But they are certain at least some of the released detainees are fighting with the Islamic State, or ISIS, on the ground inside Syria. Others are believed to be supporting Al Qaeda or the affiliated al-Nusra Front in Syria.

A number of former detainees also have chosen to help these groups from outside the country, financing operations and supporting their propaganda campaigns.

Sources who spoke to Fox News were not able to provide the identities of the fighters.

Senior Defense and intelligence officials say the vast majority of detainees released from Guantanamo don’t return to the fight — and of those who do, relatively few have made it to Syria.

Of the 620 detainees released from Guantanamo Bay, 180 have returned or are suspected to have returned to the battlefield.

Of those 180, sources say 20 to 30 have either joined ISIS or other militants groups in Syria, or are participating with these groups from outside countries. Officials say most of those 20 to 30 are operating inside Syria.

The development underscores just one of many long-running complications for efforts to shutter Guantanamo Bay, a promise President Obama made within hours of taking the oath of office in 2009.

Nearly six years later, that effort has run aground, complicated by problems with relocating prisoners, by concerns about fighters returning to the battlefield and by Congress’ resistance to allowing any to be detained on the U.S. mainland.

A majority of the jihadists released to their home countries tend to stay and fight locally. Afghans who return to the battlefield, for instance, tend to stay in Afghanistan.

But these officials said the former detainees who have joined ISIS in Syria have migrated from the European and African countries which agreed to receive them from the United States.
Egypt and Tunisia, as well as six European countries, are among them.

According to a source, there are 149 detainees still at Guantanamo Bay, almost 90 of them from Yemen.

Jennifer Griffin currently serves as a national security correspondent for FOX News Channel . She joined FNC in October 1999 as a Jerusalem-based correspondent. 

Al-Qaeda issues call to support Isil in new threat to American strategy

Members of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra pose for a picture at a checkpoint at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing in Syria Photo: MOLHEM BARAKAT/REUTERS

Members of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra pose for a picture at a checkpoint at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing in Syria Photo: MOLHEM BARAKAT/REUTERS

Al-Qaeda branch calls on group to support Isil in blow to American-led coalition, as monitoring group reports that Isil has been able to fly three Russian fighter jets

By Richard Spencer:

Al-Qaeda’s leading terror franchise has presented a new challenge to the American-led coalition in Syria and Iraq by calling on the group to back Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant despite the two groups’ fierce rivalry.

The call by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is doubly significant because its leader is believed to have been appointed as “general manager” or chief operating officer and deputy to Al-Qaeda’s overall head, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In the past year, Zawahiri and the head of Isil, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, have clashed openly and the two groups have fought each other in Syria. But America’s decision to bomb not only Isil in Iraq and Syria but also a group of Al-Qaeda fighters accused of planning an attack on the United States has drawn the two rival jihadi organisations closer together.

“We urge all Muslims to back their brethren, with their souls, money and tongues, against the crusaders,” a statement released on Friday said. “We call on anyone who can wear down the Americans to strive to do so by military, economic or media means.” The American decision to bomb an outpost of Al-Qaeda’s official faction in the Syrian Civil War, Jabhat Al-Nusra, caused outrage in the rebel cause.

Many rebels were already angry that after refusing to intervene militarily on their side against the Assad regime, the US was nevertheless prepared to bomb Isil positions. The attack on Jabhat Al-Nusra, which had fought closely alongside other rebel factions, including pro-Western ones, was seen as an outright betrayal of the anti-Assad cause.

Now the United States is having difficulty finding rebels to train and arm in accordance with the broader plans outlined by President Barack Obama to support the “moderate” cause in the war.

Read more at The Telegraph

Also see:

Thomas Joscelyn:

No explicit denunciation of the Islamic State

“Resurgence” republishes a statement by Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s leader, from earlier this year. Omar says that all American and Western forces must be withdrawn from Afghanistan, and he calls on the entire Islamic world to denounce Israel for its supposedly “savage aggression” against “oppressed Palestinians.”

In “Resurgence,” as in other al Qaeda messages and statements, Omar is called “Amir ul Mominin,” or the Commander of the Faithful, a title that is usually reserved for the leader of an Islamic caliphate. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, has attempted to usurp this title for himself.

In its propaganda, al Qaeda has taken a subtle approach to responding to the Islamic State’s claims. The group has pushed its allegiance to Omar, and his presumed role as the rightful caliph.

“Resurgence” does not include any specific denunciations of the Islamic State. But it does reproduce a quote from Zawahiri explaining how a proper jihadist caliphate will be built. After arguing that jihadists are an inseparable part of the ummah, or community of Muslims, Zawahiri writes, “The Islamic State will be established – by the help and will of Allah — at the hands of the free, sincere and honorable Mujahideen. It will be established with their sacrifices, generosity, consent and collective choice.”

This could be read as a thinly-veiled critique of the Islamic State, as one of the pro-al Qaeda jihadists’ chief criticisms of Baghdadi is that he has tried to impose his caliphate on all other Muslims, eschewing the type of consensus that al Qaeda believes is necessary to form first. In the context of their rivalry with the Islamic State, senior al Qaeda leaders have reproduced similar quotes from Zawahiri throughout the year.

Another piece in “Resurgence,” written by Zawahiri’s son-in-law, Muhammad bin Mahmoud Rabie al Bahtiyti (a.k.a. Abu Dujana al Basha), urges Muslims to support the mujahideen in Syria, but also says nothing about the Islamic State. Al Bahtiyti released an audio message warning against the Islamic State in late September. Even though al Bahtiyti clearly sought to undermine Baghdadi’s group, he did not explicitly name the Islamic State in that message either.

ISIS threat: What Team Obama doesn’t want you to know

oliver northFox News, By Oliver North, Oct. 22, 2014:

The vaunted Obama “National Security Team” tells us their “broad-based coalition” is “succeeding” against the savages who variously describe themselves as ISIS, ISIL, IS or “The Caliphate.” That’s according to White House spokesman Josh Earnest in press briefings on October 14 and 15. Don’t believe it.

Here – from friends with “boots on the ground” – are facts about what’s really happening that the Obama administration either doesn’t know, doesn’t want you to know – or both:

First, the number of ISIS “jihadis” in Iraq and Syria is much greater than we are being told. According to multiple sources in Baghdad, Irbil and elsewhere “down-range,” there are upwards of 40,000 IS fighters in Syria and an equal or greater number in Iraq.

The very visible fight for Kobani on the Syria-Turkey border is a “diversion” – a military distraction – created by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – the “Islamic State’s” self-proclaimed “caliph.” He is a vicious butcher, but no fool. He and his underlings understand their neighborhood and our western media.

Expecting reporters to come – and they have – he sent 4,000 ISIS fighters to assault the Kurds in Kobani – while holding another 5,000+ in reserve – with orders not to cross the nearby border with Turkey. Western media outlets flocked to the frontier and lined up their cameras next to Turkish Army tanks and armored vehicles.

American pundits ask, “Why aren’t the Turks intervening to save the Kurds? Al-Baghdadi knows the Kurds desperately holding on in Kobani are predominantly affiliated with the PKK – the Kurdistan Workers Party – against which Turkish governments have been waging bloody civil war for three decades. In Ankara, the Erdogan regime isn’t about to further the cause of an independent Kurdistan – or prevent a sanguinary end for the Kurds in Kobani.

Meanwhile in Iraq, where the real battle is being fought – there are no western cameras to record the serial defeats ISIS is inflicting on the Shiite-led government of Haider al-Abadi. All but unnoticed, Anbar Province – the heart of Iraq’s “Sunni Triangle” – has fallen to highly mobile IS units.

During the past month, while we focused our lenses on Kobani, Al Baghdadi’s terror army killed, captured and murdered more than 3,500 Iraqi soldiers – all those unable to flee. Now, ISIS is poised to seize Haditha Dam, source of nearly one third of the nation’s hydroelectric power and Al Asad, the Iraqi government’s last remaining airbase west of Baghdad.

ISIS forces have invested Baghdad on three sides and Sunni jihadists are conducting near daily suicide bomb attacks in the capital city’s Shiite neighborhoods. One U.S. officer told me, “These SVBIEDs (Suicide Vehicular-borne Improvised Explosives) in Baghdad are ISIS probes and rehearsals for the attack they plan to launch on the U.S. embassy.”

“Worse yet,” says a retired senior intelligence official, “nobody in Washington seems to comprehend this is all part of the bloody ‘holy war’ between Sunnis and Shiites that’s been going on since the seventh century. ISIS is gaining ground, recruits and military prowess because al-Baghdadi has succeeded in portraying himself as the ‘protector of Sunni Islam.’ He claims his ‘Sunni Caliphate’ will prevent Shiites from establishing a hegemon from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. His propaganda not only shows IS fighters as brutally victorious, it also depicts the U.S. and the ‘Obama coalition,’ as allied with the Shiites in Baghdad, al-Assad’s Alawite dynasty in Damascus, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Ayatollahs in Tehran. That’s why al-Baghdadi continues to attract Sunni militants by the thousands from every part of the planet – including the United States.”

All with whom I have recently communicated about these matters agree it’s unlikely ISIS can seize and occupy Baghdad – at least for now. But they also say too little attention is being paid to the risk of an attack on the largest U.S. embassy in the world; that “ISIS ethnic and religious cleansing” cannot be stopped by undirected airstrikes alone; and “the Kurdish Peshmerga are not receiving sufficient help to make a difference.”

Meanwhile, Americans here at home are preoccupied with whether we can “defeat” Ebola as if a pandemic was about to sweep the nation. Though the virus has killed fewer people around the planet this year than ISIS has murdered in Syria or Iraq this month, it’s clear the O-Team wants us to believe Ebola is our greatest peril.

Commander-in-Chief Obama has already dispatched nearly 4,000 U.S. military personnel to West Africa to battle Ebola – almost four times as many as he has sent to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. We can only pray none of those committed to the “Ebola Battle” become infected or get taken hostage by Boku Harum terrorists.

POTUS and fellow travelers in the so-called mainstream media keep telling us Ebola is our most imminent threat. But Defense Secretary Hagel is more concerned about a more lethal adversary. In a speech on Monday, Oct. 13 to the “Conference of Defense Ministers or the Americas” in Peru, Mr. Hagel described “Climate Change” as our primary enemy.

Confused? You’re not alone. So is our president. On October 14 he attended a mini-military “summit” at Joint Base Andrews. After 2 hours at this “How To Fight” gab-fest with “more than 20 leaders of the Anti-ISIL Coalition” cameras were allowed in so POTUS could inspire us by saying, “…There will be days of progress and days of setbacks.” He was apparently speaking without the aid of a Tele-Prompter.

News flash, Mr. Obama: The barbarians are at the gates of Baghdad. They are coming for us.

Oliver North is the host of “War Stories” in FOX News Channel, the bestselling author of Counterfeit Lies and founder of Freedom Alliance a 501(c)(3) organization providing college scholarships to the children of military personnel killed in the line of duty.

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In Reversal, Turkey to Open Passage to Kobani for Kurdish Fighters

Turkish Kurds watch airstrikes Saturday on the Syrian town of Kobani from neighboring Suruc, Turkey, near the Syrian border. KAI PFAFFENBACH/REUTERS

Turkish Kurds watch airstrikes Saturday on the Syrian town of Kobani from neighboring Suruc, Turkey, near the Syrian border. KAI PFAFFENBACH/REUTERS

By JOE PARKINSON in Istanbul, SAM DAGHER in Dohuk, Iraq and RORY JONES in Beirut:

Turkey said Monday it would allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross its territory to reinforce the embattled Syrian city of Kobani, reversing its long-standing opposition to such aid hours after U.S. airdrops of weapons and ammunition to the city’s Syrian Kurdish defenders.

Speaking in a news conference in the Turkish capital Ankara, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu didn’t offer details how Turkish authorities would enable the transfer Kurdish Peshmerga fighters across Turkey or whether Syrian Kurdish authorities would accept additional forces.

“We are aiding the transfer of Peshmerga forces to Kobani for support. Consultations on this matter are ongoing,” Mr. Cavusoglu said.

The announcement that Iraqi Kurdish fighters would be allowed by Ankara to transit through Turkish territory to Syria followed by hours the start of U.S. airdrops of weapons and supplies to Kobani’s defenders, despite public opposition from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr. Erdogan said Saturday he wouldn’t allow U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters through Turkey and equated the Syrian Kurdish fighters with Islamic State.

Turkey’s government is wary of the Syrian Kurdish militia, which is loyal to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Ankara has fought in a low-intensity war for three decades.

In a telephone conversation Saturday, President Barack Obamainformed Mr. Erdogan about the airdrops to Kobani, which demonstrated that Turkish objections wouldn’t stop Washington providing weapons to the Syrian Kurds and protecting the credibility of campaign it is leading against Islamic State.

Three U.S. C-130 cargo planes dropped 27 bundles of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies in the northwest of the city, U.S. officials said.

The aid traveled first to Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, which controls the Peshmerga force and is headed by Massoud Barzani, Kurdish leaders said. From there, it was transported to Kobani.

Leaders of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, the Syrian Kurdish political group whose fighters are leading the battle against Islamic State in Kobani, praised the U.S. move.

“This is a turning point that will set the foundation for better ties in the future,” Aldar Khalil, senior leader in the Social Democratic Movement, an umbrella group for Syrian Kurdish parties that includes the PYD and is tied to the PKK.

“This is a huge deal,” Mr. Khalil said.

There were no signs early Monday that the fresh aid had affected fighting between Kurdish and Islamic State forces, Ferhad Shami, a freelance Kurdish journalist accompanying a Kurdish militia unit inside Kobani, said by telephone.

The militant group was using more sophisticated weaponry, such as tanks, field artillery and Humvees, than the Syrian Kurdish forces, Mr. Shami said.

Read more at WSJ

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Obama Throws the Free Syrian Army Under the Bus

Smoke rises following an airstrike by US-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) LEFTERIS PITARAKIS — AP

Smoke rises following an airstrike by US-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
LEFTERIS PITARAKIS — AP

PJ Media, By Patrick Poole, October 16, 2014

For the past three years, the Obama administration has hailed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as the saviors of Syria — the “vetted moderate” force that was going to topple the butcher Assad. Because of that, the administration provided training, money and weapons to prop up the FSA (the word is they sent lawyers too).

But according to a report last night by Hannah Allam at McClatchy, Obama is now throwing the FSA under bus:

John Allen, the retired Marine general in charge of coordinating the U.S.-led coalition’s response to the Islamic State, confirmed Wednesday what Syrian rebel commanders have complained about for months – that the United States is ditching the old Free Syrian Army and building its own local ground force to use primarily in the fight against the Islamist extremists.

“At this point, there is not formal coordination with the FSA,” Allen told reporters at the State Department.

That was perhaps the bluntest answer yet to the question of how existing Syrian rebel forces might fit into the U.S. strategy to fight the Islamic State. Allen said the United States’ intent is to start from scratch in creating a home-grown, moderate counterweight to the Islamic State.

For most of the three years of the Syrian conflict, the U.S. ground game hinged on rebel militias that are loosely affiliated under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, or FSA. Their problems were no secret: a lack of cohesion, uneven fighting skills and frequent battlefield coordination with the al Qaida loyalists of the Nusra Front.

Last month I reported here at PJ Media about the coordination of the “vetted moderate” FSA with Jabhat al-Nusra and even ISIS. That coordination was later confirmed by a senior FSA commander.

Those reports came just as Congress was considering a vote to spend another $500 million to train their administration’s “vetted moderate” partners. That funding wasapproved by both the House and the Senate before Congress left town for the election break. With Obama cutting the FSA loose less than a month later, those who voted against the funding are going to look like geniuses.

Now that the FSA is safely under the bus it remains to be seen exactly who Obama is going to enlist to train and fight. Most of those who can fight are already in the fight. What are they going to do now, put out an ad on Craig’s List?

As one observer noted last night, Syria watchers should keep an eye out for the following ad showing up in the help wanted section of Middle East newspapers:

Wanted, Multicultural, non-sectarian, Jeffersonian democrats interested in military careers. English a plus. Drug test required.

Under Obama’s bus must be getting crowded…

Islamic State Commander Key Figure Behind Recent Military Gains

Omar al-ShishaniBy Bill Gertz:

A Chechen jihadist is emerging as a key Islamic State military commander credited with a series of recent military gains in central Iraq that has left the capital of Baghdad increasingly vulnerable to attack.

Abu Umar al Shishani, a former Republic of Georgia soldier turned jihadist, conducted what security analysts are calling brilliant battlefield maneuvers, involving feints and encirclement, that helped the Islamist forces seeking to take over Iraq win key battles against Iraqi government forces and anti-Islamic State militias in recent weeks.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said Shishani is one of the Islamic State’s (IS, also known as ISIL and ISIS) most capable military commanders.

“He seems to have a strong following among rank and file fighters and has shown on the battlefield he understands how to blend strategy and tactics,” the official said. “There are multiple ISIL attacks that have his fingerprints all over them.”

Last month, Shishani-led IS forces succeeded in trapping an entire elite Iraqi military unit in central Iraq, and killed up to 300 of its fighters, a major setback for Iraqi government efforts to retake parts of the country controlled by the Islamic State  since a June incursion from Syria.

Analysts of the conflict say Shishani has skillfully directed IS forces in eastern Anbar province during an offensive there that prevented Iraqi forces from retaking strategic towns along the Euphrates River, including Anah, Haditha, Hit, and Fallujah—all key locations on a route leading to Baghdad.

“Umar al Shishani appears to be central to ISIL’s Anbar offensive,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a Washington-based counterterrorism analyst.

The IS commander is using tactics far different than those used by IS fighters elsewhere in the region, he said.

“The group, in the majority of areas, has fought like a conventional military, but Shishani has emphasized speed and agility, and his tactics have several layers of complexity, including regularly utilizing feints and harassing attacks to try to force his opponents to chase him and thus place themselves in a vulnerable position,” said Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The battlefield successes led by the IS leader in Iraq contrast sharply with those used by other IS forces in northern Syria, where the group has been fighting to take control of the ethnic Kurdish town of Kobani near the Turkish border.

As a result, Shishani’s military style combining insurgency and traditional military tactics will likely be adopted by other IS units, or the group’s current military offensive risks stalling, Gartenstein-Ross said.

Pro-government Iraqi military troops are struggling against IS forces, which were bolstered by the capture of two Iraq army divisions and their arms and equipment in June, after the Iraqis fled rather than fight.

U.S. defense officials said IS continues to make gains in Anbar province where the fighters are currently located on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Ramadi.

A senior U.S. defense official described the Iraqi army hold on Anbar, a gateway to Baghdad, as “tenuous.”

Read more at Washington Free Beacon

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