UK officials still investigating ‘wider conspiracy’ behind Manchester attack

LONG WAR JOURNAL, BY THOMAS JOSCELYN | May 28, 2017

Law enforcement and counterterrorism officials are still investigating the possible “wider conspiracy” behind the May 22 Manchester Arena bombing, according to a statement released by the Manchester Police. Twelve men have been arrested in connection with the investigation and remain in custody. It is not known if charges will be brought against any or all of them. Two people, including one woman, were detained earlier, but released without charge.

Authorities have released images (seen above) captured by CCTV of Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old who detonated the bomb. The images are part of an effort to obtain more evidence regarding Abedi’s movements between May 18, when he returned to the UK from his travels abroad, until his night of terror days later. Forensic experts identified Abedi as the perpetrator within two hours of the attack. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the act.

The Manchester police released an infographic, seen on the right, summarizing key events to date.

Officials have discovered a flat where Abedi, and possibly his co-conspirators, may have assembled the bomb.

“The investigation is making good progress and we know one of the last places Abedi went was a city centre flat and from there he left to make his way to the Manchester Arena,” Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the Senior National Coordinator for UK Counter Terrorism Policing, said in a statement released online. “The flat is highly relevant as a location which we believe may be the final assembly place for the device.”

“In the past five days we have gathered significant information about Abedi, his associates, his finances, the places he had been, how the device was built and the wider conspiracy,” Hopkins and Basu said yesterday.

Authorities have not publicly confirmed that Abedi had co-conspirators, although that is the clear implication of their statements. “This is still a live investigation which is not slowing down,” Hopkins and Basu added. “Our priorities are to understand the run up to this terrible event and to understand if more people were involved in planning this attack.”

During an interview on BBC News with Andrew Marr, British interior minister Amber Rudd was asked about members of the “large group” surrounding around Abedi who have been arrested, and whether “some” members are sill at-large.

“Potentially, I mean it’s an ongoing operation” that is still at “full tilt,” Rudd responded.

Marr asked Rudd about possible security lapses in the lead up to Abedi’s bombing, including tips that authorities reportedly received, and failed to act on, beforehand. Rudd wouldn’t comment on the specifics, but defended the UK government’s counterterrorism record in general. She said that 18 plots have been foiled since 2013 and highlighted the “scale of the problem” Britain faces, especially from the Islamic State, which is trying to “weaponize young people in our society.”

Marr also inquired how many “serious potential jihadis” there were “across the country.” Citing figures provided by MI5, Rudd responded that the security services are “looking at 500 different plots” with 3,000 possible terrorists on the “top list” and 20,000 “underneath that.”

“But that’s all different layers, different tiers, and it might be just a question mark about one of them” that leads to inclusion on the “top list,” she explained. In other words, British authorities do not think that all of the people on MI5’s lists are necessarily terrorists in waiting. But officials are having a difficult time determining which individuals will follow Abedi’s path.

The British government has previously warned that the Islamic State threat is “unprecedented.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Why the UK launched its first targeted drone strike ever.]

The Manchester investigation is massive effort, requiring significant resources all by itself. Approximately 1,000 members of the British security services and law enforcement have been involved.

Outside of the UK, officials are looking into Hashim and Ramadan Abedi (Salman’s brother and father, respectively), both of whom were detained in Libya last week. Libya’s Special Deterrence Force, Rada, alleges that Hashim Abedi has admitted foreknowledge of the plot and that he and his brother were both members of the Islamic State. The senior Abedi’s ties to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a designated terror group linked to al Qaeda, are also being explored. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Analysis: UK investigating possible ‘network’ behind Manchester attack.]

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

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How to stop homegrown terrorists before they strike

Salman Abedi

New York Post, by Paul Sperry, May 27, 2017:

Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi was on the radar of British authorities as a Muslim extremist, but they failed to stop him before he massacred girls at a pop concert. It’s a recurring problem on both sides of the pond. US authorities also keep missing “known wolves” who were under suspicion before they attacked.

This was true of the Chelsea bomber and the Orlando nightclub shooter and one of the Boston bombers before him. Cases were opened and then, tragically, closed.

In fact, according to terrorism analyst Patrick Poole, at least 12 of the 14 Islamic terrorists who carried out attacks in the US during the Obama years had been previously investigated on extremism fears.

But authorities say don’t blame them. They say their hands are tied by official guidelines that restrict how long they can leave a case open without convincing a court there’s evidence of a crime.

If FBI agents can’t advance a case within six months, they’re obligated to close it, though they can reopen it if they obtain new information, such as suspicious changes in a suspect’s behavior, associations and travel.

Problem is, nothing’s formally ringing alarm bells within the FBI when a suspect does something that should trigger a reopening of a case, such as overseas travel to a jihadi hotspot — and this creates dangerous gaps in the monitoring of suspects.

“The DIOG (Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide) should be revisited to address this, allowing them to set trip wires to alert them to such changes,” former assistant FBI director Ron Hosko told The Post.

Rules also limit how aggressively agents can profile Muslim suspects and infiltrate their places of worship, where many of them are radicalized. Law-enforcement officials agree that having eyes and ears inside mosques is key to taking down jihadists before they go operational.

The NYPD had great success penetrating radical mosques before Muslim groups sued and Mayor de Blasio agreed to shut down such covert operations.

The FBI even joined one successful sting involving a Newburgh mosque. Intelligence found the mosque was creating an environment for radicalization, so the FBI planted an undercover informant inside. The operation led to the arrest of four Muslim members before they could act on plans to bomb synagogues and shoot down military planes.

The key was being proactive. “If they had waited for the mosque clergy to report any suspicious behavior, the investigation would have failed and the terrorists would have been successful,” said Patrick Dunleavy, former deputy inspector general of the New York State prisons’ criminal intelligence division, who also worked with the NYPD’s intelligence division for several years.

Officials say trusting imams to root out terrorists rarely bears fruit.

The latest example is the cleric of the Manchester mosque Abedi attended. He maintains he argued with Abedi about his extremist views, including his support of ISIS. Yet he failed to report him to police or even kick him out of his mosque.

“There is a paucity of really good sources even among the respected Muslim community leadership,” retired FBI official I.C. Smith said.

Islamic centers are a necessary target of investigation, because too many of them act as recruiting stations for jihadists, even in America, asserts former CIA officer Clare Lopez, who heads research at the Washington-based Center for Security Policy.

“Mosques here are no different than mosques in Manchester or Molenbeek [Brussels],” she said. Many “are recruitment and training centers” and virtually all share “active hostilities against the US government and US law.”

The number of mosques in the US has nearly doubled over the past decade to more than 2,100, with the heaviest concentrations in Detroit, the New York-New Jersey area, Washington, DC, and Minneapolis, roughly in that order. Areas with large numbers of mosques tend to produce more terrorism suspects. It’s no coincidence that more people from the Detroit area are on the federal terror watch list than from any other American city except New York.

Hosko called such isolated Muslim enclaves “bubbling cauldrons that are more difficult for law enforcement to penetrate.”

“They need cooperation within mosques,” he added. Only, “too many of these killers are seen by family and friends ticking, and no one acts.”

Terrorists don’t go from thought to action overnight. It’s a process, one that’s steeped in Islamic doctrine. And there are identifiable steps and signposts along the way, but authorities aren’t trained to see them, mainly because Muslim-rights groups have convinced politicians to shut down that critical training.

“The problem is our FBI, Homeland Security and local law enforcement are not trained to recognize what a jihadi is, and what a jihadi looks like and sounds like and when to go on high alert because he’s about to go operational,” Lopez said.

Abedi displayed outward signs of radicalization. He is said to have become increasingly religious and interested in jihadist groups. Neighbors say he was chanting Islamic prayers weeks before the massacre. Also, friends say he stopped smoking pot and last year grew an Islamic beard and went to his mosque more frequently to pray — just like the Boston bombers, who also became more radical as they got more religious.

“Evidence exists to demonstrate that a greater level of adherence to Islamic law correlates to a greater likelihood of violence by that individual,” former FBI Agent John Guandolo said.

“If a Sharia-adherent Muslim is under investigation and then surveilled or seen at a strip club or bar, they may be planning to commit jihad in the immediate future and need to be seized immediately,” said Guandolo, whose Understanding the Threat LLC is the only government contractor in the country training local law enforcement in how to look for such red flags. He explains jihadists believe all sins are wiped away upon martyrdom.

He advises police to use simple charges — for traffic violations, fraud and domestic abuse — to obtain warrants for suspects who appear to be preparing for jihad. Unfortunately, manpower and budget constraints also hamper efforts to defuse human bombs in the Muslim community.

The FBI says it’s actively investigating more than 1,000 ISIS-related cases in all 50 states, plus more than 300 terrorism cases tied to refugees from Muslim countries.

“Let’s say you have 10 suspects in a small city that need to be watched. To watch them effectively, you have to monitor their social media and credit-card transactions in real time — 24/7/365 — and that requires three people working three shifts,” a US intelligence official told The Post. “The manpower demand adds up fast, and that’s expensive.”

Sperry is a former Hoover Institution media fellow and author of “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington.” Follow him on Twitter: @paulsperry_

Unfinished Business: What it will take to make America safe again

Medics rehydrate a member of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division who was overcome by heat and exhaustion while conducting a
mission intended to deny sanctuary to al Qaeda and Taliban fighters along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, July 23, 2002. Photo credit: Scott Nelson / Getty

Weekly Standard Magazine June 5th issue, by Thomas Joscelyn:

Donald Trump is fond of claiming that his predecessor mismanaged America’s role in the world. “And I have to just say that the world is a mess. I inherited a mess,” the president noted during a joint press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan in the Rose Garden on April 5. “Whether it’s the Middle East,” he continued, “whether it’s North Korea, whether it’s so many other things, whether it’s in our country—horrible trade deals—I inherited a mess.”

The world is an inherently messy place, and each president is left with problems unresolved by the man who preceded him. But when it comes to America’s fight against terrorism, Trump has a point. Barack Obama claimed that he brought the war in Iraq to a “responsible end” and promised do the same in Afghanistan. In reality, he ended neither of the 9/11 wars. While Obama was arguing that the “tide of war is receding,” new conflicts emerged and old ones intensified.

Obama always had a tin ear for the psychological impact of terrorism. He liked to tell his staff that the number of Americans killed in terrorist attacks each year was smaller than the number who perished in car accidents or by slipping in the bathtub. But this argument is myopic. Jihadist groups, not automobile manufacturers, are fighting for the control of entire countries. The terrorist threat over here only grew as they gained ground over there. There have been large-scale plots, such as the Islamic State’s assault on Paris in November 2015 and the March 2016 Brussels bombings. Small attacks have become widespread. The December 2015 shooting in San Bernardino and the June 2016 nightclub massacre in Orlando both shocked this nation. Such attacks are often described as the work of “lone wolves,” but this is misleading. Al Qaeda has long sought to inspire individuals to strike out on their own. The Islamic State took this tactic further, using online applications to both attract and guide recruits in the West. The emergence of the so-called caliphate in 2014 created a new justification and urgency for believers to lash out in their home countries.

On May 22, the West was reminded, once again, of the persistent threat when a jihadist detonated a shrapnel-laden bomb at the conclusion of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. The bombing, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility, targeted children who just wanted to see a favorite pop star. At least 22 people were killed and 64 wounded. Britain, like Paris and Brussels before it, was put on high alert as officials worried that a follow-up attack was in the works. Western officials have worked around the clock for years to prevent just such attacks. The casualty count would be much higher if not for their efforts. Thousands of potential terrorists now tie up counterterrorism and law enforcement resources throughout Europe and the United States. The U.S. and allied governments are rightly focused on the jihadist threat—not on the work of bathtub manufacturers or automakers.

Barack Obama does not bear all the blame; he inherited the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from his predecessor, George W. Bush. The Arab uprisings occurred on Obama’s watch, and they opened new opportunities for the jihadists in countries where they had only a minimal presence beforehand. The revolutions were beyond America’s control, but Obama did little to counter the growing jihadist menace and even exacerbated problems. He sought to downplay or dismiss every jihadist threat during his presidency. With few exceptions, such as the killing of Osama bin Laden, there is little Obama can point to as a counterterrorism success in his eight years in office.

The Trump administration is currently crafting its own counterterrorism strategy. An 11-page draft memo was leaked to Reuters on May 5, and in keeping with the president’s views on foreign policy, the administration seems to be planning to call on America’s allies to do more. “We need to intensify operations against global jihadist groups while also reducing the costs of American ‘blood and treasure’ in pursuit of our counterterrorism goals,” the document reads. “We will seek to avoid costly, large-scale U.S. military interventions to achieve counterterrorism objectives and will increasingly look to partners to share the responsibility for countering terrorist groups.”

There’s nothing wrong, in principle or in practice, with asking our allies to do more. President Trump was never likely to order nation-building projects or massive troop deployments. But it is worth noting that Obama described his approach to counterterrorism in terms remarkably similar to those used in the Trump memo. In his last major counterterrorism speech, on December 6, 2016, Obama noted that the current war effort against the Islamic State cost “$10 billion over two years, which is the same amount that we used to spend in one month at the height of the Iraq War.” “Instead of pushing all of the burden onto American ground troops,” he said, “instead of trying to mount invasions wherever terrorists appear, we’ve built a network of partners.”

Obama’s plan, too, was built around reducing “the costs of American ‘blood and treasure.’ ” It’s a fine goal and, in some ways, a sensible one. Limiting the number of American casualties has to be any president’s top concern. Nor can America be the primary force in every country that faces a jihadist fight. Substituting others’ boots reduces the cost to U.S. taxpayers. But an “Allies First” strategy has its limits. There is no better example than the ongoing war in Afghanistan, where America’s partners are struggling to keep the jihadists at bay.

AMERICA’S LONGEST WAR

Late in 2009, Obama ordered 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. But he promised that the Americans deployed under his leadership would come home before the conclusion of his reelection campaign, and he delivered on that pledge.

“We’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and begun the transition to an Afghan lead,” Obama announced in September 2012. “Next month,” he continued, “the last of the troops I ordered as part of the surge against the Taliban will come home, and by 2014, the transition to Afghan lead will be complete.” The soldiers came home, but the Taliban’s “momentum” was never truly broken. It was just slowed. Even Obama eventually realized he had to keep more American troops in Afghanistan than he originally planned. Today, more than 15 years after we invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, large parts of the country are falling back into the hands of the Taliban.

According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, who reports directly to Congress, at least 164 (40 percent) of Afghanistan’s 407 districts were either contested or under the insurgents’ control or influence in February. The jihadists are able to execute spectacular assaults like the April 21 raid on an Afghan military base near Mazar-e-Sharif that left more than 100 dead. The number of civilian casualties has increased as well. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported in February that 11,418 civilians were killed or wounded in 2016. By contrast, 5,969 civilian casualties were recorded in 2009—Obama’s first year in office.

Testifying before the Senate in early February, Gen. John W. Nicholson, who leads all NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said that a “few thousand” more troops were needed to stabilize the war effort. He called the conflict a stalemate, but there is no denying the Taliban gained significant ground over the previous year.

President Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who held commands in both Iraq and Afghanistan, reportedly wants to send several thousand more U.S. soldiers to the country. Their primary mission would be to train additional Afghan forces in the hopes of stemming the Taliban’s advance. There are currently 8,300 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, so the total proposed force would still be a far cry from the 100,000 or so troops stationed there in 2010-11.

Some in the Trump administration object to even this modest strategy. The Washington Post reported that Afghanistan is now “derisively” called “McMaster’s War” by his West Wing rivals. White House counselor Steve Bannon has been particularly vocal in opposing any troop escalation in Afghanistan—as he opposed the president’s decision last month to strike the Syrian airfield from which the Assad regime had launched a chemical attack. It’s easy to see why Bannon is willing to give up on Afghanistan. The landlocked nation bedeviled foreign powers long before the Taliban ever rose to power. The Afghan government is rife with corruption and often unreliable. Over the last 16 years, 2,387 Americans have perished in the war for Afghanistan and 20,261 others have been wounded. The thought of sending more off to fight in a seemingly intractable war would be disheartening for any president.

But the restoration of the Taliban, or anything close to it, would have dire consequences for the United States, particularly because it would be seen as the result of our capitulation. The myth that faith in Allah was sufficient for the mujahedeen to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s (ignoring the billions of dollars in arms supplied by the United States) fueled the generation of jihadists from which al Qaeda arose. It is not difficult to imagine what a second vanquished superpower would do for their cause.

“Allah has promised us victory and America has promised us defeat, so we shall see which of the two promises will be fulfilled,” Mullah Omar, the Taliban founder, once said. He passed away in 2013, but his words are beginning to look prophetic. Indeed, an American retreat would be widely regarded as a vindication not just of Mullah Omar and his Taliban heirs, but of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

THE TALIBAN-AL-QAEDA ALLIANCE

Part of the Obama administration’s strategy for ending the Afghan conflict was an attempt to separate the Taliban from al Qaeda. It was a fool’s errand, as anyone aware of the overlapping structures and interests of the two understood. But for eight years, Obama’s advisers built a policy in Afghanistan on this deeply flawed assumption.

Since well before the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda’s chieftains have been loyal to the Taliban’s overall leader. In June 2016, Ayman al Zawahiri, who followed bin Laden as the head of al Qaeda, swore a blood oath to the Taliban’s emir, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. In December, as something of a commemoration of the Obama policy failure, the Taliban released a lengthy video celebrating the historical alliance. There was footage of al Qaeda and Taliban figures—living and dead, including bin Laden and Mullah Omar—and no hint at all that the Taliban regretted the collapse of its rule in Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. invasion in October 2001.

Al Qaeda commanders are integrated with their Taliban counterparts throughout the Afghan insurgency to this day. The man who runs the Taliban’s military operations, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is particularly close to al Qaeda. He and his father, Jalaluddin, were among bin Laden’s earliest allies.

Throughout his tenure as president, Obama repeatedly insisted that al Qaeda was “decimated” and “on the run.” He was willfully blind to the situation in Afghanistan until the end. “Today, by any measure, core al Qaeda—the organization that hit us on 9/11—is a shadow of its former self,” Obama claimed in his December valedictory speech. It is true that al Qaeda suffered significant losses at American hands in Obama’s eight years in office. But the organization has survived the war on terror; it has evolved and it has grown.

In October 2015, the U.S. military made a startling announcement. Over the course of five days, a joint team of American and Afghan forces had raided an al Qaeda training camp far bigger than the one that produced the 9/11 hijackers and their comrades. The facility was nearly 30 square miles—about half the size of Washington, D.C. It was located in the Shorabak district of the southern Kandahar Province and had gone unnoticed for months, even as it churned out scores of new trainees. The whole of Shorabak district was overrun by the Taliban early this year.

The massive camp is indicative of a bigger problem. The Obama administration routinely downplayed the extent of al Qaeda’s footprint in Afghanistan. The CIA estimated in late June 2010 that there were just “50 to 100” al Qaeda operatives inside Afghanistan. U.S. officials stuck with this assessment for years, even as contradictory evidence mounted. Files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011, for instance, demonstrated that his men were operating in at least eight different Afghan provinces as of June 19, 2010. Just one al Qaeda “battalion” operating in the provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, the files showed, had 70 members.

The U.S. military continued to launch raids against al Qaeda positions, but the “50 to 100” range remained fixed. U.S. officials finally conceded in April 2016 that the extent of al Qaeda’s operations inside Afghanistan had been underestimated. In December, just weeks before the end of the Obama administration, Gen. Nicholson noted that 250 al Qaeda operatives had been killed or captured in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2016.

One of those killed was an especially important target. Faruq al Qahtani had been tasked by Osama bin Laden with organizing al Qaeda’s relocation to Afghanistan from northern Pakistan in 2010 at the peak of the Obama administration’s drone campaign. A significant number of al Qaeda leaders and fighters made the move, which allowed them to survive the drone onslaught. Qahtani and his men fought alongside their Taliban comrades. But that was not his sole mission. After Qahtani was struck down in October 2016, the Pentagon announced that he had been “one of the terrorist group’s senior plotters of attacks against the United States.” Al Qaeda is still plotting against America from Afghan soil in 2017, and a complete U.S. withdrawal would only make it easier for them to do so.

Al Qaeda has been expanding throughout South Asia. In September 2014, Zawahiri announced the creation of a new entity: Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). He explained that after two years of negotiations and planning, several preexisting al Qaeda-allied groups in Pakistan and its neighboring countries had merged. Almost immediately after this announcement AQIS members attempted to hijack a Pakistani frigate and fire its missiles at Indian and American warships. The goal was to get India or the United States to retaliate for a perceived attack by Pakistan and start a regional war. The plot, which was carried out by terrorists who had infiltrated Pakistan’s navy, was narrowly averted while it was in motion.

Thus far, the Trump administration has said little about how it plans to fight the Taliban-al Qaeda axis. The U.S. military has been mainly focused on fighting the Islamic State’s upstart presence in eastern Afghanistan—known as ISIS-K, for Khorasan, an old name for the wider central Asian region. Three American soldiers were killed during raids on ISIS-K positions in Nangarhar Province in April, and there is no question that the group poses a challenge. But it is not the gravest threat to Afghan security. At the height of their power, the Islamic State’s representatives controlled approximately ten Afghan districts and contested several others. Today, they control at most three. That is a far cry from the Taliban-led insurgency, which either dominates or is challenging Afghan and NATO forces in more than 160 districts across the country.

The Taliban has its allies, too. Iran long ago cut a deal with it to counter America’s presence in the region. The Russians have provided rhetorical support at the very minimum. Pakistan remains as duplicitous as ever, fighting some jihadists and allowing others to roam free. What little leverage we have in Pakistan today would surely be lost in the event of our withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Taliban was, after all, originally a Pakistani proxy.

NATO countries may be willing to contribute more forces to the Afghan war. And despite the Afghans’ many problems, they will always be the ones doing the majority of the fighting and dying in this war. NATO and the Afghans can do more, of course, but are most likely to do so with the spur of a significant American commitment.

IRAQ AND SYRIA

President Obama was always dismissive of any jihadist threat emanating from Iraq. He described the Islamic State and its predecessor organization as a “kind of mafia” and the “jayvee team,” even as its fighters were laying the groundwork for their caliphate. Underpinning Obama’s casual dismissal was, as he told the New Yorker in January 2014, the idea that “jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes” aren’t a serious threat to the West. Today, the Islamic State’s tentacles reach around the globe, from Southeast Asia, through the Middle East and Africa, all the way into the heart of the United States.

Obama was never going to keep nearly 150,000 troops stationed in the country when he took office. But even a small contingent would have interrupted the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s caliphate. Obama and his surrogates liked to blame the Iraqi government’s refusal to enter a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) for America’s complete withdrawal at the end of 2011. The claim is false. Obama celebrated his “ending” of the Iraq war throughout his 2012 reelection campaign. It was a point of pride for him, not a lament.

Leon Panetta, Obama’s secretary of defense from 2011-13, wrote in Time in 2014 that the president was never interested in negotiating a new agreement. The Obama administration was “so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests,” Panetta explained. Obama’s rationale is also belied by the fact that when he eventually sent American troops back into Iraq in 2014, he did so without a new SOFA. Difficult negotiations with the Iraqi government aren’t the reason Obama closed the door on Iraq. He believed that the jihadists weren’t a serious threat to American security.

Nonetheless, as his two terms came to an end, Obama argued that his course correction in 2014 left President Trump with a successful strategy for defeating the Islamic State. During his December 6 speech, Obama said, “the results are clear: ISIL [Islamic State] has lost more than half its territory. ISIL has lost control of major population centers. Its morale is plummeting. Its recruitment is drying up. Its commanders and external plotters are being taken out, and local populations are turning against it.” Pointing to the campaigns in Mosul and north of Raqqa, the group’s “self-declared capital,” Obama added: “The bottom line is we are breaking the back of ISIL. We’re taking away its safe havens.”

It may be the case that the zenith of the Islamic State’s power is past. But Obama’s use of ad hoc allies and proxy fighting was an outgrowth of his hasty withdrawal and eventual reversal; it was never a cogent strategy. Iraqi government forces melted away quickly as the Islamic State’s killers marauded their way through the country in 2014. The United States worked to rebuild their capabilities in the years since, but there is no good reason to think the Iraqi army can stand on its own. What’s more, many of the anti-Islamic State actors fighting in Iraq are allies of Iran, which is fomenting an anti-American revolution throughout the region.

Iranian expansion was the poison pill in Obama’s plan for the Islamic State. Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which are involved in the battle for Mosul and operations throughout Iraq, have strong ties to Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). During the height of the Iraq war, the IRGC’s elite Quds Force hunted American-led coalition forces. The deputy commander of the PMF is Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who has long worked with both the IRGC and Hezbollah, the notorious Iranian terror proxy in Lebanon. In 2009, the Treasury Department designated Muhandis a terrorist for his role in orchestrating attacks against Americans and allied forces in Iraq. Today, he and his men fight as part of the coalition against the Islamic State. The Shiite jihadists battling Baghdadi’s goons in Iraq do not serve America’s long-term interests, they serve Iran’s.

President Trump is aware that Iranian aggression throughout the region is one of Obama’s most troubling legacies. During his speech in Saudi Arabia on May 21, he said that “no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment.” Trump meant Iran and continued, “From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.” It was important for the president to make it clear that the United States views Iran as a major source of terrorism, but it is not at all easy to see how the new administration will untangle the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq from Iranian interests.

If Obama could claim some progress against the Islamic State in his December speech, he could not claim victory. The campaign has been a slog. The fighting to liberate Mosul began seven months ago. The Islamic State is close to losing the city but is also still operating throughout Iraq, having quickly reverted to a potent insurgency in many of the areas it lost. The fight for Raqqa has yet to begin. It is under threat from multiple directions, but the jihadists have had ample time to build a defensive house of horrors for their approaching enemies. The group has also redeployed its forces, securing ground along the Euphrates River and in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, one of the organization’s longtime strongholds. The end of the caliphate may be in sight, but the end of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is not.

Complicating matters is the fact that America’s chosen partners in Syria include members of the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. The Trump administration has decided to deepen this alliance, which was first struck under Obama. Earlier this month, the president approved a plan to directly arm the YPG, which is the leading partner in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). There may be no other choice at this point. The SDF has played a crucial role in taking territory from ISIS in northern Syria, including the city of Tabqah and the surrounding area, which are key to the western approach to Raqqa.

The movement for Kurdish independence is gaining momentum, but hopes for a new state are mired in internal rivalries. America has Kurdish allies in both Iraq and Syria, but they are far from a unified force. The presence of YPG/PKK fighters in Iraq has caused persistent problems for the Kurdish regional government, which is coordinating the anti-Islamic State fight in the north of the country. America’s Kurdish partners in the battle for Mosul (the Peshmerga) are sometimes allied with our Kurdish surrogate ground forces in the fight to take Raqqa (YPG/PKK), but they also clash with each other.

Turkey’s government, moreover, is vehemently opposed to the YPG/PKK and, more generally, to any expansion of the Kurdish regional footprint. The Turks present problems in their own right, beginning with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasing autocracy. The country is a safe haven for numerous bad actors, from senior Hamas operatives to al Qaeda figures, and has been the main jihadist pipeline into Syria.

Throughout all of this, Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal regime remains a power in Syria. Without the support of Iran and Russia, Assad would long since have been sent to the gallows. Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have been deployed to Syria on behalf of the butcher of Damascus, and today Assad is safer than he has been in years. If Obama had acted more urgently in 2011 when Assad first started his campaign of mass murder, the region and Europe—which has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees—might look much different today. There is no serious effort, U.S.-led or otherwise, to hold Assad accountable for his crimes. While it is tempting to suggest that wholesale regime change should be America’s policy in Syria, only naïve ideologues could overlook the fact that Sunni jihadists are the strongest force opposed to Assad.

The U.S. focus on fighting the Islamic State has obscured another problematic development: the rise of al Qaeda in Syria. In the first three weeks of 2017, the Defense Department launched airstrikes it says “killed more than 150 al Qaeda terrorists” in Syria. One target was the Shaykh Sulayman training camp, which has been operational since at least 2013. More than 100 al Qaeda fighters were killed in that attack alone. Al Qaeda has also built up al-Nusra Front, which Brett McGurk, whom Obama appointed as special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS in 2015, has described before the Senate as al Qaeda’s “largest formal affiliate in history.” U.S. officials estimate that al-Nusra has amassed at least 10,000 fighters.

Between September 2014 and December 2016, the Obama administration launched repeated drone strikes against individual al Qaeda terrorists residing in Syria. But they were not as significant as the bombings in January. The bulk of al-Nusra’s forces, which now fight under the name of the Assembly for the Liberation of the Levant, long went untouched, and, though they are battling both Assad and Iran’s Shiite militiamen, no American ally is currently fighting this group on the ground.

YEMEN AND SOMALIA

When President Obama announced his strategy for fighting the Islamic State in September 2014, he said it would mirror his administration’s efforts in Yemen and Somalia. Within months, the Yemen plan was a shambles.

The U.S. government had been relying on Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government, supported by targeted drone strikes and Special Forces operations, to suppress Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But in January 2015, Hadi was forced into exile when Houthi rebels stormed the presidential palace in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. The Houthis adhere to their own peculiar brand of Shia Islam and opposed the Sunni-dominated Yemeni government. They have been cultivated by Tehran, which views them as an ally against Saudi Arabia. While the Houthis are not a purebred Iranian terrorist organization like Hezbollah, they are increasingly anti-American, even firing missiles at U.S. ships off the coast of Yemen. They draw crucial support from former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was pushed aside in 2011 during the Arab Spring. Saleh wants to reclaim power, and he has cut a deal with the Houthis, previously his foes, in an attempt to get it.

AQAP is a major force in Yemen. The group took advantage of the Houthi offensive against Hadi to claim parts of southern Yemen. After the United Arab Emirates and the Saudis intervened in 2016, AQAP’s forces melted away, declaring it was better to leave Yemen’s more urban areas intact rather than raze them in a bloody intra-Arab fight. The jihadists lived to fight another day.

The Trump administration has already stepped up the air campaign in Yemen. The United States launched more than 80 airstrikes against AQAP between January and May. The previous high was 41 bombings in all of 2009. President Trump has also approved riskier operations. One Special Forces raid in January gained notoriety for the death of a Navy SEAL in an intense firefight at an AQAP compound, which also led to numerous civilian casualties.

America’s chief partners in the Yemen fight, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are focused on hitting the Houthis and reinstalling Hadi in power. But AQAP also fights the Houthis, which makes for uncomfortable bedfellows. Hadi’s men are also sometimes AQAP’s battlefield allies. Meanwhile, no ground force is significantly opposing AQAP. The UAE does have troops who skirmish with them, but such clashes are so far minor. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Saudi Arabia is widely accused of carrying out indiscriminate bombing raids.

The troubles in Somalia are similar to those in Yemen. The African Union Mission in Somalia and government forces are struggling to contain al Shabaab, the local al Qaeda branch. Earlier this month, a Navy SEAL died in a battle with the group—the first American killed in combat in Somalia since the “Black Hawk Down” episode of 1993. Under Obama, American service members were to “advise, assist, and occasionally accompany regional forces.” In late March, Trump approved a plan that allows them to “provide additional precision fires in support of” our local allies. American service members are going to be called upon to do more in Somalia.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

In late April, Asim Umar, the head of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, released a provocative message. In it, he asked, “What is becoming of that very America?” and took direct aim at Trump’s foreign policy. “America is not only fleeing from Afghanistan, but with the jihadist strikes conducted against it by the sons of the Muslim ummah, inshaAllah, inshaAllah, it will also flee from, and give up the leadership of the world. The ‘America first’ slogan is the first step.”

Umar detected the problem in Trump’s “America first” rhetoric: It is not clear that there is any difference between putting American interests first and retreating from our preeminent position around the globe. It is striking that Umar sees the Trump doctrine as the “first step” to the demise of American “leadership of the world.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. The new president is right when he says he “inherited a mess.” He can begin to fix it by setting the record straight with the American people. We are still fighting a global war against jihadism. Al Qaeda is very much alive and, contrary to the Obama administration’s assertions, remains an international organization active on multiple continents. While the Islamic State has taken its lumps, it is not close to a total defeat. Today’s enemies may not possess the industrial might and war machines of yesterday’s foes, but they are persistent and committed to an anti-American ideology we cannot afford to ignore.

Trump and his advisers can explain why Afghanistan—the original 9/11 war—remains an essential fight. The 9/11 hijackings were launched from Afghan soil, and an American retreat in Afghanistan would be a clear victory for the Taliban-al Qaeda axis. Obama’s total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 proved disastrous, and a replay of that scenario in South Asia—where Pakistan, the only nuclear-armed state infested with jihadists, is located—could be worse. Trump should quickly approve the McMaster plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. They will not win the war, but they can stem the tide of the jihadists’ advance. The Trump administration wants our NATO allies to step up their commitments. NATO follows America’s lead, not the other way around.

The multi-sided proxy wars in Iraq and Syria are a terrifying mess. During a press briefing on May 19, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that the American strategy, on its present course, would “annihilate” the Islamic State. Mattis praised President Trump for delegating more authority to his military commanders and for blessing a plan to surround “the enemy in their strongholds” and prevent “the return home of escaped foreign fighters.” The previous week, during testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats sounded less optimistic. He warned that the Islamic State would maintain “enough resources and fighters to sustain insurgency operations and plan [terrorist] attacks in the region and internationally” for the foreseeable future.

In other words, the U.S. intelligence community is not expecting the defeat of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s enterprise anytime soon. America’s allies are moving slowly in Syria. In Iraq, we have already witnessed how quickly jihadists can rebound from a defeat. To make matters worse, no American-backed force is ready to move on al Qaeda’s strongholds in northwestern Syria. Iran has used the war against the Islamic State to pursue its long-term objective of becoming the regional hegemon, expanding its footprint in Iraq, Syria, and beyond. The president should have the U.S. military developing aggressive options for fighting the jihadists in Iraq and Syria and for maintaining our position as the chief regional broker.

Speaking before the National Governors Association on February 27, President Trump reminisced about the good old days as he remembers them. “We have to start winning wars again,” he said. “I have to say, when I was young, in high school and college, everybody used to say ‘we haven’t lost a war’—we never lost a war—you remember.” Trump pointed out that “now we never win a war.” “We never win,” he reiterated. “And we don’t fight to win. We don’t fight to win. So we either got to win, or don’t fight it at all.” He then complained about the vast sums spent fighting in the Middle East since 2001.

The jihadists believe, as al Qaeda’s Asim Umar said earlier this month, that eventually America won’t fight at all. The president of the United States can prove them wrong.

Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

 

The West has Failed to Defend its Most Innocent and Precious

 

Terror Trends Bulletin, by Christopher W. Holton, May 23, 2017:

Yesterday, 22 May, Jihadists struck again in Great Britain, this time in Manchester at the famed Manchester arena.

In this latest attack, Western civilization has been exposed. We Westerners have failed to protect the most innocent and precious among us, our little girls.

Make no mistake, in Jihadi circles our inability to protect this segment of our population is being viewed with ridicule and disdain today, further emboldening a barbaric, pitiless enemy.

It can be no accident or coincidence that the Jihadis picked as a target a music concert where young teen age girls would be most prevalent.

The concert embodied much of what Sharia-compliant Islam finds abhorrent about Western culture: music, fun, frivolity, and females enjoying themselves independently in public. Wherever Sharia rules–Saudi Arabia, Taliban Afghanistan, Deobandi Pakistan, northern Nigeria, Somalia, the Islamic State, Iran and parts of regions around the globe–music is largely forbidden, women are covered and rendered to be essentially chattel.

The Jihadists chose to lash out at this event in this location on purpose. They pre-selected their victims for this act of war: teenage girls.

What does it say about our society in the West today that we seem to only be able to respond to barbaric, bloody acts of war with sadness?

It is no accident that the Jihadis targeted one of the West’s pop culture celebrations, of which our youth are so consumed. The Jihadis chose a symbol and an idol of our pop culture to target, kill and terrorize the most innocent among us.

The reaction of the Western entertainment industry tells all one needs to know about where we are as a culture and why we are so impotent in fighting back against this scourge in our midst–particularly in the all-important war of ideas.

There was singer Katy Perry lamenting on Twitter that she was “broken hearted for the state of the world.”

This isn’t about the “state of the world.” It’s about the war that is being waged upon us–not just in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but in our own cities, our own concerts, night clubs, churches, and celebrations. It’s about Islamic jihad. We have been on the receiving end repeatedly of these barbaric attacks rooted in a savage religious doctrine.

It’s not about “hate.” It’s not about “extremism” or “radicalism.” It’s about Islamic jihad, a doctrine that goes back many centuries to the origins of sharia.

When the Nazis bombed Britain during the Blitz in 1940, was the reaction, “What is going on with the ‘state of the world’?”

For that matter, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, raped Nanking and seized Singapore, was the world’s reaction sadness over the “state of the world?”

Or was the reaction to these acts of war resolve? Was it healthy, understandable anger and a firm intention to respond to the attacks and defeat the enemy? Of course it was. Our grandparents and great grandparents didn’t respond with teddy bears, flowers and candlelight vigils. They knew that they had a mission and a purpose to make things right and save the free world.

Don’t think for a second that what happened in Manchester could not happen in the United States. Of course it could. It has already happened in Orlando, San Bernardino, Boston, New York, Chattanooga, Little Rock, Garland, Washington, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.

Western civilization must wake up to the fact that we are under assault. We are on the receiving end of a modern-day Blitz, like Britain was in 1940. Today’s Blitz is a very different kind of Blitz, but it is war nonetheless. It is high time that Western leaders quit regarding these attacks as “tragedies” or even “crimes.” They are acts of war. Until we acknowledge that they are acts of war, treat them as acts of war, and respond to them as acts of war, not only will they continue to escalate, but our ability to fight back will continue to be crippled by our own impotence.

Another entertainer who tweeted in response to the Manchester Jihadi attack was Miley Cyrus, who counts among her fan base many of the same young girls who are fans of Ariana Grande. Cyrus called for “No more war.”

Exactly how is that supposed to come about? The young girls massacred last night didn’t know they were at war because they have been lied to by Western leaders and entertainment icons.

The West could lay down its arms today and the Jihadis would only move in and seize control. If the Jihadis laid down their arms, their nail bombs, suicide vests and AK-47s, there would be no war.

Do you think there were any signs in London in 1940 calling for “no more war?” Who in Hawaii was shouting out “no more war” in December 1941? “No more war” in those days would have meant a plunge into darkness and death on an unimaginable scale.

We shouldn’t be calling for no more war today. We should take a clue from our ancestors, who were clearly better than we are, and call for victory.

Our collective mindset must change and it cannot change as long as massacres of civilians in attacks carried out by enemies in our streets are labeled as “tragedies” and regarded as mere “crimes.” We need a war mindset. The survival of our way of life depends upon it.

The only heroes in the current scenario are the first responders, the men and women who arrive on-scene after the carnage is through.

We also need other kinds of heroes–rough men who stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.

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7 Moments from Trump’s Speech in Saudi Arabia

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in Saudi Arabia (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, May 22, 2017:

President Trump’s brazen speech in Saudi Arabia is being praised from (almost) all quarters. Its powerful moments will be remembered for years and will reverberate throughout the Middle East. But no speech is perfect.

Here are seven moments from the speech, starting with what may be the closest President Trump may come to having his “Tear Down This Wall” moment:

  1. It is a choice between two futures – and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you.
    A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out.
     DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship.
    DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities.
    DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and
    DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH.
    This is strongest statement towards the Muslim world uttered by an American president since 9/11 and perhaps in history. These words—and the Trumpian delivery of them—will be remembered for years to come. While eloquent words favored by speechwriters and high-brow elites are usually forgotten, these won’t be.There are also two clear sub-messages: One, that the Muslim world is not adequately “driving them out,” meaning, the Islamists still thrive in mosques, holy lands (which would include Saudi Arabia) and Muslim communities. The enemy are not fringe, undetectable loners. Secondly, don’t outsource your responsibility for this to America.

    We won’t let you scapegoat us and have us respond by apologizing for the grievances you use to excuse yourself from responsibility. This is your problem: Own it.

  2. Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory – piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and YOUR SOUL WILL BE CONDEMNED. This is another strike in the ideological war where the Trumpian way of speaking is powerful, especially when you consider how accustomed the Middle East is to the softer diplomatic tone of the West in contrast to the fiery hyperbole that is common place in that part of the world.Trump recognized something crucial: The enemy believes it is pious and is impacted by religious teaching from authoritative figures. It’s not about anger over foreign policy or joblessness or lack of education. It’s about piety and a belief that dying in jihad is a guaranteed ticket to Paradise.
  3. That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires. And it means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews and the slaughter of Christians.

    Most of the speech used vague, relative terms like “terrorism” and “extremism.” The focus was almost entirely on ISIS and Iran. But then came this paragraph. President Trump identified the enemy not just as Islamist terrorist groups, but the Islamist extremism foundation necessary for those groups to manifest.Of special note is the line about “persecution of Jews.” This was not stated with some moral equivalence about how Israel shares blame for stifling the nationalist aspirations of Palestinians. No, Trump identified anti-Semitism as a central problem outside of the context of Israel. That omission is powerful.The identification of the enemy as Islamist extremism is refreshing, but as Dr. Daniel Pipes points out, “one statement does not a policy make.” Even Obama uttered the word “jihadist” on a few rare occasions.

    The framing of the enemy as Islamism should have been the focal point of the speech, rather than waiting until the middle and the end to use the term. What should have followed was a strategy, with the sticks and carrots, to uproot the sustainers of the ideology so it dissipates into history. A question is left hanging, “Now what? What changes?”

  4. The true toll of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and so many others must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams.

    The inclusion of Hamas and Hezbollah in this section is very significant. It wasn’t a call for Hamas and Hezbollah to drop terrorism to achieve their goals, as if they are freedom fighters gone astray.The argument wasn’t that their actions are counterproductive: It was that their very existence has sabotaged a potentially promising future from the people of the Middle East—not just Palestinians and Lebanese, but everyone. Again he framed the issue not as a consequence of Israel, thus negating claims of Hamas and Hezbollah of being “liberation” movements.

  5. The birthplace of civilization is waiting to begin a new renaissance. Just imagine what tomorrow could bring.This is a call for a reformation into modernity (as opposed to the “reformation” offered by the Islamist movements). President Obama acknowledged this necessity—but he did it in an interview, not in a historical speech to the Muslim world from Saudi Arabia.Ideally, Trump would have given a little more time to describe what is holding back this renaissance beyond a generic attribution to “extremism.” He should have taken a queue from Egyptian President El-Sisi and consulted with progressive Muslim reformers.

    Trump called for “gradual change,” but failed to mention freedom, even gradually-granted freedom. His team likely worried that the mention of freedom would be interpreted as a synonym for democracy promotion, but caveats could have addressed that. This renaissance and rolling back of Islamism will require greater political and religious freedom, and acknowledging so does not make one an advocate of hasty destabilizations.

  6. Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.President Obama’s attitude towards Iran unnerved our Sunni Arab partners in the region. The heavy focus on Iran should help address that, but the fixation on the Iranian regime seemed to echo the Saudi line that Iran is responsible for practically all of the terrorism and extremism in the region. This let the Sunni side of radical Islam get off easy.The statement about hoping for a better government for the Iranian people is positive, as it at least welcomes regime change.However, it does not signal an American commitment to regime change in Iran or even regime destabilization. President Trump’s opposition to regime change is clear. To the ears of skeptical Iranians seeking freedom, this will sound like another investment in the hope that the Iranian  “moderates” in the regime can slowly gain support in the theocratic system.
  7. The Sunni governments got off easy.If you listened to the Saudi king’s speech before Trump’s—where he said sharia protects innocent life and promotes peace and tolerance [basically engaging in dawa (proselytizing) to the world] — you’d see that he was one small step from declaring an American-Sunni jihad on Iran. It gave the impression that the Saudis saw the words of the speech as relating to ISIS and Iran alone, not holding them accountable.Based on the way Trump talked about the Saudis, you would have thought they were modern day Minutemen in need of a motivational speech. I shared Dr. Daniel Pipes’ reaction of “gagging” at the praise he gave to King Salman, who is known to have directly financed jihadists.The massive sale of arms to the Saudis was described as “blessed,” as if God’s hand had arranged and approved of the transfer. The Saudis’ opening of a Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology was praised as “groundbreaking,” even though we’ve heard this story over and over and have no details with which to judge it as “groundbreaking” or not. At this point, it’s more like the wolf guarding the hen house.Qatar and Kuwait, two major financiers of Islamist terrorism and extremism, were praised shortly before Trump praised the Gulf Cooperation Council for blocking terror-financing.

Overall, the speech had tremendous moments, with important subtleties that are important to notice. But the speech was not a launch of an ideological war against Islamism. While it was a great call to action, it was not a plan of action. If this speech is to produce concrete results, the declaration of a bold plan of action must soon follow.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s Shillman Fellow and national security analyst and an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism. He is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. To invite Ryan to speak, please contact us.

Trump in Saudi Arabia: Fight ‘Islamic Terror’ & ‘Drive Them Out’

President Donald Trump delivers a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Conservative Review, by Jordan Schachtel, May 21, 2017:

President Donald Trump delivered the first major foreign policy speech of his tenure Sunday evening in Riyadh, discussing his vision for how America should conduct its international affairs.

America will engage with the world through the lens of a “Principled Realism,” Trump explained, “rooted in common values and shared interests.”

The president delivered on a crucial campaign promise to identify the global jihadist movement as one of the key threats to world stability. Speaking in Saudi Arabia, in front of the leaders of dozens of Muslim nations, Trump called upon the world to “drive out” the “Islamic terror” movements that persist within their countries.

“The true toll of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many others, must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams,” he proclaimed.

In labeling the enemies of world order as “Islamic” terrorists, he diverted from a final prepared transcript of the finished speech that referenced “Islamist” terrorists. The departure is significant. Defining the enemy as “Islamic” signals a call for reform within the religion, while labeling the enemy as “Islamist” refers to a violent supremacist political ideology.

The president demanded that leaders confront “the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamist and Islamic terror of all kinds.”

“And it means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians,” he added.

Delivering an impassioned plea to his counterparts in the Muslim world, he argued that “a better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists.”

“Drive. Them. Out!” the president exclaimed. “Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land, and drive them out of this earth.

Marking a departure from the Obama administration’s coziness with Iran, Trump highlighted the threat posed by the Iranian regime and its proxies in Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthis of Yemen. He called on American allies to isolate the Iranian regime and stop it in its quest for global dominance.

“From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror,” President Trump said. “It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.”

The president called upon “nations of conscience”  to “work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.”

Trump will wrap up his visit to Saudi Arabia this evening and depart for Israel, where he will spend the next two days.

Jordan Schachtel is the national security correspondent for Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @JordanSchachtel.

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Holton: Why I Don’t Have Much Faith in Robert Mueller

Terror Trends Bulletin, by Christopher Holton, May 18, 2017:

Robert Mueller has been appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate alleged Russian influence operations involving the 2016 US elections.

I don’t have a strong opinion on that investigation, but I do believe that all the fawning over Robert Mueller that I have seen the past 24 hours is…well…unwarranted.

That’s because I was thoroughly unimpressed by his tenure as FBI director. When selected by George W. Bush to head the FBI on 4 September 2001–one week before 9/11–the word on Mueller was that he was someone who was selected because he would not rock the boat or make too many sweeping changes.

If ever there was a wake up call to make sweeping changes, it came on 11 September 2001 and America was saddled with a guy leading the FBI who was chosen because he was a “safe” pick.

On Mueller’s watch the FBI bumbled some key counterjihad initiatives.

First of all, the FBI purged counterterrorism training materials that referred to terms like “Jihad” or “Islam” on Mueller’s watch. These decisions were arrived at because Mueller had a “stuck on stupid” habit of conducting outreach with Muslim Brotherhood operatives, some of whom winded up in jail.

Secondly, speaking of Russians, the Russians warned the FBI about the Tsarnaev brothers who then bombed the Boston Marathon and then went on a two-man jihad in the Boston area. The FBI did essentially zilch about them despite the warnings and even conducted outreach with the Boston area mosque co-founded by a man convicted on terrorism charges and described by the Justice Department as the primary Al Qaeda financier in America.

These are hardly indications of a competent guy.

Congressman Louis Gohmert was particularly tenacious in his periodic grilling of Mueller as FBI director. These videos are well worth a look to give you the details–as well as the general idea–of what I’m talking about…

Gohmert Challenges FBI Director About the Purging of Training Material:

FBI Director Unaware Boston Mosque Founded By al Qaeda Funder:

GOP’er Louie Gohmert And FBI’s Robert Mueller Explode Over Investigation Into Boston Bombers:

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