Second Unit of Yazidi Women Fighters Moves Into Raqqa to Crush ISIS

Yazidi fighters with the YJS join other Syrian Democratic Forces in a rooftop position during the Raqqa battle. (ANHA video)

PJ Media, by Bridget Johnson, Aug. 11, 2017:

A second unit of Yazidi women fighting under the Syrian Democratic Forces has been deployed into Raqqa, fighting not only to defeat the Islamic State in their declared capital but to avenge the genocide and abuse perpetrated on their people.

It’s been three years since ISIS launched their campaign of terror against Yazidis in northern Iraq, branding the followers of the ancient gnostic faith as devil worshippers. Yazidis have been murdered, from executions to being buried alive or starving to death, and abducted, with some 7,000 women and girls sold into sexual slavery.

SDF General Commander Rojda Felat, the Kurdish woman leading the Wrath of Euphrates operation that’s taken 55 percent of Raqqa thus far, has long vowed that rescuing Yazidis kidnapped by ISIS is a top priority. In a June interview with a Kurdish newspaper, she vowed that “wherever there is an attack against humanity we, as the Syrian Democratic Forces, will be there; wherever there is a suppressed woman, that is a battleground for us.”

“Not only for the women of Shengal [Yazidis], wherever a woman is being suppressed, wherever a man is threatening a woman, our forces will struggle against this. Our struggle for the liberation of our people will become a beacon for all resisting peoples,” she added.

The SDF, a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian force some 50,000 strong, has already freed hundreds of Yazidis held as sex slaves by ISIS. As the operation began in November, Yazidi women of the Sinjar Women’s Units (YJS) joined the fight.

Last week, a second YJS unit was sent into Raqqa.

YJS fighter Bêrîtan Êzîdxan, a member of the recently arrived unit, told Kurdish news agency ANF that their “presence in Raqqa is the vital artery that leads to our goal” to free all the women held captive by ISIS. “To be here on the day of the genocide anniversary, to be standing in this emplacement, means to me the fulfillment of my dreams of taking revenge,” she said.

“At the time of the genocide I vowed to take revenge for all our people that were killed and for all our women, at all costs,” said YJS fighter Dersim Êzîdxan. “Having come now to Raqqa three years after the genocide, is for me the realization of the promise I gave.”

YJS fighter Tekoşin Apoci said that “everywhere I turn in Raqqa, my eyes look” for the 12 members of her family who were abducted by ISIS three years ago. “I feel like my family is here and they will turn up just around a corner.”

“When I heard that our command was to send forces to Raqqa, I was ecstatic to be coming here. I came, but with every building I see I ask myself how many Êzidî women were there, are they still alive or have they been killed by the gangs and it hurts my soul,” she said.

One YJS rescue this week was a 13-year-old boy who had been kidnapped by ISIS at age 10. The boy was forced to convert to Islam and undergo ISIS training.

Today, ANF reported that 210 more women graduated from military training to join the SDF. Last month, Jaysh al-Thuwar, an SDF-aligned force of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen fighting both ISIS and Bashar al-Assad, announced that, having seen how well the SDF women fight, they would begin accepting women recruits.

The SDF reported Wednesday that 29 ISIS terrorists were killed and 264 civilians rescued from the Nazlat Shehadeh neighborhood in southern Raqqa.

It’s Time for the United States to Support Kurdish Independence

French President Francois Hollande receives the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani for talks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on February 21, 2017. Photo by Christian Liewig/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)

PJ Media, by Joseph Pruder, July 13, 2017:

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will hold a referendum on independence on September 25, 2017. By all accounts, the majority of Iraqi Kurds under the umbrella of the KRG would vote for independence.

This would make Iraqi Kurdistan the 196th sovereign state. In terms of fairness and justice, it is long overdue, given the lack of self-determination for 40 million Kurds in the wider region, and the approximately 5.5 million Iraqi Kurds.

Naturally, all of the neighboring states — Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey — have had a pact among them to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state. They fear that any Kurdish independence would inspire their own restless Kurdish minorities to join the newly establish Kurdish state. The Kurds in Turkey account for about 20% of Turkey’s 80 million plus people. In Iran, the Kurdish population is the third largest component after the Persians and the Azeris. The Kurds comprise 10% of Iran’s population of over 79 million. In Syria, Kurds number approximately 2.5 million out of a total population of 17.6 million. In all of the countries listed above, the governments are known to have deliberately undercounted the Kurdish population.

Sadly, U.S. administrations have hung on to the erroneous policy that Iraq must be maintained in its current form as a “united” Iraq. Yet Iraq, like neighboring Syria, is a fractured entity that combines ethnic and religious groups that do not wish to stay together. The U.S. policy has been wedded to a non-existent reality.

The colonial powers of Britain and France concocted — under the Sykes-Picot agreement (1916) — the outrageously mismatched entities/states of Iraq and Syria. They did not take into consideration the interests of the local populations, but rather sought to advance their own political and economic interests. It put under the same roof Sunni-Muslim Arabs (led by the Hashemite King Feisal of the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia), who ruled over a Shiite-Muslim Arab majority, and added into the mix the Northern Kurdish area with its oil deposits in Kirkuk. Although most Kurds are Sunnis, they are not Arabs, and they have always been discriminated against by the Arab regimes in Iraq and Syria.

It is incomprehensible why the previous U.S. administrations would side with the regime in Baghdad, and not with the pro-American and pro-Western Kurdistan Regional Government. For all intents and purposes, it is already an independent entity with its own government ensconced in the capital of Erbil, with its own parliament, flag, and army.

The Baghdad government, led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, is doing Iran’s bidding, and its powerful Shiite militias are more loyal to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, than to the Iraq government. They are more likely to side with Iran rather than the U.S. if and when an open conflict between the U.S. and Iran occurs.

To understand the advantages for the U.S. and its allies should an independent Kurdish state arise in northern Iraq, this reporter asked Sherkoh Abbas, president of the Kurdistan National Assembly, to explain them:

An independent Kurdistan will bring to a halt the creeping Shia Crescent. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states have recently started to view an independent Kurdistan in a positive light. They view it as a way to confront Iranian aggression in the Middle East. These Sunni-Arab states are willing to accept a divided Iraq and Syria, becoming a buffer against Iran and the new emerging neo-Ottoman threat from Turkey, which seeks to replace Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Muslim world.

In the past, U.S. Congress would remind us of the vital economic interests the U.S. has with 21 Arab nations, not to mention Turkey as a NATO ally. However, the new developments in the Arab world should convince many in the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration that supporting an independent Kurdistan would bring stability to the region, and reduce two major threats from Iran and Turkey. Moreover, the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria have been and continue to be the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State.

Two years ago, the Arab world opposed the idea of splitting the “Arab lands” of Iraq and Syria. Now however, they know that if they keep these two countries whole, it would disadvantage and undermine the Saudi kingdom and benefit Iran. It is for this reason that the moderate Sunni states think it is good to let the people of these nations (Iraq and Syria) go their own way.

It is also important to note that the U.S. does not need American boots on the ground in order to confront Iranian aggression in the Middle East. A good portion of Iran’s Islamic Republic is comprised of large minority groups such as the Azeris, Balochis, Kurds, and Ahwazi Arabs. These groups are capable of waging an uprising against the Iranian regime, and could help collapse it from within. As the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds unite to form an independent state, the U.S. will be able to use an independent Kurdistan as its Middle East base in the struggle against international terrorism. Finally, America should support an independent Kurdistan because it is the right and moral thing to do.

Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Russia appear to have agreed upon crushing Kurdish aspirations, while at the same time undermining the U.S. and its allies in the region. It is therefore time for the U.S. to support an independent Kurdistan and a confederation of Iraqi and Syrian Kurds.

The Treaty of Sevres (August 1920), signed by the Ottoman government, provided for a Kurdish state. It was then superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. All the promises to the Kurds were nullified. Kemal Ataturk annexed the Kurdish area. The Soviets, for their own reasons and interests, helped the Kurds in Iran establish an independent entity called the Republic of Mahabad in 1946, but less than a year later it was crushed by the Shah of Iran. Iraqi Kurds have been struggling for autonomy since the 1930s.

In March 1970, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi-Kurdish parties agreed to a peace accord. It granted the Kurds autonomy. The accord also recognized Kurdish as an official language and amended the Iraqi constitution to state: “The Iraqi people is made of two nationalities, an Arab nationality and a Kurdish nationality.”

On March 16, 1988, over 6,800 Kurdish civilians died in a poison gas attack on the town of Halabjah. The attack was initiated by the Iraqi-Arab dictator Saddam Hussein. A Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein in March 1991, encouraged by the U.S. administration, ended up with Saddam Hussein unleashing his army against the Kurds. The U.S.-led forces refused to intervene to support the rebels, resulting in 1.5 million Kurds fleeing before the Iraqi onslaught.

The Kurds, unlike the Palestinians, have not been coddled by the United Nations or the European Union, nor do Western leftists groups wage demonstrations on behalf of their self-determination. Yet, unlike the Palestinians, they are a distinct people with their own language and culture. Also, the Kurds, unlike the Palestinians, have supported the U.S. fight against Islamic terror.

The Kurdish people have earned the right to self-determination and an independent state.

Also see:

The terrorist diaspora: After the fall of the caliphate

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, July 13, 2017:

[Editor’s Note: Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Task Force on Denying Terrorists Entry into the United States. The hearing is titled, “The Terrorist Diaspora: After the Fall of the Caliphate.” A version with footnotes will also be posted.]

Chairman Gallagher, Ranking Member Watson Coleman, and other distinguished Committee Members, thank you for inviting me to testify today concerning foreign fighters and the threat some of them pose to the U.S. and Europe.

The fall of Mosul and the likely fall of Raqqa won’t be the end of the Islamic State. The group has already reverted to its insurgent roots in some of the areas that have been lost. It also still controls some territory. The Islamic State will continue to function as a guerrilla army, despite suffering significant losses. In May, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) assessed that even though it was losing significant ground, the Islamic State “will likely have enough resources and fighters to sustain insurgency operations and plan terrorists [sic] attacks in the region and internationally” going forward. Unfortunately, I think ODNI’s assessment is accurate for a number of reasons, some of which I outline below. I also discuss some hypothetical scenarios, especially with respect to returning foreign fighters or other supporters already living in Europe or the U.S.

Recent history. The Islamic State’s predecessor quickly recovered from its losses during the American-led “surge,” capitalizing on the war in Syria and a politically poisonous environment in Iraq to rebound. Indeed, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization grew into an international phenomenon by the end of 2014, just three years after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was completed. Baghdadi’s men did this while defying al Qaeda’s leaders and competing with rival jihadist groups. This recent history should give us pause any time we hear rhetoric that sounds too optimistic about the end of the Islamic State’s caliphate. The enterprise has had enough resources at its disposal to challenge multiple actors for more than three years. There is no question that the Islamic State’s finances, senior personnel, and other assets have been hit hard. But it is premature to say its losses amount to a deathblow.

Uncertainty regarding size of total membership. While it is no longer at the peak of its power, the Islamic State likely still has thousands of dedicated members. We don’t even really know how many members it has Iraq and Syria, let alone around the globe. Previous U.S. estimates almost certainly undercounted the group’s ranks. In September 2014, at the beginning of the US-led air campaign, the CIA reportedly estimated that the Islamic State could “muster” between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters. This figure was “more than three times the previous estimates,” CNN noted. By December 2016, the U.S. military was estimating that 50,000 Islamic State fighters had been killed. By February 2017, U.S. Special Operations command concluded that more than 60,000 jihadists had perished. Two months later, in April 2017, the Pentagon reportedly estimated that 70,000 Islamic State fighters had been killed.

Taken at face value, these figures (beginning with the September 2014 approximation) would suggest that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s enterprise was able to replace its entire force structure more than two times over, while fighting multiple enemies on numerous fronts. This is, of course, highly unlikely. Even with its prolific recruiting campaign, it would be impossible for any cohesive fighting organization, let alone one under the sustained pressure faced by the Islamic State, to train, equip and deploy fighters this quickly. It is far more likely that the U.S. never had a good handle on how many jihadists are in its ranks and the casualty figures are guesstimates. The purpose of citing these figures is not to re-litigate the past, but instead to sound a cautionary alarm regarding the near-future: We likely do not even know how many members the Islamic State has in Iraq and Syria today.

The Islamic State is an international organization. Since November 2014, when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi first announced the establishment of “provinces” around the globe, the Islamic State’s membership grew outside of Iraq and Syria. This further complicates any effort to estimate its overall size. Some of these “provinces” were nothing more than small terror networks, while others evolved into capable insurgency organizations in their own right. The Libyan branch of the caliphate temporarily controlled the city of Sirte. Although the jihadists were ejected from their Mediterranean abode by the end of 2016, they still have some forces inside the country. Similarly, Wilayah Khorasan (or Khorasan province), which represents the “caliphate” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, seized upwards of ten districts in Afghanistan as of early 2016, but has since lost ground. More recently, jihadists in the Philippines seized much of Marawi, hoisting the Islamic State’s black banner over the city. Wilayah Sinai controls at least some turf, and is able launch spectacular attacks on security forces. It was responsible for downing a Russian airliner in October 2015. Other “provinces” exist in East Africa, West Africa, Yemen and elsewhere.

In May, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported that the so-called caliphate “is seeking to foster interconnectedness among its global branches and networks, align their efforts to ISIS’s strategy, and withstand counter-ISIS efforts.” Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, has said that Wilayah Khorasan went through an “application process” and the Islamic State mothership provided it with “advice,” “publicity,” and “some financial support.” Although it is impossible to judge the extent of the Islamic State’s cohesion, as much of the data is not available, there is at least some connectivity between the group’s leadership and its “provinces” elsewhere. This is best seen on the media side, as the organization is particularly adept at disseminating messages from around the globe in multiple languages, despite some recent hiccups in this regard.

While their fortunes may rise or fall at any given time, this global network of Islamic State “provinces” will remain a formidable problem for the foreseeable future. Not only are they capable of killing large numbers of people in the countries they operate in, this structure also makes tracking international terrorist travel more difficult. For instance, counterterrorism officials have tied plots in Europe to operatives in Libya. This indicates that some of the Islamic State’s “external plotters,” who are responsible for targeting the West, are not stationed in Iraq and Syria. The U.S.-led air campaign has disrupted the Islamic State’s “external operations” capacity by killing a number of jihadists in this wing of the organization. But others live.

The cult of martyrdom has grown. A disturbingly large number of people are willing to kill themselves for the Islamic State’s cause. The number of suicide bombings claimed by the so-called caliphate dwarfs all other jihadist groups, including al Qaeda. In 2016, for instance, the Islamic State claimed 1,112 “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria alone. Through the first six months of 2017, the organization claimed another 527 such bombings (nearly three-fourths of them using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs) in those two countries. These figures do not include suicide attacks in other nations where Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists are known to operate.

To put the Islamic State’s current “martyrdom operations” in perspective, consider data published by the Washington Post in 2008. According to the Post, there were just 54 suicide attacks in all of 2001, when al Qaeda’s “martyrs” launched the most devastating terrorist airline hijackings in history. The Islamic State currently eclipses that figure every month in Iraq and Syria, averaging 93 suicide bombings per month in 2016 and 88 per month so far in 2017. Many of these operations are carried out by foreign fighters.

These suicide bombers have been mainly used to defend Islamic State positions, including the city of Mosul, which was one of the self-declared caliphate’s two capitals. For instance, half of the “martyrdom operations” carried out in Iraq and Syria this year (265 of the 527 claimed) took place in the Nineveh province, which is home to Mosul. The “martyrs” were dispatched with increasing frequency after the campaign to retake the city began in October 2016, with 501 claimed suicide bombings in and around Mosul between then and the end of June 2017.

Some caveats are in order. It is impossible to verify the Islamic State’s figures with any precision. The fog of war makes all reporting spotty and not every suicide bombing attempt is recorded in published accounts. Some of the claimed “martyrdom operations” likely failed to hit their targets, but were counted by the Islamic State as attacks anyway. The U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces have routinely taken out VBIEDs before drivers could reach their mark. Not all “martyrs” are truly willing recruits. For instance, the Islamic State’s figures include numerous children who were pressed into service by Baghdadi’s goons.

Still, even taking into account these caveats, it is reasonable to conclude that the number of people willing to die for the sake of the so-called caliphate is disturbingly high – much higher than the number of willing martyrs in 2001 or even much more recently. Even though most of these people have been deployed in war zones, it is possible that more will be used outside of Iraq and Syria if they survive the fight and are able to travel to other countries. The Islamic State has already had some success in instigating would-be recruits to die for its cause in the West after they failed to emigrate to the lands of the caliphate. It is certainly possible that more will be sent into Europe or the U.S. in the future.

Children used in suicide attacks, executions and other operations. The Islamic State has a robust program, named “Cubs of the Caliphate,” for indoctrinating children. It is one of the most disturbing aspects of the organization’s operations. Not only does the Islamic State’s propaganda frequently feature children attending classes, its videos have proudly displayed the jihadists’ use of children as executioners.

Earlier this month, for instance, the group’s Wilayah Jazirah disseminated a video entitled, “They Left Their Beds Empty.” Four children are shown beheading Islamic State captives. The same production is laced with footage of the terrorists responsible for the November 2015 Paris attacks, as well as other plots in Europe. Indeed, the children are made to reenact some of the same execution scenes that the Paris attackers carried out before being deployed. The Islamic State’s message is clear: A new generation of jihadists is being raised to replace those who have fallen, including those who have already struck inside Europe.

The “Cubs of the Caliphate” program is not confined to Iraq and Syria, but also operates in Afghanistan and elsewhere. This means that numerous children who have been indoctrinated in the Islamic State’s ways will pose a disturbing challenge for authorities going forward. As I noted above, some have already been used in “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria. It is possible that others could be used in a similar fashion outside of the group’s battlefields, in Europe or the U.S. One purpose behind making children or adults commit heinous acts is to shock their conscience into thinking there is no way back, that they have crossed a threshold and there is no return. There are no easy answers for how to best deal with this problem.

Diversity of terrorist plots. There are legitimate concerns about the possibility of well-trained fighters leaving Iraq and Syria for the West now that the Islamic State is losing its grip on some of its most important locales. We saw the damage that a team of Islamic State operatives can do in November 2015, when multiple locations in Paris were assaulted. Trained operatives have had a hand in other plots as well. This concern was succinctly expressed by EUROPOL in a recent report. “The number of returnees is expected to rise, if IS [Islamic State], as seems likely, is defeated militarily or collapses. An increasing number of returnees will likely strengthen domestic jihadist movements and consequently magnify the threat they pose to the EU.” While a true military defeat will be elusive, the central point stated here has merit, even though the number of arrests of returnees across Europe has recently declined. According to EUROPOL, “[a]rrests for travelling to conflict zones for terrorist purposes…decreased: from 141 in 2015 to 77 in 2016.” And there was a similar “decrease in numbers of arrests of people returning from the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq: from 41 in 2015 to 22 in 2016.”

However, the overall number of arrests “related to jihadist terrorism” rose from 687 in 2015 to 718 in 2015, meaning that most of these terror-related arrests do not involve returnees.

Still, returnees and the logistical support networks that facilitate travel to Iraq and Syria were prominently represented in court cases tried by EUROPOL member states. “As evidenced in the past couple of years, the majority of the verdicts for jihadist terrorism concerned offences related to the conflict in Syria and Iraq,” EUROPOL reported in its statistical review for 2016. “They involved persons who had prepared to leave for or have returned from the conflict zone, as well as persons who have recruited, indoctrinated, financed or facilitated others to travel to Syria and/or Iraq to join the terrorist groups fighting there.” In addition, “[i]ndividuals and cells preparing attacks in Europe and beyond were also brought before courts.”

These data show that while the threat posed by returnees is real, it is just one part of the overall threat picture. The Islamic State has encouraged supporters in the West to lash out in their home countries instead of traveling abroad, directed plots via “remote-control” guides, and otherwise inspired individuals to act on their own. These tactics often don’t require professional terrorists to be dispatched from abroad. The Islamic State has also lowered the bar for what is considered a successful attack, amplifying concepts first espoused by others, especially al Qaeda. A crude knife or machete attack that kills few people is trumpeted as the work of an Islamic State “soldier” or “fighter.” On Bastille Day in Nice, France last year, an Islamic State supporter killed more than 80 people simply by running them over with a lorry. Other Islamic State supporters have utilized this simple technique, repeatedly advocated by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s propagandists, as well.

However, I would urge caution. While the amateurs or individual actors have become more lethal over time, the risk of professionally-trained jihadists carrying out a mass casualty attack remains distinct. On average, the professionals can still do more damage than their amateur counterparts – if they are not stopped beforehand. The threat to aviation demonstrates the point. In October 2015, the Islamic State’s Wilayah Sinai downed a Russian airliner, killing all 224 people on board. Although the jihadists claim to have used a crude improvised explosive device, the plot required that well-placed personnel implant it at an optimal location within the aircraft. U.S. officials are attempting to stop even more sophisticated devices, built by either the Islamic State or al Qaeda, from being placed on board flights bound for Europe or America. Other professionally-planned attacks could involve bombing commuter trains, Mumbai-style sieges, or multi-pronged assaults. Therefore, if the professionals are able to evade security measures, they could easily kill more people than the average amateur.

Counterterrorism services in Europe and the U.S. have stopped a number of professional plots through the years. Some of those foiled in the past year may have been more serious than realized at the time. However, there is a risk that as counterterrorism authorities deal with a large number of individual or amateur plots, the professional terrorists will be able to find another window of opportunity. The various threats posed by the Islamic State have placed great strains on our defenses.

The Islamic State could seek to exploit refugee flows once again. “The influx of refugees and migrants to Europe from existing and new conflict zones is expected to continue,” EUROPOL reported in its review of 2016. The Islamic State “has already exploited the flow of refugees and migrants to send individuals to Europe to commit acts of terrorism, which became evident in the 2015 Paris attacks.” The so-called caliphate and “possibly other jihadist terrorist organizations may continue to do so.” While the overwhelming majority of migrants are seeking to better their lives, some will continue to pose a terrorist threat. European nations are dealing with this, in part, by deploying more “investigators” to “migration hotspots in Greece and soon also to Italy.” These “guest officers” will rotate “at key points on the external borders of the EU to strengthen security checks on the inward flows of migrants, in order to identify suspected terrorists and criminals, establishing a second line of defense.”

This makes it imperative that U.S. authorities share intelligence with their European counterparts and receive information in return to better track potential threats. The U.S. has led efforts to disrupt the Islamic State’s “external attack” arm and probably has the best intelligence available on its activities. But European nations have vital intelligence as well, and only by combining data can officials get a better sense of the overall picture. Recent setbacks with respect to this intelligence sharing, after details of British investigations were leaked in the American press, are troubling. But we can hope that these relationships have been repaired, or will be soon.

It should be noted that would-be jihadists who are already citizens of European countries could have an easier route into the U.S. than migrants fleeing the battlefields. It is much easier for a British citizen to get on a plane headed for the U.S. than for an Islamic State operative posing as a Syrian refugee to enter the U.S. clandestinely through Europe. Given recent events in the UK, and the overall scale of the jihadist threat inside Britain, this makes intelligence sharing on potential terrorists all the more crucial. British officials have said that they are investigating 500 possible plots involving 3,000 people on the “top list” of suspects at any given time. In addition, 20,000 people have been on the counterterrorism radar for one reason or another and are still considered potentially problematic.

Exporting terror know-how. It is possible that more of the Islamic State’s terrorist inventions will be exported from abroad into Europe or the U.S. As the self-declared caliphate sought to defend its lands, it devised all sorts of new means for waging war. It modified drones with small explosives and built its own small arms, rockets, bombs and the like. Al Qaeda first started to publish ideas for backpack bombs and other IEDs in its online manuals. The Islamic State has done this as well, but we shouldn’t be surprised if some of its other inventions migrate out of the war zones. The group could do this by publishing technical details in its propaganda, or in-person, with experienced operatives carrying this knowledge with them.

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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(Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony begins at 1:35:22 in the video)

John Bolton: Trump Administration Needs to Declare Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian Guard as Terrorist Groups

KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, July 12, 2017:

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton talked on Wednesday’sBreitbart News Daily with Sirius XM host Alex Marlow about victory in Mosul, strategy for a post-Islamic State Middle East, the diplomatic crisis in Qatar, and the North Korean nuclear problem.

“I don’t think it’s quite over in Mosul, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that ISIS is ultimately going to be defeated there, and ultimately, it will be defeated elsewhere in Syria and Iraq,” Bolton said.

“Remember, this is the signal battle. Over two-and-a-half years ago when ISIS burst out of Syria, burst out of nowhere, the Iraqi Army confronted them before Mosul and collapsed completely, just disintegrated,” he recalled. “This is the army that Obama and the Bush administration had been arming and training for years, and they just completely collapsed.”

Although victory in Mosul is an important milestone in the improvement of the Iraqi military, Bolton feared it is “a hollow victory for the United States.”

“Obviously, we want to destroy ISIS. Obama’s slow-roll policy allowed them to continue to recruit terrorists far longer than was necessary and allowed many of the top leaders, I think, to get out of the Middle East, to go somewhere else – to go to Libya, to go to Yemen, and to live to fight another day,” he explained. “But I think the worst part of it – and this will be even more manifest when Raqqa, the capital of the so-called ISIS caliphate, is taken hopefully in the near future – we have not prepared for the strategic situation after ISIS is defeated.”

“Or I could put it a different way and say Obama did prepare for it, and he was happy to have Iran and its surrogates fill the vacuum that ISIS is going to leave,” Bolton added. “That’s what is happening in Mosul now. The Iraqi government is, to all intents and purposes, under the control of the ayatollahs in Tehran. Not entirely, but I’d liken the situation to Eastern Europe in the late 1940s as the Soviet Union tightened its grip on the countries that were soon to become satellites. That’s what Iran is doing to Iraq.”

“What Iran’s objective is, when we collapse ISIS at the last stages, it wants to link up from Iran, through the Baghdad government in Iraq, to the Assad regime’s regular forces in Syria and the Hezbollah terrorists who are there in Lebanon,” Bolton warned. “There are press reports already that some Shiite militias from Iraq have already linked up with Assad’s forces.”

“The Iranians are trying to create an arc of control that lays the foundation for the next struggle in the Middle East, against the Sunni coalition led by the Saudis,” he said. “Barack Obama was entirely comfortable with that. I think that’s consistent with his view that, you know, Iran’s really basically a normal kind of nation, we’ll just talk them out of their nuclear weapons and then everything will be fine.”

“That’s not how the ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guards Corps see it,” Bolton argued. “Now there are even stories in places like the Washington Post and the New York Times saying we could have some trouble here in Mosul and Western Iraq because of what I’ve just described.”

“I wish I could say the Trump administration had a strategy to deal with it,” he sighed. “I think the president’s probably in the right place on this, but I don’t think his bureaucracy has produced that kind of strategy yet. In the kind of strategic vacuum that may be developing, I think we’re going to have trouble in the not-too-distant future.”

Bolton said the “complex multi-party conflict” in the Middle East leaves the United States with “several objectives which are not always entirely consistent with one another.”

“The only good news is our adversaries have inconsistent objectives too,” he added.

“Our first objective – and what we’ve been pursuing in a far too relaxed pace under Obama; it speeded up under Trump – is to defeat and destroy the ISIS caliphate. It doesn’t end the ISIS problem, but it takes their territorial base away from them and forces them to go to places that are a lot less hospitable, like Libya, and gives us a chance to pursue them elsewhere,” he said.

“But then the question is, ‘What do you do with the vacuum, the political vacuum that exists once ISIS is defeated?’” Bolton asked. “The Sunni Arabs do not want to go under the control of the Baghdad government, for the reason I just said: it’s dominated by the ayatollahs. Nor do the Sunni Arabs of Syria want to happily resume being oppressed by the Assad regime, with both Assad and Iran obviously being backed by Russia. So you need a solution to the Sunni problem there in that hole that used to be the ISIS caliphate. We do not have a strategy.”

“I propose creating a new state, a secular but demographically Sunni state that the Saudis could help pay for, to provide some measure of stability and to prevent Iran from achieving that arc of control that I mentioned a few moments ago,” Bolton recommended.

“Really, this is part of the bigger picture of how we deal with Iran, which is continuing to pursue nuclear weapons along with its friends in North Korea and continuing to support terrorism around the world,” he explained. “That struggle with Iran is something that was just absent from the radar screen in the Obama administration, but it’s going to come to the fore again once ISIS is defeated.”

“We’ve got to be thinking ahead,” he urged. “It’s not enough to kind of wake up every day and say, ‘Well, gee, what problem do we have now?’ You have to have a strategy, and the strategy I think is critical is defeating radical Islamic terrorism and dealing with the threat of the world’s principal state sponsor of terrorism, which is Iran.”

Marlow asked Bolton how the diplomatic conflict between Qatar and the other Sunni nations fits into the Middle Eastern puzzle.

“Across the Gulf, the oil-producing monarchies of the Arabian peninsula, there’s a lot of financial support for terrorism,” Bolton replied. “Some of it comes directly from governments. Some of it comes from royal families, which is in many senses the same thing. Some of it comes from other wealthy people; the government gives them a wink and a nod and away they go. It comes from a lot of places.”

“The Saudis have picked on Qatar in particular because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, but I think also they’re worried about Qatar’s tilt toward Iran,” he continued. “They want a united Sunni Arab community here, in preparation for the coming conflict. Qatar’s response is, ‘Well, what are you picking on us for? Because of the Muslim Brotherhood? The United States hasn’t declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, and neither have we, so why are we any different from you?’”

“It’s not entirely accurate, the way they put it, but they’ve raised a fair point,” Bolton conceded. “My reaction is, ‘Great, let’s take this opportunity and do what we should have done anyway. Let’s declare the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.’ Having done that, we turn back to Qatar and say, ‘Now, you follow suit.’”

“I think we ought to use the president’s summit meeting in Riyadh a couple of weeks ago, where they created this pan-Arab, pan-Muslim center for combating extremism and give all these governments the cover they need to cut off the sources of terrorist financing,” he said. “Cut it off from Qatar and the Qatari royal family, cut it off from Saudi Arabia, cut it off from all of the Arab countries that have so much excess cash flowing around because of the oil revenues.”

“There’s a way to me here to advance American objectives and get Arab unity back, which we do need as we look at the coming problem with Iran,” Bolton judged.

He suggested adding Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps to the designated terrorist list because “that’s fundamentally what it is,” but he acknowledged that applying that designation to the Muslim Brotherhood has proven surprisingly difficult.

“There’s been an amazing campaign. It’s always amazing to me how these stories and op-eds and lines of chatter appear simultaneously, all very well-coordinated,” said Bolton. “The argument being the Muslim Brotherhood is a complicated organization, not every part of it is devoted to the support of terrorism. Some of them do humanitarian work and so on; a declaration that the entire Brotherhood is a foreign terrorist organization would actually buttress the cause of the jihadis; so, therefore, don’t do anything.”

“Let’s take the notion inherent in that argument as having some validity, that there are pieces of the Muslim Brotherhood that don’t qualify under the statutory definition we have of a foreign terrorist organization,” he allowed. “My response to that is, ‘Okay, we need some careful drafting based on the evidence we have now that excludes some affiliates, some components of the Muslim Brotherhood from the designation.’ I’m prepared to live with that, of course, until we get more complete information.”

“But the argument of the proponents of the Brotherhood is because things are complicated, do nothing. Do not declare any part of it a terrorist organization. That’s the wrong conclusion. The right conclusion is, things are complicated? Okay, fine. Just declare part of it a terrorist organization. We’ll deal with the rest of it later,” he said.

“It’s not an argument to do nothing,” Bolton insisted. “It’s an argument to be precise in designating what is a foreign terrorist organization. I think good lawyers, good counterterrorism experts could do this without a huge amount of difficulty, and I really think it’s the right thing to do in terms of policy. And as you say, I think it’s the right thing to do politically for the Trump administration as well.”

Marlow concluded by bringing up another extremely complex situation: North Korea’s nuclear missile program and the odds that China will take meaningful action to halt it. “Is China increasingly belligerent to the United States, and are they doing enough on North Korea at this point in time?” he asked.

“I think they’re increasingly belligerent all around their frontier and in the world as a whole,” Bolton replied. “Take trying to take over the South China Sea as just one example of it.”

“On North Korea, they’ve said for 25 years they don’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons because it will cause instability in East Asia, and that’s a bad thing for their economic growth. That’s what they say, but they never deliver on that,” he noted.

“I personally think they’ve been playing a double game. They appear to tighten sanctions on North Korea until our attention wanders and we look at something else, and then we’re back to business as usual. They’ve done it to Donald Trump. He’s already noted that in his famous tweet. But that’s been a pattern they’ve followed for a long, long time on North Korea,” he said.

“I think we’ve got to call them on it because I think the North Korean threat is getting increasingly dangerous, increasingly risky for the United States, and our options are limited. Fiddling around with China as we have for 25 years is not going to solve the problem,” Bolton advised.

John Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and head of his own political action committee, BoltonPAC.

US military credits Iraqi militias for helping liberate Mosul

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, July 11, 2017:

The US military commended “Iraqi Militia Forces” for their role in helping liberate the city of Mosul from the Islamic State, but warned that the jihadist group remains a threat and still controls areas in Iraq. Many of those same militias operating near Mosul, though, are responsible for killing US soldiers during the occupation and remain hostile to America with the backing of Iran.

Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the US-led coalition organized to battle the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, said Iraqi forces achieved a “victory” over the Islamic State. Reports from Mosul indicate that the Islamic State has been cornered into a football field-size area in Mosul’s old city neighborhood, with only scores of fighters and their families remaining. Many areas of the city lay in ruin as a result of the nine month-long battle to to regain control from the Islamic State.

A mix of forces from Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service, regular troops, Kurdish Peshmerga, and Iranian-backed Shia militias were involved in the ground fighting. The US and other countries provided air support and other combat enablers, as well as advisers during the battle for Mosul. CJTF-OIR said all of these forces should be commended for their role.

“Iraqi Militia Forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and the global Coalition also deserve a share of the credit for their sacrifices to achieve this hard-won victory,” the press release noted.

The “Iraqi Militia Forces” are organized under the aegis of the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, and includes many Iranian supported militias that are responsible for killing hundreds of American soliders in Iraq, such as Hezbollah Brigades, which is a US-designated terrorist group, Asaib al Haq, and the Seyyed al Shuhada Brigades. The last two militias have been operating on the outskirts of Mosul.

The PMF is led by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a designated terrorist who was described by the US State Department as “an advisor to Qassem Soleimani,” the commander of the Qods Force, the external operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Additionally, Soleimani serves as an official adviser to Iraq’s prime minister. Muhandis and Soleimani were instrumental in forming the PMF, which was made an official security branch that reports directly to Iraq’s prime minister. The PMF has been modeled after Iran’s IRGC. [See FDD’s Long War Journal reports, Iraq’s prime minister establishes Popular Mobilization Forces as a permanent ‘independent military formation’ and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces in Iran’s game plan.]

The US military’s praise of Iraq’s militias and the PMF should come as no surprise. US officials and generals have ignored, downplayed and even praised the role that the Iranian-supported militias have played in liberating other cities and towns across Iraq. For instance, in March 2015, General Martin Dempsey, then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, characterized the the Shiite militias’ and Iran’s efforts to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State as “a positive thing.”

“Frankly,” General Dempsey said, “it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”

However, US commanders have turned a blind eye as the Shiite militias have been involved in numerous instances of sectarianism throughout Iraq.

“Still a tough fight ahead”

Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of CJTF-OIR, warned that the Islamic State remains a threat in Iraq despite the loss of “one of its twin capitals and a jewel of their so-called caliphate.” US-backed Kurdish militias are currently fighting the Islamic State for control of Raqqa in Syria.

“Make no mistake, this victory alone does not eliminate ‘ISIS’ and there is still a tough fight ahead,” Townsend said.

“Although ISIS has lost Mosul, the threat remains in other areas of Iraq,” the CJTF-OIR press release stated.

Those areas include pockets around the cities of Tal Afar and Hawija, and along the Euphrates River Valley from Anah to Al Qaim on the border with Syria. Even if the Islamic State is driven from these areas, the group will likely follow the same strategy that it did after it was defeated during the US-led surge that ended in 2010. Then, al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the Islamic State, went underground and waged a guerrilla insurgency. The group was also buoyed by the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

Townsend warned that the victory in Mosul does not mean that the Islamic State is finished, and urged Iraqis to “unite” to prevent the group from re-emerging.

“However, this victory does not mark the end of this evil ideology and the global threat of ISIS. Now it is time for all Iraqis to unite to ensure ISIS is defeated across the rest of Iraq and that the conditions that led to the rise of ISIS in Iraq are not allowed to return again,” he said.

The involvement of the PMF in military operations and the occupation of Sunni cities, towns, and villages and their sectarian reprisals may serve to radicalize Sunnis and push them into the arms of the Islamic State. Additionally, the Iraqi military’s increasing reliance on the militias strengthens Iran’s influence in Iraq, which is also feared by Iraq’s Sunnis.

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

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Gorka on Mosul Liberation: ‘We Went From an Obama Policy of Attrition to One of Annihilation’

Also see:

Why ISIS Isn’t Going Anywhere

The Islamic State is not just a name, it’s a mission.

Front Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield,  July 4,  2017:

ISIS has been defeated. That’s the official word out of Iraq. But don’t count it out just yet.

We beat ISIS twice before. Once in its previous incarnation as Al Qaeda in Iraq and in its even earlier incarnation as Saddam Hussein’s regime whose Sunni Baathists went on to play a crucial role in ISIS.

Each time it was reborn as another murderous monstrosity.

We don’t know what the next incarnation will look like, but considering Saddam Hussein’s rape rooms, Al Qaeda in Iraq’s love of suicide bombings and ISIS taking public torture to a new level, it will be bad.

We beat Saddam, Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State. But it keeps coming back because we don’t understand what it is. And we don’t get it because we don’t understand what Islamic terrorism is.

Islamic terrorists are not a “tiny minority of extremists” who “pervert Islam”. They are Islam.

ISIS keeps coming back because it’s rooted in the local Sunni Islamic Arab population and the religion of Islam. The Sunni link is why ISIS keeps popping back up. Bush suppressed Al Qaeda in Iraq by allying with Sunni tribes. Obama made a deal with Iran and let its Shiites dominate Iraq. Sunnis flocked to ISIS’ ex-Baathists who promised to bring back the good old days of Saddam’s supremacy for Sunnis.

As long as the Sunni-Shiite tensions in Iraq and Syria, not to mention those between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen continue to play out, ISIS will stick around in some form waiting to make a comeback. The cycle of Sunnis turning to Al Qaeda/ISIS to beat the Shiites and then to the US to beat ISIS will continue.

Critics who accuse the US of creating ISIS by bombing Iraq miss the point. ISIS is the latest embodiment of Sunni supremacism and historical nostalgia for the Abbasid Caliphate. Both Saddam and the Caliph of ISIS capitalized on that nostalgia the way that Hitler did on Charlemagne. We didn’t create it. And it isn’t going anywhere. We can’t defeat it without breaking the historical aspirations of the Sunni population.

That is what we are up against.

We’re not just fighting a bunch of ragged terrorists. We’re fighting against the sense of manifest destiny of a large Muslim population, not just in Iraq and Syria, but in London, Paris and every state in America.

The Islamic terrorist groups of the Middle East are especially dangerous because, as ISIS did with its Caliphate, they can closely link themselves to crucial epochs in Islam. Al Qaeda leveraged its Saudi face to form a visceral connection with Muslims worldwide. ISIS repeated the same trick with its Iraqi link. And large numbers of non-Arabs and converts to Islam rallied from around the world to the Jihad.

ISIS is now the new Al Qaeda. It may not be able to run Mosul, but it has become an international terrorist organization that is even more dangerous than Al Qaeda. And that may be what it wanted.

Like the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups, the Islamic State was never very good at running things. The PA won’t make peace with Israel for the same reason that Hamas won’t make peace with the PA: statehood is a compelling imperative, but requires hard work in reality. It’s much easier to send off a few useful idiots to blow themselves up and then collect the Qatari checks.

Civilizations manage societies. Barbarians have more fun destroying things than taking out the garbage or cleaning the streets. That is why ISIS lost and why the Jihad will finally succeed only if civilization implodes too badly to resist its incursions or through the unstoppable force of brute demographics.

The original Islamic conquests wrecked the societies and cultures they overran the way that barbarians always do. They wouldn’t have succeeded if civilization had not been in a state of collapse. Today’s Islamic conquests are a similar reaction to our civilizational decline. But as long as we can send jets and drones to wreak havoc on Islamic terrorists anywhere in the world, the conquests can only work on a demographic, not a military level. ISIS claimed that it could win a military showdown: it was wrong.

But the demographic conquest is going very well. Just ask the frightened natives of Paris and London. The Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy of political and demographic invasion, sneered at by ISIS, may be less glamorous, but it has equally close echoes in Mohammed’s tactics against his non-Muslim foes.

The challenge for Islamic terrorists is turning that demographic growth into military strength. ISIS emerged as the Uber of Islamic terrorism by unlocking the key to turning Muslims anywhere into terrorists with no training or recruitment. While Al Qaeda had pioneered the strategy, ISIS made it work.

Dismissing the terrorists who have been killing for ISIS in the West as “lone wolves” misses the point.

The Islamic terrorist who goes on a stabbing spree in London or a shooting spree in Orlando is no more a “lone wolf” than an Uber driver who picks up a passenger is just some random eccentric. They’re parts of a distributed network that is deliberately decentralized to better fulfill its central purpose.

CVE and other efforts to tackle “online extremism” fight messaging wars that ignore the demographics. But our targeted strikes on ISIS ignore demographics in the same way. We keep looking at the trees while missing the forest. But the forest is where the trees come from. Muslim terrorists emerge from an Islamic population. They aren’t aberrations. Instead they represent its religious and historic aspirations.

ISIS and Islamic terrorists aren’t going anywhere. Defeating them through patronizing lectures about the peacefulness of Islam, as Obama’s CVE policy proposed to do, was a futile farce. Bombing them temporarily suppresses them as an organized military force, but not their religious and cultural origins.

As long as we go on seeing Islamic terrorism as an aberration that has no connection to the history and religion of Islam, our efforts to defeat it will be pinpricks that treat the symptoms, but not the problem.

Only when we recognize that Islamic terrorism is Islam, that the crimes of ISIS and countless others dating back to Mohammed were committed to achieve the goals of the Islamic population, will we be ready to face the war that we’re in and to defend ourselves against what is to come not just in Iraq or Afghanistan, but in America, Australia, Canada, Europe, India, Israel and everywhere else.

We are not fighting a handful of Islamic terrorists. We are standing in the path of the manifest destiny of Islam. Either that manifest destiny will break against us, as it did at the Gates of Vienna, or it will break us. The attacks were once yearly. Now they are monthly. Soon they will become daily.

Every attack is a pebble in an avalanche. A pebble falls in Brussels, in Fresno, in Dusseldorf, in New York, in Munich, in London, in Garland, in Paris, in Jerusalem, in Mumbai, in Boston and in more places than anyone can count. We are too close to the bloodshed to see the big picture. We only see the smoke and hear the screams. We see the boats bringing armies into Europe. We see refugees fill our airports.

Those are the trees, not the forest: the pebbles, not the avalanche. Those are the battles, not the war.

The Islamic State is not going anywhere. It’s not a name. It’s an Islamic imperative. And it’s here.

Also see:

The reason we supported Daesh is because of the abuses of the army. People started looking for salvation regardless of what the alternative was. People were under a lot of pressure and thought this caliphate is for their safety and security and that is why people were enthusiastic.

If government abuses return, people will once again think of change regardless of what the alternative is Daesh or not Daesh.

We still hope that an Islamic caliphate will be established and we still repeat that, in order for every person to live in peace, Muslim and non-Muslim.

[…]

But the comments of Imam Halil indicate that the ideological support ISIS relied on during its three years of control in Mosul remains intact. And while the kinetic battle for Mosul might be won (for now), the battle for the hearts and minds continues on.

Confronting the current Middle East alignment

Illustration on a coming Middle East alignment by Linas Garsys/The Washington Times

Washington Times by James A. Middle EastLyons, July 2, 2017:

With the imminent defeat of the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq and in Raqqa, its declared capital in Syria, one of the Trump administration’s key objectives is about to be achieved.

With the collapse of the Islamic State as a functioning entity, however, there are clearly new dynamics coming into play which will complicate the post-Islamic State period. What is actually taking place is a realignment of the regional balance of power between Shiite and Sunni power brokers. How it eventually evolves will have a major impact on U.S. security interests, and those of our allies, Israel in particular. The problem is that we have no clear strategy to deal with the evolving dynamic situation or its long term impact.

Clearly, an immediate problem is that Iran, backed by Russia, seeks to further expand its influence by solidifying a land bridge from Iran through Iraq and Syria to the eastern Mediterranean. Such a move would put a jihadi Shiite regime on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Iran’s domination of regimes in Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus along with its play for Yemen puts it in position to surround the Arabian Peninsula and threaten strategic waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab. Backed by Iran and Russia, Bashar Assad’s control of Aleppo and the anticipated fall of Raqqa will likely embolden him to retake eastern Syria, too.

Preventing expansion of the Shiite Crescent must be a top U.S. objective, fundamental to restoring not only credibility with our key allies, but critical to restoring stability to the region as well. Key to achieving this objective without a massive influx of U.S. ground forces is maintaining the viability of pro-Western Kurdish and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). It is also possible that elements of the Syrian Free Army (SFA) can be reconstituted.

The recent downing by a U.S. Navy F-18 fighter aircraft of a Syrian bomber that had been attacking a pro-Western Kurdish force and an SDF unit highlighted Mr. Assad’s recognition of the importance of these forces in preventing reassertion of his control in eastern Syria. Perhaps just as important was Russian President Vladimir Putin likely using Syrian resources to test the Trump administration to see if it would support our allies on the ground if attacked. Fortunately, we did, which sent a clear message to both Russia and Syria as well as our allies that there are lines that cannot be crossed. The “strong horse” is back.

The Russian threat to target with surface-to-air missiles any U.S. aircraft flying west of the Euphrates is a further test of the Trump administration. While both Russia and the U.S. want to avoid a direct confrontation, we need to make it very clear we will not be intimidated.

Developing a strategy to address the current regional realignment should be based on U.S. core vital strategic interests. Further, the strategy should be based on the underlying principle that it makes no sense for the United States to inject itself into a 1,300+-year old Shi’ite-Sunni sectarian war. It is actually what the current realignment is all about.

The al Qaeda/Muslim Brotherhood militias rose up against Syria’s Bashar Assad, who was then defended by Iran, Hezbollah plus assorted Shiite militias and now Russia. Turkey is also an increasing problem: President Erdogan and his AK Party are jihadis trying to reestablish some form of the power and glory of the old Ottoman Empire. Dead set against any sort of autonomous Kurdish entity, they are aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas — and now also with Iran and Qatar. At this point, Turkey must be viewed as a questionable Western ally.

Fundamental U.S. strategy must be based on preventing Iran from establishing a Shiite land bridge from Tehran to Lebanon. Therefore, a key element of our strategy should be to support the binding independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan to be held on Sept. 25, 2017. U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, officially opposes it because of a misguided objective to keep Iraq intact. But Iraq is already fractured as is Syria, and neither one will be reconstituted in its pre-WWI artificial geographic boundaries. Clearly, the 1916 Sykes-Picot nation-state arrangement has collapsed.

Our strategy should also support Syrian Kurds carving out their own sphere of influence (Rojava) which could eventually unite with Iraqi Kurdistan. Control of the vast Syrian Sunni interior that spans the border into the former Iraq remains unresolved. Damascus cannot control a federalized Syria even with Iranian and Russian support. Therefore, our strategic plan must back Sunni forces that have shown themselves to be both anti-Damascus and non-jihadist. The only group that falls into that category is the Free Syrian Army, which will need to be reinforced. U.S. policy should concede that Damascus will hold the Alawite heartland that includes the Russian bases at Latakia and Tartus.

With the 8 years the Obama administration squandered plus the transfer of over one hundred billion dollars to Iran (which it is now using to finance Shiite militias fighting to secure a land bridge across the IraqSyria border), we must shift from a reactive defensive strategy to a pro-active one.

Accordingly, the Trump team must first define a national security strategy for the region. Such a strategy must be predicated on reconstitution of U.S. military capability and demonstration of the will to project power and influence, specifically by supporting Kurdish-FSA-SDF forces and, together with our allies, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the GCC, block further Iranian expansionism. Elimination of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will also be an imperative at some point.

Bottom line: there is no substitute for American leadership.

• James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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