US Absolutely Slaughters ISIS Suicide Bombers Attacking Base In Iraq

Marines with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, reload their 240B machine gun at a support by fire-position during a company-sized attack on Range 401 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., July 26. The battalion is currently conducting the Integrated Training Exercise in preperation of their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan later this year. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ali Azimi/released)

Daily Caller, by Saagar Ejeti, Sept. 18, 2017:

The U.S. military killed several Islamic State suicide bombers that attempted to breach a base in Iraq Sunday, Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon told the Associated Press.

U.S. forces shot and killed two of the ISIS fighters, while the other two blew themselves up prematurely after they realized they could no longer advance. The attack occurred near the city of Hawija where the U.S. backed Iraqi Security Forces are preparing to advance on one of the terrorist group’s last strongholds in the country.

Direct ISIS attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria are relatively rare, with airstrikes or allied fighters killing militants long before they can get close. The terrorist group will, however, likely adjust its tactics in the future as it loses significant territory in Iraq and Syria, trying more last ditch attacks on U.S. troops and committing flagrant acts of terror.

This tactic was on full display Thursday when the group dispatched a team of terrorists to kill nearly 80 Shiite pilgrims at a restaurant in southern Iraq. The attack was a well-planned, multi-prong suicide attack which involved guns and suicide bombs to first breach a checkpoint.

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Ruthless Iranian militia vows to turn against U.S. troops once Islamic State is defeated in Iraq

Photo by: Hadi Mizban
In a show of support, Iraqi Hezbollah scouts parade with a portrait of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran’s most violent proxy militia in Iraq has vowed to start killing Americans again once the Islamic State is expelled. (Associated Press/File)

Washington Times, by Rowan Scarborough, Sept. 7, 2017:

The U.S. military is keeping a wary eye on Iran’s most violent proxy militia in Iraq, which has vowed to start killing Americans again once the Islamic State is expelled.

With the Islamic State’s defeat in Iraq coming closer — the U.S. estimates that the once 25,000-strong terrorist group is down to a few thousand followers at most holding only pockets of resistance — the danger from the Hezbollah Brigades is fast approaching.

A commander in the Shiiite battalion, also known as Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and the largest and most ruthless Iranian-trained militia fighting in Iraq and Syria, warned Americans on Sunday that they must leave Iraq or face a new war, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.

Said the Fars headline, “Iraqi Popular Forces Warn to Target US Forces after Defeating ISIL Terrorists.”

Spokesman Jafar al-Hosseini issued a similar threat in March. His scripted messages on Beirut’s al-Mayadeen Arab-language TV station suggest the militia is not bluffing and is preparing for that day.

A military official told The Washington Times that the U.S. has plans to counter KH if it begins attacking Americans.

“Regarding the sense of Iranian malign influence, we’re trying alert NATO, the coalition, the State Department, the U.N. and the Gulf countries,” the military official said. “It’s a really big question. We’re very aware of it. We’re watching the move to post-ISIS. What the Iranians are saying is of significant concern.”

The Hezbollah Brigades of 5,000 fighters already has American blood on its hands.

Tehran organized the group in 2007 via its Quds Force, an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to target American troops in Iraq.

Quds operatives schooled the Shiites in building improvised explosive devices and rocket systems that ultimately killed about 500 U.S. personnel, the Pentagon reported.

Analysts say Iran’s broader goal is not just the defeat of the Salafist Sunni Islamic State in Iraq but also to spread a crescent of Shiite hegemony across IraqSyria and Lebanon. Tehran finances and equips the powerful Lebanese Hezbollah.

The 2015 nuclear deal with the Obama administration provided Tehran with billions of dollars to increase the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps budget and pay various militias, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Standing in the way is the U.S. military, which wants to maintain some force presence in Iraq and nurture a more independent Baghdad not controlled by Tehran.

“With the Iranians, clearly the goal is a pathway all the way to Lebanese Hezbollah,” the military official said.

This is why scholars such as Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute say that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “has a history of saying what it means, no matter how inconvenient that might be for the wishful thinking in which so many in Washington and Europe engage.”

He added, “Iranian leaders aren’t willing to let U.S. forces stick around. They see U.S. commitment as weak, especially on the homefront, and they believe that so long as they use proxies, they can enjoy plausible deniability. After three decades of not being held to account for their actions, the Revolutionary Guards has grown cocky.”

The military official said the U.S.-led coalition’s downing of an armed drone in Syria in June shows how closely it watches Iran’s proxies. U.S. Central Command described the drone’s operators as “pro-regime.”

“Our actions speak for ourselves,” the U.S. source said. “We’ve shown that if they come even close to threatening any position, we’re going to take action in self-defense. We absolutely take it seriously.”

The official said U.S. commanders talk to the Russians about the Shiite militia activities because Russian officials “talk to people we don’t talk to.”

There is a big difference in the Iraq battlefield from what it was in 2007 and 2008. At the peak of the troop surge, over 157,000 Americans fought in Iraq, primarily against a Sunni insurgency, al Qaeda in Iraq.

Today, only about 5,000 U.S. military personnel are inside Iraq. As trainers and advisers, they maintain an arm’s length from ground combat.

“We really changed our strategy,” the official said. “The good news is there is not a lot of force presence to be targeted for that sort of thing. That makes it a little less complicated for us.”

If the Hezbollah Brigades turns from being an odd U.S. ally against the Islamic State to a direct foe, then American troops will be facing an organization so dangerous that the Obama administration added it to the official list of terrorist groups.

“Kata’ib Hezbollah is one of the biggest and most vicious and dangerous Iraqi militia and terror groups,” said Shahin Gobadi, spokesman for the Iran opposition organization People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK).

“It was one of the main Iraqi militia groups that the Quds Force dispatched to Syria to assist the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in massacring the Syrian people,” he said. “At some points, up to 2,000 of Kata’ib Hezbollah forces were sent to Syria to help Assad.”

A report by the bipartisan Counter Extremism Project states, “KH earned a reputation for planting deadly roadside bombs and using improvised rocket-assisted mortars (IRAMs) to attack U.S. and coalition forces.

“According to U.S. diplomat Ali Khedery, KH is responsible for ‘some of the most lethal attacks against U.S. and coalition forces throughout [the war.] The group is suspected of involvement in extrajudicial killings and abductions in Iraq’s Anbar province, including the May 27, 2016, abduction of more than 70 Sunni boys and men from al-Sijir, and the murder of 49 men from Saqlawiyah,” the project’s report stated.

The State Department

In June 2009, the State Department put the Hezbollah Brigades on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations list, calling the group “an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology that has conducted attacks against Iraqi, U.S. and coalition targets in Iraq.”

“KH has ideological ties to Lebanese [Hezbollah] and may have received support from that group. KH gained notoriety in 2007 with attacks on U.S. and coalition forces designed to undermine the establishment of a democratic, viable Iraqi state. KH has been responsible for numerous violent terrorist attacks since 2007, including improvised explosive device bombings, rocket propelled grenade attacks and sniper operations. In addition, KH has threatened the lives of Iraqi politicians and civilians that support the legitimate political process in Iraq,” the State Department wrote.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who commanded troops in Iraq, said American diplomacy post-Islamic State must persuade the Iraqi government to blunt KH’s anti-American messaging in the country and make U.S. troop security a top priority.

Part of KH’s propaganda war via Iranian media is to tell Shiites falsely that the U.S. created the Islamic State and is helping it on the battlefield.

Mr. Dubik, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, questioned whether the Trump administration is planning for a new Iraq.

“Reading between the public statements does not lead me to conclude we have a strategy beyond ‘eject ISIS,’” he said.

He said one important agreement would be to have U.S. intelligence and special operations forces working closely with Iraq’s counterterrorism squads to track Iran’s militias.

Washington must also issue a clear warning to Tehran, Mr. Dubik said, one that would “make clear our intent to expose their nefarious actions, something that at times we refused to do, and to protect our own forces.”

The Washington Times asked the joint Iraq task force if it had plans to deal with Iran-backed militias once the Islamic State is defeated, but the statement declined to specify.

“Force protection is a critical element of coalition operations. However, in order to ensure operational security, force protection and tactical surprise, we do not confirm or deny information about capabilities, force numbers, locations, or intent for future operations, in or out of Iraq and Syria. Forces are always prepared to act in self-defense and plan accordingly,” the command said.

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’

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