Pakistan: Friend or Foe in the Fight Against Terrorism?

The black-and-white banner of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the front group for the Lashkar-e-Taiba, is prevalent at an anti-US rally in Lahore in December 2011. AP photo.

The black-and-white banner of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the front group for the Lashkar-e-Taiba, is prevalent at an anti-US rally in Lahore in December 2011. AP photo.

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, July 12, 2016:

Editor’s note: Below is Bill Roggio’s testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. A PDF of the testimony, with footnotes, can be downloaded here.

Chairman Poe and Chairman Salmon, Ranking Members Keating and Sherman, and other members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me here today to speak about Pakistan and its support for terrorist groups that threaten the security of the United States and its allies.

This Committee rightly asks the question of whether Pakistan is a friend or foe in the fight against terrorism. While Pakistani officials and forces have assisted the U.S. in hunting senior al Qaeda figures at times, Pakistan’s overall strategy is pro-jihadist and therefore puts it in the foe category. Pakistan does battle some terrorist groups within its borders, but it only does so because these groups pose a direct threat to the state.

Pakistan myopically supports a host of terrorist groups in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India to further its goals in the region. Pakistan backs these groups despite the fact that they are allied with and aid the very terrorist groups that fight the Pakistani state. In addition, many of the jihadist groups sponsored by Pakistan are allied with al Qaeda.

Today I will highlight six major groups directly supported or tolerated by Pakistan’s establishment: the Afghan Taliban and its subgroup, the Haqqani Network; the Mullah Nazir Group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Each of these groups is used by Pakistan as an instrument of its foreign policy. These six groups are by no means the only terrorist organizations supported by Pakistan, they are merely the most prominent.

Pakistan uses these six groups and others as a counterweight against what its policy makers perceive to be Pakistan’s greatest threat: India. However, the jihadist ideology has also spread throughout Pakistan as a result of policies adopted by the country’s military elite. Therefore, we should not underestimate the degree to which these groups are supported for ideological reasons.

Pakistan, a country of 182 million people, does not possess the manpower to counter India, a nation of 1.25 billion. Pakistan and India have been in a virtual state of war since Partition in 1947. The two countries have fought four active wars in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999. Each of these wars was initiated by Pakistan, and ended in defeats. Pakistani strategists have determined that to counter India, it must use unconventional means, including supporting jihadist groups.

Strategic Depth

To compensate for its inability to achieve victory on conventional battlefields against India, Pakistan implemented its own version of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Pakistan has supported groups in Afghanistan in order to deny India influence in its backyard, as well as to allow the nation to serve as a fallback in case of an Indian invasion.

Pakistan capitalized on the chaos in Afghanistan post-Soviet withdrawal and hunted for a group that would serve its purposes. With the rise of Mullah Omar’s Taliban faction in the early 1990s, Pakistan military and intelligence officers assigned to implement strategic depth saw the perfect partner: a powerful jihadist political movement that was gaining popularity throughout the country and was capable of sustaining military advances. Pakistan provided military and financial support to Omar’s faction, which successfully established the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban in 1996 and controlled upwards of 90 percent of the country until the US invasion in 2001.

In addition to securing a friendly government in Afghanistan, Pakistan used the country as both a training and a recruiting ground for a host of jihadist groups that fight in India-occupied Kashmir.

Good vs Bad Taliban

In order to justify its policy of support to jihadist groups, Pakistani elites have attempted to distinguish between what are referred to as “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban.” Simply stated, the so-called “good Taliban” are groups that advance Pakistan’s foreign policy goals and do not threaten the state or wage war within its borders. “Good Taliban” and other groups deemed acceptable by the Pakistani establishment include the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, the Mullah Nazir Group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. These groups conduct numerous heinous acts of terrorism in the region, and are directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and civilians, and yet are supported by the Pakistani state.

“Bad Taliban” are any jihadist faction that challenges the primacy of the Pakistani state. These groups include the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, and the weakened Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The Pakistani military has pursued these groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with some success. However, when targeting these groups, the military has avoided pursuing groups such as the Haqqani Network, which provided shelter and support for the “bad Taliban.”

Pakistani officials have denied that it pursues a policy of strategic depth and differentiates between “good and bad Taliban”, or alternatively, have claimed it will no longer differentiate between the two. However, these claims are false. This is demonstrated in Pakistan’s continuing support for the aforementioned groups and others, as well as an unwillingness to round up leaders and key operatives of these groups.

Read more

***

JOINT SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING: PAKISTAN: FRIEND OR FOE IN THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM?

Osama bin Laden’s son says al Qaeda has grown despite 15 years of war

Screen-Shot-2016-07-09-at-2.25.44-PMLong War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, July 10, 2016:

In a newly released audio message, Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza says that the number of “mujahideen” around the globe has grown despite a decade and a half of war. Hamza also threatens revenge for the death of his father, claiming that America has not yet witnessed al Qaeda’s retaliation.

Hamza’s speech was released yesterday by al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, As Sahab. It is the latest speech by Osama’s heir, who was given a starring role in al Qaeda’s productions last August.

The SITE Intelligence Group translated the 21 minute, 40 second audio, which is accompanied by images of various jihadists.

The message is titled, “We Are All Osama.” The same phrase was chanted during the al Qaeda-inspired protests at American diplomatic establishments in Cairo, Tunis, Sanaa, and elsewhere in September 2012. The cover of the tenth issue of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire magazine focused on this theme, celebrating the US Embassy protests and assaults. Footage from these rallies was also included in Hamza’s first official al Qaeda message last year.

At the beginning of the 9/11 wars, Hamza says, the “mujahideen were besieged in Afghanistan.” But today the “mujahideen are in Afghanistan and they have reached Sham [Syria], Palestine, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, Somalia, the Indian Subcontinent, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, and Central Africa.” With the possible exception of Iraq, al Qaeda’s official branches and affiliated groups have a presence in each of the areas listed by Hamza.

“The followers of the thought of Sheikh Osama, may Allah have mercy on him, which is represented by targeting the head of global disbelief that supports the Jews, have increased in number within a decade and a half, and became double in number,” Hamza claims, according to SITE’s translation. Osama bin Laden’s “followers today number in the hundreds of thousands, and his loved ones and supporters number in the millions, and that is due to the grace of Allah the Almighty.”

Hamza says he discussed the US drone campaign in northern Pakistan with Abu Yahya al Libi, a senior al Qaeda official who was killed in an airstrike in June 2012. The increase in the “Crusader American drone strikes” in Waziristan resulted in “convoys of martyrs departing one by one, and the killing of the sheikhs of jihad became rampant,” Hamza laments. But Libi reassured Hamza that this was the path al Qaeda had chosen, with its leaders sacrificing themselves so that their “nation” (meaning the ummah, or worldwide community of Muslims) may live.

Hamza describes his father as the “Reviver Imam.” Al Qaeda regularly uses this honorific and its variants, including the “Reviving Sheikh,” to describe Osama bin Laden. The title is intended to mean that bin Laden helped reinvigorate the idea of jihad within Muslim-majority countries.

“It was possible for the Reviver Imam, may Allah have mercy on him, to live a comfortable life, enjoying his fortune and wealth that reached millions of dollars,” Hamza says of his father, according to SITE. “But he and his companions preferred to have what is available within Allah in the hereafter. They preferred to defend the religion and support the vulnerable, especially our people in Palestine.”

Al Qaeda often tries to tie its agenda to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in realty the group has devoted only a small part of its resources to the Palestinian cause.

Hamza directly threatens retaliation against the US for the May 2011 raid on his father’s compound in Pakistan. “If you think that your sinful crime that you committed in Abbottabad has passed without punishment, then you thought wrong,” Hamza claims. “What is correct is coming to you, and its punishment is severe.” He then qualifies his threat, saying “it is not revenge for Osama the person,” but “revenge for those who defended Islam and its sanctities and honor” and “for whoever revived jihad in the cause of Allah.”

Osama’s son taunts President Obama and his administration, claiming that Obama’s “arrival was accompanied with a huge media campaign, but it was hollow, containing many lies.” Obama “declared that he will end the wars, and that his era is an era of peace, and that he will close the open files that his predecessor left for him,” meaning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other issues. But Obama “is now leaving the White House and also leaving open files for his successor,” Hamza says, because he was “incapable” of solving them and “because the force of the mujahideen stands before him.”

Images of various jihadists are shown throughout Hamza’s speech. Many of them are portrayed as “martyrs,” such as Abdullah Azzam (widely considered the godfather of modern jihadism), Abu Khalid al Suri (a veteran al Qaeda operative who doubled as a senior official in Ahrar al Sham until his death in 2014), Mullah Omar, and others. The photo of Abu Khalid al Suri can be seen in the upper right hand corner of the screen shot at the beginning of this article.

Screen-Shot-2016-07-09-at-2.18.27-PM-768x843But some of the images are of jihadists who are presumably alive. One of them is Fayez al Kandari, whose picture is sandwiched between two photos of Osama bin Laden. A screen shot of Kandari’s image, as included in al Qaeda’s video, can be seen on the right.

Kandari is an ex-Guantanamo detainee who was held at the American detention facility in Cuba until January 2016, when he was transferred to his home country of Kuwait. [See LWJreport, ‘High risk’ Guantanamo detainee transferred to Kuwait.]

Another jihadist who is alive and shown in the video is Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (also known as the “Blind Sheikh”), who is imprisoned in the US for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a follow-on plot against New York City landmarks. As Sahab’s production begins with an old clip of Rahman reciting a verse from the Quran. Al Qaeda regularly agitates for Rahman’s release, as he was one of Osama bin Laden’s earliest and most influential ideological backers.

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

***

State notes ‘severely degraded’ al Qaeda operated large training camp in Afghanistan

Qaeda-training-camp-e1444748558794Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, June 6, 2016:

The US government continues to underestimate al Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US Department of State noted that a “severely degraded” al Qaeda was able to operate “a large training camp” inside Afghanistan, one of three that were known to be in operation inside the terrorist hotbed over the past year.

State noted the al Qaeda camp and and a secondary facility, plus the raid to destroy them in Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, which was released last week.

“While al Qaeda (AQ) has been severely degraded in the region, its regional affiliate, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), continued to operate in Afghanistan,” State reported. “Notably, AQIS members were active at a large training camp in a remote area of Kandahar Province. On October 11, U.S. and Afghan forces conducted a coordinated joint operation that successfully destroyed the AQIS training camp and a related facility, and killed dozens of AQ-linked trainees.”

The camps that State referred to were located in the Shorabak district in Kandahar. In October 2015, a large US military strike force took four days to clear two al Qaeda camps in Shorabak. One camp covered over 30 square miles, and included large caches of weapons, ammunition, and other supplies. An al Qaeda media cell was also based there. [See LWJ reports, US military strikes large al Qaeda training camps in southern Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda’s Kandahar training camp ‘probably the largest’ in Afghan War.]

After the Shorabak raid, General John Campbell, then the commander of Resolute Support, noted that US military and intelligence officials were surprised that the camp even existed.

“It’s a place where you would probably think you wouldn’t have AQ [al Qaeda]. I would agree with that,” Campbell said, according to The Washington Post. “This was really AQIS [al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent], and probably the largest training camp-type facility that we have seen in 14 years of war.”

Al Qaeda has not been “severely degraded in the region”

State’s insistence that al Qaeda has been “severely degraded in the region” is at odds with recent evidence from Afghanistan and Pakistan. For more than six years, The Long War Journal has warned that official estimates of al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan are inaccurate. The jihadist group remains a significant threat to this day and bonds between al Qaeda and the Taliban remain strong.

The US military has targeted at least three known al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in the past year. Evidence used to target the Shorabak camp was obtained during a raid on another al Qaeda camp in Paktika province in July 2015. Abu Khalil al Sudani, one of al Qaeda’s most senior figures, is thought to have been killed during that raid. Al Qaeda clearly assessed the situation in Paktika as being safe enough to place one of their top leaders there.

The US raided another al Qaeda facility in Afghanistan this year. On May 9, US special operations forces rescued Ali Haider Gilani, the son of Pakistan’s former prime minister, during a raid against an al Qaeda safe house in Paktika province. Gilani was held by al Qaeda for more than three years.

Additionally, Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, was forced to admit that previous long-held estimates on al Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan, were wrong. Since 2010, US officials have claimed that al Qaeda has been “decimated” in Afghanistan and has maintained a consistent minimal presence of 50 to 100 operatives. In April, Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, the top spokesman for Resolute Support, told The Washington Post that al Qaeda has forged close ties to the Taliban and is resurgent in the country.

Additionally, Buchanan told CNN that al Qaeda may have upwards of 300 operatives in the country, “but that number does include other facilitators and sympathizers in their network.” [See LWJ report, US military admits al Qaeda is stronger in Afghanistan than previously estimated.]

Buchanan said the military was forced to revise the estimate upward after the Shorabak raid, where more that 150 al Qaeda were at a single location.

“If you go back to last year, there were a lot of intel estimates that said within Afghanistan al Qaeda probably has 50 to 100 members, but in this one camp we found more than 150,” Buchanan told CNN.

In addition to al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan, the group has a significant base in Pakistan, and not just the tribal areas where the group is always assumed to operate. Last week, The Washington Post published a disturbing report on al Qaeda’s growing presence in Karachi, Pakistan. Hundreds if not thousands of al Qaeda operatives and recruits are thought to be operating in that Pakistani city.

al qaeda in pak

“Counterterrorism officials in Karachi have a list of several hundred active al Qaeda members, which makes them assume there are at least a few thousand on the streets,” the Post reported. “In Karachi, AQIS has divided itself into three operational segments — recruitment, financial and tactical — made up of four-to-six-person cells. The recruitment cells work in madrassas and schools, casually preaching Islam before targeting certain students for potential recruitment, officials said.”

Al Qaeda is executing its strategy of incorporating elements from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Harakat-ul-Muhajideen, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Brigade 313, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Indian Mujahideen, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, Junood al Fida, and other groups based in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. This vision was outlined by Ayman al Zawahiri in September 2014, after he announced the formation of AQIS. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent incorporates regional jihadist groups.]

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

Secret Cables Link Pakistan Intel Org to Deadly Attack on CIA

Jennifer Ehle plays Jennifer Lynne Matthew in the film Zero Dark Thirty about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, head of Al Qaeda.Matthews, a mother of three was described as “one of the CIA’s top experts on al-Qaeda.” She was head of Camp Chapman and killed in the attack on the base.

Jennifer Ehle plays Jennifer Lynne Matthew in the film Zero Dark Thirty about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, head of Al Qaeda.Matthews, a mother of three was described as “one of the CIA’s top experts on al-Qaeda.” She was head of Camp Chapman and killed in the attack on the base.

Clarion Project, April 17, 2016:

Pakistan’s intelligence agency paid a Taliban-affiliated terror group in Afghanistan to perpetrate one of the deadliest attacks on the CIA in the agency’s history, according to inferences made in recently-declassified U.S. government cables and documents.

On December 30, 2009, a Jordanian suicide bomber blew himself up in Camp Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, located near the border with Pakistan, killing seven CIA employees. The bomber, a Jordanian doctor and double agent, tricked the Americans, telling them he would lead them to Ayman al-Zawahri, now head of al-Qaeda and, at the time, second in command.

A document dated January 11, 2010 , issued less than two weeks after the bombing, reports how the head of the Haqqani network, a Taliban-allied organization designed as terrorist by the U.S., met twice with senior officials of Pakistan’s intelligence agency (the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI) the month of the bombing.

During the first meeting, funding for “operations in Khowst [Khost] province” were discussed. “Funds were later provided to tribal elders in Khowst province for their support of the Haqqani network,” according to the cable.

At the second meeting, ISI officials gave “direction to the Haqqanis to expedite attack preparations and lethality in Afghanistan.”

Although heavily redacted, a cable issued the following month specified the head of the Haqqani network as well as another individual were given $200,000 “to enable the attack on Chapman.” The cable specifically mentions a number of individuals involved in the operation, including an Afghan border commander who was given money “to enable a suicide mission by an unnamed Jordanian national.”

The Jordanian mentioned is assumed to be the suicide bomber, Humam al-Balawi, whom the CIA had cultivated as an al-Qaeda informant. Codenamed “Wolf,” al-Balawi turned out to be a double agent, perpetrating the deadliest attack against the CIA in the 15-year history of the war in Afghanistan.

Although each document states, “This is an information report not finally evaluated intelligence,” Admiral  Mike Mullen (former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) terms the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The U.S. has long-documented the connection between the ISI and the Haqqani terrorist organization.

The documents were the first public disclosure connecting the attack on Camp Chapman to the Pakistani ISI. They were released in connection with a Freedom of Information Act request. The U.S. had previously blamed al-Qaeda for the attack.

Taliban kills dozens in suicide assault in Kabul

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, April 19, 2016:

The Taliban targeted a unit responsible for providing security for Afghan officials in a coordinated suicide assault in the Afghan capital today. The Taliban claimed credit for the deadly attack, in which at least 28 people were killed and more that 300 were wounded, according to reports on the ground.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack on its official propaganda outlet, Voice of Jihad, and said it was part of Operation Omari, the 2016 spring offensive named after Mullah Omar, its founder and first emir. The Taliban reported a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle at the gate, which allowed armed fighters to breach the compound. This is a tactic that has been effectively employed by the Taliban and other jihadist groups throughout the world over the past decade.

“Amid the ongoing ‘Omari’ annual campaign at around 09:00 am local time this morning, a martyrdom seeking unit of Islamic Emirate launched a heavy attack on 10th directorate intelligence building located in PD1 of Kabul city,” the statement said. “The operation began when a martyrdom seeker detonated his explosives laden vehicle at the gate of the building, removing all barriers and killing the guards followed by a number of other martyrdom seekers rushing inside and engaging the remaining enemy targets.”

The Taliban’s account was substantiated by press reporting from Afghanistan. According to TOLONews, the compound that was attacked belonged to a “Secret Service Unit tasked with protecting VIPs.” Afghan officials said the attack began when a suicide bomber detonated at the gate, and one or more Taliban fighters then penetrated the perimeter and began firing on the survivors inside the compound. At least 28 people were killed and 327 more were wounded, according to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.

The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan claimed that the attack was proof that the Taliban were unable to fight Afghan forces face to face “on the battlefield.”

“Today’s attack shows the insurgents are unable to meet Afghan forces on the battlefield and must resort to these terrorist attacks,” General John Nicholson, the commander of Resolute Support, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, said in an email sent to The Long War Journal. “We strongly condemn the actions of Afghanistan’s enemies and remain firmly committed to supporting our Afghan partners and the National Unity Government.”

However, the Taliban are openly engaging Afghan forces on the battlefield on multiple fronts throughout Afghanistan. In the south, the Taliban controls nearly half of Helmand province and has pressured Afghan forces to retreat from key district there. The provincial capital of Lashkar Gah is under siege. In the north, the Taliban launched a coordinated offensive in all seven districts of Kunduz just after announcing the commencement of Operation Omar last week. The Taliban are also fighting in the open in multiple provinces in the east and west.

The Long War Journal estimates that the Taliban controls or hotly contests more than 80 of Afghanistan 400 plus districts.

Today’s attack in Kabul is the largest of its kind since Aug. 7-8, 2015, when the Taliban launched two suicide bombers and a suicide assault over the course of 24 hours. Forty-four people, including 20 Afghan police recruits, 15 Afghan civilians, eight US-contracted Afghan personnel, and a US Army Green Beret were killed when the Taliban targeted a police academy, a US Special Forces base, and a residential district. [See LWJ report, Taliban continues terror attacks in Afghan capital.]

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

***

Also  see:

We Spent Billions Training Afghan Soldiers. Now They’re Defecting To The Taliban.

taliban_fighters_ap

Washington Times, by Joshua Yasmeh, April  12, 2016:

Scores of US-trained Afghan soldiers have deserted their posts and joined the Taliban, according to an exclusive report by CNN Senior International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh.

Understaffed and under resourced, the Afghan military is finding it difficult to retain troops. “Death is not the only reason the Afghan army is losing troops: Desertion is rife within the ranks,” explains Walsh.

As the Taliban makes headway and regains territory in southern Afghanistan, an unstable  government in Kabul continues to lose ground. “The Taliban control or influence as much as 20% of Afghanistan, its highest levels of control since 2001,” notes CNN. Despite abstract assurances by the White House, Afghanistan is falling.

While the Taliban’s aims are grounded in political Islam, many Afghan soldiers are defecting for practical reasons. Walsh reports:

CNN met two deserters in Helmand whose stories show the breadth of the problem, who have taken their skills — months of U.S. taxpayer-funded training — to the Taliban.

“I did 18 months of army training and took an oath to serve this country,” one deserter said. “But the situation changed. The army let us down, so we had to come to the Taliban, who treat us like guests.”

The two men still had their old uniforms, army IDs, and even the bank cards they used to withdraw their official wages.

“I decided to leave the army when my dead and injured comrades lay in our base, and nobody took them to hospital. My army training is very useful now, as I am training Taliban fighters with the same knowledge.”

Here’s Walsh’s full report:

Perhaps it’s cowardice. Or maybe it’s a simple cost-benefit decision based on rational self-interests and the sheer impulse to survive. Without a stable US military presence on the ground, Afghan soldiers have been dropping like flies. 2015 may have been the worst year since the beginning of the US invasion.  Consider this: According to CNN, “U.S. officials estimate that 5,500 Afghan security force members died that year alone, far more than the 3,500 NATO lost in its entire decade long campaign. And 2016 may be much worse.”

“Afghanistan is at an inflection point; 2016 may be “no better and possibly worse than 2015,” stated America’s top commander in the country, Army Gen. John Campbell. “Now, more than ever, the United States should not waver in Afghanistan.” Campbell added: “Afghanistan has not achieved an enduring level of security and stability that justifies a reduction of our support in 2016.”

“Close air support has been the one resource and capability that the Afghans have asked me for every single day,” asserted the US commander. “Those who serve in Afghanistan understand it’s worth the investment.”

The Afghan army needs close US support. In December General Campbell confessed that ISIS had infiltrated Afghanistan posing a major threat to troops and allies on the ground. “There could be 3,000 or 4,000 or 5,000 ISIS men who are now trying to consolidate links to their ‘mothership’ in Iraq and Syria,”reports Independent. “ISIS wants to establish its pre-Afghan ‘Khorasan Province’ in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.”

Unfortunately, President Obama and his amateur national security team have made a habit of ignoring our military tacticians. As the region devolved into anarchy and social strife, Obama shifted his Afghanistan policy several times. In October, President Obama announced his plan to leave nearly 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan until early 2017. The plan will maintain the current levels of armed forces until shortly after the end of Obama’s presidency, kicking the can down the road for the next president.

Thanks to President Obama’s politically expedient decision to prematurely label combat operations in Afghanistan over, more Afghans are dying. Soldiers are defecting. And the government in Kabul is losing territory faster than it ever has. Obama’s reckless and abrupt end-all-wars campaign has cost countless lives. Since we are technically not at war, the US military operators have to abide by very narrow rules of engagement.

The rise of ISIS in Afghanistan places President Obama’s schizophrenic (anti)war strategy in stark relief. The latest developments in the war-torn terrorist hotbed directly undermine the administration’s narrative of a stabilized Afghanistan. This president ran as the anti-Bush pacifist, an agent of change that would end all wars. Instead, Obama’s reign as president has wrought nothing but bloodshed in a region mired in geopolitical instability.

Also see:

Sesame Street unveils Afghan puppet to empower girls amid Muslim rape epidemic

Sesame Street introduced a new character: Zari, an Afghan girl, to promote female empowerment in a Muslim nation where women's rights are almost nonexistent. The rollout occurs as a Muslim rape epidemic sweeps across Europe.

Sesame Street introduced a new character: Zari, an Afghan girl, to promote female empowerment in a Muslim nation where women’s rights are almost nonexistent. The rollout occurs as a Muslim rape epidemic sweeps across Europe.

The Examiner, by Samantha Chang, April 8, 2016:

Sesame Street has unveiled a new puppet, an Afghan girl named Zari, to empower girls in an oppressive Muslim nation where women’s rights are almost nonexistent.

Zari, age 6, will be featured in Sesame Street segments about health and exercise as she aspires to become a doctor. The Afghan version of Sesame Street, called “Baghch-e-Simsim” (Sesame Garden), is the most popular children’s TV show in Afghanistan.

Sesame Street executives say they hope Zari will open people’s minds about the importance of encouraging schooling for girls in a country where many women are excluded from education.

“Debuting a confident, inquisitive, and sweet Afghan girl character is a perfect opportunity to engage both boys and girls with lessons supporting girls’ empowerment,” Sesame Street executive VP Sherrie Westin said in a press release.

Zari will wear a hijab (the traditional Muslim headscarf) during some segments, and casual clothes in others. In reality, Zari could be beaten or killed for not wearing a headscarf at all times, so Sesame Street is taking some creative license with this move.

***

Robert Spencer comments,

This puppet is apparently intended for the Afghan version of Sesame Street, “Baghch-e-Simsim,” and thus represents yet another naive and well-intentioned but foredoomed effort to improve the situation of women there. The plight of women in Afghanistan stems from Islam, and so isn’t going to be changed by a TV show. And if Zari is introduced on the U.S. version of Sesame Street, she will without any doubt direct her energies to dispelling “Islamophobia.”

***

Also see:

Brutal: Former Defense Secretaries Openly Slam ‘Inexperienced’ Obama White House War Micromanagement

5699848b-6d26-40e9-b268-19c52d61e1f9

Town Hall, by Katie Pavlich, Apr 07, 2016:

For years the Obama administration has been accused of micromanaging the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from inside the White House. Now in an astonishing report from Fox News anchor Bret Baier, three former Obama Defense Secretaries are openly slamming him for his distrust of the military, his failure to lead and they’re exposing his inexperienced and closest advisors for second guessing senior field commanders with phone calls to the battlefield.

“President Obama, he’s one of the youngest presidents we’ve ever had. One of the most inexperienced presidents we’ve ever had. He has a staff around him that is very inexperienced. I don’t think there’s one veteran on his senior staff at the White House. I don’t believe there’s one business person. I don’t believe there is one person who’s ever run anything. Other than Vice President Biden, none of them have ever been elected to anything. You must levin the loaf, levin your advisors where you get a lot of experience at difference things where he, the President himself, is so inexperienced,” Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. “I think he’s got to fundamentally understand and I’m not sure he ever did nor people around him, the tremendous responsibility the United States has. Not to be the world’s policemen, but to lead and we’re the only ones who can. The world becomes more dangerous, not less dangerous, when America gets less involved in the world. I don’t mean invading and occupying and imposing, but leading.”

“It was the operational micromanagement that drove me nuts of White House and NSC (National Security Council) staffers calling senior commanders out in the field and asking them questions, second guessing commanders,” Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also served under President Bush, said. “When I I was Deputy National Security Advisor, if I would have tried to, even as deputy, if I had tried to call a field commander, going around Dick Cheney who was Secretary of Defense or Colin Powell who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I’d have had my head handed to me, probably personally by the President.”

“I told the combatant commanders and the field commanders, ‘If you get calls from the White House staff, if you get a call from the President that’s one thing, that’s totally okay, that’s the chain of command, but you get a call from some White House or National Security Council staffer, you tell them to call me instead and then tell them, oh by the way, go to hell and that’s directly from the Secretary of Defense,” Gates continued.

“I think what I’ve seen in these last four years is almost this cautiousness and over correction which makes it appear that the United States is hesitant to take action and that sends, I think, a message of weakness,” Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

As if inexperienced White House advisors micromanaging the battlefield wasn’t bad enough, late last year we learned from an exclusive in the Daily Beast intelligence reports were being scrubbed to fit the political narrative that terrorism around the world, including ISIS, was shrinking.

More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials, The Daily Beast has learned.

The complaints spurred the Pentagon’s inspector general to open an investigation into the alleged manipulation of intelligence. The fact that so many people complained suggests there are deep-rooted, systemic problems in how the U.S. military command charged with the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State assesses intelligence.

“The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one defense official said.

Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the analysts claim.

It should be noted that second guessing field commanders had severe and serious consequences in Afghanistan with 70 percent of U.S. troop casualties there occurring during President Obama’s time in the White House.

***

Fox News Insider, 3/31/16

When Barack Obama took office, he inherited a professional, world-class, battle-toughened military. Seven years later, many experts and insiders see the U.S. armed forces as a tattered and demoralized organization.

Bret Baier looks at the hundreds of billions in cuts, the radical social change forced upon the troops and a foreign policy that breaks with decades of tradition and leaves us in a world more dangerous than ever.

The hour-long program includes interviews with Obama’s first three Secretaries of Defense – Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel – as well as numerous people on the ground, who work to keep America’s fighting forces battle ready.

Gates weighed in on Obama’s decision-making on the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The president ultimately pushed for Mubarak’s immediate removal, despite the military urging caution.

“Literally, the entire national security team recommended unanimously handling Mubarak differently than we did,” Gates said.

During the Libya uprising in 2011, Gates said he had reservations about information on military options going to the White House without his approval.

“You had concerns about that – running military operations out of the White House,” Baier noted.

“Yeah. The experience we had with that in Vietnam didn’t work so well,” Gates responded.

 

‘The target was Christians,’ Pakistani Taliban says of Lahore Easter attack

56f8fde8ad768Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, March 28, 2016:

The spokesman for a faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan said that the group intentionally targeted Christians in a suicide bombing which killed and wounded hundreds of women and children on Easter Sunday.

“The target was Christians,” Ihsanullah Ihsan, the official spokesman of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, said according to a statement obtained by The Long War Journal.

Ihsan also said that Jamaat-ul-Ahrar wanted to “send a message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore.” The group has been operating in Punjab province for nearly two years.

At least 72 people, mostly women and children, were killed and more than 300 were wounded after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance of the Gulshan-i-Iqbal park in the eastern city of Lahore, according to Dawn. Many of the people at the park were said to have been celebrating Easter Sunday.

The brutal Lahore suicide attack took place just one day after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name of the Afghan Taliban, released a statement entitled “Only Islamic rituals can be celebrated in an Islamic country” on its official website, Voice of Jihad. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has given an oath of allegiance to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has targeted Christians in Lahore in the past. In March 2015, the group claimed responsibility for the bombings at two churches in Lahore. At least 14 people were killed and 70 more were wounded.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar launched at least two other suicide attacks in Punjab. In November 2014, a suicide bomber killed 50 people at the Wagah border crossing with India. And in August 2015, another of the group’s suicide bombers killed Punjab province’s home minister and 16 other people in an attack at his house.

The Pakistani military responded to the Easter Sunday massacre in Lahore by announcing the beginning of a wide security operation in Punjab to root out Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. But, as noted, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has been active in the province and has conducted several high-profile suicide attacks there since November 2014.

A dangerous jihadist group

The leadership of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is known to have ties to multiple jihadist groups operating in the region. Omar Khalid al Khurasani, a top leader of the group, is closely linked to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s emir, and has called for the imposition of sharia law and the establishment of a global caliphate. Khurasani has also said that a primary goal of the Pakistani Taliban is to obtain nuclear weapons. [See LWJ reports, Taliban commander wants Pakistan’s nukes, global Islamic caliphate, and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar celebrates 9/11 attack.]

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar split from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in the summer of 2014 after a leadership dispute emerged in the wake of the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the previous emir of the Pakistani Taliban alliance. But Jamaat-ul-Ahrar rejoined the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in March 2015. Lashkar-e-Islam, a group based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, also joined the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is also known to have integrated key al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leaders into its organization. In May 2014, three jihadist groups – led by Matiur Rehman, Ehsanul Haq, and Muhammad Shamil – merged with the group. Matiur Rehman, who was put in command of all three factions, is a senior al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader. The US Treasury Department described Rehman as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s “chief operational commander” and as “a planning director for al Qaeda” in his 2010 designation.

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

Also see:

Bin Laden Willed His Fortune to Jihad, Worried His Wife’s Teeth Were Bugged

AP

AP

Breitbart, by John Hayward, March, 1, 2016:

Over a hundred documents seized in the 2011 special-forces raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan were released to the public on Tuesday, including a handwritten will. The al-Qaeda mastermind made some provisions for his family but wanted most of his $29 million fortune devoted to “jihad, for the sake of Allah.”

Canada’s Globe and Mail reports this document appears to have been composed in the late 1990s and covered money bin Laden had stashed in Sudan.

Two of bin Laden’s top al-Qaeda associates were to be rewarded with one percent of the $29 million apiece. He also “set down specific amounts in Saudi riyals and gold that should be apportioned between his mother, a son, a daughter, an uncle, and his uncle’s children and maternal aunts.”

He encouraged his family to spend his money on holy war.

“I hope for my brothers, sisters and maternal aunts to obey my will and to spend all the money that I have left in Sudan on jihad, for the sake of Allah,” bin Laden wrote.

The Globe and Mail notes another, much more recent, letter in which Osama bin Laden asked his “precious father” to care for his wife and children if he died.

“I entrust you well for my wife and children, and that you will always ask about them and follow up on their whereabouts and help them in their marriages and needs,” he wrote to his father in 2008, adding a plea for forgiveness “if I have done what you did not like.”

“If I am to be killed, pray for me a lot and give continuous charities in my name, as I will be in great need for support to reach the permanent home,” he wrote to his father in the same letter, according to the Associated Press.

The AP quotes another letter from bin Laden, addressed to “the Islamic community in general,” in which he praised jihad as a success following the 9/11 attack.

“Here we are in the tenth year of the war, and America and its allies are still chasing a mirage, lost at sea without a beach,” he wrote, evidently about a year before U.S. special forces raided his compound, shot him, and dumped his body at sea, far away from any beaches.

“They thought that the war would be easy and that they would accomplish their objectives in a few days or a few weeks, and they did not prepare for it financially, and there is no popular support that would enable it to carry on a war for a decade or more. The sons of Islam have opposed them and stood between them and their plans and objectives,” bin Laden continued.

In other letters, bin Laden said the U.S. was stuck in a quagmire in Afghanistan, much like the Soviet Union before it, and viewed the overthrow of dictator Moammar Qaddafi as a great opportunity for jihad in Libya.

In fact, he credited al-Qaeda with defeating Qaddafi, who bin Laden described as a “truly vile hallucinating individual who troubles us in front of the world.” As it turned out, bin Laden was right about post-Qaddafi Libya presenting great opportunities for jihad, thanks to Obama foreign policy, but it would be ISIS that exploited those opportunities, not their progenitors in al-Qaeda.

Despite the sunny outlook for jihad offered by bin Laden in many of these letters, Reutersnotes that other correspondence painted al-Qaeda’s fugitive leader as paranoid and under intense pressure.

He warned his lieutenants to look for tracking devices in everything from ransom payments to his wife’s teeth. He advised al-Qaeda operatives to remain indoors “except on a cloudy, overcast day” to evade U.S. surveillance satellites.

He also exhorted his subordinates to carry out massive terror attacks on American soil to follow up on 9/11, ignoring their protests that al-Qaeda lacked the capability to execute such missions. As one U.S. official put it, bin Laden was “somewhat out of touch with the actual capabilities of his organization.”

Long War Journal has more:

Islamic Refugees Riot Because Woman Refuses Hijab

refugee riotCounter Jihad, Feb. 26, 2016:

A riot between Iraqi, Afghan and Syrian refugees was sparked when a female migrant from Syria refused to wear a headscarf as required by the Islamist readings of sharia law.  The mass violence led to nearly a dozen arrests as camp furniture was turned into makeshift weapons by the sudden mobs.

The Daily Mail (UK) reports:

Footage of the fight at the migrant centre showed members of the two groups using everyday items against one another during the riot.  Theo Francken, secretary of State for asylum and migration, said: ‘I find it totally unacceptable that some young Afghans find it necessary to tell them to wear a headscarf and that they should not dress against western Syrian girls.  They come here, they are guests here. We are not with them. They have to adapt to our rules.’

Unfortunately, the violence highlights the risk of refugees from the Middle East as a vector for hardline Islamist attitudes and interpretations of sharia law.  Nor are the attacks likely to end with fellow refugees from Muslim-majority nations.  Though establishing control and enforcing sharia on that community is certainly the goal of radical factions, they are unlikely to be satisfied with that.  Such control over a sharia-compliant community can be used as a base from which to expand efforts to require submission from the rest of the population.

These attacks on the freedom of women do not require any formal infrastructure.  Attitudes towards women in the host nations, especially Afghanistan and the tribal or Shi’a Islamic regions of Iraq and Syria, are sufficient to provoke violence against women who do not submit to their norms.  This was most obviously seen during the recent attacks in Cologne, and indeed across Germany, against hundreds of women engaged in ordinary Christmas celebrations.

Though recent arrivals in the West, these attackers are somehow conscious of the protections extended to them by political correctness.  It is as if they have somehow been briefed on the limits police will face in trying to restrain Muslims:

The Muslim men used a tactic… well known to those of us who’ve followed the scant reports on the rape jihad as it has proceeded from Tahrir Square to Malmö to Rotherham: A group of men encircles the targeted woman or girl, trapping her while walling off police and other would-be rescuers. Knowing they are a protected class, the Muslim men have no fear of the cops — “You can’t do anything to me,” and “Mrs. Merkel invited me here,” are just some of the reported taunts. By the time “help” reaches one victim, the assailants have moved on to the next.

The question must be asked: has the fame of the Western fear of offending Islam flown so far, or are they in fact being briefed by someone? If the latter, who is telling them that they can prey on Western women and stand up to our police without fear?

Our governments must be made to understand we insist on police who will not back down to these assaults. The handcuffs should be on those raping and assaulting women, not on the police.

Pakistan is ‘very cooperative and very engaged in the fight against terrorism,’ Secretary Kerry tells Congress

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the FY2017 State Department Budget Request on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the FY2017 State Department Budget Request on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, Feb. 25, 2016:

US Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress that Pakistan’s government and military are “very cooperative and very engaged in the fight against terrorism” while Senator Bob Corker accused the country of “outright blatant duplicity” for supporting the Afghan Taliban.

Kerry and Corker squared off on Pakistan on Feb. 23 during a State Department budget request hearing. Corker challenged Kerry’s omission of Afghanistan in his opening statement, and then said he “witnessed that continued duplicity on Pakistan’s part” during a recent visit to Afghanistan.

“They [Pakistan] continue to support the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and give safe haven to al Qaeda,” Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, noted. He then objected to the US government’s recent approval of the sale of F-16 fighters and other equipment worth nearly $700 million to Pakistan. He claimed that “zero US taxpayer dollars will go to subsidize Pakistan’s purchase until such a time as they do the things that we know they could do to stop helping to destabilize Afghanistan.”

Kerry rose to Pakistan’s defense, and called the situation in the country “a very complicated mix.”

“The government itself, the military has been very cooperative and very engaged in the fight against terrorism,” Kerry stated, noting that Pakistani soldiers have been killed during military operations in the tribal areas.

Kerry then claimed that there are “entities that complicate our efforts very significantly,” without naming them. This is almost certainly a reference to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, which is more commonly known as the ISI. The ISI is known to support the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, (a Taliban subgroup), and a host of Pakistani jihadist groups allied with al Qaeda, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harakat-ul-Muhajideen.

While Kerry treats the ISI as an entity separate from the military and government, the ISI is actually part of Pakistan’s military. ISI directors have served as the Chief of Army Staff, the highest military rank in Pakistan, and arguably the most powerful person in Pakistan.

Kerry also claimed that the Pakistani military “drove the Haqqani Network into new locations” during its ongoing offensive in North Waziristan, known as Zarb-e Azb. While the Pakistani military has said the offensive in North Waziristan has targeted all jihadist groups based there, this is untrue. Zarb-e Azb has only focused on groups that actively oppose the government, such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. These organizations are often referred to as the “bad Taliban” as they do not take direction from the ISI and the military focus their efforts inside Afghanistan and India.

Organizations like the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group are called “good Taliban” as they do not attack the Pakistani state. However, these groups do support al Qaeda and the so-called “bad Taliban”.

The Pakistani military gave sufficient notice before the launch of Zarb-e Azb in June 2014 that allowed the Haqqanis and the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group to vacate North Waziristan. The Haqqani Network is known to have relocated to the neighboring tribal agency of Kurram. Not a single senior or mid-level Haqqani Network leader has been killed or captured during the 20 months of Pakistan military operations in North Waziristan.

Pakistan’s “long line of duplicity” in Afghanistan, as Corker concluded in his exchange with Kerry, continues to this day. This duplicity can be seen with the Pakistani state’s relationship with Siraj Haqqani, one of the Afghan Taliban’s two deputy emirs who is the operational commander of the Haqqani Network, and the Taliban’s Quetta Shura.

According to The New York Times‘ Carlotta Gal, Siraj “moves freely around Pakistan, and has even visited the Pakistani intelligence headquarters of the Afghan campaign in Rawalpindi.” Other Haqqani Network leaders are known to travel to the gulf to raise money for the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The leadership of the Afghan Taliban, which is based outside of the Pakistani city of Quetta and is known as the Quetta Shura, receives direct support from the ISI and the military. The Taliban openly recruits inside Pakistan and runs training camps and command and control centers throughout the country, but most prominently in the tribal areas and the provinces of Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Afghan Taliban is open about its relationship with al Qaeda, and in August 2015, the group accepted al Qaeda pledge of allegiance.

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

Also see:

US Intel Chief: Islamic Terror Threat Biggest in History

ISIS fighters

ISIS fighters

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Feb. 11, 2016:

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said February 9 the Sunni terrorist threat “has been on an upward trajectory since the late 1970s and has more groups, members and safe havens that at any other point in history.”

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart also testified and his assessment wasn’t rosier.

More than 36,500 foreign fighters have gone to Syria, including at least 6,000 from Western countries, since 2012, said Stewart. Within the U.S., the FBI arrested some five dozen Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) supporters last year, a 500% increase from 2014.

“ISIL will likely increase the pace and lethality of its transnational attacks as infrastructure and capabilities mature. It will purposely attempt to stroke sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunnis and between the West and Islam to create the chaotic environment in which it thrives,” Stewart said.

Watch the Clarion Project on Newsmax TV’s “Newsmax Prime with J.D. Hayworth” discussing this topic:

The Islamic State will hold onto Mosul in Iraq through at least the end of the year, Stewart believes. It is the centerpiece of the caliphate in Iraq and has enormous ideological value to the group. The reason is that the Iraqi Security Forces, Kurdish Peshmerga and the Shiite and Sunni elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces (a coalition of militias, many of which are linked to Iran) lack the logistics, morale, qualified soldiers and overall military preparedness.

Stewart said the program to enlist Sunnis in the fight against ISIS—which proved decisive in beating back Al-Qaeda previously—is failing because of concerns about Iranian influence, persecution by Shiite militias and a lack of funding and material. The latter two elements validate Sunni complaints that the U.S. is inadequately supporting them due to the Iraqi central government’s insistence that all U.S. assistance be routed through Baghdad.

Clapper’s statement that Sunni terrorism has been on an “upward trajectory” casts a shadow over the Obama Administration’s  boast that ISIS has lost 40% of its caliphate in Iraq and 20% of it in Syria. It is true ISIS has lost ground and the statistic may be accurate, but Clapper’s statement shows it does not tell the whole story.

The testimonies of Clapper and Stewart explain that ISIS is expanding outside of Iraq and Syria, especially in Libya. The U.S. can and should boast of successes against ISIS, but the statistic doesn’t account for ISIS’ gains globally.

It also doesn’t mean progress against ISIS necessarily translates to overall progress in the war against Islamist terrorism. Clapper said al-Qaeda is poised to strengthen in 2016 because of its affiliates in Yemen and Syria. If ISIS’ holdings in Syria transfer to al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing, Jabhat al-Nusra (or another Islamist extremist group), then there’s no net gain.

Stewart told the Senate Armed Services Committee the ideological makeup of the Syrian rebels is projected to become even more radical in 2016. The chief reason is the Syrian regime’s advances on the ground with the help of Russia and Iran will cause more rebel groups to coalesce with Sunni extremists.

The two intelligence directors also see Afghanistan as an area with growth potential for al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban and others. Clapper believes ISIS’ branch in Afghanistan known as Khorasan is likely to only be a “low-level threat,” but the intelligence community has consistently underestimated the terrorist group. Stewart worries that al-Qaeda “could establish a significant presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” if pressure on the group decreases.

“[The Islamist insurgency is] steadily chipping away at Afghanistan’s security…we assess that fighting in 2016 will be more intense than in 2015, continuing a decade-long trend of deteriorating security,” Clapper said.

On the topic of Iran, the intelligence chiefs did not predict a change in the Shiite terrorist threat. Stewart warned Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have threatened to attack U.S. personnel there and some Shiite militiamen have attempted to do so. An Iran-backed militia kidnapped three American civilians working as contractors in Baghdad, just last month,.

Stewart absolved Iran of responsibility for the Shiite militias’ violence towards Americans and Coalition forces, saying it is “almost certainly not at the direction of Iran or [militia] group leadership.”

Even if that’s true—a big if—why shouldn’t Iran be blamed? It is supporting extremist militias who have an anti-American agenda and whose members are inclined to do that very thing. Perhaps Iran wants it to happen and knows it doesn’t even need to direct the Shiite extremists to do it. That would achieve plausible deniability while positioning itself as the power broker to whom the U.S. must plead for help.

Stewart also testified Iran is planning to launch a Space-Launch Vehicle equivalent to a nuclear-capable ICBM. He said it could happen this year, adding Iran continues to work on improving ballistic missile accuracy, range and lethality.

Iran was also rated as one of the top three foreign intelligence threats to the U.S. alongside Russia and China. Stewart said “some of these foreign intelligence entities also seek to influence our national policy and decision-making process.”

The most positive parts of their testimonies focused on the U.S.-backed Kurdish fight against ISIS and some encouraging news from Afghanistan.

Clapper said the Afghan National Security Forces will “probably” retain control of the major population centers and their losses will be limited to some rural areas with a small population. Stewart said the Afghan special forces are significantly improving and the Afghans have secured almost all of the provincial capitals and major highways. They have also shown they are capable of launching major counter-attacks like they did in Kunduz after a surprise routing at the hands of the Taliban.

Overall, the assessment was very bleak. Sunni extremists are getting stronger. Shiite extremists are, at best, not weakening and Iran is advancing its ballistic missile program for delivering nuclear weapons.

A summary of two intelligence chiefs’ statements could be written like this: The trend is in the enemy’s favor.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking 

***

Also see:

Top U.S. General: ‘I Do Not Have Authority’ to Offensively Attack Taliban

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, Feb. 2, 2016:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. military, since President Obama declared that American troops had ceased their combat mission at the end of 2014, has only been able to attack the Taliban from a defensive position, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan told lawmakers.

“I have the authority to protect our coalition members against any insurgency — Haqqani [Network], Taliban, al Qaeda — if they’re posing as a threat to our coalition forces,”testified the commander, Gen. John Campbell, before the House Armed Services Committee.

The general’s comments came in response to Rep. Jim Bridenstine asking if he had the authority to attack the Taliban, which has stepped up attacks since the end of 2014 and has been linked to the deteriorating security conditions in the Afghanistan.

“If the Taliban are attacking coalition forces, then I have everything I need to do that,” responded Gen. Campbell, who is expected to retire soon. “To attack the Taliban just because they’re Taliban, I do not have that authority.”

“It is astonishing that we have an authority to go after the Taliban and the president is preventing us from doing that,” proclaimed Bridenstine.

The Oklahoma Republican argued that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) 2001, passed by Congress and signed into law by the U.S. president at the time, grants the top commander the authority to use the necessary force against the Taliban.

Rep. Bridenstine questioned, “Yet, the president, it seems, is saying you can’t attack the Taliban even though they were responsible for September 11?”

“What I think is we adjusted our mission in 2015,” explained Campbell. “We went away from combat operations and we worked with the Afghans to build their capabilities to go after the Taliban.”

President Obama declared an end to the U.S. combat mission in December 2014, marking the beginning of the train, assist, and advise (TAA) role for the American troops on January 1, 2015.

While testifying, Gen. Campbell noted that with only 9,800 U.S. service members in Afghanistan, carrying out the TAA mission is difficult.

“Again if the Taliban are attacking or pose a threat to coalition forces, I have everything I need to provide that force protection,” reiterated Campbell. “To go after the Taliban because they’re Taliban, I don’t do that sir.”

At least 21 American service members have been killed and another 79 wounded since President Obama adjusted the mission so that U.S. troops are unable to attack the Taliban from an offensive position. The majority of the total 2,227 American military deaths and 20,109 injuries since the war began in October 2001 have taken place under President Obama’s watch.

Rep. Bridenstine quoted the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) 2001.

“That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons,” states the AUMF.

The Taliban has been accused of providing safe haven to al Qaeda members involved in orchestrating the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. homeland, including the late jihadist leader Osama bin Laden.

President Obama is currently expected to reduce the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to 5,500 troops by the time he left office in 2017.

“We’ll have a very limited ability to do TAA with 5,500,” said Gen. Campbell, who signaled that the U.S. military will stay in Afghanistan for years beyond 2017.

Obama has nominated Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson, Jr., to replace the outgoing commander.

President Obama has been hesitant to call the Taliban a terrorist group.

US airstrikes destroy ISIS’ ‘Voice of the Caliphate’ radio station in Afghanistan

694940094001_4733930274001_39caac29-3d04-433a-b550-f21aec3f1c4a

Fox News, February 02, 2016:

U.S. airstrikes have destroyed an Islamic State-operated radio station in a remote part of eastern Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday.

“Voice of the Caliphate” radio was destroyed by two U.S. airstrikes, according to a U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media on the subject.

Army Col. Mike Lawhorn, spokesman for the U.S.-NATO mission in Afghanistan, said U.S. forces conducted two “counter-terrorism airstrikes” late Monday in Achin district, in the eastern Nangarhar province, without elaborating.

An ISIS affiliate has emerged in Afghanistan over the past year, with a military presence in districts near the border with Pakistan. The radio station was broadcasting illegally across Nangarhar, calling on fighters to join the group and threatening journalists in the provincial capital, Jalalabad.

Afghan officials had said they believed the broadcasts were coming from mobile facilities that could be moved easily back and forth across the mountainous border.

The spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, Attaullah Khogyani, said the strikes had also killed 21 ISIS supporters, including five who were working for the radio station.

The station was set up in late 2015, following months of fierce fighting between ISIS group militants and the Taliban, who also maintain a significant presence in the region. Although ISIS and the Taliban both want to impose a harsh version of Islamic rule, they are bitterly divided over leadership and strategy, with the Taliban narrowly focused on Afghanistan and ISIS bent on establishing a worldwide caliphate.

Radio is a powerful medium in Afghanistan, where most people do not have televisions and only 10 percent of the population has access to the Internet. Nearly everyone has access to radio, with around 175 stations operating across the country.

The U.S. State Department recently added the ISIS Afghan affiliate to its list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Elsewhere in the country, three Afghan army officers died when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb late Monday in the Gereshk district of southern Helmand province, according to the district’s administration chief, Mohammad Sharif. He said the dead included Gen. Atta Mir, a brigade commander in Gereshk.

In the northern city of Kunduz, a secretary for the provincial governor’s office was shot dead near his home on Monday evening, the governor’s spokesman, Abdul Wasi Basel, said.

He said that no one had claimed responsibility for the killing of Mohammad Zarif.

The Taliban seized Kunduz for three days last year, and only fully withdrew after a two-week counteroffensive that devastated much of the city.

Also see: