Hayward: Free Syrian Army, Once the Great ‘Moderate’ Hope, Joins Turkey to Attack Kurds

Huseyin Nasir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, Feb. 6, 2018:

Turkey has conducted its “Operation Olive Branch” military incursion into Syria in concert with the Free Syrian Army, which has helped Turkish forces take control of several villages in the Afrin region.

This is an uncomfortable development for U.S. policymakers because both the Kurds and Free Syrian Army were considered battlefield allies of the United States in the war against the Islamic State, and the FSA was seen as the model white-hat rebel group when the Obama administration and intervention-minded Republicans were desperately seeing “moderate” forces in the Syrian rebellion to support.

In fact, as recently as last spring, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) strongly urged increased support for the Free Syrian Army as part of the U.S. strategy for stabilizing Syria while holding the regime of dictator Bashar Assad at bay.

McCain has long been prominent among those convinced the Free Syrian Army was America’s best bet for a terrorist-free moderate rebel group to arm and support, a step he felt the Obama administration was much too reluctant to take while Russia was busy shipping arms to the Syrian regime.

He made a surprise visit to the Turkey-Syria border in 2013 to meet with FSA leaders who wanted American heavy weapons, up to and including anti-aircraft weapons, and American air support against FSA adversaries such as Hezbollah. At the time, the FSA claimed to be running perilously low on munitions, which does not seem to be a problem now that they are fighting on Turkey’s behalf against the Kurds.

McCain has not responded well to contrary arguments about the FSA, as when he reportedly stormed out of the room during a 2014 presentation by Syrian Christians who said there were Islamist fighters among the FSA’s ranks.

There was a good deal of confusion surrounding support for the Free Syrian Army in the Obama administration, which occasionally seemed uncertain about what kind of support it was sending them. Critics complained effective support for moderate rebel groups was announced too late, after too much dithering, and was delivered too long after it was finally announced. The aid program that eventually materialized was an unserious disaster.

Whether reluctantly as with Obama, or eagerly as with McCain, plans for zero-footprint Syrian intervention kept circling back around to the Free Syrian Army, despite persistent warnings it contained some unlovely people and outright terrorists. One reason for this default support is that many of the other options for American support were Kurdish groups or members of Kurdish-dominated umbrella organizations, which was problematic because U.S. policymakers wanted to avoid conflict with the Turkish and Iraqi governments. Going all-in on the Kurds would inevitably bring accusations that America was supporting Kurdish nationalists, separatists, or terrorists (as Turkey would have it).

To this very day, Turkey denounces American support for the Kurds as direct support for terrorists, no different in principle from shipping arms to the Islamic State, which is something the Turks also charge America with doing when they are especially upset. It may come as some small consolation to know that everyone involved in the Syrian quagmire accuses everyone else of supporting terrorism, and they quite frequently have a point, since even the better rebel groups have been known to cooperate with powerful terrorist forces like al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front from time to time. It is difficult for outside powers to be certain that a weapon given to a white-hat moderate rebel today will not be handed over, voluntarily or involuntarily, to a terrorist or war criminal tomorrow.

In a 2013 profile of the Free Syrian Army, the BBC noted it was a “loose network of brigades rather than a unified fighting force,” with very little operational control exercised by appealing and high-minded spokesmen like Brigadier General Salim Idris.

Brigades aligned with the Free Syrian Army and its spinoff organizations retained “separate identities, agendas and commands.” The BBC noted that some of them “work with hardline Islamist groups that alarm the West, such as Ahrar al-Sham, and al-Qaeda-linked jihadists.”

Deutsche Welle recalls that, a few weeks ago, a delegation from the Free Syrian Army came to Washington and argued that if the CIA did not resume military aid frozen by the Trump administration, its “moderate” forces would have no choice but to look elsewhere for support. Virtually overnight, the FSA signed up with Turkey to work as mercenaries in its war against the Syrian Kurds, which DW notes is difficult to square with the FSA’s nominal mission of battling the tyranny of Bashar Assad on behalf of the Syrian people. It also argues against viewing the FSA as the kind of staunch moderate ally who can be entrusted with American weapons as they fight a noble battle to liberate Syria from cruel dictatorship.

“The Free Syrian Army practically doesn’t exist,” DW quotes Mideast expert Kamal Sido telling a German broadcaster. “The Free Syrian Army is a smokescreen hiding various names, and if you look at the names, at these groups’ videos, you’ll find they are radical Islamist, Jihadist groups.”

Charles Lister of the Brookings Institution contributed the observation that nearly 80 distinct factions now identify themselves with the FSA brand, and while some are moderate in outlook, others are hardline Islamist radicals. The group as a whole is moving inexorably into the orbit of radicals, and Islamist patrons like Turkey’s Erdogan, simply because they tend to be better-armed and more ruthlessly effective on the battlefield.

If such groups ever succeeded in overthrowing Assad, they would likely either replace him with an Islamist tyranny or turn their guns against their erstwhile moderate allies – which is essentially what the FSA is doing to the Syrian Kurds right now. At this point, with Russian and Iranian support firmly behind Assad, his ouster seems unlikely, so the “rebels” are largely fighting for concessions at the negotiating table and perhaps a degree of autonomy to run their own little fiefdoms within postwar Syria. Every proposal to arm Syrian groups must carefully consider what those groups actually intend to fight for.

It should also consider how they fight. Syrian Kurds are protesting the brutality of the Turkey-FSA invasion of Afrin, which threatens to push even further into Syria, as President Erdogan has openly called for American troops to get out of his way.

Over the weekend, video footage surfaced that appears to show Free Syrian Army fighters fondling and abusing the corpse of a female Kurdish fighter killed in the Afrin operation. One of them described the woman’s body as “the spoils of war from the female pigs of the PKK,” which is the violent Kurdish separatist organization in Turkey. The Turks insist that all Syrian Kurdish militia forces are allied with the PKK, including those directly supported by the United States.

The Free Syrian Army high command promised to investigate the incident and hold those involved accountable, “if it is verified in accordance with Sharia law and our principles.” The use of Islamic law to decide whether clearly heinous activity constitutes a war crime is not what the Western world should be looking for in a “moderate” ally.

Conversely, the Turks and their allies accuse the Kurds of fighting dirty and allying themselves with the brutal Assad regime, and Kurdish forces have been blamed for civilian deaths from a rocket barrage that struck a refugee camp near the Turkish border on Monday.

Syria is a bloody mess, and white hats are hard to find, but the hellish conundrum is that failure to intervene unleashed a refugee wave that threatens to drown Europe, not to mention a humanitarian disaster within Syria that should be utterly intolerable to the civilized world. The Free Syrian Army clearly is not the easy answer that so many people have so desperately wanted it to be for the past five years. They proved it by joining a Turkish operation that may soon put the lives of American troops at risk and threaten the future of NATO.

Also see:

Civilians in Northern Syria Flee to Caves as Turkish Invasion Barrels On

Russian-Turkish axis in Syria faces meltdown

Syrian Kurds: Russia Pressured Us to Give Afrin to Assad ‘One Day’ Before Turkish Attack

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.

Follow Saagar Enjeti on Twitter

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.

UTT Throwback Thursday: US Government’s Failure to Address Domestic Threat

Understanding the Threat, by John Guandolo, Aug.24, 2017:

Summary

The attacks of 9/11 were conducted against the U.S. homeland with support from the Islamic Movement inside the United States.  The U.S. government’s response to fight on battlefields overseas, while leaders of the U.S. Islamic Movement exclusively provided “advice” to our leaders, led to strategic defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq despite the fact the U.S. military crushed the enemy on the battlefield.

Why?  How did this happen?

The United States lost and is losing this war today because, contrary to U.S. warfighting doctrine, the United States government has failed to identify the enemy we face and the doctrine they use as the basis for why they are fighting.

The enemy clearly articulates that sharia (Islamic Law) is the basis for everything they do.

Now the United States is re-engaging in Afghanistan using some of the same leaders who crafted the losing war strategy in the first place, who still have not defined the enemy, using the same allies who are still our enemies (eg Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, et al), while ignoring the massive jihadi network in the United States, which is the primary front for our enemy in this war.

Then (Post 9/11)

After 9/11, President Bush stated the purpose for our operations in Afghanistan was to “make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans,” and that U.S. military actions are “designed to clear the way for sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations to drive them out and bring them to justice.”

During the entire Bush administration the United States never defined the enemy.  Yet, the administration and all key government agencies were primarily advised by Muslim Brotherhood leaders which led to the United States writing constitutions for Afghanistan and Iraq (2005) creating Islamic Republics under sharia (Islamic Law), thus achieving Al Qaeda’s objectives in those two countries.

That is when we lost the war.

Now (August 2017)

In announcing renewed military operations in Afghanistan, President Trump stated the objectives of this endeavor include:  “Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terrorist attacks against America before they emerge.”

First, if we kill all ISIS fighters, the Global Islamic Movement will roll on.  This is bigger than merely ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

As UTT reported on Monday in its article “US Islamic Movement Enters Final Stage” the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood and its allies INSIDE the United States are experiencing the culmination of six decades of work domestically to overthrow our nation.  At the same time, the State Department is meeting with representatives of Hamas doing business as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) which raises grave concerns.

Mr. Trump’s original instincts were correct.  He should stick with his gut.  We should not engage in Afghanistan as his National Security Advisor and others recommend.

This is a strategic distraction from the real war here at home.

The pattern we see between the U.S. government response after 9/11 and today are very similar:

9/11:  Jihadis attack the homeland using airliners killing nearly 3,000 Americans.

Response:  U.S. fails to define the enemy in any of its national security documents. U.S. military attacks targets in Afghanistan, while using U.S. Muslim Brotherhood leaders as primary advisors on how to fight the war.

Result:  Strategic loses in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Significant gains for Islamic Movement inside the U.S.

Today: U.S. Islamic Movement in “Final Stage” of its Civilization Jihad using hard-left Marxists as leading edge of their violent actions.

Response:  U.S. fails to define the enemy in any of its national security documents.  National Security Advisor Herbert McMaster demonstrates no knowledge of enemy doctrine (sharia).  U.S. Launches renewed military operations in Afghanistan, while failing to pursue the MB and designate it a terrorist organization.  The U.S. government continues to allow the MB to operate in the open in the United States.

Result:  While the U.S. puts its strategic focus on Afghanistan, the cooperating Islamic and hard-left/Marxist Movements will achieve the intentional outcome of their campaign – increased civil disorder, chaos, and a high likelihood of open civil war.

The Islamic Movement in the United States includes over 3000 Islamic centers/mosques, over 800 Muslim Student Associations (MSA) on every major college/university campus, over 255 Islamic Societies, and many others as has been detailed in previous UTT reports.  Nearly all of the jihadi attacks on the United States in the last 16 years, including the attacks of 9/11, had direct support from this network.

The 9/11 attacks had direct support from Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar.

Yet, this network remains untouched by the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security.

If the United States government wants to thin the jihadi herd, as the President states is his desire, he can begin with dealing with the mothership of their Movement – the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) – and jihadi leaders inside America like Nihad Awad, Ibrahim Hooper, Oussama Jamal, Salam al Marayati, Mohamed Magid, Azhar Azeez, Javaid Siddiqi, Sayyid Syeed, Muzammil Siddiqi, and so many others, as well as those aiding and abetting them like the President of the Southern Poverty Law Center Richard Cohen and the entire SPLC, and Congressmen Keith Ellison and Andre Carson.

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.

Iran is the First Threat

Security Studies Group (SSG) – July 26, 2017:

Executive Summary

The United States faces many dangers, but Iran should be first on the list for action. We need a comprehensive strategy to stop their ongoing efforts to become a nuclear power, oppose their play for regional hegemony and address their support for terrorism. It is time to accept there is no accommodation with the current authoritarian theocratic government and return to a policy of supporting the Iranian people in seeking a new form of government.

The Iranian regime exerts influence using the following threat vectors:

  • Nuclear Weapons & Missile Programs
  • Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps & Quds Force
  • Terror financing and ideological indoctrination
  • Weapons and Narco-trafficking\

The main geographic areas where their influence is a concern:

  • Iraq
  • Syria
  • Afghanistan
  • Qatar
  • Yemen

Issues where US and Iranian goals are in direct conflict:

  • Iran Nuclear Deal
  • Iraq/Syria End Game
  • Qatar Blockade
  • Yemen proxy war
  • Afghanistan

These issues are all interconnected, and US decisions and actions on each will cause Iranian reactions that could be aimed at affecting any of the others. US policy should be aimed at containing Iranian expansion, rolling back Iranian influence, stopping improper economic partnerships and most importantly ensuring it does not achieve nuclear weapons capabilities. The ideal end state is a new form of government in Iran that ends these policies.

The first step should be a refusal to recertify the Iran Nuclear Deal for non-compliance packaged with the toughest sanctions possible. The other immediate need is to limit Iranian influence on the post-ISIS plans for Iraq and Syria. These will create tremendous challenges, but failure to act could be catastrophically worse.

Iranian Threat Vectors

Nuclear Weapons & Missile Programs

The premier threat posed by Iran is their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development program. There is a wide array of opinion on how serious Iran is about obtaining a nuclear device and the progress of the program. There is less argument about the ballistic missile program, as the Iranians seem to go out of their way to show it off.

Security Studies Group (SSG) believes the regime is set on acquiring nuclear weapons and cannot be trusted to refrain from using them if they are successful. As evidence, the ballistic missiles they are so intent on developing are characterized by relatively small payloads and limited accuracy. Only with nuclear warheads would such missiles be worth the investment Iran is making in them. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) did much less than promised to slow this down, and in some ways acted as an accelerant by providing economic relief and a renewed capacity for the smuggling of foreign technology.

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) & Quds Force

These paramilitary forces are tools of the Iranian theocracy, and their primary mission is to protect the Islamic revolution in Iran. Though this mission is characterized as defensive, they have frequently carried it out offensively through expansionist efforts.  These include the development of Shi’a militias loyal to Iran throughout the region, and the defense of dependent proxy states such as Syria and Yemen. The IRGC has extensive business operations to finance and provide cover for their illicit activities and also runs a large criminal network. The IRGC is involved in almost all aggressive activities Iran conducts.

Terror financing and ideological indoctrination

The Iranian regime funds many of the worst terror groups in the world. Some of these, like Hezbollah and Hamas, also have social outreach and assistance programs. The Iranians use these as a way to conduct Islamist indoctrination. The infusions of cash and return of the regime to the international banking system from the Iran Deal have facilitated and increased their funding activities. Also important to recruitment and ideological development is Iran’s commitment to defending Shi’a Islamic holy sites, and Shi’ite Islam in general, against alleged threats. Many of these come from Sunni forces like ISIS, or Sunni states like Saudi Arabia. They also claim the United States is a threat to these as well.

Weapons and Narco-trafficking

The IRGC produces much of the conventional weaponry manufactured in Iran and uses this as a source of cash generation as well as a method to gain allies. The weapons find their way to terror groups and others who help them destabilize adversaries. It is a major player in international opium smuggling and uses this illicit cash to fund its other operations. They also provide transshipment of opium from Afghanistan to Lebanese Hezbollah, which uses it to create heroin for the international drug market. This gives Iranian terror networks direct access to drug cartels operating in the Americas.

Geographic areas of influence

The Core

Iraq

Iran has always had strong ties with the Shi’ite population in Iraq. Their status as members of that sect and their direct proximity to Iraq allowed them to host Shi’ite refugees during Saddam Hussein’s reign. Many of those who sheltered in Iran are now leading figures in Iraq. The precipitous US withdrawal during the Obama administration’s first term both allowed Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership to act on its worst impulses toward minority groups, and also provided Iran unrestricted opportunities to dominate Iraq.

That has only increased during the counter-ISIS operations. The Iranians have nurtured Shi’a militias who have been a major part of this clearing mission. They have had advisors and even direct command and control from the IRGC’s Quds Force. They have conducted sectarian reprisals against the Sunni populace. The militias have shown little regard for civilian casualties. They also openly declare support for Iran’s theocracy instead of Iraq’s secular government, ensuring that Iran has a capacity to control Iraq even when Iraq’s government would prefer to act independently.

The support Iran has given to Shi’a militias across much of Iraq will greatly complicate de-militarization as the counter-ISIS campaign winds down.

Syria

Russian and Iranian support has kept their proxy, Bashar al-Assad, in power. Iran has backed Hezbollah’s combat operations in support of the Assad regime, providing IRGC troops and advisers and raising auxiliary units of volunteers from Afghanistan and other areas.

Iran has long sought to dominate a road to the Mediterranean Sea. The demise of ISIS will create a vacuum they will try to use to fulfill this goal.

Geographic areas of influence

The Edge

Afghanistan

Iran has been supplying and assisting the Taliban for years and continues to do so in order to keep the United States bogged down there. They also have a substantial commitment to Shi’a populations in Afghanistan. The IRGC’s criminal aspect is a key smuggler of opium from Afghanistan into the Middle East.

Iran’s assistance to America’s enemies in Afghanistan not only advances their own interests, but those of other authoritarian regimes. America’s ground lines of communication, through which our forces in Afghanistan are supplied and kept fed, are under the physical control of Russia and Pakistan. The larger the American deployment in Afghanistan, the more of our forces must be fed and supplied, and thus the greater the pressure Russia and Pakistan can put on America by closing our supply lines. Iran’s efforts in Afghanistan thus make America subject to increased pressure from authoritarian regimes.

Qatar

President Trump gave a jump start to the Saudi and United Arab Emirate (UAE) move against Qatar when he forged a counterterrorism alliance at the summit in Riyadh. Iran’s relationship with Qatar is a key motivator of the Gulf Arab blockade and Iran has been supporting Qatar in attempts to end it.

This conflict puts two US allies —both Qatar and Turkey, which has fallen into authoritarianism under President Erdogan —on the side of Iran, and against the Gulf Arab states that President Trump has pledged to support. US treaty obligations to both Qatar and Turkey will be troublesome if the conflict escalates between the Saudi-led Gulf Arabs and the Turkey, Iran, Qatar coalition. There is a danger of significant stress on American treaty networks, as well as the danger that Iran will succeed in peeling both Qatar and Turkey away from the United States.

Yemen

Iranian support for Houthi rebels against Saudi and UAE backed forces in Yemen has been a potential flashpoint for a while. Currently, it is mostly proxies fighting. However, the Gulf States have put troops on the ground; and, the Houthi have access to Iranian missiles and rockets which they have fired against Gulf States and US Navy ships. The Qatar crisis adds another potential collision with Iranian-backed forces or potentially IRGC forces. This is part of a larger battle for regional dominance between the Iranians and the Gulf Arabs.

Direct conflicts between US and Iranian goal

The danger zones for US interactions with Iran are numerous with great potential for trouble.  Since 1979, Iran’s government has been marked by a preference for escalation so US policy should be built around an expectation they will act forcefully in response to our moves.

Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA)

US policy should be to disengage from this deal in the most expeditious manner possible. The justification must be well publicized. There will be a withering public information counterattack by the Iran lobby, the institutional left in the US and abroad, and Obama loyalists. Exposing the misinformation, lies, and malfeasance that allowed this deal to ever be made will be a strong antidote to this.

There are a number of tactics the President can use to end our participation:

  • Submit JCPOA to the Senate as a treaty
  • Refuse to recertify based on serial non-compliance
  • Move via executive order to withdraw based ion Iranian violations
  • Renegotiate with Iran

The last option is the least likely to succeed as the Iranians have no reason to negotiate in good faith because the existing deal front-loaded the benefits to Iran, leaving them with nothing to lose by being difficult.  Submitting the deal to the Senate as a treaty has a certain elegance, and would actually remedy a major attack by President Obama on Constitutional Separation of Powers. The other two options are versions of the same valid complaint that the Iranians have not meaningfully complied with the deal.

Any move to take away this deal, which Iran rightly considers a victory, will certainly be met with a flurry of public protestations but also activation of proxies and other Iranian assets to cause problems for the US. They can present these anywhere the US has interests and create considerable havoc. Contingency plans to protect US assets must be prepared and plans to preempt the Iranian plans or retaliate must be ready for immediate action.

Iraq/Syria End Game

The end of kinetic operations against ISIS is a milestone that comes with significant challenges to meet or a year or two down the road Sunni Insurgency Mark III will be in effect (I. al Qaeda in Iraq, II. ISIS). These include reintegrating the Sunni regions ISIS destroyed into the states of Iraq and Syria.  SSG believes success is unlikely and recommends a protectorate for these areas until rebuilding and some self-determination for the people can occur.

Iran has been in the forefront of the counter-ISIS operations both directly with the Iraqi government and military and as supplier, adviser and often in command of Shi’a militias. They have done much the same in Syria, and the IRGC has lost more than 1000 personnel in these conflicts. Iran will not want to give up what was gained in blood by disbanding local militias trained to be more loyal to Tehran than to Baghdad or Damascus.

The goal of a Shi’ite Crescent from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea is not merely a fantasy to the Mullahs of Iran and their IRGC and Quds Force. They have seeded the path to the Mediterranean with these Shi’a militias, and demilitarizing them will be difficult if even possible at all. Any successful reconstruction and reintegration of Iraq’s Sunni areas will have to deal with the massive sectarian slaughter and looting conducted by these militias. The Sunni populace will hold the Baghdad government and its Iranian allies responsible for this. They may also hold the United States to blame, given the precipitous withdrawal of US forces that exposed them to the Iranians and their militias; and, US participation in the clearing operations.

Changing the balance of influence with the Iraqi government from Iran’s favor to the United States will be a major challenge. The belief in Baghdad that US policy is turning against Iran after 8 years of promoting it will be helpful in this regard. But Iran has been building its alliances for 40 years. They do not have the reputation for abandoning allies for political purposes, which the United States did by removing combat forces at the beginning of the Obama administration.

Iran’s ability to disrupt any effort to create stability or peace is strong in both Syria and Iraq and this may be their area of choice if pressured by US rejection of the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Conclusion

The US needs a new approach to Iran which recognizes them as an active antagonist not a potential partner for peace.

The Iran Deal recertification process offers an opportunity to cite Iranian provocations in the 90-day window before the next certification. Iran’s response to an American declaration that they have not been compliant has the potential to be violent. American military forces must start preparing immediately for the consequences Iran is already threatening.

Iran must be stopped at all costs from establishing the land bridge to the Levant. The counter-ISIS end game, and the end of the civil war in Syria, must be built around a clear strategy of denying Iran either direct control, or control through proxy states, of any straight line from its borders to and across Syria.

Iranian militias within Syria and Iraq will need to be isolated in order to provide Iraq’s government any capacity for independence from Iran. This will require the presence of counterpoised forces, either Coalition or peacekeepers from governments that are not friendly to Iran.

The United States should also begin working to facilitate replacement of the Iranian regime in the longer term. This should not be conceived as a military operation, but as a whole of government approach built first and foremost around diplomacy and intelligence work. The Security Studies Group has a strategy to offer under separate cover for professionals working in classified environments.

SSG focuses on defending the value of American power against the true threats we face. Both the legislative and executive branches need rapid access to concise and factual data to inform strategic re-orientation in counterterrorism and national security policy. That’s what Security Studies Group is all about.  @SecStudiesGrp 

WINNING: Five Pentagon Successes Under President Trump

Michael Reynolds/Pool via Bloomberg

Breitbart, by Kristina Wong, July 19, 2017:

President Trump has placed a high priority on rebuilding the U.S. military and allowing his commanders to make more calls. So far, in the administration’s first six months, successes have been piling up.

Here are the top five:

1. Islamic State Defeat in Mosul

The U.S.-led coalition assisted Iraqi security forces in uprooting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from its stronghold in Iraq, a major strategic and symbolic victory. ISIS had stormed into Iraq the summer of 2014, seizing large swaths of land and establishing Mosul as its de facto capital in Iraq.

Iraqi forces are now moving to clear other pockets of Iraq where there are still ISIS holdouts, with Tal Afar, just west of Mosul, being the next target.

Although the Mosul offensive began under former President Obama, President Trump called for a review of the ISIS war and made two significant changes. Defense Secretary James Mattis announced the changes on May 19 during a Pentagon briefing:

First, he delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities.

Secondly, he directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS. The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters.

The fight for Raqqa, the capital of its “caliphate,” is also underway, beginning last month. U.S.-led coalition forces are assisting local Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces on the ground, who now have the city encircled.

2. Diminished Islamic State Presence in Afghanistan

The U.S. military has been keeping ISIS on its back foot in Afghanistan after declaring its presence there in 2015. The U.S. military killed the emir of the terrorist group’s Afghanistan branch, ISIS-Khorasan, last week. Abu Sayed was killed in a U.S. strike in the group’s headquarters in Kunar province on July 11.

“The raid also killed other ISIS-K members and will significantly disrupt the terror group’s plans to expand its presence in Afghanistan,” Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White said.

The military also took out two previous ISIS-K leaders: Abdul Hasib in late April and Hafiz Sayed Khan last July.

White said Afghan and U.S. forces launched a counter-ISIS-K offensive in early March 2017 to drive ISIS from their presence in Nangarhar. In April, the military dropped its largest conventional bomb on ISIS there.

A Pentagon report in June said ISIS-K has declined “in size, capability, and ability to hold territory” between December and May.

3. U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier Fleet to Officially Boast Eleven Vessels Again

The USS Gerald R. Ford will join the aircraft carrier fleet – the Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier – this month.

It is the first aircraft carrier of a new class in forty years, since the Nimitz-class carriers were commissioned in the 1970s, and will bring the Navy’s carrier count back up to 11 for the first time in five years, in accordance with the law.

Trump has pledged to build a twelve-carrier Navy and this milestone is a big step towards that. It is also symbolic of the president’s plans to rebuild the military.

“After years of endless budget cuts that have impaired our defenses, I am calling for one of the largest defense spending increases in history,” Trump said on the Ford in March.

The administration has proposed a $603 billion defense budget for 2018, $19 billion over what former President Obama had planned.

4. Trump Installing His Team at the Pentagon

The Senate signed off on Trump’s nominee for deputy defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, this week, with an overwhelmingly bipartisan 92-7 vote.

Six Democrats and one independent opposed his nomination: Sens. Corey Booker (NJ), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kamala Harris (CA), Ed Markey (MA) and Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

The confirmation fills a key policy-making role at the Pentagon. He last served as senior vice president of supply chain and operations at Boeing Company.

Shanahan is taking over for Bob Work, an Obama holdover who had agreed to stay until his replacement could be found.

Normally, his confirmation would be a normal thing, but in this charged political atmosphere, nothing is normal. In addition, Democrats have been stalling confirmation of Trump’s nominees.

His confirmation brings the number of Senate-confirmed appointees at the Pentagon to six, out of 22 nominations so far.

5. Trump Challenging China in the South China Sea

President Trump has begun to challenge China in the South China Sea, sending the U.S. military to sail or fly within 12 nautical miles of land features claimed by China.

The purpose of these operations, called “Freedom of Navigation Operations” (FONOPs), is to make sure China knows the waters remain open to the international community, despite China and other countries’ claims of ownership.

Former President Obama had set a moratorium on such operations in the South China Seabetween 2012 and 2015 out of concern it would upset China.

But Trump has authorized three of these operations so far since May, the same number that Obama conducted in all of 2016.

The first FONOP occurred on May 24 when the destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef.

The second one occurred on July 2 when the USS Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands.

The third one occurred on July 7 when two B-1B Lancer bombers flew over the South China Sea shortly before Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.