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.

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Europe’s Worst Nightmare May Be Coming True As ‘Hundreds’ Of ISIS Fighters Seek To Come Home

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, Sept. 13, 2017:

Hundreds of foreign Islamic State fighters have gathered on the Turkish border, desperately trying to break through security parameters and make their way home, The Guardian reports.

Turkish border guards remain vigilant but it is virtually impossible to stop many of the fighters getting through via smuggling networks. The intended exodus of the foreign fighters comes as the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces enclose on ISIS’s capital of Raqqa, the Syrian regime batters them in Deir e-Zour, and the U.S- backed Iraqi Security Forces remove their last vestiges from Iraq.

Many of the ISIS fighters are reportedly Saudi, which has thousands of young men who fled to Syria to join the terrorist group. The mass fleeing, however, highlights the potential threat of fleeing ISIS fighters.

Returning foreign fighters to Europe are of deep concern to Western intelligence agencies, who fear some will not have renounced Jihad and will pursue terrorist operations at home. Worse, many of the fighters will have combat skills, weapons, or explosives experience which could be put to good use.

The Europe-based International Center for Counter-Terrorism noted in April 2016 that, while some foreign fighters returning to Europe may be disillusioned with the terrorist group, “others may return with the aim of carrying out terrorist attacks, with reports suggesting that IS may systematically export terror cells to Europe.”

Already, the U.S. Department of State believes nearly 30 percent of european foreign fighters for the ISIS have returned to the continent. The number of European fighters who traveled to fight for ISIS is unknown, but estimates range in the thousands. U.S.-based security intelligence advisory firm, The Soufan Group (TSG), estimated that approximately 5,000 Western European fighters traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS in 2015 alone. TSG also noted that 4,700 fighters were estimated to come from the former Soviet republics.

Also see:

Here’s Where ISIS Wants New Recruits To Go, And It’s Not Syria

A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) holds an ISIL flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held crisis talks with leaders of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on Tuesday urging them to stand with Baghdad in the face of a Sunni insurgent onslaught that threatens to dismember the country. Picture taken June 23, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, Sept. 13, 2017:

A recent Islamic State video calls upon would-be jihadis to join the terrorist group in the Philippines rather than the core caliphate in Syria, an NBC News analysis reveals.

The video specifically instructs any would-be travelers in the Asia-Pacific region to go to the Philippines instead of trying to travel to the core caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

“Come forth to the land of jihad. Perform hijrah. Come forth to … Marawi,” a militant instructs in the video.

ISIS fighters remain besieged in the Filipino city of Marawi, where it has mounted a months-long surprisingly robust insurgency. The battle for Marawai has displaced hundreds of thousands of residents and began during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The terrorist group frequently uses the holy month as an excuse to mount some of its deadliest operations. Dozens of Filipino soldiers have been killed in the ensuing siege.

The group’s loss of territory has caused a concerted change in the terrorist organization’s propaganda efforts, which now tell fighters to either carry out attacks in their home countries or travel to one of the group’s affiliate chapters.

ISIS also has active affiliates in Afghanistan, Egypt, and Libya, each of which command the loyalty of hundreds, if not thousands, of fighters. Many of its affiliates have been linked to high-profile attacks in their host countries and even plots against the West.

Also see:

Islamic State’s Rumiyah magazine glosses over losses to boost terrorist morale

Airstrikes targeted Islamic State positions in July after Iraqi prime minister declared “total victory” in Mosul. (Associated Press/File)

Washington Times, by Rowan Scarborough, Sept. 12, 2017:

The Islamic State is trying to buck up terrorist followers with a glowing report on killings around the globe as its home base “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria continues to crumble.

In its latest edition, the glossy online magazine Rumiyah, Islamic State’s flagship media production, ignores the shrinking base and focuses instead on the “massacring” the terrorist group is still able to foment.

“As the soldiers of the [caliphate] continue waging war on the forces or kufr [nonbelievers], we take a glimpse at a number of recent operations conducted by the mujahedeen of the Islamic State that have succeeded in expanding the territory of the [caliphate] or terrorizing, massacring and humiliating the enemies of Allah,” the magazine states.

The propaganda goes on to list what it calls successful attacks, including the Aug. 17 carnage in Barcelona, Spain, and more obscure but deadly operations. These include such targets as the Taliban and allies in Afghanistan and the Philippine military.

“These operations are merely a selection of the numerous operations that the Islamic State has conducted on various fronts across many regions over the course of the last few weeks,” says Rumiyah.

Launched last year, the magazine is published in various languages, including English, French and German, with the aim of attracting recruits from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. Rumiyah is putting its best face on a deteriorating situation that has stanched the flow of fighters.

Although Rumiyah does not tell its readers, Islamic State is losing its main selling point: a self-governing caliphate.

The one-of-a-kind terrorist army has been vanquished from its Iraqi capital of Mosul and has lost the key towns of Ramadi, Fallujah and, most recently, Tal Afar. In Syria, Arab and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. and allied air power and special operations forces, have taken a majority of the neighborhoods in Raqqa, Syria, Islamic State’s proclaimed capital. Russian-backed Syrian government forces also have recaptured large swaths of territory from the terrorist group.

As a result, much of Islamic State’s current propaganda focuses on conflicts far from its onetime Middle East stronghold.

“Lots of their propaganda content is dealing with Philippines and other territory and activity like in Afghanistan-Pakistan,” said Steven Stalinsky, who directs the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which tracks jihadi media. “Also, they are still putting out content including life-as-usual [pieces] in the caliphate. Many of their known media groups and followers on social media are expressing that they are still winning.”

Trying to inspire attacks

Even as it loses its grip on a swath of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State is still able to conduct and inspire mass-casualty attacks.

Rumiyah editors hope that that track record is sufficient to persuade followers globally to keep killing.

The headline “Military and Covert Operations” lauds the cell in Catalonia, which executed two deadly operations on a tourist-packed Barcelona street and in the nearby Spanish town of Cambrils.

“On [Aug. 17], two covert units comprised of several mujahedeen set out in a coordinated manner and targeted the gatherings of the crusaders in Spain,” the article says. “The blessed raid resulted in the killings and wounding of at least 146 citizens of the crusader coalition.”

Spanish officials put the number of victims at a fraction of the number claimed by the Islamic State propaganda organ.

In Afghanistan, Rumiyah claims that a burgeoning Islamic State has attacked the Taliban and allies and repelled counterassaults by the Afghan army. A follower assassinated a Pakistani intelligence operative, and another detonated a vehicle bomb that killed Pakistani soldiers.

The magazine claims successful strikes in July and August in the Philippines, Tunisia, Yemen, Somalia, Egyptian Sinai, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Russia.

Rumiyah makes dubious claims to back up its case, even listing an attack on an Iraqi army barracks that, rather than happening recently, occurred more than a year ago. Likewise, the intelligence officer was gunned down in 2016.

Then there is the pivotal Iraqi town of Tal Afar, a crossroads between Mosul and the Syrian border.

Rumiyah depicts Islamic State militants waging a heroic battle to keep the city first seized from Iraqi government control in June 2014.

“The soldiers of the [caliphate] for the second consecutive day repelled a crusader and Rafidi [caliphate rejectors] campaign against the city of Tal Afar, whose western and eastern axes witnessed fierce fighting,” the magazine said.

In reality, the city fell to the coalition in August.

“We are seeing steady progress and overwhelming momentum in the fight to defeat ISIS in Iraq,” U.S. Army Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a command spokesman in Baghdad, told reporters on Sept. 7, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “Iraqi security forces rolled over ISIS in decisive operations in Tal Afar. The [Iraqi Security Forces] are now quickly transitioning for follow-on operations in the few remaining ISIS-held areas in Iraq.”

He added, “We are witnessing the continued degradation of a morally bankrupt terrorist fighting force whose leaders are detaching more and more often from their foot soldiers.”

Brigitte Gabriel: ‘Something Has Happened in the Trump Presidency’ Regarding Radical Islam

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Breitbart, by Dan Rhiehl, Sept. 12, 2017:

Brigitte Gabriel, president of Act for America and author of They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It, spoke with Breitbart News Daily SiriusXM host Raheem Kassam regarding her Breitbart News piece on 9/11 and President Trump’s failure to mention “radical Islamic terrorism” in his speech Monday.

Citing the speech, Gabriel said, “Yesterday, it was obvious that something has happened in the Trump presidency that has changed and changed dramatically. When I listened to the speeches yesterday – like you mentioned – by all the leaders in the administration – by Trump, by Mattis, by Pence – it was literally a speech that could have been uttered by President Obama himself.”

Gabriel went on to discuss the Saudis and their funding of mosques in America that she claims are linked to preaching hate.

LISTEN:

Vast new intelligence haul fuels next phase of fight against Islamic State

Members of the Iraqi forces July 10 during the offensive against Islamic State fighters in Mosul. (Fadel Senna / AFP/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Times, by W. J. Hennigan, Sept. 8, 2017:

U. S. intelligence analysts have gained valuable insights into Islamic State’s planning and personnel from a vast cache of digital data and other material recovered from bombed-out offices, abandoned laptops and the cellphones of dead fighters in recently liberated areas of Iraq and Syria.

In the most dramatic gain, U.S. officials over the last two months have added thousands of names of known or suspected Islamic State operatives to an international watch list used at airports and other border crossings. The Interpol database now contains about 19,000 names.

The intelligence haul — the largest since U.S. forces entered the war in mid-2014 — threatens to overwhelm already stretched counter-terrorism and law enforcement agencies in Europe, where Islamic State has claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris, London and Stockholm this year.

With the extremist group’s army and self-declared caliphate fast shrinking, U.S. officials are concerned that foreign-born militants who once flocked to Iraq and Syria will try to escape before the U.S.-led coalition or other military forces can kill them.

In recent weeks, U.S.-backed ground forces have sent an estimated 30 terabytes of data — equal to nearly two years of nonstop video footage — to the National Media Exploitation Center in Bethesda, Md., a little-known arm of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence.

Analysts there are scrutinizing handwritten ledgers, computer spreadsheets, thumb drives, mobile phone memory cards and other materials for clues to terrorist cells or plots in Europe or elsewhere.

“The reason electronic exploitation is so critical is that enemy forces doesn’t fake those records,” an intelligence official said. “When you interrogate someone they can hide facts, but logs of phone calls and video clips don’t lie. That stuff isn’t made-up.”

The material came from Mosul, the militants’ self-declared capital in Iraq, which was recaptured July 9 after an eight-month battle. Other intelligence was found in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar, which was retaken on Aug. 31, and from Raqqah, the group’s self-declared capital in Syria, where fighting is still underway.

“We’ve gotten significant amounts of intelligence as a result of the fall of these places — much is still being analyzed,” Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told The Times during a visit to Amman, Jordan, last month. “It has helped us to identify at least some of their aspirations.”

U.S. officials said they have gleaned planning ideas and outlines of potential operations rather than ongoing terrorist plots. But they also have gathered details into the group’s leadership and the hierarchy of fighters under command.

The biggest windfall came from what officials said were meticulous Islamic State records about the foreign fighters who arrived since convoys of black-flagged militants first stormed out of northern Syria and into Iraq in 2014, capturing large parts of both countries and the world’s attention.

The records include their names, aliases, home countries and other personal information.

The data has been shared with a 19-nation task force in Jordan, code-named Operation Gallant Phoenix, that tries to track foreign fighters in an effort to disrupt terrorist cells and networks. The task force is led by the U.S. military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command.

“If we find information about foreign fighters from a certain country, we go through proper procedures to make sure it’s shared,” said Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat Islamic State. President Obama appointed McGurk in 2015 and President Trump has kept him on.

“So it is a very comprehensive campaign, militarily, on the ground, taking territory back; collecting information; processing it; and then building the database and the system so it can be shared and acted upon,” McGurk said in Amman.

With few U.S. troops on the ground, most of the intelligence is gathered by Iraqi security forces and U.S.-backed Syrian militias who have been trained to gather, bag and tag material to be analyzed back in the states.

A phone from the pocket of a dead fighter often includes phone numbers that can assist counter-terrorism investigations far afield. Indeed, intelligence recovered from the battlefield since 2015 has led to arrests or broken up plots in at least 15 countries in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and Canada, officials said.

Matthew Levitt, a former counter-terrorism official at the FBI and Treasury Department now with the nonpartisan Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said obtaining an alias, driver’s license, passport number or biometric data can be crucial to blocking a terrorist plot.

“Time and again, we’ve found that even the smallest bit of information can prove critical,” he said. “It could help us discover a person we never knew about or provide new leads on an underground cell.”

U.S. officials say Islamic State has lost 60% of the territory it captured in 2014, and its force has been halved to about 15,000 fighters. The recent intelligence indicates that they are concentrating forces and shifting their operations base to the Middle Euphrates River Valley, which lies between Iraq and Syria.

An estimated 8,000 fighters have moved to the valley, which stretches more than 150 miles from Deir el Zour in eastern Syria down to Rawa in western Iraq. They include most of the group’s leaders and their families, as well as key aides for administrative functions.

A U.S. special operations task force tracked and killed three leaders, who allegedly oversaw weapons research and drone operations, in the valley this week, officials said. In all, more than 35 military commanders, weapons production experts, financial facilitators and external attacks plotters have been killed there in the past year.

Islamic State founder Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi is believed to be hiding in the area, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who completed his tour this month as top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. He predicted the militants would make their “last stand” in the valley.

“That’s where they believe their last sanctuary is,” he told reporters on Aug. 31.

Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria analyst at the nonpartisan Institute for the Study of War in Washington, warned that the battle is far from over. Islamic State’s leadership ranks have proven resilient and its harsh Islamist message continues to find an audience among disaffected youth.

“The noose is tightening, so to speak, but these guys don’t quit,” she said. “The remaining terrain won’t be taken quickly or easily. And even when it is taken, there’s no guarantee that accomplishment will mark the end.”