The CIA’s Syria Program and the Perils of Proxies

Fadi Al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images

Fadi Al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images

Daily Beast, by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr, Jan. 19, 2016:

After fighting al Qaeda and its affiliates for a decade and a half, the CIA is now helping them gain ground in Syria.
Almost every aspect of the Obama administration’s policy toward Syria has been scrutinized, lambasted or praised in recent months, but one of the most significant facets, the CIA’s covert aid program to Syrian rebels, has largely slipped below the radar.

It is time that we start paying attention, since this initiative is benefiting the very jihadist groups the U.S. has been fighting for the past 15 years.

America’s abrupt about-face is a mistake, but even those who would defend this new course as the least bad option should favor a more robust public debate.

The CIA’s program, launched in 2013, initially was conceived as a way of strengthening moderate rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime without significantly increasing the U.S. footprint in the conflict.

The program got off to a slow start, with rebel commanders grumbling that the CIA was stingy due to its concern that weapons would fall into extremists’ hands. As a result, moderate rebels were forced at times to ration ammunition. At least one rebel group severed its ties with the CIA and joined an Islamist-led coalition, while other CIA-backed rebels stopped fighting.

After these early hiccups, the program evolved.

Anonymous U.S. officials now tell the media that CIA-backed rebels have begun to experience unprecedented successes, particularly in northwestern Syria. Yet these gains reveal a darker side to the CIA-backed groups’ victories, and even American officials’ framing of these advances provides reason for concern. As the Associated Press reported in October, officials have explained that the CIA-backed groups were capturing new territory by “fighting alongside more extremist factions.”

Who are these extremist co-belligerents? Analysis of the geography of “moderate” rebels’ gains during this period and reports from the battlefield demonstrate that CIA-backed groups collaborated with Jaysh al-Fateh, an Islamist coalition in which Jabhat al-Nusra—al Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate—is a leading player.

Hassan Hassan, co-author (with The Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss) of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, suggested that rebel gains in Idlib in April 2015 showcased the symmetries between CIA-backed forces and Nusra when he attributed the rebels’ successes to suicide bombers (frequently deployed by Nusra and other jihadists) and “American anti-tank TOW missiles.” In southern Syria, the CIA-backed Southern Front fought alongside Nusra in the campaign to take the city of Deraa in June 2015.

CIA-backed groups in northwestern Syria publicly acknowledge their relationship with the al Qaeda affiliate. A commander of Fursan ul-Haq, a rebel group that received TOW missiles through CIA channels, explained that “there is something misunderstood by world powers: We have to work with Nusra Front and other groups to fight” both Assad’s regime and the Islamic State.

Similarly, a spokesman for CIA-backed Suqour al-Ghab justified his group’s collaboration with Nusra by noting that “we work with all factions when there are attacks on the regime, either through direct cooperation or just coordinating the movements of troops so we don’t fire at each other.”

The fact that CIA-backed groups collaborate with Nusra does not necessarily prove that they harbor jihadist sympathies, nor that they hoodwinked the American officials who vetted them. In many or perhaps most cases, these groups’ decision to cooperate with Nusra is born out of pragmatism.

When fighting a regime as brutal as Assad’s, it is natural to look for allies wherever they may be found. Further, as one of the dominant players in northern Syria, Nusra can dictate terms to smaller rebel factions. The experiences of Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front, two CIA-backed groups that Nusra literally obliterated in late 2014, are a stark warning.

Jamaal Maarouf, the commander of the Syrian Revolutionary Front, explainedafter his group was ousted from Syria that no militia in the rebel umbrella organization known as the Free Syrian Army can operate in northern Syria “without Nusra’s approval.”

Because of Nusra’s strength, CIA-backed factions have entered what has beencalled a “marriage of necessity” with the jihadist group, which is exploiting its position to gain access to American weapons.

After rebels seized a Syrian military base in Idlib province in December 2014, CIA-backed groups admitted that they had been forced to use U.S.-provided TOW missiles to support the Nusra-led offensive. One rebel explained that Nusra had allowed CIA-backed groups to retain physical control of the missiles so as to maintain the veneer of autonomy, thus allowing them to sustain their relationship with the CIA. In short, Nusra has at times gamed the system.

But such subterfuge notwithstanding, at this point it is impossible to argue that U.S. officials involved in the CIA’s program cannot discern that Nusra and other extremists have benefited. And despite this, the CIA decided to drastically increase lethal support to vetted rebel factions following the Russian intervention into Syria in late September.

Rebels who previously complained about the CIA’s tight-fistedness suddenly found the floodgates open, particularly with respect to TOW missiles. One rebel explained: “We can get as much as we need and whenever we need them. Just fill in the numbers.” Reports suggest that the Obama administration and Sunni states backing the opposition have also discussed, though not committed to, providing shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons to vetted groups.

With the CIA doubling down on its support for Syrian rebels, it is now more important than ever to have a candid and vigorous public debate about the agency’s program. Put simply, such an about-face in U.S. policy—backing groups that help al Qaeda to make advances, after spending a decade and a half fighting the jihadist group—should not occur without a public debate that helps Americans understand why such drastic changes in U.S. policy have occurred.

Several prominent figures have defended this program. For instance, Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria, argued that by maintaining the supply of lethal support to moderate rebels, the CIA may ultimately be able to build up these factions as a viable alternative to Nusra, the Islamic State and Assad.

But the program’s costs outweigh its possible benefits. Though aiding al Qaeda’s advances is not the program’s intention, it is the effect. Thus, after fighting al Qaeda and its affiliates for a decade and a half, the CIA is now helping them gain ground in Syria.

At the moment, al Qaeda is trying to rebrand itself by contrasting its approach to that of the far more brutal Islamic State—and, unfortunately, it has experienced some success due to its jihadist competitor’s excesses and the escalating conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Al Qaeda has portrayed itself to Sunni states and the Muslim public as a bulwark against both the Islamic State’s growth and Iranian encroachment. If U.S.-backed rebels are cooperating with al Qaeda, the United States will be hard-pressed to stop al Qaeda from gaining more room to operate in the region.

It is unlikely that the United States, with no meaningful presence in Syria, understands the situation on the ground better than al Qaeda, and can strategically outmaneuver the jihadist group. The danger is too great that continuation of this policy will empower Nusra further, eventually forcing policymakers to confront a greatly emboldened al Qaeda force in Syria.

This is why, at the very least, we should have a robust public discussion about whether to continue this course in Syria—a debate that the U.S. Congress is well positioned to kickstart through public hearings on the CIA’s program. Allowing this program to continue without carefully thinking through the benefits, costs, and possible unintended consequences is incredibly risky, and could erode public trust and support.

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Also see:

U.S. Continues to Limit Airstrikes Against ISIS Camps

ISIS training camp / Screenshot from YouTube

ISIS training camp / Screenshot from YouTube

Washington Free Beacon, by Bill Gertz, Dec. 17, 2015:

President Obama said for the first time this week that U.S. and allied airstrikes are targeting ISIS training camps in Iraq and Syria, but new figures reveal only 20 camps were hit in recent months.

Since May, U.S. and allied air forces conducted 17 attacks hitting a total of 20 camps in Syria and Iraq, according to the U.S. military command in Iraq.

Critics in the Obama administration and U.S. military say ISIS has been operating more than 60 training camps since 2014 in areas of Syria and Iraq. The camps are said to be producing an estimated 1,000 fighters a month.

The officials voiced frustrations that ISIS training camps are not being vigorously struck.

“These camps give them a continuous, fresh flow fighters,” said one official, “and little is being done to destroy them.”

According to the officials, the U.S. military has been constrained from attacking the camps because many are located in or near residential areas and population centers and the White House fears strikes will produce civilian casualties.

Additionally, the flow of trained fighters from the camps is assisting ISIS efforts to expand its operations into placed such as Libya and Yemen.

France’s Le Figoro newspaper reported Dec. 12 that ISIS has set up two major training camps in the Libyan desert near Houn, about 135 miles south of the coastal city of Sirte.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reported to be in Sirte Dec. 3, according to Libyan press reports.

Long War Journal reported in June that the number of terrorist training camps in Syria and Iraq continues to increase, for both ISIS and al Qaeda. The journal reported that more than 100 training camps have been identified in the two Middle East states.

“The proliferation of training camps in Iraq and Syria speaks to the strength of the Islamic State and its ability to continue to gather and instruct recruits despite the U.S. and allies’ air campaign,” said Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal.

“It is unclear if U.S. airstrikes have significantly set back the Islamic State’s training program,” he told the Washington Free Beacon. “We may not be hitting the training facilities quick enough to make a difference.”

Obama, under pressure from critics at home and abroad over the limited military strategy against ISIS, on Monday vowed that the U.S. strategy is “moving forward with a great sense of urgency” following ISIS-linked attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

“Every day, we destroy as well more of ISIL’s forces—their fighting positions, bunkers, and staging areas; their heavy weapons, bomb-making factories, compounds and training camps,” Obama said at the Pentagon on Monday following a National Security Council meeting.

French military forces have conducted airstrikes in recent weeks against ISIS training camps in Syria where French ISIS fighters were believed to be training.

The public affairs office at the Combined Joint Task Force—Operation Inherent Resolve said in a statement to the Free Beacon that the 17 strikes included five airstrikes in Iraq and nine in Syria.

“In some of these strikes, the training area was not the primary target, so it may not have been specified in our strike releases,” the statement said.

Between May 20 and Dec. 8, the attacks included several strikes near Raqqah, where ISIS headquarters is located, against a training camps and staging areas; attacks also were conducted against a training area and logistics site near Dayr Az Zawr; and strikes on a training camps near Kobani, Mosul, Albu Hayat, and Abu Kamal.

A military statement issued Dec. 17 said a training camp was bombed near Raqqah.

Asked about the low number of training camp attacks, Army Col. Steven Warren, a coalition spokesman, said, “We have struck training camps and will continue to do so.”

Sebastian Gorka, the Horner distinguished chair of military theory at Marine Corps University, said final victory in the current anti-ISIS campaign will not be measured by the number of body bags but that “taking out jihadi camps right now is the number one priority.”

“Victory will come when we and our allies have delegitimized the ideology of global jihadism, but at the moment ISIS is powerful and growing and must be met with decisive force,” he said.

“The rate of U.S. strikes today is infinitesimal in comparison to the First Gulf War and our pilots’ incredibly restrictive rules of engagement mean that they often return to base with ordinance still on their wing struts,” Gorka said. “As long as ISIS has ten of thousands of fighters in theater, this in inexcusable.”

Rep. Mike Turner (R., Ohio) said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing last month that key targets, including training camps, are not being bombed.

“There’s great frustration in the American public as we hear that there are attacks now happening to ISIS, and ISIL training camps that we’ve known where they are but no one’s attacking them,” Turner said Nov. 18.

“Logistic, supply lines, sales of oil, other operations of ISIS and ISIL are going without challenge,” he added. “So clearly the strategy that we’re doing is not working and is threatening our national security.”

The Pentagon recently began hitting oil facilities and transportation vehicles.

Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Syria and Iraq, testified at the committee hearing that the U.S. and allied forces should “amp up significantly the air campaign against Islamic State.”

“Paris changed a lot of things and I think it should certainly change how we look at a target list, let’s look at it again,” Crocker said. “If there are key facilities for Islamic State that we’ve identified, we need to go nail them.”

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It is obvious that Obama is just phoning it in and will not do anything to seriously go after ISIS despite the growing threat:

Tentacles of terror: Chilling map shows the 31,000 mercenary ‘gun for hire’ jihadis from 86 countries who left their homes to join ISIS… and a third may return to carry out Paris-style attacks (dailymail.co.uk)

2F2BA5C800000578-3350779-Convergence_More_than_31_000_foreign_fighters_have_travelled_to_-a-5_1450281123937

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Islamic State’s 43 Global Affiliates Interactive World Map (intelcenter.com)

Following the creation of the Islamic State (IS), Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called for jihadi groups around the world to pledge allegiance to IS. Below are lists of jihadi groups that have pledged allegiance/support as of 15 Dec. 2015.

SUPPORT/PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO IS
• al-I’tisam of the Koran and Sunnah [Sudan] – 1 Aug. 2014 – Support
• Abu Sayyaf Group [Philippines] – 25 Jun. 2014 – Support
• Ansar al-Khilafah [Philippines] – 14 Aug. 2014 – Allegiance
• Ansar al-Tawhid in India [India] – 4 Oct. 2014 – Allegiance
• Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) [Phillippines] – 13 Aug. 2014 – Support
• Bangsmoro Justice Movement (BJM) [Phillippines] – 11 Sep. 2014 – Support
• Jemaah Islamiyah [Philippines] 27 Apr. 2015 – Allegiance
• al-Huda Battalion in Maghreb of Islam [Algeria] – 30 Jun. 2014 – Allegiance
• The Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria [Algeria] – 30 Sep. 2014 – Allegiance
• al-Ghurabaa [Algeria] – 7 Jul. 2015 – Allegiance
• Djamaat Houmat ad-Da’wa as-Salafiya (DHDS) [Algeria] 19 Sep. 2015 – Allegiance
• al-Ansar Battalion [Algeria] 4 Sep. 2015 – Allegiance
• Jundullah [Pakistan] – 17 Nov. 2014 – Support
• Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) [Pakistan/Uzbekistan] Video – 31 Jul. 2015 – Allegiance
• Tehreek-e-Khilafat [Pakistan] – 9 Jul. 2014 – Allegiance
• Leaders of the Mujahid in Khorasan (ten former TTP commanders) [Pakistan] – 10 Jan. 2015 – Allegiance
• Islamic Youth Shura Council [Libya] – 22 Jun. 2014 – Support
• Jaish al-Sahabah in the Levant [Syria] – 1 Jul. 2014 – Allegiance
• Martyrs of al-Yarmouk Brigade [Syria] – Dec. 2014 – Part of IS – Allegiance
• Faction of Katibat al-Imam Bukhari [Syria] – 29 Oct. 2014 – Allegiance
• Jamaat Ansar Bait al-Maqdis [Egypt] – 30 Jun. 2014 – Allegiance
• Jund al-Khilafah in Egypt [Egypt] – 23 Sep. 2014 – Allegiance
• Liwa Ahrar al-Sunna in Baalbek [Lebanon] – 30 Jun. 2014 – Allegiance
• Islamic State Libya (Darnah) [Libya] – 9 Nov. 2014 – Allegiance
• Lions of Libya [Libya] (Unconfirmed) – 24 Sep. 2014 – [Support/Allegiance]
• Shura Council of Shabab al-Islam Darnah [Libya] – 6 Oct. 2014 – Allegiance
• Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT) [Indonesia] – Aug. 2014 – Allegiance
• Mujahideen Indonesia Timor (MIT) [Indonesia] – 1 Jul. 2014 – Allegiance
• Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSCJ) [Egypt] – 1 Oct. 2014 – Support
• Okba Ibn Nafaa Battalion [Tunisia] – 20 Sep. 2014 – Support
• Jund al-Khilafah in Tunisia [Tunisia] – 31 Mar. 2015 – Allegiance
• Central Sector of Kabardino-Balakria of the Caucasus Emirate (CE) [Russia] – 26 Apr. 2015 – Allegiance
• Mujahideen of Tunisia of Kairouan [Tunisia] 18 May 2015 – Allegiance
• Mujahideen of Yemen [Yemen] – 10 Nov. 2014 – Allegiance
• Supporters for the Islamic State in Yemen [Yemen] – 4 Sep. 2014 – Allegiance
• al-Tawheed Brigade in Khorasan [Afghanistan] – 23 Sep. 2014 – Allegiance
• Heroes of Islam Brigade in Khorasan [Afghanistan] – 30 Sep. 2014 – Allegiance
• Supporters of the Islamic State in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques [Saudi Arabia] – 2 Dec. 2014 – Support
• Ansar al-Islam [Iraq] – 8 Jan. 2015 – Allegiance
• Boko Haram [Nigeria] – 7 Mar. 2015 – Allegiance
• The Nokhchico Wilayat of the Caucasus Emirate (CE) [Russia] – 15 Jun. 2015 – Allegiance
• al-Ansar Battalion [Algeria] – 4 Sep. 2015 – Allegiance
• al-Shabaab Jubba Region Cell Bashir Abu Numan [Somalia]- 7 Dec. 2015 – Allegiance

Fireworks at GOP Debate as Candidates Debate Nat’l Security

Republican-Debate-Las-Vegas-HPClarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Dec. 16, 2915:

The fifth Republican presidential debate took place last night and focused on national security. It was filled with substance discussions of how the U.S. should fight Islamist extremism, highlighting important differences on handling Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, democracy promotion and an almost universal desire to ally with Muslims who stand against Islamist extremism.

You can read the Clarion Project’s factsheets on each Democratic and Republican presidential candidate’s positions related to Islamist extremism here.  These factsheets do not reflect new positions taken during last night’s debate. Here is a round-up the specific issues discussed by the candidates last night:

Identifying the Ideology

All the candidates defined the enemy with different variants of “radical Islam,” as opposed to Hillary Clinton’s definition of it as “jihadism” and President Obama’s choice of “violent extremism.” A few of the candidates displayed a greater knowledge of the nature of the Islamist ideology.

Rick Santorum identified the core threat as a “theocracy doctrine” emanating from the fact that Islam originated as a dual religious-governmental system under sharia law.

He said this feature makes Islam “different” from other major faiths. “Islam is not just a religion. It is also a political governing structure. The fact of the matter is that Islam is a religion but it is also sharialaw; it is also a civil government; a form of government. And so the idea that that is protected under the First Amendment is wrong. And, in fact, that political structure is what is the big problem. The imposition of sharia law adherence in fundamental Islam, as it was practiced in the 7th Century. There has to be a line drawn,” he said.

Santorum also said the conflict has evolved into World War  III because U.S. policy has “lit the fuse of a nuclear Iran.”

Mike Huckabee stated that he agreed with Santorum’s assessment of Islam. He later said that the objective must be to defeat “every form of radical Islam,” which is an expansion from the exclusive focus on ISIS and Iran.

Ted Cruz said that the U.S. is not at war with the faith of Islam but with a political-theocratic Islamic ideology. He pointed to India, a country with a large Muslim population, to show that the West is not at war with the entire Muslim world. However, Cruz said that being a “Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter” is not the answer and mocked democracy-promoters for touting moderate Muslim forces that are like “a purple unicorn” and end up being jihadists.

Proposed Ban on Muslim Immigration

Donald Trump stood by his call for a halt to all entry of Muslims into the United States, though he has clarified in recent days that there would be a small number of exceptions such as Muslims who serve in the U.S. armed forces. His proposal was rejected by each of the other candidates.

Lindsey Graham directly addressed the estimated 3,500 Muslims serving in the U.S. military to thank them for their service and said that U.S. strategy needs to work with those within the faith of Islam to defeat the extremists. He told the following brief story to make his point:

“I was at the second presidential election in Afghanistan. The guy guarding me was an American-Muslim sergeant in the Army who grew up in Kabul, left when he was—he graduated high school, joined the U.S. Army, went back to his high school where they were doing polling, people voting. He took me there and cried like a baby. And I cried like a baby. He is the solution to this problem, folks. He is not the problem. Leave the faith alone.”

Graham said that Trump’s language has done the “one single-most thing you should not do—declare a war on Islam,” adding that “ISIS would be dancing in the streets [at Trump’s language]—if they believed in dancing.”

George Pataki condemned the proposed ban and Trump’s overall attitude towards Muslims, accusing him of demeaning millions of Muslim-Americans. He described Trump as a modern-day version of the Know-Nothing Party that opposed Catholic immigration. Pataki said the U.S. should embrace Muslims who oppose jihad within the U.S. and abroad.

Mike Huckabee pointed out that the ban is also impractical. A jihadist who desires to kill will certainly be willing to lie about whether they are a Muslim when attempting to enter the country.

Resettling of Syrian Refugees inside America

All of the candidates opposed President Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. in some way.

Several pointed out that the female ISIS terrorist who participated in the San Bernardino terrorist attack expressed her desire on social media to commit violent jihad and still passed through the Department of Homeland Security’s vetting process for a K-1 visa to come to the country. Shockingly, immigration officials are prohibitedfrom reviewing social media postings of visa applicants. Only now is the Department of Homeland Security revising its vetting process to include social media activity.

Ben Carson said that the best solution is to help the Syrian refugees resettle in the region and in safe zones inside Syria. He said that an alliance of Syrian Kurds, Christians and moderate Sunnis have come together (referring to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces) that oppose both Assad and ISIS and is creating such a safe zone in the Hasakah Province in Syria.

Rick Santorum added that the Department of Homeland Security should be able to consider a broader range of indicators of Islamist radicalization when granting visas to enter the country, such as whether the applicant attends a mosque with a history of extremist preaching.

Santorum also said that bringing in persecuted religious minorities into the U.S. as refugees isn’t the preferred option because then they lose their ancestral homeland. He said it also means the U.S. has less moderate Muslim allies in the area, so it’s better to assist with setting up refugee camps.

Carly Fiorina explained some of the flaws in the Department of Homeland Security vetting process. She said that names are checked against databases of suspected terrorists, but that would not necessarily include terrorist sympathizers. She pointed out that parents and employers regularly review social media accounts of other people but the security officials cannot.

John Kasich emphasized that he is opposed to an eternal ban on resettling Syrian refugees but that a pause is needed as the vetting process is reviewed in light of discovered flaws.

Mike Huckabee took strong offense to the notion that opposing the resettlement of refugees is a hypocritical position for a Christian to take.

Homeland Security

Ted Cruz explained his opposition to the NSA’s collection of phone metadata and his vote in favor of the USA Freedom Act to stop the bulk collection. He argued that the act actually expand the amount of counter-terrorism intelligence available to authorities, reduce information overload that inhibits operations and expand the surveillance of other phones used by terrorists.

Marco Rubio defended his support of the NSA’s bulk collection of phone metadata and said the changes under the USA Freedom Act means that federal authorities have lost valuable intelligence. He alluded to the fact that his position in the Senate gives him access to classified information that would vindicate his position.

Rand Paul sided with Cruz in opposing the NSA’s metadata collection program on the grounds of civil liberties and that it results in information overload for the authorities.

George Pataki most strongly spoke about Islamist extremist networks within the U.S. aside from terrorist cells. He cited the NYPD’scontroversial counter-terrorism intelligence-gathering as a model of success because it focused on mosques, community meetings and social media where radical ideologies are present. In the past, he has said he’d apply the same standard to any houses of worship or public venue where it is known that violent extremism is being advocated.

Pataki said that the advocating of violence against Americans, including support for jihad against the U.S., is not protected free speech and should be prosecuted. He has previously stated that non-profit organizations that promote terrorist groups or incite violence against Americans should lose their tax-exempt status.

Pataki said that the U.S. must work with Muslims who oppose violent jihad abroad and at home, implying that the U.S. has not done enough to support moderate leaders domestically like the newly-announced Muslim Reform Movement.

He twice emphasized the need for a law to force communications companies to have a backdoor key so the authorities can decode any encrypted message sent through their service, pointing to how 109 encrypted messages sent by an ISIS supporter who committed a shooting in Texas have still not been deciphered by the FBI.

Carly Fiorina opposes a federal law like Pataki talked about, saying that private companies will cooperate if asked as she did when she led Hewlett-Packard. She recalled an incident where she responded to the NSA’s request for assistance.

John Kasich spoke about the need to enable the federal authorities to decode the encrypted messages of terrorists.

Mike Huckabee agreed with Pataki that it is not a violation of the Constitution for the NYPD and other agencies to attend public venues just like any American citizen can, whether it’s to listen to a sermon at a mosque or a church. Huckabee questioned the motives of Islamic groups that oppose such practices. He said that a house of worship with a true message of peace would be okay with anyone attending and would hope of winning a convert.

Ben Carson says he supports the authorities monitoring anywhere that shows signs of radicalization, including mosques and Islamic schools. He explicitly referenced a 1991 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood Explanatory Memorandum that was released during the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for financing Hamas. Carson mentioned how the memo indicates that the Brotherhood planned to use political correctness against us.

Rick Santorum, as mentioned above, said that the political-governmental aspects of Islam should not be treated the same way as the solely religious part of Islam. He said the former is not protected by the First Amendment in the same way.

He supports the NSA’s bulk phone metadata collection and emphasized that the data is not the content of conversations and has no personal identifiers unless someone’s phone number is linked to a phone number used by an overseas terrorist. His argument is that the collection of more anonymous data enables less intrusive intelligence collection that raises privacy issues.

He opposes a measure by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to prevent the purchase of guns by those who are on the no-fly list because of constitutional concerns. The individual is denied a right by being placed on a secret list without recourse. He said that a better option is stronger coordination between the government agencies so background checks detect suspected terrorists trying to purchase guns.

Lindsey Graham supports the NSA’s metadata collection program. He added that once an American’s phone number is found in a terrorist’s phone, a court order is still needed in order to authorize a wiretap of that American citizen’s communications.

Chris Christie emphasized that he worked as the U.S. Attorney for N.J. and prosecuted terrorists using controversial programs like the Patriot Act and maintained his support for them. He said he worked successfully with the Muslim community in his state on counter-terrorism efforts.

Jeb Bush sounded dismissive of the need for broader authority to monitor radicalization within the U.S. He said that the FBI and other agencies are already watching anti-American activity and it shouldn’t even be a part of the public discussion.

War Against ISIS in Iraq and Syria

Lindsey Graham remains the only candidate calling for a major U.S. ground offensive against the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS/ISIL) involving 10,000 troops in Iraq and 10,000 in Syria. He said that only 10% of the troops in Syria would be American, with another 90,000 coming from Turkey and neighboring Arab countries. He believes that the Syrian-Russian airstrikes have eliminated the option of supporting Syrian rebels on the ground to do the fighting for us.

His plan would involve a long-term occupation of territory and nation-building, including building girls’ schools in villages, in order to counter the radical Islamic ideology. His plan is opposed by Santorum and Pataki.

Rick Santorum supports increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and providing trainers in Syria but would not deploy combat troops to Syria because it risks “crossing a tripwire theologically that could turn on us.” He accurately explained that ISIS’ propaganda is that it is fulfilling apocalyptic End Times prophecies and that luring U.S. troops into Syria and a “particular town” (referring to Dabiq) would vindicate its claims.

He said that Islamic teachings compel Muslims to follow thecaliphate and ISIS has the first one since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1924. He believes that the key to defeating ISIS is that Islamic law teaches that a caliphate’s defeat means it does not have Allah‘s blessing, so forcing it to lose territory to Kurds and Iraqi Sunnis would destroy its legitimacy.

George Pataki supports increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and brought attention to the success of Iraqi Sunni tribes who are advancing against ISIS in Ramadi and want more U.S. assistance. He said he would not direct aid through the central Iraqi government in Baghdad to ensure speedy delivery.

In Syria, Pataki advocates supporting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern and eastern Syria that defeated ISIS in Kobani. He favors working with Turkey to establish a no-fly zone along the Syrian border to stem the flow of refugees. Russian aircraft that violated the no-fly zone would be targeted.

He opposes a long-term occupation as described by Graham. He pointed out that the 2003 invasion of Iraq took a turn for the worst once the population viewed U.S. troops as long-term occupiers instead of liberators, particularly when U.S. forces were hosted inside of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces.

He recommended working with Saudi Arabia because it justannounced an alliance of 34 Muslim countries to combat terrorist organizations and promoters of violent ideologies (even though alliance members included known sponsors of extremism).

Marco Rubio described ISIS as the most sophisticated terrorist group the U.S. has ever faced and warned that it is growing in Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen and has Jordan “in its sights.” He warned that ISIS is winning the propaganda war and that the U.S. needs a strategy that exposes the hardships of life under the ISIS caliphate and broadcasts our successes so that they no longer look invincible to recruits.

Rubio, like Santorum, referred to the apocalyptic brand of radical Islam practiced by ISIS. He said that the perception that ISIS is succeeding furthers their propaganda that they are waging a war foretold in prophecy that will end with the West’s defeat.

Jeb Bush said that the U.S. must arm the Kurds directly and go around the central Iraqi government’s authority, as well as establish a no-fly zone over Syria. He would embed U.S. forces within the Iraqi security forces to improve their effectiveness and “get lawyers off the backs” of the U.S. military so there’d be less restrictions.

Mike Huckabee said he supports increasing U.S. troops in Iraq and would be comfortable with an addition of 10-20,000 troops. He would dramatically increase the air campaign against ISIS, pointing out that President Obama boasts of 9,000 air sorties against the group over 18 months but 3,000 sorties happened daily during the Gulf War. He would also loosen the rules of engagement.

Ted Cruz similarly said he would use “overwhelming air power” to defeat ISIS and would directly arm the Kurds. He made a similar statement as Huckabee did but with different numbers. He claimed that there were 1,100 air attacks per day during the Gulf War and today it is only between 15 and 30.

Ben Carson spoke in support of arming certain groups inside Syria that oppose both Assad and ISIS and emphasized destroying ISIS’ ability to raise money through black market oil sales. He claimed that ISIS is able to recruit disaffected people by offering money, indicating he believes that there is a connection between poverty and Islamist terrorism.

Carly Fiorina said that she’d involve Arab partners like Jordan and Egypt to fight ISIS and would bring back the best military minds like General Keane, General Petraeus, General McCarthy, and Lt.-General and former Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn.

John Kasich likewise pointed to Saudi Arabia’s announcement of an alliance against terrorist groups and ideologies and said the U.S. must work closely with it. He called for a major international ground offensive like what happened in the Gulf War.

Donald Trump said the U.S. should have a cyber warfare team that takes down the Internet over parts of Iraq and Syria where ISIS operate. He also criticized the media for glorifying ISIS terrorists as “masterminds” of plots. Trump also defended his idea to kill or punish the families of ISIS terrorists since they desire to lose their own lives.

Rand Paul was the most direct opponent of using U.S. combat forces in the region, saying that only Arab troops should partake. He also does not support arming Syrian rebels against ISIS because they are allies of Al-Qaeda and other jihadists.

He criticized Trump’s idea of killing or punishing the families of terrorists by saying it would require that the U.S. withdraw from international treaties like the Geneva Convention.

Toppling the Pro-Iran Syrian Dictatorship

Lindsey Graham said it is “imperative” that Assad be removed from power because he has killed nearly a quarter-million Syrians and the civil war will not end until he leaves. He also said that supporting Assad is akin to supporting Iran because he is their ally and a sponsor of terrorism.

Rick Santorum agrees that the U.S. must force Assad out of power, partially because of a dangerous perception in the region that the U.S. has chosen to ally with Iran and Shiite extremists against the Sunnis. He said that ISIS uses this as powerful anti-American propaganda.

Marco Rubio supports removing Assad from power because his reign is a “main reason” why ISIS exists. The Assad dictatorship’s oppression caused and sustains the civil war that enables ISIS to find safe havens. He also mentioned that Assad is an anti-American ally of Iran who sponsored terrorists in Iraq to kill U.S. servicemen.

Chris Christie supports removing Assad and says his rule is interconnected with the strength of ISIS. He said that ISIS recruits from the oppression of Sunnis by Assad and Iran.

John Kasich supports a policy of removing Assad from power with the help of regional allies like the bloc announced by Saudi Arabia.

Rand Paul opposes a policy of removing Assad from power and removing secular dictatorships more generally, arguing that history shows it leads to the rise of radical Islam. He said that supporting Syrian rebels means supporting the allies of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Paul also criticized proposals for a no-fly zone over Syria, saying it would risk World War III if Russian aircraft violated it and were shot down.

Donald Trump made a similar argument in opposing overthrowing Assad and reminding the audience of his opposition to the overthrowing of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Gaddafi in Libya. He said the U.S. should seize the oil of Iraq and use the revenue to pay those that served in the war.

Ted Cruz said that he would not have a foreign policy of democracy promotion, involvement in civil wars removing Assad from power. He predicted that ISIS would take over the rest of Syria if Assad falls.

Mike Huckabee indicated that he does not support a policy of removing Bashar Assad from power because he is not killing Americans. He compared supporting the Syrian opposition to the Obama Administration’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Iran

All of the candidates oppose the nuclear deal with Iran and the debate did not highlight their differences on whether they would immediately withdraw from the deal, alter it in cooperation with allies or only abandon it if Iranian violations are detected.

George Pataki argued that the deal does not technically exist and so the U.S. is not required to abide by it any longer. He said it was not ratified as a treaty by the Iranian government and they already violated the agreement by testing long-range ballistic missiles. The U.S. would therefore not be withdrawing from the agreement.

Rick Santorum said that the deal is effectively over because the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed in a recent report that Iran is still withholding information about its past nuclear weapons work.

Mike Huckabee said he would sanction Iran and stop unduly pressuring Israel, accusing the administration of putting more pressure on Israel over building bedrooms in Judea and Samara (also known as the West Bank) than on Iran for building nuclear weapons.

Muslim Brotherhood

Ted Cruz made sure to describe the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group when he criticized those who supported the removal of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Ben Carson explicitly referenced a 1991 U.S. Muslim Brotherhood Explanatory Memorandum that was released during the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for financing Hamas. Carson mentioned how the memo indicates that the Brotherhood planned to use political correctness against us.

Mike Huckabee criticized the Obama Administration for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Libya

Ted Cruz blasted the Obama Administration and his Republican rivals who supported the NATO intervention in Libya’s civil war to topple the Gaddafi dictatorship. He characterized Gaddafi as a counter-terrorism partner. Cruz contrasted their argument that he would be replaced by moderates with the current instability and ISIS presence in Libya.

Marco Rubio countered that the U.S. did not start the revolution in Libya and that inaction would have brought results similar to what we see in Syria, where extremist militias and terrorists grow in power as the civil war continues. He pointed to Gaddafi’s record of sponsoring terrorism against the U.S., including the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and the bombing of a club in Germany frequented by U.S. troops.

Rand Paul opposed the U.S. involvement in Libya’s civil war that removed Gaddafi from power, describing it as an example of a flawed strategy of undermining secular dictatorships in Muslim countries.

Lindsey Graham did not directly say whether he would deploy U.S. troops to Libya to fight ISIS’ advances in that country.

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 engagement.

The West Can Defeat ISIS – but What Comes Next?

06182014_ISIL_ISIS_Standing_Guard_IraqBy Pete Hoekstra and Clare Lopez, The Fiscal Times, December 8, 2015

French President François Hollande is making the rounds of the world’s capitals, jet setting between London, Washington and Moscow with several meetings in-between.

He is engaged in a full-throttle effort to convince leaders of a plain and simple plan. Immediately eliminate the Islamic State that’s claimed responsibility for the massacre of 130 innocent men, women and children in Paris. That the jihadist state needs to go is not in dispute. It is creating chaos and mayhem throughout the Middle East, parts of Africa and beyond. ISIS is an aggressively metastasizing cancer that threatens Europe and North America.

Before a global coalition follows the French headfirst into this Indiana-sized caliphate located in the former Iraq and Syria, however, we need to answer questions related to competing political and territorial concerns.

The last time the U.S. led from behind the French, the message was also seemingly plain and simple. Remove Muammar Gaddafi by aiding, abetting and arming Libya’s al-Qaeda militias and the country will take care of itself as the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood assumes power.

History proved them disastrously wrong. Libya quickly collapsed into a failed state with Gaddafi’s massive munitions stockpiles – and very likely some of the weapons and training that NATO gave to the Libyan jihadis opposed to Gaddafi – finding their way into Syria to form the early core of ISIS.

Indeed, arguments could be made that none of the interventions by the West in the Middle East and northern Africa turned out well. The common lesson learned in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya is that nothing is as simple as it looks. Every situation is difficult with many different considerations that all carry grave ramifications.

Let’s examine all of the intended outcomes as well as the possible unintended consequences of current decisions.

Whether we like it or not, ISIS currently plays a role in the balancing act between Shia and Sunni in the Middle East. What happens to the equilibrium once it is removed from the equation?

Do the U.S. and Europe propose to formalize the Shia crescent of dominance from Tehran, through Baghdad to Damascus, ending in Beirut? Russia is the coalition’s primary benefactor, so the axis now also includes Moscow. Is this how the West envisions that part of the world coalescing? Or does the West see some other as-yet undefined coalition of Sunni forces filling the void? How would U.S. allies such as Israel, Jordan and Turkey respond to a Shia crescent?

Have the leaders responsible thought about possible contingencies, and how to achieve better outcomes?

Have we considered that the very rise of ISIS, with broad support from local Sunni states, was itself a reaction to the removal of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi army as the only credible counterweight to the Shiite rulers in Tehran? These states, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, will and must have a say in what happens next. They will not allow a nuclear-armed Iranian hegemony to expand unchallenged. They recognize that the U.S. has been an unreliable ally at best, as it facilitated the overthrow of Sunni regimes in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and allowed for the advancement of Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities.

Further, the Middle East battleground is crowded with competing ethnic, sectarian and tribal interests, most of which harbor jihadist sympathies. So, with which should the U.S. ally itself against ISIS: the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra? The Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham? Are we helping Bashar al-Assad cling to power by fighting side-by-side with Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp? What about our relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

The Obama administration has already demonstrated its proclivity to side with the wrong party – al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood – in Libya and Egypt. We should not allow ourselves to become drawn into such mistakes again, especially when the ability of the West, Russia and Iran to fully destroy ISIS – or its jihadist ideology – is not entirely clear right now.

We need to think of this as a game of chess in which leaders strategize three to four steps ahead into a future without ISIS. Current decisions will have a domino effect on subsequent outcomes.

More often than not, we are playing soccer of the worst kind, the bunch ball sort in which we watched our children all at once chase the ball and try to kick it downfield at the same time with little success. It is such a sad but true comparison, but how else do you explain losing the war after more than 14 years of endless battles since 9/11?

Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman Senior Fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Clare M. Lopez is the Vice President for Research & Analysis at the Center for Security Policy.

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Odierno: U.S. Needs to Rebuild Trust in Middle East

Also see:

Discussion with Sam Sorbo of the Paris Jihad Carnage, Trump, US Mosque Data, & US Policy etc..

By Andrew Bostom, Nov. 19, 2015:

Thanks to Sam Sorbo for a wide-ranging discussion of the ISIS-orchestrated Paris jihad carnage, the merits of Trump’s populist commentary in the aftermath of that jihadist barbarity, and related policy questions on our “Muslim allies,” i.e., perfidious, ISIS-abetting Neo-Ottoman Turkey; US-hating masses of Jordanians celebrating a jihad murderer of US workers as a “martyr,” while chanting “Death to America” in the streets, or “despicable America” at the “martyr’s” burial; and Sisi’s Egypt prosecuting Copts for mocking ISIS.

.We also discussed US mosque, and Muslim-attitude data, vis-à-vis Sharia and jihadism (see here; here; here), and Obama’s morally cretinous abandonment of the bona fide Yazidi and Christians refugees, the former whom his own Administration admits are being subjected to a “designated” genocide, the latter, the Obama Administration grudgingly acknowledges, is suffering from mass killings.

Most importantly, I quoted (just the bold) from this recent interview (blogged and transcribed by Diana West; who added an additional query) of a real 1991 Iraq war fighting hero, then tank commander Col. Douglas MacGregor.

If we commit large ground forces to the Middle East with the goal of defeating or destroying ISIL (the Islamic State)” the results will include all of the following:

“First, it would provide a temporary, rather than a permanent setback to Sunni Islamism. Sunni Islamist fighters will retreat into Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa. We forget that without the tacit and active support of Turkish President Erdogan and his supporters in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, ISIL could not exist.

 “Second, we will yet again ensure the expansion and consolidation of Iranian-Shiite strategic power and influence from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. Our intervention in Iraq created an Iranian Satellite in Baghdad. This time we would end up working with the Russians to ensure Iran controls all of Mesopotamia.

 “Third, like the French, our first action should involve the closing of our borders, not the invasion of the Middle East. Given that our borders are open, immigration (legal and illegal) is uncontrolled and (if) unchecked no change will occur in the conditions inside the United States that foster criminality and terrorism.”

Macgregor continued: “As long as Sunni Islamist leaders in Turkey, KSA and Qatar provide the support and pathways for recruits that brought ISIL to life in the first place, nothing will fundamentally change. Moreover, if we do intervene on the ground, assuming we find anything before it flees into neighboring Arab states and Anatolia, we stand an excellent chance of securing Mesopotamia for Iran and its strategic partner Russia. Since we did accomplish that already in Baghdad, I am unconvinced we should repeat the mistake in the rest of the region.”

Channel 6 wrote: “Instead, Col Macgregor thinks America should secure its borders, enforce Federal immigration law, and halt immigration (legal and illegal) until US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) can find out who is in the United States.”

“Right now, we just don’t know,” Macgregor said. “We have at least 30 million illegals including large numbers of Muslims and Chinese. How many are agents that wish to steal intellectual property or pursue cyber terrorism? How many Chinese and Latino girls are in brothels managed by organized crime? What we do know is that we now have Muslim communities inside the US where the population wants to substitute Muslim holidays for Federal Holidays and Sharia law for the Constitution. I strongly suggest we deal with these internal problems first.”’

I asked Col. Macgregor if he had anything to add. He replied:   “For some reason, we forget that Tsarnaev and his brother, the Sunni Muslims who attacked and killed Americans in Boston, were Turks from the Caucasus, not the Middle East.  Before we march into vast wastelands of the Middle East we had better secure Americans at home first. Marching into the Middle East the last time made matters worse, not better.” 

Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad (Prometheus, 2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism ” (Prometheus, November, 2008) You can contact Dr. Bostom at @andrewbostom.org

Dr. Sebastian Gorka in demand for his insights on the strategy to fight ISIS

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The Gorka Briefing with Dr. Sebastian Gorka

On Justice with Judge Jeanine 11/14/15: How do we fight an enemy that wants to die for jihad?

We have to speak honestly about who they are and why they are fighting. We have to jettison this seven-year-old myth, this “Alice in Wonderland” narrative that it is about unemployment and lack of education. This is about Jihad. This is about an ideology that wants to destroy Western civilization starting with the United States.

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On Fox News: Examining the inner workings of ISIS

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On the Lars Larson Show 11/16/15: The French Strike on Raqqa

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isisam

On the Sam Sorbo Show 11/16/15: ISIS=Islam?

Obama says that ISIS doesn’t represent Islam. You can tell from my discussion on the Sam Sorbo radio show that I’ve come to the end of my rope with his statement and the perpetual fantasy this administration has that Islamic doctrine has nothing to do with ISIS.

See also: Top 5 Reasons Why Obama’s ‘ISIS’ Press Conference Cemented His Legacy as a Coward (Daily Wire)

audio sam sorbo gorka

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Also don’t miss This Chris Plante audio where he plays clips of the “sound bite machine” Dr. Sebastian Gorka:

Attacks caused by unemployment?

US-Trained Syrian Rebels Allegedly Hand Weapons to Al Qaeda Affiliate

Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated to al-Qaeda, took the technicals, guns and ammunition from the US-trained Division 30 in northern Aleppo Photo: Reuters

Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated to al-Qaeda, took the technicals, guns and ammunition from the US-trained Division 30 in northern Aleppo Photo: Reuters

Washington Free Beacon, by Morgan Chalfant, Sep/ 22, 2015:

U.S.-trained rebels that reentered Syria over the weekend after completing the Pentagon program allegedly gave their weapons to the al Qaeda affiliate in the region, al Nusra.

The Telegraph reported that rebels fighting with Division 30, the rebel group with whom the U.S.-trained Syrian fighters are partnering to combat the Islamic State, surrendered and handed over weapons and ammunition to members of al Nusra, according to members of the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

Abu Fahd al-Tunisi, who identifies himself as a member of al Nusra, wrote on Twitter, “A strong slap [in the face] for America … the new group from Division 30 that entered yesterday hands over all of its weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra after being granted safe passage.”

“They also handed over a very large amount of ammunition and medium weaponry and a number of pick-ups,” al-Tunisi added.

Another alleged al Nusra member, Abu Khattab al-Maqdisi, claimed on Twitter that the commander of Division 30 Anas Ibrahim Obaid said he tricked the U.S.-led coalition in order to obtain weapons.

“He promised to issue a statement … repudiating Division 30, the coalition, and those who trained him,” al-Maqdisi wrote.

U.S. Central Command said Monday that approximately 70 U.S.-trained Syrian rebels had reentered Syria after undergoing training in Turkey.

If confirmed, the U.S.-trained rebels relinquishing their weapons would represent another setback for the $500 million Pentagon program. In July, al Nusra kidnapped a number of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels when they entered Syria after becoming the first class to complete the training program. The al Qaeda affiliate was allegedly tipped off by Turkey. Currently, only four or five rebels from the first class of the training program are still fighting the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS) in the Middle East

The Pentagon plans to overhaul its effort to train rebels to fight the Islamic State.

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Also see: