Caroline Glick: McMaster’s Policies Completely Contradict Trump’s, Natural Continuation of Obama’s

AP/Getty

Breitbart, by John Hayward, Aug. 11, 2017:

Jerusalem Post contributor Caroline Glick criticized National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s leadership of the National Security Council on Friday’s Breitbart News Daily with SiriusXM host Alex Marlow.

Glick said the problem with McMaster is that “in key issue after key issue, particularly in relation to the Middle East,” he “opposes the things that the president ran on and that he was elected on.”

She quoted Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the world’s leading activists against Islamic supremacism, writing in the Wall Street Journal that “President Trump, during the campaign, insisted that it was necessary to go after the political ideology of radical Islam, and he’s just completely stopped.”

“She called on Congress to pick it up and take it on since the president seems to have lost interest in it,” Glick said of Ali’s article. “Whether it’s Iran and countering Iranian influence and rising hegemony in Syria and in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, and, of course, Iran’s nuclear weapons program, these are very, very key issues for the United States and for all of its allies in the Middle East. And on all of these issues, in practice, we see that the policies that the National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, is pushing are at loggerheads with – completely contradict – the policies that President Trump ran on and continues to say that he wants.”

“For instance, I wrote in my column in the Jerusalem Post this morning, the United States special forces are fighting side-by-side with the Lebanese armed forces, which are controlled by Hezbollah, to the side of Hezbollah, which is a global terrorist organization, against ISIS,” she said.

“This is President Obama’s policy, was to try to get the United States to help Iran to take over Syria, without allowing the American people to know that, by saying, ‘Well, we’re fighting ISIS in Syria,’” she explained. “Allow Iran and Hezbollah to take over Syria and present an existential threat to Jordan and a massive strategic threat to Israel and to U.S. interests, in the name of fighting ISIS.”

“This, we see, is a policy that President Trump continues to implement,” Glick said with dismay. “It’s a very, very troubling thing.”

Glick was further troubled by the way Western media is allowing McMaster supporters, “from the Council on American Islamic Relations to the Anti-Defamation League” to frame coverage of his move away from President Trump’s policy agenda.

She further implicated “Soros-funded groups that are working day and night to undermine and subvert, with the hope of destroying this president.” These forces have conspired to forge a media narrative that claims people only oppose McMaster because they are “racist or Islamophobic or what have you.”

“In other words, they’re turning this into the same thing that the left always turns their policy disputes into, which is the good guys against the racists, and everyone who opposes them is essentially a non-person, and we mustn’t listen to them,” said Glick.

“It’s even worse in a way than just saying this is a partisan squabble and this is domestic politics,” she said. “What they’re trying to do is dehumanize the people who oppose McMaster, in order not to have a substantive discussion. That’s what we see the left doing everywhere, all the time, throughout the United States and throughout the Western world. You don’t win by substance because your substance is antithetical to what most people want, so what you do is you say that anyone who opposes you is a racist. Anybody who opposes you is the enemy of the good, and, therefore, all right-thinking people have to be on your side, against their side.”

“It’s interesting that this is the dynamic that’s taking place around McMaster. It would seem to me that, particularly for the president himself, who knows these things, this should be just a glaring red light. The fact that yet again yesterday he embraced McMaster, sitting next to Vice President Pence at his golf club in Bedminster, is an indication that something is awry, and I don’t really know what it is,” she said.

“Again, it’s very troubling because the problem here is not whether H.R. McMaster has a temper or is just the nicest person in the whole world. The problem is that he is pushing and getting implemented a policy, in relation to Israel in particular – and Israel as an American ally in the Middle East, no less Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, and so on and so forth – that is a natural continuation of Barack Obama’s policy of realigning the United States away from its allies in the United States and in favor of Iran and Hezbollah,” she charged.

LISTEN:

Denmark Hails ‘Hug a Terrorist’ Scheme, Jihadists Given Homes and Jobs

HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty

Breitbart. by Liam Deacon, Aug. 11, 2017:

Denmark’s second largest city is attempting to tackle terrorism by offering jihadists “empathy” in a programme dubbed “hug a terrorist”.

Whilst Danes who have fought against Islamic State have been threatened with jail on their return from Syria, terrorists are being offered enormous privileges, including apartments, education, and jobs, to encourage them to rejoin society.

Proponents of the police-run scheme in Aarhus say that jihadists are “isolated” and struggling to integrate, and claim that offering them kindness and forgiveness will deter them from their murderous ideology.

However, Danish politician Naser Khader, a Muslim born in Syria, says it sends the wrong message and rewards terrorists who have effectively made war on the West and its values.

He told Australian news programme Dateline the “hug a terrorist” model tells young Muslims: “Go out and do something criminal, be jihadis, you will get a lot of privilege from the society. That’s wrong in my opinion.”

However, members of the police are in favour.

“We had a number of options,” Superintendent Allan Aarslev told Dateline. “We could prosecute them all if we can find evidence, however those we couldn’t prosecute, what should we do about them?”

He claimed “most” of those returning from Syria are now “very well integrated and most of them are very happy to have had a second chance”.

Adding: “These are men who have been to Syria and we don’t know what they have been doing down there and that’s the choice we have to make – between helping them and leaving them alone.

“From my point of view, it would be much more safe for the local community here to help these young men to have a normal life after they have returned than to leave them alone.”

He added: “If we did not integrate them into the local community again they would be a safety hazard for us.”

In contrast to the treatment of Islamists, a Danish woman who fought Islamic State in Syria claims she has been demonised and forced into hiding since returning to Europe.

Joanna Palani fought with Kurdish peshmerga and YPG forces and claims to have killed up to 100 terrorists and freed female sex slaves and children.

She was handed a 12-month travel ban to prevent her from travelling back to the conflict zone in September 2015 and was threatened with jail when she flew to Qatar.

Speaking last year, her lawyer, Erbil Kaya, noted the irony of seeking to prosecute someone who fought on the same side as Danish troops whilst the government seeks to rehabilitate returning Islamic State fighters.

“It’s a shame. We are the first country in the world to punish a person who has been fighting on the same side as the international coalition,” she told The Guardian.

“It’s hypocritical to punish her. Why don’t we punish the people who fight for Isis instead of people who are fighting on the same side as Denmark?… I don’t think it makes sense.”

Also see:

Trump Got This One Right

An anti-Assad militia member loads an American-made TOW anti-tank missile southeast of the city of Tal Afar. Photo credit: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP / Getty

Weekly Standard, by Thomas Joscelyn, THE MAGAZINE: From the August 7 Issue

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump was shown a disturbing video of Syrian rebels beheading a child near the city of Aleppo. It had caused a minor stir in the press as the fighters belonged to the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, a group that had been supported by the CIA as part of its rebel aid program.

The footage is haunting. Five bearded men smirk as they surround a boy in the back of a pickup truck. One of them holds the boy’s head with a tight grip on his hair while another mockingly slaps his face. Then, one of them uses a knife to saw the child’s head off and holds it up in the air like a trophy. It is a scene reminiscent of the Islamic State’s snuff videos, except this wasn’t the work of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men. The murderers were supposed to be the good guys: our allies.

Trump wanted to know why the United States had backed Zenki if its members are extremists. The issue was discussed at length with senior intelligence officials, and no good answers were forthcoming, according to people familiar with the conversations. After learning more worrisome details about the CIA’s ghost war in Syria—including that U.S.-backed rebels had often fought alongside extremists, among them al Qaeda’s arm in the country—the president decided to end the program altogether.

On July 19, the Washington Post broke the news of Trump’s decision: “a move long sought by Russia,” the paper’s headline blared. Politicians from both sides of the aisle quickly howled in protest, claiming that Trump’s decision was a surrender to Vladimir Putin.

There is no doubt that Putin, who has the blood of many Syrian civilians on his hands, was pleased by the move. But that doesn’t mean the rebel aid program was effective or served American interests.

The defenders of the CIA program argue that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) remains our best hope for a moderate opposition to Assad. But the FSA is not the single, unified organization its name implies. It is, rather, a loose collection of groups that have adopted the FSA brand, often in addition to their own names and branding. Although “Free Syrian Army” sounds secular and moderate, its constituents are ideologically diverse and include numerous extremists. Zenki, for example, was referred to as an FSA group well after its hardline beliefs were evident, and few FSA groups could be considered truly secular. Several prominent FSA organizations advocate Islamist ideas, meaning they believe that some version of sharia law should rule Syrian society.

To make matters worse: FSA-affiliated rebels have often been allied with Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria. Some of the most prominent FSA groups, indeed, objected to the U.S. government’s decision to designate Nusra as a terrorist organization in December 2012. Al Qaeda’s Syrian arm was even then strong enough to command loyalty in the face of American sanctions. There have been episodic clashes between Nusra and America’s FSA allies, but more often than not FSA-branded rebels have been in the trenches alongside Nusra’s jihadists.

Jabhat al-Nusra, publicly an arm of al Qaeda until July 2016, has been the single strongest organization within the insurgency for some time. Well before President Trump was inaugurated, Nusra had grown into a menace. And America’s provision of arms to FSA-branded rebels worked to Nusra’s advantage—an inconvenient fact for those criticizing the president’s decision.

Russia intervened in Syria in September 2015, and the timing was not accidental. Just months earlier, in March, the “Army of Conquest” took over the northwestern province of Idlib. This rebel coalition was no band of moderates. It was led by Nusra and included its closest Islamist and jihadist partners. The Army of Conquest was on the march, threatening the Assad family’s stronghold of Latakia on the coast. Had the insurgents progressed much further south, Bashar al-Assad’s regime would have been in serious jeopardy, perhaps would even have fallen. With the backing of Russia and Iran, Assad’s forces rallied and stopped the Nusra-led coalition from taking even more ground. Russia saved Assad, but its efforts also stymied the jihadists’ offensive—a important fact that is often left out of Syria policy debates.

Since July 2016, Jabhat al-Nusra has changed its name twice and merged with other organizations to form a group known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (“Assembly for the Liberation of Syria,” or HTS). The group is riven by internal rivalries, with some members even arguing that its leadership is no longer beholden to al Qaeda. But the jihadists are consolidating their control over Idlib as part of a totalitarian drive to dominate governance in the province.

HTS’s top-dog status within Idlib is no accident. Al Qaeda’s leadership and Jabhat al-Nusra have been laying the groundwork for an Islamic emirate, based on radical sharia law, in Syria since 2012. And their plan has called for exploiting Free Syrian Army groups and their CIA support.

Nusra has been happy to take advantage of the support FSA groups received from the United States and other nations supporting the multi-sided proxy war against Assad. There are dozens of videos online showing Syrian rebels firing the American-made, anti-tank BGM-71 TOW missile. The TOW is distinctive in appearance and relatively easy to identify, making it a rather public announcement of the groups involved in the CIA’s “clandestine” program. If one wants to know which FSA-branded groups have been approved by Langley, just look for TOW missiles.

Defenders of the program argue that only a small number of TOWs have been fired by al Qaeda’s men or other non-vetted rebels. Maybe. But at least some of the “vetted” groups shouldn’t have been deemed acceptable partners in the first place. Zenki received TOWs even though its extremism is obvious. Other Islamist groups within the loose-knit FSA coalition received TOWs as well.

And Nusra used such organizations to further its own designs. Abu Kumayt, who served as a fighter in the Western-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), explained to the New York Times in December 2014 that Nusra “lets groups vetted by the United States keep the appearance of independence, so that they will continue to receive American supplies.” Another “commander” in a group that received TOWs told the Times that FSA “fighters were forced to operate them . . . on behalf of” Nusra during a battle with Assad’s forces. American-made weapons were fueling the jihadists’ gains and when Nusra finally grew tired of the SRF and Harakat Hazm, another American-supported group based in Idlib province, it quickly dispatched them, taking their weapons in the process.

American-made arms helped fuel the insurgents’ gains in Idlib province in 2015. Today, that same province is home to a nascent Taliban-style state.

Advocates for the Syrian opposition point to areas of the country outside of Idlib province where FSA-branded groups seem to hold more sway. But the story is almost always complicated by a jihadist presence. Take Aleppo, for instance, where in August 2016, insurgents temporarily broke the regime’s brutal siege. The Army of Conquest coalition—the same Nusra-led alliance that took over Idlib—played a key role in the fighting, as they would in a second attempt to break the siege later in 2016.

In October 2016, the U.N.’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told reporters that Nusra accounted for only 900 to 1,000 of the 8,000 opposition fighters in Aleppo. After objections that this modest figure was too high, the U.N. revised its estimate downward, claiming Nusra had just 150 to 200 members within the Aleppo opposition. Advocates then seized on this low figure to argue that the insurgents inside the city deserved the full backing of the West. They ignored the fact that the other, non-Nusra rebels included many extremists—such as Zenki.

It is doubtful that the U.N.’s lowball estimate for Nusra’s presence in Aleppo was accurate; Nusra produced videos showing large convoys making their way to the city, which suggested a much bigger force. But even the U.N. conceded that Nusra’s “influence” was greater than its numbers implied, because of the jihadists’ “operational capacity coupled with the fear that they engendered from other groups.” Part of the reason Nusra is so operationally effective is its use of suicide bombers, and a series of these “martyrs” were deployed by Nusra and its allies during key points in the battle for Aleppo. Without Nusra’s Army of Conquest, the insurgents would have had little hope of breaking Assad’s grip on the city, and TOW-armed FSA groups, some of them Islamist, fought right alongside Nusra’s men.

The bottom line: Sunni jihadists and extremists are laced throughout the Syrian rebellion and have been for years. While pockets of acceptable allies remain, there is no evidence that any truly moderate force is effectively fighting Assad, and President Trump was right to end the program of CIA support for the Syrian opposition.

It is a dire situation, and one might easily conclude that a full alliance with Russia in Syria makes some sense. That is clearly the president’s thinking. His administration has already explored ways to cooperate with Putin against the Islamic State, including brokering a ceasefire in southern Syria. But a partnership with Russia has its own downsides.

Russian and Syrian jets have indiscriminately and repeatedly bombed civilian targets. The Assad regime has used chemical weapons, which Trump himself objected to, bombing a Syrian airfield in response. The United States cannot endorse these war crimes by allying itself with the perpetrators of mass murder in Syria. The president has loudly denounced Iran and its sponsorship of terrorism throughout the world. But Russia and the Syrian government have sponsored Iran’s growing footprint in the country. A recent State Department report said that as many 7,000 fighters from Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terror group that is opposed to both the United States and Israel, are now located in Syria. These same Hezbollah fighters, along with Shiite militiamen sponsored by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), are Russia’s and Assad’s key on-the-ground allies.

All of which is to say that there are no easy answers in Syria. But that doesn’t mean the United States should keep playing a losing hand. And that’s exactly what the program to support Syria’s rebels was—a bad deal.

Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

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 

State Department: Iran continues to host al Qaeda’s ‘core facilitation pipeline’

The US government has repeatedly identified al Qaeda’s leadership in Iran. From left to right: Yasin al Suri, Atiyah Abd al Rahman, Sanafi al Nasr, Muhsin al Fadhli and Adel Radi al Harbi. Only Yasin al Suri is believed to be alive, but still others continue to operate in Iran.

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, July 23, 207:

Since July 2011, the US Treasury and State Departments have repeatedly stated that the Iranian regime allows al Qaeda to maintain a key facilitation network on its soil. This formerly clandestine network is the result of a specific “agreement” between the Iranian government and al Qaeda’s leadership.

On July 19, the State Department once again pointed to the relationship. “Since at least 2009,” State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 reads, “Iran has allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through the country, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”

Iran also “remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain and has refused to publicly identify the members in its custody,” Foggy Bottom said, echoing language found in previous reports.

In its terrorism reports for 2015 and 2014, the State Department implied that al Qaeda’s Iran-based network was a thing of the past, saying the Iranian government “previously allowed AQ facilitators to operate.” But Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, released last week, subtly revised that language.

It is often assumed that the two sides can’t cooperate because of theological differences. However, the relationship has been repeatedly documented by official sources, such as the 9/11 Commission, US courts, intelligence agencies and various others. At times, al Qaeda itself has conceded that there is a level of collusion, despite the group’s blistering anti-Iranian rhetoric. A key al Qaeda defector offered his own explanation of the arrangement in a newsletter published by the Islamic State. After the Islamic State and al Qaeda became bitter rivals, the so-called caliphate even accused al Qaeda of prohibiting terrorist attacks inside Iran.

A document presumably authored by Osama bin Laden in 2007 refers to Iran as al Qaeda’s “main artery for funds, personnel, and communication.” That same letter referred to the “hostages” held by Iran, meaning those al Qaeda figures who were held in some form of detention and not allowed to freely operate. Bin Laden was not against attacking Iran in principle; he simply did not think the costs of such action were worth it.

Iran’s relationship with al Qaeda has survived for years, despite numerous disagreements and conflicts between the two. For instance, one file recovered in bin Laden’s Abbottabad lair shows that he was troubled by Iran’s attempt to expand across the Middle East and he conceived of a plan to combat the Shiite jihadists’ growing footprint. Al Qaeda has also kidnapped Iranian diplomats in order force hostage exchanges. Several high-level al Qaeda leaders were reportedly released as part of one such exchange in 2015, although their status beforehand inside Iran was murky.

Most importantly, the two sides are clearly at odds in Syria and Yemen, where they have fought each other and affiliated proxies for several years.

Yet, throughout all of this, Iran has allowed al Qaeda to maintain a key facilitation hub.

In July 2016, for instance, the US Treasury Department sanctioned three senior al Qaeda leaders “located in Iran.” One of them, Faisal Jassim Mohammed Al Amri Al Khalidi (a.k.a. Abu Hamza al Khalidi), has served as al Qaeda’s “Military Commission Chief” — meaning he was one of the most important figures in the group’s international network. Al Khalidi was identified in Osama bin Laden’s files as part of a “new generation” of leadership al Qaeda groomed to replace their fallen comrades. As Treasury’s July 2016 designations made clear, some of al Qaeda’s most important men continued to operate inside Iran. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Treasury designates 3 senior al Qaeda members in Iran.]

Previous designations and other statements by Treasury and State Departments

The State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 is the latest instance in which a branch of the US government has officially recognized al Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline” inside Iran, or other dealings between the two. In 2009, Treasury acknowledged that several al Qaeda operatives were living inside Iran. Then, beginning in July 2011, both the Treasury and State Departments repeatedly targeted the Iran-based network, saying it operated as part of a formerly “secret deal” between Iran and al Qaeda’s leadership.

Below is a brief timeline of designations and other official statements by the US government.

Jan. 2009: Treasury designated four al Qaeda members in Iran, including Osama bin Laden’s son Saad, who was later killed after relocating to Pakistan. “It is important that Iran give a public accounting of how it is meeting its international obligations to constrain al Qaeda,” Stuart Levey, who was then Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said at the time.

July 2011: Treasury targeted Iran’s formerly “secret deal” with al Qaeda, designating six jihadists who were involved in al Qaeda’s operations inside the country. One of them is known as Yasin al Suri, “a prominent Iran-based al Qaeda facilitator” who operates “under an agreement between al Qaeda and the Iranian government.” The agreement was negotiated with Atiyah Abd al Rahman’s permission. Rahman was a top al Qaeda lieutenant who was killed in a US drone strike in mid-2011. “Rahman was previously appointed by Osama bin Laden to serve as al Qaeda’s emissary in Iran, a position which allowed him to travel in and out of Iran with the permission of Iranian officials,” Treasury noted.

“Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world today,” David S. Cohen, who was then Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a press release. “By exposing Iran’s secret deal with al Qaeda allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran’s unmatched support for terrorism,” Cohen emphasized.

Dec. 2011: The State Department announced a $10 million reward for Yasin al Suri, making him one of the most wanted terrorists on the planet. “Under an agreement between al Qaeda and the Government of Iran, Yasin al Suri has helped move money and recruits through Iran to al Qaeda leaders in neighboring countries in the region,” Robert Hartung, the State Department Assistant Director for Threat Investigations and Analysis, explained during a briefing.

Feb. 2012: The Treasury Department designated the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) for a number of reasons, including the assistance it provided to al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq. According to Treasury, the “MOIS has facilitated the movement of al Qaeda operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports.” In addition, the MOIS has “provided money and weapons to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)…and negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.”

July 2012: In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2011, the State Department reported that “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior AQ members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody.” Iran “also allowed AQ members to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iranian territory, enabling AQ to carry funds and move facilitators and operatives to South Asia and elsewhere.”

October 2012: Treasury explained that Yasin al Suri had been temporarily sidelined as the chief of al Qaeda’s network in Iran. His replacement was Muhsin al Fadhli, a veteran Kuwaiti operative, who later relocated to Syria as part of al Qaeda’s “Khorasan Group” and was killed in an American airstrike. Treasury named Adel Radi Saqr al Wahabi al Harbi as one of Fadhli’s men inside Iran. Harbi also eventually relocated to Syria, where he served as the military commander of Jund al Aqsa, an al Qaeda front group, until meeting his own demise.

Treasury explained how the deal between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda works. “Under the terms of the agreement between al Qaeda and Iran,” Treasury reported, “al Qaeda must refrain from conducting any operations within Iranian territory and recruiting operatives inside Iran while keeping Iranian authorities informed of their activities.” As long as al Qaeda didn’t violate these terms, “the Government of Iran gave the Iran-based al Qaeda network freedom of operation and uninhibited ability to travel for extremists and their families.”

Treasury’s Cohen explained in a press release that the designation of Harbi “builds on our action from July 2011” and “further exposes al Qaeda’s critically important Iran-based funding and facilitation network.” Cohen added: “We will continue targeting this crucial source of al Qaeda’s funding and support, as well as highlight Iran’s ongoing complicity in this network’s operation.”

May 2013: In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2012, the State Department said that Iran “allowed AQ facilitators Muhsin al-Fadhli and Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and to Syria.” Fadhli “began working with the Iran-based AQ facilitation network in 2009,” was “later arrested by Iranian authorities,” but then released in 2011 so he could assume “leadership of the Iran-based AQ facilitation network.”

Jan. 2014: Treasury and State Department officials told Al Jazeera that Yasin al Suri was once again in charge of al Qaeda’s Iran-based network.

Feb. 2014: Treasury identified another Iran-based al Qaeda facilitator, Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov, who is an Uzbek and part of the Islamic Jihad Union. Sadikov “provides logistical support and funding to al Qaeda’s Iran-based network,” according to Treasury.

Apr. 2014: In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2013, the State Department once again noted that the Iranian regime hosted al Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline” and “remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al Qaeda (AQ) members it continued to detain,” while also refusing “to publicly identify those senior members in its custody.”

Aug. 2014: Treasury designated a senior al Qaeda leader known as Sanafi al Nasr, who “served in early 2013 as chief of al Qaeda’s Iran-based extremist and financial facilitation network.” Nasr relocated to Syria in 2013 as part of al Qaeda’s “Khorasan Group” and was killed in an American airstrike in 2015.

June 2016: The State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2015 is released. “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain and refused to publicly identify the members in its custody,” the report read. State added: “Iran previously allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.” The implication of the language (“previously allowed”), which was included in the 2014 report as well, was that al Qaeda no longer operated its facilitation network inside Iran. However, al Qaeda did in fact continue to operate its pipeline inside Iran. Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 removed the phrase “previously allowed” from its summary.

July 2016: The US Treasury Department designated three senior al Qaeda figures “located in Iran”: Faisal Jassim Mohammed Al Amri Al Khalidi (a.k.a. Abu Hamza al Khalid), Yisra Muhammad Ibrahim Bayumi, and Abu Bakr Muhammad Muhammad Ghumayn. Treasury explained that it took the action to “disrupt the operations, fundraising, and support networks that help al Qaeda move money and operatives from South Asia and across the Middle East.”

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

Also see:

Trump Shuts Down CIA Support for Syrian ‘Rebels’ After Years of Chronic Failure

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, July 24, 2017:

The announcement last week that the Trump administration was shutting down the “covert” CIA program of arming Syrian “rebel” groups couldn’t have come too soon.

As I’ve reported here in more than three dozen articles over the past three years, the CIA support program had suffered chronic failures, including defections of groups “vetted” by the CIA defecting to al-Qaeda and ISIS, and leakage of weapons provided by the CIA into the hands of those same terror groups.

The pinnacle of this failure came in Obama’s last few hours in the White House in January, when he ordered the bombing of a terror training camp that also hosted fighters from a CIA-“vetted” group embedded with Al-Qaeda. That same CIA-“vetted” group officially partnered with Al-Qaeda a few days later.

Perhaps the defining moment of the U.S. support for Syrian “rebels” debacle came last year when CIA-backed groups were fighting against groups backed by the Pentagon:

The Washington Post announced the cancellation of the CIA support program last week, claiming without evidence that the move was made to placate Russia:

The termination of the program was confirmed by SOCOM Gen. Tony Thomas at the Aspen Security Forum on Friday:

Gen. Thomas specifically refuted the Washington Post‘s Russia tie-in to the announcement:

But as I reported here at PJ Media back in February, the CIA had already begun shutting down the weapons pipeline to the “rebel” groups.

Predictably, the “rebel” groups began flocking to Al-Qaeda as soon as the CIA pipeline began to slow.

In response to the program cancellation announcement, cheerleaders of the “vetted moderate rebels” complained that the U.S. hadn’t supported the groups enough.

But that talking point was rebutted by Obama nearly three years ago.

In an August 2014 interview with Tom Friedman in the New York Times, Obama dismissed the notion that more weapons would have given the “rebels” any kind of edge and expressed frustration at the inability to find enough “moderates”:

With “respect to Syria,” said the president, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy.This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”

Even now, the president said, the administration has difficulty finding, training and arming a sufficient cadre of secular Syrian rebels: “There’s not as much capacity as you would hope.”

And yet, just a month later the GOP congressional leadership passed $500 million in additional funds for an eventual U.S.-backed, Pentagon-trained army of 15,000 “vetted moderates” to combat ISIS. In less than a year, that half-billion dollar boondoggle approved by Congress turned into a disaster. By July 2015, fewer than 60 fighters had been successfully vetted and trained — costing taxpayers nearly $4 million for each fighter.

[…]

By any objective measure, the CIA’s assistance to the Syrian “rebel” groups has been a complete catastrophe.

The CIA’s botched handling in both Libya and Syria should serve as a cautionary tale to the Trump administration about the follies of ill-informed intervention. While those policies may have been driven by the best of intentions, the results have been horrifically bad.

And contrary to the program’s defenders, these efforts are very likely responsible for drawing Russia and Iran deeper into the region.

As the Assad regime, backed by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, continues to make gains against the opposition’s positions, and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the north of the country pressure ISIS, we can only expect that the opposition will grow even more dominated by the terrorist groups because they have largely been the only game in town. And it’s likely that continued CIA support would have accelerated that radicalization process, not delayed it.

A few of us lonely voices have said this is where the Syrian war was heading all along. And the cancellation of the CIA’s support program is at least a tacit recognition that we were right.

Read more

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.