Russia and the West’s Insane Syrian War

gfFront Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, Sept. 26, 2016:

Russia and the West are fighting to decide whether Syria will be run by Sunni Islamists backed by Saudi Arabia or Shiite Islamists backed by Iran. This insane civil war has burned up countless lives, not to mention plenty of dollars, rubles, euros and pounds. The only certain winners of this war, once the dust has settled, will chant “Allahu Akbar” and call for the death of the infidels.

Sadly this is nothing new. Russia got the PLO started before Bill Clinton decided to become its sugar daddy. Smuggling weapons to the Mujahedeen to fight the Russians got us into Afghanistan. Except these days it’s the Russians who, through the Iranians, are funneling weapons to the locals to fight us. Between us and the Russians, we’ve put wagonloads of weapons into the hands of Jihadis in Iraq and Syria. The consequences will be felt in Moscow, New York, London and Paris.

The West and the Warsaw Pact countries used to fuel foreign wars. These days the war is at home.

Russia and the NATO countries suffer from low birth rates and rising Muslim demographics, but are in a senseless competition to determine which emergent Caliphate will be able to draw its borders in territories it can’t populate. It’s a battle over a pittance taking place in a burning building.

Moscow has around 2 million Muslims. London has over 1 million. Both sides are at risk of losing their own capital cities to real invasions. The EU and Putin’s Eurasian dreams are both built on the Roman notion that the barbarians can be integrated and will make good foot soldiers and laborers.

France’s President Hollande has called for the creation of an “Islam of France”. Putin suggests that the Russian Orthodox Church has more in common with Islam than Catholicism.  Obama preaches that, “Islam has always been part of America”. But such efforts at integration will always fail.

The popular European excuse is that Islamic terrorism represents a failure to integrate the terrorist. Islamic terrorism is indeed caused by a failure to integrate. The mistake is assuming that integration on a civilizational scale is possible. It’s not. You can integrate a few people. You can’t integrate a civilization.

There is a long history of Europeans using Islamic raiders and invaders as weapons against each other. Most of us know that our first international conflict was the First Barbary War against Muslim slavers and pirates. But it was the British who found it useful to use the Barbary pirates to clear rivals from the water.  Louis XIV of France played a similar role in the Battle of Vienna. For that matter the Muslim conquest of the Middle East heavily depended on their exploitation of Christian rivalries.

Our modern malaise is simply a failure to learn anything useful from history.

The Cold War has become reborn as a strange farce in which two failing power blocs are fighting an old war that no longer has any purpose or meaning. Russia has reinvented its brand, but not its ambitions. Its clumsy alliance with Iran will fall apart once the Shiite terror state has gotten what it wanted and boots the Russians out of its backyard. America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia may one day be described by historians as the cause of our downfall.

The West and Russia are reliant on Muslim demographics to power faltering empires whose ideological ends stand in sharp contrast to their Islamic means. Putin claims to want to protect Christendom with an army that is increasingly Muslim. The EU asserts that it is defending secular democracy, but it’s betting its future on a citizenry whose Islamic religion mandates theocratic Sharia jurisprudence.

A Muslim citizenry will not maintain secular democracy. A Muslim army will not protect Christians. The West used to be dependent on Muslim oil. It has since become addicted to the much more dangerous supply of Muslim demographics. Societies with low birth rates are relying on Muslims to make up the gap in manpower and maintain nations that are not expanding or even replacing their own numbers.

Oil dependency was dangerous. Demographic dependency is lethal.

Russia and the West can make jets that casually break the sound barrier. What they aren’t doing is making people. European welfare states and Russian expansionism are built on Muslim populations.

As imperial strategies go, that’s a suicide pact.

But instead of addressing this core civilizational threat, the West and Russia are squandering blood and treasure to decide whether Sunnis or Shiites should dominate Syria. Billions of dollars are being spent to lend an air force, weapons and some measure of ground troops to Iran and the Saudis in their spat.

Russian S-300 missiles now protect Iran’s Fordow nuclear fuel plant. Fordow is located near the Shiite holy city of Qom because Iran’s nuclear plans are inextricably tied to its theology. Last year, Putin offered Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Khamenei a copy of the Koran that had been gifted by Lenin to Uzbekistan. Putin might have done better to keep it and read it before looking at a map of Greater Iran.

The United States has been dragged into several wars by Saudi Arabia. We have spent trillions of dollars defending the Saudis, Kuwaitis, Qataris and their assorted brethren from their enemies while fighting Sunni terror spread by them. The tentacles of Sunni terror now regularly reach deep inside our homeland while we continue defending the homelands of the financiers of Sunni Islamic terror.

Syria is an imperialist war. But it’s not our imperialism. It’s barely even Russia’s imperialism.

Russia and the West are there as pawns of their Islamic allies. Putin and NATO aren’t protecting their influence because the influence goes entirely the other way. The West does not dictate anything to the Saudis nor does Russia get to tell Iran what to do. Instead the old empires are called in when the wannabe caliphates want a power with a big military machine to do their dirty work for them.

Russia and the West are obsessed with a factional struggle in the face of a civilizational struggle. Their failure to recognize the civilizational threat of the caliphate is the greatest threat to their future.

Familiar wars and familiar enemies are easier to fight. It is easier to recreate the Cold War as farce than to recognize that a far older war has come around again. Russia and the West are replaying the tragic history of the Byzantine–Sassanid wars whose ultimate victors were the Mohammedan invaders.

The only thing that the wars between the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire accomplished was to weaken them enough to allow Islam to conquer both of the proud empires. Both sides courted the Arab tribes and made use of them in their conflict with each other. They did not consider the possibility that the prolonged conflict would not end with either a Persian or Byzantine victory, but that the barbarians they had been using as pawns would end up claiming everything. It’s a familiar story replaying today.

Civilizations that fail to learn from history become the object lessons of history. It would be a tragedy if Europe went the way of the Byzantine Empire and a shame if Russia went the way of Persia.

It might be time to rethink what there is to be gained in Syria and lost in the besieged cities of the West.

Also see:

Terror plots in Germany, France were ‘remote-controlled’ by Islamic State operatives

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, Sept. 24, 2016:

On July 18, an Afghan refugee named Riaz Khan (also known as “Muhammad Riyad”) assaulted passengers on a train in Würzburg, Germany with an ax and a knife. Nearly one week later, on July 24, a Syrian refugee identified as Mohammad Daleel blew himself up outside of a music festival in the German city of Ansbach. Approximately 20 people were wounded in the incidents.

Amaq News Agency, a propaganda arm of the Islamic State, quickly issued claims of responsibility for the operations. Amaq also released videos from Khan and Daleel in which they swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

As The Long War Journal reported at the time, the fact that Amaq was able to release the videos so soon after the attacks suggested that both were in touch with the Islamic State’s media operatives, or at least knew someone in the Islamic State’s network who could send the clips to Amaq. Therefore, they each had at least one tie to the Islamic State, even if it was only digital. [See LWJ reports: Teenager who terrorized German train appears in Islamic State video and Attacks in France and Germany claimed by Islamic State propaganda arm.]

German authorities discovered that there was much more to the story. Islamic State operatives provided specific direction to both Khan and Daleel via messaging applications. The jihadists did the same for a teenage girl who stabbed a police officer at the train station in Hannover, Germany in February. After the bombing in Ansbach, Bavaria’s Interior Minister, Joachim Herrmann, said that Daleel had been involved in an “intensive chat” that ended “immediately before the attack.”

“There was apparently an immediate contact with someone who had a significant influence on this attack,” Herrmann said, according to the Associated Press.

The evidence that has been uncovered in Germany and elsewhere in Europe shows that the Islamic State’s external operations arm has devised a new method for orchestrating terror. The group’s assistance goes far beyond mere inspiration in at least some cases.

In both Würzburg and Ansbach, the Islamic State’s external operations network guided the terrorists through their day of terror. The electronic fingerprints uncovered in these cases recently prompted Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, to say that the jihadists were guided by “remote control.” French prosecutor Francois Molins has used the same phrase, “remote-controlled,” to describe a group of women who were plotting terrorism in Paris.

Transcripts published by German press

On Sept. 14, Süddeutsche Zeitung, a newspaper based in Munich, published transcripts of the conversations Khan and Daleel had with their Islamic State handlers. The Long War Journal has obtained a translation of Süddeutsche Zeitung’s report. (Another translation has been published at Worldcrunch, a website that aggregates and translates news stories from around the globe.)

The Islamic State operatives tasked with directing Khan and Daleel are not identified and it is not clear if the same man chatted with both of them.

The details revealed in the transcripts are chilling. Khan and Daleel may have acted alone, in the sense that no other terrorist was physically with them when they struck. But they were certainly not “lone wolves” in any meaningful sense.

During a digital chat with Khan, the Islamic State’s man asked: “What kind of weapons do you intend to use to kill people?”

“My knife and ax are ready for use,” Khan replied.

“Brother, would it not be better to do it with a car?” the Islamic State plotter asked, before suggesting that Khan learn how to operate an automobile. “The damage would be much greater,” he told Khan.

But Khan was impatient, saying he “cannot drive” and “learning takes time.”

“I want to enter paradise tonight,” Khan explained.

16-07-19-muhammad-riyad-768x432As Khan inched closer to assaulting the train’s passengers, he had an “important thing” to tell the jihadist on the other end of the conversation. “Brother, I am sending you my video,” Khan typed. “I will carry out an attack with an ax in Germany today.” (A screen shot from the video, which was released by Amaq, can be seen on the right.) [above]

The handler was pleased, but insisted that Khan should use his ax, not a knife. “If you’re going to commit the attack, Allah willing, the Islamic State will claim responsibility for it.”

Khan said he was sending his video. The man on the other end told Khan to make sure he had created a backup.

“Pray that I become a martyr,” Khan wrote. “I am now waiting for the train.” Not long after, according to the transcript published by Süddeutsche Zeitung, Khan added: “I am starting now.”

“Now you will attain paradise,” Khan’s guide responded.

Süddeutsche Zeitung has also published a partial transcript of Mohammad Daleel’s chats with his Islamic State instructor as he scoped out the prospective target, as well as their discussions on the day of the bombing. The Islamic State’s Naba magazine subsequently identified Daleel as a veteran of the jihad in Syria, meaning he likely developed a rolodex of contacts.

“This area will be full of people,” Daleel wrote as he sent a photo of the venue where the music festival was to be held. “Kill them all in a wide open space,” the Islamic State’s man replied, “where they will lie on the ground.”

screen-shot-2016-07-26-at-12-57-52-pm-768x430The unnamed operative told Daleel (seen on the right) [above] to look for an appropriate place to put his bomb and then try to “disappear into the crowd.” The jihadist egged Daleel on, saying the asylum-seeker should “break through police cordons,” run away and “do it.”

“Pray for me,” Daleel wrote at one point. “You do not know what is happening with me right now,” Daleel typed, in an apparent moment of doubt.

“Forget the festival and go over to the restaurant,” the handler responded. “Hey man, what is going on with you? Even if just two people were killed, I would do it. Trust in Allah and walk straight up to the restaurant.”

It appears that Daleel may not have intended to detonate his explosives at that time. Der Spiegel previously reported that he intended to remotely detonate his backpack bomb, but it went off accidentally. Daleel may have also been planning additional attacks.

The German press has reported on a third instance of “remote-controlled” terror that took place on Feb. 26 at the train station in Hannover. A German-Moroccan girl in her teens, identified as “Safia S.,” assaulted a police officer with a knife. Authorities found that Safia had been in contact via a messaging app with an instructor known only as “Leyla,” who coached Safia as she planned the stabbing.

Part of the Islamic State’s external operations strategy

It is not a coincidence that both Khan and Daleel were “remote-controlled.” This is a deliberate part of the Islamic State external operation arm’s strategy, which aims to both direct and inspire smaller-scale attacks in Western nations. These operations are in addition to larger plots, such as the assault on Paris in November 2015.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Bridget Moreng provided a comprehensive look at the role played by Rachid Kassim, who is one of the Islamic State’s “most dangerous virtual planners.” Kassim has been tied to a web of terror plots. For instance, as Moreng explains, investigators have found ties between Kassim and the two young jihadists who murdered a priest in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy in July.

screen-shot-2016-07-27-at-2-16-06-pmAs The Long War Journal reported at the time, Amaq News released a video from the two terrorists in which they swore allegiance to Baghdadi. A screen shot can be seen on the right. [above] The video was produced in the same format and style as Amaq’s releases after the attacks in Würzburg and Ansbach. [See LWJ report, Terrorists in Normandy swore allegiance to Baghdadi before attacking church.]

As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr explained in a piece at War on the Rocks, the Islamic State’s virtual planning network has digital tentacles around the globe.

This network extends into the US. Earlier this year, Munir Abdulkader pleaded guilty to terrorism charges after he admitted to communicating with Junaid Hussain, an Islamic State operative based in Syria who played a key role in the group’s digital strategy. According to the Department of Justice, Hussain “directed and encouraged Abdulkader,” who lived in Ohio, “to plan and execute a violent attack within the United States.” It is likely that Hussain was also in contact with the two gunmen who opened fire at an event dedicated to drawing images of the Prophet Mohammed in Garland, Texas on May 3, 2015. Hussain was killed in an American airstrike in Raqqa on Aug. 24, 2015.

[For more on Hussain, see LWJ reports: Ohio man conspired with Islamic State recruiter, Justice Department says and Prime Minister says 2 British nationals killed in airstrikes were plotting attacks.]

There is a debate in counterterrorism circles over how much credibility should be given to the Islamic State’s propaganda machine, including the Amaq News Agency. Each claim should be subjected to scrutiny. Some statements will be false and others exaggerated. But as the attacks in Würzburg, Ansbach and Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray show, Amaq’s claims cannot be dismissed out of hand. There is often at least some truth to Amaq’s claims. And, on multiple occasions, the terrorists acting in the Islamic State’s name have been anything but “lone wolves.” Instead, a virtual network guides them along away.

Notes:

*There have been conflicting reports concerning Riaz Khan’s country of origin. But most accounts agree that he was originally from Afghanistan.

**Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Nathaniel Barr, and Bridget Moreng are all colleagues of the author.

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

John Bolton on Obama’s Internet Handover: ‘Within Ten Years, the Internet as We Know It Will End’

icann-tim-halesassociated-press-640x480Breitbart, by John Hayward, Sept 22, 2016:

On Thursday’s Breitbart News Daily on SiriusXM, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton predicted that the impending transfer of Internet domain control from American supervision to an international body will mean the end of the Internet “as we know it.”

Speaking to Breitbart Editor-in-Chief and SiriusXM host Alex Marlow, Bolton explained that we should be “very concerned” about the transfer from “a national-security perspective.”

“What we’ve gotten out of the Internet, under the shelter of a private American organization that contracts with the Commerce Department, [is] one of the few cases that I can think of in our history where we’ve had that kind of government involvement without regulation and interference,” said Bolton.

He continued:

But because it’s entirely a U.S. government proposition with U.S. people involved, the Internet has been free and open. If, as the Administration wants to do, it’s transferred to an international body, I will predict right here: within 10 years it will come under the control of the United Nations, and the Internet as we know it will end because there are governments around the world that are already doing everything they can to prevent a free and open Internet in their countries, and it will extend to ours in due course.

Bolton called the Internet handover “a mistake of such colossal proportions that you would have thought we’d have a huge debate about it in this country.”

LISTEN:

“Ted Cruz has been leading the charge in the Senate to prevent this from happening,” he said. “There may be legislation passed in these last days of this Congress, as they try and wrap the budget up. But really, people need to wake up to this. This is something from Obama I have feared for eight years, his tendencies toward global governance. I’ve been surprised to have to say he hasn’t done more, but in his last days in office, we may see the full flowering of it, and this transfer of control of the Internet is perhaps the worst example right at the moment.”

Bolton elaborated on what he meant by the Internet as we know it dying within 10 years:

What they’re talking about is succumbing to the demands of foreign governments and foreign interests who say, in what is effectively a global means of communication, it’s just wrong to have the United States in charge of it.

But the fact is, under American control, it’s had remarkable growth. It’s been kept free. It’s been able to withstand a lot of pressure to try and set rules that favor one side or another. And in an international environment, I can tell you from my own experience, when you get all kinds of governments from all over the world setting standards and making decisions, it will be far less free than it is now.

And I don’t think the particular kind of transfer we’re talking about now is the end of the game. This is a black-and-white, binary choice: it’s either under American control, or it’s not. And once we let go of it, we are never getting it back.

Marlow turned the conversation to Barack Obama’s final speech to the U.N. General Assembly, describing it as a “toned-down Obama” with a few condescending lines, but not as much “fiery rhetoric” as he anticipated.

“I think he wanted this to be his swan song,” said Bolton. “It was a very pedestrian speech, so I think he certainly failed in that effort. A lot of was just domestic American politics, which personally I think is unseemly in a speech to the U.N. or an international forum. I think the President, especially a lame duck President, should be above that.”

“I think it shows that, really, Barack Obama is not a statesman. He is a political hack, when it comes right down to it,” Bolton judged. “He was unsparing in his criticism of many countries — criticism I agree with, in the case of Russia, North Korea, and so on — but he couldn’t withstand the temptation to criticize America. Thank God he’s the smartest man in the country, and he can tell us what we’re doing wrong.”

Bolton said he was “utterly struck” by “the reaction in the hall — which was essentially no reaction.” He noted there was “very perfunctory applause by the international community, after years where they’ve repeatedly interrupted him.”

“My sense was, they understand he’s a lame duck now. Maybe they’re just as tired as many Americans of being lectured by this morally superior being, and they’re happy to see the back of him.”

Marlow asked for Bolton’s take on the state of the United Nations and if there was still anything productive emerging from its meetings. Bolton replied that “things are happening, but not because it’s the U.N.”

He explained:

This week in September is just a very convenient point, where a lot of leaders come to New York. You can do a lot of business in a short period of time without having to travel all over the world, although traffic in New York makes it feel like it takes forever to get from one place to another. But it’s less about the U.N. than it is about other forms of diplomatic business.

That said, I believe that if Hillary Clinton wins, she will do what I expected Obama to do, which is try to transfer more and more American sovereignty into international organizations across the range of issues — whether it’s climate change or the conduct of international affairs. I think Obama didn’t do as much as I expected in that vein because he really just doesn’t care about international affairs as much as he cares about ‘fundamentally transforming’ our country.

I think Hillary does have even grander ambitions, and so that’s why what we started off, the end of ICANN or the effective control of ICANN over the Internet, is an excellent example of global governance replacing American sovereignty in effect. And I think she’ll be much more on that. I hope that’s something Trump emphasizes in the upcoming debate.

Turning to last weekend’s terrorist attacks, Bolton said they were “evidence that the terrorist threat continues to increase, as senior intelligence officials of the Obama Administration itself have testified in an open session of Congress.”

“It’s a demonstration of the diversity of the sources of terrorism and the kinds of terrorism that we see,” he continued, referencing the Chelsea bomber’s evident affinity for al-Qaeda, rather than ISIS, and the Somali origins of the Minnesota mall stabber. “It doesn’t all come from Syria or Iraq in the Middle East. It comes from as far away as Somali or Afghanistan.”

“And I think it’s also a measure of the kind of terrorism, that some people want to call it ‘lone wolf’ terrorism because they’re trying to downplay its significance. But it’s not lone wolf terrorism,” Bolton argued. “We’re seeing increasingly the networks, the connections of these two terrorists. ISIS has claimed credit for the one in Minnesota. We see how the terrorist arrested in New Jersey was in communication with terrorists in Afghanistan.”

“Terrorism doesn’t look like a corporate organization chart. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, or any easier to prevent,” he warned. “I think it’s one reason what that issue is so important in the 2016 campaign, and it should be.”

Marlow brought up the nuclear threat from North Korea, saying that “half the time, I feel like this is a joke, and half the time I feel like this is one of the scariest things happening on Planet Earth.”

“Unfortunately, it’s the latter,” Bolton said, explaining that the Communist dictatorship in Pyongyang presents a real danger to the United States and its allies:

The regime has always struck most Americans as a joke. Who can believe these people who talk and look the way the Kim family dictatorship has over the years?

But serious military officials, both American and South Korea, have repeatedly ramped up their judgment of what the North is capable of, and they’ve been saying for some time now that it’s only a very short period of time before North Korea is able to take their nuclear devices — and they’ve now tested five — and miniaturize them, and put them under the nose cone of their increasingly sophisticated ballistic missiles, and hit targets on the U.S. West Coast.

So the need for missile defense, at an absolute minimum — national missile defense for the United States, a program the Obama Administration gutted when they came into office, with the full support of Hillary Clinton. Dealing more effectively with North Korea, and I think trying to get more intelligence on whether and to what extent there is a connection between the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea — because these may seem like very different threats, but we know that for 20 years, if not more, they’ve cooperated on their missile programs, and I personally think there’s every reason to believe they’re cooperating on the nuclear programs as well.

We just don’t have enough information, and people don’t take this threat of the ‘Axis of Evil’ seriously enough. But if either or both of them get the capability to deliver nuclear by ballistic missile, we’ll take it seriously then.

Bolton concluded with his thoughts on the situation in Syria, where he sees the Russians and Iranians as having a “very distinct interest,” namely keeping Bashar Assad in power, while Obama’s goals and strategies remain vague and ineffective:

The ISIS threat is something that could have been dealt with a year, year and a half ago, if the Obama Administration had had a coherent foreign policy, but it doesn’t. And I think now we’re seeing continued chaos in Syria. ISIS may have lost some territory, but it’s still there, still recruiting terrorists. The Assad regime is still in place. Russian influence has increased, Iranian has increased, American influence has decreased. Really, how could it get much worse?

Syria’s military says the U.S.-led coalition carried out an airstrike on an eastern base that is surrounded by Islamic State militants

USAF/Getty

USAF/Getty

 BREITBART JERUSALEM, Sept. 17, 2016:

A U.S. military official in Baghdad said he was looking into the report, which could not be independently corroborated. If true, the strike would mark the first known time the United States had targeted Syrian government forces since the start of the five-year-old conflict. It was unclear why coalition air forces would be mounting attacks during a cease-fire that the U.S has worked to put in place. However, the cease-fire does not apply to attacks on the Islamic State group.

A Russian Defense Ministry official said Syria has informed them that 62 of its soldiers were killed in the airstrike. Russia has been waging a year-old air campaign on behalf of Assad’s forces and closely coordinates with them.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the airstrike near Deir el-Zour airport was conducted by two F-16s and two A-10s. He did not identify the planes’ country affiliation, but said they were part of the international coalition.

Konashenkov said Syrian authorities reported another 100 wounded. The planes came from the direction of the border with Iraq, he added.

He said IS militants surrounding the air base launched an attack on the Syrian army positions after the air strike. He added that if the coalition attack was launched by mistake, the reason for it was a “stubborn reluctance by the American side to coordinate its action against terrorist groups in Syria with Russia.”

IS has repeatedly attacked the government-held air base, which is an isolated enclave deep in extremist-held territory. The Syrian military said the airstrikes enabled an IS advance on a hill overlooking the air base.

It called the strike a “serious and blatant attack on Syria and its military,” and “firm proof of the U.S. support of Daesh and other terrorist groups,” using the Arabic acronym for IS. President Bashar Assad’s government views all those fighting against it as “terrorists,” and has long accused the U.S. and other rebel supporters of backing extremists.

The U.S.-led coalition has carried out thousands of airstrikes against IS in Syria and Iraq over the past two years, allowing allied forces on the ground to liberate several towns and cities from the extremist group. Russia also carries out attacks against IS targets, in Deir el-Zour and other parts of Syria.

The cease-fire took effect on Monday, and despite reports of violations, it has largely held. However, aid convoys have been unable to enter rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo — a key component of the deal.

Earlier on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin questioned the U.S. commitment to the fragile cease-fire, suggesting that Washington wasn’t prepared to break with “terrorist elements” battling Assad’s forces.

Russia has accused Washington of failing to rein in the rebels, and on Saturday Putin asked why the United States has insisted on not releasing a written copy of the agreement. Officials have provided details of the agreement in press conferences, but have not released an official document, fueling suspicions on both sides.

“This comes from the problems the U.S. is facing on the Syrian track — they still cannot separate the so-called healthy part of the opposition from the half-criminal and terrorist elements,” Putin said during a trip to Kyrgyzstan.

“In my opinion, this comes from the desire to keep the combat potential in fighting the legitimate government of Bashar Assad. But this is a very dangerous route.”

He appeared to be referring to the Fatah al-Sham Front, an al-Qaida-linked group previously known as the Nusra Front, which is deeply embedded in rebel-held areas and fights alongside more moderate groups.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov echoed Putin’s remarks during a phone call with Secretary of State John Kerry. Lavrov noted the “refusal by an array of illegal armed groups to join the cease-fire,” and Washington’s obligation to “separate units of the moderate opposition from terrorist groupings,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

Under the cease-fire agreement, the U.S. and Russia would work together to target the Fatah al-Sham Front, as well as the Islamic State group, while Assad’s forces refrain from striking opposition-held areas.

But Washington has warned Russia that unless aid is delivered to Aleppo, it will not move ahead with the formation of the joint coordination center.

The U.N. has accused Assad’s government of obstructing aid access to the contested city. The Russian military says insurgents have held up the delivery by firing on government positions along the main route leading into besieged, rebel-held districts, in violation of the cease-fire.

The Syrian government said it has done all that is necessary to facilitate the entry of aid convoys to Aleppo, but that armed groups have failed to withdraw from the supply routes and are committing “dangerous, provocative acts.”

Russia’s military said Syrian rebels violated the cease-fire dozens of times over the past day, including with strikes on military and civilian targets in Aleppo.

The Interfax news agency quoted Col. Sergei Kopytsin as saying Saturday that mortar fire and homemade rockets struck Aleppo 26 times. Russian news agencies cited another official, Lt. Gen. Vladimir Savchenko, as saying there had been 55 violations throughout the country. Syria’s state news agency SANA said insurgents have violated the cease-fire 12 times in the last 12 hours. No casualties were reported.

Syrian activists said government forces have meanwhile killed five civilians. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a woman and child were killed Saturday in Talbiseh, in the central Homs province. It says two men were killed outside Damascus and a child was killed in Aleppo province.

Syria’s conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced half the country’s population since March 2011.

***

Syria, Russia: Coalition airstrike kills regime forces

US military kills Islamic State’s ‘Minister of Information’

2016-08-31t11-11-36-366z-1280x720-nbcnews-ux-1080-600

Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, Sept. 16, 2016:

The US military announced today that it killed the Islamic State’s “Minister of Information” and central shura member in an airstrike near Raqqah, the jihadist group’s capital in Syria, ten days ago. Wa’il Adil Hasan Salman al-Fayad, the information minister who was also known as Dr. Wa’il, is the second top Islamic State leader killed by the US in the last three weeks.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook announced Dr. Wa’il’s death in a statement released by the Department of Defense . Wa’il was the target of “a precision strike.” The Islamic State has not officially announced the death of Wa’il.

“He operated as the Minister of Information for the terror organization and was a prominent member of its Senior Shura Council – ISIL’s leadership group,” Cook stated, using the outdated acronym ISIL to describe the Islamic State.

As information minister, “Wa’il oversaw ISIL’s production of terrorist propaganda videos showing torture and executions.” The Islamic State’s brutal execution videos, which include beheadings, burning people alive, drownings and crucifixions, have played a key role in recruiting violent fighters across the globe.

Wa’il was also a “close associate” of Abu Muhammad al Adnani, the Islamic State’s top spokesman who also served as the group’s external operations chief and a senior recruiter.

Adnani was killed just nine days before Wa’il. Adnani was one of the Islamic State’s most prominent leaders. He announced the establishment of the caliphate and formation of the Islamic State in 2014, and has been at the forefront in calling for sectarian attacks inside of Iraq and Syria as well as attacks against the West.

The Islamic State announced Adnani’s death on Aug. 30, and said he was killed along with other fighters while directing military operations in the Syrian town of Al Bab. The US military confirmed Adnani’s death 14 days after the Islamic State announced he was killed. [See LWJ reports, Islamic State says senior official killed in Aleppo province and US confirms it killed Islamic State’s spokesman and external operations chief.]

The US military has targeted and killed several key Islamic State leaders over the past several months as the jihadist group has lost key terrain in both Iraq and Syria. Abu Omar al Shishani is one of the most important Islamic State commanders who have been killed by the US since it began launching airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014. He was an ethnic Chechen from Georgia whom the US claimed was the group’s overall military commander. The US killed Shishani in an airstrike near Mosul in July 2016.

Another important Islamic State leader who was killed by the US was Abu Wahib, the notorious military commander who was responsible for overrunning much of Anbar province in 2014. Abu Wahib waged jihad with al Qaeda during the US occupation and escaped from an Iraqi prison in 2012 to rejoin the fight. The US killed him in an airstrike in May 2016.

The US military has also scored successful kills against the Islamic State’s leadership outside of Iraq and Syria. The most prominent leader killed by the US outside of Iraq and Syria was Hafiz Saeed Khan, the Islamic State’s emir for Khorasan province, or Afghanistan and Pakistan. A former mid-level commander in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Khan was killed in a US airstrike in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar in July 2016.

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

SHOCK VIDEO: U.S.-Backed, ‘Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Threatens To Kill U.S. Special Forces

moderate-syrian-rebels-threaten-to-kill-us-special-forces-sized-770x415xc

PJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE, SEPTEMBER 16, 2016:

Disturbing video emerged today of U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels threatening to kill arriving U.S. special operations forces in the town of Al-Rai near Aleppo. The city was just seized weeks ago from the Islamic State after a push by Turkish troops aided by U.S. air power.

Here is some video from the incident from BBC producer Riam Dalati:

Others shout in Turkish, “Death to America! We will behead you!”

Here is some of the video with translated subtitles:

The Telegraph reports:

The fighters scream anti-American chants as a column of pick-up trucks carrying US commandos drives away from them.“Christians and Americans have no place among us,” shouts one man in the video. “They want to wage a crusader war to occupy Syria.”

Another man calls out: “The collaborators of America are dogs and pigs. They wage a crusader war against Syria and Islam. ”

The US troops are not wearing traditional uniform but they carry American weapons and are wearing the distinctive round helmets favoured by US special forces.

Other video shows the U.S. troops leaving the city as the “moderate” rebels shout threats to “slaughter” them:

The Pentagon just announced that the U.S. troops were entering the area to assist our Turkish NATO allies:

But just yesterday, the U.S. troops came under fire reportedly by our Turkish NATO allies in Tal Abyad:

According to Barbara Starr at CNN, the problem grew so bad that that U.S. fighters had to put up American flags to show they were friendlies:

One problem in Al-Rai, where the U.S. troops were threatened, is the presence of “al-Qaeda-lite” Ahrar al-Sham fighters — the darlings of the Washington, D.C. think tanks:

Those who have been critical of the U.S. misadventure in Syria took time to note the obvious:

But Charles Lister, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and one of the chief think tank cheerleaders of the Syrian “rebels,” assures us that all is well after the incident in Al-Rai:

Perhaps some clarification from Lister on what “discharged” actually means is in order.

The incidents in Al-Rai and Tal Abyad demonstrate the ongoing collapse of the Obama administration’s Syria policy (though GOP congressional leaders have embraced the administration’s slow-motion disaster).

For more than two years I’ve been reporting here at PJ Media on the ongoing follies of the so-called “moderates” in Syria:

July 7, 2014: U.S. ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Brigades Surrender Weapons, Pledge Allegiance to Islamic StateSept. 3, 2014: U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Operating Openly with ISIS, Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra

Sept. 9, 2014: Fighter With ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Tells L.A. Times They Fight Alongside Al-Qaeda

Sept. 10, 2014: ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Commander Admits Alliance with ISIS, Confirms PJ Media Reporting

Sept. 13, 2014: Yet Another U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Makes Peace with ISIS

Sept. 24, 2014: U.S.-Backed Syrian Group Harakat al-Hazm Condemns U.S. Strikes on ISIS as ‘Attack on the Revolution’

Nov. 2, 2014: U.S.-Armed ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Groups Surrender, Defect to Al-Qaeda

Nov. 3, 2014: How Obama Walked Boehner and GOP Leadership Off the Syrian Rebel Cliff

Nov. 24, 2014: More Defections of ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Rebels to ISIS

Dec. 2, 2014: US-Backed Syrian Rebels Ally with al-Qaeda in South, Surrender CIA-Supplied Weapons in the North

Dec. 14, 2014: Report: Al-Qaeda Using CIA-Supplied TOW Anti-Tank Missiles in Northern Syria

Dec. 28, 2014: NY Times Admits: U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Under Effective al-Qaeda Control

March 3, 2015: U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Collapses, U.S.-Supplied Weapons End Up in Al-Qaeda Hands

March 24, 2015: Video Shows Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra Using U.S.-Provided TOW Anti-Tank Missiles in Syria

April 16, 2015: U.S. Analyst Admits ‘Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Have Been Working with Al-Qaeda All Along

May 8, 2015: CIA-Backed, “Vetted Moderate” Rebels Now Working Openly With Al-Qaeda

June 27, 2015: ISIS Using U.S. TOW Antitank Missiles In Latest Syrian Offensive

July 9, 2015: Report: ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Fighting Alongside Al-Qaeda, Islamic State Against Assad Regime

July 23, 2015:U.S.-Funded Free Syrian Army Unit Shows Off Its Kidnapping Skills in New Training Video

July 27, 2015: #BringBackOurRebels: Obama’s 50-Man ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Army Vanishes After Training in Turkey

July 29, 2015: #BringBackOurRebels Part 2: Al-Qaeda Arrests 18 U.S.-Trained Rebels On Their First Day in Syria

July 30, 2015: #BringBackOurRebels: Despite Pentagon Denial, Reports Confirm That U.S.-Trained Syrian Rebels Were Kidnapped By Al-Qaeda Almost Immediately

July 31, 2015: Report: Al-Qaeda Kills Five Members of Obama’s 54-Man Syrian Rebel Army

July 31, 2015: Chechen Terrorists In Syria Have Obtained U.S.-Provided TOW Anti-Tank Missiles

Sept. 22, 2015: Report: U.S.-Trained, ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Leader Defects to Al-Qaeda, Turns Weapons Over to Terror Group

Oct. 27, 2016: New Video Shows Al-Qaeda Using Weapons U.S. Gave to ‘Vetted Moderates’

Nov. 24, 2015:U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Destroy Russian Helicopter with CIA-Provided TOW Anti-Tank Missile

July 20, 2016:CIA-Vetted, “Moderate” Syrian Rebels Behead Child Soldier

September 3, 2016:British Journo: Syrian Kidnapper Who Shot Me Twice is Now a CIA-vetted ‘Moderate’

September 6, 2016: New ISIS Commander Was Trained by State Department as Recently as 2014

If only there had been some warning that things were going badly in Syria?

Islamic State Adapting & Improving Its Escape/Evasion Tactics/Tradecraft

s

Image source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-tricks-make-isis-once-easily-tracked-a-sophisticated-opponent-1473613106

Fortuna’s Corner, by R. C. Porter, Sept. 12, 2016:

Sam Schechner and Benoit Faucon had a September 11, 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal with an all too familiar theme — that the adversary is evading our attempts to surveil them — by adapting and enhancing their escape and evasion tradecraft.  Our lack of critical human intelligence (HUMINT) can be blamed on a clever adversary who has learned from their past mistakes, our inability to deeply penetrate their inner sanctum, and self-inflicted/unforced errors like closing Guantanamo Bay Prison without identifying a viable alternative.

     Getting a reliable, and highly successful human spy ensconced deep within the adversary’s lair has always been one of the most difficult intelligence collection challenges since time immemorial.  Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “one well placed spy was worth two battalions.”  Now, one well-placed spy could be worth an entire city.

     Our success in the targeted killing of the ISIS leadership no doubt sowed a heavy dose of mistrust and paranoia within the group’s ranks; and, ultimately forced those remaining to change and adapt their techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTPs) with respect to  how they communicate, plan operations, and travel — both locally and abroad.  The adversary gets a vote; and, it is to be expected that ISIS would adapt, change, and enhance its operational security (OPSEC) — especially as the targeted killing campaign eliminated their top leadership.  But, leaks by Edward Snowden, which revealed sensitive and highly lucrative NSA sources and methods, seemed to instill ISIS with a renewed sense of OPSEC, resulting in their use of enhanced encryption software, and other techniques to avoid our attempts to surveil them.

      As Mr. Schechner and Mr. Faucon note, “the extremists group’s communications, once commonly conducted on phones and social media accounts easily tracked by authorities [and intelligence agencies], have evolved into a mix of encrypted chat-app messages over What‘sApp and Telegram, face-to-face meetings, written notes, stretches of silence, and misdirection.”  The use of couriers, and disposable cell phones also remain a staple of their tradecraft.  The group’s move to enhanced encryption occurred within three months after the Edward Snowden leasks.  Additionally, as expressed on the group’s social media websites, ISIS members and followers were warned about Western surveillance techniques — as revealed by the Snowden leaks, and what to do to avoid them.

     The POTUS’s insistence on closing Guantanamo Bay Prison, means the United States lacks a dedicated interrogation facility where high-value targets can be taken and interrogated over a prolonged period of time.  As a result, the U.S. is forced to conduct tactical/limited interrogations overseas; and/or, depend on an ally or foreign partner to conduct these investigations — and never really being sure that such interrogations were adequate.  The next POTUS needs to reinstate Guantanamo as a dedicated interrogation facility, or settle on a useful alternative that does not unduly deprive our, and our intelligence agency partners of the opportunity to thoroughly question those who wish to kill as many Americans and Westerners as they can.

     As former CIA officer Philip Giraldi wrote in the July 23, 2014 edition of The American Conservative, “terrorists now know that using a cell phone is dangerous, that transferring money using commercial accounts can be detected [thus the increased use of Bitcoins], that moving around when a drone is overhead can be fatal [thus the increased use/employment of human shields — women/children, etc.]; and, that communicating by computer is likely to be intercepted or exposed unless it is encrypted.

     And, as Mr. Giraldi correctly observes, “technical intelligence has its limitations:  while it is excellent on picking up bits and pieces, and using sophisticated computers to work through the bulk collection of chatter, it is largely unable to learn the intentions of terrorist groups and leaders.  To do that,” he argues, “you need spies, ideally someone who is placed in the inner circle of an organization; and who is therefore — privy to decision-making.”

     But, the Intelligence Community has a very poor record when it comes to deeply penetrating a terrorist group with a well-placed human spy.  To be fair, these groups are typically close-knit, very suspicious of new-comers, and vet new members through family and tribal connections — thus making a successful HUMINT penetration challenging to say the least.

     At the end of the day, intelligence collection against a low-tech adversary, who learns our sources and methods from leaks such as Edward Snowden’s, and adapts their TTPas in clever and unexpected ways, makes them a ‘hard target’ for a reason.  All the more important that we avoid self-inflicted wounds like shuttering Guantanamo  Bay Prison — without a viable alternative — and, consider establishing a leading-edge, deep penetration center of excellence, designed to try new means and methods to collect against low-tech, hard to penetrate adversarial entities.  V/R, RCP

Also see:

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda fights on

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn Sept. 11, 2016:

All appeared lost for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in December 2001. In the years leading up to the 9/11 hijackings, bin Laden believed that the US was a “paper tiger” and would retreat from the Muslim majority world if al Qaeda struck hard enough. The al Qaeda founder had good reasons to think this. American forces withdrew from Lebanon after a series of attacks in the early 1980s and from Somalia after the “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993. The US also did not respond forcefully to al Qaeda’s August 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, or the USS Cole bombing in October 2000.

But bin Laden’s strategy looked like a gross miscalculation in late 2001. An American-led invasion quickly overthrew the Taliban’s regime just weeks after 19 of bin Laden’s men hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Some of al Qaeda’s most senior figures were killed in American airstrikes. With al Qaeda’s foes closing in, bin Laden ordered his men to retreat to the remote Tora Bora Mountains. Here, bin Laden must have thought, al Qaeda would make its last stand. The end was nigh.

Except it wasn’t.

Bin Laden slithered away, eventually making his way to Abbottabad, Pakistan. When Navy SEALs came calling more than nine years later, in early May 2011, the world looked very different.

Documents recovered in bin Laden’s compound reveal that he and his lieutenants were managing a cohesive global network, with subordinates everywhere from West Africa to South Asia. Some US intelligence officials assumed that bin Laden was no longer really active. But Bin Laden’s files demonstrated that this view was wrong.

Writing in The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qa’ida to ISIS, former CIA official Mike Morell explains how the Abbottabad cache upended the US intelligence community’s assumptions regarding al Qaeda. “The one thing that surprised me was that the analysts made clear that our pre-raid understanding of Bin Laden’s role in the organization had been wrong,” Morell writes. “Before the raid we’d thought that Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, was running the organization on a day-to-day basis, essentially the CEO of al Qaeda, while Bin Laden was the group’s ideological leader, its chairman of the board. But the DOCEX showed something quite different. It showed that Bin Laden himself had not only been managing the organization from Abbottabad, he had been micromanaging it.”*

Consider some examples from the small set of documents released already.

During the last year and a half of his life, Osama bin Laden: oversaw al Qaeda’s “external work,” that is, its operations targeting the West; directed negotiations with the Pakistani state over a proposed ceasefire between the jihadists and parts of the government; ordered his men to evacuate northern Pakistan for safe havens in Afghanistan; instructed Shabaab to keep its role as an al Qaeda branch secret and offered advice concerning how its nascent emirate in East Africa should be run; received status reports on his fighters’ operations in at least eight different Afghan provinces; discussed al Qaeda’s war strategy in Yemen with the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other subordinates; received updates from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, including details on a proposed truce with the government of Mauritania; authorized the relocation of veteran jihadists to Libya, where they could take advantage of the uprising against Muammar al Qaddafi’s regime; corresponded with the Taliban’s leadership; and generally made decisions that impacted al Qaeda’s operations everywhere around the globe.

Again, these are just a handful of examples culled from the publicly-available files recovered in bin Laden’s compound. The overwhelming majority of these documents remain classified and, therefore, unavailable to the American public.

Al Qaeda has grown under Zawahiri’s tenure

The story of how bin Laden’s role was missed should raise a large red flag. Al Qaeda is still not well-understood and has been consistently misjudged. Not long after bin Laden was killed, a meme spread about his successor: Ayman al Zawahiri. Many ran with the idea that Zawahiri is an ineffectual and unpopular leader who lacked bin Laden’s charisma and was, therefore, incapable of guiding al Qaeda’s global network. This, too, was wrong.

There is no question that the Islamic State, which disobeyed Zawahiri’s orders and was disowned by al Qaeda’s “general command” in 2014, has cut into al Qaeda’s share of the jihadist market and undermined the group’s leadership position. But close observers will notice something interesting about al Qaeda’s response to the Islamic State’s challenge. Under Zawahiri’s stewardship, al Qaeda grew its largest paramilitary force ever.

Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, warned about the rise of Al Nusrah Front during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 28. “With direct ties to Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden’s successor, Nusra[h] is now al [Qaeda’s] largest formal affiliate in history,” McGurk said. US officials previously contacted by The Long War Journal said Nusrah could easily have 10,000 or more fighters in its ranks.

It is worth repeating that Nusrah grew in size and stature, while being openly loyal to Zawahiri, after the Islamic State became its own jihadist menace. Far from being irrelevant, Zawahiri ensured al Qaeda’s survival in the Levant and oversaw its growth.

image-posted-by-tilmidh-usamah-bin-ladin-1024x348

On July 28, Al Nusrah Front emir Abu Muhammad al Julani announced that his organization would henceforth be known as Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS, or the “Conquest of the Levant Front”) and would have no “no affiliation to any external [foreign] entity.” This was widely interpreted as Al Nusrah’s “break” from al Qaeda. But Julani never actually said that and al Qaeda itself isn’t an “external entity” with respect to Syria as the group moved much of its leadership to the country long ago. Al Nusrah’s rebranding was explicitly approved by Abu Khayr al Masri, one of Zawahiri’s top deputies, in an audio message released just hours prior to Julani’s announcement. Masri was likely inside Syria at the time.

Julani, who was dressed like Osama bin Laden during his appearance (as pictured above), heaped praise on bin Laden, Zawahiri and Masri. “Their blessed leadership has, and shall continue to be, an exemplar of putting the needs of the community and their higher interests before the interest of any individual group,” Julani said of Zawahiri and Masri.

Most importantly, Al Nusrah’s relaunch as JFS is entirely consistent with al Qaeda’s longstanding strategy in Syria and elsewhere. Al Qaeda never wanted to formally announce its role in the rebellion against Bashar al Assad’s regime, correctly calculating that clandestine influence is preferable to an overt presence for many reasons. This helps explain why Nusrah was never officially renamed as “Al Qaeda in the Levant” in the first place. However, fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, there is such widespread ignorance of al Qaeda’s goals and strategy that Nusrah’s name change is enough to fool many.

Al Qaeda has grown in South Asia as well. In Sept. 2014, Zawahiri announced the formation of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which brought together elements of several existing jihadist organizations. AQIS quickly got to work, attempting to execute an audacious plan that would have used Pakistani arms against American and Indian ships. The plot failed, but revealed that al Qaeda had infiltrated Pakistan’s military.

Pakistani officials recently told the Washington Post that they suspect AQIS has a few thousand members in the city of Karachi alone. And al Qaeda remains closely allied with the Taliban while maintaining a significant presence inside Afghanistan. In October 2015, for instance, Afghan and American forces conducted a massive operation against two large al Qaeda training camps in the southern part of the country. One of the camps was approximately 30 square miles in size. Gen. John F. Campbell, who oversaw the war effort in Afghanistan, explained that the camp was run by AQIS and is “probably the largest training camp-type facility that we have seen in 14 years of war.”

With Zawahiri as its emir, al Qaeda raised its “largest formal affiliate in history” in Syria and operated its “largest training” camp ever in Afghanistan. These two facts alone undermine the widely-held assumption that al Qaeda is on death’s door.

Elsewhere, al Qaeda’s other regional branches remain openly loyal to Zawahiri.

From April 2015 to April 2016, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) controlled a large swath of territory along Yemen’s southern coast, including the key port city of Mukalla. An Arab-led coalition helped reclaim some of this turf earlier this year, but AQAP’s forces simply melted away, living to fight another day. AQAP continues to wage a prolific insurgency in the country, as does Shabaab across the Gulf of Aden in Somalia. Shabaab’s leaders announced their fealty to Zawahiri in February 2012 and remain faithful to him. They have taken a number of steps to stymie the growth of the Islamic State in Somalia and neighboring countries. Shabaab also exports terrorism throughout East Africa, executing a number of high-profile terrorist attacks in recent years.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continues to operate in West and North Africa, often working in conjunction with front groups. Like al Qaeda’s branches elsewhere, AQIM prefers to mask the extent of its influence, working through organizations such as Ansar al Sharia and Ansar Dine to achieve its goals. Late last year, Al Murabitoon rejoined AQIM’s ranks. Al Murabitoon is led by Mohktar Belmokhtar, who has been reportedly killed on several occasions. Al Qaeda claims that Belmokhtar is still alive and has praised him for rejoining AQIM after his contentious relations with AQIM’s hierarchy in the past. While Belmokhtar’s status cannot be confirmed, several statements have been released in his name in recent months. And Al Murabitoon’s merger with AQIM has led to an increase in high-profile attacks in West Africa.

In sum, AQAP, AQIM, AQIS and Shabaab are formal branches of al Qaeda and have made their allegiance to Zawahiri clear. Jabhat Fath al Sham, formerly known as Al Nusrah, is an obvious al Qaeda project in Syria. Other organizations continue to serve al Qaeda’s agenda as well.

Al Qaeda’s veterans and a “new generation” of jihadist leadership

As the brief summary above shows, Al Qaeda’s geographic footprint has expanded greatly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Some US officials argue that al Qaeda has been “decimated” because of the drone campaign and counterterrorism raids. They narrowly focus on the leadership layer of al Qaeda, while ignoring the bigger picture. But even their analysis of al Qaeda’s managers is misleading.

Al Qaeda has lost dozens of key men, but there is no telling how many veterans remain active to this day. Experienced operatives continue to serve in key positions, often returning to the fight after being detained or only revealing their hidden hand when it becomes necessary. Moreover, al Qaeda knew it was going to lose personnel and took steps to groom a new generation of jihadists capable of filling in.

From left to right: Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Abu Khayr al Masri. These photos, first published by the FBI and US intelligence officials, show the al Qaeda leaders when they were younger.

From left to right: Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Abu Khayr al Masri. These photos, first published by the FBI and US intelligence officials, show the al Qaeda leaders when they were younger.

Last year, several veterans were reportedly released from Iran, where they were held under murky circumstances. One of them was Abu Khayr al Masri, who paved the way for Al Nusrah’s rebranding in July. Another is Saif al Adel, who has long been wanted for his role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. At least two others freed by Iran, Abu Mohammed al Masri and Khalid al Aruri, returned to al Qaeda as well.

Masri, Al Adel, and Aruri may all be based inside Syria, or move back and forth to the country from Turkey, where other senior members are based. Mohammed Islambouli is an important leader within al Qaeda. After leaving Iran several years ago, Islambouli returned to Egypt and eventually made his way to Turkey, where he lives today.

Sitting to Julani’s right during his much ballyhooed announcement was one of Islambouli’s longtime compatriots, Ahmed Salama Mabrouk. The diminutive Mabrouk is another Zawahiri subordinate. He was freed from an Egyptian prison in the wake of the 2011 uprisings.

Al Qaeda moved some of its senior leadership to Syria and several others from this cadre are easy to identify. But al Qaeda has also relied on personnel in Yemen to guide its global network. One of Zawahiri’s lieutenants, Hossam Abdul Raouf, confirmed this in an audio message last October. Raouf explained that the “weight” of al Qaeda has been shifted to Syria and Yemen, because that is where its efforts are most needed.

The American drone campaign took out several key AQAP leaders in 2015, but they were quickly replaced. Qasim al Raymi, who was trained by al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1990s, succeeded Nasir al Wuhayshi as AQAP’s emir last summer. Raymi quickly renewed his allegiance to Zawahiri, whom Raymi described as the “the eminent sheikh” and “the beloved father.” Another al Qaeda lifer, Ibrahim Abu Salih, emerged from the shadows last year. Salih was not public figure beforehand, but he has been working towards al Qaeda’s goals in Yemen since the early 1990s. Ibrahim al Qosi (an ex-Guantanamo detainee) and Khalid al Batarfi have stepped forward to lead AQAP and are probably also part of al Qaeda’s management team.

This old school talent has helped buttress al Qaeda’s leadership cadre. They’ve been joined by men who signed up for al Qaeda’s cause after the 9/11 attacks as well. In July, the US Treasury Department designated three jihadists who are based in Iran. One of them, known as Abu Hamza al Khalidi, was listed in bin Laden’s files as part of a “new generation” of al Qaeda leaders. Today, he plays a crucial role as the head of al Qaeda’s military commission, meaning he is the equivalent of al Qaeda’s defense minister. Treasury has repeatedly identified other al Qaeda members based in Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Some members of the “new generation” are more famous than others. Such is the case with Osama’s son,Hamzah bin Laden, who is now regularly featured in propaganda.

This brief survey of al Qaeda is not intended to be exhaustive, yet it is still sufficient to demonstrate that the organization’s bench is far from empty. Moreover, many of the men who lead al Qaeda today are probably unknown to the public.

The threat to the West

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that al Qaeda “nodes in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey” are “dedicating resources to planning attacks.” His statement underscored how the threats have become more geographically dispersed over time. With great success, the US worked for years to limit al Qaeda’s ability to strike the West from northern Pakistan. But today, al Qaeda’s “external operations” work is carried out across several countries.

During the past fifteen years, Al Qaeda has failed to execute another mass casualty attack in the US on the scale of the 9/11 hijackings. Its most recent attack in Europe came in January 2015, when a pair of brothers backed by AQAP conducted a military-style assault on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris. AQAP made it clear that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was carried out according to Zawahiri’s orders.

Thanks to vigilance and luck, al Qaeda hasn’t been able to replicate a 9/11-style assault inside the US. Part of the reason is that America’s defenses, as well as those of its partner nations, have improved. Operations such as the 9/11 hijackings are also difficult to carry out in the first place. Even the 9/11 plan experienced interruptions despite a relatively lax security environment. (Most famously, for example, the would-be 20th hijacker was denied entry into the US at an Orlando airport in the summer of 2001.)

But there is another aspect to evaluating the al Qaeda threat that is seldom appreciated. It is widely assumed that al Qaeda is only interested in attacking the West. This is flat false. Most of the organization’s resources are devoted to waging insurgencies in Muslim majority countries.

The story in Syria has been telling. Although al Qaeda may have more resources in Syria than anywhere else, Zawahiri did not order his men to carry out a strike in the West. Al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan Group” laid the groundwork for such operations, but Zawahiri did not give this cadre the green light to actually carry them out. Zawahiri’s stand down order is well known. In an interview that aired in May 2015, for instance, Julani explained that the “directives that come to us from Dr. Ayman [al Zawahiri], may Allah protect him, are that Al Nusrah Front’s mission in Syria is to topple [Bashar al Assad’s] regime” and defeat its allies. “We have received guidance to not use Syria as a base for attacks against the West or Europe so that the real battle is not confused,” Julani said. However, he conceded that “maybe” the mother al Qaeda organization is plotting against the West, just “not from Syria.” Julani emphasized that this “directive” came from Zawahiri himself.

To date, al Qaeda has not lashed out at the West from inside Syria, even though it is certainly capable of doing so. Al Qaeda’s calculation has been that such an attack would be too costly for its strategic interests. It might get in the way of al Qaeda’s top priority in Syria, which is toppling the Assad regime. This calculation could easily change overnight and al Qaeda could use Syria as a launching pad against the West soon. But they haven’t thus far. It helps explain why there hasn’t been another 9/11-style plot by al Qaeda against the US in recent years. It also partially explains why al Qaeda hasn’t launched another large-scale operation in Europe for some time. Al Qaeda has more resources at its disposal today than ever, so the group doesn’t lack the capability. If Zawahiri and his advisors decided to make anti-Western attack planning more of a priority, then the probability of another 9/11-style event would go up. Even in that scenario, al Qaeda would have to successfully evade the West’s defenses. But the point is that al Qaeda hasn’t been attempting to hit the West nearly as much as some in the West assume.

In the meantime, it is easy to see how the al Qaeda threat has become more diverse, just as Clapper testified. AQAP has launched several thwarted plots aimed at the US, including the failed Christmas Day 2009 bombing. In 2009, al Qaeda also plotted to strike trains in the New York City area. In 2010, a Mumbai-style assault in Europe was unraveled by security services. It is not hard to imagine al Qaeda trying something along those lines once again. Other organizations tied to al Qaeda, such as the Pakistani Taliban, have plotted against the US as well.

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda lives. Fortunately, Zawahiri’s men have not replicated the hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. But the al Qaeda threat looms. It would be a mistake to assume that al Qaeda won’t try a large-scale operation again.

*The spellings of al Qaeda and bin Laden are changed in this quote from Morell to make them consistent with the rest of the text.

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

***

Listen to John Batchelor interview Thomas Joscelyn:

watching-bin-laden-raid

Fifteen Years Later, Al Qaeda Grows

Why Aleppo Matters: Syrian Army Just Broke Islamist Stronghold

syria-guide-mapDaily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, Sept 8, 2016:

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is tightening the noose around the jihadi stronghold city of Aleppo, possibly his greatest victory in the Syrian civil war.

Assad’s move in Aleppo could reverse all the gains a jihadi-led coalition made last month when it broke the regime’s siege. Aleppo has become a focal point of the broader Syrian opposition and involves almost every major player except the U.S. “Pro-regime forces reinstated the siege of Eastern Aleppo City” Sept. 4, the Institute for the Study of War noted Wednesday, explaining that, “new advances demonstrated the critical role played by Russia.”

Russia is pounding opposition-held areas of Aleppo in daily airstrikes. Iran just dispatched its favorite general to help coordinate the ground offensive, and earlier this month Hezbollah sent thousands of fresh troops to fight alongside the Assad regime. The Syrian regime even flouted the international community Wednesday when it likely dropped chlorine gas on civilians.

The only realistic chance of an end to hostilities in Aleppo is a potential deal between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reports indicate that Obama was considering signing a deal with Putin for an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo, in exchange for military cooperation between the two countries. After months of haranguing over the details, the deal is now unlikely to come to fruition amid continued tensions between the two countries.

Syrian rebel opposition held positions inside Aleppo for nearly five years, but are unlikely to overcome Assad, Iran, and overwhelming Russian firepower. A rebel coalition led by al-Qaida-linked elements broke a government siege of Aleppo in early August, but the effort likely exhausted the military supplies of the groups. The reinstitution of a siege will deprive the group of supplies, and allow the regime and its allies to revert back to the original strategy of attrition warfare.

Despite a devastating five years of civil war, 300,000 civilians remain inside Aleppo. One humanitarian activist told Al Jazeera there are now only two bakeries in Aleppo to serve the remaining 300,000 customers.

Assad, Iran, and Russia have undertaken a concerted campaign to make the rebel position as untenable as possible, by bombing hospitals and cutting off any access to humanitarian assistance. The regime and its allies have tried to bomb as many hospitals as possible within Aleppo to cut off Rebel access to healthcare.

Cutting access to healthcare and food also makes life as miserable as possible for civilians living under rebel occupation.

The Assad regime’s strategy is to maintain control over as much of the civilian populace as possible to ensure perception of legitimacy in the eyes of the world, and bargain with the rebel opposition for peace from a position of strength.

“It is a shame that the world in the 21st century is watching an 8,000-year-old city destroyed on the heads of its inhabitants and bombed with 200 air raids and dozens of barrel bombs daily without doing anything,” President of the Opposition Council Anas Alabdah told The Daily Beast.

***

Erik Prince: Clinton’s ‘Foreign Policy Record Is a Disaster,’ Trump Is ‘Willing to Take a Different Direction’

Getty Images

Getty Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, Sept. 8, 2016:

Retired Navy SEAL and former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince thought it was “shocking indeed that Matt Lauer asked any question that wasn’t pre-scripted from the Clinton team” during Wednesday night’s national security forum.

“I think perhaps the lies, the distortions have reached a tipping point, that the rest of the media is saying, we can’t be this dishonest all the time on these matters, we have to do something right,” Prince told Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow on Thursday’s Breitbart News Daily on SiriusXM.

He thought Trump was stronger on content during the forum, because “Hillary doesn’t have anything to be strong on, content-wise.”

“Her foreign policy record is a disaster, whether it’s being part of pulling out of Iraq, basically when the war had been won and the country had been stabilized, all that blood and treasure and effort, literally thrown down the drain by the Obama Administration,” Prince said.

“And then her leading a cavalry charge into Libya, to cause what was a cooperating state on counter-terrorism, they’d given up their nuclear weapons, and she turned it into an Islamic fascist kinda hell-hole that is still melting down – a transit point for millions of refugees a year, thousands of which drowned, people being beheaded, Coptic Christians being murdered, the list of terribles. So she has no record to go on,” he pronounced.

Prince agreed with a caller that Trump could do more with Hillary Clinton’s sale of American uranium reserves to Russia, calling the story “an under-explored question, certainly by the mainstream media.”

Clinton Cash does an excellent job of covering it. Unfortunately, enough of America hasn’t seen it yet,” he said. “To elaborate, due to a significant donation into the Clinton Foundation, the State Department ended up approving the sale of a company that owns 20% of the uranium in the United States, certainly a strategic fuel stock for us here, for nuclear energy production, and of course for nuclear weapons, if necessary. It’s now in the hands of a Russian state enterprise.”

Marlow asked for Prince’s take on Donald Trump’s often-repeated call for “taking the oil” after an operation such as the Iraq War. During the Wednesday night forum, Trump more specifically called for seizing oil production before the Islamic State could take it.

“The caliphate, ISIS, operates with legitimacy in their minds because they control land,” Prince noted. “That land they control holds oil. They sell that oil, they sell it off – oddly enough, by truck, to Erdogan’s son, the ruler of Turkey, so that even the Erdogan family is in on the criminal enterprise of it all. But when he says ‘take the oil,’ if friendly forces occupy that territory, that oil is no longer available to the enemy for sale.”

He said that holding land even allows ISIS to run its own science programs, since they have “taken over the University of Mosul, their science department, and they are using it as a weapons lab for doing research on weapons that will evade detection in the West.”

“You have to take away any legitimacy that the caliphate has by owning or controlling land. They cannot have a state,” he urged. “Doing so will cut off a major part of their money supply. They would still get money, like al-Qaeda does, via some high-net-worth radical Islamist donors, and there’s other ways to deal with that, but you have to take away the legitimacy of the caliphate, by denying them sanctuary anywhere. That’s going to take them from conventional-sized units that can go from battalions, up to even brigade size, thousands of people, down to at least operating at no more than two- to four-man terror cells.”

“It was interesting in the forum last night, Hillary saying ‘I will never use U.S. ground troops,’ and she’s going to try to phone it in from the air – clearly a strategy that hasn’t been working for the last two and a half years, because ISIS is still very active, and still ever as deadly,” Prince said.

“Whether you use U.S. ground forces, whether you use local Arab forces, or whether you use contracted forces, it’s not that difficult to assemble a force – a few thousand people, we’re not talking tens of thousands. If you give it to the conventional military, they will insist on tens of thousands, just because they move with a much, much larger logistics footprint,” he said. “If you think about, what was the most effective response the U.S. has had to terrorism, I would say it was the first 12 months after 9/11, where you had a few case officers, a handful of special operations officers, supported by capable air and agency air, and it literally turned the Taliban back in a matter of weeks.”

“The U.S. military’s war plan, going back to 9/11, was basically bombs, missile raid, and a ranger raid for the first six months. They didn’t want to put any significant boots on the ground until the following April, of 2002, and this is while their headquarters, the Pentagon, was still smoking under attack,” Prince recalled. “A light, unconventional, again contracted or indigenous force, ought to roll up and destroy any conventional pockets of ISIS, in the entire Iraq/Syria theater.”

“You have to negotiate a deal with what Syria looks like, post-ISIS, with Putin,” he continued. “You know, the Alawites, the Assad family are from the Alawite tribe, that’s a Shia minority. He can’t leave, because if he does, the Alawites will be slaughtered. A Shia minority being in charge in Syria is almost like the untouchables running India – it just doesn’t happen. So it’s been that way for 40 years, and you have to separate them, because those two are in a blood feud, and unless they have a very clear boundary, they’re going to continue to fight.”

“You have to basically have the Russians and Assad be willing to shrink the footprint of what Assad’s going to run, and I would take eastern Syria, western Iraq, and put it into a greater Sunni country, call it Sunnistan,” he proposed. “Give the Kurds, who have been our most steadfast allies, fighting against Daesh and radicalism there, give them their own homeland. With that, you could actually have a homeland for Christians, because Christianity’s been in the Middle East for longer than Islam, for the past 2,000 years. And they have largely been run out of Dodge by continued attacks and violence.”

On the matter of giving Christians a homeland, Prince said there will be a conference called “In Defense of Christians” in Washington this very weekend.

He talked about how the maps of modern Iraq and Syria were drawn by the Sykes-Picot treaty in 1916, and that old world has “gone away.” He advised drawing a new map along “tribal and religious lines,” and then allowing good borders to make good neighbors.

Prince said the persecution of Christians draws relatively little media coverage in the United States because “when you have very few people who believe anymore here, who are in those positions of writing, it’s easy for them to ignore.”

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Christians find themselves in a “war of tribal extinction, where you have ISIS rolling into a village, lining everyone up, and asking them what they believe. You’ve even seen other cases of that in Somalia, or Nigeria, or wherever, where radical Islamist terrorists are lining up people and murdering them, if they can’t recite lines from the Koran.”

Prince predicted Trump would “have his hands full” if he became Commander-in-Chief.

“He’s gonna have a military bureaucracy that needs massive reform,” he said. “When you throw hundreds of billions of dollars onto an organization, year after year after year, it creates a lot of bad habits, it creates a lot of fat. It makes for a very heavy triathlete that’s going to have a hard time bobbing, and moving, and flexing, and moving quickly to fight non-state actors.”

Prince said of Hillary Clinton’s position, “There’s no there there.”

“To announce that you’re never going to use ground troops is wrong. It means basically to ISIS saying, yes, we can sit back and tear away at these Americans, because they’re afraid to commit their people to come and get us,” he said. “Her position is untenable. It’s just saying well, we’re going to get our Arab allies to do more.”

“There’s no there there,” he repeated. “You’re not going to trust the Turks. The Turks’ main interest is in destroying the Kurds. Remember, Turkey was a major transit point – and still is – for ISIS fighters and weapons, et cetera. It’s a mess that someone’s going to have to go clean out.”

“You’re not going to get Saudi Arabia to send troops,” he continued. “They’re being destroyed left, right, and center along their southern border in Yemen. Jordan is pretty much tapped out. And so there’s not a lot of other real military capability in the Middle East.”

He recalled the CIA’s use of indigenous forces after 9/11, “led by CIA officers, supported by American air power,” and suggested Trump tap the same kind of intelligence teams to conduct a similar strategy against the Islamic State on the ground, combining “cash, authority, and a real will to fight.”

“DOD can support that, but it must be an Agency-led effort,” Prince specified. “If I were in the Trump Administration, I would say that the Pentagon does not have a leading role to play, battling non-state actors. It should be an intelligence function. The Pentagon, as Mr. Trump laid out, needs to beef up its conventional military capabilities, which have been eroded and chewed up, trying to fight basically guys with pickup trucks, with our first-rate, very expensive military equipment.”

Instead, he advised using “other guys in pickup trucks” to combat these non-state irregular forces, adding “a few elements of technology to give your side the advantage.”

“You focus on going cheap,” Prince said. “This is the Long War. This is not an invasion of Grenada that’s going to be done in five days. This is a long, drawn-out, long and slow-burning fight, and you have to provision and plan to fight the enemy, to be able to outlastthem. When the Pentagon gets involved, and you start rolling blocks of 10,000 people in, it comes at an enormous cost. That’s why we’re still spending $44 billion a year in Afghanistan, and right now the Taliban controls more land in Afghanistan then they did on 9/11, 15 years ago.”

“To go at this the same way it’s been done is the definition of insanity, because we keep going around and around in circles,” he said of Hillary Clinton’s counter-terrorist agenda. “Again, the most effective time the U.S. had against terrorism was about the first year, post-9/11, and the more the Pentagon got involved, and the more battalions of lawyers and bureaucrats got involved, everything slowed down, and all progress stopped.”

In response to a caller who had military experience in Iraq, Prince talked about the restrictive rules of engagement and burdensome force-protection policies imposed on U.S. troops, pronouncing them too cumbersome for dealing with a vicious irregular enemy.

He cited legendary military theorist Carl von Clausewitz’s idea that military courage comes in two forms: the individual courage of the soldier, which the U.S. has a “surplus” of, thanks to our “fantastic soldiers, NCOs, and junior officers.”

“The other kind of courage it takes are senior leaders that are willing to commit their people to action, with an uncertain outcome,” he said. “I think that’s what we’ve suffered from. We’ve built up this massive barrier mentality when we’re trying to engage with the enemy, and it prevents effective action.”

For example, he said that “if you’re fighting in Afghanistan, you have to call a U.S. lawyer sitting in an air-conditioned office in Qatar, at some U.S. Air Force base, to get permission to drop a bomb.”

“That’s wrong. That is a non-serious way to fight a war,” he declared.

“To me, that’s disqualifying for Hillary, because that’s what she would default to,” Prince said. “I think Mr. Trump is willing to take a different direction. He’s listening to some different voices on this, and who knows what that would look like, but I have way more confidence in Mr. Trump doing the right thing than Hillary.”

LISTEN:

***

Also see:

Audacity: Clinton Claims ISIS ‘Praying to Allah’ to Elect Trump

screen-shot-2015-12-18-at-4-52-50-pm-2Let’s review again how ISIS came to be, and whose fault that is.

CountrJihad, Sept. 8, 2016:

Failed Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on Israeli television and told the audience that terrorists belonging to the Islamic State (ISIS) were ‘praying to Allah‘ to elect her opponent.  It was a particularly audacious claim to make given her own personal responsibility for the fact that the Islamic State exists at all.

Hillary Clinton suggested in a television interview in Israel, broadcast on Thursday, that the Islamic State is “rooting forDonald Trump’s victory” and that terrorists are praying, “Please, Allah, make Trump president of America.”

Speaking with Israel’s Channel 2,  Mrs. Clinton said that by singling out Muslims during his campaign,  Mr. Trump had played into the hands of extremists and helped their recruitment efforts, in effect “giving aid and comfort to their evil ambitions.”

Giving aid and comfort to the enemy is, of course, a line lifted from the definition of treason in the United States Constitution.  She chose these words, so let us give her the benefit of them.  Let us review who has given more aid, and more comfort, to the Islamic State.

The Islamic State grew out of the union of al Qaeda in Iraq and former members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist intelligence and military services.  Al Qaeda in Iraq was founded by one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Zarqawi came to Iraq to fight Americans, having led his own terrorist organization abroad before joining the Iraq War.  By the time of Zarqawi’s death at the hands of the United States military, many of his allies had been captured and detained in the U.S.-run Camp Bucca.  Due to an unfortunate error in judgment, the leadership at Bucca housed Islamist radicals in the same units as Saddam’s own former military professionals.

All of that might have come to nothing, though, if Iraq had remained the stable state it was in 2009 (when Bucca was closed) or 2010 (when the last detainees, relocated to Camp Cropper, were turned over to Iraq).  At that time, the Obama administration viewed bringing the war in Iraq to a close as one of their greatest legacies.  Here is Vice President Joe Biden saying just that in 2010:

However, the Secretary of State at that time was Hillary Clinton.  It was her job to negotiate an arrangement with the Iraqi government that would do two things:  allow a stabilizing US military presence to remain in Iraq, and allow the US Department of State the freedom of movement it would need to step up as guarantors of the peace.  The peace, you see, had been purchased not only by the US military’s victory on the battlefields, but also by its patient negotiation with militants formerly aligned with al Qaeda in Iraq.  These tribes, mostly but not exclusively Sunni, had rejected the terrorism of al Qaeda in Iraq in return for promises of fair treatment from the Iraqi central government.  This included jobs, assistance for communities recovering from the war, and many other things that the government promised to provide in return for the support of these former enemies.  The United States helped to negotiate all these agreements, and promised to see that they would be kept faithfully.

Instead, the Secretary of State failed to produce either a new Status of Forces agreement that would permit US troops to remain in Iraq, or an agreement that would allow State Department personnel to move about the country safely to observe whether agreements were being kept.  In the wake of the precipitous withdrawal of US forces, Prime Minister Maliki moved to arrest Sunni leaders in government, and broke all his promises to the tribes.

The result was that the western part of Iraq once again became fertile ground for an Islamist insurgency.  ISIS swept western Iraq because of the failures of Hillary Clinton and her boss, President Barack Obama.

But that is only half the story.  ISIS also exists in Syria.  How is it that the United States allowed it to survive there?  Lee Smith, at Tablet magazine, points out that letting Syria fester was the intentional policy of the Obama administration — in order to cosy up to Iran.

Obama’s inaction in Syria is not simply part of the hangover from the failed American war in Iraq, or of the president’s personal psychology. There is something entirely practical at stake here, too—namely, the Iran deal. The explanation is, in fact, a simple one: U.S. intervention in Syria against Assad would have made the Iran deal impossible. In fact, U.S. support for Iran’s continuing presence in Syria was a precondition of the deal, according to no less an authority than the president himself. In a December press conference, Obama spoke of “respecting” Iranian “equities” in Syria—which, translated into plain English, means leaving Assad alone in order to keep the Iranians happy.

The connection between Syria and the Iran deal was not particularly hard to spot for anyone in the administration…. The reason that so many journalists and opinion-makers of good conscience cannot make the connection between the Iran deal and the Syrian war is because the truth is too awful. The president’s policy is not simply a matter of a lack of vision or political will. The money Iran received through the JCPOA, as well as the $1.7 billion paid in ransom for American hostages, has helped fund Iran’s war in Syria—which the president proclaimed to be Iran’s business and not ours.

The Iran deal was signed after Hillary Clinton had stepped down as Secretary of State, and important parts of it were negotiated by her successor, John F. Kerry.  However, she herself claims to have had a key role in initiating this deal.  She cannot escape the consequences of that role.

If Hillary Clinton had successfully negotiated a Status of Forces agreement with Iraq, a stabilizing force would have prevented Iraq from falling apart.  If she had at least succeeded in negotiating freedom of movement for State Department observers, the Iraqi government’s betrayal of its promises to the tribes in western Iraq might not have festered so long as to make even ISIS seem attractive by comparison.  Nor can she dodge responsibility for the American inaction in the war in Syria in which ISIS initially flourished.  She herself says that she brokered the deal that made that inaction necessary from the perspective of the Obama administration.

It is true that President Obama himself bears much of the responsibility for this, perhaps even more than failed Former Secretary Clinton.  Guilt, however, has this property:  it can be divided without being lessened.  Aid and comfort?  The Islamic State would have had little enough if this woman had done her job.

Also see:

What’s Next For Al-Qaida After The Defeat Of ISIS?

Supporters of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden shout anti-American slogans, after the news of his death, during a rally in Quetta May 2, 2011. Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. helicopter raid on a mansion near the Pakistani capital Islamabad early on Monday, officials said, ending a nearly 10-year worldwide hunt for the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed ∨

Supporters of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden shout anti-American slogans, after the news of his death, during a rally in Quetta May 2, 2011. Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. helicopter raid on a mansion near the Pakistani capital Islamabad early on Monday, officials said, ending a nearly 10-year worldwide hunt for the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed ∨

Daily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, Sept. 4, 2016:

Al-Qaida’s long-term strategy to outlast the Islamic State poses a major threat to the U.S. in the years to come, experts told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Al Qaeda is intentionally operating below a threshold that would force Washington into a decision-making position,” Katherine Zimmerman, a Research Fellow and Al-Qaida expert at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) wrote in an email to TheDCNF. “Al Qaeda leadership most probably directed groups not to conduct directed, mass-casualty attacks against Western targets in order to prevent Washington from having to decide whether to act against al Qaeda.”

The U.S. has conducted only a few strikes against Al Qaida in recent months, and President Barack Obama has galvanized the entire U.S. government’s resources toward fighting ISIS. U.S. officials responsible for the fight in Syria hardly mention Al Qaida. The coalition the U.S. has assembled is even called the “Anti-ISIS” coalition.

“Al-Qaida has been pursuing a subversive strategy of trying to integrate itself with local groups,” Bill Roggio, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told TheDCNF. Al-Qaida’s operations in Syria exemplify the strategy Roggio discusses. The group has focused on integrating itself with existing Syrian opposition groups and building popular support among local communities.

When Al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate began to draw the attention of the U.S. and Russia, it ostensibly severed its connections with the global terrorist group and rebranded itself. “The unprecedented move was formally sanctioned by al Qaeda’s senior leadership,” Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, noted in an op-ed for Foreign Policy after the separation was announced.

The move was likely an attempt to “create the image of being more moderate in an attempt to unify and galvanize and appeal to other oppositionist groups in Syria,” Director of National Intelligence Eric Clapper told an audience at the Aspen Forum in the days after the break was announced. Al-Qaida’s leadership sanctioned the break, because opposition groups inside Syria can now partner with Al-Qaida, without also taking on all the baggage an alliance with a terrorist group brings.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) noted that Al-Qaida’s ties to its group in Syria were the “primary source of the opposition’s resistance” to a grand merger. This grand merger has led a coalition of jihadi groups leading a massive battlefield offensive against the Assad regime in the city of Aleppo. The jihadi-led coalition achieved a major victory when it broke the siege of Aleppo city on August 7.

The U.S. has played no role in the current battle for Aleppo, and its strategy is geared to taking territory away from ISIS.

“Al Qaeda has filled the breach left by the absence of the United States,” a group of analysts from ISW, AEI, and the Center for New American Security wrote in an op-ed Thursday for Foreign Policy. The analysts warn that “the United States risks losing the war against extremism in Syria if it continues to allow Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to be seen by the Syrian people as the victors in Aleppo.” Ahrar Al-Sham and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham maintain deep ties to Al-Qaida.

Syria is the most fertile battleground for al-Qaida’s vision of a truly Islamic state. Roggio explained that Al-Qaida believes ISIS declared the caliphate too early. He continued that al-Qaida’s subversive strategy is geared towards creating the preconditions necessary for the caliphates declaration.

While Syria is the most active battlefront for Al-Qaida, Zimmerman highlighted that the group is pursuing the same strategy on other battlegrounds. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commanding general of the U.S. effort against ISIS, has been trumpeting the impending defeat of ISIS in Iraq. Votel told reporters Tuesday, “We’ve got good momentum going,” elaborating “We are really into the heart of the caliphate.”

The U.S. has however made no indication of its plans to deal with al-Qaida on the Iraqi battlefield. Zimmerman cautioned “Al Qaeda is prepared for the day after ISIS in Iraq,” elaborating “Al Qaeda just called for Iraqi fighters to answer its call and for Syrians to support Iraqis to reorganize their fight.” She also pointed to continued low profile Al-Qaida insurgencies in Africa, Yemen, and Somalia.

“Al Qaeda is a greater long-term threat than ISIS because of its resiliency,” Zimmerman closed.

Follow Saagar Enjeti on Twitter

“What A Mess!” – Pentagon At War With CIA In Syria

20160906_syriaZero Hedge, by Tyler Durden, Sept. 6, 2016:

What a mess! In the crazy Syrian war, US-backed and armed groups are fighting other US-backed rebel groups. How can this be?

It is so because the Obama White House had stirred up war in Syria but then lost control of the process.When the US has a strong president, he can usually keep the military and intelligence agencies on a tight leash.

But the Obama administration has had a weak secretary of defense and a bunch of lady strategists who are the worst military commanders since Louis XV, who put his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, in charge of French military forces during the Seven Year’s War. The French were routed by the Prussians. France’s foe, Frederick the Great of Prussia, named one of his dogs, ‘la Pompadour.’

As a result, the two arms of offensive US strategic power, the Pentagon and CIA, went separate ways in Syria. Growing competition between the US military and militarized CIA broke into the open in Syria.

Fed up with the astounding incompetence of the White House, the US military launched and supported its own rebel groups in Syria, while CIA did the same.

Fighting soon after erupted in Syria and Iraq between the US-backed groups. US Special Forces joined the fighting in Syria, Iraq and most lately, Libya.

The well-publicized atrocities, like mass murders and decapitations, greatly embarrassed Washington, making it harder to portray their jihadi wildmen as liberators. The only thing exceptional about US policy in Syria was its astounding incompetence.

Few can keep track of the 1,000 groups of jihadis that keep changing their names and shifting alliances. Throw in Turkomans, Yzidis, Armenians, Nestorians, Druze, Circassians, Alawis, Assyrians and Palestinians. Oh yes, and the Alevis.

Meanwhile, ISIS was inflicting mayhem on Syria and Iraq. But who really is ISIS? A few thousand twenty-something hooligans with little knowledge of Islam but a burning desire to dynamite the existing order and a sharp media sense. The leadership of these turbaned anarchists appears to have formed in US prison camps in Afghanistan.

The US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey armed and financed ISIS as a weapon to unleash on Syria, which was an ally of Iran that refused to take orders from the Western powers. The west bears heavy responsibility for the deaths of 450,000 Syrians, at least half the nation of 23 million becoming refugees, and destruction of this once lovely country.

At some point, ISIS shook off its western tutors and literally ran amok. But the US has not yet made a concerted attempt to crush ISIS because of its continuing usefulness in Syria and in the US, where ISIS has become the favorite whipping boy of politicians.

Next come the Kurds, an ancient Indo-European stateless people spread across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. They have been denied a national state by the western powers since WWI. Kurdish rebels in Iraq have been armed and financed by Israel since the 1970’s.

When America’s Arab jihadists proved militarily feeble, the US turned to the Kurds, who are renowned fighters, arming and financing the Kurdish Syrian YPG which is part of the well-known PKK rebel group that fights Turkey.

I covered the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in eastern Anatolia in the 1980’s in which some 40,000 died.

Turkey is now again battling a rising wave of Kurdish attacks that caused the Turks to probe into northern Syria to prevent a link-up of advancing Kurdish rebel forces.

So, Turkey, a key American ally, is now battling CIA-backed Kurdish groups in Syria. Eighty percent of Turks believe the recent failed coup in Turkey was mounted by the US – not the White House, but by the Pentagon which has always been joined at the hip to Turkey’s military.

This major Turkish-Kurdish crisis was perfectly predictable, but the obtuse junior warriors of the Obama administration failed to grasp this point.

Now the Russians have entered the fray in an effort to prevent their ally, Bashar Assad, from being overthrow by western powers. Also perfectly predictable. Russia claimed to be bombing ISIS but in fact is targeting US-backed groups. Washington is outraged that the wicked Russians are doing in the Mideast what the US has done for decades.

The US and Russia now both claim to have killed a senior ISIS commander in an air strike. Their warplanes are dodging one another, creating a perfect scenario for a head-on clash at a time when neocons in the US are agitating for war with Russia.

Does anyone think poor, demolished Syria is worth the price? Hatred for the US is now seething in Turkey and across the Mideast. Hundreds of millions of US tax dollars have been wasted in this cruel, pointless war.

Time for the US to stop stirring this witch’s brew.

*  *  *

And if that didn’t 1) drive you crazy, and/or 2) confuse you, here is UK’s Channel 4 to explain in pictures…

New ISIS Military Commander Was Trained by State Department as Recently as 2014

new-isis-commander-gulmorad-halimov-trained-by-state-department-sized-770x415xtPJ MEDIA, BY PATRICK POOLE, SEPTEMBER 6, 2016:

Gulmurod Khalimov, the new ISIS military commander whom the U.S. just days ago announced a $3 million bounty for, was trained by the State Department in an anti-terror program as recently as 2014 while serving in the security service of Tajikistan.

He replaces former ISIS commander Tarkhan Batirashvili, aka Umar al-Shishani, who was also trained by the United States as part of the Georgian army and who ISIS claimed was killed fighting in Iraq this past July.

The State Department confirmed Khalimov’s U.S.-provided training to CNN in May 2015:

“From 2003-2014 Colonel Khalimov participated in five counterterrorism training courses in the United States and in Tajikistan, through the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security/Anti-Terrorism Assistance program,” said spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala.The program is intended to train candidates from participating countries in the latest counterterrorism tactics, so they can fight the very kind of militants that Khalimov has now joined.

A State Department official said Khalimov was trained in crisis response, tactical management of special events, tactical leadership training and related issues.

Unironically, the State Department spokeswoman said that Khalimov had been appropriately vetted:

“All appropriate Leahy vetting was undertaken in advance of this training,” said spokeswoman Jhunjhunwala.

At that time, Khalimov appeared in a video threatening the United States:

“Listen, you American pigs: I’ve been to America three times. I saw how you train soldiers to kill Muslims,” he says.Then, he threatens, “we will find your towns, we will come to your homes, and we will kill you.”

Khalimov and Batirashvili are hardly the first terrorist leaders operating in Syria to have been trained by the United States.

In August 2014, the Washington Post reported that fighters who had been trained by Western forces, including the U.S., in Libya had found their way to terror groups at the beginning of the Syrian conflict:

Some European and Arab intelligence officials also voiced their worries and frustration about what they call the mistakes the United States has made in handling the uprisings in Arab states. “We had, in the early stages, information that radical groups had used the vacuum of the Arab Spring, and that some of the people the U.S. and their allies had trained to fight for ‘democracy’ in Libya and Syria had a jihadist agenda — already or later, [when they] joined al Nusra or the Islamic State,” a senior Arab intelligence official said in a recent interview. He said that often his U.S. counterparts would say things like, “We know you are right, but our president in Washington and his advisers don’t believe that.” Those groups, say Western security officials, are threats not only in the Middle East, but also in the United States and Europe, where they have members and sympathizers.The official’s account has been corroborated by members of the Islamic State in and outside the Middle East, including Abu Yusaf, the military commander. In several interviews conducted in the last two months, they described how the collapse of security during Arab Spring uprisings helped them recruit, regroup and use the Western strategy — to support and train groups that fight dictators — for their own benefits. “There had [also] been … some British and Americans who had trained us during the Arab Spring times in Libya,” said a man who calls himself Abu Saleh and who only agreed to be interviewed if his real identity remained secret.

Abu Saleh, who is originally from a town close to Benghazi, said he and a group of other Libyans received training and support in their country from French, British, and American military and intelligence personnel — before they joined the Al Nusra Front or the Islamic State. Western and Arab military sources interviewed for this article, confirmed Abu Saleh’s account that “training” and “equipment” were given to rebels in Libya during the fight against the Gadhafi regime.

Abu Saleh left Libya in 2012 for Turkey and then crossed into Syria. “First I fought under what people call the ‘Free Syrian Army’ but then switched to Al Nusra. And I have already decided I will join the Islamic State when my wounds are healed,” the 28-year-old said from a hospital in Turkey, where he is receiving medical treatment. He had been injured during a battle with the Syrian Army, he said, and was brought to Turkey with false documents.  “Some of the Syrian people who they trained have joined the Islamic State and others jabhat al Nusra,” he said, smiling. He added, “Sometimes I joke around and say that I am a fighter made by America.”

This problem of a terror “boomerang” also goes back to the Bush administration, as seen when Islamist rebels took over a large portion of Mali in 2013.

As the Financial Times reported:

To the dismay of the US, junior Malian officers trained as part of $620m pan-Sahelian counter-terrorism initiative launched in 2002 to help four semi-desert states resist Islamic militancy took part in a coup in March last year. Others among them defected to the Tuareg revolt that eventually led to a coalition of Islamist militias, allied with Algerian militants from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, capturing the northern two-thirds of Mali.Potentially, these US-trained officers are now using US counter-insurgency know-how against France’s intervention force.

“It is a great failure,” says Dr Berny Sèbe, an expert in Franco-African relations at the University of Birmingham. “Some of them defected. Others organised a coup.”

In two of the three other Sahelian states involved in the Pentagon’s pan-Sahelian initiative, Mauritania and Niger, armies trained by the US, have also taken power in the past eight years. In the third, Chad, they came close in a 2006 attempt.

And back in Syria, as I’m chronicled repeatedly here at PJ Media, “vetted moderate” forces armed and trained by the U.S. have defected to ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

July 7, 2014: U.S. ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Brigades Surrender Weapons, Pledge Allegiance to Islamic StateNov. 2, 2014: U.S.-Armed ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Groups Surrender, Defect to Al-Qaeda

Nov. 24, 2014: More Defections of ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Rebels to ISIS

Dec. 2, 2014: US-Backed Syrian Rebels Ally with al-Qaeda in South, Surrender CIA-Supplied Weapons in the North

Sept. 22, 2015: Report: U.S.-Trained, ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Leader Defects to Al-Qaeda, Turns Weapons Over to Terror Group

Given these repeated instances, one might begin to question the quality of the U.S. government’s vetting capabilities.

Iran’s Secret War in Syria

iran-nuclear-deal.sized-770x415xtPJ MEDIA, BY P. DAVID HORNIK, SEPTEMBER 3, 2016

Since the signing of the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015—now, it turns out, with major secret exemptions for Iran—Iran’s brazenness has only grown. The Obama administration, in its ongoing efforts to coddle and appease, has gone so far as to offer to buy Iran’s heavy water and sell Iran Boeings.

But the reason appeasement doesn’t work is that Iran harbors an intense enmity toward the West and particularly its (still) reigning superpower, America, which it wants to destroy. Anyone still not convinced of that should watch this propaganda video of young Iranians sinking American aircraft carriers.

Lately, with the lame-duck President Obama headed for the finish line as he tightly clutches his “legacy”—the nuclear deal—Iran has further stepped up the brazenness. It has harassed U.S. ships in international waters of the Persian Gulf, forcing one of them to fire warning shots. It has deployed the Russian-made S-300 missile-defense system—one of the most advanced in the world—at its Fordo uranium-enrichment site. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in an address to Defense Ministry staff in Tehran, has said Iran must continue its offensive military buildup and “avoid negotiating with the U.S., [as] experience has proven that instead of understanding, the Americans are seeking to impose their will in negotiations.”

The Obama administration, for which the nuclear deal plays a role like the speed of light in Einsteinian relativity—an absolute, immutable principle—reacts to all this solely by expressing “concern.”

A major exposé in the Daily Mail now reveals that, for years, Iran’s military involvement in Syria has been much more extensive and dangerous than many believed.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, has passed information to MailOnline that was apparently leaked by senior figures in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Among other things, the activists say Iran now commands about 60,000 Shiite troops in Syria—vastly more than the 16,000 that Western analysts had estimated.

The NCRI, which in 2002 exposed Iran’s then-secret nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak, also says Iran operates a major headquarters near Damascus airport, nicknamed the Glasshouse. About a thousand people work there including Iran’s feared intelligence agencies, and there is also a basement for holding millions of dollars in cash.

The NCRI claims that the total amount Iran has spent on the Syrian war comes to an astounding $100 billion, much of it during years when Tehran was complaining loudly about the ravages of economic sanctions. Western analysts had gauged the sum at only $15 billion.

Most ominously, the activists say Iran is

putting down military roots in 18 locations from northern to southern Syria…, showing how it intends to control large swathes of the country even if Assad is defeated.

Iranian military planners…are said to have divided Syria into “five fronts,” comprising the Northern Front, Eastern Front, Southern Front, Central Command Front and Coastal Front, the NCRI claims.

Revolutionary Guard bases have been established in each of the sectors, which the NCRI says can accommodate up to 6,000 troops, as well as heavy weapons, air power and anti-aircraft missiles.

A situation where, even if the Assad regime falls, Iran would retain effective military control of the country, bristling with offensive and defensive capabilities, would be—as a security source told the Daily Mail—“exactly what many of the region are afraid of. It’s their biggest nightmare.”

All this does not mean Iran is having an easy time in Syria. Of the 60,000-strong Shiite force it is apparently deploying there, only about one-fourth seem to be Iranians. The rest are Shiite mercenaries from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Lebanon (in addition to about 10,000 Hizballah troops with a separate command structure).

One reason there are relatively few Iranians is “growing levels of public unease in Iran at the level of casualties sustained.” As historian Michael Burleigh comments, “[T]he Iranian public has had a bellyful of costly wars, with hundreds of thousands of dead from the 1980-88 war against Iraq.”

Throughout his tenure, however, President Obama has passed up opportunities—starting, most egregiously, with the 2009 Green Revolution that he adamantly refused to support—to leverage domestic discontent to put pressure on Tehran. Even his grudging imposition of sanctions led eventually to the nuclear deal—according to which Iran pockets concessions and cash, at most postpones some aspects of its nuclear development, and continues building a military dominion that could become Obama’s true “legacy,” namely, a 21st-century nightmare fostering conflict on a much more massive scale than what we already see.

Also see: