Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arab World. Show all posts

21 August 2017

Remember that the fires we lite in Iraq still burn. Look and learn.


Summary: America led the invasion and occupation of Iraq, overthrowing a secular regime for what became a mostly Islamic theocratic state. It began in March 2003. Iraq is still burning. The news media seldom remind of the the chaos we created. The fighting Mosul is a vivid dot in the long war we irresponsibly ignited.

“You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people {in Iraq},” he told the president. “You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You’ll own it all.” Privately, Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.”

— SecState Colin Powell talking to President George Bush Jr. in the Summer of 2002, from Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack. Bush ignored the warnings.

On 22 May, Ahmed Mohsen, an unemployed taxi driver, left his house in the Islamic State-controlled western part of Mosul to try to escape across the Tigris to the government-held eastern side of the city. He and his mother, along with ten other people, carried rubber tyres down to the river: most of them couldn’t swim, and they planned to tie them together to make a raft. The siege of Mosul was in its seventh month and Ahmed was both desperate and starving: he and his mother were living on handfuls of wheat they cooked, though he said it made him feel sick. His friends believe that lack of food made him light-headed and led him to risk crossing the river. ‘Even if I die in the river,’ he told them, ‘it will be better than living here.’

19 August 2017

What Is the Best Way to Deal with the Problem of Islamic Terrorism?

Hugo Kirk

The Center for the National Interest partnered with the Charles Koch Instituteto host a foreign policy roundtable. Among the topics addressed was: What is the best way to deal with the problem of Islamic terrorism? Watch the rest of the videos in the series “Today’s Foreign Policy Challenges.”

Reducing the threat of Islamic terrorism has been a primary focus of American foreign policy for more than 15 years. The Bush administration declared a global war on terror, seeking out terrorist groups in their own countries and taking the fight to them. The Obama administration extended this strategy to new theaters. In practice, this has meant war in Iraq and Afghanistan, drone campaigns across the Middle East, and local partnerships to disrupt terrorist networks and destroy their safe havens. The global war on terror has been expensive—a new study from Brown University puts the tab at $5 trillion. Surely these efforts have made America safer?

A panel of top international relations experts thinks otherwise. Collectively, these scholars believe that America’s deep engagement in the Middle East has not helped improve American security. Instead, in the words of Boston University’s Andrew Bacevich, “On balance, U.S. military intervention in the Islamic world has made things worse—at great cost to ourselves and, frankly, at great cost to the people we’re supposedly liberating.” The panelists discussed a number of issues relating to the roots of Islamic terrorism and its implications for U.S. policy. They focused on how Western policymakers perceive the problem and how this has shaped our strategic response. Finally, the scholars discussed practical solutions that the United States should adopt and ways that these might differ from current policy.

18 August 2017

How ISIS harnesses commercial tech to run its global terrorist network

By: Mark Pomerleau 

When it comes to the cyber operations of the Islamic State group and other militant organizations, they have been aspirational in terms of discussing cyber activities almost from the start.

Most cyber operations by the Islamic State group and other militant organizations have been on a fairly low level and merely aspirational, according to the deputy director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center.

John Mulligan was giving a keynote address at the DoDIIS Worldwide Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, on Tuesday.

From a practical standpoint, cyber activity to date has been largely confined to doxing, where groups such as ISIS find available information and generate kill lists related to security or military personnel, then encouraging others to conduct attacks against those individuals, Mulligan said. This is done through some low-level hacking and the exploitation of low-hanging fruit.

The U.S. government has seen some low-level defacement of websites, he added, but nothing particularly substantial.

Hamas, ISIS and the Law of Armed Conflict

By Richard Natonski 

In an era of drones and precision munitions, our understanding of modern warfare is increasingly divorced from the reality of those waging it. War is still a brutal endeavor, requiring that our military remains true to our values, even in combat against adversaries shrewdly exploiting those same values to undermine our efforts. It is therefore essential that the public recognizes this phenomenon and how it depends on widespread misperceptions about what the law actually prohibits, and allows, in war.

Today’s conflicts necessitate action in locations crowded with civilians our illicit enemies like ISIS, Hamas, and others deliberately exposed to the mortal dangers of combat. Despite our best efforts to employ force discriminately and proportionally, this means civilians will suffer. But the enemy relies on illicit tactics to play upon misunderstandings of when attacks that place civilians at risk are lawful. This, in turn, allows our adversaries to discredit and potentially disrupt lawful military operations.

Criticism of the IDF’s Gaza campaign exemplified this phenomenon. Our 2014 assessment of that conflict, commissioned by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, highlighted the ironic disparity between the IDF’s commitment to comply with the law of armed conflict (LOAC), and Hamas’ intentional disregard of those obligations to delegitimize the IDF. Ultimately, this helped Hamas advance a broader information campaign by portraying IDF soldiers as callously and illegitimately causing civilian suffering. Today, ISIS is using the same playbook against U.S. and Coalition efforts.

17 August 2017

Why Are More Civilians Dying in USAirstrikes on ISIS?

BY DANIEL R. MAHANTY

The debate over the increase in civilian casualties caused by the U.S.-led coalition in the campaign against ISIS grows more contentious by the day, even as the tempo of operations has slowed following the fight for Mosul. A dispassionate and systematic internal assessment is long overdue, for the benefit of civilians caught in today’s wars and tomorrow’s — and for U.S.strategic goals.

A study is needed because whether you believe Airwars.com, a well-regarded aggregator of civilian casualties reports, or accept US Central Command’s lower count, there is no doubt civilian casualties have increased significantly over the last six months. At the same time, there is no clear consensus on why. A variety of plausible tactical and operational reasons have surfaced in the media, some of them from the U.S. military itself:

The shift in fighting to densely populated urban areas such as Mosul

The delegation of decision-making authority to lower levels of military command

Faulty intelligence used in airstrike planning

Lack of on the ground presence for pre- and post-strike evaluations

More aggressive tactics and a shortened timeline to defeat ISIS

Uneven professionalism and capacity of local partner security forces on the ground

ISIS’ use of human shields and other tactics designed to incur civilian harm caused by the coalition

14 August 2017

Iraqi Forces Prepare to Attack Last ISIS Stronghold in Iraq - Tal Afar


Islamic State fighters have reportedly begun digging trenches in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar ahead of a planned offensive by Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi military is fresh from a hard-won battle for the city of Mosul, which both Iraqi troops and supporting U.S.-led coalition spent years trying to retake.

In July 2017, Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadis declared victory over ISIS. But the militants digging in around Tal Afar are a reminder that the war on ISIS is far from over.

The campaign for Mosul was slow and painful for Baghdad. Militants marched into the city in the summer of 2014 and promptly set about fortifying both it and the surrounding countryside. Kurdish peshmerga troops moved to build their own fortifications outside the city. The result was a long standoff with Islamist militantsas the Iraqi army and Iranian-back militias slowly marched on Mosul from the south.

Iraqi army major general Najm Al Jabouri said he predicts the upcoming offensive to recapture Tal Afar will be “easy.” Al Jabouri insisted that the militants are fatigued and demoralized after their defeat in Mosul. “I don’t expect it will be a fierce battle, even though the enemy is surrounded,” he told Reuters.

8 August 2017

Learning from ISIS’s Virtual Propaganda War for Western Muslims: A Comparison of Inspire and Dabiq


This Report engages in a comparative analysis of ISIS’s Dabiq and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire magazines in order to ‘reverse engineer’ lessons for CT-CVE strategic communications. It examines how Dabiq and Inspire deploy messaging that is strategically designed to appeal to its audiences and drive their radicalisation. This study particularly focuses on how in-group, Other, crisis and solution constructs are variously interplayed via value-, dichotomy- and crisis-reinforcing narratives to coax audiences into making rational- and/or identity-choice decisions. Together these messages offer its readers a “competitive system of meaning” which acts as a lens through which to shape its supporter’s perceptions, polarise their support and, hopefully from the perspective of the group’s propagandists, drive their radicalisation towards action. This paper concludes by outlining key lessons for CT-CVE strategic communications arguing that to effectively combat violent extremist messaging strategies, components of their approach will need to be mimicked.

This Report was originally published as part of the book “Terrorists’ Use of the Internet: Assessment and Response”. This book compiles revised versions of a selection of papers delivered at an Advanced Research Workshop on ‘Terrorists’ Use of the Internet’ supported by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme and held at Dublin City University on 27–29 June 2016. The event was co-organised by Swansea University’s Cyberterrorism Project and the EU FP7-funded VOX-Pol project.

Read the Report.

7 August 2017

ISIS’s Global Campaign Remains Intact

By Jennifer Cafarella and Melissa Pavlik

ISIS’s first attack in Iran punctuated two stark realities: the group’s annual Ramadan campaign is alive while the US-led anti-ISIS campaign is on a path to failure. ISIS surges attacks every year during Ramadan in order to gain or increase momentum in its global campaign to maintain its declared caliphate, expand across the Muslim world, and win an apocalyptic war with the West. ISIS has conducted successful attacks in three new countries this year – the United Kingdom, the Philippines, and Iran – and will likely pull off more before the Muslim holy month is over. The jihadist group has sustained a global insurgency despite the considerable military pressure it faces in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS has been waging its global campaign in four separate “rings” since 2014. First, ISIS is defending and attempting to remain in and expand its territorial control in its “core terrain” in Syria and Iraq. Second, ISIS seeks to weaken the Middle East’s power centers of Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Third, ISIS is expanding in other Muslim majority countries through attack networks and, when possible, ground operations. Fourth, ISIS is conducting spectacular attacks in the non-Muslim majority world, or the “far abroad,” in order to polarize those communities and radicalize their minority Muslim populations. ISIS’s Ramadan surges set conditions in these rings, varying its main effort based on its circumstances and the capabilities in Iraq and Syria and of its networks abroad.

Thinking Clearly About ISIS

By Ronald Tiersky

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed on July 20, Maj. John Spencer wrote:

“The battle for Mosul represents the future of warfare -- and it wasn’t pretty … A rag-tag army of a few thousand Islamic State fighters managed to hold the city for months against some 100,000 U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces.”

The numbers are important: a few thousand. The description as well: “rag-tag,” that is, motley, disorganized, crude.

In its glory period in 2014-15, ISIS seized Mosul along with all the U.S. military equipment there, including heavy weapons, as well as millions of dollars from the city’s central bank.

Today the so-called Islamic State is losing all over Iraq and, even if more slowly, in Syria as well. It’s a good time to think about how accurately ISIS was understood.

Here’s a primer of end-of-days questions about Islamic State military forces and occupation governments:

The numbers: How many fighters total does Islamic State still have in the field? Are local groupings still in contact with each other, or is ISIS fatally fragmented?

5 August 2017

** The Lebanese Armed Forces, Hezbollah and the Race to Defeat ISIS


On July 20, 2017, the Lebanese Shi’a militant group Hezbollah confirmed that it had put in motion a plan to dislodge Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) militants from Lebanon. The commencement of Hezbollah military operations preempted the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) from putting in motion plans tied to clearing JAN and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants from Lebanese territory on its own. On July 27, 2017, Hezbollah announced that it and JAN had reached a tentative ceasefire as negotiations intensified to secure safe passage for remaining Nusra fighters to rebel-held areas in Syria.

Hezbollah’s decision to take on JAN militants militarily placed the LAF in an all but untenable position. The LAF’s leadership are uncomfortable that Hezbollah’s campaign against JAN amounted to a media nightmare for the Government of Lebanon and the military. However, it must be said the LAF has had three years to plan, push for, and execute a military option to deal decisively with the presence of JAN and ISIS fighters in Lebanon, and missed several opportunities to do so.

Since the accession of General Joseph Aoun to the post of LAF Commander, LAF-Hezbollah relations have remained largely civil – much like the LAF’s relations with all of Lebanon’s major political sectarian factions. However, below the surface, some of the LAF’s recent key military personnel choices have annoyed Hezbollah. Despite that, the LAF is not in a position where it can be openly antagonistic towards Hezbollah – the preeminent faction in Lebanon’s sectarian political landscape.

Shades Of Terrorism: War Against Terrorists Is Not A War On Islam – Analysis

By SAAG

Though British political philosopher Edmund Burke used the term “terrorism” in the 18th century to demonize the French Revolution, Maximillian Robes Pierre spoke of “first maxim to conduct the people by reason and the enemies of the people(is) by terror”, and his reiteration that “terror is nothing else but justice, prompt, secure and inflexible”. Modern terrorism in one form or another has been a part of human history since 1st century.

Of the early religious terrorists (religious terrorism is motivated primarily by religion as opposed to ethnic or a politically ideological terrorist group) the notables were Hindu Thugees, the Muslim Assassins, and the Jewish Zealot-Sciari. The Thugees pursued religious ends by offering their victims to the Hindu Goddess of destruction — Kali (the Thugees were active from the 7th till mid-19th century India). The assassins killed politicians and clerics who refused to submit to their brand of Islam. Zealot-Sciari, on the other hand, used political violence for religious solution. Though short lived this group waged what they believed to be God ordained war against Cannanites for possession of the Promised Land.

Marxism created its own brand of terrorism subscribing to Italian revolutionary Carlo Piscane’s theory of the “propaganda of the deed” recognizing the usefulness of terrorism to deliver a message to an audience other than the target and draw attention to and support for the terrorist’ cause. Piscane’s theory was put into practice through the assassination of Alexander II in 1881 and of Arch Duke Ferdinand of Austria triggering the outbreak of the First World War.

Russia, the United States, and the Middle East


We don’t know much about what was said when U.S. President Donald Trump sat across from Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit on July 7, but we do know they talked a lot about the Middle East. By his own account, Trump told Putin,"There's so much killing in Syria. We got to solve Syria."

Russia has been playing a more active role in the Middle East in the last five years, and before committing to strategic cooperation with Russia, it is helpful to judge Russia’s objectives and strategies in the region.

It is easier to grasp Russian strategy by contrasting it with Chinese strategy. China has a large stake in the region’s trajectory, relying on the Middle East for more than 60 percent of its imported energy. China has an expanding economic footprint, as trade and investment increase and Chinese contractors grab a multi-billion dollar share of infrastructure projects. Despite its rising interests, China’s quite evident ambition is to expand its economic footprint without taking the expensive step of expanding its security footprint. China seeks to complement the U.S. security presence with its own economic presence, not diminish it. Widespread interest in Chinese goods and Chinese know-how mean China is often welcomed warmly by host governments.

4 August 2017

Why Killing the Iran Deal Could Start the next War in the Middle East

Ross Harrison

There are troubling signs that the Trump administration is itching for a fight with Iran. While the White House recently certified that Tehran was complying with the nuclear deal, fresh sanctions and thinly veiled references to regime change should raise serious concern that the administration will be searching for any excuse to avoid recertifying Iran’s compliance come the next review in October. In fact, President Donald Trump tasked a team in the White House with coming up with reasons to withhold certification at the next opportunity. And in a July 25 interview with the Wall Street Journal Trump prejudged the October outcome, saying he fully expected Iran to be declared noncompliant.

Breaking the nuclear deal, presumably to keep a campaign promise, could put Washington on a slippery slope towards a military confrontation with Iran. Sabotage of the accord that Iran negotiated, not only with the United States, but also with Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, would be received in Tehran as a message that Washington is preparing for military action, and that it must therefore prepare for the worst. This path towards confrontation would wreak havoc on an already unstable Middle East, undermine U.S. national security interests, and potentially put American lives at risk.

There are legitimate reasons for Washington to be alarmed about Iran’s behavior. Tehran has projected its influence deep into the Arab heartland using its al-Quds expeditionary force and through its patronage of militias like Hezbollah, the Iraqi popular mobilization units, the Houthis in Yemen and over 100,000 militiamen in Syria. Its game of tug-of-war with the United States in Iraq is intended to pull Baghdad more fully into Tehran’s political orbit and away from Washington. And provocatively it flexes it's muscle by conducting missile tests and arresting U.S. visitors to Iran.

The Real Lessons of Mosul (and Sixteen Years of War in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria)

By Anthony Cordesman

Driving most ISIS forces out of Mosul is an important victory at the tactical level. The fight in Mosul is still a work in progress, but Iraq is close enough to driving ISIS fully out of the city to show Iraqi forces have steadily improved over time, and the combination of Iraqi forces, U.S. airpower, and a carefully tailored U.S. train and assist mission has had important successes.

It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that there is a rush to declare the "lessons" the U.S. should learn from the initial phases of this Iraqi victory in Mosul, and to treat that battle as the culmination of a new and more successful approach to fighting extremism and asymmetric wars. If there is any lesson of war that the United States should learn from the more than a decade and a half of previous fighting, however, it is not to declare "mission accomplished" on the basis of even the greatest tactical victory.

The United States has fought a long and frustrating series of wars and battles since U.S. special forces first entered Afghanistan in October 2001. Again and again, seemingly lasting victories have not turned into strategic successes, and have been followed by new rounds of fighting and strategic frustration. And, only lasting strategic results really count.

We must not let the success of the moment blind us to the fact that this is still a limited tactical success that only came as the result of overcoming a long series of unnecessary mistakes. When Mosul is judged by the fact it is not even a complete tactical success—and may not be fully secured for weeks or months—and from the perspective of a decade and a half of previous mistakes, the lessons to date are very different from those that come from only looking at the recent course of a single battle:

3 August 2017

What Happens When ISIS Becomes an Online Caliphate?

Haroro J. Ingram

After the fall of Mosul, devising effective ways to combat Islamic State propaganda will be critically important.

No longer merely against the ropes, the Islamic State is on the canvas. Aftermonths of bloody urban warfare, the Islamic State’s uprooting from Mosul represents the latest and most significant blow in an eighteen-month period of disastrous losses. It seems like only a matter of time before the Islamic State loses its already tenuous grip on the Syrian capital of Raqqa. Yet we have been here before. A decade ago, an earlier iteration of the group had appeared decimated by the efforts of coalition forces and the Sunni Awakening. The difference today is that while the Islamic State is indisputably weaker compared to its 2014–15 boom, it is indisputably stronger than after its 2007–08 bust.

Something else that is indisputable: the Islamic State will deploy its propaganda machine to the frontlines of an epic battle for survival and relevance until, once again, the foundations for another resurgence are set and it is ready to ascend the politico-military phases of its campaign strategy. Craig Whiteside and Daniel Milton have clearly shown that loss does not diminish the importance of propaganda in Islamic State’s strategic calculations but accentuates it. Put simply, devising effective ways to combat Islamic State propaganda will be as important as ever.

After Baghdadi?

By Yossef Bodansky 

Unlike previous reports of Baghdadi’s demise - the current reports seem more reliable given the dynamics within the leadership ranks of the Islamic State/Caliphate. In several places, the Islamic State/Caliphate issued a brief statement announcing that Baghdadi is dead and the name of the “new Caliph.” 

Baghdadi was target-killed by the Russian Air Force in late May in Raqqa. 

Ultimately, the question of whether Baghdadi is indeed dead or not is not the crux issue. The leadership of the Islamic State/Caliphate has endured frequent target-killings and learned to cope with such losses. They established leadership councils and a host of redundancies in senior ranks - all aimed to guarantee continuity even as target-killings continue and escalate. 

The vast majority of the key commanders currently rising in the Islamic State/Caliphate are veterans of Saddam Hussein’s Intelligence and Armed Forces. 

Even if a new Caliph is nominated - he will not be the actual leader. The real leaders are the two-man team of Iyad al-Obaidi and Ayad al-Jumaili - both veterans of Saddam’s military. Obaidi has already moved to assume leadership from his bastion in Hawija, Iraq, where he controls the main forces of the Islamic State/Caliphate. 

Making Victory Count After Defeating ISIS

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This report investigates humanitarian and stabilization needs in Iraq, through a case study of Mosul, and offers recommendations for immediate actions for stabilization after military operations to liberate it from ISIS. The study is based on data collection and review; visits to Iraq; and more than 50 in-depth interviews with a range of key senior officials. The research team examined humanitarian needs, security implications, infrastructure and services, and governance and reconciliation. All of these activities will affect the immediate stabilization of Mosul, and Iraq more broadly, including whether civilians can return home.

Another wave of violence could engulf Iraq in a matter of months if stabilization activities are insufficiently robust. The gains already earned through combat need to be consolidated to secure peace through adequate humanitarian and stabilization measures. The actions needed are in great part dependent on Iraq's national government plans, decisions, and implementation, as well as diplomatic support and funding from the international community. The results achieved thus far demonstrate that success is possible through a moderate but thoughtfully applied set of programs that leverage the will and know-how of local and international actors.

Do Civilian Casualties Cause Counterinsurgents to Fail?


“The thing about counterinsurgency is that it doesn’t really work,” the film’s narrator says. “We tried it in Vietnam. That went well. The British and the French gave it a shot, trying to hang on to their crumbling empires. It just hasn’t worked. To me, it would seem kind of simple why. You can’t win the trust of a country by invading it. You can’t build a nation at gunpoint.”

The film suggests a simple logic to back this message. A counterinsurgent must win over the “hearts and minds” of the civilian population in order to win the war.

However, a counterinsurgent that kills civilians in the course of defeating insurgents can never win “hearts and minds.” Thus, because defeating insurgents hiding among civilians almost always results in civilian casualties, counterinsurgency is impossible

We could brush this assertion off as “just Hollywood.” However, one of the most critical influences on counterinsurgency doctrine, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, holds a similar view. With one crucial caveat, of course.

FM 3-24 argues that excessive civilian casualties will cripple counterinsurgency operations, possibly to the point of failure. This is especially the case when the counterinsurgent doesn’t seek popular support by implementing public works projects and rendering other forms of aid, according to the manual.

2 August 2017

How ISIS nearly stumbled on the ingredients for a ‘dirty bomb’


By Joby Warrick and Loveday Morris

On the day the Islamic State overran the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014, it laid claim to one of the greatest weapons bonanzas ever to fall to a terrorist group: a large metropolis dotted with military bases and garrisons stocked with guns, bombs, rockets and even battle tanks. 

But the most fearsome weapon in Mosul on that day was never used by the terrorists. Only now is it becoming clear what happened to it. 

Locked away in a storage room on a Mosul college campus were two caches of cobalt-60, a metallic substance with lethally high levels of radiation. When contained within the heavy shielding of a radiotherapy machine, cobalt-60 is used to kill cancer cells. In terrorists’ hands, it is the core ingredient of a “dirty bomb,” a weapon that could be used to spread radiation and panic. 

Western intelligence agencies were aware of the cobalt and watched anxiously for three years for signs that the militants might try to use it. Those concerns intensified in late 2014 when Islamic State officials boasted of obtaining radioactive material, and again early last year when the terrorists took over laboratories at the same Mosul college campus with the apparent aim of building new kinds of weapons. 

Among the Ruins of Mosul

By Alexandra Genova

The city of Mosul, though officially retaken by Iraqi forces as of Tuesday, lies in ruins. At the end of nearly nine months of grueling combat, thousands are dead, roughly 900,000 civilians have been displaced and entire neighborhoods are destroyed. The cost of military victory is dear.

For AP photographer Felipe Dana, who has been posted in the northern Iraq city since October, the victory marks the end of the battle but not the war. “If it’s finished today, I don’t think people will just go back and rebuild their lives and everything is going to be fine, it’s not going to be like that,” Dana tells National Geographic. He is concerned not just for the civilians’ rehabilitation, but also about Islamic State beliefs manifesting themselves in other, more insidious ways.

Covering a region as dangerously volatile as this has been a challenge. “First you have to be careful for your own safety because there is no point putting your life at risk,” he says. “But also the access is very difficult. We’re very limited by the military. Many times, even when you’re given access, if their operations are not going as they expected, they will take you out really quick.”