Archive for category Foreign Policy
Ahrar al Sham T-72 tank at the recent battle of Wadi al Daif in Idlib province, Syria
It’s time once again to check in with The Long War Journal and see how things are going in Syria and Iraq. Oh, not good. The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Ahrar al Sham, and elements of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army have reportedly taken Syrian Army positions in the northwestern province of Idlib.
The Al Nusrah Front, supported by jihadist groups Ahrar al Sham and Jund al Aqsa, and units from the Free Syrian Army, today claimed to have overrun Wadi Al Daif, a Syrian Army base located just east of the city of Maa’rat al Nu’man. In addition, Ahrar al Sham, Al Nusrah, and the Free Syrian Army also advanced on Al Hamadiya, which sits just south of the city; the groups claimed to have taken partial control of Al Hamadiya.
Control of the two bases is critical for the Syrian military as they straddle the M5 highway, the main road from Aleppo to Damascus.
Meanwhile in Iraq, ISIS has renewed its attack on Samarra and nearby towns.
The Islamic State seeks to control Samarra and towns and cites to its south in order to secure the northern Baghdad belt. Jihadist control of this area would make it difficult for Iraqi forces to resupply and reinforce military units north of the city. Additionally, the Islamic State would use this area to disrupt security in Baghdad.
The Iraqi government has allowed Shiite militias, including the Badr Brigade, Hezbollah Brigade, Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), and Muqtada al Sadr’s Promised Day Brigade, all of which are supported by Iran’s Qods Force, to reinforce beleaguered and demoralized Iraqi forces in Samarra. These militias have remained on the front line and have secured cities and towns, many of which are predominantly Sunni communities, along the road from Samarra to Baghdad.
ISIS is also trying to consolidate its hold on Anbar Province.
Islamic State fighters launched an assault on al Wafa, which is west of the provincial capital of Ramadi, on Dec. 12 and defeated Iraqi security forces and local tribal fighters.
…The Islamic State maintains the initiative in Anbar province, most of which is under its control. The provincial capital of Ramadi and the town of Haditha remain contested terrain. The Iraqi military, the Awakening, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have been unable to wrest control of the province from the Islamic state since Fallujah and other cities and towns fell in January 2013.
Since Dec. 10, the US has conducted 16 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, and the US and partners have carried out 29 airstrikes against the group in Iraq. President Obama told US troops: “The time of deploying large ground forces with big military footprints to engage in nation building overseas, that’s coming to an end.”
Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham advance in northwestern Syria
Islamic State releases pictures from recent fighting near Samarra (Note: some gruesome photos here)
Islamic State overruns town in Anbar, executes Awakening fighters
Al Nusrah Front uses American-made anti-tank missile in Idlib (Video)
M-60A3 tanks of Turkish Armed Forces standing by at the Turkey-Syria border, as ISIS and Kurdish armed groups fight for control of nearby Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) on October 6, 2014. (Photo by Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
The current situation in the war against ISIS, via CNN:
The United States and its allies have made at least 271 airstrikes in Iraq and 116 in Syria.
The cost? More than $62 million for just the munitions alone.
The effect? Negligible, some say, particularly in Iraq.
One by one, the cities have fallen to ISIS like dominoes: Hit, Albu Aytha, Kubaisya, Saqlawia and Sejal.
And standing on the western outskirts of Baghdad, ISIS is now within sight.
The Long War Journal reports that ISIS captured a battalion of tanks (that’s up to 54 tanks) at Hit after they were abandoned by fleeing Iraqi soldiers.
The U.S. is now flying risky missions around Fallujah using AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. This means the “air war” now openly includes ground combat, because American military doctrine (PDF) classifies an attack helicopter force as a maneuver element, the same as infantry or armor.
Meanwhile in Syria, ISIS is about to occupy the town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) on the Turkish border. Turkey has refused to aid the Kurdish defenders, despite U.S. requests. Air strikes in the vicinity of Kobani have failed to stop the three-week assault on the town.
Why Everyone Is Sitting Back And Letting ISIS Conquer A Key Syrian Town
Turkey’s Refusal To Help Besieged Kurds Fight ISIS Is Backfiring
As They Battle ISIS For Kurdish Town, U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Question Support
This Is How Close The Fight Against ISIS Is To Turkey’s Border
Islamic State Advances Deeper Into Kobani
ISIS Battles Iraqi Forces Near Baghdad
Former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld famously ruminated on the difference between “known knowns,” “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” in the intel business. It seems to me that our intelligence services (all 17 of them) have the most difficulty with sorting out the unknown knowns (i.e. things widely reported, whose significance is apparently unknown to the government). The news media told us about the the capture of Fallujah by ISIS 9 months ago. (At that time, ISIS was best known as the employer of fictional spy Sterling Archer). Ought to have been a wake-up call, don’t you think?
President Obama, unlike the last one, is at least able to acknowledge and take responsibility for a mistake:
America failed to recognize the threat posed by Islamic State terrorists and mistakenly relied on the hapless Iraqi army to combat them, President Obama admitted in an interview broadcast Sunday night.
In an about-face from earlier remarks that likened ISIS to a terrorist “JV team,” Obama told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he agreed with National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s recent assessment that “we underestimated the Islamic State.”
“Jim Clapper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated . . . what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said.
The president also called it “absolutely true” that the United States put too much faith in the Iraqi army, whose soldiers turned tail rather than wage war against ISIS fighters invading from Syria.
Obama’s comments marked his bluntest acknowledgment that the United States bungled the initial response to ISIS, which American-led planes began bombing inside Syria this month.
More info: ISIS Fast Facts
UPDATE: Tom Engelhardt: The Massive Failure of American Intelligence
[F]rom the Egyptian spring and the Syrian disaster to the crisis in Ukraine, American intelligence has, as far as we can tell, regularly been one step late and one assessment short, when not simply blindsided by events. As a result, the Obama administration often seems in a state of eternal surprise at developments across the globe.
President Obama is now the fourth President in a row who’s leading us into war in Iraq. Additionally, he again wants to attack Syria (but Washington seems to have switched sides in the Syrian civil war since a year ago). Considering the outcomes of previous American military adventures in the Middle East, is this really a good idea? The plan, such as it is, will consist of using mostly air power and special operations forces in cooperation with allied ground forces. The stated objective is to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” ISIS. However, we’ve failed to “destroy” any of the Islamic insurgent forces we’ve fought against over the past 13 years – they are all still thriving, including ISIS (which started out as al-Qaeda in Iraq).
Rajiv Chandrasekaran in the WaPo:
“Harder than anything we’ve tried to do thus far in Iraq or Afghanistan” is how one U.S. general involved in war planning described the challenges ahead… “This is the most complex problem we’ve faced since 9/11. We don’t have a precedent for this.”
Adding to the level of difficulty is the fact that the USA will be fighting on the same side as Bashir al-Assad, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Iran. And the nascent Iraqi government of of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is an uncertain ally at best. Probably half the Iraqi Army has been rendered combat-ineffective as a result of ISIS advances.
At this point, I think everyone has finally realized that following the al-Qaeda game plan post-9/11 didn’t turn out well. The aim of strategy is to force the enemy to conform to your will. Al-Qaeda had a strategy, and we really didn’t. The Bush administration sent our military to chase after who-knows-who in some 60 countries. When President Obama says, “we don’t have a strategy yet” to avoid spending more trillions and more American lives to give ISIS exactly what they want, he is stating a fact.
Tom Engelhardt (emphasis added):
Though the militants of ISIS would undoubtedly be horrified to think so, they are the spawn of Washington. Thirteen years of regional war, occupation, and intervention played a major role in clearing the ground for them. They may be our worst nightmare (thus far), but they are also our legacy — and not just because so many of their leaders came from the Iraqi army we disbanded, had their beliefs and skills honed in the prisons we set up (Camp Bucca seems to have been the West Point of Iraqi extremism), and gained experience facing U.S. counterterror operations in the “surge” years of the occupation. In fact, just about everything done in the war on terror has facilitated their rise. After all, we dismantled the Iraqi army and rebuilt one that would flee at the first signs of ISIS’s fighters, abandoning vast stores of Washington’s weaponry to them. We essentially destroyed the Iraqi state, while fostering a Shia leader who would oppress enough Sunnis in enough ways to create a situation in which ISIS would be welcomed or tolerated throughout significant areas of the country.
“Blowback” can’t even begin to describe a strategic failure of this magnitude. It would be nice to think that the Obama administration has the intelligence and fortitude to design a new strategy that goes beyond “don’t do stupid shit.” I don’t think that. Nobody in Washington is prepared to call the Global War on Terror an utter failure, or admit that ISIS could not have triumphed without our help. It’s reasonable to predict the USA will keep doing the same thing (if only for lack of a better idea), hoping for different results.
Here we go again. Iraq War updates via HuffPo.
Several announcements by Israel’s Ministry of Defense spokespersons during the first stage of their latest attack on Gaza stated that they were “mowing the grass.” This is their term for the periodic ritual slaughter of the Palestinians, which is politically popular in Israel and America but nowhere else.
“Mowing the grass” isn’t a winning strategy. It’s what you do to maintain the status quo, which is permanent war. It’s the Israeli government’s admission that they don’t want peace, because that would entail unacceptable compromises – for example, lifting the blockade of Gaza. It’s also a clue to the mindset of Israeli decision makers, who seem to regard Palestinian civilians as nothing more than blades of grass to be cut down.
The notion that repeated attacks on Gaza are nothing more than “mowing the grass” raises serious moral and strategic questions. Cutting down civilians, like the children playing on that Gaza beach, is not like cutting blades of grass. To compare the two is dehumanizing. And to embrace a policy that entails the killing of hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians with each application violates the conscience, if not the basic rule of law. Use of force should always be a last resort, not a premeditated policy of first choice.
Efaim Inbar and Eitan Shamir of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) are the leading spokespersons for “mowing the grass.” They wrote in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post:
Western thinking is solution-oriented.
This explains part of the lack of understanding in the West for what Israel is doing.
Against an implacable, well-entrenched, non-state enemy like the Hamas, Israel simply needs to “mow the grass” once in a while to degrade the enemy’s capabilities.
As anybody with a lawn can tell you, when you mow the grass the roots grow stronger. Hence the long-term stupidity of the Israeli plan. The use of force against civilians won’t ever bring them peace, but they keep on anyway because they have no imagination. Israel is perpetrating enormous war crimes, deliberately as a tactic of collective punishment of Palestinians. Why do we keep supplying weapons and ammo to Israel with our tax dollars?
Israel Hits Gaza With Heaviest Bombardment In 3 Weeks
Heartbreak: Reporting on Gaza’s child victims
Gaza: This Is No Life
Why Don’t Palestinians Just Leave Gaza? They Can’t.
Gaza Death Toll Soars As Israel Presses Offensive
Strike On Gaza Market Kills At Least 15
Israel Kills 15 During Assault On UN School As Military Intensifies Attack On Refugee Camp
UN rights chief slams Israel’s ‘defiance’ of international law
FDL: Haunting the Conscience of the World
This is a turning point, Israel has crossed all the red lines and the world will hold them accountable for it. This long night for the people of Gaza will end, the light of justice will finally shine on them, and there will be no more darkness.
The Iraqi Army is either locked in a stalemate in the battle for Tikrit and surrounding areas about 100 miles northwest of Baghdad, or (according to a claim by ISIS) has completely lost the city and Camp Speicher, a nearby military post and helicopter base.
Here’s the story according to The Long War Journal:
The Iraqi military made its first effort to retake Tikrit in late June, when it airlifted commandos into Tikrit University in an effort to gain a toehold north of the city. An advance on the city from the south was defeated. Then, on July 16, the Iraqi military launched Operation Decisive Sword. A large column of military and militia units entered southern Tikrit and thought they liberated the city, but as they celebrated they were ambushed with suicide bombers, IEDs, and conventional attacks. The Iraqi forces then withdrew from the city.
After the Iraqi military withdrew from southern Tikrit on July 16, the Islamic State immediately began its assault on Camp Speicher, as the base was the last remaining holdout of Iraqi forces near the city (Iraqi forces were withdrawn from Tikrit University sometime before the second offensive was launched).
The loss of Camp Speicher, and perhaps more importantly, the loss of the helicopters and its pilots if the Islamic State’s claims are true, is a serious blow to both the morale and the operational capabilities of the Iraqi military. The Iraqi military, which has failed to retake major cities and towns from the Islamic State and its allies, now may find it more difficult to support and defend the Bayji oil refinery just to the north, which has been largely resupplied by helicopters.
The Daily Beast cast doubt on the ISIS claim of victory in Tikrit:
On Friday, multiple news reports claimed that ISIS had won a major victory, seizing control of a vital army base outside of Tikrit and killing or capturing the hundreds of soldiers stationed there. If true, ISIS’s capture of Camp Speicher would signal a crucial turning point in the battle for the city and a humiliating setback for the Iraqi Army.
But the reports are false according to multiple Iraqi sources, who say Speicher was attacked on Friday but that ISIS never entered the base. According to an Iraqi Army soldier, who said he is currently stationed at the base: “Ten suicide bombers tried to blow themselves up at the gate so 15 more ISIS fighters in support could enter the base but we killed all of them. Only one Iraqi soldier was killed.”
Even if neither side is in control of Tikrit, the Iraqi government remains in deep serious trouble. A week ago The Long War Journal estimated that half of Iraq’s 15 army divisions have become ineffective or have completely disappeared.
Several days of cable TV news watching haven’t answered the question that’s on my mind. Why are we even debating this? Desperate children, many of them unaccompanied, have been forced to flee Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other countries. We’re expecting 74,000 to show up at our southern border this year.
On June 2, President Obama described it as an “urgent humanitarian situation,” asking Congress for an additional $1.4 billion to deal with the influx and creating a multiagency taskforce, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to coordinate the federal response.
These children are refugees from violence and poverty. However, it’s been noted that essentially none of them come from Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. Therefore poverty is a secondary factor. They’re fleeing for their lives.
Yet some politicians want to have a debate about how fast we can send these kids back to their countries of origin to die. Tea-GOPers even want to deny them the right to a court hearing. At the same time, the U.S. is telling Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to take in millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war.
Right-wingers and racists take note: No, these children don’t have Ebola. That’s a disease endemic in Africa– Ebola has never been reported in Latin America. What about other diseases? The migrants are better vaccinated than U.S. kids. The migrants are not hardened criminals, they are victims. They won’t destroy our economy – the Tea-GOP and Wall Street already did that. No, President Obama didn’t invite children to cross our border illegally – the law that guarantees due process for unaccompanied migrant children was signed by President Bush in 2008. It was uncontroversial at the time it was passed. The National Guard won’t stop the kids from coming, but maybe they could provide humanitarian assistance. Your term of opprobrium against undocumented immigrants isn’t spelled “ILEAGELS.” Also, the policy you oppose is not “AMENSTY,” or “AMNETY.”
Protesters turn back busloads of immigrants in Murrieta
GOP Candidate Mistakes YMCA Kids For Migrants, Describes ‘Fear In Their Faces’
Sarah Palin Wants President Obama Impeached For Following A Law Passed By Republicans
This Bill Is Dubbed The HUMANE Act, But It Actually Hurts The Migrant Kids It Claims To Protect
Not the first time members of Congress have used Orwellian language to name legislation the opposite of what it is.
Politico’s Roger Simon distorted President Obama’s record to claim that his request for emergency funding to deal with the recent flood of unaccompanied minors crossing the border was tantamount to waking “from a deep slumber … to fight a problem he has ignored for years.” In reality, Obama has supported legislation in the past that addressed many of the underlying issues but the legislation has been blocked by the GOP.