With the Israeli assault on Gaza reaching a fever pitch last week, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) quietly changed its name to the Islamic State or IS to reflect its broader ambitions and promptly set its sights on Lebanon. The IS attack in Arsal, that shares a northern border with Syria, began when Lebanese security forces arrested a popular Islamic commander. Once word spread, al-Nusra and the competent and deadly Islamic State jihadis stormed the town killing a number of security forces.
Conditions on the ground remain tenuous. "The situation is bad. Families are blockaded inside the city. Refugees are on the streets. There is a severe shortage of bread. The medical situation is very bad," a Syrian witness told Reuters News Service.
"It's a war right now," Mayor Ali Hujeiri said.
After the initial assault a Lebanese Army statement concluded; "It appears the armed operation was not spontaneous, but planned and studied, and the army will be firm and decisive in its response… (We) will not allow any party to transfer the battle from Syria to its (Lebanese) land." While the government said Hezbollah, a designated terrorist group, was not assisting the Lebanese security forces officials on the ground say they are partially involved in the fight.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement voicing concern. “We urge all parties in Lebanon to respect the Lebanese government’s policy of dissociation from regional conflicts, as stated in the Baabda Declaration,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said in the statement over the weekend. “The United States is committed to Lebanon’s security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. We will continue our strong support for Lebanon’s state institutions, including the LAF and the ISF.”
However, by Tuesday the State Department spokesperson was answering tough questions at the daily briefing. A Lebanese reporter bluntly asked if the U.S. was supporting ISIS/ISIL/IS because it seemed that America was letting the brutal terrorist organization march unchallenged? A clearly perturbed Psaki replied, “that’s ludicrous.”
The question of who exactly is supporting the wildly successful terror group IS has been raised by many in the Middle East. According to the New York Times, the brainchild of ISIS is former Baath Party leader and successor to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, General Ibrahim al-Douri. The General has been on the America’s most wanted list since 2003 and he’s been able to escape capture by spinning tales of travel to Qatar and Syria. Now, he is the leader for Iraq’s Islamic State branch responsible for successfully routing the U.S.-trained Iraqi military forces.
Other possible/probable U.S. ties to the terror group emerge in Jordan, where American Special Forces have been secretly training “rebel fighters” in the town of Safawi, located near the Iraqi and Syrian borders.
A recent White House request asked Congress to amend its 2015 budget to include $500 million in aid to assist the “good” Syrian Free Rebels. The letter (link here) explained the additional money would be used to expand the current CIA covert training program, including money from the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) with a balance of $65.8 billion.
The funding request is a further confirmation of the commitment of the White House to continue training and arming the Syrian rebels, even though some are known al-Qaeda affiliates (link to Syria article).
According to U.S. officials, the rebels would be trained at existing secret camps in Jordan and Turkey. Also included in this request is $5 billion for the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF). At a West Point address, President Obama told cadets the CTPF builds on our “existing tools and authorities to respond to a range of terrorist threats and crisis response scenarios, and is designed to help build the counterterrorism capacity of partner states.”
Nevertheless the conflicting messages about the lethality of IS continued with President Obama saying at his August 1 press conference that ISIS wasn’t firing rockets into the U.S. The President's remarks prompted worry inside the U.S. intelligence community about the foreign fighters, who compose ISIS, as being exponentially more dangerous than al-Qaeda because they operate like a real army, with a strategy and structure.
A request for comment from the CIA went unanswered by press time.
Momentum builds in northern Iraq, Kurdistan
Northern Iraq and Kurdistan (a semi-autonomous province of Iraq) is a strategic region that the Islamic State struck hard to secure valuable oil fields and fresh water resources essential to the largely desert country.
IS and its military surge in Iraq are the next phase that’s increasing chaos in the second-largest OPEC oil state. “Fighters with the Islamic State group launched a three-pronged attack over the weekend in a drive to capture Haditha Dam, in western Iraq, a complex with six power generators located alongside Iraq's second-largest reservoir. At the same time, they are fighting to capture Iraq's largest dam, Mosul Dam, in the north of the country,” according to Stars and Stripes. “Seizing the dams and the large reservoirs they hold would give the militants control over water and electricity that they could use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.” Word from the region this morning confirms the IS has seized control of the largest water source in Iraq. (Update: At press time the Mosul Dam has fallen to IS).
The increased violence by the jihadis prompted a comment of concern by the U.S. State Department. “The United States is actively monitoring the situation in the Sinjar and Tal Afar districts of Ninewa Province where the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has launched a series of offensives against civilian populations, including in the town of Sinjar. We are gravely concerned for the safety of civilians in these areas, including the vulnerable minority communities who for years have been targeted by ISIL and its progenitor, al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI). We deeply regret the displacement of innocent civilians and mourn the loss of life from recent fighting, including from the ranks of courageous Kurdish Peshmerga units who have been fighting to defend these areas,” Psaki stated.
“The ISIL assault over the past 48 hours on territories along the border of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and focusing on towns and villages populated by vulnerable minorities, demonstrates once again that this terrorist organization is a dire threat to all Iraqis, the entire region, and the international community. We will continue to facilitate coordination between authorities in Baghdad and Erbil and provide direct assistance wherever possible. We further call on all Iraqi leaders to move swiftly pursuant to their constitutional timeline to form a new government that can help pull the country together and harness national resources against this common enemy,” Psaki concluded.
Another example of the importance of the oil rich part of Iraq is seen in foreign shipments via oil tankers. If the U.S. continues to refuse statehood status for the northern Iraq Kurds, the Islamic State could seize control of the lucrative liquid gold. The Kurds contend that they have no choice but to broker their own oil deals because Baghdad has not been forwarding oil money north for a year and demanded Washington allow them to independently sell oil to other nations like Israel who bought Kurdish oil at a steep discount. The deal was reached when the Kurdistan Regional Government worked with Turkey to load the tankers with Iraqi oil transported through pipelines to Turkish ports. The DC insiders claim the shady deal broke the oil accords between the two countries.
“We don’t understand why the State Department has on one hand said we need your help to save Iraq, but we are not giving you any economic tools and you have to do what [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki tells you to regarding oil,” according to Michael Howard, an adviser to the Kurdish minister of natural resources. The Kurds contend that the recent chaos has prompted approximately 1 million Iraqis to flee and seek refuge in Kurdistan. Plus, the Kurdish Peshmerga fighting force appears over-extended in its fight against the Islamic insurgents and the battle requires more money the province does not have.
But Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs Brett McGurk, tweeted America’s position on individual statehood and oil sales. “Our policy on the underlying issue has been clear and consistent. Iraq’s energy resources belong to all of the Iraqi people. These questions should be resolved in a manner consistent with the Iraqi constitution.”
Western fighters flock to ISIS jihad battle zones
While the current situation may have caught the White House flat-footed, senior U.S. intelligence officials complain they have been warning Congress and the administration for some time.
They have also notified senior government officials that foreign fighters from the West, including Americans, flocked to join terror groups in the Middle East, including ISIS. The country’s top cop, Eric Holder of the Justice Department told CBS News that he has never been more worried for U.S. safety.
“In the past when we’ve seen Americans go abroad to fight in foreign countries and a number of individuals have been trained to go back to attempt attacks on the homeland,” said Aaron Zelin Senior Fellow for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who tracks the flow of foreign fighters into Syria.
“It’s not just Americans who are going to Syria, but there are up to 3,000 European citizens from countries that have visa waivers with the United States who have also joined the jihad in Syria,” Zelin told The Daily Beast. “This is why so many Western counter-terrorism officials are so worried, it’s much easier to get into our country with a Western passport.”
An example is the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi, a former Iraq al-Qaeda leader who once told his capturers (US military in Iraq) “he would see them in New York City.”
Nevertheless, the obscure terrorist group rose to power by swiftly and decisively toppling a U.S.-trained Iraqi military.
There is no shortage of hotspots in the Middle East and each conflict provides an example of the desperately needed adult leadership. As far as the principles of war, there is no doubt the Islamic State follows Sun Tzu’s precept “know thy enemy.” The Islamic State is more than a bunch of wide-eyed jihadis. They appear to be a disciplined military force that understands war, politics, and economics. As for America, a dose of reality is being dished out and the future looks very uncertain.
“One of the big questions right now is whether ISIL (ISIS) can turn its tactical victories in Iraq into strategic gains. The group appears to be benefitting from a regional strategy that looks at Syria and Iraq as one interchangeable battlefield, allowing it to shift resources and manpower in pursuit of military objectives. And, it’s also clear that ISIL, with only a few thousand fighters, couldn’t have moved as rapidly as it has without the support of some nationalist Sunni groups and sympathetic tribes, some of which are merely drafting off of ISIL’s advances and may not cooperate over the long haul,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told this reporter.
“As long as the support of these Sunni elements holds, ISIL looks well positioned right now to keep the territory it has captured, absent a major counteroffensive,” he said. “However, there are still plenty of things that could go wrong for a group that typically has done well on its home Sunni turf but, if Syria is any guide, is hardly invincible when confronted in unfriendly territory by capable and motivated fighters. And historically, Jihadist groups have had difficulty holding territory for long periods of time. The situation on the ground right now is playing to ISIL’s strengths, but the group faces the real prospect of overstretch if it tries to press deep into Baghdad and beyond.”
Read part one “Obama trained insurgents launch killing spree against Iraq then turn to Syria”: http://www.examiner.com/article/obama-trained-insurgents-launch-killing-spree-against-iraq-then-turn-to-syria
Read: Iraq, ISIS and trained Islamic insurgents (Part Two)
The headlines splashed across most major publications this week centered on the growing destabilization of Iraq. After a decade of war, peace and prosperity remain elusive and the “hearts and minds” COIN policy is officially dead. For the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, peace was nothing more than an American dream. www.examiner.com/article/iraq-isis-and-trained-islamic-insurgents-part-two
Obama’s Regime change train stops in Ukraine: http://www.examiner.com/article/obama-s-regime-change-train-stops-ukraine
To read more about Afghanistan:
Afghan War ain’t about hearts and minds- ‘just win baby’: http://www.examiner.com/article/afghan-war-ain-t-about-hearts-and-minds-just-win-baby-1
Past breaking news story: http://www.examiner.com/article/did-cia-and-state-department-run-illegal-arms-trafficking-benghazi-1
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