Last week, a US air strike meant to hit a base held by the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front almost hit a Free Syrian Army facility instead:
Since U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria began on Sept. 22, there has been no coordination between the U.S. military and its alleged partners on the ground, according to FSA leaders, civilian opposition leaders, and intelligence sources who have been briefed on the U.S. and allied military operation. It’s this lack of communication that led to an airstrike that hit only 200 meters from an FSA facility in the suburbs of Idlib.One source briefed on the incident said multiple FSA fighters were killed in the attack.
“Unfortunately, there is zero coordination with the Free Syrian Army. Because there is no coordination, we are seeing civilian casualties. Because there is no coordination, they are hitting empty buildings for ISIS,” Hussam Al Marie, the spokesman for the FSA in northern Syria, told The Daily Beast.
Shocking that things can go awry like this during a war“effort”. Allahpundit rightly sees downsides to targeting both ISIS and other jihadist groups at the same time:
What’s at risk of happening here, as ISIS and the Nusra Front congeal, is our allies in the Free Syrian Army suddenly getting it on all sides. Assad has every reason to keep killing the “moderates”; the west has always eyed them as a potential governing regime in Syria once Assad is gone, so by eliminating them Assad makes himself the only anti-ISIS game in town. And now both ISIS and the Nusra Front have a strong reason to target the FSA.
Vera Mironova worries that’s what we have on our hands:
The only way for Al-Qaeda to get back to the top of the list of terrorist organizations would be to outbid ISIS on its own field (excessive brutality), to prove that they are still the reigning terrorist organization. This does, unfortunately, look to be the plan of the Al-Qaeda. Although they have co-existed with the Yemen government for years, this “peace” however was shattered on August 9th in the southern Yemeni province of Hadramawt, when fourteen military personnel were brutally slaughtered for no reason. A group of armed men stopped and boarded a civilian bus, identified the military personnel, and proceeded to slit their throats. Following in the ISIS traditions, the armed men identified themselves as Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, videotaped the mass slaughter and published it online.
Although it is hard to predict the future, evidence would suggest that we can expect to see even more brutality in Middle Eastern conflict while Al-Qaeda tries to regain its title. And after the last incident in Hadramawt, Yemeni government pressed Al-Qaeda to look for a “refuge” in other Middle Eastern countries, like Syria and Iraq, the current strongholds of the ISIS. Therefore, the return of Al-Qaeda to the top of the list of terrorist organizations, an extremely violent scenario, is possible.
The first and most important difference, plainly and simply: Obama didn’t lie us into this war. It’s worth emphasizing this point, I think, during this week when Obama is at the United Nations trying to redouble international support to fight ISIS, and as we think back on Colin Powell’s infamous February 2003 snow job to Security Council. Obama didn’t tell us any nightmarish fairy tales about weapons of mass destruction that had already been destroyed or never existed. He didn’t trot his loyalists out there to tell fantastical stories about smoking guns and mushroom clouds.
The evidence for the nature of the threat posed by the Islamic State is, in contrast, as non-fabricated as evidence can be and was handed right to us by ISIS itself: the beheading videos, and spokesmen’s own statements from recruitment videos about the group’s goal being the establishment of a reactionary fundamentalist state over Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. That’s all quite real.
The in-tray has been full of similar sentiments. My response is: sure, so far as it goes. But Tomasky’s argument doesn’t go very far. And the way in which Obama supporters have lamely acquiesced to this reckless war fomented by a dangerous executive power-grab is more than a little depressing. It strikes me as uncomfortably close to pure partisanship. I can’t imagine them downplaying the folly of this if a Republican president were in charge.
Sure, we are indeed not being grotesquely misled this time about non-existent WMDs. But we are going to war despite the fact that ISIS is no more a direct threat to the United States than Saddam was – arguably much less, in fact. We have no answer this time to the unanswered question last time: what if our intervention actually galvanizes Islamist extremism rather than calming it? And the Arab coalition that Tomasky cites as evidence that this war is a far less American-centric one than 2003 has some issues when you confront reality. Here’s the latest:
Jordan said that “a number of Royal Jordanian Air Force fighters destroyed” several targets but did not specify where; the Emirati Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the air force “launched its first strikes against ISIL targets” on Monday evening, using another acronym for the Islamic State. American officials said that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also took active part in the strikes, and that Qatar played a “supporting” role.
This may be important window-dressing, but window dressing it still is. It sure isn’t close to the coalition George H W Bush assembled in 1990 – and it’s much smaller than George W Bush’s coalition in 2003. More to the point, the key element of any successful strategy will be the position of the Sunni Arab tribes – and they are still sitting on the sidelines. Turkey is AWOL so far. And the fact that the Arab states do not want their contributions to be broadcast more widely reveals the depth of the problem. Obama has Americanized the problem. Once you do that, the regional actors get even more skittish, because the only common thing for so many of the populations represented by these autocrats is loathing of the United States. This is the Arab world. The US will never get anything but hatred and cynicism and contempt from it.
[O'Reilly] knows advocating for American troops to take up the fight themselves is extremely unpopular. O’Reilly, problem solver that he is, has a solution: “elite fighters who would be well paid, well trained to defeat terrorists all over the world.” Since that worked so well in Iraq last time around. What we need is more Blackwater. In the O’Reilly fantasy, the 25,000-person force would be English-speaking, “recruited by the USA and trained in America by our special operations troops,” and dubbed “the Anti-Terror Army,” because the Avengers is already taken.
The flaw is that there’s no obvious next step if the mercenaries succeed in routing ISIS from Raqqa and eastern Syria. Who takes over and rules that half of the country if that happens? Assad? He’ll butcher the Sunni civilians there and the Sunnis know it. A new sectarian rebellion against the regime would spring up overnight. Some sort of multinational Sunni force of Saudi, Turkish, and Jordanian troops? Iran will never let the Saudis have that kind of foothold, and besides, none of those countries want the headache of pacifying radicalized Sunni Syrian civilians. NATO doesn’t want it either, of course; an army of western peacekeepers would be even more culturally estranged from Syrian Arabs than a multinational Sunni force would.
The theoretical virtue of Obama’s “arm the Syrian moderates” plan is that if the moderates were to defeat ISIS, they’d be comparatively well positioned to take over as rulers of eastern Syria. They’re natives and they’re Sunnis; they’re probably acceptable to the locals. But of course, the moderates aren’t going to defeat ISIS, which puts us back at square one.
The Guardian explains how this state of affairs came to be:
The border region of Kobani, home to half a million people, has held out for months against an onslaught by Islamists seeking to consolidate their hold over swaths of northern Syria. But in recent days, Isis extremists have seized a series of settlements close to the town of Kobani itself, sending as many as 100,000 mostly Kurdish refugees streaming across the border into Turkey. “I don’t think in the last three and a half years we have seen 100,000 cross in two days,” the representative for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Turkey, Carol Batchelor, told Reuters. “So this is a bit of a measure of how this situation is unfolding, and the very deep fear people have about the circumstances inside Syria and, for that matter, Iraq.”
A Kurdish commander on the ground said Isis had advanced to within 9 miles (15km) of Kobani. A Kurdish politician from Turkey who visited Kobani on Saturday said locals told him Isis fighters were beheading people as they went from village to village. “Rather than a war this is a genocide operation … They are going into the villages and cutting the heads of one or two people and showing them to the villagers,” Ibrahim Binici, a deputy for Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP), told Reuters.
Juan Cole marvels, “I lived to see the day when thousands of Kurds take refuge in Turkey”:
The power to control or manipulate sexual and ethnic identity is a key component of all state power. In the Middle East, the regulation of sexual relations is often used as a means to create or reinforce ethno-sectarian boundaries.
Micah Zenko calls out Obama’s strategy against ISIS as another example of “political leaders presenting totally unrealistic and implausible end states”, which has been a hallmark of US counterterrorism since 9/11:
Given that two administrations have failed to achieve their end states of defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations, we should be extremely doubtful of the Obama administration’s strategic objective of destroying IS or its ability to threaten the United States or any of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. Furthermore, it is difficult to ascertain what the Obama administration has learned from the total failure to eliminate the Taliban and al Qaeda and all affiliates. Based upon White House statements, it appears that its sole lesson from the post-9/11 era is to avoid massive ground invasions, and to emulate the policies from Yemen and Somalia, which again, according to U.S. government data, have not worked.
On Friday, Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby was asked how IS would be destroyed, beyond airstrikes and supporting partners on the ground. He replied: “It also is going to take the ultimate destruction of their ideology.” If this is truly the ultimate pathway for IS’s destruction, then it was strange that it did not appear anywhere in President Obama’s strategy speech. Furthermore, altering the interpretation that others hold of a religious ideology is something that governments are really bad at.
A million amens to that. Meanwhile, Allahpundit responds to the CIA’s pessimism about arming the Syrian rebels:
Increasingly, I think this whole arm-the-rebels plan is just a perfunctory mad-libs answer to an obvious question about O’s ISIS strategy.
Murtaza Hussain introduces the jihadists’ latest propaganda innovation, which looks to court fans of the Grand Theft Auto video game series:
A new video purportedly released by supporters of the group to Arabic language news media appears to show Islamic State, or ISIS, propaganda mocked up in the style of the popular “Grand Theft Auto” franchise. The video shows footage of explosions, sniper rifle attacks and drive-by shootings all rendered in the style of the GTA series. Arabic commentary included as subtitles contain quotes along the lines of targeting U.S. forces and “the Safavid Army”, a reference to Iranian or pro-Iranian forces. They also show images of an assault rifle riddling a police car full of bullet holes — a scene that would not be altogether unfamiliar to Grand Theft Auto players. …
Though the new video appears to constitute a trailer, there’s no indication yet that a real, playable game is in the offing anytime soon. Nonetheless, coupled with the group’s release yesterday of a new propaganda trailer directed at the United States, it appears that the ISIS media war is continuing to evolve in new and weird directions.
But the viewer is clearly meant to understand that the “real, playable game” is available only in Iraq and Syria. At least, that’s what Jay Caspian Kang suspects:
Yesterday, the House voted 273-156 to let the president arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels to help fight ISIS:
The administration’s request was an amendment to a must-pass, stopgap measure to keep the government running through mid-December. Although the amendment had the early support of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi D-Calif., a number of lawmakers in both parties began defecting, prompting a last-minute push by party leaders to build support.
New York’s Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said a range of top Democrats worked to the last minute to gather votes for the president’s plan, which would train some 5,000 Syrian rebels in the first year at facilities in Saudi Arabia. … Having secured approval in the House, the bill now moves to the Senate, where it may receive a skeptical reception. In testimony Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry came under intense questioning about the White House’s plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.
The idea is as doomed now as it long has been. The US trained the entire Iraqi army in country for years – and they still scarpered. The problem is political; almost certainly unsolvable except in the long run by the parties themselves; and made utterly solvable by US intervention. The Senate is set to vote on the measure today. Weigel notes who voted “aye”:
Everybody in competitive races. Georgia Rep. John Barrow, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, and West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall are among the very last Democrats in districts that voted for the Romney-Ryan ticket in 2012. They went “aye.” So did Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley and Michigan Rep. Gary Peters, both Senate candidates in tough races. On the Republican side, Senate candidates Tom Cotton and Steve Daines voted “aye,” as did Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman and Florida Rep. Steve Southerland. They’re the only two Republicans in seats that appear now to be toss-ups, with strong Democratic challengers cutting through the headwind.
Aki Peritz and Tara Maller want to know why ISIS’s use of rape and sexual slavery as weapons of war isn’t getting more press:
The Islamic State’s (IS) fighters are committing horrific sexual violence on a seemingly industrial scale: For example, the United Nations last month estimated that IS has forced some 1,500 women, teenage girls, and boys into sexual slavery. Amnesty International released a blistering document noting that IS abducts whole families in northern Iraq for sexual assault and worse. Even in the first few days following the fall of Mosul in June, women’s rights activists reported multiple incidents of IS fighters going door to door, kidnapping and raping Mosul’s women.
IS claims to be a religious organization, dedicated to re-establishing the caliphate and enforcing codes of modesty and behavior from the time of Muhammad and his followers. But this is rape, not religious conservatism. IS may dress up its sexual violence in religious justifications, saying its victims violated Islamic law, or were infidels, but their leaders are not fools. This is just another form of warfare.
Even women and girls who escape these horrors still face sexual exploitation in refugee camps. Chandra Kellison reports on what she observed while working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon this summer: