Summary Update: Iraq-ISIS/ISIL Crisis (Updated)
A U.S. F-18 fighter jet refuels from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft over northern Iraq, Aug. 21, 2014. (Photo: DoD)
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Britain raised its international terrorism threat level to the second highest level of “severe” on Friday in response to possible attacks being planned in Syria and Iraq, Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May said.
“That means that a terrorist attack is highly likely, but there is no intelligence to suggest that an attack is imminent,” May said in a statement.
“The increase in the threat level is related to developments in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West. Some of those plots are likely to involve foreign fighters who have traveled there from the UK and Europe to take part in those conflicts.”
Read more here.
This is the last update on the Iraq-ISIS crisis before the Labor Day weekend.
BBC News reports that Kurdish Peshmerga forces say they have retaken oilfields near Mosul in north Iraq from Islamic State (IS) militants:
“The attack on the three Ain Zalah installations began on Thursday morning, they said, but the militants blew them all up as they retreated.
The area is part of a large swathe of territory in northern Iraq overrun by Islamic State in recent weeks.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by US air strikes have regained some ground, including the vital Mosul dam.
IS-led violence has driven an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis from their homes.
Whole communities of minority Yazidis and Christians have been forced to flee in the north, along with Shia Iraqis, whom IS do not regard as true Muslims.”
Read more here
More on the refugee crisis. The Stars and Stripes reports that the civil war in Syria has forced a record 3 million people out of the country as more than a million people fled in the past year, according to the U.N. refugee agency:
The tragic milestone means that about one of every eight Syrians has fled across the border, and 6.5 million others have been displaced within Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, the Geneva-based agency said. More than half of all those uprooted are children, it said.
“The Syria crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.
Syria had a prewar population of 23 million.
The recent surge in fighting appears to be worsening the already desperate situation for Syrian refugees, the agency said, as the extremist Islamic State group expands its control of broad areas straddling the Syria-Iraq border and terrorizes rivals and civilians in both countries.
Read more here.
In what seems a throwback to our own not-so-distant-past activities, the Stars and Stripes reports, “At least four hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State, including an American journalist who was recently executed by the group, were waterboarded in the early part of their captivity, according to people familiar with the treatment of the kidnapped Westerners.”:
James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Critics of waterboarding have said for years that the practice endangered Americans, putting them at risk that they will be subjected to the same brutal treatment at the hands of the enemy.
“Waterboarding dates to the Spanish Inquisition and has been a favorite of dictators through the ages, including Pol Pot and the regime in Burma,” said Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island in an op-ed in 2008. “Condoning torture opens the door for our enemies to do the same to captured American troops in the future.”
Read more here.
In the meantime the New York Times reports that “fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have killed more than 150 captured soldiers in northern Syria in the last two days” according to a monitoring group and adds “Video images posted online appeared to show the men being marched through the desert in their underwear by the extremists and then lying dead in the sand.”:
The mass killing of the soldiers represented a dark end to the battle for control of the Tabqa air base in Raqqa Province. The insurgents seized the base on Sunday after the deadliest fighting so far between ISIS and government forces.
The killings were reported on the same day that Syrian rebel fighters captured 43 United Nations peacekeepers near the demarcation line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, after heavy fighting in the area between non-ISIS rebel fighters and government troops.
Read more here.
Yesterday, the President provided an update on several issues, including Iraq-ISIS.
ON ISIS/ISIL, he said:
Our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader, comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to ISIL. And that starts with Iraq’s leaders building on the progress they’ve made so far and forming the inclusive government that will unite their country and strengthen their security forces to confront ISIL.
Then, responding to a follow-up question by reporter Chuck Todd as to whether the President needs “Congress’s approval to go into Syria” the President answered, clearly referring to the specific facet of “going into Syria”:
You know, I have consulted with Congress throughout this process. I am confident that as commander in chief I have the authorities to engage in the acts that we are conducting currently. As our strategy develops, we will continue to consult with Congress, and I do think that it’ll be important for Congress to weigh in and we’re — that our consultations with Congress continue to develop so that the American people are part of the debate.
But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet. (Emphasis mine)I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are. And I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military, as well. We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard.
But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.
This is how the Defense Media Activity reports on Obama’s words:
President Barack Obama has directed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to present a range of options aimed at the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
During a White House news conference today, Obama called ISIL a “cancer” that “poses an immediate threat to the people of Iraq and to people throughout the region.”
The United States has struck the terror group in Iraq. Any effort taken against the group in its sanctuary in Syria must be part of a broader regional and international effort, the president said.
“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I’m confident that we can, and we will, working closely with our allies and our partners,” Obama said.
The president said the options he’s asking for are aimed primarily at thwarting ISIL’s designs in Iraq.
“My priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself,” he said.
“We’re going to have to build a regional strategy” to degrade ISIL over the long term, Obama said.
“Part of the goal here,” the president said, “is to make sure that Sunnis, both in Syria and in Iraq, feel as if they’ve got an investment in a government that actually functions. A government that can protect them. A government that makes sure that their families are safe from the barbaric acts that we’ve seen in ISIL.”
All aspects of national and international power must be in play, the president said. Diplomatic, political and economic power will be just as important as military actions, he said.
The limited airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq have had an effect, Obama said.
“Because of our strikes, the terrorists of ISIL are losing arms and equipment,” he said. “In some areas, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have begun to push them back. And we continue to be proud and grateful to our extraordinary personnel serving in this mission.”
I believe this version does address our current strategy against ISIS.
In the meantime, U.S. military forces continue to implement the President’s current strategy attacking ISIL terrorists in support of Iraqi security force operations, using fighter aircraft to conduct five airstrikes in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam:
The strikes destroyed an ISIL Humvee, a tank, four armed vehicles, an ISIL construction vehicle and severely damaged an ISIL checkpoint. All aircraft exited the strike areas safely.
Since Aug. 8, U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 106 airstrikes across Iraq.
In the unconfirmed reports/rumors column, the National Defense Magazine reports:
Recently, video emerged that showed Islamic militants in Syria had acquired a surveillance drone. It marked the first time such technology has been used by the burgeoning terrorist organization, a RAND Corp. analyst said.
The consequences of the Islamic State — the terrorist organization known as ISIS that has been characterized by its increasingly violent tactics in the Middle East — acquiring such technology could be dangerous, Colin Clarke, an associate political scientist at RAND Corp. who researches ISIS, told National Defense.
“This is the first time I’ve seen ISIS showing this kind of capability,” Clarke said. “[But] it’s not a total surprise simply because we’ve seen other similar … groups like Hezbollah or Hamas using these drones.”
Read more here.
And, in an “Exclusive,” Foreign Policy reports:
Found: The Islamic State’s Terror Laptop of Doom
Buried in a Dell computer captured in Syria are lessons for making bubonic plague bombs and missives on using weapons of mass destruction.
Read more here