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Monday, August 31, 2015

Thoughts on the Nuclear Treaty with Iraq and partisanship in general.

Link: Netanyahu voices concern over removal of sanctions.

Ever year our nation seems to become more politically partisan, with everyone claiming to be independent, but Independent candidates getting no traction whatsoever.  No doubt if an Independent (meaning not Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian) candidate arrived on the scene who had Donald Trump's bank account, we might see a very competitive election.  But the system is built to support the two existing parties and the established methods for raising campaign funds.  Independent candidates can never expect to come close to raising the kind of money that a serious Republican or Democrat can.  Aside from that fact, we don't believe an Independent candidate would be representative of the United States electorate, anyways.  In 2015, we are an opinionated nation, and people feel very strongly about the validity of their perspectives.  w guess we're no different.  When we hear someone expressing an opposite viewpoint, we do my best to give them a fair shake. But at the end of the day, after almost half-a-century on this planet, we have confidence in our opinions.  And something important we've learned along the way: don't get mouthy and loud about issues in which you have no knowledge or experience.  Here at "Mukhabarat, Baby!", we have made a point to avoid posting opinionated commentaries regarding the United States economy.  Sure, we have opinions, but I'm not an economist.  I do, however, consider myself to be knowledgeable on issues of diplomacy and foreign policy.  Some readers may consider our site to be partisan,  but you can be sure that we support our positions with evidence.

I recently read an article which introduced ten retired U.S. Army Generals who had come out in support of the Obama Administration's Nuclear Treaty with Iran.  Its our understanding that the United States Army has hundreds of certified, true Generals among us, the vast majority of them retired.  Something tells me, that if I made a bit of an effort (and you know, to protect this president, the media would make the effort), I could round up ten Generals who believe that the Reptilian People live amongst us.  In other words, finding ten Generals to agree on something doesn't get you very far, especially when we are considering something as patently awful as this Treaty.  The three issues that bother me the most about this treaty have nothing to do with the controversial subject of nuclear proliferation.

My first complaint has to do with a handful of U.S. citizens that are currently locked away in Iranian prisons.  Not surprisingly, each one is being accused of having insulted Islam, being an enemy of the Islamic Republic, or a spy for the Zionists, or just a plain spy, period.  The charges are bogus; they are in jail because they are U.S. citizens, and the Iranians thought that they might come in handy someday as bargaining chips of some sort.  Normally, given the seriousness of the negotiations between the United States and Iran, you would have expected U.S. negotiators to have tried tooth-and-nail to make the release of our citizens part of any agreed-upon treaty.  Can you believe that this president was so obsessed with the issue of his legacy that he allowed the Iranians to remove the subject of the prisoners/hostages from the negotiations, without the slightest complaint?  How can a sitting U.S. president agree to a treaty with a foreign power that holds U.S. citizens in its jails, as hostages?  The Administration has gone on record stating that the charges against the prisoners are false, and yet they were forsaken.  What if that were your parent, or your sister, sitting in that Iranian jail?  I wonder if they had promised to vote Democrat in the next election, if he might have tried a bit harder to have them included........

My second complaint: what steps has Iran taken that justify the lifting of weapons sanctions?  A nation EARNS removal from a weapons embargo, at least that's the way it's been up to now.  Does Iran continue to financially support terror groups around the world?  Absolutely, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen (dumping the Houthis in with Hezbollah is a bit of a stretch...we ask your indulgence).  Iran also provides tremendously important support to the flailing regime of Bashir al-Assad in Syria.  Where else does Iran export weapons and warfare?  Iraq is a good example; the Shi'a militias/Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), which have become so important in the struggle against ISIS in Iraq, include the Badr Organization, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, Mahdi Army, and Kata'ib Hezbollah.  Each group is trained and supplied by Iran.  As for the Iranian Armed Forces, they are in serious need of updated materials.  The Iranian Air Force is still flying a combination of ancient U.S.-made F5s (from the days of the Shah), and Migs that it stole from Iraq during the initial Gulf War.  And unlike the Chinese, Indians, Israelis and South Africans, the Iranians have had little success utilizing older equipment, and creating an indigenous weapon by incorporating home-grown innovations and technologies.  The Iranians need radar, jets, bombers, cargo planes, tanks, armored personnel carriers, computerized targeting equipment, missiles, and artillery, and their navy needs submarines and frigates.  Luckily, the economic sanctions will make it difficult for Iran to go on a shopping spree, now that the weapons-sanctions have been lifted.  Wait....ALL sanctions are being lifted, aren't they?  That means billions of dollars for Iran to buy what it wants.  And once the Saudis and the U.A.E. realize that Iran is not only closer to a nuclear weapon, but that they are modernizing their Armed Forces as well, we will see a nice little arms race develop in the Persian Gulf.  Its not Rocket Science, folks.

For all practical purposes, our last major complaint has already been covered.  We believe that the Iranians should have been obliged to disavow the exportation of terror and the support of terrorist groups.  It may have been just show, but at least we could make them look a bit foolish on an international stage.  In reality, Iran should have been required to limit its aid to groups like Hezbollah and the Houthis to strictly humanitarian goods.  In the end, nothing was asked of Iran.  They were not asked to disavow terror, and they were not asked to dismantle certain facilities in Iran whose sole function is the processing of weapons-grade nuclear material.  They were asked to halt all research into nuclear weapons-related projects, and to permit regular inspections.  The Iranians refused to agree to the inspections, until Secretary of State John Kerry took a knife and severed the last set of balls that existed in this treaty, which was the option for unannounced inspections.  What did Kerry agree to instead?  The inspectors must request the opportunity to inspect each respective site, and that request must be made three weeks in advance of the actual inspection.  To add to the absurdity, the Iranians reserved the right to DENY the request.  In truth, what would we do?  If the Iranians said, "we don't give you permission to inspect that particular site", would we automatically re-apply the sanctions?  Would be take back the money that would have poured into Iran by then?  And what about all the new upgraded military you think they will return it, no questions asked?

Previously, we were convinced that the 2010 New Start Treaty was the worst treaty ever negotiated by a U.S. Secretary of State.  John Kerry has proved us wrong, and in the same administration, no less. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Block by block, Iraqi forces begin to dislodge ISIS from the outskirts of Ramadi.

Link: ISIS kills two Iraqi generals in separate attacks on the same day outside Ramadi.

Everyday brings more news from Iraq regarding both the military situation in Anbar Province, and political developments generated by the reforms of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.  The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) that are presently engaging ISIS in Ramadi, consist of Iraqi Army units, specialized police, and members of various Sunni militias, and they are pressuring ISIS forces from both the east and the west.  For all practical purposes, ISIS is hemmed in, and the regular use by ISIS of SVBIEDs is an indication that the ISF has penetrated ISIS' exterior line of defense.  In a somewhat urban setting like the outlying neighborhoods of Ramadi, which consist of some low-level residences and businesses, and also four and five story structures, ISIS will utilize snipers and ambushes at every opportunity.  At this stage, ISIS is both unwilling and unable to engage the ISF in a conventional battle; the use of SVBIEDs and VBIEDs are ISIS' usual modus operandi, because they do not have the numbers or the equipment (tanks, armored personnel carriers, mobile artillery, etc.) to confront the enemy in a conventional fashion.  Besides, ISIS believes civilian casualties are worth more than military deaths on the battlefield.  Civilian deaths terrorize the population, making it difficult for the government to administer.  People try to flee the area, which clogs up the transportation network and creates more opportunities for SVBIEDs with greater casualties.  Civilian casualties can also lead to pressure on the government to compromise (see Ukraine).  All in all, ISIS will always want to encourage destabilization in areas occupied by its enemies; destabilization distracts the enemy from what should be the primary goal: the destruction of ISIS.  The ISF appears to have played this one properly from the beginning of the offensive in July.  Almost as soon as the offensive to retake Anbar was announced, ISIS began an SVBIED campaign in Diyala Province, later to extend to Salad ad-Din.  As further means of distraction, ISIS stepped up efforts to seize Haditha, and also turned the heat up on Baiji.  The Provincial Administrations began screaming for military help, demanding that the ISF return provincial soldiers who were part of the Anbar Offensive (playing into ISIS' hands).  Credit goes to the Iraqi government and the military High Command for not budging, and staying on course regarding the long-term strategic goals of the offensive.

Now that the battle for Ramadi has started to focus on neighborhoods and other urban areas, including industrial sites, universities, and hospitals, ISIS will continue to make use of SVBIEDs, but the ISF will be forced to go building to building, block to block, all the while being harassed by snipers.  The ISF has gone down this road before, clearing out Ramadi once before, but it appears that ISIS has booby-trapped and mined everything short of the cockroaches.  This is where the Army bomb-squads and the specially trained police units will prove most valuable.  With Ramadi being squeezed on all sides, it is unlikely that ISIS will be able to resupply or reinforce its forces.  The question remains, how long will the ISIS fighters hold out?  Are they as determined as the last bunch were, to die firing an AK-47?  The ISF will certainly accommodate, but it would be great to see the remaining defenders surrender en masse.  It would send a message to all who fight for ISIS, that it isn't necessary to give up your life for the cause.  Inevitably, if fewer ISIS fight to the death, then fewer Iraqi soldiers die as well.

The news from Fallujah has been sparse as of late.  The Shi'a militias/Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) that have been tightening the noose on ISIS in Fallujah, have been not surprisingly less-accessible to the press.  But ISIS has its hands full in Fallujah as well; will Fallujah fall before Ramadi?  If ISIS in both towns decides to fight to the bitter end, the clean-up operation will take some time.  You can bet that the ISF will not rest on its laurels, as Haditha is next in line for a house-cleaning.  This last week, ISF units in Haditha actually took to the offensive, clearing out ISIS from the outlying sub-district of Baghdadi.  Again, the allied air support has been on-target and very welcome in the last month, as the current situation appears to favor the ISF and its allies.  But we have been lulled into a false sense of optimism before.  ISIS can rebound from defeats like no military organization we have seen.  In fact, its very construction allows it to recover quickly from setbacks, like an animal that has its foot caught in a trap.  ISIS will chew off the foot, and regrow it later on its own schedule.  ISIS occupied Ramadi once before, only to lose it, and re-occupy it again.  One of the keys to ISIS success is its mobility and the apparent self-sufficiency of its units.  ISIS has a presence in every Iraqi Province, even though it does not have a guaranteed method of resupplying and reinforcing those units.  It is up to the units, which are purposely small, to equip themselves from the enemy, or to put themselves into position to be re-equipped.  What makes ISIS so dangerous is its ability to adapt, because we have seen ISIS fight conventional battles in Syria and in northern Iraq.  At different times in 2013 and 2014, ISIS captured all sorts of heavy military equipment from the Iraqi Army.  Previously, ISIS had captured a Syrian Air Force Base, with Migs sitting on the runway, fueled-up and ready to go.  We don't know what ISIS has done with all of the military booty that it has collected, although a good deal has been destroyed from coalition air attacks.  At the end of the day, ISIS is a very dangerous enemy; it can sneak up on you in the desert and it can give you hell fighting street-to-street.  We are very encouraged by the recent disciplined and united approach that the ISF and the PMUs are presenting as they methodically pound away at ISIS positions.

The Iraqi Parliament Council of Representatives have approved Speaker Salim al-Juburi's reforms, which were introduced on 11 August alongside Prime Minister Abadi's reform package.  On August 27, the Council of Representatives passed the Political Parties Law, which bans political parties from receiving foreign funding and maintaining paramilitary wings.  No doubt the later of the restrictions will be met with strong opposition by a number of the Shi'a parties, who are inseparable from particular militias.  The reform wave has also attempted to sweep up the Iraqi judiciary, but the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, Mehdat al-Mahmoud, an ally of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, vigorously defended its integrity.  Mahmoud has some clout, and he will certainly attempt to keep some level of influence in government for Maliki and his supporters.  Whether or not he will be able to keep the Iraqi Judiciary reform-free is another question altogether.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ukraine and Russian- backed Donbas separatists are negotiating a complete ceasefire to begin on September 1.

Link: Cease fire in Ukraine planned for 1 September.

Here we go again.  For the third time in the past two years, France and Germany have assisted in the crafting of a ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and Russian-backed Donbas separatists.  According to negotiators, the ceasefire is a blanket agreement in which both sides unilaterally agree to end the discharge of weapons in eastern Ukraine on September 1, 2015.  Up until the very minute of the announcement of the intended ceasefire, separatist forces had escalated attacks against Ukrainian troops, killing two soldiers less than ten miles outside of the strategic port city of Mariupol.  This attack comes one week after a separatist artillery barrage killed three civilians in a suburb of Mariupol.  On August 10, a separatist combined arms assault east of the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, in conjunction with an increase in separatist shelling of Ukrainian-held areas outside Mariupol, indicate that the Russian-backed separatists have set the table nicely for this most recent negotiated ceasefire.  You see, each time the negotiators reach the more difficult issues at hand, the separatists increase offensive activity, as a means of influencing the diplomatic proceedings.  By raising the level of military activity, the separatists are sending the clear message that they are nowhere near backing down, and it would be in Kiev's best interest to compromise.  You would think that after two ceasefires that were violated by the separatists almost immediately, that the Ukrainians and their European allies would be reticent to enter into another agreement.  But Poroshenko has absolutely no wiggle room.  Basically, he has to do what is told.  Without the support of France, Germany, and the United States, Poroshenko knows that Ukraine would be invaded by Russia in the blink of an eye.  The real question, which has been asked so many time over the past few decades and has never received an adequate explanation, is why the leaders of Europe are so intent on placating aggressive dictators who are fully intent on expansionist enterprises?

On September 1, the latest ceasefire (Minsk III?) will be implemented.  Because the provisions contained within are so favorable to the separatists, it is likely that we won't see a violation for some time.  You see, the new agreement calls for elections, and also mandates the establishment of a special self-management status for separatist-minded regions.  What is so fascinating is that until Russia started expressing real annoyance at Ukraine's insistence on being an independent nation, there was no "eastern Ukraine separatist movement".  For the past decade, Ukraine has tweaked Moscow's nose on a number of occasions, and the cozying up to NATO and the United States was probably the last straw (or was it the popular removal of a president who was acting as a Russian puppet?).  Putin didn't try and create a nationalist, pro-Russian movement in Crimea; he just gauged the complete lack of spine amongst the European leaders and the United States.  The annexation of Crimea was a marvelously orchestrated "fait d'accompli" on the part of Putin; but it did get the attention of the international community, so  justification had to be created for the biting off of eastern Ukraine.

I'm sure the OSCE will deploy observers whenever elections take place in the disputed regions, and no doubt the separatists will hound and harass them so that it is impossible to validate the electoral process.  Why will the separatists do this?  Because they can.  Even if the election observers were able to verify extensive electoral fraud, what would be the end result?  Nothing.  Probably within six months after the elections occur, the separatists will kick the military campaign back into gear, to swallow up the next piece of free Ukraine, which more than likely will include the city of Mariupol.  We will repeat the same process, with Merkel and Hollande pressuring Poroshenko to agree to more demands.  The only hope for a free and democratic Ukraine will be if the Ukrainian people rise up and remove Poroshenko, and replace him with someone who is willing to tell the west to go suck an egg.  Unfortunately, this will create the military environment that Putin is waiting for: an under-equipped Ukrainian military facing off against the Russian Armed Forces.  And the EU and the United States will stand back and say, "we tried to get the Ukrainians to negotiate, but they were determined to follow another course".   My prognostication is probably way off base, but it doesn't take Henry Kissinger to see that Putin has manipulated this crisis in a manner that guarantees some level of success.  God forbid that the European nations are ever faced with the decision to fight for their freedom, or become the slaves of a group like ISIS.  I fear for the decision that will be made.       

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Abadi encouraging continued anti-corruption, pro-reform demonstrations.

Link: Abadi serious about reforming Iraqi government.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has made it obvious that his attempts at reforming the Iraqi government aren't limited to sacking a few corrupt ministers and eliminating a redundant post or two.  Abadi is determined to reshape the government, and in doing so, will no doubt strengthen his own political base.  At the moment, Abadi is controlling the conversation, and has yet to meet with any focused opposition.  On 21-22 August, the Babil Provincial Government imposed a curfew to frustrate the efforts of demonstrators.  Abadi promptly ordered the Babil Operations Command to cancel the curfew, and ordered the Iraqi Army to provide security for the crowd.  Abadi has carefully maneuvered around a number of political minefields, as he plays the demonstrators off against his political rivals.  But Abadi has to be careful not to be lulled into a false sense of security.  As of today, popular and sometimes reactionary Shi'a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his followers (practically the entire population of the huge Shi'a slum to the northeast of Baghdad known as "Sadr City") to participate in Friday's anti-corruption demonstration in central Baghdad.  But Sadr has always been a wildcard, at times proving difficult even for his Iranian handlers to control.  Most political analysts are supportive of the Abadi reforms; the Iraqi government that evolved out of the ashes of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Ba'ath Party was often ineffectual, redundant and practically encouraged corruption.  So far, every step taken by Abadi will simplify the governing process, increase accountability, and safe money.  But when a government makes changes that result in financial savings, then someone isn't getting their "take".  The functionaries, civil servants and politicians who have made a living sucking on the teat of Iraqi corruption, will no doubt attempt to thwart Abadi, and opportunities to cause problems are plentiful.

The planned demonstration in central Baghdad on Friday, 28 August, will be the largest demonstration yet.  Not only will the Iraqi Police and related security forces have their hands full keeping ISIS SVBIEDs from crashing this party, but the potential for conflict between political groups is also a serious concern.  Sadr's people and the folks from Ahl-al Haq (League of the Righteous) may be protesting corruption together, but neither side will pass up a chance to make trouble for the other, and a huge public demonstration will provide ample opportunity.  Also, Maliki's supporters in Dawa and SLA (State of Law Alliance) can cause the Abadi Administration great embarrassment if the security arrangements go south.  Lets face it, Abadi has signed off on this demonstration, and he needs it to come off without too much drama.  Eventually, opposition to Abadi will coalesce, probably around Maliki; but by then, he may be too strong to defeat.

ISIS fighters continue to make the ISF pay a high price for every bit of ground gained in the neighborhoods of Ramadi.  The ISF has yet to puncture ISIS' main defensive perimeter around Ramadi, choosing to roll-up neighborhoods block-by-block, street-by-street.  True to their modus operandi, ISIS fights tooth-and-nail for territory, and then before retreating, they wire and booby-trap everything including stray dogs and urinals.  The Iraqi government is determined that when the actual residents of Ramadi return, they may find nothing but piles of rubble, but at least their won't be an IED hidden amongst the rubble.  While the attention of the world seems to be focused on Ramadi, ISIS continues to cause headaches in Baiji and probe Iraqi defenses in Haditha and Samarra.  ISIS has proven time and again, that it can conduct operations on numerous fronts simultaneously.  In the past, one of the reasons why ISIS has been able to survive high-profile defeats is because they are able to mount offensive operations simultaneously in other areas.  This type of strategic distraction has a habit of making the enemy take their eye of the ball, so to speak.  In the last few weeks, as the clashes around Ramadi and Fallujah have intensified, ISIS has been able to launch spectacular VBIED attacks in both Diyala Province and Baghdad.  The key for the Iraqi government, the military High Command, and the militias/Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), is to step up the pressure when ISIS conducts an operation aimed at distraction.  ISIS has been astonishingly effective at predicting the actions of the enemy, in both Syria and Iraq.  The goal of the offensive in Anbar which commenced in July, was the liberation of both Fallujah and Ramadi, followed by the breaking of the siege of Haditha.  Once the ISF and its allies reach this point, then they can turn north to Salad-ad-Din Province and Baiji, and roll-up isolated ISIS units along the way.

*(One more than a few occasions, we have been critical of the allied air campaign that President Barack Obama announced on June 15, 2014.  For an extended period of time, it appeared as if this united effort, which included the Air Forces of the United States, Kuwait, Iraq, U.A.E., Qatar and Bahrain, was severely handicapped by the political sensitivities of some of the Arab members.  One country would expressly forbid its jets to participate in the bombing a particular group, and another nation would forbid its planes to target some other group.  This development received a good deal of airtime in the western press; probably more than it actually deserved.  Be that as it may, there also seemed to be an ongoing problem getting real-time reporting on the actions of the allied air units.  But in the last two months, these issues seem to have been addressed, as the air campaign has really started to inflict serious casualties on ISIS, and successfully disrupt its attempts at movement and resupply.  The arrival of Iraqi Air Force F-16s has invigorated the Iraqis, and together these military air resources have become an invaluable part of the effort to push ISIS out of Anbar, and out of Iraq altogether.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Iraqi Security Forces prepare for final push to retake Ramadi, as ISIS continues use of suicide bombers.

Links: A. ISIS suicide attacks target ISF forces in eastern Ramadi.
           B. ISF prepares final push to retake Ramadi.

In early July, the Iraqi government announced with a bit of fanfare that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), alongside the Shi'a militias/Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), would begin a military offensive dedicated to liberating Anbar Province from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).  Almost simultaneously, ISIS increased random fire and SVBIED attacks in Diyala and Salah ad-Din Provinces, to distract from the ISF operation in Anbar, and to encourage Provincial Administrations to request a return of their troops from the Ramadi front.  The Iraqi government has faced a great deal of pressure because of the time it has taken to liberate both Ramadi and Fallujah.  In reality, the ISF and the PMUs have rationally adhered to the strategic plan originally agreed upon, which requires the removal of all explosives and booby traps, so that the civilian population of Ramadi that has been living in exile in Baghdad, can return in safety.  Also, the ISF, which consists of both special police units and the Iraqi Army, has been very deliberate in its movements, taking care to consolidate all strategic gains and discourage a return by ISIS.  The Iraqi people have been subject before to the occupation by ISIS, liberation, and re-occupation by ISIS, and it is important that the groundwork is laid to make the departure of ISIS permanent.  On Sunday, ISIS launched SVBIED attacks and fired artillery at ISF positions, killing 17 soldiers and 6 Sunni militiamen.  The ISF responded with heavy shelling of ISIS positions, alongside what has become a stepped-up presence by the allied air coalition, which has left ISIS occupied areas of the city in rubble.  Also, as mentioned in Link A, a major commander in the Iraqi Army serving on the Anbar front, was removed from duty by officials in Baghdad.  The announcement from the government would only comment that the general in question was guilty of dereliction of duty.

On Saturday, the Iraqi government has announced the formation of a joint police and Iraqi Army force, 10,000 strong, to renew the offensive to liberate Iraq.  Plans to transfer these troops to Anbar had been underway for some time, and the second wave of the offensive which began in July, was about to commence.  Some neighborhoods in eastern Ramadi have become intense battlegrounds, as city blocks change hands repeatedly.  In particular, ISIS has focused its attention on retaking the Husaibiya District, but so far its efforts have been unsuccessful.  The Iraqi military command is optimistic that the increase in troops will help the ISF to overwhelm ISIS positions in relatively short order, and that within the next few weeks, the ISF will be able to focus its operations on completing the liberation of Fallujah; presently, ISIS positions in Fallujah are under intense pressure from allied air attacks and regular attacks from the PMUs. 

Iraqi civilians in Baghdad are increasing pressure on the government for the relief of Haditha, which is located to the northwest of Ramadi, and has been under siege by ISIS since mid-July.  Up to now, the city has withstood the attempts at occupation by ISIS forces, and any positive developments from eastern Anbar can only increase pressure on ISIS to take Haditha, which they publicly declared as a target in July. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Kurdish politics, and other confusing headaches.

Links: A. Kurdish political parties trying to resolve presidential debate.
           B. Wikipedia entry for Peshmerga.
           C. Wikipedia entry for PKK.

During my career, I was fortunate enough to work closely with representatives of both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).  In 2003 and 2004, the opposing Kurdish political parties had set aside much of their differences, at least in Baghdad, for the best interests of the greater Iraqi Kurdish community.  Both groups were represented by well-educated, deferential, hard-working people, who were tremendously supportive of the United States and our military forces in particular.  I remember that the PUK had taken possession of two large, adjoining compounds in the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad, which they utilized for a variety of purposes, including regular meetings with representatives of U.S. government agencies.  Jalal Talabani, founder and leader of the PUK, maintained a much more elaborate residence in Baghdad, closer to the Karada neighborhood.  My initial visit to the PUK compound brought me into contact with Peshmerga (Kurdish for "one who confronts death") for the first, but certainly not the last time.  The Peshmerga are the military forces for the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan; they attempt to maintain a non-aligned posture with regards to the PUK and KDP, who have, at times, really had a go at each other.  Although I've never seen a female Peshmerga, I've been told that they exist.  This group represents the type of self-reliant, hardy, low-maintenance soldier that we don't see much anymore.  They are brave, well-trained, and move together flawlessly when operational.  That being said, I wouldn't invite them to a candlelight dinner party.  From my experience (forgive the stereotyping), they stink, and although not rude, normally haven't picked up much in the way of manners.  I wrote in my book about a meeting I had once at the PUK house, where we discovered two Peshmerga asleep under the table because of the volume and frequency of their farts.  Aside from the U.S. Armed Forces, I can't think of any group that I would want fighting by my side more than the Peshmerga.

I have at times been accused of being biased towards the Kurds.  I am guilty as charged.  I have no qualms about admitting that I support the Kurdish struggle for an independent homeland.  As a people, they are kind, generous, welcoming, hard-working and very family-oriented.  They can also hold a grudge for a very long, long time.  The majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslim, but the manner of worship in the Kurdish community, regardless of affiliation, is much different than what is normally observed in the Arab world.  Kurds are private about their religious observations, although most Kurds are very observant of Islamic obligations.  They go about their business in such a way as to not draw attention to themselves.  This is a true example of a community that values the private nature of its religious identity.  Sure, the majority are Sunni Muslim, but they don't advocate the use of shura to settle every issue, nor do they feel this automatic disconnect with Christians and Jews.  I understand the reasoning behind keeping Iraq united.  If the Kurds were granted a homeland in northern Iraq, the rest of the country would be in danger of disintegration.  Maybe its time for that disintegration to take place, given that the area that was once known as Babylon, then Mesopotamia, and now Iraq, has not made a great success of ethnic integration.  It might happen with or without the Kurds, especially if the majority Shi'a continue to assert themselves and the Sunni start to consider life inside the Islamic Republic of Iraq.

Turkey's recent decision to end the de-facto cease fire with the quasi-military organization the Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK), has been a reminder that the ISIS crisis is one of a number of unresolved conflicts in this part of the world, that sit just under the skin, waiting to erupt again.  Northern Syria is home to a substantial number of ethnic Kurds, and the anti-ISIS coalition has benefitted tremendously from their willingness to stand up and defend their own communities.  Even the Turks have benefitted, as Ankara is not keen about having ISIS as a direct neighbor.  But the Turks are experts at separating one group of Kurds from another.  According to Ankara, the Syrian Kurds who fight ISIS tooth-and-nail are not connected to the "terrorist" PKK.  Turkey's decision to conduct bombing sorties against suspected PKK locations was a naked political move on the part of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to energize anti-Kurd elements in Turkey before pivotal fall elections.  Not surprisingly, many in the Turkish electorate will scream for vengeance regarding three Turkish soldiers killed in a PKK attack, and not think twice about the Kurds whose murder precipitated the retaliatory ambush.  All the while, the Kurdistan Parliament, which sits in Arbil, is struggling with the never-ending debate over the office of President. The current office-holder, President Masoud Barzani, is the head of the KDP.  In 2009, Barzani was elected with 69.9 % of the vote, and in 2013, the parliament decided to extend his term until 2015.  The five major Kurdish political parties were attempting to resolve the issue of succession, but failed before Barzani's term expired on August 20.  Believe me, Kurdish politics can get very complicated. Its imperative that Kurdistan present a united front, given the renewed trouble with Turkey and the continuing war against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.  The PDK will argue for another extension for Barzani, which, for political expediency, will be supported by the PUK.  The remaining parties do not represent enough votes to budge a joint KDP/PUK effort.  Expect the Kurdistan Parliament to extend Barzani's term to 2017, when it meets to debate the issue on August 23. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

France, Germany pressure Kiev to grant autonomy to separatists, as conflict escalates.

Link: Poroshenko meets with Hollande, Merkel in Berlin.

Today, Ukrainian President Poroshenko traveled to Berlin for consultations with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande to discuss the rapidly unravelling "Minsk II" accord.  As anticipated, in recent days, separatist forces have launched numerous attacks against Ukrainian positions.  On August 10, separatists used tanks and heavy artillery in an attack on Ukrainian forces 20 kilometers east of the Donetsk-Mariupol Highway, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring installations continue to track "Grad" multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) strikes along much of the frontline in Donetsk Oblast.  On August 16, separatists launched an artillery barrage on the northeastern outskirts of Mariupol.  It is widely suspected that the upturn in violence is an effort on the part of the separatists to influence Kiev, as negotiations continue in Minsk and now also in Berlin.  The Russian-backed separatists hope that the more pessimistic the current military situation appears, the more likely that Kiev will be more flexible when it comes to negotiating the issue of autonomy for Donbas.

It is also widely accepted that both Hollande and Merkel will pressure Poroshenko to yield on the issue of autonomy for Donbas.  Again, just another example of the complete lack of conviction and courage on the part of European leaders when faced with military aggression.  If history has taught us anything, it is that a bully, regardless of the size of the playground, will continue to terrorize until he is confronted by a united opposition.  Poroshenko has no choice but to follow the advice of his benefactors (I would include President Obama on this list, but I'm not really sure where he has been lately...probably putting the final touches on his Amnesty Executive Order Action); without the continued support of Europe and the United States, Ukraine would be totally occupied by the Russian Army by the end of next week.  Back to the present: if Poroshenko grants autonomy to Donbas (without a plebiscite, mind you....shades of Austria, 1938), no doubt the separatists and Russia will control whatever elections come next, and those "elected" will uniformly support the annexation of Donbas by Russia.  Remember this blog post from August 21, 2015: if Poroshenko approves any form of autonomy for sections of Eastern Ukraine, those areas will eventually be swallowed up by Russia, a la Crimea.

Why are the European leaders so reticent to militarily confront Putin?  They must realize that this is a problem they will be forced to deal with sooner or later, and later will always be more difficult.  If the EU decided to support Ukraine militarily, and German, Polish, French and Italian Air Forces enforced a no-fly zone over Ukraine, Putin would be obliged to either back off, or actually go to war.  I don't believe the Russian Air Force is in any state of readiness to confront the combined Air resources of Europe and the United States.  Also, why not "loan" Ukraine a few hundred LeClerc Heavy Battle Tanks, and maybe a few Leopard as well.  This will be akin to the leaders of free and democratic Europe drawing a line in the dirt, and telling Putin, "you've gone far enough; don't cross this line".  If I were Poroshenko, I would ask Hollande to imagine what it must have been like for France when Germany "stole" Alsace-Lorraine in 1871?  Or remind Chancellor Merkel of Russia's stranglehold on East Germany.  Allowing a foreign country to invade and occupy Ukrainian territory should be unacceptable not only to Poroshenko, but to the EU as well.  Our position on this issue is not unique; many other blogs and learned analysts are warning that Russia will not stop its efforts at expansion with the annexation of Donbas, anymore than Putin quit with Crimea (which, considering how little it is mentioned by Hollande and Merkel, is obviously a Fait Accompli).  When will they learn?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Anti-regime forces target northwest Syria, Alawite community, and Assad's hometown of Qardaha.

Link: A. Anti-regime elements put pressure on Assad stronghold.
         B. Wikipedia definition of Alawite.

For the third time in three years, anti-regime forces are putting pressure on pro-Assad strongholds in northwest Syria, including the port city of Latakia and Assad's ancestral home at the base of the Coastal Mountain Range, Qardaha.  Regime forces, who have heavily fortified local communities and strategic passes and transportation avenues, have seen a marked increase in free-fire and missile attacks from Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Islamic State for Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).  The former two groups do not make use of SVBIEDs and similar weapons, at least not to the extent that has been demonstrated by ISIS.  Be that as it may, these groups currently share a common enemy, and have no compunction to piggy-back on one-another's successful military encounters.  On many occasions, regime forces have little identifiable knowledge regarding their adversaries, until after the encounter has concluded.  Both previous operations by anti-regime elements in northwest Syria did not succeed in dislodging Assad's forces, but ISIS units were present long enough to go about their usual agenda, de-populating communities of anyone seen as an infidel or an enemy to the cause.  In some instances, entire towns disappeared.  Northwest Syria is home to a number of Shi'a communities, most prominently the Alawites, who practice a highly controversial vein of Shi'a Islam (see Link B).  No doubt, the Alawites do not fit into the demographic plans of the ISIS Caliphate, which promises to be an extremist singularly Sunni affair.

The Alawites, like the Druze community, have found a relatively safe country in Syria to practice their faith without pogroms, that is until the arrival of ISIS.  Both the Alawites and the Druze support de-facto Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, as they supported his father Hafez before him.  The Assad regimes have allowed the two unique communities to more-or-less flourish, without any targeting by the established religious community.  In fact, Syria is also home to numerous Christian communities, especially in and around Damascus.  These groups and their leaders consider Assad to be their protector.  Unfortunately, the Alawites may be forced to re-assess that designation, if this third attempt by anti-regime forces to reach the Mediterranean Sea is successful.  Understandably, the Alawites have been very vocal regarding the need for an increased military presence in the northwest, especially around the strategic al-Ghab plain of Hama Province.  In the past few weeks heavy fighting has moved onto the al-Ghab plain, threatening the command and control node of both the Syrian Arab Army and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), located in the town of Joureen.  Obviously Assad and his military commanders recognize the importance of Hama Province and the northwest, especially in light of the overall negative direction of the war to date.  Regime forces have suffered one defeat after another, usually east of the Anti-Lebanon Mountain Range and in the more isolated communities of Syria.  The loss of Latakia and the al-Ghab plain might bring a split with the Alawite community, and leave Assad with one less dependable ally.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why Bashir al-Assad will not leave Syria on his own accord.

Link: New Syria peace plan focuses on ISIS, not Assad.

The reality of the situation obliges us to concur with the latest statement from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) regarding the current crisis in Syria.  All groups involved in the Syrian conflict who are opposed to wanton slaughter and the execution of countless innocent men, women and children, must form a line behind one banner.  The movement known as the Islamic State for Iraq and al-Sham has started developing long tentacles, which are reaching out of the Middle East and into Africa, South America, Asia and Europe. No doubt ISIS has its supporters in the United States as well, given that the freedoms and civil liberties that Americans hold so dear, can also put them at risk.  Does ISIS have dangerous sleeper cells in position in U.S. cities, or are its supporters limited to the odd deranged individual with access to a firearm?  I'm sure the FBI and CIA have opinions on the matter, but it may not make a difference.  If ISIS continues to grow, then its presence in the United States will be only a question of time.  In the past, the UNSC has connected the removal of Bashir al-Assad to the issue of peace in Syria, which gave serious heartburn to both China and Russia.  I guess the UN decided that a united front in defeating ISIS is more important than Assad, and we agree.  What has puzzled many people is why Assad hasn't already collected his family and his ill-gotten loot, and bugged out?  The answer isn't very complicated.

Bashir al-Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, was Prime Minister of Syria from 1970 to 1971, and President from 1971 until his death in June, 2000.  Hafez was the epitome of an Arab strongman, and he built a political support network that did not continence internal dissention.  His tool of construction was the Syrian Arab Ba'ath Party, sister organization to Saddam Hussein's Iraqi Ba'ath Party, although the two eventually evolved into completely independent and disconnected movements.  Anyone who wanted to be successful in Iraq needed to be a member of the Ba'ath Party.  Hafez' son and successor, Bashir al-Assad, recognized a good thing, and continued to rely on the party.  Today Damascus is choked with Ba'ath Party members, whose safety in other Syrian cities was jeopardized by the swift advance of ISIS.  The number of Syrian civil servants and functionaries who belong to the Ba'ath Party must be in the thousands, and many of these individuals are retired, and still support their families on their pensions.  Its no secret that both Hafez and Bashir controlled an effective intelligence service, which was quick to act against anything perceived to be a "threat to the state."  Many Syrians, both innocent and guilty, fell victim to the aggressive actions of the Syrian police and intelligence service.  If Bashir were to leave Syria, he wouldn't be able to fit all his remaining loyal subjects into his suitcase, and those that are forced to remain behind will no doubt suffer the vengeance of the wronged and their family members.

But as altruistic as Bashir al-Assad may be, I don't think his reason for staying put has anything to do with the thousands of Ba'ath Party folks left over from the good ol' days.  Assad still controls Damascus, and if he were to leave, the city would probably be occupied by a United Nations peacekeeping force of some kind, at least until the situation in the rest of the country could be sorted out.  I would hope that the UN wouldn't allow ISIS to sweep in uncontested and take control of the capital city.  Now that we think about it, if Assad were to high-tale it out of Syria overnight, does the International Community have a plan of action to keep Damascus and its millions of innocent civilians safe from ISIS?  Another question that we are unable to answer.  But Assad has been hesitant to leave because of his family's connections to all parts of Syrian society.  If a forensic team were allowed to review the financial habits of both Assad regimes, they would likely uncover theft that dwarfs what Mobutu Sese-Seko was able to accumulate in Zaire.  And since the world and its financial markets and banks have become much more closely connected, the International Court in the Hague would undoubtedly move to freeze all the mysterious bank accounts registered to members of the extended Assad family.  I assume that Bashir and his cronies have attempted to cover as much as they can, because sooner or later, he will have to leave.  The freezing of international bank accounts would only be a part of the potentially disastrous results of a forensic audit of the Syrian Treasury, National Bank, and foreign investments.  Assad would be powerless to stop the flow of information implicating his family in every kind of graft possible.  In all seriousness, the Assad family ran Syria as if it were a family enterprise.  Assad's family will have to live somewhere (I can't imagine any staying in Syria if he leaves), and they will be hounded forever by a legacy of greed and gluttony unparalleled in our time.

We believe that Assad continues to look for a solution that will allow him to keep some semblance of authority in Syria, so that his family dirty laundry is aired, and the international bank accounts confiscated.  In the best interests of the Syrian people, some consideration should be given to an arrangement with Assad for the safe evacuation of his family, a retirement to some dacha in Russia and a life of comfort, in exchange for returning all the dough.  Another factor to consider: Assad is a bit of a megalomaniac; he is missing his father's pragmatic nature, and he doesn't want to lose.  I can't imagine that Bashir has ever lost at anything.  If he takes a close look at a map, he mas to realize that his control is limited to a small stretch of land in far western Syria, and the area around the capital.  We believe that Assad is playing a waiting game, hopeful that the United States, Europe, China and Russia will decide that he should be part of the solution to the ISIS problem.  He is counting on Russia and China to save his neck.  After today and the UNSC statement, he might just end up surviving after all.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Iraqi parliament blames loss of Mosul to ISIS on Maliki; ISF making slow progress in its operations to retake Ramadi.

Links: A. Maliki to blame for loss of Mosul to ISIS.
           B. Operation to retake Ramadi continues.

On Monday, an Iraqi Parliamentary panel recommended that former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki face trial regarding his actions during the ISIS operation to take Mosul last year.  In particular, the panel pointed out that Maliki fanned sectarian tensions, which encouraged many Iraqi Sunnis in Mosul to welcome ISIS.  The panel's recommendation comes on the heels of another administrative shake-up in the government, as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi eliminated eleven ministerial posts, reducing the size of the cabinet by a third.  Last week, Abadi proposed the elimination of the offices of Deputy Prime Minister and Vice President, currently held my Maliki.  Abadi's efforts to slim-down the Iraqi government are an effort to eliminate redundancy and corruption, as the country continues to experience protests in all the major cities.  Instead of attacking one political party or the other, these protests are focused on changing the mindset of Iraqi politics, and ending the tradition of patronage, bribery, nepotism, and other forms of corruption that have long been part of all levels of government.  The focus isn't singularly on the cabinet level positions, as calls are made for changes in provincial and local governmental structure as well.  Abadi is prudent to respond with examples of real reform, as up to now the proposed changes will only strengthen the position of President.  The Iraqi political system has complicated government efforts to recruit, train and deploy troops, as each separate province looks to redefine its own authority.

There has been little news from Ramadi in recent days, as questions are raised about the probability of success in the operation.  The Iraqi Security Forces, which include the Army and the Police, have been careful to consolidate gains and search for booby traps before deciding to push forward.  In the past, initial successes have been followed up by a number of high-casualty incidents involving booby traps and other explosives.  The ISF and its allies in the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) vastly outnumber the ISIS fighters in Ramadi and Fallujah.  Some estimates have the total number of ISIS personnel in Anbar Province to be less than 10,000.  ISIS multiplies its effectiveness through unconventional warfare, especially the use of SVBIEDS- suicide vehicular bombs/improvised explosive device.  Again, the effort to retake Ramadi and Fallujah, and also consolidate its position in Baiji, includes the methodical inspection of all vehicles, to prevent an SVBIED attack from succeeding.  The detailed, organized approach to this offensive may be an indication that the Iraqi leaders intend to push ISIS out of Anbar Province completely.  The events of the next week will be a strong indication of just how much progress has been made.  Keep in mind, ISIS continues to press home its attacks on Haditha, whose fall would be a serious blow to the Iraqi Sunni community, if not necessarily strategically important.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

ISIS reaches new depths of barbarism and depravity, as jihadis and U.S. college students take notes.

Link: American Kayla Mueller assaulted by al-Baghdadi.

Recently, while walking through a University campus in Austin, Texas, I stumbled upon an anti-military demonstration involving students. The students were protesting a number of issues, including the presence of the ROTC program in public schools and the U.S. intelligence community's ongoing efforts to combat Islamic terrorism.  One young man with an opposing perspective was engaging the protesters in a polite discussion of the issues, so I stood around on the periphery and listened.  After roughly twenty minutes, I moved on to my appointment.  Honestly, I didn't hear anything new from either side.  But I continue to be amazed at the level of ignorance demonstrated by so many university-level young people today.  These thirty to forty protesters were arguing that the actions of the United States, both past and present, were the root cause of the violence committed by Al-Qaeda, ISIS, El Sendero Luminoso, Abu Sayyaf, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and all the rest.  According to these scholars of American history, the United States had a pattern of aggressively exporting its own ideology to foreign lands, sometimes at the end of a gun barrel, and that we were reaping the fruits of prior Administration's efforts at economic colonialism.  What is "economic colonialism" as opposed to regular, ol' colonialism?  Economic colonialism occurs when the modern and wealthy nation with a huge military forces the smaller, developing country to welcome American business and companies.  Before you can say "Dole Pineapples and Bananas", these powerful American companies were exploiting the natural resources of the smaller nation and misusing its labor force.  In Bolivia, we supported the silver mines, which introduced child labor and chronic pulmonary illnesses in the local community.  In Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, our drug-addicted society forced these developing economies to become dependent upon exporting cocaine, until one day we changed our mind and demanded that the governments put the cocoa farmers in jail and burn their crops.  We all know about the poppy fields in Afghanistan, and of course our support of Israel has kept the Arab community from having any chance whatsoever of thriving.  Therefore, its no wonder that the terrorists want to kill us.

I am nobody's apologist, and this blog is not designed to tackle the heavy subject of "American Economic Imperialism".  I do believe, however, that any debt owed by the United States, has been paid in great excess by the blood sacrificed to rid the world of German, Italian and Japanese fascism.  I will also point out the tremendously positive impact of the technological advances pioneered by the United States, and the regular massive amount of international financial aid the is distributed in U.S. Dollars.  It has also been American intellect, ingenuity and money that put a man on the moon and a spacecraft traveling to the very edge of our own galaxy.  But this counts for nothing in the minds of certain people.  They exist solely to search for communal guilt in one form or another.  What really disturbs me is how out-of-touch so many young people are in the United States in Europe, when it comes to the inhuman and criminal actions of ISIS.  In fact, the under-20 years old generation doesn't remember the events of September 11, 2001, when almost three thousand innocent Americans were incinerated by terrorists no-doubt avenging some "wrong" committed against them by the United States.  I can forgive young people for not remembering 9-11, but all you need to do is turn on the news to get a dose of what has to be the most heinous displays of beheadings and executions that I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.  Everyday, the media wing of ISIS gets to work on its latest batch of video releases to the appalled but voyeuristic western nations.  The cancer that grew from the ashes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, pretends to be a political movement in search of an Islamic Caliphate.  In truth, it is a killing machine, that has learned how to turn subjugation and torture into an art form.  These people don't represent some "offended" or "abused" community; they exist to spread their brand of vile Islamic extremism to the entire world, not just the Levant.  If ISIS were only interested in the Levant, then why are they in Africa, and in Yemen, and Indonesia and the Philippines?  These students who were "ashamed" that our Air Force was leading the allied air coalition against ISIS, would be the first to lose their heads if ISIS had their way.  But not until they had been tortured as victimized in ways that until now were unknown to our species.

Apologists for terrorism love to compare the actions of Islamic Extremists to the Inquisition conducted by the Catholic Church so many centuries ago, and to the Crusades that were organized and financed for the purpose of keeping Jerusalem and its environs in the hands of Christians, not Muslims.  History is replete with examples of religious conflict in the Christian community. But the point is, we make the point to leave that barbarity in the past, and respect our fellow man's religious choices.  ISIS is attempting to take us back to the middle ages, when people were executed for their religious persuasion.  But lest you start to think that ISIS' motivation has to do with expanding the teachings of the Prophet, take a look at some of the extra curricular activities of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his flock of Himmlers and Heydrichs.  Anyone accused of homosexual activity will be tortured and executed, many times bring thrown from the roof of buildings.  Single pregnant females are also subject to execution.  All the while, al-Baghdadi and his thugs ignore all the basic tenets of Islam.  Both male and female prisoners and hostages are routinely raped, and the hashish pipe has been known to make an appearance or two during down time.  Any bit of luxury that can be obtained out in the middle of the Syrian desert, has found its way to al-Baghdadi's quarters.  The money that is raised to support ISIS comes from a variety of sources, including oil.  But is also comes from the smuggling of both women (girls, actually) and merchandise.  And there is nothing in the Koran about the continual mass-executions of thousands of innocent people.  There is no forgiveness with ISIS, or the opportunity for repentance, which is a major pillar of the Koran and Islam.

So if they really aren't representing Islam, then who are they?  ISIS is evil incarnate, my friends.  No matter how many years you have on this earth, you will never see anything so black and devoid of compassion and goodness.  I have so much empathy for the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, who have lived long enough to see the emergence of something worse.  The people who are driving the bus, al-Baghdadi and his supporters, want to see you and your entire family dead.  I'm taking this threat seriously, but is the Obama Administration?  Not by a longshot.  Its all about politics, and President Obama is strictly in "Legacy Mode" right now.  He's gearing up for his last, great use of Executive Action.  Before he leaves office, he will sign into law an Amnesty plan that allows the roughly twenty million ethnic Mexican illegal aliens living in the United States, the opportunity to become citizens.  Not Resident Aliens.  And why not?  Because Green Card Holders can't vote.  President Obama's lasting legacy will be his attempt to turn the United States into a one-party state.  So ISIS has kinda fallen off the radar.  Just let Hillary deal with it.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Link: ISIS stakes its claim to Libya.

Libya provides the most glaring example of the complete non-existence of proactive thinking on the part of the Obama Administration.  As Qaddafi was close to recapturing Benghazi, David Cameron and allies, including Barack Obama, elected to use Tomahawk missiles to prevent the city from falling back under regime control.  What was so wrong with regime control, anyway?  Hadn't Qaddafi displayed an increasing willingness to open up his country and his economic system to change?  Wasn't Libya a reasonably wealthy Arab country, where Libyans could still enjoy some modicum of quality of life?  Well, we intervened, Qaddafi was intercepted moving from one location to another and executed, and we did.....nothing.  Libya didn't descend into hell overnight.  The people celebrated for a week or so, and various temporary governments were set up, usually compromised of academics and human rights activists.  As of August, 2015, Libya has become a battlefield between so many different militias and jihadist factions that its not worth your while trying to separate them all.  Towns change occupiers by the day, as two rival governments sit in separate former capital cities, each claiming administrative and diplomatic authority over what was once called the Islamic Republic of Libya.  Why has the West been so reticent to get involved, especially after basically being the harbinger of Qaddafi's end?  Obviously the United States maintained some modest presence in Benghazi, otherwise, how would a random gang of Islamic Extremists find a U.S. Ambassador and four Department of Defense employees to torture and murder?  The real tragedy, is that the Administration was aware of the unstable nature of the situation in Benghazi, yet no exfil plan existed in emergency circumstances.  To former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not having an exfil plan is a small issue; it only cost the life of five Americans.  What should be a glaring gap in U.S. foreign policy is the complete lack of a coherent strategy to support democratic growth in Libya.  We are supposed to support the good guys, remember?  The ones who support freedom of religion, speech, and the establishment of a fair and all-inclusive Constitution?  I see nothing happening in Libya that is not instigated by militias and jihadists.  I don't see the French or the British anywhere, and I certainly don't see the United States.  Barack Obama was in Africa last week, but he skipped over Libya and landed in Kenya.  I hope he was able to visit some of the relatives he has living in the slums of Kibera.

Last week, a militia loyal to Al-Qaeda actually retook the town of Derna from ISIS, and according to the New Yorker (see link), executed the ISIS commander.  What a choice for a dinner guest....ISIS or Al-Qaeda.  Even with the temporary setback at Derna, ISIS has shown real strength in Libya, occupying Qaddafi's home town of Sirte and threatening Misrata.  More importantly to western petroleum interests, ISIS is also making inroads in Libya's "Oil Crescent"; maybe ISIS will start exporting oil from Libya first, as opposed to Baiji in Iraq, what has been the popular concern.  As the well-written and detail-heavy link explains, Libya has not been a functioning state since the death of Qaddafi, and today, any number of militias and extremist groups are having at each other, increasing the suffering of the average Libyan beyond belief.  Do we have a plan to provide aid to the needy people of Libya?  Absolutely not, because the country is thick with heavily armed teenagers with itchy trigger fingers.  Nothing useful can be accomplished without force.  In the past, the West has shown much more flexibility in these situations, deploying coalition forces to bring aid to the needy.  But we have returned to the thought process that saving Libyan lives is not worth putting at risk any American or European soldiers.  But the movers and shakers in DC, Paris, London and Den Hague may have to reconsider their position, as the complete breakdown in authority has allowed Libya to become the easiest transit route for African immigrants to reach Europe.  Even though ISIS kills any African Christian it gets its hands on, they will continue to come, in even greater numbers.  By this time next year, Italy will be facing a humanitarian crisis.  We recognize this, but is anyone doing anything?

Egypt and Tunisia are well-aware of the reach of ISIS, and both North African countries have take concrete steps to militarize their borders with Libya.  The Egyptians and Tunisians will be successful to a degree in keeping their beaches and tourist hotels safe, but they will also be enclosing all the African refugees and innocent Libyans.  May God protect the Christians, homosexuals, open-minded students, pregnant and single women, and human rights activists of Libya, who will be soon become the hunted.  How much responsibility does the West deserve for this development?  Not much, except for those Tomahawk missiles, which for all practical purposes, removed one stable government in favor of a new political matrix, which has yet to fully show itself. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Update on military developments in Anbar and Diyala Provinces, Iraq; Ayatollah Sistani continues providing vital support for PM Abadi's reforms.

Links: A. ISIS claims responsibility for deadly attacks in Diyala.
           B. Iraq Parliament votes in support of Abadi's reforms, abolishing Maliki's post.
           C. Allied air attacks hit ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.

In the last week, ISIS has demonstrated both its ability and determination to continue terrorizing the people of Diyala Province with SVBIED attacks.  On Monday at a market in Huwaider, at least 58 persons were killed by an ISIS terror attack, which comes on the heels of last months attacks which killed over 115 people.  ISIS has chosen the SVBIED as the most effective method of delivering terror because of its relatively cheap cost and the ease with which an attack can be planned.  All that is needed is a vehicle, explosives, and a lunatic suicide driver/bomber to deliver the carnage.  Given the plethora of vehicles of all varieties that choke the roads of Iraq's cities and towns, it is very difficult for security officials to intercept these attacks before its too late.  People are very enterprising.  In Kosovo, I once a saw a washing machine that had been turned into a vehicle with the edition of a drive train, four wheels, gas tank, and a small tractor engine.  Some of the interesting patched-together vehicles I saw in Iraq were just as unique, as people make do with what equipment is at hand.  If the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were to stop and inspect every vehicle that looked unusual, traffic would come to a standstill.  ISIS has found its method of choice for delivering terror, and it appears that the only way to eradicate the problem is to remove ISIS.

No doubt ISIS continues its reign of terror in Diyala in an effort to force the government to remove troops from the Anbar front for duty in other Provinces.  Although the ISF expected ISIS to contest Ramadi to the last, the government and the General Staff expected the city to have fallen by now.  In fact, it appears as if the ISF has been able to make no progress in Ramadi over the past few weeks, which will only increase calls from the Provinces to return soldiers for local use.  As the ISF struggles outside Ramadi, the Badr Organization, one of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) attempting to encircle Fallujah, has also been unable to close the deal.  ISIS would like nothing more than to see units from the ISF Ramadi front withdrawn to Diyala, alongside the Badr Organization outside Fallujah.  From the beginning of the Anbar offensive, ISIS made clear that it was developing Diyala as a secondary front, to distract the ISF and PMUs from their operational goals.  They may just succeed with their intention, as the attempts to retake Ramadi and Fallujah meet stiff resistance.  On July 26, the ISF recaptured Anbar University.  However, four weeks into the operation, the government forces have failed to make inroads into Ramadi itself.  By contrast, during the operation to retake Tikrit, the goal was accomplished within four weeks.

On a positive note, Grand Ayatollah Sistani continues to lend his support to the Abadi government, as it moves to institute political reforms approved by the Iraqi Parliament.  Included in these reforms is the abolition of the posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Vice President.  Given that Nouri al-Maliki was Iraq's Vice President, and he had been using his position as a bully puppet to denounce the government, Abadi's success at pushing these reforms through the sticky Iraqi political system is quite an achievement.  All things being equal, which they never are in this part of the world, Abadi should be able to consolidate his victory by unifying the Shi'a political movement and using the Parliamentary vote of confidence and Sistani's approval, to continue conducting the war as he believes is best.  Abadi has been very careful with regards to conducting military operations.  Unlike Maliki, who wouldn't hesitate to involve himself in military matters, Abadi seems content to let the General Staff and their U.S. advisors formulate the plans to defeat ISIS.  As a bit of a balancing act, Abadi has allowed the Iranian advisors currently embedded with the PMUs, to provide aggressive strategic counseling.  We have been waiting patiently for word of the allied air campaign and its efforts regarding the Anbar offensive, but updates have been sporadic at best.  Link C mentions a number of attacks approved by the Iraqi government and conducted in early August, but given that ISIS has no Air Force, why hasn't the allied air campaign flattened ISIS positions in Ramadi?  Has ISIS blended in with the local community, in order to discourage air attacks?  What of the new Iraqi F-16s delivered last month?  Have any Iraqi pilots been operational with these new fighters?

We can hope that the quick response by the Iraqi Parliament and the continued support by a variety of Shi'a leaders will allow Abadi to move forward from this political victory, and lead the military to re-energize itself in the battles to retake Ramadi and Fallujah.  No news from Haditha, where the local population is faced with daily random free-fire and artillery attacks from ISIS; as the offensive in Anbar continues to target Fallujah and Ramadi, ISIS focuses on secondary fronts in Haditha, and in Diyala and other Provinces, in an attempt to force the Iraqi government to return troops to their Provincial bases.  Abadi must stay strong and not dilute his forces, which will almost certainly allow for the Ramadi front to evolve into a stalemate.  The ISF must find the resolve (and, ideally, reinforcements) to push through and take both targets, which will logically lead to the relief of Haditha, and make it more difficult for ISIS to provide resources for continued attacks in the eastern Provinces.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Shi'a in Iraq in conflict as reforms being introduced by Abadi threaten to create a schism within the community.

It was too good to be true.  The Americans were leaving, the Iraqi government was controlled by the Shi'a political parties, and the crisis involving the Islamic State was providing an opportunity for even more direct Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs.  For all practical purposes, it appeared as if the Iranians, supported by the majority Shi'a population, might be able to mold the new Iraq into a client state, under the guise of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI).  But as we have seen played out time and time again in politics, success breeds jealousy and corruption.  Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, with the all-important support of Shi'a Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has decided that the time has come to enact sweeping political reforms and to reshuffle his cabinet.  In particular, Abadi is asking for Parliamentary approval to remove the positions of Deputy Prime Minister and Vice President.  Since the current Vice President is former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Abadi is, for all practical purposes, calling for a Civil War within the Iraqi Shi'a community, to determine if the future will be under his guidance, or under the leadership of Maliki.  The timing is not ideal, as the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the Shi'a militias/Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) are currently throwing everything but the kitchen sink at ISIS in Anbar Province, to attempt to dislodge the terrorists from Fallujah and Ramadi once and for all.  Iraqi allies in Washington DC and Europe are becoming more and more concerned everyday with the length of time it is taking to push ISIS back into the western deserts of Anbar.  If the military campaign fails, it will send warning signals all the way to Diyala Province and down to Basra, that the ISF and the PMUs have lost the battlefield, and that Baghdad is at serious risk.  Would Maliki handle the military situation better than Abadi has?  Would the Shi'a unite more effectively under one as opposed to the other?  Sistani, who has always wielded tremendous influence in the Iraqi Shi'a community, has thrown his entire weight behind Abadi, and still the situation seems unresolved.

Last month, we wrote a post regarding former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's not-so discrete efforts to discredit the Abadi government.  Maliki took every opportunity to paint Abadi as a Sunni puppet, and to criticize his handling of the war.  Obviously Maliki was aware of Abadi's legislative intentions, and was trying to pre-empt the Prime Minister.  The question on everyone's mind should be, who will the Iranians support? The answer is simple: the Iranians will support whoever will give them more influence over the governing of the country.  The fact that Iraq has, until recently, been governed by Sunni royalty followed by a Sunni despot, is not lost on Iran.  During the 1982-1988 Iran/Iraq war, Iran's revolutionary leaders regularly preached about the Holy War to free the oppressed Iraqi Shi'a population, and to this day, the Shi'a continue to constitute a majority.  Many of the most revered Shi'a Holy Sites are in Iraq, and Iran is being very pragmatic and careful vis-à-vis Iraq.  In reality, the Iranian Armed Forces could have eliminated the ISIS presence in Iraq in short order, but an outright military intervention of that magnitude would be condemned internationally and in the United Nations.  Instead, Iran is showing great patience, as its image and reputation internationally continues to be upgraded.  The as-yet unratified nuclear treaty with the United States will go a long way in that regard.  Iran wants its presence in Iraq to be viewed positively by the international community, therefore any heavy-footed actions are to be avoided.  The PMUs consist of Iraqi Shi'as, aided by Iranian military advisors; as opposed to Russia in Ukraine, there is no evidence of Iranian military hardware crossing over the border.  Its possible that the situation may become so dire that the United Nations and the international community welcome Iranian military intervention to save Iraq from ISIS.  I can only imagine....Iran, with a history of funding terrorist activity in the Levant, defeats the worst terrorist threat the world has yet faced.  The word "Irony" just doesn't cover it.

Back to the present and the current Iraqi government's determination to isolate and minimize the influence of Nouri al-Maliki.  There is no question that Abadi's efforts to combat ISIS and keep Iraq from splintering have been made more difficult by Maliki. Abadi's political reforms are not solely designed to cripple Maliki; these reforms are necessary to make governing less cumbersome and battle corruption.  As things are today, Iraq has a President, Fuad Masum, a Vice President, Nouri al-Maliki, a Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, and three Deputy Prime Ministers.  Today, one of those Deputy Prime Ministers resigned, in what is widely believed to be part of Abadi's anti-corruption initiative.  The truth is, the Executive Branch of the Iraqi government needs to be streamlined.  It also needs an independent investigator-general in the worst way.  Even in the midst of the threat from ISIS, the Iraqi people are clamoring for an end to what has become endemic corruption in government and politics.  The real reason Abadi chose to enact these reforms at this time, is because he had no choice.  How long before the Iraqi people, who must pay a tax for this, and a bribe for that, finally get the red-ass and start stringing up these thieves from the nearest trees?

How much influence and debts-owed Nouri al-Maliki continues to possess will be determined within the next month or so.  Abadi sees the opportunity to create a united Shi'a political movement, to represent the majority population in an appropriate manner.  Maliki does have influence with the Sadr movement and certain militias.  I have always awarded tremendous authority to Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and he has made it clear that he supports Abadi and his reforms.  Am I overestimating Sistani's power?  Does Maliki command the loyalty of enough movers and shakers in the Iraqi Shi'a community, to defeat the reform effort?  If so, Abadi will be forced to call for new elections, and then its anybody's guess what happens. 

With regards to Abadi's reforms, how with the Sunni respond?  They spend so much time lamenting their loss of power that they probably haven't really considered a responsive strategy.  With Anbar under siege, and ISIS establishing itself deeper into Diyala and Salah ad-Din Provinces, I can't imagine what the Sunni community must be going through.  This war was originally fought in the backyard of the Kurds, but since has made the contagion of Sunni communities in central Iraq its battlefield.  The Shi'a towns and villages of Hillah, Najaf, Kut, Samawah, Nasiriyah and Basra have yet to endure an ISIS occupation.  But the Sunnis have suffered terribly.  I'm sure the Sunni parliamentary representatives will represent the best interests of the Sunni community, with regards to political reform.  But the political fight that threatens to split the Shi'a community doesn't appear to involve them, at least not at the moment.  The military events next month will probably determine the fate of Anbar Province, and the political developments of the next month will give us an indication of what kind of government Iraq will have as it continues, in fits and spurts, to hold itself together and fight a war of survival.

Monday, August 10, 2015

2016 election: where do the candidates stand on issues of National Security?

As I watched last week's initial Republican Presidential Debate, I made a point to jot down any comments from the various candidates on the issue of National Security.  Its not a simple topic.  Some people consider National Security to be limited to any external threat to the United States, including terrorism and rampant illegal immigration, for example.  I include our runaway national debt and unwillingness to control spending as a major threat to National Security, but many consider this to be a domestic issue.  I will include the National Debt in our discussion, but refrain from getting into the weeds.  My criteria for inclusion in the list of threats to National Security include any development which threatens the existence of our republic.  I am a reasonable man, and I am an optimist when it comes to issues that are exclusively controlled by the American people.  But our National Debt is beginning to reach the point of no return.  I am no longer able to calculate how this issue can be brought under control by the current budgetary process.  Even if Congress and the Executive Branch were in agreement, we can only dedicate so much to cutting the national debt, before our ability to pay social security and related social entitlements is threatened  What about National Defense?  Can we continue to have a dynamic and proactive defense industry if we start to cut back on military spending?  The reality is, every fiber of our national government could use a diet.  Waste is rampant in every nook and cranny of Washington, DC.  So many elements of our Federal Government have unlimited access to taxpayers money, that they have begun to see it AS THEIR OWN.  And during the past six years, the problem has exploded, as the Obama Administration has created new and previously unconsidered ways to expand the number of government checks being delivered.  Just how much has the debt grown under Obama?  I've heard many answers, including the politically driven "the debt comes from Bush and his illegal wars" argument.  The ignorance of some people is worn like a badge of honor.  Our economy GROWS in wartime, it does not contract.  Its true that after the conclusion of a war, the economy faces the added pressures of an expanded work force, and fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did not come cheap.   But the actual expenditures by the Federal Government to the entitlements industry absolutely dwarfs the cost of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our treasury bonds have been scarfed up by the Government of China at an unprecedented rate, which means that as long as we consider ourselves a solvent and viable economic state, we are responsible to the Chinese for those bonds.  When did we decide that it was okay to just keep spending money and balance it by selling treasury bonds to nations that do not have our best interests in mind?

As for the various candidates and their positions on National Security, we have two different parties to examine.  The Democratic race, which once appeared to be an anointing party for Hillary Clinton, has become fluid in the last few months, as Hillary loses the reigns of her own "damage control" machine.  I can't see Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the only admitted Socialist in DC, winning the nomination, although it would usher in an era of honesty of sorts.  We've been living under a Socialist government of rampant government control and expansion and executive action for six least Bernie is honest about his motivations.  But a Sander's nomination would hand the presidency to the GOP, so don't hold your breath on his candidacy.  Watch our for Jim Webb of Virginia.  The media has appointed him as a moderate in order to make him more attractive to the independent voter, but Jim Webb is no moderate.  Such a creature doesn't exist in the Democratic Party of 2015.  Joe Biden is chewing up his shorts in excitement of a possible presidential run, but he is limited by his late arrival and his questionable ability to raise money.  As for National Security, Biden, Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of the Massachusetts Tribe will move the United States closer to our European allies and their guilt-ridden, blind approach to international issues.  These three stooges would continue the path we are on, with useless sanctions and failed diplomacy "ad nauseam".  Take a look around the world today and see the result of the European and Obama model of foreign policy: ISIS running free in Syria and putting the Iraqis to flight, and expanding to every inhabited continent; Russia banging the expansionist war drum louder than ever, and North Korea still being North Korea.  As for the Chinese, through innovative and determined use of espionage and diplomacy, the Chinese have turned the United States into a technological client-state.  Its fascinating that the Chinese and U.S. researchers always seem to be working on the same projects simultaneously, with almost concurrent successes.  I'm looking for a candidate that will rid our Universities and Research Laboratories of Chinese spies, and press criminal charges on politicians who take campaign money to lobby for Chinese defense interests in Congress (hello, Bill Clinton).

The Republican candidates present a mixed-bag.  At the moment, when they must appeal to the more conservative Republican voter, everyone becomes a hawk, including Jeb Bush.  But I have a message for anyone who is soft on illegal immigration: you will not win the nomination.  Even though most of the press attempts to downplay the fact that Republican voters are incensed by the Amnesty issue, the candidates can't avoid the results of the ballot box.  Watching Bush, Rubio, Lindsay Graham, and Chris Christie become hawks on immigration will be good comedy, but they will be exposed for their true nature by the fulsome and detailed opinions already given.  Yes, immigration is a National Security issue, and it is directly tied into concerns regarding domestic terrorism.  The consistent hawks include Ted Cruz, Rand Paul (its true), Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.  I can't speak to Huckabee, Jindal, Kasich, Perry or Santorum on this issue, because basically, along with Fiorina I see this second-tier as running for Vice President or for an early exit.  I can't take Donald Trump seriously on any foreign policy issue, regardless of his status in the polls.  He is a candidate of sound-bites, and the GOP electorate will begin to tire of hearing the same "clever phrases" repeated over and over again.  Each time he makes a comment about "taking the fight to ISIS", or "building a wall on the Mexican border", I find myself asking for, Mr. Trump?  Where's the Beef?  While the other candidates release documents highlighting their plans for controlling immigration and tackling the debt, all Trump does is issue platitudes and phrases.  Go home, Donald.

As with all the issues, I find myself drawn to two candidates: Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson.  I like Ted Cruz because he is not afraid to follow through on his campaign convictions.  How we have grown weary of Republican politicians who say one thing on the campaign trail, and then return to the protective political cocoon of Washington DC, where everyone works together to ensure that they all get re-elected- to hell with the best interests of the nation.  Ted Cruz is a true conservative who is not afraid to make a mistake, as long as his motivations and integrity are beyond question.  Cruz is a TRUE CONSERVATIVE and I agree with him on every issue.  He realizes that the threat from both ISIS and Al-Qaeda is much closer to home than most people realize, and that our borders have become as porous as a broken salt shaker.  The FBI does amazing work, considering the politicizing of the Justice Department.  These men and women are out in the field everyday, looking for sleeper cells in our own communities, while the Obama Administration refuses to use the words "Islamic Terrorist" to describe these religiously motivated murderers.  Be that as it may, the FBI has been heavily distracted from the anti-terror focus to concentrate on "race crimes".  I will leave that subject alone for now.

I like Rand Paul because he brings a streak of Libertarianism to the contest.  He is a tireless worker, and I have only disagreed with him on one subject (Cuba).  Even though Rand Paul represents the solid-red state of Kentucky, his nomination would probably swing neighboring Ohio into the GOP orbit.  Unfortunately, nothing Scott Walker does will get Wisconsin to vote Republican, and I wonder about Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio being able to deliver Florida.  They didn't in the last election, if memory serves me correctly.  I think Rand Paul understands the threat posed by China and Russia, and is appropriately galvanized to deal with the ISIS issue.  But my current choice, Dr. Ben Carson, brings something to the discussion of foreign affairs, that we haven't seen in a very long time.  Carson is not an elected official, and has not rubbed elbows with the Ambassador from so-and-so and negotiators from this place and that.  I believe Carson sees the world as a private U.S. citizen; in other words, as we do.  His concern is for the protection of our Democracy and the opportunities and freedoms that existed which allowed him to become a world-renowned surgeon and philanthropist.  He is not a seasoned politician, and I have my concerns about his ability and willingness to rip apart his opponent during a presidential debate (remember Romney?).  But what a change to consider someone sitting in the Oval Office who can remember what its like to drive their own car, and can carry on a discussion with real people about grocery prices, medical and insurance costs, and the fear of terrorism finding its way into our cities and towns.  Carson has been criticized because of his lack of political experience; he has not negotiated a treaty with a foreign government or sat on a Congressional Committee reviewing an international development or incident.  And that may be his greatest asset.  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The expansion of ISIS and its intended future targets.

Link: A.  The expansion of The Islamic State.
          B.  Hamas aiding ISIS in Sinai?

This blog has regularly taken the opportunity to provide information regarding the recruitment efforts ands expansionist intentions of the extremist group, The Islamic State (ISIS).  From out perspective, the United States and its European and Arab allies have not been nearly proactive enough regarding the ISIS' ability to establish itself rapidly in almost any part of the world.  In fact, the allies haven't been proactive whatsoever.  Until now, that is.  We are beginning to see a bit more attention paid to the activities of ISIS, and more importantly, groups that have aligned themselves with the Islamic State.  June and July were pivotal months regarding the expansion of ISIS from within the conflict zones of Syria and Iraq, to Egypt, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Kenya, and possibly even the United States itself.  As detailed in our blog posting from July 8 (Link B), ISIS arrived with a bang in Sinai, taking out one Egyptian checkpoint before being dispatched themselves.  Although the international press had published occasional stories regarding certain established terrorist groups pledging allegiance to ISIS, it was the attack in Sinai that sounded the alarm.  From a strictly military perspective, the attack was a disaster.  The ISIS fighters, most of whom were local Palestinian recruits with a few veterans of Syria thrown in for good measure, managed to kill a handful of Egyptian soldiers, but they lost roughly two hundred of their own.  We know from a source on the scene that the Egyptian soldiers, especially the ones attacked at the original checkpoint, exhibited tremendous courage and determination.  No doubt their ability to keep ISIS from quickly moving through the checkpoint and on to larger targets, saved many lives.  In the end, though, the attack achieved its goals.  ISIS wanted to announce to the world that the conflict was no longer limited to Syria and Iraq, and also demonstrate its ability to recruit and utilize dedicated supporters was basically unlimited.

Since the early July events in Gaza, ISIS has not conducted anymore high-profile attacks outside Syria and Iraq, at least not of which we are aware.  In July, an Islamic extremist gunman opened fire on a U.S. military facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing four Marines and a Sailor.  Was this deranged young man connected to ISIS?  Not according to the U.S. government.  He was a frequent visitor to ISIS-friendly websites, message boards and chat rooms, and he recently spent six months in Jordan, which makes the "lone-wolf" declaration by the Obama Administration seem to us to be bizarrely premature and suspiciously political.  We suspect that the shooter probably had some contact with ISIS agents while in Jordan, who ratcheted up the hate and anti-infidel message which was spinning in his head when he returned stateside.  The most difficult question to answer, is what kind of sleeper-cell network has ISIS, and Al-Qaeda beforehand, developed in North America?  From our optic, Al-Qaeda appears to favor the well-planned, highly trained, carefully chosen target, patient approach with regards to its cells, while ISIS seems to have no problem just handing someone a gun or a vehicle full of explosives, and telling them that when the signal comes in, just go out and kill people.  Interestingly enough, Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda loved a carefully planned, well-resourced operation, and al-Baghdadi and ISIS seem to prefer operations that result in the highest casualty list, regardless of cost.  In the end, though, all three were definite believers in the power of fear.  However the operation comes about, in the end, it must create enough fear in the target communities, to make people consider changing the way they and their families live life.

On a positive note, the new administration in Nigeria seems intent on destroying Boko Haram (BH)once and for all.  The terrorist group has basically been on the run for some weeks, as the joint military efforts of Chad, Nigeria, Benin and Cameroon have left BH very little room to maneuver.  BH achieved a great deal of attention with its announcement of allegiance to ISIS, but ISIS is smart enough to stay out of northern Nigeria, at least for the moment.  The same can't be said for Libya, which seems to become more of a complicated mess everyday.  The fact that Libya hasn't already been united under one Islamic extremist banner is a surprise in itself, because it certainly seems destined to happen.  But for the time being, the United States and Europe continue to utilize some form of diplomacy to effect positive change, while at the same time, ISIS does its business out in the desert, visiting one isolated community after another, and adding them to the cause.  I'm not sure if the current Libyan government sits in Benghazi or Tripoli, or if any government is currently being recognized by the United Nations.  But the U.N. and the United States have been aware of the delicate state of affairs in Libya, since long before the Benghazi incident which killed five Americans.  You could not plan a more advantageous situation for ISIS, as the people are desperate for someone to institute a bit of law and order, and maybe get the water turned back on.  As demonstrated in Iraq, ISIS has learned the art of local government, and is expanding its footprint in Libya by providing communities with some level of organization and relief.

ISIS has also become active in Yemen, but to what degree is still a mystery.  ISIS has also established itself in many of the large, urban township communities in central and southern Africa, which has the potential to be an unlimited source of recruits.  Has ISIS found its way to the townships of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo?  When young people see no future, the color of their skin makes no difference.  They will be a captive audience when the ISIS recruiters show up, with stories of glory on the battlefield, the holiness of killing infidels, and the providing of a wife (in this world, and forty additional ones in the next).  But one of the most important thing that ISIS can provide is something that the planners at the U.N. and the Pentagon haven't really started to notice: ISIS provides these young people with DIRECTION, a cause, a reason to get up in the morning.  One can never overestimate the value of "raison d'etre".  If the various governments in Africa are unable to solve endemic problems of unemployment and homelessness, then we should have a good idea from where the next batch of young recruits will originate.  Maybe the next Gaza-like statement will be in Pretoria, or Nakuru.  One thing is certain: the problem of global youth unemployment will only feed the fire of discontent that continues to provide extremists like ISIS with young people who are willing to die for the cause.