August 31, 2014 9:35 AM
By Bill Roggio
The US military and humanitarian mission in Iraq continues to suffer from what is known as "mission creep," which is defined as "a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment."
When the Obama administration ordered limited military intervention against the Islamic State beginning on Aug. 7, the objectives were twofold: to halt the Islamic State's advance on Irbil to protect US personnel based there, and provide humanitarian relief to the Yazidi minority who fled Sinjar and other towns and were trapped on Mount Sinjar.
Within a week, the objectives were modified, and the US military was now tasked with serving as the air force to Kurdish and Iraqi forces "to protect critical infrastructure" and "support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense forces, who are working together to combat ISIL [the Islamic State]."
Yesterday, the US began launching airstrikes against Islamic State fighters who are besieging the ethnic Turkmen town of Amerli. Note that Amerli is in Salahaddin province and doesn't constitute a critical threat to US personnel in Irbil, nor does it host critical infrastructure. Below is the full press release that was issued yesterday by US Central Command:
At the request of the Government of Iraq, the U.S. military conducted airstrikes in support of an operation to deliver humanitarian assistance to address the humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amirli, Iraq at approximately 8:30 p.m. EDT today.
It has been clear from the beginning that the Obama administration does not have a strategy to deal with the Islamic State. President Obama admitted as much in a press conference last week.
But what is clear is that the Obama administration is doing exactly what it said it wouldn't do: get sucked into Iraq's civil war and serve as Iraq's air force.
If President Obama wants to defeat the Islamic State, a group that he described as a "cancer," he needs to quickly develop a comprehensive strategy and articulate it to the American public. Otherwise, the administration is employing tactical solutions to the strategic problem that is the Islamic State, and adjusting these tactics on the fly.
August 31, 2014 8:30 AM
By Bill Roggio
Earlier today Shabaab, al Qaeda's official branch in Somalia, launched a coordinated suicide assault against the national intelligence headquarters in a highly secured area in the capital of Mogadishu.
Seven Shabaab fighters, three soldiers, and two civilians were killed in the assault, which began when a truck detonated at the main gate of the headquarters, Reuters reported. Six heavily armed Shabaab fighters then entered the breach and battled with security forces inside the compound for nearly an hour before being killed.
The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using one or more suicide bombers and an assault team, is a tactic frequently used by al Qaeda and its branches as well as allied groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and by the rival Islamic State. Suicide assaults are commonly executed by jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
The Shabaab fighters were attempting to free prisoners held at the headquarters. Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, Shabaab's military spokesman, told Reuters that the attack was launched "in retaliation and as just punishment for the apostate criminals" who hold the group's fighters in prison. Abu Musab claimed that "innocent Muslims have suffered in the dungeons of that prison, subjected to torture and humiliation."
Shabaab is following in the footsteps of jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic State [in Iraq and Syria], two groups which have focused on military operations to free captive prisoners. Both groups have released thousands of prisoners during raids on jails. The resurgence of the Islamic State is partially due to the swelling of its ranks from prisoners freed in operations.
Shabaab's assault in Mogadishu serves as a reminder that the group is far from defeated, despite claims to the contrary by some in the Somali government. While the current media focus is on the Islamic State's spectacular gains in both Iraq and Syria, Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, have controlled extensive areas of Somalia, including major cities, several times since 2006. Even today, Shabaab controls large portions of the countryside in southern and central Somalia, and still runs some towns and cities. An African Union offensive by forces from Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Kenya has managed to drive Shabaab from the major cities of Mogadishu and Kismayo, but three years after the start of the offensive, Shabaab still controls vast areas of Somalia.
August 30, 2014 7:46 PM
By Bill Roggio
Earlier today, the Taliban killed four members of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's intelligence service, and two civilians in a suicide assault that targeted the NDS headquarters in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar. From TOLONews:
The incident took place at about 5 a.m. local time in Jalalabad, the capital of the province, when a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives at the gate of the NDS office and five minutes later a second suicide car bomber exploded, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, said.
The Taliban claimed credit for the attack in a statement released on Voice of Jihad, their official propaganda website. The Taliban claimed that the attack was executed by only one suicide bomber and five "martyr Mujahideen equipped with rockets, PK heavy machine guns, Kalashnikovs, explosive-belts and hand grenades." The other explosion was the result of a remotely-detonated car bomb.
The suicide bomber was identified as "Abdullah Nangarhari," and the five fighters who penetrated the compound were identified as "Kalimullah, Akhtar Muhammad, Muhmamad Ismail and Fawad hailing from Nangarhar and Musa from Kunar provinces."
As usual, the Taliban exaggerated the effects of their attack, claiming that "as many as 71 agents of NDS and security forces, the ANA and ANP were killed and a further 83 got severely injured."
Afghan and Coalition forces in Nangarhar are often targeted by the Taliban. The Taliban have launched two other suicide assaults in the province so far this year. In January, a suicide assault team killed a US soldier at a base in Ghani Khel. In March, another Taliban team team attacked the police headquarters in Jalalabad, killing 18 people.
The Peshawar Regional Military Shura, one of the Afghan Taliban's four major commands, directs activities in eastern and northeastern Afghanistan, including in Nangarhar province. In 2011, the Taliban appointed Sheikh Mohammed Aminullah to lead its Peshawar Regional Military Shura; he was added to the United Nations Sanctions Committee's list of "individuals and entities associated with al Qaeda" in 2009.
August 29, 2014 12:25 AM
By Lisa Lundquist
Yesterday the United Nations issued a statement deploring the fact that 43 of its Golan Heights peacekeepers have been captured in the southwestern Syrian province of Quneitra, and that the movements of 81 other peacekeepers nearby have been "restricted." The UN's press release alluded only generally to the group holding the 43 UN troops:
During a period of increased fighting beginning yesterday between armed elements and Syrian Arab Armed Forces within the area of separation in the Golan Heights, 43 peacekeepers from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were detained early this morning by an armed group in the vicinity of Al Qunaytirah. In addition, another 81 UNDOF peacekeepers are currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah. The United Nations is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers, and to restore the full freedom of movement of the Force throughout its area of operation.
The few further details supplied by the UN included the facts that the 43 captured soldiers were Fijian, and that the 81 others were from the Philippines.
A UN spokesperson refused to identify the kidnappers:
We are dealing with nonstate armed actors.... The command and control of these groups is unclear. We're not in a position to confirm who is holding whom. Some groups self-identified as being affiliated with Nusra, however, we are unable to confirm it.
A statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said only that the kidnappers were "armed elements of the opposition," and called for the immediate release of the detained peacekeepers and the lifting of restrictions on the others.
It is highly likely that the peacekeepers have been seized by the al Qaeda's Syrian Branch, the Al Nusrah Front, which with the assistance of other Islamist groups, including the Islamic Front, this week wrested control of the Quneitra border crossing in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.
The Wall Street Journal describes the UN presence in the area as follows:
The demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights was established in the months after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The zone, as well as the crossing, is monitored by more than 1,200 U.N. peacekeepers from six countries. No other military forces are allowed in the area.
The UN's reticence about the kidnappers' identity may reflect the desire for a non-terrorist negotiating partner, such as the Islamic Front (which, although it frequently fights alongside Al Nusrah and has senior leaders who are linked to al Qaeda, has avoided a terrorist designation so far).
Incidentally, while the Islamic State has been dominating the headlines with its onslaughts in Iraq and Syria illustrated by a steady flow of decapitation videos, Al Nusrah has been conducting negotiations with the Lebanese government over the fate of 28 kidnapped Lebanese security forces. The Islamic State, which also holds some Lebanese hostages, is also involved in the negotiations.
It is important to keep in mind that Al Nusrah, which seems to be positioning itself as a 'less violent' and 'more civilized' actor than the Islamic State, remains a mortal foe of democratic forces everywhere. The use of kidnapping victims as pawns has long figured in al Qaeda's playbook.
August 27, 2014 8:36 AM
By Bill Roggio
Ihsanullah Ihsan, the former spokesman of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP), confirmed in an email to The Long War Journal that the newly formed Jaamat-ul-Ahrar TTP is "separate from the TTP leadership."
"Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has become separate from the TTP leadership," Ihsan told LWJ. "TTP Jaamat-ul-Ahrar deals with itself and does not take orders from TTP leadership."
The formation of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, followed by Ihsan's confirmation that the group is a separate entity from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, is the final nail in the coffin for the latter.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan will likely continue in some form; but without the Mohmand and Kurram factions, and the Mehsuds in North and South Waziristan, it is a rump organization. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar can serve as a nucleus for Taliban factions that wish to continue the fight against the Pakistani government.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan made a major mistake by appointing Mullah Fazlullah as the group's emir after Hakeemullah Mehsud's death in a US drone strike last year. Fazlullah, despite having served as Hakeemullah's deputy, was disconnected from the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan's traditional power base and appears to have been widely disliked.
If Jamaat-ul-Ahrar does emerge as the successor to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the group will likely be just as dangerous if not moreso than its predecessor. With Omar Khalid al Khorasani in the top leadership cadre, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is sure to continue a relentless campaign of attacks against the Pakistani state and will continue to ally with groups such as al Qaeda.
August 25, 2014 8:51 AM
By Bill Roggio
In an Aug. 22 press briefing, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon's Press Secretary, attempted to defend President Barack Obama's poorly timed statement in January where he referred to the Islamic State as a "jayvee team." This is what Obama had said in an interview with The New Yorker while answering a question on the resurgence of jihadist groups in Iraq:
The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant. I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.
Below is the reporter's question about equating the Islamic State to "a junior varsity team," and Kirby's answer:
Q: In January, the president equated ISIL's capabilities to that of a junior varsity team, so, which seems to be in direct contrast with what the secretary said yesterday. I was wondering if there had been new analysis or done to get to the secretary to that position?
Kirby is defending the indefensible. The Obama administration and Kirby would be better served admitting that it was a mistake to underestimate the Islamic State. As a senior military officer, he knows that it is impossible for the Islamic State to have gained the capacity to take on two states (Iraq and Syria) and control large regions in both countries in the span of just eight months.
Those of us who have been watching the Islamic State (previously known as al Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham) have warned that the group has been gaining in strength since 2012. For example, this deadly raid on Haditha in March 2012 shows that the group had regrouped and developed the capacity train, plan for, and execute sophisticated operations against Iraqi security forces.
Watch the video linked above that shows the Islamic State's assault on Haditha in 2012. The tactics used in that attack weren't developed over the past eight months. These tactics have been on display in both Iraq and Syria over the past three years. The alarm bells should have been ringing in the Obama administration once the Islamic State seized Fallujah and several areas in Anbar province in January. Instead, the president grossly understated the Islamic State's abilities. And today, administration officials are referring to the group as a dangerous global threat while the military is launching airstrikes against the group daily and is planning to expand its operations, possibly into Syria.
Administration and military officials shouldn't bristle when asked why they failed to properly assess that danger of the Islamic State. They should admit their mistake and articulate a strategy to defeat the group. Even if a new strategy contradicts previous campaign promises to end the war in Iraq.
August 24, 2014 11:28 AM
By Bill Ardolino
Two days ago, more than 70 Sunnis were slaughtered at a mosque north of Baghdad. The attack at the Musab bin Omair Mosque in the village of Imam Wais in Diyala province has been blamed by some on Shia militiamen exacting revenge for a roadside bombing and combat losses, while other sources attribute the massacre to the Sunni Islamic State, noting that the attack began with a suicide bombing, a tactic typically employed by Sunni extremists in Iraq:
It was not immediately clear if the attack was carried out by Shiite militiamen or the Islamic State extremist group -- also known as ISIS -- which has been advancing into the ethnically and communally mixed Diyala province and has been known to kill fellow Sunni Muslims who refuse to submit to its leadership.
The Islamic State is also known to massacre Sunnis who defy it, and the group is currently in conflict with two local tribes.
In protest against the attack, two major Sunni legislative blocs have halted talks on forming a new inclusive national government:
Sunni lawmakers quickly blamed the carnage on powerful Shiite militias out to avenge an earlier bombing, and two major Sunni parliamentary blocs pulled out of talks on forming a new Cabinet. The move creates a major hurdle for prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi as he struggles to reach out to disaffected Sunnis to form a government that can confront the Islamic State extremists.
It remains to be seen how the impasse will be resolved, but the Islamic State's strategy of fomenting sectarian war, first articulated and executed by Abu Musab al Zarqawi at the head of al Qaeda in Iraq in September 2005, remains in effect amid the high-profile clashes at Sinjar, Tikrit, and Mosul Dam. Bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk killed 42 people yesterday. And Shia militias have reestablished their prominence in Baghdad and southern Iraq:
Since the initial collapse of the Iraqi military in the north, the government has relied on Shia militias in its war effort. Empowering these groups may have been the only way to hold back the ISIS advance but it has blurred the lines between state and sectarian power, defense and revenge.
August 23, 2014 6:09 PM
By Bill Roggio
The Taliban issued a statement that denounced the recent posting of new rewards by the US State Department for five Haqqani Network leaders, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, the group's operational commander.
On Aug. 20, the existing reward for operational leader Sirajuddin Haqqani was raised from $5 million to $10 million, putting him in the top tier of wanted global jihadists. The State Department's Rewards for Justice program also posted new rewards of up to $5 million each for Khalil al Rahman Haqqani, Yahya Haqqani, Abdul Rauf Zakir, and Aziz Haqqani.
The next day, a statement from the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," the official name of the Taliban, was issued in English on Voice of Jihad saying that the group "strongly condemns" the bounties:
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemns this act and considers it an act of shame and taunt for America. We believe that this announcement has clearly demonstrated the weakness and defeat of the defeated American authorities as they are facing it in the field of battles, politics and in sustaining the moribund regime. This act has proved that the Americans are now trying to hide their defeat through such propaganda wiles.
The Taliban concluded that the rewards "will strengthen the determination of jihadic spirit and hatred in Mujahideen against invading Americans and will pave the way for further bloodiest attacks against Americans. God willing."
In the past, the Taliban have defended Haqqani Network leaders who are targeted by US designations. In February, the group released a statement defending three Haqqani Network leaders -- Yahya Haqqani, Saidullah Jan, and Muhammad Omar Zadran -- after they were added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. In that statement, the Taliban said the designations are "ineffective and theatrical."
As noted here in February, the designations provide valuable information on terrorist networks. And the Taliban's reactions to the designations also provide useful insight on the group:
One of [Taliban spokesman] Mujahid's main arguments, that the sanctions are ineffective as the Haqqani leaders do not "have trade relationships with America nor any accounts in their interest plagued banks which could be effected by these superficial seizures," may be technically true. And keep in mind that the designations didn't prevent other Haqqani Network leaders (Khalil Haqqani and Fazl Rabi), who are also listed, from traveling to Saudi Arabia to fundraise.
August 22, 2014 9:53 AM
By Bill Roggio
Is the Obama administration considering a policy of containment with respect to the Islamic State? Yesterday, in a press conference at the Pentagon, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said that it is "possible ... to contain them." The question and Dempsey's full answer is below:
Q: General, do you believe that ISIS can be defeated or destroyed without addressing the cross-border threat from Syria? And is it possible to contain them?
Keep in mind that top Obama administration officials have described the Islamic State as "a cancer" (President Barack Obama), "evil" (Secretary of State John Kerry), "an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else" (Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel), and "as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen... They're beyond just a terrorist group .... They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess .... They are tremendously well-funded" (Hagel).
Even Dempsey weighed in on the threat posed by the Islamic State. He described it as "an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated."
If the Islamic State poses such a dire, "imminent threat" to the United States, then the nation's top military official shouldn't be floating a policy of containment.
August 21, 2014 4:54 PM
By Bill Roggio
Despite the execution of American reporter James Foley and the Islamic State's threat to kill more captive Americans, the US is continuing to target the jihadist group that controls large areas of Iraq and Syria. Today the US launched airstrikes "in support of Iraqi Security Force operations, using fighter and attack aircraft to conduct six airstrikes in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam," US Central Command, or CENTCOM, said in a press release.
"The strikes destroyed or damaged three ISIL Humvees, one ISIL vehicle, and multiple IED emplacements. All aircraft exited the strike area safely," CENTCOM continued.
The US has now "conducted a total of 90 airstrikes across Iraq. Of those 90 strikes, 57 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam."
Iraq has now become one of the hottest active theaters for US forces. The US has conducted more airstrikes in Iraq since Aug. 7, when Obama authorized the military to attack the Islamic State, than all airstrikes this year in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia combined.
President Obama has said that he "will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq," and "I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home."
Senator Ben Cardin said that the United States will not serve as Iraq's air force:
"What we will not do is become the Iraqi Air Force," Cardin said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday." "Obviously we got to be extremely concerned that we're not drawn into that type of military action."
Yet that is exactly what is happening. When President Obama "authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to conduct targeted air strikes to support operations by Iraqi forces to recapture the Mosul Dam" on Aug. 14, he permitted the United State military to serve as Iraq's air arm as Iraqi and Kurdish forces went on the offensive in northern Iraq.
The Obama administration should be very explicit about its goals and objectives in Iraq if it wants to retain the support of the American public for an extended period of time. If the goal is to conduct limited airstrikes in the north to help the Iraqi government and the Kurds regain some lost ground with the hopes of containing the Islamic State, then it should say so. If the goal is to further the defeat of the Islamic State by striking in other theaters and possibly putting advisers, forward air controllers, and special operations forces on the ground, then the administration should communicate that as well.
Mission creep, which is exactly what we are witnessing in Iraq today, has a nasty way of making both supporters and detractors wary of the mission. The initial mission was to protect Irbil, US personnel, and support humanitarian operations on Mount Sinjar; it has now expanded to "support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense force operations, as well as to protect critical infrastructure," as CENTCOM notes in its press releases.
August 20, 2014 9:26 PM
By Lisa Lundquist
Two Kuwait-based Al Nusrah Front financiers recently designated by the US as global terrorists, Shafi Sultan Mohammed al-Ajmi and Hajjaj Fahd Hajjaj Muhammad Sahib al-'Ajmi, have surfaced over the past few days.
Hajjaj Al-'Ajmi was arrested by Kuwaiti authorities at Kuwait's international airport today as he returned from Qatar. According to Reuters, authorities would not comment on his detention.
On Aug. 17, Shafi al Ajmi was detained by Kuwaiti authorities at the border with Saudi Arabia as he reportedly returned from a pilgrimage. He was released after questioning by Kuwaiti officials.
The two Kuwaitis were added to the US' list of global terrorists by the Treasury Department less than two weeks ago, on Aug. 6, along with another Kuwaiti, 'Abd al-Rahman Khalaf 'Ubayd Juday' al-'Anizi. According to the designation:
Hajjaj Al-'Ajmi serves as a funnel for financial donations to ANF [Al Nusrah Front] facilitators in Syria, traveling regularly from Kuwait to Syria to engage in financial activity on behalf of ANF and deliver money to the group. He agreed to provide financial support to ANF in exchange for installing Kuwaitis in ANF leadership positions. In early January 2014, he offered ANF money to lead a battlefield campaign in Homs, Syria.
Hajjaj was also added to the United Nations' list of global terrorists, in a set of designations published on Aug. 15, which stated that he is an Al Nusrah Front financier based in Kuwait. In addition, the UN designated another Kuwaiti financier for Al Nusrah, Hamid Hamad Hamid al Ali.
At the time the UN designations were announced, Kuwait's UN envoy, Mansour Ayyad Al Otaibi, expressed regret at the designation of the two Kuwaitis and assured that the blacklisting could be removed and would not be permanent.
Hajjaj has vowed to take legal action to clear his name, and claimed he is not a terrorist, has no affiliation with any terrorist groups, and had simply sent aid to oppressed Syrians.
Shafi has similarly threatened legal action following his brief detention by Kuwaiti authorities. According to the Kuwait Times, the Kuwaiti government last year banned a TV show on which he appeared, because it incited hatred. On the show, Shafi called for armed opposition to the Assad regime, and urged his supporters to torture and kill Hezbollah fighters in Syria.
The Kuwait Times also reported that both Shafi and Hajjaj were back on Twitter with new accounts two days after their original accounts were deleted following the terrorism designations. In one of the new tweets, Hajjaj Al-Ajmi said: "Will continue supporting Islam and its people, and praise will be to Allah always. And only believers believe all what happens to them is for their own good."
Shafi Al-Ajmi has tweeted: "We convey the good news to our brothers in Sham (Syria) that we will always be at their rescue, even if the infidels hate this. I tell American David Cohen (Deputy Treasury Secretary) that if Jesus (PBUH) the son of Mary was amongst you, you would label him a terrorist."
August 20, 2014 3:38 PM
By Bill Roggio
The US government has confirmed what we all know: the Islamic State did indeed execute James Wright Foley, an American journalist who was captured by the group in Binesh, Syria on Nov. 22, 2012. The Islamic State issued the gruesome video yesterday, and it was clear that the person who spoke and was then beheaded was Foley. In a statement on Foley's death, US Secretary of State John Kerry described the Islamic State as "evil":
There is evil in this world, and we all have come face to face with it once again. Ugly, savage, inexplicable, nihilistic, and valueless evil. ISIL [Islamic State] is the face of that evil, a threat to people who want to live in peace, and an ugly insult to the peaceful religion they violate every day with their barbarity.
The question that remains is how the US will respond to the very public and extremely brutal execution of an American citizen. Will President Obama order an end to the US airstrikes? Will he continue to strike at limited targets? Or will he expand the effort to confront the Islamic State head on, work with partners in Iraq, and open a front in Syria to defeat the jihadist group? If the Islamic State is indeed "the face of that evil" that threatens our very way of life, then the obvious answer is the latter.
As of now, US officials are saying the airstrikes will continue. But President Obama has recently made clear that US military operations are limited in scope (even if he has moved the goalposts already) and that the US will not send in ground forces or serve as the Iraqi military's air force.
If the US maintains the course, then expect the Islamic State to issue another beheading video, this time of Steven Joel Sotloff, who was shown at the end of the Foley execution video. Additionally, there are three other Americans who are reported to be missing in Syria: Austin Tice, and two others who have not been named. If the Islamic State has them, it may continue to roll out execution videos in an effort to break the Obama administration's will to continue the strikes.
August 19, 2014 9:54 PM
By Bill Roggio
More than 700 Taliban fighters are reported to have launched a major assault on Afghan government and security forces' positions in the province of Logar, which is just south of Kabul. From Reuters:
"There are some 700 of them and they are fighting Afghan forces for territorial control and they have also brought with them makeshift mobile (health) clinics," Niaz Mohammad Amiri, the provincial governor of Logar province, told Reuters by telephone.
The Taliban are clearly preparing to battle the Afghan military in the open after the US and NATO forces draw down to levels at which they cannot provide meaningful support. The Taliban have launched similar massed attacks in the provinces of Helmand, Nangarhar, and Ghor over the past several months. Coalition forces have done little to turn the tide in those engagements.
The Taliban are said to control Sangin district in Helmand months after launching their attack in mid-June. The Afghan military and government have been unable to dislodge the Taliban from Sangin, and are now conducting peace talks with the group.
The Taliban have remained in Logar despite US and Afghan military operations in the province during the surge. In 2010, a US military official told The Long War Journal that the Taliban in Logar were "decimated" after raids over a short period of time killed or captured the three successive military leaders of the group in the province.
Logar province is a known haven for al Qaeda and allied terror groups, including the Haqqani Network. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the district of Pul-e 'Alam; or one of Logar's five districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.
Over the past several years, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network have taken control of areas in Logar and neighboring Wardak province, and have used these safe havens to launch attacks into Kabul.
August 17, 2014 12:37 AM
By Bill Roggio
US Central Command issued a press release on US airstrikes against the Islamic State in northern Mosul on Saturday; the full press release is below:
US military forces continued to attack ISIL [Islamic State] terrorists in Iraq Saturday (Iraq time), with a mix of fighter and remotely piloted aircraft successfully conducting airstrikes near Irbil and the Mosul Dam.
The US airstrikes near the Mosul Dam on Saturday were likely offensive in nature, in support of the Kurdish Peshmerga attempting to retake the strategic dam. A senior Kurdish commander has said as much.
Islamic State fighters at the Mosul Dam are neither directly threatening US personnel in Irbil, nor are they impeding the humanitarian mission on Mount Sinjar.
If the US military is going on the offensive against the Islamic State in northern Iraq to support the Peshmerga retaking areas lost in early August, then the US government should say as much. President Obama has stated that the US would not reengage in Iraq except to protect US personnel and support relief operations on Mount Sinjar. If the mission has changed, the American public should be given an explanation as to why.
Updated Aug. 18
President Obama issued a War Powers Resolution Authorization letter to Congress yesterday, the full text is below. The administration claims that possible destruction of the dam could threaten US personnel in Baghdad. Keep in mind that the Islamic State controls several dams in Iraq and Syria, and has yet to destroy one, likely because it views the infrastructure as critical to running its state. However the Mosul Dam is in disrepair.
On August 14, 2014, I authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to conduct targeted air strikes to support operations by Iraqi forces to recapture the Mosul Dam. These military operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to support the Iraqi forces in their efforts to retake and establish control of this critical infrastructure site, as part of their ongoing campaign against the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace. Pursuant to this authorization, on the evening of August 15, 2014, U.S. military forces commenced targeted airstrike operations in Iraq.
August 15, 2014 11:24 AM
By Bill Roggio
According to this report in Khaama Press, the Afghan government is openly negotiating a "peace deal" with the Taliban in Sangin, which was overrun by the jihadist group in June:
Negotiations between Taliban militants and Afghan officials continue in southern Helmand province of Afghanistan in a bid to end the violence which sparked over a month ago.
Three quick points:
1) The Afghan government and military are, to put it mildly, insane if they believe that the Taliban will abide by a peace agreement. History in both Afghanistan and Pakistan shows that the Taliban have used peace agreements to either regroup from losses or move on to their next conquest. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and other Taliban groups took control of much of northwestern Pakistan between 2004 to 2009 as the Pakistani military signed peace agreement after peace agreement. In Afghanistan, look no further than the futile "peace deal" in Musa Qala in Helmand that began in October 2006 to see how the Taliban used it to their advantage.
2) We are constantly hearing about how the Taliban are exhausted from fighting and want peace. (See here for reports of exhausted Taliban seeking peace, from 2013 [and another], 2012, 2011, 2010 [and another], and 2009; there are many more, this is but a sampling.) Yet the Taliban keep fighting. It is about time to retire this canard.
3) The Taliban's high command has repeatedly said it has no interest in a peaceful resolution to the war. It has consistently said it will not participate in a coalition government, and that only the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is an acceptable outcome.
August 14, 2014 8:55 PM
By Bill Roggio
The Iraqi Ministry of Defense today claimed it retook four cities between Baghdad and Samarra from the Islamic State during operations over the past week. From Al Shorfa:
Over the past two weeks, "the army managed to clear four new cities in Salahaddin province -- al-Dhuluiyah, al-Ishaqi, al-Mutassim and Balad -- and is now in full control of them", said army commander in Salahaddin Lt. Gen. Sabah al-Fatlawi.
There is one problem with this story: no one seems to have been aware that these four cities were under Islamic State or allied forces control. Dhuluiyah has been considered contested, while at times heavy fighting has been reported at Balad and Ishaqi. Islamic State fighters have been launching attacks along the road north of Baghdad in an effort to cut off supplies to Samarra. But none of these cities were considered to be under enemy control.
Either the Iraqi Ministry of Defense is attempting to take credit for gaining ground it never lost, in an effort to bolster its image; or the situation on the road from Baghdad to Samarra has been far worse than reported. Neither scenario is a good sign.
August 13, 2014 12:57 PM
By Oren Adaki
A new video released on Aug. 12 by the al-Malahim Media Foundation, the media wing of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), features the terrorist organization's chief ideologue and theologian, Ibrahim al Rubaish, commenting on a variety of current events. In the video, entitled "A Talk About the Events," Rubaish discusses recent mujahideen victories in Iraq, the prisoner swap in which the Afghan Taliban released American soldier Bowe Bergdahl, and the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Reminding viewers of the need to stay stay abreast of current events in the Muslim world, Rubaish prefaces his discussion by emphasizing that "the brotherhood among the believers is stronger than the ties of kinship." He explains that the Muslim nation is "as one house: its success and failure affects the entire family."
After that introduction, Rubaish then turns to recent developments in Iraq. He congratulates the mujahideen as well as the entire Muslim community "for the victories achieved by our brothers in Iraq," without explicitly mentioning the Islamic State by name. Rubaish notes that these military victories are a "grace from Allah" and stresses the importance of giving thanks for such blessings.
Rubaish shows a keen awareness of the fact that the dust has not yet settled on the Iraqi battlefields, however. He calls on all Muslims to pray to Allah "to make the victory completed" and to rid their community of those who wish to "turn our victory into defeat." He beseeches the Sunni mujahideen to stop all infighting and to battle for the implementation of Islamic law as a united front.
Wrapping up his analysis of Iraqi developments, Rubaish suggests that if the Sunnis of Yemen follow the lead of their coreligionists in Iraq and act as "one hand," they could recreate the victories of Iraq and repel the Houthi advance on Sana'a.
Rubaish's comments on Iraq are in line with his previous pronouncements on the subject, which appear to be equivocal by design. In a video released last month called "Responsibility of the Word," Rubaish and Harith bin Ghazi al Nadhari, another AQAP ideologue, condemned the vicious infighting between the Islamic State and its rivals in Syria without mentioning specific events or parties. Nevertheless, their messages were quickly trumpeted on Twitter at that time by rivals of the Islamic State in the al Nusrah Front while they were condemned by another AQAP ideologue supportive of the Islamic State.
Turning to the release of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, Rubaish congratulates the Muslim community for the success of the deal which released five Taliban commanders. In his exaltation, Rubaish exclaims, "Who would have ever though that the American pride would break in front of the demands of the mujahideen!"
Rubaish next addresses the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, explaining that the Saudis hired Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al Sisi to tighten the siege on Gaza and close the border crossings during the Israeli operation. Rubaish continues with a long rant excoriating Muslim "traitors" who aid or facilitate Israeli operations against Hamas. At one point, he likens Israel to a chair held up by legs representing Arab traitors. "If the legs break," he says, "or one of them, the chair would fall, Allah permitting."
At the conclusion of his 11-minute video, Rubaish comments on the July 4 AQAP attack on the Wadia border crossing between Saudi Arabia and Yemen that spilled into the Saudi town of Sharurah. He notes that Saudi authorities did not negotiate at all for the soldiers kidnapped by AQAP during the attack who were subsequently killed. He accuses the Saudi Ministry of Interior of exploiting its soldiers to do its bidding and then deluding their families after their deaths by calling them "martyrs."
August 13, 2014 11:13 AM
By Oren Adaki
An improvised explosive device (IED) planted by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) detonated today in Yemen's southern Lahj province as experts were attempting to defuse it. Three Yemeni explosives experts and 10 civilians were reportedly killed by the blast.
A Yemeni security official told the Arabic media that the IED was brought to the authorities' attention by local residents, who reported its presence in the vicinity of Lahj province's central prison. A team of explosives experts rushed to the scene to defuse the bomb, but were not successful. The same official also said that a police commander from the nearby city of Tabin was among the casualties of the explosion.
An anonymous local official claimed that the IED was planted close to the residence of the governor, Ahmad al Majidi, in the city of Sabr in Lahj province. He noted that the explosion also lightly wounded a number of Yemeni soldiers and pedestrians.
Later in the day, a Twitter account affiliated with AQAP released a short report claiming credit for the explosion in Lahj. The report stated that the IED was intended to target members of the Yemeni Popular Committees in Sabr City in the Tabin area "in response to their crimes against the Muslims." The AQAP report noted that the IED's location was discovered and that it exploded before it could be defused. Although Arabic media reports claimed that 13 people had been killed by the explosion, AQAP said that eight individuals were killed - three explosive experts working to defuse the bomb along with a number of police officers and members of the Popular Committees. However, the AQAP report added that about 20 people were injured by the explosion, including Colonel Mohammad Fareed, the local police chief.
The AQAP report concluded with the following statement from a fighter acting as a spokesman for the group: "We strongly apologize for injures that occurred among some Muslims during the explosion, and we thank Allah that none of them were killed. On this occasion, I repeat what we have already mentioned many times via a number of our publications that we disseminated in Wilayat Lahj which is a warning to our Muslim people to distance themselves from the IEDs and not attempt to dismantle them or tamper with them."
Long an al Qaeda battleground, Lahj province is particularly important to the terrorist organization given its close proximity to the port of Aden. Al Qaeda has carried out a string of terrorist operations in the province, including a suicide attack in March targeting the military intelligence headquarters in Lahj.
Update: Since this report was posted, AQAP claimed responsibility for the IED explosion in Lahj. The report has been edited to reflect this development.
August 12, 2014 8:31 PM
By Bill Roggio
In a Defense Department press briefing yesterday, Lieutenant General Bill Mayville, the Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided an update on the US air operations to relieve ethnic minority Yazidis in the Sinjar area in northern Iraq, as well as airstrikes against Islamic State forces threatening the Yazidis and the Kurdish capital of Irbil.
Mayville was clear that US air operations so far have had minimal impact on the Islamic State's operations in northern Iraq. He gave a "ballpark figure" of the number of sorties a day as "between 50 and 60." Mayville is clear that he does not believe the US air campaign in its current form will have a strategic affect on the Islamic State's operations in northern Iraq, let alone elsewhere in Iraq and Syria, where the group has made significant gains over the past year.
The general notes that the Islamic State forces in areas where the US is operating have begun to change their tactics somewhat by dispersing their fighters and hiding among the local population. This has made US targeting of the group even more difficult, he notes.
"[O]ne of the things that we have seen with the ISIL forces is that where they have been in the open, they are now starting to dissipate and to hide amongst the people," he said.
Mayville also gives grudging praise of the Islamic State's tactical prowess, stating that the jihadist group's "ability to attack on multiple axes ... is not insignificant."
Two questions and answers are reproduced below. The entire briefing can be read here.
Q: (OFF-MIC) retreating (OFF-MIC) seeing signs of retreat or picking up chatter that they're panicking or wondering...
August 9, 2014 3:50 PM
By Bill Roggio
US Central Command (CENTCOM) released two videos of two of the three airstrikes by F/A-18 Hornets and drones (presumably Predators or Reapers) reported to have taken place yesterday in northern Iraq against the Islamic State. Yesterday, the US military said it struck a "mobile artillery piece," and "a stationary ISIL [Islamic State] convoy of seven vehicles and a mortar position" all near Irbil , the capital of Kurdistan.
In the first video, above, the gun camera video shows what appears to be a towed artillery piece just before it is struck. The above video certainly isn't showing mortar positions or an Islamic State convoy. And it also isn't showing mobile artillery, also known as self-propelled artillery. Either Admiral Kirby, the Pentagon briefer, and CENTCOM misidentified the type of artillery being hit, or there was another strike that wasn't reported. The former is more likely.
The video below shows what appears to be strike strike on the "stationary" Islamic State convoy; two vehicles are parked on a road and about a dozen fighters appear to be standing off to the side.
Video of the strike on the mortar position was not provided by CENTCOM.
For more information on the US' renewed military involvement in Iraq, see Threat Matrix reports, Obama authorizes limited airstrikes to protect US personnel in Irbil and US begins airstrikes against Islamic State near Irbil.