Archive for the ‘ISIS’ Category

Regular U.S. Troops Are Getting Close Enough to ISIS to Fire Mortars – The Drive

Since the U.S. military began its campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, American troops, primarily special operators, have been creeping closer to the front lines and toward increasingly active combat. A new, official video provides measurable clues about just how close conventional forces now are to enemy in the fight to finally eject the terrorists from their de facto capital in Iraq, Mosul.

On May 19, 2017, the U.S. Armys 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division published another in a set of videos of its soldiers supporting Iraqi security forces (ISF) in and around Mosul. Unlike the other footage which showed paratroopers flying in to a helicopter landing zone on UH-60 Black Hawks, driving and walking through liberated streets inside the city, delivering ammunition, and training Iraqi police snipers this particular clip followed a mortar section providing relatively close-range fire support. Other images show the mortars in action in or near Mosul as early as March, 14, 2017.

The brigade enables their ISF partners through the advise and assist mission, contributing planning, intelligence collection and analysis, force protection, and precision fires to achieve the military defeat of ISIS, the official caption states. Precision in this case would be relative to the gunners skill, as no guided mortar rounds, though they exist, are visible. It is also not clear whether the troops have GPS-assisted targeting equipment or electronic ballistic computers. They appear to do the initial sighting-in and adjustments manually.

The team from the 82nd Airborne fires or prepared to fire both the 81mm M252 and the 120mm M120 mortars in the video. The M252 has a maximum range of almost three and a half miles, but can also hit targets less than 300 feet away. The significantly larger M120 can toss shells nearly four and half miles away while still able to hit the enemy at ranges just over 650 feet.

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Is Trump Looking for a Flashy Victory Over ISIS in Raqqa? – Newsweek

This article first appeared on the Atlantic Council site.

With Trumps approval last week to directly arm the YPG, [ The People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish militia in Syria and the primary component of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria’s Syrian Democratic Forces,] the United States is gearing up for the battle to capture Raqqa city from ISIS.

To understand how the United States got to this pointarming proxy forces, troops on the ground, all the while conducting airstrikesone can ask: how did Raqqa became the self-declared capital of ISIS?

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Trump has repeatedly said that Obama is responsible for creating ISIS. Although Obama did not create ISIS, the reality is that the hesitation of the Obama administration, first in heeding the warnings from senior US officials in the early days of the revolution about the chance for extremist groups to find fertile ground in Syria, and again in combating ISIS in 2013-14, played a key role in the growth of ISIS.

Even today, if one maintains an anti-interventionist position, one cannot deny that the inaction of the Obama administration was one of the main reasons for the chaos todaychaos that the new president has to address.

In the winter of 2013, the first military rebel-led operations against ISIS started in Syria after ISIS killed one of the doctors that was affiliated with Ahrar al-Sham. This doctor was well known and popular in his community, so when a video emerged showing his dead body and evidence of torture, there was an uproar in the Syrian community.

The battle against ISIS started in Aleppo and spread to different parts of the country, leading to the withdrawal of ISIS from western Aleppo province to al-Bab and Manbij.

The Obama administration provided partial assistance to vetted rebel groups in western Syria. Rebel group commanders had to meet in Turkey and northern Syria with US officials after which they, and the groups they represented, went through interagency vetting and background checks.

Engineers, journalists and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters run for cover after ISIS shelled positions held by the SDF at the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River, Syria March 29, 2017. Rodi Said/reuters

Notwithstanding, the Obama administration only gave these groups minimal support, and not enough to stop the growth of ISIS, much less undo it. The main concern of the administration was and continues to be the risk of arms ending up with extremist groups.

ISIS gained the offensive against the last rebel-led battle in Manbij. As a result, the ISIS military leader at the time, Abu Omar al-Shishani, took control of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor to open routes to Mosul, Iraq. In January 2014, ISIS declared Raqqa the capital of its emirate (at this point, it had not declared its caliphate).

In the summer of 2014, with the public execution of James Foley, and later Steven Sotloff and Peter Kassig, matters changed. The beheadings became a media spectacle and there was immense domestic and international pressure for the administration to respond.

This is when the Obama administration started to arm more groups and intervene directly in the form of airstrikes. However, the focus of this support was in the northeast towards groups fighting ISIS, not in the west where groups were focused on fighting the regime. By this time, al Qaeda had expanded in the west while the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and moderate opposition groups forces contracted significantly compared to 2013.

In the past six months, many areas have been retaken from ISIS such as Manbij, al-Bab and Jarabulus. That being said, they have been liberated at the expense of hundreds, maybe thousands of casualties from US airstrikes, Turkish shelling and Kurdish clashes with ISIS human shields.

Meanwhile, displaced inhabitants did not celebrate this liberation. The activists and FSA rebels from Manbij, many who led the fight against ISIS in 2013, are not able to return because Kurdish YPG forces control the town.

Houses that were formerly seized by foreign fighters are now housing Kurdish forces. For the owners of these houses, this is not the liberation they imagined. In essence, by relying on US airstrikes, Turkish and Kurdish forces, formerly held ISIS areas have been liberated but through massive casualties, permanent displacement and further fragmentation of an already divided country.

The approach of the United Statescoming late to the game, relying on a multitude of foreign powers intervening in the conflict and not taking a leadership roleguarantees fragmentation and division of Syria, and destroys any hope of reuniting the country.

Foreign flags now fly over many former ISIS-held areas. Turkish flags are raised in al-Bab and Jarabulus where there is now a strong Turkish security apparatus.

American flags are now present in Manbij.

Yet there is a lack of Syrian flags.

Had local troops been supported in the critical year of 2013, things may have been different. Unfortunately, the role of the United States is increasingly dictated by media spectacles and domestic politics as opposed to political realities.

When US polls showed that it was not favorable to support the opposition, or conduct airstrikes after the regimes sarin gas attack Ghouta in 2013, the Obama administration held back.

After the beheading of Foley in August 2014, public polls said that the United States should do something about ISIS, and one month later the US and its allies began the most flashy, but least politically costly method, that they could: airstrikes without ground forces.

Raqqa became the capital of ISIS because of US neglect of local forces when ISIS was first established itself. Syrian Democratic Forces, the coalition of ground forces dominated by the Kurdish YPG, with support from the US-led international coalition are now leading the drive to Raqqa and preparing to lay siege to the citybut at what cost?

The forces retaking Raqqa are not native to the city and harmed and upset residents in the drive to Raqqa. Dissatisfaction with the international community and their supported proxy forces has increased. Extremist groups post-ISIS will recruit easily. Raqqa may fall, but the narrow focus of current US policy will sow the seeds of further unrest and fracturing in Syria.

Today, Trump administrations policy towards Syria is unclear. But gauging from his debates and statements, his goal is a flashy victory against ISIS, to show the domestic audience that he is strong on terrorism.

To achieve that, he may be willing to work with the Syrian government and the Russians. However, he has said that he will not work with the Syrian rebels as he does not know who they are.

By not engaging with local forces and addressing civilian grievances, the Trump administration is opening the door to further radicalization, fragmentation, and instability.

Loubna Mrie is a Syrian activist was a photojournalist with Reuters based in Aleppo, where she covered the ongoing conflict in the Idlib, Aleppo, Latakia and Hama governorates.

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Is Trump Looking for a Flashy Victory Over ISIS in Raqqa? – Newsweek

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ISIS-linked gunmen battle Philippine troops in southern city – Fox News

MANILA, Philippines Philippine troops battled heavily armed militants backing the Islamic State group in a southern city Tuesday, as months of sporadic fighting in the countryside shifted alarmingly into an urban area.

Regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Joar Herrera said five government personnel were wounded in the clash with at least 15 fighters from a Muslim rebel group called Maute in the village of Basak Malutlut in Marawi, a bustling predominantly Muslim city in Lanao del Sur province.

ISIS CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR ARIANA GRANDE CONCERT ATTACK IN MANCHESTER

Troops and special police forces attacked an apartment after the military obtained intelligence that Maute gunmen were hiding there with a top terror suspect, Herrera and another military official said.

“We’re trying our best to contain the situation,” Herrera said by telephone, adding that troops were moving carefully to avoid hitting civilians in the area of the fighting.

Officials could not immediately tell with clarity what was going on, and said they were checking reports that the militants had entered a hospital and raised a black Islamic State-style flag.

The Maute group is one of less than a dozen new armed Muslim groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and formed a loose alliance in the southern Philippines in recent years.

It has been blamed for a bomb attack that killed 15 people in southern Davao city, President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown, last September and a number of attacks on government forces in Lanao, although it has faced setbacks from a series of military offensives.

In April, troops backed by airstrikes killed dozens of Maute militants and captured their jungle camp near Lanao del Sur’s Piagapo town.

Troops found homemade bombs, grenades, combat uniforms and passports of suspected Indonesian militants in the camp.

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Israeli Officers: You’re Doing ISIS Wrong – POLITICO Magazine

ASSANIA MOUNTAIN, ON THE ISRAEL-SYRIAN BORDERThe Israeli military is not too impressed with President Donald Trumps escalation against the Islamic State.

That, at least, is the distinct impression I got on a recent trip to Israel, including a visit to the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights that offered a unique vantage point on the hopelessly entangled anarchy that is the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year.

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From atop a network of underground bunkers dating to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, my Israeli Army escort pointed northeast to Al Quneitra, the largely abandoned Syrian city in the distance where forces of President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah are trading mortar fire with rebel fighters who control two nearby villages.

A short drive south, past cherry and apple orchards, an abandoned United Nations outpost just over the fortified border now flies the flag of the Al Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda. Farther south, past a remote Israeli drone base, nestled atop a craggy slope across the valley below is a training base for the Islamic State, which is making new inroads far from its capital of Raqqa, more than 300 miles across the desert.

If going north or west is not an option, explained one Israel Defense Force official, pointing toward the small ISIS training camp situated through a thatch of trees where southern Syria juts between Israel and Jordan, they are going to go somewhere else.

Some are already coming here. And Jordan is very concerned about the Islamic State.

My trip came several weeks before Trump was due to arrive in Israel on a maiden foreign trip that is focused heavily on the Islamic State, which he has vowed to demolish and destroy. But the assessment he receives from a close U.S. ally that has confronted Islamic militants for generationsand recently uncovered critical intelligence about an ISIS plot to use laptops to blow up airplanesmay not be what he wants to hear.

In the view of the Israeli military and intelligence units I visited over several days in late April, the U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria may be making the situation only worse. Were radicalizing the local population and spreading the hardest-core militants to sow havoc in neighboring Lebanonwhich the officers I spoke with fear may already be on the verge on collapseand Jordan. Still others are escaping the onslaught to Europe and possibly America.

I am not sure it will be easy to defeat ISIS, as you are claiming to do, Army Brig. Gen. Ram Yavne, the head of the IDFs Strategic Division, told me in Tel Aviv, expressing a level of puzzlement shared by a number of other top commanders about the U.S. military obsession with a group that they do not consider a major strategic threat.

Several officials pointed out that even the largest estimates of the number of ISISs fiercest adherents are on par with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.

But Trump sees it differently. He has authorized his military commanders to step up U.S. military involvement in both Iraq and Syria, including granting the Pentagon more authority to go after ISIS targets and to insert hundreds of additional American forces into Syria. As recently as Friday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis vowed to destroy ISIS, first by taking Raqqa and then supporting the campaign by local Arab and Kurdish forces to clear other Syrian cities along the Euphrates River, where the group has a significant presence. Were there to drive ISIS to its knees, he told reporters, saying the more aggressive U.S. strategy seeks the groups annihilation.

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But some Israeli commanders, who agreed to share their assessments of the Syria conflict on the condition they not be identified, went as far as saying that the American actions in Syria and Iraq, where U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recently liberated the city of Mosul, could be turning ISIS and its affiliates elsewhere in the region into an even bigger threat to the West.

The worst is yet to come, one intelligence official said.

Several stressed that unlike Al Qaeda, another Sunni terrorist group that attacked the United States on 9/11, the Islamic State predicated itself not on attacking the West but revolutionizing Islam in its most rigid, violent form.

What ISIS has been saying since the beginningthe concept of the caliphatewas we need to put our house in order first and then we have time to fight the outside powers, an intelligence officer at the IDFs Northern Command base, outside the city of Safed, told me as he pored over a map of the Syrian frontier. He believes the United States has failed to understand the competing interests and constantly shifting alliances among what the IDF estimates are between 400 and 500 different groups fighting in the Syrian civil warincluding underestimating the level of local support ISIS actually has.

Take Mosul, for example. Mosul is a million-citizen city and the largest estimate said [there were] 8,000 militants. You cant control a million-people city with 8,000 people if you dont have some support within the population.

In eastern Syria, where ISIS is believed to be strongest, the population is relatively favorable to the Islamic causethe tribes and so forth, he added. When you bring a Western logic into an eastern Arab mentality it doesnt usually work out. A Western mind doesnt really understand the nuances of Arab tribal society anywhere in the Middle East.

During the campaign, Trump promised to bomb the shit out of ISIS. But the American-led military campaign against the grouplike the brutal attacks committed by Assads forces and its Russian military alliesmay simply be radicalizing a new generation of terrorists bent on attacking Western countries.

The bombing sometimes is causing more damage than it helps, the military intelligence officer said. You are also perceived as one of those guys blowing things up.

The U.S. may live to regret it.

ISIS is much like cancer, the intelligence officer at the IDF’s Northern Command said. It is easy to cut the tumors off. But how do you prevent the small cancer cells from expanding? I think the caliphate is already thinking, OK, what are we going to do next? What was ISIS doing the minute the Americans and Iraqis went into Mosul? It started exploding everything up in Iraqabout 1,000 suicide attacks in a number of months. Raqqa is probably going to fall. The same thing will happen. All the cancerous cells throughout Syria … are going to do the same and start blowing things up.

The United States has mishandled the situation in other ways, in the view of the Israelis I spoke with. For example, U.S. efforts to train rebel fighters inside Syria to fight ISIS are widely seen as counterproductive. The CIA [training] program goes against Assad and the Pentagon program only goes for rebels against ISIS, the intelligence officer complained. So what is the U.S. stance is not really clear here.

Israeli analysts laid out several possible scenarios ahead for the Syrian civil war, including that Assad regains control of his country (not likely) and the regime grants some rebels group autonomy and economic incentives in return for coexistence (already well underway).

What they agree on is that Assad is now unquestionably winning. And he owes Hezbollah, the radical Shia Muslim proxy of Iran, big time for it.

The so-called Army of God, which has gone to war with Israel twice and constitutes a state within a state in neighboring Lebanon, has lost an estimated 1,700 fighters bleeding for the Syrian dictator and as payback is now seeking to expand its new base of operations in Syriawhich also means a new sphere of influence for the mullahs in Tehran.

If Assad wins, one IDF official in the Golan Heights told me, we will have Hezbollah on two borders not one.

Yavne, the brigadier general, similarly described the Iranian influence as significantly more worrisome than ISIS or other Sunni Muslim terror groups:

If I can be frank, the radical axis headed by Iran is more risky than the global jihad one,” said Yavne. It is much more knowledgeable, stronger, with a bigger arsenal.

As far as these Israeli officers are concerned, the ideal strategy is to sit back and let both types of groups duke it outand work to contain the conflict rather than trying to end it with military force. As the IDF intelligence officer put it, the battle for deterrence is easier than the battle for influence.

But does that mean the United States and its allies should simply allow ISIS to retain its so-called caliphate in parts of eastern Syria and eastern Iraq?

Why not? the officer shot back. When they asked the late [Israeli] Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the Iraq-Iran War in the 80s, who does Israel stand for, Iraq or Iran, he said, I wish luck to both parties. They can go at it, killing each other. The same thing is here. You have ISIS killing Al Qaeda by the thousands, Al Qaeda killing ISIS by the thousands. And they are both killing Hezbollah and Assad.

I asked an IDF official peering out into the Syrian frontier a similar questionabout the consequences of Americas war against ISIS in the region.

There is no lack of Islamic militant groups here, he said, clutching a machine gun in one hand and a pineapple popsicle in another. You just havent heard of them yet.

Bryan Bender is POLITICOs national security editor and the author of You Are Not Forgotten.

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Here’s Where ISIS Has Claimed Attacks in Europe Since Paris Violence – Newsweek

TheIslamic State militant group (ISIS) claimed responsibility Tuesday for asuspected suicide bomb attack on an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, U.K., the previous night.

The precise level of the group’s involvement is as yet unknownwhile it has directly coordinated some attacks on European soil, at other times it seems to have “inspired” atrocities without taking a direct role.

From the gun and bomb attacks on Paris on November 13, 2015 to Monday’s bombing, ISIS has claimed responsibility for 12 recent attacks on civilians in Europe. They range from small-scale incidents involving knives or other close-range weapons, through to multi-actor coordinated assaults.

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Between them, they demonstrate the remarkable adaptability and scale of the ISIS threat thatfaces Western societies.

This map shows where has come under attack, and what level of involvement ISIS had in the carnage.Points marked orange indicate attacksclaimed by ISIS butnot directed by the group, points marked red indicate attacks directed by ISIS, and points marked blue indicate attacks where the level of ISIS involvement is unclear.

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Robert Gates: Expect more attacks in the West as ISIS is defeated in the Middle East – Washington Times

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Tuesday that the terrorist attack in Manchester, England, the night before will be a harbinger of more activities in the West committed by Islamic State militants as they continue to be defeated in Iraq and Syria.

I think sadly, Manchester will be a harbinger of more activities in the West, Mr. Gates said, speaking Tuesday at a conference on Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood put on by the Washington, D.C., think-tank the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

On Monday night, at least 22 people were killed and over 50 were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena, an event that was mostly attended by children, teenagers and their parents.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility for the attack Tuesday, announcing on a social messaging app popular with the terrorist group that One of the soldiers of the Caliphate was able to place an explosive device within a gather of the Crusaders in the city of Manchester, The New York Times reported.

Mr. Gates on Tuesday continued that it made no difference whether ISIS had directly organized the attack or only served as the encouraging factor. It doesnt change the fact that Europeans need to be vigilant in assessing and defeating the threat of the terror groups radical ideology.

As coalition forces continue to close in on Raqqa and on Mosul, ISIS militants will try to infiltrate Europe as refugees and continue their fight against the West, continued Mr. Gates, who is a former head of the CIA and was defense secretary under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

You will see ISIS become more active and more aggressive in a variety of places in the West, having lost the caliphate and the cities like Raqqa and Mosul as people leave, scurry away from those sites and that doesnt mean theyre defeated individually, or theyve lost their commitment to attacking the crusaders, or whatever they call us theyll change their tactics, Mr. Gates said.

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DOD Leaders Cite Strides in Annihilating ISIS – Scout

The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will continue to build on the progress made to date to accelerate the campaign to annihilate the vicious group wherever it tries to form, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during a Pentagon briefing today.

By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity/ Published May 19, 2017

The U.S.-ledcoalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syriawill continue to build on the progress made to date to accelerate the campaign to annihilate the vicious group wherever it tries to form, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during a Pentagon briefing today

Mattis was accompanied by Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The terror group seemed to appear from nowhere two years ago and swept across Syria and Iraq, causing death and destruction wherever it touched. ISIS affiliates formed in Afghanistan and North Africa. And swarms of foreign fighters sought to reach Raqqa, Syria, the terror groups self-styled capital.

The United States is leading the campaign to defeat the terror group, and crush the idea that ISIS is invincible.

Taking the Fight to ISIS

Thanks to the leadership and authorities granted by President (Donald J.) Trump, thanks to the spirit of dozens of nations committed to this fight, thanks to the nations whose troops have gone toe-to-toe with this terrorist group we have retaken over 55 percent of ISIS territory there in the core, Mattis said. Over four million people have been liberated. And not one inch of territory seized from ISIS has been recaptured by them.

Soon after taking office in January, Trump ordered a review of the effort against ISIS. Two changes came from that review: Delegation of authority to lower command levels, and the president directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds, so we can annihilate ISIS, Mattis said.

The intent, he said, is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters.

VIDEO | 00:19 | Mattis Updates Reporters on ISIS

All this was done with no change to the rules of engagement or changes in protecting innocent civilians caught in the fighting.

Its truly an international effort against the brutal group, Mattis said.

Since this began in 2014, the coalition has strengthened and expanded, the secretary said.

There are now 68 members in the counter-ISIS coalition, Mattis said. Those nations and affiliated organizations are sharing intelligence, providing troops and funds for combat and for the post-combat recovery. A total of 26 nations contribute more than 4,000 non-U.S. troops on the ground and in the air.

Our recent coalition meetings in Brussels, Copenhagen and elsewhere reflect an energized campaign among contributing nations partnering with, of course, the Iraqi security forces in Iraq and the counter-ISIS forces in Syria, Mattis said.

This effort has reduced ISIS-held territory, limited their freedom of movement, destroyed a great deal of their leadership, reduced the flow of foreign fighters into and from the region, diminished their financial resources and, I think, perhaps most importantly, weve undermined the credibility of their narrative that there is a physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, Dunford said.

Counter-ISIS Campaign in Iraq

In Iraq, U.S. and coalition forces provide equipment and intelligence to Iraqi security forces, the chairman said. Coalition pilots bomb ISIS targets and coalition advisors work with Iraqi leaders on the campaign. But it is the Iraqis paying most of the cost, the general said.

In Mosul alone, theyve suffered approximately 980 killed and over 6,000 wounded, Dunford said of Iraqi losses in the fight against ISIS.

However, the Iraqi forces have gotten much better and far more competent, the chairman said.

Just as an aside, in addition to the competence that theyve demonstrated Mosul, and the sacrifice, the one thing Ive seen over time, in the 15 months I’ve been back and forth visiting in Iraq, in this particular assignment, is the confidence of the Iraqi leadership, Dunford said. Compare the fall of 2015 to today, its very clear who is in charge, and the level of confidence of the commanders in their ability to lead and in their soldiers ability to fight is remarkably different than it was a short time ago.

VIDEO | 00:34 | Dunford Updates Press on ISIS

In Syria, working with Turkey and partnered forces, the coalition has sealed the Turkish-Syrian border, stemming the flow of foreign fighters, weapons and money to ISIS, Dunford said. The general said at its peak there were about 1,500 foreign fighters crossing that border each month. That has dropped to less than 100 today, he said.

And Syrian Democratic Forces are isolating Raqqa — the center of ISIS.

We’re also taking the fight to ISIS outside of Iraq and Syria, attacking their affiliates and any groups that claim allegiance, Dunford said. ISIS is a transregional threat, and we have a global approach.

The chairman told reporters he is working to expand the already huge coalition against ISIS. I’m working very closely with more than 60 of my counterparts to expand the coalition that we have in dealing with ISIS, and our priority clearly is to prevent attacks against the homeland, he said. Our strategic approach is to cut the connectivity between ISIS affiliates and associates, and that’s specifically the foreign fighter flow, their illicit resources and their message.

The effort is more than a military effort — it is a whole of government approach, and Brett McGurk, the presidents special envoy, said this is enabling an anaconda-like approach to suffocate ISIS of its territory, finances, propaganda and ability to move foreign fighters.

This cooperation has enabled closer political coordination between local, regional and national governments to help return people to their homes after the battles are won through an innovative post-conflict approach based on empowering people at the local level to restore life to their communities, McGurk said. The effort is being led by Germany, Italy, France, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, the United Kingdom and other key contributors.

The initial focus on de-mining key facilities is a critical coalition focus. Iraqis, trained by our coalition supporting demining, have now cleared 34 tons of explosive material, he said.

In Iraq, 1.7 million Iraqis are now back in their homes, McGurk said.

That record is historically unprecedented in a conflict of this nature, and we give tremendous credit to the government of Iraq and local leaders who have worked cooperatively to stabilize local areas and return local populations, he said. To date in Mosul, 116,000 displaced civilians have returned, 250,000 boys and girls are back in school and we’re working to ensure that these trend lines continue.

McGurk said the coalition will attempt to use the same model in Raqqa with local leaders planning for the day after ISIS.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)

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What It’s Like to Stand Alongside the Kurdish Women Fighting ISIS – VICE

Writer’s note: In March last year, Kimberley Taylor became the first (and only) British woman to travel to Syria to take up arms against ISIS. Within days of her arrival, the 28-year-old former maths student from Blackburn joined the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) the all-female affiliate army of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) of Syrian Kurdistanand has been fighting alongside them ever since. For the past three months, Kimberley known to friends as Kimmie, but to comrades as Zilan Dilmarhas been part of the offensive to liberate Raqqa, ISIS’ de-facto capital. At the end of March, I spoke to Kimberley, over a series of Skype conversations, to find out what life is like for a woman on the frontline against ISIS. Two days later, she deployed to Raqqa to fight in what will likely be ISIS’s bitter last stand. These are her words, but they have been edited and condensed for clarity. Read part one and part two.

Our unit’s rotation on the moving front finished yesterday, so they’ve given us a few days off. So I hitched a lift with the logistics van to Qamishlo [a city in northeastern Syria] to meet some old friends and do some shopping. I need T-shirts and socks. There’s something weird going on with Syrian socksthey always make my feet smell, no matter how much I wash them. Sorxwin won’t stop taking the piss out of my stinky feet.

I got the socks and went for lunch with the three other Western women in the YPJtwo Swedes and a Canadian. I had two hamburgers and a beer. I can’t tell you what a treat that was after a month of chicken spam and Dairylea. And it was only the third beer I’ve drunk in a year. Kurdish girls aren’t allowed to drink for religious reasons, and you can’t drink in front of them. It tasted like heaven. I think I was a little tipsy.

I miss my family terribly, especially at night.

Qamishlo is the capital of Rojava [the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Syria]. The main thing you notice is a picture of Abdullah calan, the founder of the PKK and leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, on almost every wall. Known here as “Apo” (Kurdish for “uncle”), he’s been in solitary confinement in a Turkish island prison for 18 years, where he devised the social and political philosophy driving the Rojava revolution.

That’s the reason I’m here. We want to destroy ISIS, of course. But something else is happening here, not just war: an anti-capitalist, secular, environmentally-friendly movement that puts women’s liberation at the centre of the struggle.They’ve torn up and redrawn all aspects of society. State education is compulsory for girls as well as boys, from the age of seven to 15, regardless of class or ethnic background. They’ve even built a university that’s open to all. There’s a co-operative system of government where a man and woman share power at every level.

In the YPG and the YPJ, officers are elected by troops, and men and women fight side by side. Of course, they have had to retain some of the traditional values of Islamic culture: men of the YPG and women of the YPJ live and fight together but eat and sleep separately; men can’t bare their upper arms in front of women; and women can’t show leg or cleavage.

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ISIS to evacuate its positions in southern Damascus: reports – AMN Al-Masdar News (registration)

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (4:20 P.M.) ISIS militants are preparing to leave the districts under their control in the southern suburbs of Damascus as per an evacuation deal with the Syrian government.

According to pro-rebel activists, news spread in al-Hajar al-Aswad and Yarmouk Refugee camp that within a week, ISIS fighters are leaving the area for the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, where the Islamic State control large swathes of land.

The same activists reported that those militants have already began to sell their belongings for a cheaper price as locals willing to leave the area were asked to enroll their names

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Yesterday, three ISIS jihadists were killed, one captured as the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam raided the groups outposts in the northern parts of Yarmouk Camp.

ALSO READ Islamic State insurgents ambushed in southern Damascus by rival jihadist group

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ISIS to evacuate its positions in southern Damascus: reports – AMN Al-Masdar News (registration)

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Regular U.S. Troops Are Getting Close Enough to ISIS to Fire Mortars – The Drive

Since the U.S. military began its campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, American troops, primarily special operators, have been creeping closer to the front lines and toward increasingly active combat. A new, official video provides measurable clues about just how close conventional forces now are to enemy in the fight to finally eject the terrorists from their de facto capital in Iraq, Mosul. On May 19, 2017, the U.S. Armys 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division published another in a set of videos of its soldiers supporting Iraqi security forces (ISF) in and around Mosul. Unlike the other footage which showed paratroopers flying in to a helicopter landing zone on UH-60 Black Hawks, driving and walking through liberated streets inside the city, delivering ammunition, and training Iraqi police snipers this particular clip followed a mortar section providing relatively close-range fire support. Other images show the mortars in action in or near Mosul as early as March, 14, 2017. The brigade enables their ISF partners through the advise and assist mission, contributing planning, intelligence collection and analysis, force protection, and precision fires to achieve the military defeat of ISIS, the official caption states. Precision in this case would be relative to the gunners skill, as no guided mortar rounds, though they exist, are visible. It is also not clear whether the troops have GPS-assisted targeting equipment or electronic ballistic computers. They appear to do the initial sighting-in and adjustments manually. The team from the 82nd Airborne fires or prepared to fire both the 81mm M252 and the 120mm M120 mortars in the video. The M252 has a maximum range of almost three and a half miles, but can also hit targets less than 300 feet away. The significantly larger M120 can toss shells nearly four and half miles away while still able to hit the enemy at ranges just over 650 feet.

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Is Trump Looking for a Flashy Victory Over ISIS in Raqqa? – Newsweek

This article first appeared on the Atlantic Council site. With Trumps approval last week to directly arm the YPG, [ The People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish militia in Syria and the primary component of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria’s Syrian Democratic Forces,] the United States is gearing up for the battle to capture Raqqa city from ISIS. To understand how the United States got to this pointarming proxy forces, troops on the ground, all the while conducting airstrikesone can ask: how did Raqqa became the self-declared capital of ISIS? Subscribe to Newsweek from $1 per week Trump has repeatedly said that Obama is responsible for creating ISIS. Although Obama did not create ISIS, the reality is that the hesitation of the Obama administration, first in heeding the warnings from senior US officials in the early days of the revolution about the chance for extremist groups to find fertile ground in Syria, and again in combating ISIS in 2013-14, played a key role in the growth of ISIS. Even today, if one maintains an anti-interventionist position, one cannot deny that the inaction of the Obama administration was one of the main reasons for the chaos todaychaos that the new president has to address. In the winter of 2013, the first military rebel-led operations against ISIS started in Syria after ISIS killed one of the doctors that was affiliated with Ahrar al-Sham. This doctor was well known and popular in his community, so when a video emerged showing his dead body and evidence of torture, there was an uproar in the Syrian community. The battle against ISIS started in Aleppo and spread to different parts of the country, leading to the withdrawal of ISIS from western Aleppo province to al-Bab and Manbij. The Obama administration provided partial assistance to vetted rebel groups in western Syria. Rebel group commanders had to meet in Turkey and northern Syria with US officials after which they, and the groups they represented, went through interagency vetting and background checks. Engineers, journalists and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters run for cover after ISIS shelled positions held by the SDF at the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River, Syria March 29, 2017. Rodi Said/reuters Notwithstanding, the Obama administration only gave these groups minimal support, and not enough to stop the growth of ISIS, much less undo it. The main concern of the administration was and continues to be the risk of arms ending up with extremist groups. ISIS gained the offensive against the last rebel-led battle in Manbij. As a result, the ISIS military leader at the time, Abu Omar al-Shishani, took control of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor to open routes to Mosul, Iraq. In January 2014, ISIS declared Raqqa the capital of its emirate (at this point, it had not declared its caliphate). In the summer of 2014, with the public execution of James Foley, and later Steven Sotloff and Peter Kassig, matters changed. The beheadings became a media spectacle and there was immense domestic and international pressure for the administration to respond. This is when the Obama administration started to arm more groups and intervene directly in the form of airstrikes. However, the focus of this support was in the northeast towards groups fighting ISIS, not in the west where groups were focused on fighting the regime. By this time, al Qaeda had expanded in the west while the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and moderate opposition groups forces contracted significantly compared to 2013. In the past six months, many areas have been retaken from ISIS such as Manbij, al-Bab and Jarabulus. That being said, they have been liberated at the expense of hundreds, maybe thousands of casualties from US airstrikes, Turkish shelling and Kurdish clashes with ISIS human shields. Meanwhile, displaced inhabitants did not celebrate this liberation. The activists and FSA rebels from Manbij, many who led the fight against ISIS in 2013, are not able to return because Kurdish YPG forces control the town. Houses that were formerly seized by foreign fighters are now housing Kurdish forces. For the owners of these houses, this is not the liberation they imagined. In essence, by relying on US airstrikes, Turkish and Kurdish forces, formerly held ISIS areas have been liberated but through massive casualties, permanent displacement and further fragmentation of an already divided country. The approach of the United Statescoming late to the game, relying on a multitude of foreign powers intervening in the conflict and not taking a leadership roleguarantees fragmentation and division of Syria, and destroys any hope of reuniting the country. Foreign flags now fly over many former ISIS-held areas. Turkish flags are raised in al-Bab and Jarabulus where there is now a strong Turkish security apparatus. American flags are now present in Manbij. Yet there is a lack of Syrian flags. Had local troops been supported in the critical year of 2013, things may have been different. Unfortunately, the role of the United States is increasingly dictated by media spectacles and domestic politics as opposed to political realities. When US polls showed that it was not favorable to support the opposition, or conduct airstrikes after the regimes sarin gas attack Ghouta in 2013, the Obama administration held back. After the beheading of Foley in August 2014, public polls said that the United States should do something about ISIS, and one month later the US and its allies began the most flashy, but least politically costly method, that they could: airstrikes without ground forces. Raqqa became the capital of ISIS because of US neglect of local forces when ISIS was first established itself. Syrian Democratic Forces, the coalition of ground forces dominated by the Kurdish YPG, with support from the US-led international coalition are now leading the drive to Raqqa and preparing to lay siege to the citybut at what cost? The forces retaking Raqqa are not native to the city and harmed and upset residents in the drive to Raqqa. Dissatisfaction with the international community and their supported proxy forces has increased. Extremist groups post-ISIS will recruit easily. Raqqa may fall, but the narrow focus of current US policy will sow the seeds of further unrest and fracturing in Syria. Today, Trump administrations policy towards Syria is unclear. But gauging from his debates and statements, his goal is a flashy victory against ISIS, to show the domestic audience that he is strong on terrorism. To achieve that, he may be willing to work with the Syrian government and the Russians. However, he has said that he will not work with the Syrian rebels as he does not know who they are. By not engaging with local forces and addressing civilian grievances, the Trump administration is opening the door to further radicalization, fragmentation, and instability. Loubna Mrie is a Syrian activist was a photojournalist with Reuters based in Aleppo, where she covered the ongoing conflict in the Idlib, Aleppo, Latakia and Hama governorates.

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ISIS-linked gunmen battle Philippine troops in southern city – Fox News

MANILA, Philippines Philippine troops battled heavily armed militants backing the Islamic State group in a southern city Tuesday, as months of sporadic fighting in the countryside shifted alarmingly into an urban area. Regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Joar Herrera said five government personnel were wounded in the clash with at least 15 fighters from a Muslim rebel group called Maute in the village of Basak Malutlut in Marawi, a bustling predominantly Muslim city in Lanao del Sur province. ISIS CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR ARIANA GRANDE CONCERT ATTACK IN MANCHESTER Troops and special police forces attacked an apartment after the military obtained intelligence that Maute gunmen were hiding there with a top terror suspect, Herrera and another military official said. “We’re trying our best to contain the situation,” Herrera said by telephone, adding that troops were moving carefully to avoid hitting civilians in the area of the fighting. Officials could not immediately tell with clarity what was going on, and said they were checking reports that the militants had entered a hospital and raised a black Islamic State-style flag. The Maute group is one of less than a dozen new armed Muslim groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and formed a loose alliance in the southern Philippines in recent years. It has been blamed for a bomb attack that killed 15 people in southern Davao city, President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown, last September and a number of attacks on government forces in Lanao, although it has faced setbacks from a series of military offensives. In April, troops backed by airstrikes killed dozens of Maute militants and captured their jungle camp near Lanao del Sur’s Piagapo town. Troops found homemade bombs, grenades, combat uniforms and passports of suspected Indonesian militants in the camp.

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Israeli Officers: You’re Doing ISIS Wrong – POLITICO Magazine

ASSANIA MOUNTAIN, ON THE ISRAEL-SYRIAN BORDERThe Israeli military is not too impressed with President Donald Trumps escalation against the Islamic State. That, at least, is the distinct impression I got on a recent trip to Israel, including a visit to the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan Heights that offered a unique vantage point on the hopelessly entangled anarchy that is the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year. Story Continued Below From atop a network of underground bunkers dating to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, my Israeli Army escort pointed northeast to Al Quneitra, the largely abandoned Syrian city in the distance where forces of President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah are trading mortar fire with rebel fighters who control two nearby villages. A short drive south, past cherry and apple orchards, an abandoned United Nations outpost just over the fortified border now flies the flag of the Al Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda. Farther south, past a remote Israeli drone base, nestled atop a craggy slope across the valley below is a training base for the Islamic State, which is making new inroads far from its capital of Raqqa, more than 300 miles across the desert. If going north or west is not an option, explained one Israel Defense Force official, pointing toward the small ISIS training camp situated through a thatch of trees where southern Syria juts between Israel and Jordan, they are going to go somewhere else. Some are already coming here. And Jordan is very concerned about the Islamic State. My trip came several weeks before Trump was due to arrive in Israel on a maiden foreign trip that is focused heavily on the Islamic State, which he has vowed to demolish and destroy. But the assessment he receives from a close U.S. ally that has confronted Islamic militants for generationsand recently uncovered critical intelligence about an ISIS plot to use laptops to blow up airplanesmay not be what he wants to hear. In the view of the Israeli military and intelligence units I visited over several days in late April, the U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria may be making the situation only worse. Were radicalizing the local population and spreading the hardest-core militants to sow havoc in neighboring Lebanonwhich the officers I spoke with fear may already be on the verge on collapseand Jordan. Still others are escaping the onslaught to Europe and possibly America. I am not sure it will be easy to defeat ISIS, as you are claiming to do, Army Brig. Gen. Ram Yavne, the head of the IDFs Strategic Division, told me in Tel Aviv, expressing a level of puzzlement shared by a number of other top commanders about the U.S. military obsession with a group that they do not consider a major strategic threat. Several officials pointed out that even the largest estimates of the number of ISISs fiercest adherents are on par with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. But Trump sees it differently. He has authorized his military commanders to step up U.S. military involvement in both Iraq and Syria, including granting the Pentagon more authority to go after ISIS targets and to insert hundreds of additional American forces into Syria. As recently as Friday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis vowed to destroy ISIS, first by taking Raqqa and then supporting the campaign by local Arab and Kurdish forces to clear other Syrian cities along the Euphrates River, where the group has a significant presence. Were there to drive ISIS to its knees, he told reporters, saying the more aggressive U.S. strategy seeks the groups annihilation. Sign up for POLITICO Magazines email of the weeks best, delivered to your inbox every Friday morning. By signing up you agree to receive email newsletters or alerts from POLITICO. You can unsubscribe at any time. But some Israeli commanders, who agreed to share their assessments of the Syria conflict on the condition they not be identified, went as far as saying that the American actions in Syria and Iraq, where U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recently liberated the city of Mosul, could be turning ISIS and its affiliates elsewhere in the region into an even bigger threat to the West. The worst is yet to come, one intelligence official said. Several stressed that unlike Al Qaeda, another Sunni terrorist group that attacked the United States on 9/11, the Islamic State predicated itself not on attacking the West but revolutionizing Islam in its most rigid, violent form. What ISIS has been saying since the beginningthe concept of the caliphatewas we need to put our house in order first and then we have time to fight the outside powers, an intelligence officer at the IDFs Northern Command base, outside the city of Safed, told me as he pored over a map of the Syrian frontier. He believes the United States has failed to understand the competing interests and constantly shifting alliances among what the IDF estimates are between 400 and 500 different groups fighting in the Syrian civil warincluding underestimating the level of local support ISIS actually has. Take Mosul, for example. Mosul is a million-citizen city and the largest estimate said [there were] 8,000 militants. You cant control a million-people city with 8,000 people if you dont have some support within the population. In eastern Syria, where ISIS is believed to be strongest, the population is relatively favorable to the Islamic causethe tribes and so forth, he added. When you bring a Western logic into an eastern Arab mentality it doesnt usually work out. A Western mind doesnt really understand the nuances of Arab tribal society anywhere in the Middle East. During the campaign, Trump promised to bomb the shit out of ISIS. But the American-led military campaign against the grouplike the brutal attacks committed by Assads forces and its Russian military alliesmay simply be radicalizing a new generation of terrorists bent on attacking Western countries. The bombing sometimes is causing more damage than it helps, the military intelligence officer said. You are also perceived as one of those guys blowing things up. The U.S. may live to regret it. ISIS is much like cancer, the intelligence officer at the IDF’s Northern Command said. It is easy to cut the tumors off. But how do you prevent the small cancer cells from expanding? I think the caliphate is already thinking, OK, what are we going to do next? What was ISIS doing the minute the Americans and Iraqis went into Mosul? It started exploding everything up in Iraqabout 1,000 suicide attacks in a number of months. Raqqa is probably going to fall. The same thing will happen. All the cancerous cells throughout Syria … are going to do the same and start blowing things up. The United States has mishandled the situation in other ways, in the view of the Israelis I spoke with. For example, U.S. efforts to train rebel fighters inside Syria to fight ISIS are widely seen as counterproductive. The CIA [training] program goes against Assad and the Pentagon program only goes for rebels against ISIS, the intelligence officer complained. So what is the U.S. stance is not really clear here. Israeli analysts laid out several possible scenarios ahead for the Syrian civil war, including that Assad regains control of his country (not likely) and the regime grants some rebels group autonomy and economic incentives in return for coexistence (already well underway). What they agree on is that Assad is now unquestionably winning. And he owes Hezbollah, the radical Shia Muslim proxy of Iran, big time for it. The so-called Army of God, which has gone to war with Israel twice and constitutes a state within a state in neighboring Lebanon, has lost an estimated 1,700 fighters bleeding for the Syrian dictator and as payback is now seeking to expand its new base of operations in Syriawhich also means a new sphere of influence for the mullahs in Tehran. If Assad wins, one IDF official in the Golan Heights told me, we will have Hezbollah on two borders not one. Yavne, the brigadier general, similarly described the Iranian influence as significantly more worrisome than ISIS or other Sunni Muslim terror groups: If I can be frank, the radical axis headed by Iran is more risky than the global jihad one,” said Yavne. It is much more knowledgeable, stronger, with a bigger arsenal. As far as these Israeli officers are concerned, the ideal strategy is to sit back and let both types of groups duke it outand work to contain the conflict rather than trying to end it with military force. As the IDF intelligence officer put it, the battle for deterrence is easier than the battle for influence. But does that mean the United States and its allies should simply allow ISIS to retain its so-called caliphate in parts of eastern Syria and eastern Iraq? Why not? the officer shot back. When they asked the late [Israeli] Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the Iraq-Iran War in the 80s, who does Israel stand for, Iraq or Iran, he said, I wish luck to both parties. They can go at it, killing each other. The same thing is here. You have ISIS killing Al Qaeda by the thousands, Al Qaeda killing ISIS by the thousands. And they are both killing Hezbollah and Assad. I asked an IDF official peering out into the Syrian frontier a similar questionabout the consequences of Americas war against ISIS in the region. There is no lack of Islamic militant groups here, he said, clutching a machine gun in one hand and a pineapple popsicle in another. You just havent heard of them yet. Bryan Bender is POLITICOs national security editor and the author of You Are Not Forgotten.

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Here’s Where ISIS Has Claimed Attacks in Europe Since Paris Violence – Newsweek

TheIslamic State militant group (ISIS) claimed responsibility Tuesday for asuspected suicide bomb attack on an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, U.K., the previous night. The precise level of the group’s involvement is as yet unknownwhile it has directly coordinated some attacks on European soil, at other times it seems to have “inspired” atrocities without taking a direct role. From the gun and bomb attacks on Paris on November 13, 2015 to Monday’s bombing, ISIS has claimed responsibility for 12 recent attacks on civilians in Europe. They range from small-scale incidents involving knives or other close-range weapons, through to multi-actor coordinated assaults. Subscribe to Newsweek from $1 per week Between them, they demonstrate the remarkable adaptability and scale of the ISIS threat thatfaces Western societies. This map shows where has come under attack, and what level of involvement ISIS had in the carnage.Points marked orange indicate attacksclaimed by ISIS butnot directed by the group, points marked red indicate attacks directed by ISIS, and points marked blue indicate attacks where the level of ISIS involvement is unclear.

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Robert Gates: Expect more attacks in the West as ISIS is defeated in the Middle East – Washington Times

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Tuesday that the terrorist attack in Manchester, England, the night before will be a harbinger of more activities in the West committed by Islamic State militants as they continue to be defeated in Iraq and Syria. I think sadly, Manchester will be a harbinger of more activities in the West, Mr. Gates said, speaking Tuesday at a conference on Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood put on by the Washington, D.C., think-tank the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. On Monday night, at least 22 people were killed and over 50 were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena, an event that was mostly attended by children, teenagers and their parents. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility for the attack Tuesday, announcing on a social messaging app popular with the terrorist group that One of the soldiers of the Caliphate was able to place an explosive device within a gather of the Crusaders in the city of Manchester, The New York Times reported. Mr. Gates on Tuesday continued that it made no difference whether ISIS had directly organized the attack or only served as the encouraging factor. It doesnt change the fact that Europeans need to be vigilant in assessing and defeating the threat of the terror groups radical ideology. As coalition forces continue to close in on Raqqa and on Mosul, ISIS militants will try to infiltrate Europe as refugees and continue their fight against the West, continued Mr. Gates, who is a former head of the CIA and was defense secretary under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. You will see ISIS become more active and more aggressive in a variety of places in the West, having lost the caliphate and the cities like Raqqa and Mosul as people leave, scurry away from those sites and that doesnt mean theyre defeated individually, or theyve lost their commitment to attacking the crusaders, or whatever they call us theyll change their tactics, Mr. Gates said.

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DOD Leaders Cite Strides in Annihilating ISIS – Scout

The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will continue to build on the progress made to date to accelerate the campaign to annihilate the vicious group wherever it tries to form, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during a Pentagon briefing today. By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity/ Published May 19, 2017 The U.S.-ledcoalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syriawill continue to build on the progress made to date to accelerate the campaign to annihilate the vicious group wherever it tries to form, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during a Pentagon briefing today Mattis was accompanied by Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The terror group seemed to appear from nowhere two years ago and swept across Syria and Iraq, causing death and destruction wherever it touched. ISIS affiliates formed in Afghanistan and North Africa. And swarms of foreign fighters sought to reach Raqqa, Syria, the terror groups self-styled capital. The United States is leading the campaign to defeat the terror group, and crush the idea that ISIS is invincible. Taking the Fight to ISIS Thanks to the leadership and authorities granted by President (Donald J.) Trump, thanks to the spirit of dozens of nations committed to this fight, thanks to the nations whose troops have gone toe-to-toe with this terrorist group we have retaken over 55 percent of ISIS territory there in the core, Mattis said. Over four million people have been liberated. And not one inch of territory seized from ISIS has been recaptured by them. Soon after taking office in January, Trump ordered a review of the effort against ISIS. Two changes came from that review: Delegation of authority to lower command levels, and the president directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds, so we can annihilate ISIS, Mattis said. The intent, he said, is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters. VIDEO | 00:19 | Mattis Updates Reporters on ISIS All this was done with no change to the rules of engagement or changes in protecting innocent civilians caught in the fighting. Its truly an international effort against the brutal group, Mattis said. Since this began in 2014, the coalition has strengthened and expanded, the secretary said. There are now 68 members in the counter-ISIS coalition, Mattis said. Those nations and affiliated organizations are sharing intelligence, providing troops and funds for combat and for the post-combat recovery. A total of 26 nations contribute more than 4,000 non-U.S. troops on the ground and in the air. Our recent coalition meetings in Brussels, Copenhagen and elsewhere reflect an energized campaign among contributing nations partnering with, of course, the Iraqi security forces in Iraq and the counter-ISIS forces in Syria, Mattis said. This effort has reduced ISIS-held territory, limited their freedom of movement, destroyed a great deal of their leadership, reduced the flow of foreign fighters into and from the region, diminished their financial resources and, I think, perhaps most importantly, weve undermined the credibility of their narrative that there is a physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, Dunford said. Counter-ISIS Campaign in Iraq In Iraq, U.S. and coalition forces provide equipment and intelligence to Iraqi security forces, the chairman said. Coalition pilots bomb ISIS targets and coalition advisors work with Iraqi leaders on the campaign. But it is the Iraqis paying most of the cost, the general said. In Mosul alone, theyve suffered approximately 980 killed and over 6,000 wounded, Dunford said of Iraqi losses in the fight against ISIS. However, the Iraqi forces have gotten much better and far more competent, the chairman said. Just as an aside, in addition to the competence that theyve demonstrated Mosul, and the sacrifice, the one thing Ive seen over time, in the 15 months I’ve been back and forth visiting in Iraq, in this particular assignment, is the confidence of the Iraqi leadership, Dunford said. Compare the fall of 2015 to today, its very clear who is in charge, and the level of confidence of the commanders in their ability to lead and in their soldiers ability to fight is remarkably different than it was a short time ago. VIDEO | 00:34 | Dunford Updates Press on ISIS In Syria, working with Turkey and partnered forces, the coalition has sealed the Turkish-Syrian border, stemming the flow of foreign fighters, weapons and money to ISIS, Dunford said. The general said at its peak there were about 1,500 foreign fighters crossing that border each month. That has dropped to less than 100 today, he said. And Syrian Democratic Forces are isolating Raqqa — the center of ISIS. We’re also taking the fight to ISIS outside of Iraq and Syria, attacking their affiliates and any groups that claim allegiance, Dunford said. ISIS is a transregional threat, and we have a global approach. The chairman told reporters he is working to expand the already huge coalition against ISIS. I’m working very closely with more than 60 of my counterparts to expand the coalition that we have in dealing with ISIS, and our priority clearly is to prevent attacks against the homeland, he said. Our strategic approach is to cut the connectivity between ISIS affiliates and associates, and that’s specifically the foreign fighter flow, their illicit resources and their message. The effort is more than a military effort — it is a whole of government approach, and Brett McGurk, the presidents special envoy, said this is enabling an anaconda-like approach to suffocate ISIS of its territory, finances, propaganda and ability to move foreign fighters. This cooperation has enabled closer political coordination between local, regional and national governments to help return people to their homes after the battles are won through an innovative post-conflict approach based on empowering people at the local level to restore life to their communities, McGurk said. The effort is being led by Germany, Italy, France, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, the United Kingdom and other key contributors. The initial focus on de-mining key facilities is a critical coalition focus. Iraqis, trained by our coalition supporting demining, have now cleared 34 tons of explosive material, he said. In Iraq, 1.7 million Iraqis are now back in their homes, McGurk said. That record is historically unprecedented in a conflict of this nature, and we give tremendous credit to the government of Iraq and local leaders who have worked cooperatively to stabilize local areas and return local populations, he said. To date in Mosul, 116,000 displaced civilians have returned, 250,000 boys and girls are back in school and we’re working to ensure that these trend lines continue. McGurk said the coalition will attempt to use the same model in Raqqa with local leaders planning for the day after ISIS. (Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)

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What It’s Like to Stand Alongside the Kurdish Women Fighting ISIS – VICE

Writer’s note: In March last year, Kimberley Taylor became the first (and only) British woman to travel to Syria to take up arms against ISIS. Within days of her arrival, the 28-year-old former maths student from Blackburn joined the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) the all-female affiliate army of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) of Syrian Kurdistanand has been fighting alongside them ever since. For the past three months, Kimberley known to friends as Kimmie, but to comrades as Zilan Dilmarhas been part of the offensive to liberate Raqqa, ISIS’ de-facto capital. At the end of March, I spoke to Kimberley, over a series of Skype conversations, to find out what life is like for a woman on the frontline against ISIS. Two days later, she deployed to Raqqa to fight in what will likely be ISIS’s bitter last stand. These are her words, but they have been edited and condensed for clarity. Read part one and part two. Our unit’s rotation on the moving front finished yesterday, so they’ve given us a few days off. So I hitched a lift with the logistics van to Qamishlo [a city in northeastern Syria] to meet some old friends and do some shopping. I need T-shirts and socks. There’s something weird going on with Syrian socksthey always make my feet smell, no matter how much I wash them. Sorxwin won’t stop taking the piss out of my stinky feet. I got the socks and went for lunch with the three other Western women in the YPJtwo Swedes and a Canadian. I had two hamburgers and a beer. I can’t tell you what a treat that was after a month of chicken spam and Dairylea. And it was only the third beer I’ve drunk in a year. Kurdish girls aren’t allowed to drink for religious reasons, and you can’t drink in front of them. It tasted like heaven. I think I was a little tipsy. I miss my family terribly, especially at night. Qamishlo is the capital of Rojava [the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Syria]. The main thing you notice is a picture of Abdullah calan, the founder of the PKK and leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, on almost every wall. Known here as “Apo” (Kurdish for “uncle”), he’s been in solitary confinement in a Turkish island prison for 18 years, where he devised the social and political philosophy driving the Rojava revolution. That’s the reason I’m here. We want to destroy ISIS, of course. But something else is happening here, not just war: an anti-capitalist, secular, environmentally-friendly movement that puts women’s liberation at the centre of the struggle.They’ve torn up and redrawn all aspects of society. State education is compulsory for girls as well as boys, from the age of seven to 15, regardless of class or ethnic background. They’ve even built a university that’s open to all. There’s a co-operative system of government where a man and woman share power at every level. In the YPG and the YPJ, officers are elected by troops, and men and women fight side by side. Of course, they have had to retain some of the traditional values of Islamic culture: men of the YPG and women of the YPJ live and fight together but eat and sleep separately; men can’t bare their upper arms in front of women; and women can’t show leg or cleavage. Read the full story on Broadly.

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ISIS to evacuate its positions in southern Damascus: reports – AMN Al-Masdar News (registration)

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (4:20 P.M.) ISIS militants are preparing to leave the districts under their control in the southern suburbs of Damascus as per an evacuation deal with the Syrian government. According to pro-rebel activists, news spread in al-Hajar al-Aswad and Yarmouk Refugee camp that within a week, ISIS fighters are leaving the area for the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, where the Islamic State control large swathes of land. The same activists reported that those militants have already began to sell their belongings for a cheaper price as locals willing to leave the area were asked to enroll their names Advertisement Yesterday, three ISIS jihadists were killed, one captured as the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam raided the groups outposts in the northern parts of Yarmouk Camp. ALSO READ Islamic State insurgents ambushed in southern Damascus by rival jihadist group

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