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Archive for the ‘Caliphate Seekers (ISIS / ISIL)’ Category

Kurdish fighters rout IS militants from town near Iraq

February 28, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Kurdish fighters fought their way Friday into a northeastern Syrian town that was a key stronghold of Islamic State militants, only days after the group abducted dozens of Christians in the volatile region, Syrian activists and Kurdish officials said.

The victory marks a second blow to the extremist IS group in a month, highlighting the growing role of Syria’s Kurds as the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State. In January, Kurdish forces drove IS militants from the town of Kobani near the Turkish border after a months-long fight, dealing a very public defeat to the extremists.

But it is also tempered by this week’s horrific abductions by IS militants of more than 220 Christian Assyrians in the same area, along the fluid and fast shifting front line in Syria. The town of Tel Hamees in Syria’s northeastern Hassakeh province is strategically important because it links territory controlled by IS in Syria and Iraq.

The province, which borders Turkey and Iraq, is predominantly Kurdish but also has populations of Arabs and predominantly Christian Assyrians and Armenians. “We are now combing the town for explosives and remnants of terrorists,” said Redur Khalil, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighters, known as the People’s Protection Units or YPG.

Speaking to The Associated Press over the phone from the outskirts of Tel Hamees, he said the town was a key stronghold for IS and had served as a staging ground for the group’s operations in the Iraqi town of Sinjar and the city of Mosul.

Dislodging the group from Tel Hamees cuts a supply line from Iraq, Khalil said. The push on the town’s eastern and southeastern edges came after the Kurdish troops, working with Christian militias and Arab tribal fighters, seized dozens of nearby villages from the Islamic State extremists. U.S.-led coalition forces provided cover, striking at IS infrastructure in the region for days.

More than 200 militants died in the fighting, and at least eight troops fighting alongside YPG, including an Australian national who has been with the Kurdish forces for three months, Khalil said. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said IS defenses collapsed and the militants fled after Kurdish fighters broke into Tel Hamees from the east and south.

The Observatory’s director, Rami Abdurrahman, said the Kurds seized more than 100 villages around Tel Hamees and that ground battles and air strikes around the town have killed at least 175 IS fighters in the past several days in some of the latest losses for the group since Kobani.

Some 15,000 villagers have fled the fighting, he added. The Kurds in Syria and Iraq have emerged as the most effective force fighting IS, which controls about a third of Iraq and Syria — much of it captured in a lighting blitz last spring and summer, as Iraqi army forces melted away in the face of the militant onslaught.

In Syria, they have teamed up with moderate rebels for territorial gains against the group. Elsewhere in Hassakeh, IS fighters this week captured dozens of mostly Christian villages to the west of Tel Hamees — taking at least 220 Assyrian Christians hostage, according to activists. The fate of those abducted was still unknown.

On Thursday, video emerged of IS militants smashing ancient Mesopotamian artifacts in a museum in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the ongoing “barbaric terrorist acts” by the Islamic State group including attacks “and the deliberate destruction of irreplaceable religious and cultural artifacts housed in the Mosul Museum and burning of thousands of books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul Library.”

A council statement said income from looted cultural items in Iraq and Syria is being used to support the group’s recruitment efforts and strengthen its ability to organize and carry out terrorism acts.

“The members of the Security Council stressed again that ISIL must be defeated and that the intolerance, violence, and hatred it espouses must be stamped out,” the statement said, using one of several alternative acronyms for the group.

Irina Bokova, the head of the U.N. cultural agency, UNESCO, denounced the group’s destruction of ancient statues and artifacts as “cultural cleansing” and a war crime that the world must punish. From Paris, where the agency is based, Bokova said she could not watch to the end the Islamic State video posted Thursday that shows men using sledgehammers to smash Mesopotamian artworks in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul. She called the video “a real shock.”

The Louvre Museum in Paris said the destruction “marks a new stage in the violence and horror, because all of humanity’s memory is being targeted in this region that was the cradle of civilization, the written word, and history.”

French President Francois Hollande also condemned the “barbarity” of the destructions. “What the terrorists want is to destroy all that makes humanity,” he said Friday during a visit to the Philippines.

Elsewhere in Syria, at least eight civilians were killed in a car bomb that exploded outside the Bilal Mosque in the rebel-held town of Dumeir, east of Damascus. Many others were wounded in the blast, which occurred as worshippers were leaving the mosque following Friday prayers.

Another car bomb went off outside a mosque in Nasseriya, near Dumeir, also causing multiple casualties. It was not immediately clear who was behind the bombings.

Associated Press writers Ashraf Khalil in Beirut and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

Who’s who in coalition against IS jihadists

Baghdad (AFP)

Feb 23, 2015

The US-led coalition against the jihadist Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria groups more than 60 countries, of which a dozen are taking part in air strikes.

Washington is carrying out its strikes in Syria with the help of Arab allies – Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In Iraq it has the active support of seven Western countries – Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France and the Netherlands.

The coalition has since August carried out 2,000 air strikes, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on February 8.

While excluding the deployment of ground troops, coalition countries have also sent more than 1,000 military trainers to work with Iraqi forces.

Below are contributions from the main coalition members:

UNITED STATES: The US started to bombard IS positions in Iraq on August 8, 2014 and extended operations to Syria on September 23.

The 2016 budget earmarks $8.8 billion for the fight against IS.

Around 1,830 American soldiers are currently deployed in Iraq to assist its armed forces in equipment, training and intelligence.


AUSTRALIA: Canberra sent eight RAAF F/A18s to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to take part in air strikes. On October 19, it announced sending 200 members of its special forces as advisers in Iraq. It has also sent military equipment and humanitarian aid to Iraqi Kurds.

BELGIUM: Brussels has committed six F-16 fighter jets and 120 troops, based in Jordan.

BRITAIN: London has deployed eight Tornado fighter bombers and started to conduct air strikes on September 30.

The government announced in October the redeployment from Afghanistan to Iraq of several of its Reaper drones.

In late 2014, London announced the deployment of several hundred extra British soldiers to Kurdish zones of northern Iraq and to near Baghdad to train Iraq’s infantry and help them fight against improvised explosive devices.

London has delivered machine-guns and ammunition to Iraqi Kurdish forces.

CANADA: Ottawa has deployed six F-18 fighter jets to Kuwait to take part in strikes in Iraq and officially deployed 69 members of its special forces to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

In the first confirmed ground battle between Western troops and IS, Canadian special forces in January exchanged gunfire with jihadist fighters in Iraq.

FRANCE: Paris joined air strikes in Iraq on September 19, 2014. On Monday, it deployed the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Gulf to work alongside the USS Carl Vinson.

The ship carries 12 Rafale and nine Super Etendard fighters, in addition to nine Rafales in the UAE and six Mirage fighters in Jordan operating over Iraq, along with a maritime patrol and a refueling aircraft.

The Charles de Gaulle strike group includes an attack submarine, a French anti-aircraft frigate and the HMS Kent, a British anti-submarine frigate. A total of 2,700 sailors are involved, including 2,000 on the carrier itself.

NETHERLANDS: Apart from six F-16 fighter jets based in Jordan for missions in Iraq, and two others in reserve, The Hague on October 5 announced it was deploying 250 soldiers in Iraq as trainers.


SAUDI ARABIA: The leader of the Gulf monarchies has been taking part since September in air strikes on IS positions in Syria and has accepted moderate Syrian rebels for training and equipping.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Abu Dhabi resumed air strikes on February 10 in Syria, having suspending the raids after IS captured a Jordanian pilot in December.

On February 7, the UAE ordered a squadron of F-16 warplanes to be stationed in Jordan to support it in strikes against the IS.

BAHRAIN: Home of the US Fifth Fleet, Manama has taken part from the start in air strikes in Syria and on February 16 announced the deployment of fighter jets in Jordan.

JORDAN: A neighbor of both Iraq and Syria, the kingdom has also taken part in strikes in Syria since the outset.

It stepped up raids after the February 3 announcement of the execution of Jordanian pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh, burned alive by IS which captured him after his plane crashed.

On February 5, Jordan also joined air strikes on Iraq.

QATAR: Doha has supported air strikes in Syria, making available its Udeid air base, home of Centcom, the US central military command for the Middle East and central Asia.

TURKEY: Concerned by Kurdish activities, it joined the coalition on October 2 but has declined to take military action. After months of difficult negotiations, it signed a February 19 accord with the US to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.

The US government hopes the program can start by late March and the first trained rebel forces become operational by year’s end.

Other countries, including the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Norway and Spain, have either sent hundreds of soldiers to train Iraqi or Kurdish forces, or hosted training. Others have delivered arms and ammunition.

Source: Space War.


Islamic State militants find a foothold in chaotic Libya

February 18, 2015

CAIRO (AP) — Libya, virtually a failed state in recent years, has succeeded in one way: It’s providing a perfect opportunity for the Islamic State group to expand from Syria and Iraq to establish a strategic foothold closer to European shores.

Extremists loyal to the group have taken control of two Libyan cities on the Mediterranean coast, have moved toward oil facilities and are slowly infiltrating the capital, Tripoli, and the second-largest city, Benghazi. They have siphoned off young recruits from rival militant groups linked to al-Qaida and in some places taken over those groups’ training camps, mosques and media networks.

Notably, there appears to be strong coordination between the Libya branch and the group’s central leadership in Syria and Iraq. One of its top clerics, Bahraini Turki al-Binali, has visited the Libyan city of Sirte to preach: in 2013 and again at the end of last year, soon before it fell into the hands of the group’s supporters, according to a rival militia official based there. The official spoke on condition of anonymity for fear for his life.

A video released last week showing the beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians abducted from Sirte was produced by the IS media branch. About 400 mostly Yemeni and Tunisian fighters are in Sirte, according to Libyan Interior Minister Omar al-Sinki. The militia official said Islamic State fighters have set up headquarters in the city’s convention complex, the Ouagadougou Center, built by former dictator Moammar Gadhafi as a symbol of his secular regime’s aspirations to be a pan-African leader. An Associated Press reporter who briefly visited Sirte on Wednesday saw masked militants deployed along the main road linking the convention center to downtown.

The close connection between the Libya branch and the central leadership around Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi underscores the strategic importance of the North African country to the group. Libya boasts oil resources – something the extremists have exploited for funding in Iraq and Syria. There are vast amounts of weapons, a legacy of the turmoil since Gadhafi’s 2011 ouster. Its borders with Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria are porous.

And the southern shore of Italy is about 400 miles (660 kilometers) away, a distance Libyans fleeing their country’s chaos regularly try to cross in rickety boats. Italy and France favor some sort of international action in Libya, while Egypt is pressing for a U.N.-backed coalition air campaign.

Besides Sirte in the center of the country, Islamic State loyalists control the city of Darna, farther east along the coast. This week, Egyptian warplanes struck IS training facilities and weapons depots in Darna in retaliation for the beheadings.

In Tripoli, which is controlled by powerful militias, IS militants have infiltrated some neighborhoods, destroying statues they consider forbidden by Islam and distributing pamphlets to spread their message. They also claimed responsibility for a deadly attack at a luxury hotel that killed several foreigners, including an American.

Some IS extremists have entered Benghazi and are battling government troops, fighting beside other Islamic militias who dominate the city. IS fighters from Sirte recently were seen waving their black banners in a parade of vehicles in the town of Nofaliya, heading toward Libya’s oil ports of Sidr, Ras Lanouf and Brega.

The IS leadership in Iraq has named an “emir of Tripoli” to oversee the eastern half of Libya. He is a Tunisian known by the nom de guerre of Abu Talha, according to Interior Minister al-Sinki, removed from his post days ago. It was not possible immediately to verify his account. In charge of the western half is a Yemeni emir based in Darna and known as Abu al-Baraa el-Azdi, according to local activists and a former militant from the city.

The Islamic State has established is presence in Libya by exploiting the country’s breakdown since Gadhafi fell. After his ouster and death, hundreds of militias took power, and some of them have militant ideologies, including Ansar al-Shariah, an al-Qaida-associated group. A militia coalition known as Libya Dawn, which backs Islamist political factions, has taken over Tripoli, where Islamists set up their own parliament and government, and Islamist militias control Benghazi.

The elected, Western-backed government has been pushed to the remote eastern city of Tobruk, from which remnants of the military led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter and some allied militias have been battling the Islamists. The fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and damaged large parts of Benghazi.

The violence also appears to have radicalized some militia members, making them easy recruits for the Islamic State. The group was kicked out of al-Qaida’s network for being too extreme, and it made a bid to become the leader of jihadis worldwide last year by declaring a “caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria it controls.

It took over Darna last year, while its move to dominate Sirte came more recently. Once a showcase for Gadhafi’s rule, Sirte was devastated by the 2011 civil war, and little has been done to repair it. Schools operated sporadically, banks ran short of cash and bakeries were low on wheat, while garbage piled up in the streets, said Reem el-Breki, a Benghazi activist who runs a news portal that has covered Sirte. “The city was buried alive,” she said.

In 2013, it fell under the control of Ansar al-Shariah, which made alliances with local tribes and an uneasy truce with other militias and the few military troops in Sirte. Ansar militants took the Ouagadougou Center as their base, and the group boasted a TV and radio station in the city.

But the Islamic State group appears to have taken over Sirte though a slow infiltration. In 2013, al-Binali – the prominent radical cleric – made his visit to preach in the city’s central mosque. Fighters from Mali, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and the Palestinian territories began to move in, according to the militia official from the city.

Al-Binali – now firmly established in the top echelons of the Islamic State leadership – visited again late last year, the militia official said. Soon after, the 21 Egyptian Christians in Sirte were abducted, and there was a wave of assassinations Jan. 22, with three top security and militia officials killed.

Afterward, Ansar al-Shariah disappeared from Sirte, replaced by the Islamic State group, according to an activist who runs a Facebook page called Sirte Steadfast Youth. Radio stations played speeches by IS leader al-Baghdadi and songs urging people to pledge allegiance to him. Gunmen forced government workers to sign “repentance” statements. Militia vehicles switched their markings from Ansar to the Islamic State. Local media said IS gunmen looted Sirte’s banks.

The Islamic State group posted photos purportedly from Sirte showing religious police touring shops to remove sleeveless dresses. Schools and hospitals were segregated by gender and curriculum was censored, said the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Sirte’s fall caused alarm in nearby Misrata, whose powerful militias make up the bulk of Libya Dawn and effectively control Tripoli. The city called on its allies in Tripoli to take action, and a militia official told AP that some forces from the capital have moved to the outskirts of Sirte, although they have not attacked.

An Associated Press reporter in Libya contributed to this report.

Kurds celebrate ousting Islamic State fighters from Kobani

January 26, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Jubilant Kurdish fighters ousted Islamic State militants from the key Syrian border town of Kobani on Monday after a four-month battle — a significant victory for both the Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition.

The Kurds raised their flag on a hill that once flew the Islamic State group’s black banner. On Kobani’s war-ravaged streets, gunmen fired in the air in celebration, male and female fighters embraced, and troops danced in their baggy uniforms.

The failure to capture Kobani was a major blow to the extremists whose hopes for an easy victory dissolved into a costly siege under withering airstrikes by coalition forces and an assault by the Kurdish militia.

For the U.S. and its partners, Kobani became a strategic prize, especially after they increased the number of airstrikes against IS fighters there in October. “Daesh gambled on Kobani and lost,” said senior Kurdish official Idriss Nassan, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

“Their defenses have collapsed and its fighters have fled,” he told The Associated Press from Turkey, adding that he would return to Kobani on Tuesday. Kobani-based journalis Farshad Shami said the few civilians who remained had joined in the celebration. Most of the town of about 60,000 people had fled to Turkey to escape the fighting.

Several U.S. officials said they couldn’t confirm that Kurdish fighters have gained full control of Kobani, but added that they have no reason to disbelieve the claims. A senior U.S. official said the Kurds controlled most of the town and have consolidated control particularly in the central and southern areas. The official said Islamic State militants still have a considerable presence in outlying areas around Kobani and are still putting up stiff resistance to the Kurds in those pockets outside it.

U.S. Central Central Command estimates that 90 percent of Kobani is now controlled by Kurdish forces. Kurdish officials and activists said Kobani was entirely in Kurdish hands, with only sporadic fighting on the eastern outer edges where the militants retained some footholds.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters of the main Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, where searching houses in the eastern suburbs of the town and dismantling and detonating bombs and booby-traps left behind.

Capturing Kobani would have given the IS militants control of a border crossing with Turkey and open direct lines for their positions along the frontier. Now, it is a grave psychological loss for the extremist group, which has been dealt a series of military setbacks in both Syria and Iraq, particularly at the hands of the Kurds.

Last month, Kurdish fighters in Iraq retook the strategic town of Sinjar that had been home to many of Iraq’s minority Yazidis. The focus is now expected to shift to several hundred villages around Kobani still held by the militants. Kurdish activists said they expected the fight for those to be easier than for the town itself.

In September, Islamic State fighters began capturing about 300 Kurdish villages near Kobani and thrust into the town itself, occupying nearly half of it and sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing into Turkey.

But the once-nondescript town with few resources quickly became a centerpiece of the international campaign against the Islamic State group. TV crews flocked to the Turkish side of the border and trained their cameras on the besieged town, plumes of smoke rising from explosions. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared it would be “morally very difficult” not to help Kobani.

The U.S.-led air assault began Sept. 23, with Kobani the target of about a half-dozen daily airstrikes on average. More than 80 percent of all coalition airstrikes in Syria have been in or around the town.

At one point in October, the U.S. air dropped bundles of weapons and medical supplies for Kurdish fighters — a first in the Syrian conflict. Dozens of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces joined their brethren in Kobani, bringing in heavy weapons that neutralized the Islamic State group’s artillery advantage.

By early January, more than 1,000 Islamic State fighters had been killed and much of its heavy weaponry destroyed. The group continued to invest in resources, bringing in hundreds of reinforcements. Activists said these included many teenagers and even children, signaling a shortage in its forces.

The group made a last stand in the past few weeks, unleashing more than 35 suicide attacks in recent weeks, activists said. But the advancing Kurdish fighters could not be stopped. Nassan said coalition airstrikes intensified in recent days, helping the Kurds in their final push toward IS positions on the southern and eastern edges of Kobani.

The U.S. Central Command said Monday it had carried out 17 airstrikes near Kobani in the last 24 hours that struck IS infrastructure and fighting positions. Shami, the Kurdish journalist, said the remaining IS militants in eastern Kobani vacated quickly, leaving behind fresh food and heavy weapons.

“Their morale collapsed,” he said by telephone as celebratory gunfire echoed in the background. Gharib Hassou, a representative of Syria’s powerful Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, based in Southern Kurdistan, said most of the militants fled to the IS-controlled town of Tal Abyad to the east.

“There are a lot of dead bodies … and they left some of the weapons,” he said. Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Observatory, also confirmed Kobani was entirely in Kurdish hands. He said the Kurdish force was led by Mohammed Barkhadan, the Kobani commander of the main Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

Barkhadan, a well-known militia commander, led an offensive in 2013 that ousted Islamic militants from the northern Syrian town of Ras Ayn, Aburrahman said. Retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the international coalition fighting the IS group, had predicted in November that Kobani would be a defeat for the extremists.

The militant group “has, in so many ways, impaled itself on Kobani,” he said in an interview in Ankara with the Turkish daily Milliyet. There also was joy across the border in Turkey, where Kurds set off fireworks and performed a traditional folk dance to mark the victory by their brethren in predominantly Kurdish Kobani. In Istanbul, police used tear gas and pressurized water to break up pro-Kurdish demonstrations in the city.

Shami said it was a triumph for the “entire world” that had come to Kobani’s rescue. “It is a historic victory, when a small town like Kobani defeats a formidable criminal force like Daesh,” he said.

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; Suzan Fraser in Ankara; and Bram Janssen in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.

Jordan launches new airstrikes after vowing harsh war on IS

February 05, 2015

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Dozens of Jordanian fighter jets bombed Islamic State training centers and weapons storage sites Thursday, intensifying attacks after the militants burned to death a captured Jordanian pilot.

As part of the new campaign, Jordan is also attacking targets in Iraq, said Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. Up to now, Jordan had struck IS targets in Syria, but not Iraq, as part of a U.S.-led military coalition.

“We said we are going to take this all the way, we are going to go after them wherever they are and we’re doing that,” Judeh told Fox News. Asked if Jordan was now carrying out attacks in both countries, he said: “That’s right. Today more Syria than Iraq, but like I said it’s an ongoing effort.”

“They’re in Iraq and they are in Syria and therefore you have to target them wherever they are,” he added. The militant group controls about one-third of each Syria and Iraq, both neighbors of Jordan. In September, Jordan joined the U.S.-led military alliance that has been carrying out air strikes against the militants.

The Jordanian military said dozens of fighter jets were involved in Thursday’s strikes on training centers and weapons storage sites. State TV showed footage of the attacks, including fighter jets taking off from an air base and bombs setting of large balls of fire and smoke after impact. It showed Jordanian troops scribble messages in chalk on the missiles. “For you, the enemies of Islam,” read one message.

The military’s statement, read on state TV, was entitled, “This is the beginning and you will get to know the Jordanians” — an apparent warning to IS. It said the strikes will continue “until we eliminate them.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah II was paying a condolence visit to the family of the pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, in southern Jordan when the fighter jets roared overhead. The king pointed upward, toward the planes, as he sat next to the pilot’s father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh.

Al-Kaseasbeh told the assembled mourners that the planes had returned from strikes over Raqqa, the de facto capital of the militants’ self-declared caliphate. His son had been captured near Raqqa when his F-16 fighter plane went down in December.

Earlier this week, Islamic State displayed the video of the killing of the pilot on outdoor screens in Raqqa, to chants of “God is Great” from some in the audience, according to another video posted by the militants.

Also Thursday, Jordan released an influential jihadi cleric, Abu Mohammed al-Maqdesi, who was detained in October after speaking out against Jordan’s participation in the anti-IS coalition, according to his lawyer, Moussa al-Abdallat.

Jordan’s Islamic militants are split between supporters of Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, the branch of al-Qaida in Syria. Last year, al-Maqdesi had criticized Islamic State militants for attacking fellow Muslims. However, after Jordan joined the military coalition, he called on his website for Muslim unity against a “crusader war,” a reference to coalition airstrikes.

Jordan says IS can be defeated; uproar over burn video

February 04, 2015

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan called Wednesday for a decisive battle against the Islamic State group, declaring “this evil can and should be defeated,” after the militants burned a Jordanian pilot to death in a cage and gleefully broadcast the horrific images on outdoor screens in their stronghold.

Waves of revulsion over the killing washed across the Middle East, a region long accustomed to violence. In mosques, streets and coffee shops, Muslims denounced the militants’ brutality and distanced themselves from their violent version of Islam.

Even a prominent preacher with close links to jihadi groups said Islamic State militants miscalculated if they hoped the images of the pilot’s agony would galvanize greater opposition to a U.S.-led military coalition that has been bombing targets of the group.

“After millions of Muslims were cursing every pilot (in the coalition), with this act, they (IS) have made the burned one into a symbol,” Abdullah al-Muhaysni, a Saudi sheik, wrote on his Twitter account.

The Islamic State group, which controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, has killed captives in the past, posting videos of beheadings and sparking widespread condemnation. However, the killing of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, who crashed over Syria in December, also highlighted the vulnerability of Jordan, a key Western ally in the region, to threats from extremists.

Jordan was long considered an island of relative stability in a turbulent region, but in recent years had to absorb hundreds of thousands of war refugees, first from Iraq and then Syria, at a time of a sharp economic downturn.

Jordan receives hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid a year, but grinding social problems persist, including high unemployment among young men, a reservoir of potential IS recruits. Experts estimate Islamic State and other jihadi groups have thousands of supporters in the kingdom, with an upswing last year after the militants declared a caliphate in the areas they control.

The United States and Israel are particularly concerned about any signs of turmoil. Israel views Jordan as an important land buffer and the two countries share intelligence. In Washington, congressional support built Wednesday for increased U.S. military assistance to the kingdom. Currently, the United States is providing Jordan with $1 billion annually in economic and military assistance.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Jordan’s King Abdullah II — who met with lawmakers and President Barack Obama on Tuesday — must be given “all of the military equipment” he needs to combat the group. He said Abdullah did not ask for ground troops.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration would consider any aid package put forward by Congress, but that the White House would be looking for a specific request from Jordan’s government.

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he expected his panel to swiftly approve legislation. He repeated his criticism that the Obama administration has “no strategy” for dealing with the Islamic State group, and said he hoped the video of al-Kaseasbeh’s death will galvanize not only U.S. leadership but “the Arab world.”

Abdullah rushed home after his Washington meetings, cutting short his U.S. trip, to rally domestic support for an even tougher line against the militants. In September, Jordan joined the U.S.-led military coalition that began bombing Islamic State group targets in Syria and Iraq.

The decision was not popular in Jordan, with the bombing campaign widely seen as serving Western, not Jordanian interests. During weeks of uncertainty about the fate of the airman, some of his relatives and supporters chanted against Jordan’s role in the coalition.

On Wednesday, Hammam Saeed, the leader of Jordan’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, visited relatives of the pilot in the southern tribal town of Karak, and called on Jordan to pull out of the anti-IS coalition, saying that “we have no relations with this war.”

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani on Wednesday urged the international community to work together and deliver a decisive blow to Islamic State militants. Jordan believes that “this evil can and should be defeated,” he said.

In an initial response, Jordan executed two Iraqi al-Qaida prisoners, Sajida al-Rishawi and Zaid al-Karbouly, before sunrise Wednesday. Over the past week, Jordan had offered to trade al-Rishawi, a failed female suicide bomber, for the pilot, but insisted on proof of life it never received. Al-Momani said Wednesday that Jordan now believes the pilot was killed in early January.

Dozens more suspected Islamic State sympathizers are in detention in Jordan, most rounded up during a crackdown in recent months. Public outrage over the pilot’s death and calls for revenge against IS could help Abdullah broaden support for the coalition, said Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis at Stratfor, a global intelligence and advisory firm in Austin, Texas.

“Sentiments (about the airstrikes) are going to start changing across the Middle East after people see the video, especially the Jordanian people,” he said. Stewart said a similar shift occurred a decade ago in Iraq after Sunni Muslim tribes turned away from a local branch of al-Qaida, a precursor of the Islamic State group, over its brutality.

Marwan Shehadeh, a Jordanian expert on jihadi groups, said he expects the opposite outcome. “Public opinion rejected the IS behavior, but at the same time, more voices are questioning the participation of Jordan in the international coalition,” he said. “The killing (of the pilot) will drive more people to question that.”

The Islamic State militants appeared to be goading Jordan. In the northern Syrian city of Raqaa, the Islamic State group’s de facto capital, the militants showed graphic footage of al-Kaseasbeh’s slaying on outdoor screens, with some chanting “God is great!” according to militant video posted online Wednesday that conformed to Associated Press reporting of the event.

In the 20-minute video of the killing, the pilot displayed signs of having been beaten, including a black eye. Toward the end of the clip, he stood in the outdoor cage in an orange jumpsuit and a masked militant lit a line of fuel leading to him. The AP could not independently confirm the authenticity of the video.

A senior Iraqi Kurdish official, meanwhile, echoed Jordan’s appeal for a decisive campaign against the militants. Fouad Hussein, chief of staff to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, said U.S.-led coalition airstrikes are helpful, but “to finish ISIS … you need to finish it on the ground,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the militant group.

“And on the ground, we are most of the time alone. So we need partners,” he said. “It means advisers. It means special forces. It means a collective fight against ISIS. It means equipment, it means munitions.”

Though Islamic State fighters have been forced to retreat from Kobani, a strategic town on Syria’s border with Turkey, the battlefield picture suggests they are far from beaten in northern Iraq, where harsh winter weather and thick mud underfoot hampers military moves.

The Kurdish peshmerga fighters have struggled for months to inch ahead, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

Associated Press writers Omar Akour in Amman, Hamza Hendawi in Cairo, Zeina Karam and Diaa Hadid in Beirut and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to the report.

Why Pakistan’s leader wants ISIS to succeed

by Arnaud De Borchgrave, Upi Editor At Large

Washington DC (UPI)

Oct 01, 2014

With world attention riveted on U.S. and friendly Arab air strikes against Islamic State bases in Syria, Pakistan, one of the world’s eight nuclear powers, was yet again a bubbling geopolitical cauldron.

The Pakistani army has ruled Pakistan for half of its independent existence since 1947. It has, in effect, taken over again to block Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who would like to bring TTP, Pakistan’s Taliban, into some form of coalition government.

Nawaz, as he is known (Sharif is as common as Smith in the Anglo-Saxon world), harbors a visceral dislike (some call it hatred) for the United States.

TTP is a jihadi organization, in league with Afghanistan’s Taliban underground, and is responsible for some 35,000 deaths in terrorist attacks in recent years.

TTP is also backing IS and some of its terrorists have already made their way to Iraq and Syria to fight “the enemies of Islam.”

In a recent four-hour session, Pakistan’s top Corps commanders decided to give Nawaz one more chance to end political and economic chaos. If he fails, which is widely expected, the army will respond to what public opinion clearly favors, and take over the reins of power — for the fifth time since independence in 1947.

“Meanwhile,” reports long-time observer and scholar of the Pakistani scene Ammar Turabi, “the army is going to crush the remains of TTP and Al Qaeda with still more dedication and zeal.”

The army knows that Nawaz is not about to give up his old ambition to be Amirul Mominin, or Amir of the entire Muslim Caliphate,” adds Turabi, “armed with the nuclear power which only Pakistan possesses in the entire Muslim world.

The only problem with Nawaz’s ambitions is that Pakistan’s nukes are under army control. And the generals are now biding their time to see where Nawaz goes with his suspected sympathies for IS, openly praised by TTP.

Round the clock protests for six weeks in the forbidden zone around parliament and the presidency, organized by Imran Khan, the former cricket star turned political leader, and unknown cleric Qadri, have kept Pakistani politics at a boil.

A sampling of opinion among the demonstrators, Turabi says, “shows overwhelming support for Nawaz’s political exit and an army takeover.”

Punjabi Taliban leader Asmatullah Muaweya appears to have seen the writing on the wall of public opinion. He announced his group was renouncing violence and urged his followers to continue fighting for Taliban in Afghanistan.

In Turabi’s opinion, “this decision was motivated by Nawaz trying to buy time against any further military action against Punjabi-based terrorists.”

Contrary to Nawaz’s thinking, Pakistan’s generals and many political leaders do not want the Afghan Taliban as the sole power in Afghanistan after the bulk of U.S. forces leave at the end of this year.

A Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, they say, would revive the old Afghan plan for Pushtunistan, or a merger of the Pushtun of Pakistan and Afghanistan — under the banner of jihad, bolstered by the growing appeal of IS in Iraq and Syria.

Unlike Nawaz, the army and public opinion are firmly opposed to Taliban achieving complete power after the U.S. withdrawal. Instead, they favor an Afghan peace settlement based on power sharing between the Taliban and the non-Pushtun ethnic groups of Afghanistan.

What Pakistanis favor for the future of Afghanistan may not swing much weight in a new era of religious terrorists.

Pakistan’s madrassas where, hundreds of thousands of 8 to 16-year-olds are brainwashed to believe that Taliban-IS-religious extremists are the wave of the future, will have more of an impact than today’s middle classes.

Pakistan’s generals know that Afghanistan’s post-2014 survival depends on continued foreign western foreign aid. Almost 90 percent of the Afghan national army’s budget this year comes from the U.S. and, to a much smaller extent, from other foreign donors. Without this aid, the Afghan state would collapse, as South Vietnam in did in the mid-1970s when Congress suddenly cut off any further assistance to the anti-Communist army in Saigon.

With a new costly air war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the prospect for open-ended military assistance to Afghanistan is not looking good.

Without such aid, says Turabi, “Afghanistan faces the prospect of no state at all — opening more blind alleys of ethnic violence and anarchy, demolishing a frail and lawless Afghanistan for which the United States has fought, bled and spent for 13 years the costliest war in its history.”

Source: Space War.


Turkey deploys tanks to border as lawmakers to consider anti-IS action

Mursitpinar, Turkey (AFP)

Sept 29, 2014

Turkey on Monday deployed tanks and armored vehicles to reinforce its border with Syria amid escalating violence by the Islamic State group, as parliament was set to consider whether to authorize military action against the jihadists.

The army moved tanks and armored vehicles to the border town of Mursitpinar, which lies across from the key Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, after some stray bullets hit Turkish villages, sparking retaliation from Turkey’s military under its “rules of engagement”.

The government said Monday it would shortly submit motions to parliament authorizing the armed forces to take action in Iraq and Syria, so Ankara can join the US-led coalition against the IS fighters.

“The motions have not yet been sent to parliament. They may come tomorrow (Tuesday),” parliamentary speaker Cemil Cicek was quoted as saying by NTV television.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said the motions will be debated on Thursday.

– Turkey not in US-led coalition –

Turkey had refused to join a broad anti-IS coalition led by the United States while dozens of its citizens including diplomats and children were being held by IS militants having been abducted from the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

After securing their freedom in a top-secret operation which reportedly resulted in the release of 50 IS fighters, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the country’s position had changed, signalling a more robust stance towards the IS group.

“We will hold discussions with our relevant institutions this week. We will definitely be where we need to be,” Erdogan said on Sunday.

“We cannot stay out of this.”

The government hopes parliament will approve the military action before the Muslim Eid holiday which begins on Saturday.

On Monday, Erdogan said the Islamic State — blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Ankara since October 2013 — has nothing to do with Islam, which he said “does not legitimize such savagery or violence”.

“Attributing terrorist actions in the Middle East to Islam means nothing other than distorting the truth,” he said in a speech in Istanbul. “Our religion is a religion of peace.”

In a rare move, Turkey’s top general, Necdet Ozel, will speak to the cabinet on Tuesday followed by a security summit chaired by Erdogan.

Turkey has so far accepted over 160,000 Syrian refugees who fled the IS assault near the town of Ain al-Arab, and has called for creating a safe buffer zone to help civilians inside Syria.

Turkey has already taken in more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees who fled the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Up to 15,000 refugees crossed to Turkey on Monday, a Turkish official told AFP, saying that the border was “open to civilians, as well as to their cars and animals.”

On Monday, at least three mortar shells fired from Syria landed in Turkish soil — up to two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the border gate at Mursitpinar, an AFP photographer reported. They caused no damage or casualties.

But a mortar shell that hit a house in a Turkish village on the Syrian border late Sunday left three people wounded, the military said on its website, adding that the armed forces had responded in kind.

Source: Space War.


Father of pilot captured by IS pleads for release

December 26, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The father of a Jordanian pilot captured by the Islamic State group in Syria pleaded for his son’s release on Thursday, asking the group to treat him well in captivity as a fellow Muslim.

So far, there has been silence from the extremists about the fate of their captive, 1st Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, since gunmen from the group dragged him away following his crash Wednesday morning. Al-Kaseasbeh was carrying out air strikes against the militants when his warplane crashed near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s de facto capital. The group has executed captured Iraqi and Syrian Muslim soldiers in the past — it follows an extremist version of Islam that considers rivals, even some Sunni Muslims, as apostates. Still, the group may want to negotiate a prisoner swap or other concessions from Jordan.

The pilot’s father, Safi Yousef al-Kaseasbeh, made his plea while speaking to journalists in the Jordanian capital, Amman. “I direct a message to our generous brothers of the Islamic State in Syria: to host my son, the pilot Mu’ath, with generous hospitality,” he said. “I ask God that their hearts are gathered together with love, and that he is returned to his family, wife and mother.”

“We are all Muslims,” he added. The pilot is the first known military member to be captured from the international coalition that has been waging a bombing campaign against the Islamic State group for months, trying to break its control over territory stretching across Syria and Iraq.

After the crash, al-Kaseasbeh was pulled by gunmen from a body of water and hustled away, according to photos published by the Raqqa Media Center, which operates in areas under IS control. He appeared to be able to walk and the only visible injury was what appeared to be a spot of blood at his mouth.

The capture — and the potential hostage situation — presents a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which vowed to continue its fight against the group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded foreign captives and local rivals.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The U.S. military said Wednesday that evidence “clearly indicates” that the militants did not shoot down al-Kaseasbeh’s F-16. But the pilot’s uncle told journalists that the family had been told by the Jordanian government that his warplane was downed by a missile.

Speaking at a gathering of the al-Kaseasbeh family and extended tribe in the southern Jordanian town of Karak, Younes al-Kaseasbeh said that the family was told that his nephew was flying at a height of 400 feet on a bombing mission when the militants hit him with a heat-seeking missile and his plane went down in the Euphrates River.

He said three other warplanes in the same sortie had wanted to rescue him, but were wary of striking militants in the area for fear of killing al-Kaseasbeh and so were ordered to return home. The United States and several Arab allies have been striking the Islamic State in Syria since Sept. 23, and U.S. and other international warplanes have been waging an air campaign against the extremists in Iraq for even longer. The campaign aims to push back the jihadi organization after it took over much of Iraq and Syria and declared a “caliphate.”

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the Syria airstrikes, with logistical support from Qatar. Jordan in particular has come under heavy criticism from militants for its participation.

Also Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that government airstrikes in another Syrian stronghold of the Islamic State group killed over 21 people — including children.

The Observatory said Syrian military aircraft struck two locations in the northern town of Qabassen, including a market, causing the casualties. The death toll was likely to rise because people were still digging through the rubble to find bodies. The strike was also reported by another Syrian monitoring group.

Hadid reported from Beirut.

Islamic State extremists capture Jordanian pilot

December 24, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Islamic State militants captured a Jordanian pilot after his warplane crashed in Syria while carrying out airstrikes Wednesday, making him the first foreign military member to fall into the extremists’ hands since an international coalition launched its bombing campaign against the group months ago.

Images of the pilot being pulled out of a lake and hustled away by masked jihadis underscored the risks for the U.S. and its Arab and European allies in the air campaign. The capture — and the potential hostage situation — presented a nightmare scenario for Jordan, which vowed to continue its fight against the group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq and beheaded foreign captives.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but the U.S. military insisted the plane was not shot down. “Evidence clearly indicates that ISIL did not down the aircraft as the terrorist organization is claiming,” Central Command said in a statement.

U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who is overseeing all coalition military operations in Iraq and Syria, condemned the pilot’s capture, saying in a statement: “We will support efforts to ensure his safe recovery and will not tolerate ISIL’s attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for their own purposes.”

A coalition official, who was not authorized to discuss the episode publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the pilot was in an F-16 fighter and was able to eject. Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani earlier told the AP that the plane was believed to have been shot down.

“It is our expectation that the plane went down because of fire from the ground, but it is difficult to confirm that, with the little information we have,” he said. The Islamic State group is known to have Russian-made Igla anti-aircraft missiles. The shoulder-fired weapon has long been in the Syrian and Iraqi government arsenals; it was used during the 1991 Gulf War by Iraqi forces to bring down a British Tornado jet, for example. More recently, militants in Chechnya have used them to down Russian helicopters.

The warplane went down near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto IS capital. Images showed the pilot — in a white shirt, naked from the waist down and sopping wet — being pulled by gunmen out of what appeared to be a lake. Another picture showed him surrounded by more than a dozen fighters, some of them masked. The images were published by the Raqqa Media Center, a monitoring group that operates in areas under the extremists’ rule with the group’s consent.

The plane’s glass canopy was taken by militants and put on display in the main square of Raqqa, according to the media center. Jordan identified the pilot as 1st Lt. Mu’ath Safi al-Kaseasbeh. His cousin Marwan al-Kaseasbeh confirmed to the AP that the photos were of Mu’ath.

The United States and several Arab allies have been striking the Islamic State in Syria since Sept. 23, and U.S. and other international warplanes have been waging an air campaign against the extremists in Iraq for even longer. The campaign aims to push back the jihadi organization after it took over much of Iraq and Syria and declared a “caliphate.”

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the Syria airstrikes, with logistical support from Qatar. Jordan in particular has come under heavy criticism from militants for its participation.

IS has beheaded dozens of Syrian soldiers it captured around the country. The group has also beheaded three Americans and two Britons. In Iraq, it has shot down at least one Iraqi military helicopter, and the pilots died in the crash.

Moman, the information minister, vowed: “The war on terrorism will continue.” He praised the pilot as an “example of heroism.” Apparently seeking to blunt criticism of the country’s participation in the air campaign, Jordanian media published reports of al-Kaseasbeh’s family expressing support for Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Jordan’s military said that the pilot was taken hostage by IS and that the group and those who support it will be held responsible for his safety. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had confirmation from activists on the ground that the aircraft was shot down, either by a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile or by heavy machine-gun fire.

Activists say IS is widely known to have Igla missile systems, either captured or bought from rival Syrian rebels, who obtained them from international patrons or bought them on the international market. State arsenals in both Iraq and Syria have been looted, so that could also be a source of Iglas circulating among rebels.

IS is likely to try to target other planes, said military analyst Hisham Jaber, a retired brigadier general in the Lebanese military. “Inevitably, they will take down more,” Jaber said. He said that the anti-aircraft weapons require little training or expertise to employ and that aircraft flown by Arab countries are easier targets since they have less technology to avoid guided missiles.

Also Wednesday, a suicide bomber infiltrated a group of pro-government Sunni militiamen at a military base south of Baghdad as they gathered to collect their paychecks. The bomber detonated his explosives, killing at least 24 militiamen and soldiers and wounding 55 others, police said.

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor and Josh Lederman in Washington and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

Hadid reported from Beirut.

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