Since its incursion into Afrin began in January, Turkey has made significant progress in turning the military landscape in Syria in its favour. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signalled that further operations are to come in Syria, and perhaps in Iraq, too. These next operations would present new challenges, particularly politically, an area where Turkey has not made quite as much progress. Continue reading
The Islamic State (IS) captured Raqqa city, its first provincial capital, in January 2014. Six months later, IS declared its caliphate and Raqqa became its de facto capital. Last Tuesday, the partner force of the US-led anti-IS Coalition, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), entered the city centre in Raqqa. A deal had evacuated most of the remaining jihadists over the prior weekend, though a determined core remained and still held about 10 per cent of the city. The caliphate is crumbling and the Coalition says IS has 6,500 fighters left. According to the Coalition, this puts IS “on the verge of a devastating defeat”. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this is true. To the contrary, IS is more powerful at this point, in theatre, even after the military reverses inflicted on it by the Coalition, than in the period after the “defeat” of 2008, and the outlook is more favourable now to IS. Moreover, IS now has an international reach, physically and ideologically, it did not previously possess. Continue reading
Published at The Telegraph
The “defeat” of the Islamic State (ISIL), signified by its eviction from Mosul in July, its impending loss of Raqqa, and an apparent resurgence of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, seemed to augur a new era of stability for the Middle East. The jihadists would be gone and Iranian-backed governments in Syria and Iraq consolidated.
True, Assad murdering those who resisted him with poison gas and concentration camps, and hiding the evidence by installing crematoria, would nag at our conscience. But foreign policy is a cold-blooded business and it has been decreed that ISIL is the greatest—really the only—threat emanating from the region.
It would not be justice, but it would be peace. Or something like that. Continue reading
The spokesman of the Islamic State (IS), Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, made his third speech on 12 June 2017, entitled, “And When The Believers Saw The Companies”. Abu Hassan’s first speech was in December 2016 and his second was in April 2017. The primary message of Abu Hassan’s speech was for IS’s troops to resist to the end in what is left of the caliphate’s grip on its Iraqi capital Mosul as that offensive, begun last October, draws to a close, and to hold similarly firm as the operation to evict IS from its Syrian capital Raqqa, launched on 6 June, gets underway. The main editorial of Al-Naba 84 a few days before Abu Hassan spoke laid out IS’s intention, somewhat contrary to its general practice, to resist fiercely in Raqqa. Abu Hassan continues the messaging, consistent since the U.S.-led coalition began its countermeasures against IS, that “patience” will lead to victory. IS has not wavered from this strategy in more than ten years, and it is showing signs of bearing fruit already, a trendline likely to continue unless there is a change of Coalition strategy. In crude, practical terms, Abu Hassan means to say that the terrorism and guerrilla campaign will continue after IS is uprooted from the urban areas.
Within the next month, the Islamic State (IS) will likely lose its grip on its Iraqi capital, Mosul, and the operation to drive it from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, will begin. The destruction of IS’s caliphate, however, is not even close to the end of the road for the movement, not least because of the manner in which it is being accomplished.
At its core the IS movement is waging a revolutionary war, and as Craig Whiteside, a fellow with The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism has explained, this means that the focus is on legitimacy. Military victories come and go but if IS is, over the long-term, gaining acceptance—whether from support, resignation, or fear—among the population it hopes to govern (the Sunni Arabs), then it is winning. It is for this reason that IS tries to embed political victories within its military defeats. Continue reading
The operation to clear the Islamic State (IS) from its Iraqi capital, Mosul, began on 17 October and is now 188 days old. IS was announced cleared from east Mosul on 25 January, and the offensive that began on 19 February to clear the more densely-populated and difficult west Mosul has ostensibly swept IS from sixty percent of that area. Official sources claim IS now controls less than seven percent of Iraqi territory, down from forty percent in 2014. But yesterday, a car bomb struck Zuhur, the first attack of this kind in east Mosul since February, murdering at least four people. This is part of a pattern of attacks that suggests the Mosul operation itself was rushed and more importantly that IS is already recovering in liberated areas. Continue reading
American ground forces are getting more deeply entangled in Syria as the offensive to push the Islamic State (IS) out of its de facto capital city, Raqqa, approaches. It remains unclear exactly which actors in Syria these troops will be assisting, though there are more and more indications that their mission will redound to the benefit of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his allies, Iran and Russia. Continue reading
Since the offensive against Mosul, the Iraqi capital of the Islamic State (IS), began five months ago, IS has expended a high number of lives quite deliberately in suicide attacks. One of the suicide-attacks conducted on 20 February 2017, a car bombing against an Iraqi base, was by Abu Zakariya al-Britani, a British citizen now identified as Ronald Fiddler from Manchester. In 2002, Fiddler, then calling himself Jamal Udeen al-Harith, was sent to Guantanamo Bay, before being released in 2004 while still protesting his innocence. After suing the British government over his imprisonment, Fiddler received a substantial cash settlement in order to avoid compromising state secrets. Fiddler’s demise invites some revisiting of widely-held assumptions surrounding Guantanamo. Continue reading
Published at The International Business Times
The Islamic State (IS) is supposed to be on its way to defeat. IS is under assault in Mosul and the operation to evict it from Raqqa began a month ago. Just this morning, Turkish-backed rebel forces in Syria have reportedly pierced IS’s defences in al-Bab, IS’s most important city outside of its twin capitals. But on Sunday, after a four-day offensive, IS seized Palmyra. How to explain this? Continue reading
After some (perhaps wilful) confusion over the timing, the operation to expel the Islamic State (IS) from Raqqa City, its Syrian capital, got underway this morning, running concurrent with the effort to evict IS from its Iraqi capital, Mosul. There are deep concerns about the methods adopted in both cases. The ground forces the U.S.-led Coalition has chosen to support in Raqqa cannot lead to sustainable stability in Syria, something that is essential to defeat IS. While the Mosul operation has proceeded generally to plan, there are increasing signs of trouble within the operation itself and the most troubling aspect—the aftermath—still appears to be unplanned. Beyond this is the continued assault on Aleppo City by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its Russian and Iranian patrons that is systematically destroying the forces needed if there is to be any settlement to Syria’s war that ends the space given to international terrorists. Continue reading