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June 12, 2014

Smart Power Alert: America in Retreat


As Bayji, Tikrit, Fallujah, and Mosul fall to ISIS and America prepares to evacuate the US Embassy in Baghdad, the US has acted swiftly and decisively to halt the growing chaos by unleashing Heck launching drone strikes....

...In Pakistan:

Today's drone strike is the first in Pakistan since Dec. 25, 2013. The US put the program on hold after the Pakistani government entered into peace talks with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Although US officials have claimed that the drone strikes were halted due to a lack of identifiable high-value targets in Pakistan, intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that is not the case.

"Pakistan remains a hub for al Qaeda and allied movements operating along the AfPak border and beyond," one intelligence official said. "Al Qaeda's General command is still operating there, and is staffed by a new and dangerous generation of leaders. Zawahiri and his staff are still operating in Pakistan."

Part of the problem, another intelligence official observed, is that while the US has confined its strikes to the tribal areas, and particularly to North and South Waziristan, where al Qaeda has been active in the past, al Qaeda's operations are not limited to those areas.

Unexpectedly (!), it seems the administration has once again been caught off guard:

At a closed-door gathering of Gulf states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Arab counterparts all signaled agreement on one thing for the first time: Islamist forces seizing territory in Syria and Iraq had become a regionwide menace that can't be ignored.

What they didn't agree on was what to do about it, U.S. officials said.The fall this week of the Iraqi cities Mosul and Tikrit to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham rebel group shows how the insurgent threat is outpacing the response and posing a challenge to President Barack Obama's approach of limiting U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts.

The quickly unfolding drama prompted a White House meeting Wednesday of top policy makers and military leaders who were caught off guard by the swift collapse of Iraqi security forces, officials acknowledged.

State Department and Pentagon officials have long warned about ISIS's desire to create an Islamic state based in the Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq and Syria.

Now, current and former officials say Washington's options for helping the Iraqi army fight back are limited—both because the threat in Iraq is so entrenched and because the U.S. hasn't invested in building up moderate allies on the Syrian side of the border.

U.S. military leaders said they had thought that Iraqi security forces' efforts would be enough to slow ISIS's advance. But those assumptions were proven wrong when Iraqi troops largely abandoned their posts.

The loss of Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, was a strategic blow and the U.S. doubts the Iraqi military will be able to take it back soon, the officials said.

Top State Department officials long argued that the civil war in Syria was the root cause of ISIS's rise because it gave them a haven in which to operate and recruit. They said the U.S. won't make headway unless ISIS is contained on both sides of the porous Iraqi-Syrian border.

Thankfully, the Editorial Staff are assured that the Bad Guys are on the run.

Well, sort of:

Syria has become a de rigeur training ground for jihadists worldwide. Over 2,000 European jihadists alone have gone to Syria to fight, according to a recent European Union estimate. The US' weak attempts to vet, arm, and train purportedly moderate fighting groups have merely fueled an ongoing conflict that shows no signs of abating and is producing a new generation of well-connected foreign fighters who leave the Syrian killing fields to extend the Islamist fight into new battle zones. The result of the continued stalemate between the Assad regime and the rebels is the spawning of a new breed of jihadist cells carrying out a widening array of terrorist activity outside Syria.

Al Qaeda-linked groups, including the official Syrian branch known as the Al Nusrah Front, as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), are now running training camps in Syria that turn out jihadists capable of mounting attacks against the West. As early as December 2012, Die Welt reported that "Western intelligence operatives say that al Nusrah runs several large training camps in Syria where Islamists with fighting experience - veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - train new recruits, including Islamists from Western countries."

In late October 2013, Mike Rogers, chairman of the US House Intelligence Committee, warned that al Qaeda allies in Syria were now "talking about conducting external operations, which is exactly what happened in Afghanistan, which led to 9/11." Days later, a senior US administration official said that ISIS is "really a transnational threat network," that poses "[an] increasing threat to our regional partners, and it's an increasing threat to us."

In March of this year, Al Nusrah announced the establishment of two training camps in Syria. And in April, the ISIS released video showing its "Zarqawi" training camp on the outskirts of Damascus. That same month, the Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters, or Muhajireen Army), a group of foreign fighters led by commanders from the Caucasus, released video of its training camp in Aleppo province; the video included footage of a bomb-making class. The Muhajireen Army is led by Salahuddin al Shishani, a Chechen, and is closely allied with Al Nusrah; the ISIS; and Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda-linked group that is part of the Islamic Front, a large Islamist coalition in Syria. Most recently, an Uzbek jihadist group known as the Imam Bukhari Jamaat has released a video of its training camp in Syria; the group is allied with Al Nusrah and the Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar.

The recent videos from ISIS, Al Nusrah, Muhajireen Army, and Uzbek jihadist training camps are reminiscent of others released by al Qaeda from the network of camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s. Al Qaeda used camps such as Khalden and Al Farouq to churn out thousands of foreign fighters who fought alongside the Taliban in the 55th Arab Brigade. Significantly, al Qaeda also selected graduates of the camps to conduct attacks in the West, including the 9/11 operation against the US. [See LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front names training camps after top al Qaeda leaders.]

Democratic governments worldwide as well as Middle Eastern kingdoms are becoming increasingly concerned about the blowback from jihadists who were either extremists before fighting in Syria or became radicalized while there.

It's 3 a.m. and we're pretty sure we hear the phone ringing. Chuck? Barry? Joe? Anyone home????

Consider a donation to the Long War Journal. Someone needs to pay the attention bill.

Posted by Cassandra at June 12, 2014 10:57 AM

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Funny, my phone has been ringing about this all morning. Maybe the WH's phone calls are being redirected to Grim's Hall.

Posted by: Grim at June 12, 2014 12:43 PM

I'll bet it has :p

I'd say "incroyable!" but unfortunately this is all too easy to believe.


Posted by: Cass at June 12, 2014 12:49 PM

There are going to be two basic responses:

1) "See! This is why we should have never gone in there. At least under Saddam, they were stable and secular."

2) "The military should have only gone in to break stuff and then should have left. This is just what would have happened had we done that so it's no skin off my nose. If they decide to get rowdy with us again, we'll just go back and break more stuff until they leave us alone. What they do to their own is not our business".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 12, 2014 01:30 PM

This, BTW, is not unexpected. It was the plan.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 12, 2014 01:31 PM

The US is the beneficiary of a huge power inequality: 1%er you might call it.

And inequality is bad, mmkey? I think, at some point, you have enough power. We're all better off when the power is spread around.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 12, 2014 01:35 PM

I think, at some point, you have enough power. We're all better off when the power is spread around.

Exactly :p
Praise Allah and pass the ammunition!

You infidels never learn.

Posted by: Moqtada al-Sadr at June 12, 2014 01:50 PM

It becomes, every passing day, more an association; the lines from Kipling’s poem Arithmetic on the Frontier, and our adventures in the Islamistans:
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail -
Strike hard who cares - shoot straight who can -
The odds are on the cheaper man.

In the final accounting it is our soldiers who are the cheaper man. We are as profligate with our soldier’s lives as we are with our 'money'. All those wasted lives - dead. All those damaged bodies – left to the care of the VA. We may take comfort though – the next great event will unfurl a large flag at midfield; F-whichever fighters will fly in formation overhead; uniformed men and women will be paraded onto the grounds; the lovely platitudes will get a hearing; and everyone gets to go on with their 'bread and circuses' lives.

I am convinced more than ever that the recently found lost tribes of West Papua, the headhunters and cannibals, are entirely a more serious people than we are.

Posted by: George Pal at June 12, 2014 02:42 PM

U.S. military leaders said they had thought that Iraqi security forces' efforts would be enough to slow ISIS's advance. But those assumptions were proven wrong when Iraqi troops largely abandoned their posts.

Whoa. And today's Flashback Bummer is brought to you by the 1970's. Gas up the choppers, boys. I'll see you on the roof.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 12, 2014 04:29 PM

I am completely certainly that the prevailing spin will be "This was inevitable from the beginning; it's Bush's fault for invading in the first place."

On another issue, I'm confidently predicting that before the month is out Bergdahl will have been publicly diagnosed as bipolar. I'm not even sure it will be a crock, and I suspect his father will receive the same diagnosis.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 12, 2014 04:36 PM

My husband is getting back comments on a site he frequents, along the lines of "It's no surprise Iran is moving in its military forces, because that's what Bush/Cheney wanted all along: to give Iraq to Iran." Say what? I suspect we're in for a very crazy phase of public opinion as this disaster becomes increasingly impossible to ignore or explain away.

As Powerline reported: "The U.S. has yet to respond to a request from Iraq made last month to mount air attacks against militant training camps in western Iraq, according to two American officials who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations. One of the officials said President Barack Obama is reluctant to revisit a war that he opposed and has repeatedly declared over."

Posted by: Texan99 at June 12, 2014 05:39 PM

Ignorant, racist peasant.

The war is settled. *I* have spoken.

Posted by: Barack Obama at June 12, 2014 06:27 PM

Not surprised, just on the other side.

Posted by: htom at June 12, 2014 07:40 PM

George Pal, I was thinking of the Gods of the Copybook Headings myself.

Looks like we're in for some "interesting times."

Posted by: colagirl at June 12, 2014 09:50 PM

It continues to amaze me that during the Bush years, the failure to foresee some eventuality was widely touted as incompetence: poor planning, overconfidence, et cetera, ad nauseum.

But during the Obama Era, the failure to foresee some eventuality that everyone warned of is widely touted as .... well, evidence of the Bush administration's incompetence/poor planning/etc. Oh, and the world is an extraordinarily complex place and Barry is only one man.

Who harshly criticized Bush and then doubled down on (and took credit for!) the policies he once derided. So he must not have thought they were good policies. Except he freely decided to continue them. Why?

Shut up. Barack is the smartest man alive. Honestly, I don't think any of these petty problems has ever challenged his searing intellect. And you're just too dumb to comprehend his amazing mental processes....

... which led him to continue policies he once said were morally bankrupt and really dumb.

It is a puzzlement. I often wonder if Joe Biden is secretly running the country. It would explain a lot.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 13, 2014 09:23 AM

the failure to foresee some eventuality that everyone warned of is widely touted as

This eventuality wasn't unforseen, even by Obama. He knew it would happen, but his response was "Yeah, so? What's your point?" Sure, Syria and Iraq are becoming terrorist breeding grounds, but "If we just leave them alone they'll leave us alone".

Getting involved isn't the solution, it's the problem.

He continued the policy for a time because he couldn't politically pull off complete abandonment on day one. The wounds and sacrifice in blood were too fresh. Continuity>taper down>withdraw. That way when all hell broke loose you didn't have three quarters of the country screaming about how our soldiers died for nothing. Now, it's just a minority and a minority that hated him already. So it's no skin off his nose.

I'm sure the administration will publicly feel bad. We might even go out on a limb and post a picture with a hashtag.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 13, 2014 09:49 AM

Fortunately Iraq's good friend Iran has sent their Revolutionary Guards in to help. Now some want the US Airforce to begin flying close air support for them
It was Bush who signed the SOFA to pull troops out of Iraq.
In 2012 according to CNN exit polls vets gave equal votes to Obama and Romney. There was a difference though Romney got the older vet votes Obama got the younger ones who had been to recent wars

Posted by: john at June 14, 2014 02:39 PM