US Opinion and Commentary

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The Complicated Fight to Drive ISIS out of Mosul

Posted October 27th, 2016 at 2:44 pm (UTC-5)
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The operation to retake Mosul from Islamic State forces is proof of the quote “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Just ten days into the Mosul offensive, military planners are accelerating their timeline to try to take the Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital, because they’re seeing lots of traffic going from Mosul to Raqqa.

Complicating matters are the various alliances and interests of U.S.-led coalition partners that intersect and overlap with one another. For example, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be helpful in any coalition move on Raqqa. But Turkey sees the SDF in alliance with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, Turkey wants a role in the Mosul operation to protect the rights of ethnic Turks there. Iraq’s prime minister has ruled that out.

About 30,000 Iraqi troops along with about 3,000 Kurdish peshmerga forces are on the front lines of the Mosul offensive. The U.S. has as many as 200 special operations troops on the ground embedded in an advise and assist role and is leading the coalition air support.

Perhaps the most critical job the U.S. has is keeping the disparate factions focused on the mission and avoiding diplomatic distractions.

Get Ready to Walk Away From Incirlik

Posted October 26th, 2016 at 3:08 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkey’s growing instability is imperiling American operations. During the failed coup, Incirlik’s external power was cut off for a week, halting anti-ISIS operations from the air base for several days, limiting them for several more, and increasing the loads on other regional bases. This is unacceptable.

The Great Myth About U.S. Intervention in Syria

Posted October 26th, 2016 at 2:46 pm (UTC-5)
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One can make a coherent case for intervening in Syria, based on the worthy goal of reducing human suffering. But we should reject the idea that the United States should intervene because its own security, prosperity, or reputation is on the line. It’s not.

The Unrealized Threat of Weaponized Drones

Posted October 24th, 2016 at 3:40 pm (UTC-5)
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The drone threat is expanding….Numerous public reports have revealed the use of drones by narco-terrorists to target border agents, drones used to sneak weapons into prisons and drones being used for artillery spotting by ISIS militants.

Turkey’s New Maps Are Reclaiming the Ottoman Empire

Posted October 24th, 2016 at 2:12 pm (UTC-5)
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These maps purport to show the borders laid out in Turkey’s National Pact, a document Erdogan suggested the prime minister of Iraq should read to understand Turkey’s interest in Mosul. Signed…after the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in World War I, the National Pact identified those parts of the empire the government was prepared to fight for.

Bring Syria’s Assad and his Backers to Account Now

Posted October 24th, 2016 at 10:49 am (UTC-5)
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Escalate the conflict. The United States must challenge the status quo and end the regime’s war crimes, by force if necessary. This need not require some major pronouncement. Indeed, for now, a quiet warning may be more effective, since a major public announcement would almost certainly polarize the situation further.

Underestimating al Qaeda

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 4:31 pm (UTC-5)
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At this point, al Qaeda is objectively quite a bit stronger than ISIS is….Al Qaeda itself has enormous ability right now to inflict significant damage through terrorism and military means in multiple regions simultaneously….If another group like ISIS emerges, it would most likely be from an al Qaeda affiliate.

Move on Mosul

Posted October 17th, 2016 at 3:56 pm (UTC-5)
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Battle plans for retaking the Iraqi city of Mosul has been in the works for months. Now, it is time to execute those plans.
Many observers believe Islamic State fighters and supporters, who took Mosul in June 2014, will offer some resistance, use Mosul civilian residents as human shields, lay some traps for those coming after them, and retreat back into Syria.
Kurdish peshmerga, Iraqi army, Shi’a militias, and some Sunni tribal forces will try to coordinate on the ground with air and logistics support from the United States-led coalition.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the country would “celebrate victory as one.” Can a victory in Mosul do what so far has been unattainable, unite Iraq?

Clinton v. Trump: Foreign Policy & National Security

Posted October 11th, 2016 at 4:29 pm (UTC-5)
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Beyond questions about Donald Trump’s sexually salacious dialogue on an 11-year old videotape; beyond accusations about the role Hillary Clinton may have played regarding her husband’s salacious dalliances, was there any substance to chew on during Sunday’s presidential debate?

Foreign policy and national security issues were touched on ever so slightly, mostly regarding Syria, Islamic State, Russia and Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims coming into the country.

So much of the 2016 presidential campaign has been about what the two candidates have done in their past. Americans have 28 days left to find out more about what Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton propose to do in the future.

Russia’s Alliance With Assad, One Year On

Posted September 30th, 2016 at 4:44 pm (UTC-5)
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A year ago today, Russian entered the Syrian civil war. Allied with forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashir al-Assad, Russian said it was entering to stop terrorism and extremism.
While Russian warplanes have hit some Islamic State targets, much of their fury has been aimed at various rebel groups inside Syria, helping to tilt the battlefield in favor of Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it can document 9,364 deaths by Russian warplanes in the past year. 3,804 — 40 percent — were civilians, including more than 900 who were under 18-years old.
President Obama, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, described the Russian and Syrian assault of the ancient city of Aleppo as “barbarous.” The indefatigable Secretary of State John Kerry says he’s “on the verge” of suspending efforts to negotiate yet another ceasefire. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blames the United States for failing to separate the jihadist and extremist groups from more moderate rebels.
Kerry talks of “pursu(ing) other alternatives” as the airstrikes continue. What might those alternatives be for the United States? And what’s the endgame for Russia, if there is one?

First Presidential Debate Ignores Syria

Posted September 27th, 2016 at 2:37 pm (UTC-5)
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By Barbara Slavin Assuming Donald Trump agrees to show up for the next two presidential debates after his uneven performance on Monday, moderators should raise an urgent issue neglected in his first encounter with Hillary Clinton. As the two candidates exchanged barbs about trade, the economy, crime, Trump’s alleged business acumen and treatment of women, […]

After ISIS: A New ISIS

Posted September 20th, 2016 at 2:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Without its strongholds in Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, ISIS will not disappear but will splinter into territorial and terrorist offshoots. ISIS pockets could either regroup in unstable areas of the region, as has already been demonstrated in Libya, or stir trouble in places with symbolic resonance, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

ISIS’s Deadliest Weapon Is the Idea of Heaven

Posted September 19th, 2016 at 11:48 am (UTC-5)
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The idea of Heaven, the vision of Paradise, is ISIS’s secret weapon, the source of its willingness to fight to the end. Convincing fighters that Paradise is real, that it’s a certainty because they die as martyrs to jihad, is what made Islamic State’s military forces so fearsome, its suicide bombers so ecstatic.

Alliances and the Blurred Battle Lines Against ISIS in Syria

Posted September 2nd, 2016 at 4:28 pm (UTC-5)
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Battle lines and alliances seem to be getting murkier in the U.S. fight against Islamic State in Syria.
Last month, Turkey sent tanks and warplanes over its border with Syria in an offensive against Islamic State forces while also targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, whose success against ISIS brought it too close for Turkey’s comfort.
On the day the offensive began, Vice President Joe Biden stood side-by-side with Turkey’s prime minister, signaling which ally the U.S. was standing behind.
How the U.S. will keep both Turkey and the Kurds on its side is just one of the many diplomatic dramas playing out as the five-and-a-half year Syrian civil war continues with no end in sight.

Iraq’s Opportunity in the Battle for Mosul

Posted September 2nd, 2016 at 12:12 pm (UTC-5)
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For Iraq, retaking Mosul could bring a fresh start for its young democracy by restoring the country’s historic harmony between Sunnis and Shiites….After years of such violence – by Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda, and now IS – Iraqis may be in a better mood to reconcile.