France seeks US-Russia unity in coalition against Islamic State

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A week after Paris attacks, what has changed?.

When it comes to US intelligence failures on ISIS, it turns out President Obama’s dismissing the Islamic State as a “JV team” was only a minor blip. ON A summer day in 2014, with the high Syrian sun beating down, a volunteer with a camera made his way toward the rose-gold ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra.A week has now passed since the murderous attacks that claimed 130 lives in Paris last Friday, and on some fronts the response has been quick and decisive.

The attacks last week that killed 132 people, along with the downing of a plane in Egypt that killed 224, have served to focus international attention on Syria and Islamic State. As Bloomberg Businessweek reports, the Obama administration realized just days ago that ISIS is one of the richest organizations in the world — with assets totaling billions. In the aftermath of the attacks, journalist and Yale University lecturer Graeme Wood, who wrote a highly regarded profile on the extremist group for The Atlantic, questioned whether Islamic State could actually be “surprised by what its supporters did — and maybe not altogether pleased”. “We might, in the end, find that IS supporters carried out these operations semi-autonomously, with at most partial appreciation of the group’s larger strategy,” he wrote in Politico.

And not just that $500 million a year from smuggled oil, which Team Obama has only now begun to truly target. (The Pentagon had declined to bomb moving oil trucks, for example, for fear of killing civilian drivers.) Compounding the problem: Bloomberg reports that, until this past week, the administration “wildly overestimated the impact of what they did” to shut down ISIS oil sales. Wood said it was unlikely that Islamic State would emerge as victors if foreign powers launched a full assault on them in Syria and Iraq, so its supporters may have put in it a “strategically uncomfortable corner by carrying out an attack more gruesome and successful than its leaders wished”. “We may yet find that IS’s leaders were simply fools, and that they ordered exactly this attack and were pleased with its results, even if their PR department wasn’t quite ready to capitalise on it,” Wood suggests. “But in the meantime the possibility remains that their ability to inspire got ahead of their ability to control the results of that inspiration. Add in strict spending controls — it covers its 100,000-strong payroll with just half its oil revenue — and you have a terrorist cash cow that will keep the caliphate afloat for years to come, even if its oil business is decimated. Putting a total end to the industry would mean destroying the oil fields in Syria, but that would also bring hardship to millions in the population under IS rule and others who depend on the group’s oil, causing fuel shortages as winter sets in.

Along with its loud rejoicing over Paris, IS in Syria may also be quietly worrying about what comes next.” “The more ISIS does Paris-like events or threatens, you’re going to see that the determination to go after them is going to increase,” the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars director told Reuters. In sum, the two 2016 hopefuls called for intensifying airstrikes over Syria, training local Iraqi and Syrian forces to lead the ground war there and building a global coalition to do this all. All this is on top of reports that higher-ups have systematically altered the intelligence on ISIS to downplay the threat and inflate the success of US efforts.

Perhaps French President François Hollande can convince Obama that the West is already at war and that the only question is whether the United States will commit to win the fight, which cannot be done only from the air. He said Islamic State was displaying the “bravado of a 15-year-old” but ultimately this was not very smart and its aims would be difficult to achieve. And across the globe, politicians and diplomats are searching with renewed vigor for a strategy that can blunt the threat from ISIS and other terrorist groups. These emergency laws not only allow for greater police presence on the streets and in public places, but they give security forces additional powers, like the right to search private homes without a warrant and the authority to place people under house arrest. IS controls almost all of Syria’s oil fields, concentrated in the east of the country, producing some 30,000 barrels a day, along with one field in Iraq.

We have a military strategy that is putting enormous pressure on ISIL through airstrikes, that has put assistance and training on the ground with Iraqi forces. Instead, France invoked a far weaker provision of a European Union treaty, which pledges member nations to provide “aid and assistance by all means in their power” when a member nation faces “armed aggression on its territory.” France did so to keep its options open. He said attacks in foreign countries were aimed at undermining domestic support for continued military intervention in the Middle East. “They are not a sign of IS weakness,” Prof Williams said. The lower house of the French parliament has already voted to extend these emergency powers for three months, and the upper house is expected to follow suit.

Deakin University terrorism expert Professor Greg Barton agreed, saying Islamic State appeared to be deliberately ramping up their global strategy to move beyond lone-wolf attacks and include mass casualty attacks in the style of al-Qaeda. We are taking strikes against high-value targets — including, most recently, against the individual who was on the video executing civilians who had already been captured, as well as the head of ISIL in Libya.

Aerial footage released by the military showed airstrikes hitting a column of oil tankers in the Syrian desert, and sections of a large oil refinery bursting into flames. But, if an international agreement is reached to end the civil war in Syria that results in a united ground operation against them, IS may in fact be relying on the weakness of their enemies. “Islamic State might well have miscalculated and provoked a response beyond their capacity to resist … but their calculation appears to be that an international coalition will ultimately fatigue and fail, just as occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. Made up of historians, professors, arts professionals and curators, the Monuments Men (there were also a few women) worked during World War II to recover and protect looted works of art from the Nazis. On Sunday, U.S. defense officials said warplanes destroyed 116 oil-hauling trucks in eastern Syria, the biggest strikes on the oil trade since the U.S.-led air campaign began more than a year and a half ago.

Similarly, Russia has strengthened its ties to the Iranian regime, allying itself with the extremist government in Tehran to counterbalance US anti-nuclear aims. Without them, much of Europe’s most important artwork — Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, Vermeer’s The Astronomer, Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb — would have been lost forever. But overall the candidates and the president are talking about doing basically the same three things to fight the Islamic State: airstrikes, bolstering local forces, getting the world on the same page. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow in September when satellite photos showed a massive Russian military buildup in Syria, including fighter jets.

The U.S.-led coalition has targeted oil infrastructure occasionally in the past, including a heavy attack last month on Syria’s Omar field near the town of Deir el-Zour that hit refineries, command and control centers and transportation nodes. “Degrading this source of revenue will reduce ISIL’s ability to fund their military and terrorist operations,” said Col. These two Cold War rivals have been kept apart by a range of differences and disagreements, from Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine to his support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. In some cases I call it the driver of military operations for ISIS,” said Ahmed Ali, an Iraq analyst and senior fellow at the Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Iraq.

This was something that was deliberately and carefully planned over the course, I think, of several months in terms of making sure that they had the operatives, the weapons, the explosives with the suicide belts.” The men who stormed the Bataclan concert hall and mowed down restaurant patrons in the streets of Paris were disciplined, trained soldiers, many of whom had seen action on the battlefield in Syria. That opens the possibility of a united front against ISIS, possibly with the further legitimacy of a UN Security Council resolution, which France is spearheading. But despite polls showing strong support for ground troops within GOP circles — 64 percent in a new Bloomberg poll — it remains a politically dicey proposition that most top GOP candidates aren’t embracing.

As various factions vie for power in Syria, it seems that all parties, including the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army, and unaffiliated locals, are guilty of attempts to plunder and profit from ancient artifacts. And it’s notable that the most establishment-oriented candidates in both parties’ primaries are proposing things that, on their surface, aren’t all that different, at least in the broad strokes. Until recently, it was largely focused on taking and holding territory, and the general gruntwork of state-building; in recent weeks, the group has orchestrated a series of high-profile terrorist attacks, against Russia, Beirut, and now Paris. Do not risk your life.” Combined with recent gains by Kurdish forces and their Arab allies that have cut off some of the main supply routes between IS strongholds in Iraq and Syria, the airstrikes are likely to deal a painful blow to the group. So to some degree, this comparison is apples and oranges: It’s highly likely neither candidate has devoted the time and resources to developing as detailed a strategy as Obama’s.

That’s why a team from the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) is turning to the next best option — using technology to protect cultural heritage. Their proposals should be considered more of a general blueprint for what they’d do in the White House rather than what they’d actually do if they suddenly switched places with the president today. Founded in 2012 by Roger Michel, IDA is a joint effort between Harvard University and Oxford University to create an open-source database of high-resolution images and three-dimensional graphics of things like paper and papyrus documents, epigraphs and small artifacts. The work began in the lab and eventually moved into the field, where project participants began to digitally document ancient architecture with the thinking that they could help to ensure the legacy of these sites would be protected from things like environmental disasters and aging foundations.

Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, said prices of fuel shot up in some IS-ruled areas by around 80 percent, due to truck drivers refusing to drive to IS oil facilities, fearing their vehicles will be hit. Oil prices have increased and availability decreased in and around the IS-held Iraqi city of Mosul, said Ben Lando, editor in chief of the Iraq Oil Report, a trade publication that tracks the Iraqi oil industry. Hillary Clinton raised this problem in some detail Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations, emphasizing the importance of partnering with Iraqi Sunnis and Syrian opposition groups.

In order to quickly create photographic equipment unique to this project, a technology team, led by magnetician Alexy Karenowska, was assembled at Oxford to develop a low-cost, easy-to-use 3-D camera. They took an off-the-shelf model and heavily modified it, adding features like macro mode (which enables focusing on close-range objects), the use of file formats that could store anaglyph information —different-coloured layers of a photograph superimposed to create a stereoscopic three-dimensional effect — and automated GPS stamping.

The GPS function is particularly useful for tracking down looted artifacts, especially when dealing with a group like ISIS that has its own ‘ministry of antiques’ helping to smuggle items into art markets. A local rebel commander in Idlib said there is an indirect deal between IS and various rebel factions, under which IS supplies them with oil in return for fruits and vegetables, since IS-ruled regions largely rely on imports of produce. The commander spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive dealings with the factions’ enemy. “We have no other option except to buy from Daesh… As a result, “it’s going to become more and more difficult to differentiate between a pickup truck that is carrying crude oil and a pickup truck that just belongs to a baker or a farmer.”

But many of the sites chosen were on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger — including Palmyra, which the team was able to reach and document before its destruction. Altshuler also assembled a “veritable army” of museum employees, members of antiquary societies, archaeologists and others involved in preserving cultural inheritance. The volunteers have ample local knowledge of the targets, which in many ways makes them more equipped to assess an area than any third-party security detail.

They have also built in a three-month lag time between when pictures are taken and when they are posted, making it difficult to ascertain the photographer of any given site. Katharyn Hanson, a University of Pennsylvania fellow whose archaeological work focuses on the protection of cultural heritage, notes that the loss of ruins in places like Palmyra and Nimrud — a 3,000-year-old city in Iraq with hundreds of registered historical sites — can inflict acute suffering on people in the region. “It is vitally important that we remember that the built cultural heritage of a place is deeply connected to a local population’s sense of identity,” she says. Its temple complex had served as a Roman trading post, a mosque, a Christian church and a major crossroads for the Silk Road, and the city had “the best-preserved Roman architecture in the eastern Mediterranean”, according to Hanson. “If ISIS is successful in wiping the slate clean and blotting out from the landscape these objects and architecture, it won’t be long until people forget that they ever existed,” says Michel. The temple’s main building and colonnade were levelled between August and September of this year, but satellite images had shown that, although it had been heavily damaged, the arch avoided complete destruction. “The structure’s remarkable resilience, yet still uncertain fate will make our reconstruction of it, we feel, a powerful and thought-provoking centrepiece for the March event,” Karenowska noted.

They will be available to the public sometime in early 2016, giving many an opportunity to see places they never knew existed until they’ve become headlines as casualties of war. By stimulating IDA’s plans for creative collaborations taking place on a global scale, ISIS has opened up a dialogue between those it most desperately wanted to silence. Shortly after the US -led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who was born in Samarra in 1971 and whose real name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Al-Badri, helps set up an group to fight coalition troops. May 2010: Baghdadi becomes the group’s leader following the death of Masri a month earlier in a joint US-Iraqi raid, marking a shift in power within the organization from foreign fighters to Iraq.

September 2012: A suicide car bombing in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit is the first major assault in a campaign to free jailed fighters unveiled by Baghdadi, who seeks to position himself as defender of Iraq’s disenfranchised Sunni minority. Led by Baathist commanders, its fighters move across northern Iraq as the Iraqi army collapses, capturing Mosul and other cities to set up its territory on land straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. Aug. 19, 2014: British-born fighter Mohamed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, appears in a video beheading American journalist James Foley in retaliation for the US air raids. Sept. 13, 2014: Islamic State launches an offensive on the northern Kurdish Syrian city of Kobani, near the Turkish border, that ends in January with its defeat by Kurdish fighters backed by coalition air raids. He addresses a growing number of Saudi followers in an audiotape and sets out a list of targets, starting with the country’s minority Shiite in the oil-rich Eastern Province.

Feb. 3, 2015: Islamic State broadcast video of Lieutenant Muath Safi Al-Kaseasbeh, a Jordanian pilot captured in late December near Raqqa being burnt alive in a cage, an escalation of its public brutality. June 26, 2015: Several months after a deadly attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the group claims responsibility for the killing of 38 people at Tunisian beach resort that devastates Tunisia’s tourism sector. Oct. 31, 2015: Russian passenger jet crashes in the Sinai desert in Egypt killing all 224 people on board in an attack claimed by Islamic State’s affiliate in Egypt (above).

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