Paris and Mali Attacks Expose Lethal Qaeda-ISIS Rivalry

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

If we don’t fight ISIS over there, we’ll soon be fighting here.

President Obama has a choice: He can either destroy the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq or see the Islamic State bring its war to America. The Paris attacks and the downing of a Russian airliner have heightened determination in Moscow, Paris and Washington to defeat Islamic State, a challenge easier said than done.In Paris, yet another body has been found – a woman’s – in the flat in Saint-Denis, the suburb raided by police hunting those responsible for murdering 130 people just over a week ago.The recent terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead and hundreds more injured have thrust the issue of combating ISIS into the center of the 2016 presidential election.

Many strategists say military advances will show little progress unless more work is done to eliminate the militant group’s financing, counter its propaganda and cut a diplomatic deal among world powers on Syrian rule. For military planners, destroying the terrorist group’s headquarters and crippling its fighting force is a relatively simple assignment, say strategists: It would require some 40,000 troops, air support and two months of fighting.

In Iraq, violence of that kind is so commonplace that news organisations barely mentioned that 10 people have been killed and 28 injured in another suicide attack on a Shia mosque in southern Baghdad. In Malaysia, the police fear that as many as 10 suicide bombers may have slipped into Kuala Lumpur, where leaders of 18 states are due to assemble for a summit of South-east Asian nations. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, the retired neurosurgeon – who’s facing criticism over blunders on foreign policy – called for the U.S. to “dramatically increase its efforts to appeal directly to the moderate Kurds, Syrians and Iraqis.” To do that, Carson said, “will require a multi-pronged communications strategy that leverages our strengths in media production and messaging, combined with cutting off traditional access routes to social media for radical Islamist groups.” Carson also recommended either destroying or taking control of the oil fields along Syria’s eastern border to dismantle the Islamic State’s infrastructure, as well as enhanced security along U.S. borders. “While we should not open U.S. borders to refugees at this time, we should encourage the establishment of sanctuary zones in the contested areas of Iraq and Syria,” Carson wrote. “This would not involve a significant on-the-ground presence of Western armies.

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. Many officials, especially in Europe, believe a full-scale military response would help Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by broadcasting an image of Westerners seizing Arab lands, attracting more followers to the militants’ cause. It also announced that it had murdered two men, a Chinese and a Norwegian, it had been holding hostage, and it was Isis, purportedly, that posted a video of a suicide bomber getting ready to strike in Times Square in New York.

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. After fighting Islamic State for more than a year through airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, military officers, diplomats and analysts agree there is no easy formula for victory. Indeed, socialist President Francois Hollande has responded furiously to his country’s 9/11 with an intensified air campaign, hundreds of raids on suspected domestic terrorists, a state of emergency and proposed changes in the constitution to make France less hospitable to jihad.

France is stepping up air attacks and bringing in 24 planes on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which will arrive in the eastern Mediterranean next week to triple French air power in the region. The threat is so pervasive that old quarrels between nations are being forgotten, and it appears that the United Nations Security Council is on the verge of an almost unprecedented show of unity. Clinton stood with President Obama on not sending hundreds of thousands of ground troops to the region, saying that would “just not [be] the smart move to make here.” But she broke with the administration in stating that her ultimate goal was not to “contain” ISIS, but to “defeat and destroy” the terrorist organization. His news conference in Turkey was marked by a stunning tone of passivity, detachment and lassitude, compounded by impatience and irritability at the very suggestion that his Syria strategy might be failing.

The U.S. also is considering creation of a base in Iraq to launch raids on Islamic State leaders; tripling the number of special operation forces working in Syria; and expanding the list of Islamic State targets by risking additional civilian casualties in more aggressive airstrikes. Although the Texas senator has turned his attention mostly toward barring Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S. since the terrorist attacks on Paris last week, he has also pledged to “defeat radical Islamic terrorism” as president. Similarly, Russia has strengthened its ties to the Iranian regime, allying itself with the extremist government in Tehran to counterbalance US anti-nuclear aims.

Derek Chollet, a former Pentagon official with the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. think tank, said taking more aggressive steps, such as sending U.S. forces to the front lines to call in airstrikes, could help in the fight but will take time. Achieving unanimous agreement over what to do in Syria, beyond sending humanitarian aid, has proved impossible up to now because Russia is committed to protecting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, while the Western powers insist that he must go. Militarily, Cruz has said he would arm the Kurds and use “overwhelming” air power. “There’s no reason to be putting our sons and daughters in harm’s way without a military plan to keep them safe and to win,” Cruz said Saturday on “Fox and Friends.” “If they have a commander-in-chief who has no strategy – he will not even utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ – he will not defeat them.” Carly Fiorina.

Entering into a ground war, he said, could be a mistake. “We made a lot of decisions as a country in the wake of 9/11, in the fever of fear and the desire to do something decisive, that we are still digging ourselves out of,” he said. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow in September when satellite photos showed a massive Russian military buildup in Syria, including fighter jets. And since Isis has boasted of murdering Russian air passengers and a Chinese hostage, in addition to the dead in Paris and Beirut, and since both Russia and China are worried about a fundamentalist ideology spreading through their own Muslim populations, the risk that any permanent member of the Security Council will veto it has all but disappeared. Netanyahu said afterward that the discussions were aimed at ensuring “a joint mechanism for preventing misunderstandings between (Israeli and Russian) forces” in and around Syria.

She later criticized the Obama administration for not supplying Middle East allies with support sooner. “We’ve had a fairly effective bombing campaign over the last couple of days. People were killed by Islamist fanatics long before Isis existed, and eliminating that organisation will not stop others from trying to spread death and terror. Why haven’t we been doing that for a year and a half?” Fiorina said. “Because we’ve had politically expedient rules of engagement, that’s why.” Five police officers and a passerby were injured Tuesday when a woman blew herself up as police raided an apartment while hunting high-level terrorism suspects. 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.

Nonetheless, the huge tract of land that Isis controls, spanning the Syria-Iraq border, is where terrorists such as the Paris bombers turn to for weapons, money, training and ideological inspiration. Access to cash allows Islamic State to pay its fighters and bureaucrats, run municipal services, bribe tribes into cooperation and fund its global propaganda operation. Treasury Department estimated Islamic State earned as much as $1 million a day selling oil, which is smuggled to Turkey’s black market or sold locally to domestic refineries. In a speech dedicated to democratic socialism Thursday, the Vermont senator called for a “new NATO” that would include Russia to combat radical Islamic terrorism. “A new and strong coalition of Western powers, Muslim nations, and countries like Russia must come together in a strongly coordinated way to combat ISIS,” Sanders said, “to seal the border that fighters are currently flowing across, to share counter-terrorism intelligence, to turn off the spigot of terrorist financing, and to end support for exporting radical ideologies.” He also criticized the Gulf States – singling out Qatar – for not committing enough resources to fight ISIS. “As we develop a strongly coordinated effort,” Sanders said, “we need a commitment from these countries that the fight against ISIS takes precedence over the religious and ideological differences that hamper the kind of cooperation that we desperately need.” Rick Santorum. Since the beginning of its air campaign in Syria, the U.S. has struck Islamic State oil production facilities, which militants have largely been able to repair.

Speaking Saturday at the Sunshine Summit in Orlando, Florida, the former Pennsylvania senator stressed the need to increase the U.S. bombing campaign in the Middle East and take back land from ISIS. “We need to be aggressive in taking back that land,” Santorum said. “Why? If they do not hold land, they lose legitimacy.” Santorum did not say how many U.S. troops he’d be willing to send as commander-in-chief. “I don’t have access to all of the briefings that a president would have,” he explained. “All I can do is talk to people who are in positions prior to [my administration.]” Donald Trump. “Bomb the s*** out of them,” the ever-brash real estate mogul declared last Thursday during a wild, 96-minute speech in Fort Dodge, Iowa. During a campaign stop Thursday in Newton, Iowa, Trump told NBC News he would “certainly implement” a national database to register all Muslims living in the U.S.

The job of stopping the flow of oil revenues, officials said, is exceeded only by the task of heading off militants bound for Europe, which requires tightening borders. On Friday, the European Union ordered stricter border controls on its perimeter, a move intended to broaden the systematic police checks of EU citizens and improve the ability of authorities to track potential terror suspects. U.S. and European officials say the West hasn’t been effective in countering Islamic State propaganda because, in part, it lacks the credibility and immediacy of messages relayed by friends and relatives connected to Islamic State. One way might be to have defectors tell their stories, scholars say. “I think we are really struggling countering the narrative,” said Colin Clarke, a Rand Corp. political scientist who studies terrorist groups. “I don’t know if we thought long and hard about it, or devoted enough resources.” Some commentators have raised the prospect of using cyberattacks to cut off Islamic State from the Internet, disrupting its ability to post videos or employ social media.

The reach of U.S. cyberweapons remain one of the military’s closest secrets, making it difficult to know how effective they would be against Islamic State’s decentralized propaganda campaign. The U.S. military is wary of deploying cyberweapons because once they are used, the Chinese and Russian military would get a good look and develop countermeasures, military officials have said.

The new approach is what one Pentagon official described as “drop, op and assess.” Ammunition is dropped, an operation is planned and conducted, and U.S. forces assess the performance of local fighters before providing them more ammunition. The Iraqi officials opposed to the deployment of Apache helicopters and the new base are also against the return of American troops, U.S. officials said, because of worries of a domestic backlash, particularly from Shiite militia groups. But many military leaders believe it would alienate the very population the West needs to win to their side. “There is only one thing that is going to beat these guys and that is a ground army,” said a military official. “And there are only two ways to do that: provide one yourself or rely on someone else’s. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com, Stephen Fidler at stephen.fidler@wsj.com, Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com and Philip Shishkin at philip.shishkin@wsj.com

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