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- 01/11/16--06:14: _Turkey will offer S...
- 01/11/16--09:17: _At least 12 childre...
- 01/12/16--06:44: _PUTIN: Syria needs ...
- 01/12/16--09:29: _Putin just suggeste...
- 01/12/16--09:44: _Cameron just admitt...
- 01/12/16--16:32: _Top Israeli diploma...
- 01/13/16--09:46: _Syria's rebels reje...
- 01/13/16--13:39: _Charlie Hebdo appar...
- 01/14/16--04:54: _Turkish forces kill...
- 01/14/16--07:37: _Fighting ISIS: A lo...
- 01/14/16--07:59: _Turkish prime minis...
- 01/14/16--08:56: _Experts examine the...
- 01/14/16--09:50: _20 jaw-dropping pho...
- 01/14/16--13:39: _The US is consideri...
- 01/14/16--15:41: _UN: 396,000 people ...
- 01/15/16--05:07: _UNICEF workers witn...
- 01/15/16--09:18: _Russia is deploying...
- 01/15/16--11:58: _Syrian native descr...
- 01/15/16--12:40: _Here's why US soldi...
- 01/15/16--12:45: _The real meaning of...
- 01/12/16--06:44: PUTIN: Syria needs a new constitution
- 01/13/16--09:46: Syria's rebels reject peace talks unless UN resolution implemented
- 01/14/16--07:37: Fighting ISIS: A look at the handguns of the Kurdish Peshmerga
- 01/14/16--08:56: Experts examine the US strategy for defeating ISIS and Al Qaeda
- 01/14/16--15:41: UN: 396,000 people under siege in Syria have no access to food aid
- 01/15/16--12:40: Here's why US soldiers love the A-10
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey plans to offer Syrian refugees work permits in order to encourage fewer of them to migrate, Volkan Bozkir, Turkey's minister for European Affairs, said on Monday, amid EU pressure to reduce the flow of migrants.
Bozkir was speaking after meeting European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who last week said the European Union was far from satisfied with Turkey's efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece.
"We are trying to reduce the pressure for illegal migration by giving Syrians in Turkey work permits," Bozkir told reporters after the meeting Timmermans in Ankara.
Turkish authorities detained more than 150,000 illegal migrants in 2015, about 500 migrants daily, Bozkir also said.
Turkey is the world's biggest host of refugees amid the greatest global movement of refugees ever recorded.
More than 2.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey from the civil war, now in its sixth year. Another 200,000 Iraqi refugees also shelter there, and migrants from Iran, Afghanistan and Africa all use Turkey as a transit point to Europe.
Turkey, which aspires to join the EU, struck a deal with the EU in November to prevent migrants from traveling to Europe in return for 3 billion euro ($3.3 billion) in cash, a deal on visas and renewed talks on joining the 28-nation bloc.
The Turkish government has been weighing plans to make it easier for Syrians to earn a living, but it has been hampered by a domestic unemployment rate of about 10 percent as economic growth slows.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians and other foreigners work illegally for low wages, but only about 6,000 Syrians have been given work permits, according to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency.
Currently, refugees under temporary protection can work within the refugee community in Turkey, for example as doctors or teachers in camps.
At least 12 children and three adults were killed in a Russian air strike that hit a school in Syria's Aleppo province on Monday, a monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the three adults included a teacher, and that the strike in the town of Anjara also injured at least 20 people, all of them children and teachers.
The monitor said there had been heavy air strikes and clashes between government and rebel forces since Sunday in the northern province, which is controlled by a mixture of moderate and Islamist rebels.
Photos distributed by media activists in Aleppo province showed a classroom full of rubble with the wooden tops of desks blown off their metal frames.
The Britain-based Observatory also reported that three children were killed by rebel rocket fire on a government-held district in Aleppo city.
Control of the city has been divided between government forces in the west and rebel fighters in the east since shortly after fighting began there in mid-2012.
Government forces regularly carry out air raids on the east, while rebels fire rockets into the west.
The situation is largely reversed in the countryside surrounding the city, with rebels controlling much of the area west of Aleppo, and the government present to the east.
Russia, a staunch ally of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, began air strikes in support of the central government in late September.
It says it is targeting the Islamic State group and other "terrorists," but a third of those killed in its strikes have been civilians, according to the Observatory.
The monitor said in late December that Russian air strikes had killed more than 2,300 people since they began on September 30, among them 792 civilians.
Moscow has slammed as "absurd" allegations that its strikes have killed civilians.
More than 260,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Syria needs to start working on a new constitution as a first step to finding a political solution to its civil war, though he acknowledged the process was likely to be difficult.
Putin, who has thrown Russia's support behind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with air strikes, also said in an interview with the German newspaper Bild that the crisis in relations between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran would complicate the search for peace in Syria.
"I believe it's necessary to move toward constitutional reform (in Syria). It's a complicated process, of course. And after that, on the basis of the new constitution, (Syria should) hold early presidential and parliamentary elections", Putin said in the interview which was conducted on Jan. 5.
Putin, obliquely referring to diplomatic pressure from the United States and France to concentrate Moscow's firepower on Islamic State militants, said Russian military aid was going to help parts of the Syrian opposition in the fight against IS as well as to help Assad.
"You are talking about Assad as our ally. Do you know that we are backing the actions of the armed opposition combating Islamic State? ... We are coordinating our joint actions with them and support their offensive operations on different parts of the front with strikes by our air force."
"I am talking about hundreds, thousands of armed people, who combat Islamic State ... Some of them have already spoken about it in public, others prefer keeping silent but the work is going on."
Putin made similar comments last year, but Russian officials subsequently denied that Moscow provided military aid to the Syrian opposition groups that Putin had mentioned.
In the interview with Bild, Putin said the row between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Riyadh's execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric on Jan. 2 would complicate attempts to reach a solution to the Syrian conflict.
"If our participation were needed, we would be ready to do everything for the conflict to be resolved, and as soon as possible," he said, according to a transcript of the interview, sent to media by the Kremlin press office.
(Editing by Richard Balmforth)
It would be less difficult for Russia to grant asylum to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad than it was to shelter former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with German newspaper BILD.
The Russian leader, who launched an air campaign in Syria on behalf of Assad last September, hinted that Russia could shelter the embattled Syrian president if presidential elections were held and Assad lost.
"It was surely more difficult to grant Mr. Snowden asylum in Russia than it would be in the case of Assad," Putin said, according to an English translation provided by the newspaper to Business Insider.
Snowden was granted asylum by Russia in June 2013 after leaking thousands of classified US documents to the press.
Indeed, Russia's intervention in Syria has proved widely popular in Russia, where the incursion has been portrayed on state media as one success after another. A poll taken in October showed that roughly 70% of Russians supported the air campaign.
Putin said, however, that it was still "too early" to discuss the issue of sheltering Assad.
"First the Syrian population has to be able to vote, and then we will see if Assad would have to leave his country if he loses the election," Putin, a staunch ally of Assad and his regime, told BILD.
"In any case, this is not a prerequisite," Putin added. "Until then, Russia will fight ISIS and those anti-Assad rebels who cooperate with ISIS."
Putin called accusations that Russia was bombing civilian and US-backed rebel targets in Syria instead of ISIS "lies."
"The alleged video evidence for this claim was developed before Russian forces even began their mission," Putin said. "We can prove that, even though our critics refuse to believe it."
So far, Russia has provided no proof that it does not deliberately strike civilian targets. In December, the human-rights organization Amnesty International said Russia's bombing of Syria may amount to a war crime because of the number of civilians its strikes have killed — at least 200 from September to November of 2015.
When asked why Russia continues to support Assad – who is known to use barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians since the war erupted in 2011 — Putin said that was "a tricky question."
"I also think that President Assad has done much wrong over the course of this conflict," Putin noted. "But the conflict would never have become so big if it had not been fueled by outside of Syria – with weapons, money, and fighters."
"Assad does not fight against his own population, but against those who take armed action against the government," Putin added. "If the civil population is then also harmed, it is not Assad’s fault, but primarily the fault of the insurgents and their foreign supporters."
Barrel bombs dropped on civilian targets, including bakeries, schools, and hospitals, have killed almost 19,000 civilians and rebel fighters since 2012, according to The New York Times.
In any case, Putin seems confident that the turmoil will settle long enough for Syrian civilians to vote in presidential elections.
"Once the stabilization of the country has progressed, a constitutional reform has to follow, and then early presidential elections. Only the Syrian people can decide who should govern the country in the future," he said.
The Syrian civil war erupted in earnest in March 2011 after pro-Assad forces attacked peaceful protesters calling for his ouster.
According to Syria expert Charles Lister, there are now roughly 70,000 moderate opposition fighters not associated with either ISIS or Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra battling to overthrow the president, who continues to receive support from Russia and Iran.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron admitted on Tuesday that the British government is prepared to work militarily with relatively hardline Islamist groups in Syria.
Cameron made the admission while answering a question from the House of Commons' Liaison Committee about a claim he had made back in November that there were 70,000 "moderate" fighters in Syria that were ready to help Britain by fighting ISIS (also known as Islamic State, ISIL and Daesh) on the ground.
Below is the conversation between Cameron and the chair of the Defence Committee Julian Lewis that revealed the truth about the fighters (emphasis ours):
We really ought to be told more about the composition of the allegedly moderate forces that we are now mounting airstrikes to support.
...What I'd repeat again though, and yes, some of the opposition forces are Islamist, some of them are relatively hardline Islamist and some of them are more what we would describe as more secular democrats.
You can watch a video of the exchange below.
The 70,000 claim was immediately questioned by the Guardian, the BBC,the Times, the Independent,the Daily Mail and the Mirror, and a range of politicians when parliament was debating whether Britain should join the US and other Western forces in bombing ISIS in Syria in November.
He initially told MPs that “although the situation on the ground is complex, our assessment is that there are around 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.”
Back in November, Julian Lewis even told Sky News:
"Where are these magical 70,000 people and if they are there fighting, how come they haven't been able to roll back ISIL/Daesh? Is it that they're in the wrong place? Is it that they're fighting each other? Or is it that in reality they're not all that moderate and that there are a lot of jihadists among them?
"I think we really need to know about this so that we don't look back on this moment as having made a big mistake on the base of misleading information that was given not by the Prime Minister but to the Prime Minister."
Israeli leaders have made it clear that they consider Iran to be the country's top strategic threat, with Tehran posing a greater danger than any Palestinian armed faction or even ISIS.
During a talk at the Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC on January 11, Israeli diplomat Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the UN and the current director-general of Israel's ministry of foreign affairs, singled out Iran's allegedly unique ability to threaten Israel's existence, describing it as "a country of 80 million seeking to get nuclear weapons."
This anxiety — or at least this cultivation of a perception that Israel believes Iran to be an existential threat — isn't solely rooted in the anticipation of an Iranian nuclear strike, so much as a fear of what Iran might be able to accomplish using an implicit threat of nuclear war.
In the course of a nearly hour-long discussion moderated by former State Department senior Middle East advisor Aaron David Miller, Gold explained what he believes one of Iran's more dangerous mid-term regional goals may be.
Gold said that he "firmly believes Iran wants to turn Syria into a province of Iran." Citing Iranian promotion of Shi'ite Islam in the country, Gold claimed Iran is "involved in creating a social and political change that incorporates Syria into the Iranian state."
Such a development would give the Iranian regime a strategic foothold along Israel's northern border — a particularly worrying prospect for an Israeli leadership that is less than optimistic about the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal's ability to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Gold said that Iranian religious outreach in Syria wasn't just "a question of building Shi'ite mosques. It's a question of a permanent deployment against Israel from the north. That's something we cannot accept."
Gold is a shrewd career diplomat and scholar and one of the most respected members of Israel's diplomatic corps. It's possible that his portrayal of Iran's end-game in Syria isn't intended as an actual analysis, but as a way of suggesting a distinction between Israeli perceptions of Iranian and Russian activities in the war-torn country.
At the same time, Russia and Israel have entered into an agreement to "de-conflict" their combat aircraft over Syria, a move that gives Israel a certain degree of freedom in targeting assets belonging to Hezbollah, an Iranian-supported militia group, inside of the country.
Russia has also hinted that it is more interested in stabilizing the Syrian state than in preserving Assad's rule specifically, a possible point of divergence between the two ostensible allies.
The transformation of Syria into an Iranian satrap would undercut Russia's interests in the country, especially in light of Russian security understandings with Israel.
Gold may have been hinting at differences between Israeli perceptions of the two countries' Syria policies, even if both governments are committing soldiers and diplomatic capital to keeping Assad in power — or he at least might have been trying to create a distinction in the minds of a potentially influential DC audience.
Of course, there's always the possibility that Tehran really does want to transform Syria into into a more or less formal satrap of the Iranian state. Philip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and a leading expert on Shi'ite militia movements, doesn't reject the possibility out of hand.
"The revolutionary ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran has a very long term goal to incorporate many states/groups into a broader political project," Smyth told Business Insider by email.
He noted that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's Islamic revolution and the regime's chief ideologist, "was not a supporter of Iranian nationalism (unless he needed to use it to rally fighters/build support) and wanted a true and total pan-Islamic government under his religious guidelines/ideology."
Iran's actions in Syria have been consistent with the regime's broader revolutionary goals. "Gold makes a valid point," writes Smyth. "There have been Iranian moves to convert people, build Syrian versions of Hizballah, and to place more forces within Syria."
At the same time, Iran recognizes that there are limits to what it can accomplish in Syria, and it's unlikely they could pull off the kind of strategy Gold envisions.
"The international system would have some serious problems with Syria becoming Iran's newest de jure province," writes Smyth. "Even in terms of de facto control, it's not as if Iran has a completely free hand to do as it pleases."
Syrian rebel groups said on Wednesday they would not take part in peace talks scheduled this month unless humanitarian articles in the latest UN resolution were implemented.
The groups, which include the powerful Islam Army, mentioned articles 12 and 13 of a resolution that was passed late last year, which calls on the sides in Syria's civil war to allow humanitarian access to all in need and cease attacks on civilians.
"We consider that implementing these articles is self-evident and a human right," they said in a statement.
"We do not accept any compromise on it under any justification or circumstances."
They also called on an opposition council set up to oversee negotiations, expected to start on Jan. 25 in Geneva, "to be steadfast in its honorable position in refusing to enter into any political solutions imposed through massacres".
Last week the groups said in a statement they were under international pressure to make concessions that would prolong the country's five-year-old conflict.
The opposition council told U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura that the Syrian government had to take goodwill steps, including a prisoner release, before they would go to negotiations.
The satirical French weekly publication, Charlie Hebdo, has come under fire for publishing a cartoon that suggests that Aylan Kurdi, a toddler who drowned off the coast of Turkey while attempting to flee war-torn Syria, would have grown up to sexually assault European women.
"What would little #AylanKurdi have grown up to be? Ass groper in Germany," the cartoon reads.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing 'revolutionary' about Charlie Hebdo's latest cartoon, this is pure fascism. pic.twitter.com/cqGUMxuyWG— Mahmoud (@MahmoudRamsey) January 13, 2016
More despicable cartoons from Charlie Hebdo: "What would've Aylan grown up to be? A groper in Germany."pic.twitter.com/QkSjJVEYdj— Haidar Sumeri (@IraqiSecurity) January 13, 2016
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish land forces have fired nearly 500 times on Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq, killing almost 200 militants in response to a suicide bombing in Istanbul which killed 10 German tourists, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday.
Turkey will also carry out air strikes against the radical Sunni group if necessary and will maintain its "determined stance" until Islamic State fighters leave its border areas, Davutoglu told a conference of Turkish ambassadors in Ankara.
The bomber blew himself up on Tuesday among groups of tourists in the historic center of Istanbul. Davutoglu said on Wednesday he was a member of Islamic State who had entered Turkey from Syria as a refugee.
"After the incident on Tuesday … close to 500 artillery and tank shells were fired on Daesh positions in Syria and Iraq," Davutoglu said, using an Arabic name for Islamic State.
"Close to 200 Daesh members including so-called regional leaders were neutralized in the last 48 hours. After this, every threat directed at Turkey will be punished in kind," he told the ambassadors' conference.
Turkey, a member of the NATO military alliance and the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, has repeatedly said it wants to flush Islamic State from a zone in northern Syria just across its border.
Turkish war planes have not flown in Syrian air space since Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in late November, triggering a diplomatic row with Moscow, which is also conducting air strikes in Syria.
Basically, there are three handguns that you are most likely to see on a Peshmerga officer’s hip: a Glock 19, a Walther P1/P-38, or an HS.
Everybody knows what a Glock is, and the Walther is also a fairly recognizable piece. The HS, though, is unusual. What I find interesting about the HS, besides the fact that you’ll never see one inside the United States, is the fact that many of you reading this have probably fired, handled, or seen the equivalent at some point.
The HS2000 series of handguns bears a remarkable similarity to the Springfield XD coveted by Springfield fan boys. In fact, it’s essentially the exact same gun.
The primary difference between the two is the company logo: Where crossed cannons should be, you’ll instead find a distinct “HS Produkt” engraving. HS is a Croatian company and stands for “Hrvatski Samokres.” The company has been around since 1990, and has produced some real home-run firearms, making it a very successful upstart.
The 9mm variant is the more common caliber for the Pesh, but the .45 ACP can still be seen from time to time—for example, the one worn by yours truly. The .45 is a rare enough sight that when an officer does the old “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” routine, and you whip out bullets twice the size of theirs, eyeballs pop out of sockets in wonder.
Now, I’m not a huge proponent of the .45 ACP, and personally prefer 9mm, but I didn’t have a choice this time around. A guy’s got to take what he can get sometimes.
Another reason the .45 is a shit round here is the price point; in this case, they cost eight bucks a bullet! It has now become very expensive to gunfight with a pistol, as I would have to purchase my own replacement ammo. This brings new meaning to the phrase, “Think twice before pulling the trigger.”
The pistol features a striker-fired system mechanically similar to that of a Glock. Some unique features include a loaded-chamber indicator located on the top of the slide and a nipple protruding from the rear of the slide that lets the user know the weapon is cocked. It even has a trigger safety like the Glock, but the pull couldn’t be more different: The HS has a softer, grainier-feeling break that is very mushy but predictable.
In addition to the trigger safety, there is a backstrap safety like the 1911, making it impossible to rack back unless depressed. Overkill? Maybe. Functional? Absolutely!
Sights are standard three-dot style with fluorescent white paint. They’re nothing special, but they do quite well for factory standard, and I was able to engage silhouette targets at a variety of distances with relative easy of transition. They are seated atop a robust slide, with serrations found on the rear and fore end to maximize grip during manipulation.
The spring/guide rod assembly is such a stout piece of hardware, I felt like I could use it for a concrete nail and use it in the pistol again when I finished. What’s more, it allows the pistol to perform contact shots on a target by preventing the slide from shifting rearward under applied pressure.
The barrel is quality and produces accuracy as long as the user can maintain the fundamentals. It is nitride coated along with the rest of the gun.The lower is a quality polymer with ample texture to maintain a positive grip, but despite being comfortable, it lacks the angle to really take up an aggressive posture behind the weapon.
It just feels awkward. The magazine release is an ambidextrous design but has a sticky feel when under the pressure of a full mag. Magazines are drop-free stainless steel, and the .45 models hold up to 13 rounds.
OK, now for why I hate this firearm. While it’s an exceptionally comfortable pistol to hold, that all changes the moment you pull the trigger. The HS has a rather high bore axis in comparison to hand placement on the pistol. Combine this with a .45 ACP bullet and you get muzzle flip that causes bystanders to be concerned for your safety. That’s really saying something in the Peshmerga!
Don’t get me wrong, it is manageable, and the recoil is the same as any other .45 handgun, but that muzzle flip after a good deal of shooting will start to work your wrist over. More importantly, it increases the time between accurate follow-up shots on target.
I’m just not a fan. The lower you can get the center of the weapon’s barrel in relation to your wrist bone, the better. Now this pistol goes for around $1,800-2,000 in Kurdistan unless it is acquired through standard issue. That’s a price I would never pay for a handgun, let alone one I can buy for around $480 back home.
Nevertheless, it is at the disposal of Peshmerga forces, and most likely will go to an officer as a symbol of authority—helping him to look the part and maintain the status quo among the ranks.
"Secret actors" were behind the terrorist attack that killed 10 people in Istanbul on Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.
"Turkish security forces are trying to reveal who used Daesh as a 'subcontractor,'" he said, according to a translation provided by the Turkish Enligh-language newspaper Daily Sabah.
Davutoglu was evidently hinting at the role a foreign power or external actor may have had in "contracting" ISIS to carry out Tuesday's terror attack in Istanbul's Sultanahmet Square.
Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert and senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, said Davutoglu's comments were likely a subtle dig at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Turkey's government staunchly opposes.
"RTE and Davutoglu have a consistent talking point regarding the 'foreign power' controlling ISIS: It is a reference to Assad," Stein said on Twitter. (The "RTE" referred to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president.)
Davutoglu said that the Istanbul bomber entered Turkey from Syria as a "migrant," before accusing the Syrian government of helping the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) transfer militants to Northern Syria to fight the moderate opposition operating along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Indeed, some experts have noted that Russian airstrikes and advancements by pro-regime forces in the north have created an opening for ISIS to move fighters into spaces once controlled by anti-ISIS rebels and Kurds.
That said, the capture of Tishrin Dam from ISIS last month by the Kurds — whose territorial expansion Turkey opposes — was "a huge first step for the Kurds in clearing out the remaining border strip controlled by IS along the Turkish border," Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a Kurdish affairs expert embedded in Iraqi Kurdistan, told Business Insider at the time.
In any case, Turkey has experienced significant blowback within its borders since joining the anti-ISIS coalition in July, largely owing to the relaxed border policies Ankara adopted between 2011 and 2014 which enabled foreign fighters to travel to Syria and enter the fight against Assad.
The policy also allowed ISIS militants to form a network within Turkey as they were permitted to cross and operate along Turkey's southern border with relative freedom.
Thirty-three people were killed in the southeastern border town of Suruc in July when a suicide bomber linked to ISIS detonated himself. In October, an ISIS-linked suicide bomber killed more than 100 people at a peace rally in Ankara.
Seven people, including three Russians, have been detained so far in connection with Tuesday's attack.
The Institute for the Study of War and the Critical Threats Project for the American Enterprise Institute held a planning exercise (PLANEX) in late 2015 and early 2016 to look at the threats facing the West from Salafi-jihadi groups, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and Al Qaeda.
During the week of January 18, ISW and CTP will release the first of a series of reports detailing the findings from this PLANEX. This article explains the overall goals of the exercise and how it looked at defining US grand strategic objectives, as well as how the threat facing the US and the West has been persistently mischaracterized in a very fundamental way.
The next article on Business Insider will focus on the objectives of the various players as well as an examination of the enemy and possible courses of action.
The terrorist attacks in Paris, France, and San Bernardino, California have focused the West again on the threat that militant Salafi-jihadist groups pose to its security and way of life.
They have provoked France, Britain, and the United States to increase their military efforts against the ISIS in Syria and Iraq. They have demonstrated the fallacy of the idea that ISIS can be indefinitely contained within Iraq and Syria, the Middle East, or even the Muslim-majority world.
They have revealed the inadequacy of current strategies to address the threat. These tragedies have thus created space for a serious discussion about the nature of the threat and the responses required to counter it.
Pervasive Mischaracterizations of the Challenge
The current discussion of these attacks is cementing fundamental mischaracterizations of the national security problem, however. It presupposes that there is a single war that ISIS is the only enemy or adversary in that war, and that defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq is tantamount to defeating the organization as a whole.
It has given superficial credibility to Vladimir Putin’s call for a grand coalition of all major powers to unite in the fight against ISIS. It largely ignores al Qaeda, including its powerful franchise in Syria called Jabhat al Nusra (JN). It also downplays the importance of the sectarian war that has engulfed the Middle East.
That sectarian conflict is one of the primary drivers of the massive flow of refugees now undermining the integration of Europe, facilitating the destruction of multiple states in the Middle East such as Iraq and Yemen, and encouraging the mobilization and radicalization of global Sunni and Shi’a populations in the face of what increasing numbers of people perceive to be existential threats. Any effort to counter the al Qaeda and ISIS threats will fail as long as conditions on the ground do not change.
The media’s and policymakers’ single-minded focus on ISIS encourages Americans to overlook the fundamental incompatibility of Iranian and Russian regional and global objectives with those of the US and Europe. Such a narrow lens ignores Russia’s revisionist grand strategy that links Moscow’s actions in Syria with its continued war in Ukraine, its subversive activities in the Baltics, and its mounting global military aggression.
It simplifies an extremely complicated set of multi-actor, multi-theater conflicts into a problem that can be solved through counter-terrorism-targeting and homeland security measures. It guarantees that the West will not design or execute a coherent strategy to secure its vital national interests.
The San Bernardino attack in California adds superficial validity to the idea that the US must turn inward to secure itself. It brings to the fore domestic issues such as gun control, law enforcement procedures, immigration policies, religious freedom, profiling, and many others. Each issue is important in its own right, and finding the right balance among competing valid concerns is essential to enhance America’s ability to protect its citizens without compromising the civil liberties and individual rights that are the bedrock of our society.
There are multiple, separate wars ongoing at the start of 2016. Many share belligerents. The war in Yemen stems from a geopolitical struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia that has been gravely exacerbated by the ongoing war in Syria. A broader regional war in the Middle East may emerge as the Saudi-Iranian conflict escalates. Russia’s establishment of an airbase in Syria close to Turkey’s border on NATO’s southern flank connects the war in Syria with that in Ukraine, as both challenge the brittle alliance.
The United States must prevent the separate wars from merging into a general war, involving great powers, regional powers, and non-state actors. Such a situation may not be imminent, but it is possible and can stress the United States beyond anything we now see in January 2016.
Goals and Methods of this Planning Exercises
The exercise began with a complete re-consideration of the vital national security interests and objectives of the United States, its partners, rivals such as Russia and Iran, and its enemies including both ISIS and al Qaeda. The exercise also considered the nature of the current international environment in which many factors are undermining global order, stability, and international laws and norms.
It evaluated the threat posed by the persistence of safe havens for al Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq and Syria as distinct from the individual cells of those organizations planning and conducting attacks in the West. The group then designed and tested many possible courses of action to mitigate and, if possible, eliminate these conditions and the threats.
None of the courses of action we examined, including a continuation or minor modification of the current strategy, achieved American national security objectives. The planning team is therefore continuing to examine other approaches to the problem and re-evaluating its assessments as circumstances on the ground change.
The planning group will thus present its results in several publications. This first paper examines American global grand strategic objectives as they relate to the threat from ISIS and al Qaeda. It also considers the nature of those groups from ideological, structural, and military perspectives and evaluates the relationship between the territory and resources those groups possess in the Muslim world and the direct violent threat they pose within the United States and Europe.
The second paper will present the group’s assessment of American strategic objectives in Iraq and Syria in light of the issues considered in this first report. It will also describe the interests and objectives of Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia in Iraq and Syria as they relate to the overall goals of those states. It will then articulate the minimum conditions that a political-military resolution of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria must meet in order to meet US national security requirements.
The group will publish one or more additional papers describing in detail the specific courses of action we have evaluated, assessments of their results and whether or not they would achieve core American security objectives, the risks they pose to those objectives, and approaches to mitigating those risks. These results will most likely appear in February 2016.
The physical and psychological rigors of combat are intense, and militaries have the challenge preparing their soldiers for the worst of what they may face on the battlefield.
The world's militaries require their personnel to go through grueling training to equip them for life in the field, and to make sure that soldiers who might not have prior combat experience are still in a state of readiness.
Here are photos from around the world of some of the toughest training imaginable.
In mainland China, paramilitary policeman face an intense regimen. Here, the policemen take part in a training session in muddy water.
Later in the training, the paramilitary police also have to crawl under fire obstacles ...
... and hone their hand-to-hand combat skills.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
The Pentagon is weighing a new request from Turkey to train and equip Arab rebels battling government forces in northern Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
The request, which reportedly came just one week before an ISIS-linked suicide bomber killed 10 people in Istanbul, is evidently an attempt to seal a vulnerable stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border that continues to serve as a transit point for foreign fighters and weapons.
It is also an attempt to appease Turkey, which has expressed concern to Washington that the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) — a militia linked to Turkey's longtime enemy, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) — is taking advantage of its anti-ISIS partnership with the US to gain power and territory along the Turkish-Syrian border.
A newly empowered, US-backed Arab rebel brigade aimed at enabling larger groups of Arab forces fighting in Syria would presumably serve as a counterweight to Kurdish territorial ambitions in the north. That's according to Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert and senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council who spoke with Business Insider on Wednesday.
That, in turn, would allow the US-led anti-ISIS coalition to stem the YPG's advances — a primary concern for Turkey — without sacrificing ongoing efforts to seal off Turkey's southern border to jihadists.
"Whether the YPG will actually listen to the US is a different story. But the US is effectively telling the YPG to observe Turkey's red line," Stein said, referring to the Turkish leadership's insistence that the Kurds remain east of the Euphrates.
Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a Kurdish affairs expert embedded in Iraqi Kurdistan, largely echoed those sentiments.
"Most likely the Turkish plan is to insert these forces into the Azaz border strip and to prevent YPG expansion into these areas in the future," van Wilgenburg told Business Insider on Thursday, referring to the northern Syrian town of Azaz through which Turkey funnels weapons and supplies to the rebels it supports in Aleppo.
He added: "Turkey wants to prevent Kurdish expansion and stop them from linking the Kurdish administrations in Afrin and Kobani."
"Of course, the YPG will not be happy about this," van Wilgenburg added, partly referring to the mutual distrust and tension that has often flared up between Kurdish and Arab factions in Syria. "But they also need the US."
It is true that the Kurds have relied on their partnership with the US to foment a degree of legitimacy that they have been denied in the past. But the entry of Russia into the Syrian conflict has presented the Kurds with a new option, should the US attempt to halt the YPG's momentum and empower Arab forces.
"We welcome a strategic relationship with both the US and Russia,” Sherzad Yazidi, a representative of the Rojava administration living in Sulimaniya, told Politico in November. “One wouldn’t be at the expense of the other.”
Still, Turkey is already beginning to worry about the "nightmare scenario" of Russia supporting the Kurds in Syria and facilitating their expansion westward — especially since Russia is still looking for ways to retaliate against Turkey for shooting down its warplane in November.
"One worry in Ankara since the diplomatic crisis with Moscow [in November] has been Russian support for the [Kurdish] PYD and, in particular, a possible PYD movement toward the west of the Euphrates with Russian encouragement and air support," Merve Tahiroglu, a research associate focusing on Turkey at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider last month.
Indeed, the Turkish pro-government daily newspaper The Daily Sabah reported in early December that Russia was delivering weapons and heavy armor to the YPG while instructing them to attack opposition groups, many of whom are backed by Turkey.
But Stein, for his part, isn't convinced that a new training initiative focusing on Arab fighters would drive the Kurds into Russia's arms.
"I don’t think the Kurds will think much about it," he said. "They’re completely self-interested actors who are moving to establish an independent structure inside Syria, known as Rojava. Above all, they are intent on realizing that goal."
That said, however, the program itself is at least partially aimed at curbing Kurdish ambitions. As such, if it were to pan out, the plan could feasibly reduce the Kurds' confidence that their battlefield victories will one day yield political recognition from the US. This, in turn, might lead them to look for new partners.
Van Wilgenburg put it bluntly.
"Russia would be happy were any problems to arise between the Kurds and the US," he said.
The western Syrian town of Madaya has been blockaded the Syrian military and militias allied with the regime of president Bashar al-Assad, including Hezbollah for the past six months.
Nearly 400 people are in imminent danger of starving to death in the city according to the UN, and images of dying and emaciated residents have brought problems of humanitarian access in the war-torn country to the attention of international policymakers.
The Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Friday at the request of Western countries trying to press Syria's warring parties to lift sieges on towns where hundreds of thousands have been cut off from aid and many are starving, the Associated Press reports.
But despite the increasing attention on Madaya, the situation remains desperate. And Madaya, which had a pre-war population of a little over 9,000, is hardly the only place in Syria that's cut off from all humanitarian aid.
On Thursday, United Nations Secretary General said the United Nations and its humanitarian partners are able to deliver food to only 1 percent of the 400,000 people under siege in Syria, meaning that some 396,000 people are stranded in areas without any humanitarian access. And the problem is getting worse: the one percent down from an already dismal 5 percent just over a year ago, according to the Associated Press.
At a Thursday press conference, Ban called the situation "utterly unconscionable."
Ban said both the Syrian government and rebels are committing war crimes by deliberately starving civilians and must face justice.
"UN teams have witnessed scenes that haunt the soul. The elderly and children, men and women, who were little more than skin and bones: gaunt, severely malnourished, so weak they could barely walk, and utterly desperate for the slightest morsel," Ban said. "I would say that they are being held hostage — but it is even worse. Hostages get fed."
Trucks from the UN and other humanitarian organizations entered three besieged communities in Syria this week for the first time in months.
Earlier this week, Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, dismissed the reports of starvation in Madaya as lies.
The Madaya siege is yet another factor complicating Syria peace talks scheduled for the end of this month. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have already thrown the January 25th conference into doubt, in light of the two countries' support for opposite sides in Syria's conflict.
BEIRUT (AP) — The UN children's agency said Friday that it has witnessed cases of severe malnutrition among children in a besieged Syrian town and the death of a teenager "in front of our eyes."
Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria, said in a statement that the 16-year-old identified as Ali passed away Thursday in the town's clinic of severe malnutrition.
Trucks from the UN and other humanitarian organizations entered Madaya Thursday for the second time in a week after reports of starvation deaths. The town has been under siege for months by government forces.
Two other communities, Foua and Kfarya, in northern Syria besieged by Syrian rebels were also included in the aid operation Thursday.
The death of Ali, a severely malnourished 16-year-old boy, as international aid workers were inside Madaya, reinforces the enormous scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in Madaya and other besieged areas.
The UN Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Friday at the request of Western countries trying to press Syria's warring parties to lift sieges on towns where hundreds of thousands have been cut off from aid and many are starving.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the deliberate starvation of civilians a "war crime," also stepped up the pressure, calling Thursday for both the Syrian government and rebels to end the sieges before peace talks scheduled for Jan. 25 in Geneva as a confidence-building measure.
Ban said the United Nations and its humanitarian partners are able to deliver food to only 1 percent of the 400,000 people under siege in Syria, down from an already dismal 5 percent just over a year ago.
Juliette Touma, an Amman-based UNICEF representative, said the agency's staff who spent close to seven hours in Madaya Thursday are "terribly shocked."
"In general, they saw pretty horrific scenes of women, children, and elderly, and malnourishment," she told The Associated Press. "It was safe to say the scene was very bleak."
Still, she said there was a sense of relief to finally be able to get into these areas. "It is important right now to maintain this humanitarian access ... There are 14 other Madayas," she said.
Singer, in the statement, said that at the makeshift hospital UNICEF visited in the town, there were only two doctors and two health professionals working under overwhelming conditions.
Russian Kamov Ka-52 (NATO reporting name “Hokum-B”) helicopters are about to be deployed to Syria according to a source who talked to ITAR-TASS.
The attack choppers will be used to protect the Russian Task Force deployed to Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia, as well as to conduct CSAR (Combat Search And Rescue) missions such as the one launched to rescue the two pilots who ejected from the Su-24 Fencer shot down by a Turkish Air Force F-16 in November 2015 (during which, a Mi-8AMTSh Hip helicopter was hit by ground fire and later destroyed).
Interestingly, the first Ka-52 deployment will also be an opportunity for the Russians to test new technologies as the KRET Vitebsk EW (Electronic Warfare System).
According to the manufacturer, the Vitebsk can protect the helicopter from anti-aircraft threats in a range of several hundred kilometers, determining who is aiming at the aircraft and, once a missile is fired by a MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense System), forcing it away from the designated target.
“Interestingly, when this system is onboard, it can protect not only the helicopter or plane, but everything within a certain radius, forming an 'electronic canopy' around the object being protected.”
Actually, this is not the first time the Ka-52s are reported to be about to deploy or already deployed to Syria: at the end of November, Sputnik News published a video showing Hokum-B helicopters allegedly operating in Syria. Looks like the segment showing the combat helicopter was old footage filmed somewhere else.
A Syrian native wrote two columns this week describing what day-to-day life has become in Raqqa, Syria — the de facto capital of the terrorist group ISIS.
He wrote of a city where a person's appearance could get him or her arrested if it's not in line with ISIS rules, where people are forced to attend indoctrination classes at mosques, and where residents have become so desensitized to airstrikes that they no longer bat an eye at them.
Many Syrians vowed to stay after the start of the country's civil war in 2011. For the past five years, rebels have been fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been known to commit atrocities against civilians as he tries to hang onto power. Jihadist groups have also moved into Syria to take advantage of the power vacuum that has opened up amid the chaos.
"For me, Raqqa was my hometown and leaving was out of the question," Marwan Hisham (who uses a pseudonym) wrote for The New York Times. "Even under bombardment, people managed to keep their businesses running. I worked two jobs."
But with ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh) moving in, it's become more difficult to continue with any semblance of normalcy.
"The Islamic State's capture of Raqqa in January 2014 sparked a demographic change in the city unlike any it had seen before," Hisham wrote in a separate Foreign Policy column. "Foreign fighters flocked to the city, bringing their families with them."
Those belonging to groups that aren't part of ISIS' privileged class (Sunni Muslims) were encouraged to leave the city.
"In the ugliest form of colonization, the group's members moved about, looking for houses to lodge in," Hisham wrote. "They started with Syrian regime officers' houses, homes formerly belonging to Syrian rebels, or government housing projects."
Ethnic Kurds were also largely driven from Raqqa.
"Kurds used to live side by side with their Arab neighbors in Raqqa," Hisham wrote. "But now, as the fighting between the Islamic State and the Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units (YPG) intensifies, they have been forced out of their homes."
Those who agree to join ISIS can request permission from ISIS leaders to take over the abandoned homes of their former neighbors, Hisham explained.
"The Islamic State has fixed its attention on government employees' apartments," Hisham wrote. "Once it is known that an employee has moved out, the jihadis will break into the apartment and claim everything inside it. If the owner doesn't show up in person to reclaim his possessions — and who would? — all belongings are transferred to the new occupant selected by the Islamic State."
ISIS justifies these takeovers by saying that the confiscated apartments are now state-owned. Therefore, ISIS (which considers itself a legitimate state) can decide how to distribute them.
Jobs are hard to come by in Raqqa, especially for those who don't want to work for ISIS. Most government operations have shut down, and many educated people have turned to subsistence farming to feed their families, Hisham wrote in The Times.
One friend of Hisham's, Abdulrahman, is an engineer who used to work for Syria's Department of Finance before ISIS moved in. He had an apartment and a nice car, but now he "makes a meager living growing vegetables," Hisham wrote.
Because of these dire circumstances and lack of work opportunities, some turn to ISIS even if they don't agree with the group's radical ideology.
"I've seen first hand that for Raqqa's teenagers, the Islamic State's ideology has zero appeal," Hisham wrote. "What they want is its money and its guns."
And ISIS pays more than most people would be able to make otherwise. A fighter could start out earning $200 a month in Raqqa, which is more than a family needs to survive, Hisham wrote. Fighters are paid more for each wife, child, and slave he brings to the table, plus extra money for provisions. And this is all separate from the housing ISIS provides — once a fighter applies for a house, he'll typically get it in about two months.
Aside from the financial incentives, the respect and fear that comes with being an ISIS fighter appeals to some young men.
"These young men want to be listened to when they speak, and feared," Hisham wrote. "These motives — 'respect, cash and guns' — are turning ordinary young people into murderers."
There are work opportunities outside of becoming an ISIS fighter, as well. One of Hisham's acquaintances, for example, works as an accountant for ISIS' drinking-water department and earns $100 per month.
Fighters are highly valued, however. And they're dying off so quickly in battle that ISIS has now reportedly resulted to drafting people into its terror army.
"Near the front line where the Islamic State is fighting the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, the jihadists have already conscripted one man from every family," Hisham wrote. "They claim it's so they can 'defend their villages.'"
Raqqa residents have feared this happening for quite some time — Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi, an activist with the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, told Business Insider in October that ISIS authorities in Raqqa started forcing males over the age of 14 to register with their militant-run government.
"There are rumors in the city that, 'Boys must not sit at home like women,'" Raqqawi said. "There is a war. They need to go to jihad.'"
ISIS is reportedly preparing to defend its hold on Raqqa from an upcoming assault led by the YPG and other anti-ISIS, anti-Assad rebels.
As a US-led coalition and local rebels prepare for a fight to take Raqqa back from ISIS, airstrikes have become a nightly routine in the city, Hisham wrote.
"When the jet fighters interrupt, all eyes turn to the sky," Hisham wrote in Foreign Policy. "Everything here is a target, because the Islamic State is everywhere. But once the bombs are dropped, people go back to what they were doing. It's no longer a moment of reflection about life and death, nor a moment of curiosity about what happened: It's something that has no ending."
Hisham described how locals are victimized by both western airstrikes and by ISIS itself. The group has implemented strict rules in its "caliphate," the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, and breaking them could mean public whippings, being forced to attend indoctrination courses on ISIS' version of Sharia law, or worse.
"The Islamic State used any excuse to preach their ideology to Raqqa residents," Hisham wrote. "You could be a poor person who asked for zakat, the money taken from the rich as alms, without first registering with the Islamic State, or a government employee who studied in the Assad regime's schools and therefore have a 'non-Islamic education,' or a graduate of a 'secular law' school — all are forced to submit to indoctrination."
Other offenses include not dressing according to ISIS rules (veils for women and long beards for men).
Some lawbreakers are forced to dig trenches around the city, which exposes them to airstrikes.
Hisham concluded his Times column by offering advice on what could put an end to ISIS' reign of terror in the Middle East and across the world.
"The people under this occupation present the best hope for destroying the jihadists," he wrote. "Without their support, the Islamic State can hardly be defeated."
On Wednesday, the news broke that the Pentagon would not mothball the much loved A-10 Thunderbolt, or "Warthog," as it has come to be known.
The debate surrounding the A-10, a Cold War-era close air support air frame, has drawn heated rhetoric from senators and top military brass as well as common foot soldiers.
The Pentagon's decision to keep the A-10 in service through 2017 shows that even in a time when technology is redefining the battle space, proven platforms like the A-10 still have a meaningful role in the military.
Below are some of the reasons why the A-10 inspires hope in US troops, fear in their enemies, and can't be counted out of the fight just yet.
The A-10 is essentially a flying gun. The air frame is built around a 19-foot-long, 4,000 pound GAU-8 30 mm auto cannon that fires at a blistering rate of 65 rounds per second.
The A-10's cannon makes a distinctive "BRRRT" sound while being fired faster than the speed of sound. "The aircraft sparked panic in the ranks of ISIS after bombing its elements and flying in spaces close to the ground," Iraqi News reported. Listen to the sound in the video below.
Source: We are the Mighty
Here's what the A-10's GAU-8 cannon rounds look like on an armored vehicle:
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
It is all too easy to react to each new terrorist attack by ISIS by focusing on that attack, on ISIS, and on terrorism, rather than the broader policy challenges involved. It seems equally easy to lurch from a concern on Syrian refugees to a focus on counterterrorism, excluding Muslims, treating all of Islam as extremists, and dealing with Muslims in terms that mix fear with bigotry.
The Wrong Western Reaction Will Aid Extremism and Terrorism
All of these actions, however, may do much to encourage terrorism, tension with the entire Islamic world, and undermine the real battle against extremism and terrorism. It is all too predictable that ISIS will take every opportunity to strengthen its image, its “legitimacy,” and its ability to raise funds and attract volunteers by affiliating with other violent Islamic extremist movements.
Like Al Qaeda before it, ISIS will do everything it can to create its own cells and launch high visibility terrorist attacks in as many areas as it can – expanding its role in every Muslim country whose government is fighting extremism and terrorism: states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan , and Indonesia.
ISIS will also do everything it can to use terrorist attacks in Western states to try to break up the counterterrorism partnerships that the US and European governments have with virtually every country with a Muslim majority. It will use any over-reaction in counterterrorism – and every ill-judged Western criticism that seems to apply to all Muslims and Islam – as a way to convince more Muslims that the West is attacking them. It is also all too obvious that the more ISIS loses its control over territory in Syria and Iraq, the more it will both seek to spread and attack the Western states supporting Muslim states in fighting ISIS as well as seek to attack moderate Muslim governments and populations.
A Continuing Struggle over Decades
No responsible political figure in the United States or the West can deny these realities. It is also time that our political leaders were honest about the struggle against Islamic extremism and terrorism. It is an ideological battle, but it is also driven by a massive population increase (often 5 to 6 times since 1950), critical youth unemployment, failed economic development, corruption and crony capitalism, steadily more imbalanced income distribution, hyperurbanization and the breakdown of traditional social safety nets.
These forces have led to major shifts in the numbers and locations of sects, ethnic groups, and tribes and push them into tensions and conflicts. In far too many cases, secular political alternatives and values seem to have failed, and traditional religious leaders seem to be tools of failed and corrupt governments. As the Arab Development Reports have warned since 2002, these forces are also so great that it will take decades of effective reform to eliminate them, and some form of Islamic extremism and violence is certain to continue in every state and the Muslim world as a whole until such progress is made.
The Critical Need for Partnership
ISIS is also only one part of violent extremism, and even if it is defeated in Syria and Iraq, most of its fighters will go on to other countries or remain a threat. Even if ISIS fades as a name, other extremism movements will take its place. The most effective counterterrorism effort conceivable cannot succeed on its own.
The core battle will not be fought outside the Islamic world. The United States, Europe, Asian states, and Russia are all on the periphery of the core battle. Defeating terrorism and extremism requires reform and replacing frustration and failed governance with leadership and hope. Moderate Muslim clerics and Muslim governments must demonstrate their legitimacy and defeat extremism at the ideological level.
But, unless the West recognizes the need to keep moderate Muslim states as critical partners in the fight against terrorism and extremism, it will remain a target and risks some extremist movement taking over a state or states that have a Muslim majority. Any US and European actions that deal with their own Muslims in terms of bigotry and alienation will make things worse. Efforts to create barriers based on faith and religion will alienate Muslims in both the West and largely Muslim states. Any form of anti-Islamic extremism in the West will feed terrorism faster than improvements in counterterrorism can defeat it, and risk creating a vicious cycle of excessive repression in the West and growing Muslim violence.
The Impact of Massive growth in the World’s Islamic Population
It is also critical to understand the deeper trends at work. Islamic extremism has never been limited to the Arab world. Its origins lie more in the actions of the Zia regime in Pakistan than the Arab world. They cannot be separated from the Arab-Israeli conflict (and ill-judged Israeli intelligence efforts that once tried to use Palestinian Islamists to counter the secular PLO.).
They have roots in the FSU and China’s efforts to deal with Muslims in Asia, some aspects of anti-communism in Asia, and the violent split between India and Pakistan and legacies like Kashmir. The Iranian revolution triggered the process of violence between Sunni and Shi’ite, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon alienated its Shi’ites, and the US-led invasion of Iraq made things far worse.
This is why the United States and the West also cannot ignore the broader demographic trends in the Islamic world, and no state outside the Islamic world can ignore its impact on global economic interdependence. Extremism is scarcely the only force at work. Population growth is pushing Muslims into Europe and new areas. An aging Europe needs such immigrants. Conflict is creating a massive Muslim refugee problem now centered in Syria but spreading into Iraq, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia.
A single chart – drawing on work from the Pew Research Center– illustrates just how much this growth is reshaping the world. Figure One shows the shifts that will take place in the balance of the world’s religions by 2050. These numbers may not prove to be exact, but they are shaped by decade’s long trends, and it is clear that the number of Muslims may increase by well over 70% between 2010 and 2050: A projected increase from 1.6 billion to nearly 2.8 billion people and from 23% to 30% of the world’s population.
Figure One: The Critical Role of Muslims in an Interdependent World
Most of this growth will take place outside the Middle East. As the Pew analysis notes,
Muslim populations are expected to grow in absolute number in all regions of the world between 2010 and 2050. In the Asia-Pacific region, for instance, the Muslim population is expected to reach nearly 1.5 billion by 2050, up from roughly 1 billion in 2010.
The number of Muslims in the Middle East-North Africa region is expected to increase from about 300 million in 2010 to more than 550 million in 2050.
The Muslim population in sub-Saharan Africa double, growing from about 250 million in 2010 to nearly 670 million in 2050. The absolute number of Muslims also is projected to increase in regions with smaller Muslim populations, including Europe and North America.
No one outside the Muslim world can afford to ignore these realities or pretend that their future can be separated from the struggle for the future of Islam and the Islamic world, or the struggle against violent Islamic extremism. As Figure Two shows, no one can ignore how this growth will reshape the population of key states.
Figure Two: How Islam Reshapes the Population of the 10 States with the Largest Muslim Population in 2050
The Battle is One for the Future of Islam, Not between Civilizations or for the End of History
It is also critical to understand that the Pew surveys and virtually every independent survey of the Muslim world has found that religion is a key motivating force with a far deeper impact on the behavior of Muslims than is the case for other faiths in in most outside states. The battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and among Muslims outside it is also influenced by all of the political, governance, economic, and social issues that shape the rest of the world’s population.
But Figure Three shows just how deeply Muslims as a whole are dedicated to the impact of religion on civil society. It must be stressed that Sharia is not viewed in terms of how extremists define it, any more than Ten Commandments are a source of extremism for Christians and Jews.
Figure Three: Support for Sharia: Percentage of Muslims Who Favor Making Sharia the Official law of Their Country
What Figure Three does do is illustrate a key point raised by Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia that no real stability or defeat of extremism can occur until that it is clear that there is a common Judeo-Christian-Islamic Ethic whose fundamental values transcend the differences between faiths and cultures.
As another Pew study shows:
Recent surveys show (that most people in several countries with significant Muslim populations have an unfavorable view of ISIS, including virtually all respondents in Lebanon and 94% in Jordan.
Relatively small shares say they see ISIS favorably. In some countries, considerable portions of the population do not offer an opinion about ISIS, including a majority (62%) of Pakistanis.
Favorable views of ISIS are somewhat higher in Nigeria (14%) than most other nations. Among Nigerian Muslims, 20% say they see ISIS favorably (compared with 7% of Nigerian Christians). The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, which has been conducting a terrorist campaign in the country for years, has sworn allegiance to ISIS.
More generally, Muslims mostly say that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified, including 92% in Indonesia and 91% in Iraq. In the United States, a 2011 survey found that 86% of Muslims …say that such tactics are rarely or never justified. An additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified and 1% say they are often justified in these circumstances.
In a few countries, a quarter or more of Muslims say that these acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 40% in the Palestinian territories, 39% in Afghanistan, 29% in Egypt and 26% in Bangladesh.
In many cases, people in countries with large Muslim populations are as concerned as Western nations...about the threat of Islamic extremism, and have become increasingly concerned in recent years. About two-thirds of people in Nigeria (68%) and Lebanon (67%) said earlier this year they are very concerned about Islamic extremism in their country, both up significantly since 2013.
The United States, the West, and other areas outside the Islamic world cannot approach Islam as if it was somehow going to become secular, separate church and state, or Islamic fundamentalism – as distinguished violent from Islamic extremism – was going to disappear. The tendency to confuse the more conservative or puritanical forms of Islam – such as is the case in Saudi Arabia – or label Shi’ite as extreme because of the hardliners in Iran – will again feed the problem, not end it.
What the United States and other states can do is help Muslim governments learn how to counter the new forms messaging used by groups like ISIS, support the reforms necessary to bring stability, provide aid when it can be a catalyst that will help states help themselves, support the fight against extremism, cooperate in counterterrorism, seek to end the conflicts in the region, and provide humanitarian aid.
These are actions that the United States and most of its allies are already taking. They cannot transform every Islamic state into the West or into adopting Western secular values, however, any more than they can transform any state from the outside – or that is not willing to reform itself.
US and Outside Dependence on the Islamic World
One final point. The United States is less directly dependent on the overall flow of key commodities like oil and gas than most developed states outside the Islamic world. For decades, however, it has become steadily more dependent on the overall global economy.
It makes no sense at all to talk about US energy independence for the foreseeable future. The US currently imports some $2.4 trillion a year, which is equal to about 14% of its GDP. As the CIA World Factbook points out, US crude oil imports are now only 8.2% of US imports. The EIA also projects that the percentage of such imports will drop steadily in the future. The other side of this story, however, is the fact that the economies of America’s leading European and Asian trading partners are critically dependent on Middle Eastern and North African oil and gas exports, as well as other states with large Muslim populations.
Asian states like China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan account for over 35% of US imports, and European states are critically dependent on the overall flow of energy exports. The US is also dependent on over $1.6 trillion dollars worth of exports a year – exports that are dependent on the ability of other economies to buy them – which, in turn, is dependent on the steady flow of petroleum exports.
The United States will certainly benefit from increased domestic oil and gas production and even exports. But, in the broader sense it will remain critically dependent on the global impact of petroleum exports from Middle East states. And, in the broader sense, true energy independence is a fantasy equal to the prolonged survival of snow balls in Hell.