Tag Archives: ISIS

Terror Attacks Before Pakistani Election are Killing Hundreds

After the brutal onslaught last week on Haroon Bilour, violence continues to threaten Pakistan’s elections with the occurrence of two more attacks. This brings the total number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan to five in this month alone. On July 3rd, 10 people were injured when a grenade was thrown into a crowd outside of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) new office. Four days later Shireen Malik, a Pakistani politician, was targeted with a bomb mounted on a motorcycle in an attack that injured him and six other people.

More recently, on July 13th, a suicide bomber attacked an election rally of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), killing 149 people and wounding another 189. It was the third deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history. The blast, the responsibility for which was claimed by ISIS, killed BAP candidate Siraj Raisani who was running for a seat in Pakistan’s provincial assembly.

Lastly, in the early morning hours of July 16th, former ANP senator Dawood Achakzai was injured in a gun attack while he was sleeping in a guest house. The motivation behind the attack is still under investigation and no group has yet claimed responsibility.

Meanwhile, complaints about the care-taker government abound. Members of the Pakistani Senate accuse National Security Committee (NSC) authorities of ignoring security concerns regarding the safety of politicians and citizens during Monday’s senate session, noting that Pakistan’s National Security Committee has failed to discuss security concerns leading up to the election in recent meetings. Furthermore Interior minister did not appear at the senate session to discuss what the care-taker government was doing to fight the violence surrounding the lead-up to the election.

While two of these attacks are still under investigation, it is clear that each of these attacks targeted political candidates or former senior politicians. Reports out of Pakistan also make clear the overall objective of these attacks: to destabilize and ultimately destroy the Pakistani government.

Two of the destructive and active terrorist organizations within Pakistan are the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and ISIS. TTP and ISIS are competitors as can be observed in their slight ideological disagreements, and their fight over recruits and territory. However, they do share a common desire to see the Pakistani government collapse and be replaced with their own form of governance. While it may not be possible for the Pakistani Taliban or ISIS to take control of the government, they could wear down the country to a point where citizens are apathetic to democratic resolutions. Pakistan does have political parties that advocate extremist positions and even violence, like the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party (TLP). If the Pakistani people become desperate enough for a resolution then they may eventually gravitate towards groups like the TLP in an effort to resolve their issues.

It is not in the interests of the United States to have Pakistan collapse into the hands of terrorists. The United States will monitor the situation to ensure this election does not fail and lead to a government collapse of the government. If stability in Pakistan is to be achieved by the care-taker government, efforts to bolster security and eliminate threats to Pakistan’s democratic government should be made in earnest.

SDF Captures al-Omar Oil Field from the Islamic State

The U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with air support from the U.S.-led coalition captured the al-Omar oil field from the Islamic State. The oil field, located in the Deir Ezzor province near the east bank of the Euphrates River, was captured on October 22nd.

The recapture of the al-Omar oil field is a tremendous victory for the SDF because it is the largest oil field in Syria. The U.S. backed coalition is now racing with Russian backed Syrian government troops to seize the remaining parts of Deir Ezzor from the Islamic State.

The al-Omar oil field in 2011 had the capacity to produce 75,000 barrels per day. Before the Syrian Civil War erupted in 2011, the oil sector was the main resource for the economy, with the country producing about 380,000 barrels per day. By mostly exporting to Europe, brought in more than $3 billion dollars in revenue.

Oil fields have proven to be strategically important for the financial backing of the Islamic State. At its peak in 2014, the group controlled as many as 11 oil fields in Iraq and Syria. From the al-Omar field, it is estimated that the Islamic State made $5 million per month off oil sales through smuggling networks that led through the northern region of Iraq to the Turkish border, as well as south of Syria into Jordan. They used the black market to sell these resources. However, to halt the oil production in 2015,  the SDF acting with the U.S. led coalition increased airstrikes which destroyed parts of the al-Omar oil field and put a dent in the Islamic States production capabilities.

The oil revenue has fallen dramatically with the terror group’s loss of territory since 2015. In 2015 during their second quarter IS made $81 million, in 2017’s second quarter the group only made $16 million. This correlates to their massive amounts of territory lost such as Tel Afar, Mosul, Raqqa,  amongst other important towns and cities.

Although there has been a decrease in IS profit U.S. official Amos Hochstein from the State Department stated that the Assad regime has also purchased energy resources through the terrorist group. The purchased energy has been used to power the Syrian capital Damascus as well as other parts of the country. The Syrian state-own energy company and oil ministry denied the allegations.

The Syrian government has retaken nearly all of the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor as well as surrounding towns such as Mayadeen. The SDF have focused their operations on the al-Omar oil field, natural gas fields and rural areas on the eastern side of the Euphrates river within the province.

The SDF’s overall objective is to maintain territory in the north-eastern region of Syria, which is predominately a Kurdish population together with a sizeable group of other minority groups. By holding the country’s largest oil reserves gives the SDF more legitimacy and bolsters their effort at establishing autonomy. However, absent outside assistance, it is unlikely that the SDF will hold the al-Omar oil field as the Assad regime has vowed to bring back all areas of Syria under government control, and the Assad regime will likewise need control of the largest oil producing field.

As the SDF continues to recapture territories from the Islamic State, it is important that they want to maintain control of the oil and other natural resources, to quickly end insurgency with the Islamic State and drive the terror group from Syria completely. However, it is unlikely that they will able to hold large swatches of the oil-rich regions for long, as the Syrian government will act quickly and through military action to regain its most prosperous resource. After Deir Ezzor is completely liberated from the Islamic State, the only remaining areas within Syria that would be left are within the eastern areas of the Euphrates river bordering Iraq, as well as two areas in the south-west of the country bordering Israel.

The Fight to Capture Deir Ezzor

Deir Ezzor is one of the last main strongholds of the Islamic State (IS) and there are currently two separate offensives seeking to capture the city.

On the eastern side of the Euphrates River, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have launched an offensive on Saturday to capture IS territory.

On the other side of the river, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), the Russian and Iranian military and Hezbollah are working in conjunction to take back Deir Ezzor from IS.

Deir Ezzor is a strategic city because of its oil-rich territory and also because it shares a border with Iraq allowing IS fighters to travel between the two countries. If the anti-IS forces are able to take back Deir Ezzor, it will leave Islamic State terrorists effectively trapped in the heart of Syria in their only remaining stronghold of Raqqa.

While both groups seek to defeat the Islamic State, they are obviously mindful that whoever controls more of the province once it is recaptured will control access to substantial Syrian oil wealth.

On Saturday, the SAA successfully recaptured  Deir Ezzor Military Airport which is south of the city. This airport has been under IS control for almost a year.

Now that it is under the control of the military, it will become the army’s most well-fortified operating base in the eastern countryside and it will serve as a base to expand military operations in the region.

Also over the weekend the SAA captured the Damascus-Deir Ezzor highway after clashes. On Monday they liberated most parts of the Thardeh Mountains which overlook the city of Deir Ezzor.

On Sunday, the SDF and the Deir Ezzor Military Council (DMC), which was created in order to facilitate and conduct military operations, captured the Deir Ezzor industrial zone, the 113th air defense airbase, Bi`r Hisyan and other nearby points. Since the US-led offensive began last week, more than 250 square kilometers have been taken from IS by SDF. The SDF and DMC have already started creating the groundwork for forming a “civil council” to rule the city after its expected recapture.

ISIS is collapsing under the impact of ground attacks launched by different parties on multiple fronts in Iraq and Syria. It has already lost 85% of its territory in Syria and 90% in Iraq. In the past months, IS has lost its capital of Mosul in Iraq, Tel Afar, and most of its capital of Raqqa in Syria.

Islamic State control remains in few locations in Syria, specifically in Deir Ezzor, and small locations in the city of Raqqa, the eastern countryside of Homs province, and the southern part of Daraa province.

While the two offensives are both working to free Deir Ezzor and the surrounding areas from IS, there is no cooperation between the two groups. The Syrian Army has stated that they have no intention of crossing the Euphrates River and the SDF has said that while they don’t expect clashes, they will respond if attacked by the SAA.

There have been past conflicts between the two, most recently in Raqqa, where SDF forces reportedly shelled SAA soldiers according to Al Masdar news, an outlet viewed as close to the Syrian government.  Another incident involved U.S. aircraft shooting two Iranian-made drones believed to be targeting coalition forces in June. The U.S. also downed a Syrian fighter jet after it launched a strike against U.S. backed forces. While both groups claim they don’t plan on attacking each other in Deir Ezzor, these past conflicts show that clashes may occur in the near future.

U.S.-led coalition air strike to block Islamic State

A US-led coalition carried out an air strike on August 30th to block Islamic State fighters from reaching eastern Syria after they were evacuated from Lebanon-Syrian border. The fighters were heading for the town of Al Bukamal, which borders Iraq. The area bordering Iraq where the convoy was headed is currently under control of Islamic State.

The evacuation was carried out as part of a deal between Islamic State fighters and Iranian-backed Lebanese Shia terrorist group Hezbollah and the Syrian government, to clear an estimated 300 IS fighters and 300 civilians, primary the wives and children of IS, from the Lebanon-Syrian border. IS claimed they would reveal the fate of nine captive Lebanese soldiers that were being held since 2014, as well as surrender Hezbollah and Syrian army prisoners and bodies from eastern Syria, where IS continues to maintain hold over territory.

The U.S. coalition bombing cratered a road and a small bridge and targeted Islamic state vehicles in an effort to prevent movement.

The location of the convoy group is currently unknown, and could either be in Islamic State or Syrian government controlled territory.

The deal to transport IS members and their families came at the end of a joint Hezbollah and Syrian army military operation to dislodge jihadist groups from the Lebanese-Syrian border by directly targeting IS near the town of Ras Baalbek with rockets, artillery and helicopters. The Lebanese Army in cooperation with Hezbollah and the Syrian army also declared a cease-fire, to allow for the terrorist movement through Syria.  This  deal marks the first time the Islamic State has negotiated a forced evacuation for its fighters.

Hezbollah made a statement this August pledging to remove, and fight the terrorists with the Syrian army.

The Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi faulted Syria for moving the IS fighters closer to their border. In a statement made on August 29th he said, “we do not send them to Syria we kill them in Iraq.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called the deal made with the Islamic State to transport the terrorists, “a great victory” in speech on August 28th. Despite his prior allegations made earlier in August to expel and fight the terrorist group with the Syrian army, the two groups continued with the deal.

The Islamic State’s foot hold is dwindling. At its peak throughout 2014 and 2015, the jihadist group held 1/3 of territory in Iraq and 1/3 of the territory in Syria. Within this landmass the terrorists ruled over around 9 million people.

By 2016 two years later, IS lost about 22% of its territory and in 2017 it continues to decrease. After Mosul was liberated and returned to the Iraqi government this past summer by American forces, the next critical fight to diminish IS looks to the city of Raqqa.

The battles over Raqqa began this past June of 2017. Raqqa is the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State currently. In the first month of fighting 20% of the city was taken back by the Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces, both aided by the U.S. Special operations troops. Unlike Mosul, Raqqa is much less densely populated, but it is still a critical location to obtain.

The Lebanese and Syrian governments should not be permitting the movement of the terrorist organization. The U.S. led airstrike was necessary for this deal to dismantle. By allowing for the movement of the terrorist group knowingly can prolong battles, allow for the group to regain territory and plan for strategic moves in the future. The current situation to question is the amount of U.S. funding toward the Lebanese army.

This year the U.S. has allotted to give Lebanon 233 million dollars in aid, partially to counter balance Hezbollah, the civil war, and for humanitarian support. However, the Lebanese army working in cooperation to Hezbollah calls to question their motives. As Syria and Iraq are gradually gaining back territory from IS, there are several players looking to gain these areas of land.

Iran is backing Syrian President Bassar al-Assad’s Syrian Army and Hezbollah. The United States backs the Syrian democratic forces, the Lebanese army, and the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. Although the U.S. supports some “rebel” groups, the first intentional attack on the Syrian government only occurred this past April, after the Assad regime fired chemical weapons.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of Iraq’s state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces, a U.S. designated terrorist with ties to Hezbollah, supported Nasrallah’s decision to allow for IS movement. And while the United States backs the Lebanese army, the support provided by the Lebanese to Hezbollah is concerning.

The decision by Syria and Hezbollah to permit the movement of IS jihadis closer to the border of Iraq should be viewed within the context of the competition between U.S. coalition and Iranian-backed forces to control territories newly liberated from the Islamic State.

Assad’s regime is looking to retake key territory, even while U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces continue to advance in Northern Syria. On the Iraqi side of the border Kurdish peshmerga are still pressing forward with their long effort to establish a Kurdistan while Iranian-backed Shia militias have engaged in population transfers to expand Shia controlled areas. At the same time the Iraqi government is looking to regain their final pieces of territory from IS, which consists of a small region that borders Syria, and some desert space in the northern region.

On August 31st, the Nineveh province in Iraq was liberated, as Tal Afar was lost from IS, and regained by the Iraqi armed forces.  Tel Afar was a key route between Iraq and Syria since 2014 and was the last major center in northwestern Iraq controlled by the IS, recently captured by Iraqi forces.

As IS held territory continues to shrink there’s an increased probability that U.S. and Iranian-backed forces will come into conflict.

IS and the Attack in Kabul

The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the July 31st attack on the Iraqi embassy in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. The attack initiated with an explosion outside the embassy gates by a suicide bomber followed by gunmen entering the compound and engaging in a four hour battle with Afghan security forces. Authorities say that the fighting ceased once all assailants had been killed though some reports claim gunfire continued long after Afghan forces declared the scene secure.

While the attack was still ongoing, IS declared responsibility via its Amaq News Agency. The casualty count remains unclear at this time though Afghan authorities say there are no fatalities among police officers and embassy staff. IS, however, claims that 27 people have been killed, including seven policemen. The building itself suffered significant damage.

The Iraqi Embassy is located outside what is known as the Green Zone, which is heavily guarded and home to many foreign embassies. With the recent victory in Mosul and its lack of security, the Iraqi Embassy reportedly did express concern over possible retaliation from IS.

The attack comes in light of IS’s loosening grip on its territories in the Middle East, specifically with the fall of Mosul and increasing pressure on Raqqa.

In Mosul, IS’s prospects are bleak. Since the group gained control over Mosul in 2014, the city developed into one of its most central strongholds in Iraq. In October 2016, the Iraqi forces launched an offensive to take back the city and after almost ten months of intensive fighting, their mission proved successful. Earlier this month, Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, announced the collapse of IS in Mosul and deemed the nine month long battle against the terrorist group for the city a success, though this success is not without its casualties. Over 900,000 people have been displaced and thousands killed. According to the UN, repairing the damage inflicted on Mosul will cost over $1 billion.

This pattern of long-term fighting and desolation is also seen in Raqqa, IS’s de facto capital in Syria. The city is currently home to over 2,000 IS fighters though their hold on the city is diminishing. Since the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched their offensive to take back the city in June, they claim to have captured 40% of the city. Additionally, U.S. Deputy Commander Dirk Smith states that there have not been any “significant counterattacks” from IS.

As IS continues to lose its foothold in Iraq and Syria, it will look to expand its influence and presence elsewhere. While Afghanistan’s history with ties to terrorism points to IS growth in the country, in all likelihood this will not be the case. Since IS’s arrival in Afghanistan, reportedly as early as 2014, its success in the country has significantly faltered due to backlash from the Taliban as well as Afghan and international forces.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan say they are determined to halt IS spread as illustrated with their dropping of a Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) on IS cells in April, killing  at least 90 IS fighters. The Pentagon believes that there are less than 1,000 IS fighters still remaining in the country. Earlier this month, a U.S. drone strike killed Abu Sayed, the leader of IS in Afghanistan. General John Nicholson states that U.S. forces will “be relentless” in their pursuit against IS and asserts that “there are no safe havens in Afghanistan” for the group.

Since IS’s 2014 declaration of a caliphate over Iraq and Syria, it has lost over 60% of its territories and 80% of its monetary sustenance. Faced with looming defeat and mounting resistance, IS’s July 31st attack in Kabul serves as both a distraction from the group’s failures but also as a sign of its persistent strength in the region.

The July 31st siege on Iraq’s Embassy in Kabul is intended to communicate that, despite IS’s shortcomings in the Middle East, it has proven itself capable of rallying and conducting attacks in other areas, Kabul being no exception.

As IS continues to be backed into a corner, its next move is unclear; however, it is unlikely that the group will relent or disband, and reasonable to assume that it will attempt to shift its focus to other areas where it can begin to reestablish a foothold. However, where IS chooses to establish this foothold is equally unclear.

Some foreign fighters may try to return to Europe and conduct solo attacks. Others may seek out Libya, Afghanistan, or other regions with an IS presence. If IS were to relocate to Afghanistan, it would face many obstacles, as mentioned above, though this has never stopped the group before.

During this year alone, IS has reportedly conducted 280 attacks resulting in at least 2,019 causalities illustrating that we have not seen the last of the Islamic State.

Iran’s Parliament and Shrine attacked by terrorists killing 12 people

On Wednesday, gunmen and suicide bombers attacked Iran’s parliament and the Shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini killing 12 and injuring many people. The terrorist also held the Parliament under siege for one hour, which led to 4 of the attackers being killed by the Iran’s security forces.

IS have taken responsibility for the attack while this has not yet been verified.

This would be the first time that IS, a Sunni jihadist group, has managed to successfully attack Shiite majority Iran. Islamic State is vocal about its view that the Shiites are apostates. Islamic State is also engaged with Iran-backed forces in both Iraq and Syria. IS had begun a series of propaganda against Iran in the past year encouraging attacks on Iran.

Those who observed the attack describe that the attackers were dressed in women’s clothing and entered through a public entrance in the building. The Shrine of the founder of Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini was the second site of attack. Several grenades and magazines for automatic weapons were recovered from the scene. The suicide bomber was reported to be a woman.

One gunman spoke in Arabic and stated, “Oh God, thank you… Do you think we will leave? No! We will remain, God willing,”, which is a slogan that was created by ISIS spokesman,  Abu Mohammad al-Adnani.

Al-Adnani was killed last year in Syria. The intelligence ministry claimed that they foiled a third attack, but they did not provide any details. The parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, called this action a cowardly act. According to the analyst, Charlie Winter, this attack has major implications for the region by intensifying the battle between Sunnis and Shiites.

The attack in Tehran follows a call by IS leaders for more terrorist attacks during the month of Ramadan. This is the fourth attack by IS since May 26th when Ramadan began. Some experts believe that as ISIS loses its control in Iraq and Syria, it will continue to spread its insurgency abroad and use its tactics and to prove their power and legitimacy.

The attack in Tehran is the first successful attack by Islamic State in the country. Historically, Iran has maintained a relationship with Sunni jihadist groups, including Islamic State’s predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq which largely spared it from being targeted. In 2012, David S. Cohen, then under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence stated that Iran allowed Al Qaeda to move money, weapons and personnel through its territory and in exchange avoided being targeted.

Iran’s support for Sunni jihadists may have emboldened those who have now turned their back on Tehran.

Iranian regime supporters however are blaming the attack on the Saudi government. Hamidreza Taraghi, an Iranian analyst close to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei claimed, “ISIS ideologically, financially and logistically is fully supported and sponsored by Saudi Arabia — they are one and the same.”

The timing of this attack is critical since it occurred on the heel of major tension in the Persian Gulf. On Monday, Saudi Arabia and seven others states cut ties with Qatar due to its support of terrorist groups and supporting Iran. The attack in Iran could help to buttress Iran’s claims that it too is a victim of terrorism, which the regime uses to downplay its own role as a state sponsor of terror.

HAMAS, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State

by Christopher W. Holton

New developments in the Middle East are focusing attention on the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in Jihadist terrorism.

These new developments are particularly important because there is legislation in Congress aimed at designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO):

https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/68/text?format=txt

There should be no controversy over the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. The Muslim Brotherhood is in fact the forerunner of all Sunni Jihadist organizations.

Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood has been directly involved in Jihadist terrorism. It was the Muslim Brotherhood that formed HAMAS (an acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”), the Jihadist terrorist organization that seeks to replace Israel with an Islamic state ruled by sharia. Here are some key passages from the HAMAS charter:

Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”

The HAMAS charter also directly ties HAMAS to the Muslim Brotherhood:

“The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. Muslim Brotherhood Movement is a universal organization which constitutes the largest Islamic movement in modern times. It is characterised by its deep understanding, accurate comprehension and its complete embrace of all Islamic concepts of all aspects of life, culture, creed, politics, economics, education, society, justice and judgement, the spreading of Islam, education, art, information, science of the occult and conversion to Islam.”

HAMAS itself is in fact designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department and has been since 1997:

https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm

The HAMAS charter identifying the terrorist organization as part of the Muslim Brotherhood is particularly important in light of recent events. Many Leftist and Islamist sympathizers in the West view HAMAS with a degree of sympathy, largely due to anti-Israel sentiment. They view HAMAS as an enemy of Israel, but not necessarily an enemy of the U.S. or other Western nations.

The latest intelligence should put that notion to rest forever. Reports from the Egyptian Sinai peninsula which borders Israel indicate that HAMAS is providing support to Islamic State (ISIS) Jihadists in the area. BreitBart.com has the details:

http://www.breitbart.com/jerusalem/2017/05/28/bedouin-tribes-sinai-accuse-hamas-aiding-islamic-state/

The point here is that the Islamic State is at war with the United States and the entire West. There is no way that anyone can say that the Islamic State is not an enemy of America. And HAMAS is aiding and supporting our enemy.

Given the fact that HAMAS is the Muslim Brotherhood, there is now a direct tie between the Muslim Brotherhood and the most active, most violent worldwide Jihadist terrorist organization.

How much longer must we wait to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization?

A new approach to U.S. Middle East strategy

The Trump administration has a unique opportunity to implement a new strategic policy to bring some semblance of stability to the current Middle East chaos. Under the pledge of putting “America first,” our core national security interest in the region should include the following:

  • Eliminating the Islamic State as an identifiable entity.
  • Preventing Iran from achieving a deliverable nuclear weapon capability.
  • Preventing Iran from achieving regional hegemony.
  • Supporting Iranians in their efforts to remove the corrupt Iranian theocracy.
  • Keeping open vital sea lanes and strategic choke points.
  • Defending U.S. bases and facilities.

• Re-emphasizing our support for our friends and allies while assisting threatened minorities (Christians, Assyrians/Chaldeans, Kurds and Yazidis).

Our strategy in the past has been reactive, but now must be driven by our vital core objectives. In that sense, it is not in the U.S. interest to become involved in a 1,300-year-old, intra-Islamic sectarian fight between Shiites and Sunnis. From a Western perspective, there is no good side in this conflict. Both want to kill us.

It also must be recognized that much of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement nation-state system formed in the Middle East after World War I is coming asunder. Syria and Iraq are fractured states and a readjustment of a regional balance of power between Shiite and Sunni will evolve out of the current crisis with or without U.S. involvement. Our invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni army removed the main blocking force to the expansion of Iran’s Shiite Crescent and ensured the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) out of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq.

A Sunni entity that clearly is not ISIS should be assisted to coalesce in what used to be Iraq. Such an entity could involve Anbar Province and the Nineveh Plain, where Assyrians/Turkman/Yazidis are unifying in an effort at preservation and stabilization.

In areas outside of Alawite and Kurdish control and areas liberated from ISIS in the former Syria, Syrian Free Army (SFA) commanders believe that with U.S. and other Western support, they could pry off significant forces from jihadi militias to create a force to defeat Jabhat al-Nusra, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and ISIS. This approach should be explored. In implementing a new strategy, we must proceed in a manner that gains cooperation from those whose involvement is essential. This includes Russia, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Turkey. The Gulf states must be persuaded to end support for Sunni jihadis, which can only happen if they are assured that they will not be threatened or surrounded by Iran’s Shiite Crescent.

The Trump administration’s recent declaration putting Iran “on notice” is a step in the right direction, as were U.S. Treasury sanctions on 12 entities for supporting Iran’s illicit ballistic missile program. Further, President Trump’s call for establishing safe zones in Syria, e.g., one in the northern Kurdish area, one along the Turkish border, and one on the Jordanian border, could help relieve economic pressure on Jordan and Turkey, which are providing support to millions of refugees. In return, we should expect Turkey and Jordan’s support for our new regional strategy.

President Obama’s policy that deliberately empowered Iran to advance its geostrategic ambitions and move toward a deliverable nuclear weapons capability is over. Our so-called nuclear agreement with Iran must also be terminated and Iran’s joint venture relationship, using North Korea as its off-site laboratory to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, must end. Holding Iran accountable to the agreement is a pipe dream. There is no agreement. Further, a clear, unambiguous declaration from the Trump administration with appropriate follow-on action will go a long way to gain Saudi and GCC cooperation.

With regard to Syria, Bashar Assad must go. It appears Russia may support such action as it reportedly proposed Alawite Gen. Manas Tlass (formerly with the Hafez Assad regime) as his replacement at the Astana talks. SFA commanders may accept this as long as the Assad clan is out of power and in exile. Under such an arrangement, the Alawites would keep control of Damascus and their coastal strip heartland, but lose the rest of former Syria. This is the de facto current situation on the ground today.

Russia may find such an arrangement acceptable, provided it keeps its bases in Latakia and Tartus. While these are major concessions, issues involving Ukraine/Crimea must also be part of the discussion, as well as Libya. The bottom line in the trade-offs must be Russia’s commitment to help in getting Iran, Hezbollah and Shiite militias out of what formerly was Syria.

Turkey also may be helpful in the overall realignment but must be managed carefully, as Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) is moving toward an authoritarian neo-Ottoman jihad state. Clearly, the No. 1 Turkish concern is the Kurds. One option may be to not allow the Kurdish northern-Syria enclave “Rojava” to extend to the Turkish border. There would instead be a safe zone there, guaranteed jointly by Russia and Turkey. Gas and oil pipelines also are major factors that must be included in discussions with both Russia and Turkey.

Since we have no vital objectives in Afghanistan, we should stop wasting our national treasure to support a corrupt tribal society.

If this new strategic approach is followed, our vital core strategic objectives will most likely stand a better chance of being achieved while gradually bringing the current chaos under control.

IS Claims Responsibility for Bombing on Afghan Supreme Court

Twenty-four hours after the February 7th deadly suicide bombing on the Afghan Supreme Court in Kabul, the Khorasan Province of the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack. IS identified the bomber as Abu Bakr al-Tajiki, a Tajik national according to the SITE Intelligence Group. IS warned that “more devastating and bitter” attacks on Afghan courts and judicial staff members were to come in a statement released Thursday. The IS presents an ever growing threat and a rival to the Taliban.

As workers were leaving the parliament complex around 4pm, the suicide bomber entered the court’s parking area and detonated his suicide vest near an entrance where guards were performing security checks. Local police reported that 20 people were killed and 45 others were wounded in the explosion.

IS announced its expansion into Afghanistan in January of 2015 and has since secured footholds in at least four districts in the Nangarhar province. Initially, IS faced armed resistance from both the Afghan troops and the Taliban but in recent months their number of attacks has risen exponentially. IS increased its number of deaths and injuries from 82 in 2015 to 899 in 2016.

This increase in attacks can be credited to the fact that in mid-2016 IS altered its tactics and, according to the UN, “increased [its] ability to conduct large, deadly attacks against civilian targets in Kabul.” Last July IS carried out the first of four attacks on civilians in Kabul – a blast that targeted a Shia Muslim protest. The first three attacks all targeted Shia Muslims and the final attack targeted the Presidential Protection Service.

The Supreme Court bombing is the second major attack by IS on Kabul. The previous attack, deemed the deadliest attack since the Afghan war started in 2001, was in July 2016. IS triggered two explosions at a rally organized by the Shiite Hazaras that killed 80 people and wounded another 231.

An entire day passed before IS claimed responsibility for an attack that resembled previous Taliban attacks on Afghan judicial institutions.

Since the beginning of 2015 the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has documented 74 attacks on judicial authorities in Afghanistan by the Taliban. These attacks have resulted in death of 89 judges, prosecutors, and judicial staff members and 214 injuries.

The attacks in 2016 followed the execution of six convicted Taliban militants last May. Among those sentenced to death by the Afghan government was one of the top facilitators for al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Anas Haqqani.

The Taliban attempted to thwart the executions by releasing a hostage video to the American and Canadian governments of Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American wife Caitlan Coleman. They urged the American and Canadian governments to pressure the Afghan government to release the captured Taliban fighters.

President Ghani maintained his tough stance and continued with the executions despite the pressure from the Taliban.

Shortly after the executions, a suicide bomber targeted a bus carrying court employees killing 11 people in an act the Taliban called revenge.  Just one month later, in June of 2016, Taliban gunmen killed seven people, including the newly appointed chief prosecutor, in a court building in the eastern Logar province.

Just last month the Taliban also claimed responsibility for the twin bombings of government workers outside parliament – this attack killed 30 and injured 70 others.

The UN reported 2016 the bloodiest year for Afghan civilians since the war began in 2001. The Afghan government stresses that is important that judicial members are considered civilians and thus these attacks are on civilians.

This rise in casualties is credited to the Taliban’s slow gaining of ground across the country. The Afghan government currently controls no more than two-thirds of the country and about half of that area is hotly contested. Until recently, the Islamic State (IS) was a relatively minor faction in Afghanistan.

Since establishing itself in early 2015, IS has been fighting the Taliban for land and influence. In June of 2016, both groups claimed responsibility for an attack on Kabul that left 14 dead. The presence of IS in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s opposition to IS present complications for the US in fighting IS in the war in Afghanistan.