Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, December 1, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the United Nations announces their count for the death toll in November, US Secretary of Defense announces US troops will be boots-on-the-ground in combat, the House Armed Services Committee seems underwhelmed by the announcement, US House Rep Walter Jones re-embraces the crazy, and much more.

Ash Carter is the US Secretary of Defense.  We'll open with some remarks by him today.

Secretary Ash Carter:  As I've discussed with you in the past, the United States strategy requires leveraging all of the components in our nation's might to destroy ISIL, every instrument of national power -- diplomatic, military, intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, economic, informational -- is engaged and every national security agency is contributing to one of the strategies, lines of effort.  We're defending the homeland, acting to defeat ISIL in its core in Syria and Iraq, and taking appropriate action where ever else in the world this evil organization metastasizes. Now the Defense Dept contributes to nearly all the lines of effort but protecting the homeland is among our highest priorities.  We're adapting to meet ISIL's threat -- including ensuring the security of Defense Dept installations and personnel. And just last week, I hosted some of the top national security law enforcement individuals at the Pentagon to discuss efforts to cut off the flow of foreign fighters.  But we at the Defense Dept, of course, are centrally responsible for the military campaign which will be the focus of my statement to this community. Through our own action, and those of our coalition partners, the military campaign will destroy ISIL's leadership and forces, deprive it of resources and safe haven and mobility.  All the while, we seek to identify and then enable motivated, local forces on the ground to expel ISIL from its territory, hold and govern it and ensure that victory sticks.  That's the right strategic approach for two particular reasons.  First, it emphasizes the necessity of capable, motivated, local forces as the only force that can ensure a lasting victory.  Such forces are hard to find but they do exist and we are enabling them and we're constantly looking for ways to expand doing so -- and I will describe some of them -- but we cannot substitute for such forces. And second, this strategic approach sets the conditions for a political solution to the civil war in Syria and the crippling sectarianism in Iraq which are the only durable ways to prevent an ISIL-like organization from re-emerging.  And that's why the diplomatic work, led by Secretary [John] Kerry and the State Dept is the first and absolutely critical line of effort in our strategy.  We're gathering momentum on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.  And today, I'll describe how the US is continuing to accelerate the military campaign against ISIL and what more we're asking of our global partners. While I can't describe everything in this unclassified setting, I do want to take a few extra moments this morning to give as much detail as possible about the new things that we're doing to accelerate ISIL's defeat. We're at war.  We're using the might of the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  Tens of thousands of US personnel are operating in the broader Middle East region -- more on the way.  We have some of our most advanced Air-Naval forces attacking ISIL.  US troops are advising and assisting ground operations in Syria and Iraq.  I'll briefly describe some of these efforts and how we're accelerating them.  First, in northern Syria . . . [you are reading an "Iraq snapshot," our focus is Iraq].  In northern Iraq, Peshmerga units with the help of US air power and advisors have retaken the town of Sinjar cutting the main line of communication between Raqqa and Mosul -- the two largest cities under ISIL's control.  To move people and supplies, ISIL must now rely on backroads where we locate and destroy them.  Elsewhere in Iraq, we have about 3,500 troops at six locations in Iraq in support of Iraqi security forces, the ISF.  There we've been providing increased lethal fire and augmenting the existing training, advising and assisting program.  And we're prepared to do more as Iraq shows capability and motivation in the counter ISIL fight in resolving its political divisions.  The progress in the Sunni portions of Iraq, as mentioned by Mr. [US House Rep Adam] Smith, as the campaign to recapture Ramadi shows, has been slow -- much to our and Prime Minister [Haider al-] Abadi's frustration. Despite his efforts, sectarian politics and Iranian influence have made building a multi-sectarian Iraqi security force difficult with some notable exceptions such as the US-trained counter-terrorism forces We continue to offer additional US support of all kinds and urge Baghdad to support, enroll, train and arm and pay Sunni Arab fighters as well as local Sunni Arab police forces to hold territory recaptured from ISIL.  All these efforts -- from northern Syria through Iraq -- have shrunk the ISIL controlled territory in both.  Importantly, we now have an opportunity to divide ISIL's presence in Iraq from that in Syria.  This could be important because, while both countries are plagued by ISIL, each, as I said earlier, has different political pathologies that provide the opportunity for extremism and they ultimately require different kinds of political progress to ensure lasting victory. Next, in full coordination with the government of Iraq, we're deploying a specialized, expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and put even more pressure on ISIL.  These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders.  This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations in Syria. That creates a virtuous cycle of better intelligence which generates more targets, more raids, more momentum.  The raids in Iraq will be done at the invitation of the Iraqi government and focused on defending its borders and building the ISF capability.  Next, we're also significantly expanding US attacks on ISIL infrastructure and sources of revenue -- particularly its oil revenue. Over the past several weeks, because of improved intelligence and understanding of ISIL's financial operations, we've intensified the air campaign against ISIL's  war-sustaining oil enterprise -- a critical pillar of ISIL's financial infrastructure.  In addition to destroying fixed . . . 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

The key moment above is:

Next, in full coordination with the government of Iraq, we're deploying a specialized, expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and put even more pressure on ISIL.  These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders.  

 Remember when this was supposed to Iraq's fight?

And no US forces would be in combat?

Remember those words from US President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama?

This was a key moment.  It sailed right over everyone.

Carter was speaking

"In full co-ordination with the government of Iraq, we're deploying a specialised expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces,"

Carter was speaking at today's US House Armed Services Committee hearing.  Also offering testimony was Gen Joe Dunford, Chair of the Joint Chiefs.  The Committee Chair is US House Rep Mac Thornberry, the Ranking Member is US House Rep Adam Smith.

US House Rep Walter Jones:  Before I get to the question, I want to remind the American people what James Madison said, the power to declare war -- including the power of judging the causes of war -- is fully and exclusively vested in the legislature -- not the executive branch, but the legislature.  I would like to ask you and Gen Dunford, in this undertaking of trying to defeat the evil group ISIL, would it help your cause if the Congress met its Constitutional responsibility of debating a new AUMF [Authorization for the Use of Military Force]? [. . .]

Secretary Ash Carter: It would show to our troops that their country was behind them.  I think they know we're behind them [gestures to himself and Dunford].  I think they know you're behind them.  would this show that the country was behind them in their effort?  I think they deserve to know that and for that reason I think it's desirable to have an AUMF.  The only thing I'd say is the lawyers tell me  that we don't technically need one.  We can conduct what we need to do within the law.  But I think it would be helpful principally because I-I-I think you can't do enough to show the troops that we're behind them.

So Carter doesn't think the military believes the American people support them?  He thinks they believe that he does support them and the Congress does but not the American people?


Well let's pretend that's a valid thought -- exactly how does Congress voting on an AUMF alter that alleged belief?

It doesn't.

He was a real stooge.

And I find it really telling that these people, paid by the US taxpayers, go out in public and insult the American people.

I find it really telling that they openly display their contempt and disregard for democracy.

And "they" includes Walter Jones who apparently shoved a freedom fry in his brain.

No one needed him to come to the hearing with his prepared talking points.

I guess actually listening and asking about what is being discussed was too much for the little tyke so instead he has his staff look up a quote and he pretended he gave a damn about it.

But if he gave a damn about the Congress' right to declare war, he would need to give a damn about the American people and when Carter's playing the card of you-and-me-we-support-the-military-but-that-stinking-public-doesn't, if Jones actually understood the points Madison was making, he would've objected to Carter's smear on the people of American instead of grinning like an idiot and nodding along.

Apparently, all that mattered was he got his prepared comment -- passed off as a question -- before the cameras.

So unimportant was the whole thing to him -- including the deployment of more US forces and their role in combat in Iraq -- that he rushed to boast he was going to yield 51 seconds back.

What a proud moment for Walter Jones -- a man who spent the last years apologizing for his idiotic support of the illegal war but so quick to jump back on board with it today.

And, of course, yet again the lie is pimped that you can only back the military by supporting war.

I thought Walter Jones rejected that in the aftermath of his freedom fries nonsense.

Apparently, any intelligence he later showed was somehow transitory and vanished in his lust for more war.

Not everyone was avoiding all issues.  We'll note this exchange.

US House Rep Loretta Sanchez:  You said that we are arming the Kurds.  The last time I spoke to [KRG President Mahmoud] Barzani, he suggested that they needed heavier duty weapons versus light arms.  And so my question -- my first question -- would be what are we arming them with?  I mean, is this really for the battlefield that they find?  Secondly,  I'd like you to address this whole issue with respect to the Iraqi army and the inability for us to get integrated -- or for Iraq's government to get it integrated.  I remember back in the -- under the Constitution and the whole issue of, for example, having a vote on the Kurd area being an independent entity, for example.  That was something that I continued to ask our military leaders at the time who were overseeing Iraq and the reality was they kept saying, 'That's the hardest part, that's the hardest part, we're going to get to it.'  And we never got to it before we were gone.  Now we see the fruits of that in that we are still not able to have a military that -- or police force -- that's very integrated.  So what do we do about that?   Uhm, so we've been taking back territory in Iraq and one of the issues that we had is it always takes additional -- I mean, we need to leave troops there or we need to leave somebody there in order to hold onto it. Otherwise, we end up losing that territory.  So what is our strategy to do that?  And the recruitment effort.  I would like -- and I'm sure that it would be not within the public realm, but I would love to get briefed on the cyber issues and how we're countering the recruitment with respect to ISIS, ISIL, whatever you want to call them. these days, from a global perspective.  But in particular are we doing anything that you can talk about in this setting with respect to the recruiting effort in the region itself?  And lastly, DIME -- Diplomacy, Intelligence, Military, Economic.  You know, it's not just military that we need here.  So, Secretary, if you could speak a little to what are some of the other efforts we're doing to counter-act what is really something we need to eliminate which is ISIS.  Thank you.

Secretary Ash Carter: Uh-uh, Congresswoman Sanchez, I'll touch two of the points and ask-ask the Chairman especially with respect -- with-with respect to arming the Kurds -- if you don't mind, Mr. Chairman -- and-and-and generally the Iraqi security forces.  Uhm, you talk about DIME?  Absolutely, it is essential that we recognize even though we -- uhh-uhh, I believe this is absolutely true -- are the center of the campaign because there must be a military defeat of ISIL.  And I also believe that, uh, Iraq and Syria since it is the heart of ISIL, we have to defeat it there.  That said, this is a global fight, it's a multi-dimensional fight, it's in the intelligence sphere, it's in the homeland security sphere, it's in the law enforcement sphere.  And I'm not going to [have] much more to say about that except that I have begun to convene, uh, with Secretary Kerry -- and I appreciate his cooperation, in this regard -- all of the agencies and going through what we're all doing -- making sure that the right hand knows what the left is. So in cyber, you're right I can't talk about it here.  I'm happy to come give you a classified briefing.  But we are linked up.  That's very important.  The FBI.  Jim Comey. Homeland Security.  The intelligence community.  Uh-uh and-and our DoD people.  Last thing I'll say is you ask, we thought about a hold force, a-uh-ugh necessity for a hold force is at the root of our strategy. Our strategy is to find, identify and enable forces that can not only take territory but hold territory because we are -- we know from the last fourteen years that that's the tricky part.  The hard part about getting victory to stick is to find people who can hold territory and govern it decently so that the likes of ISIL don't come back.  And-and as I said, they're hard to find.  They do exist but they're hard to find.  And we're going to try to make a snowball and get more.  Chairman?

Gen Joe Dunford: Congresswoman, with regard to the Kurds, the Kurds have, as you know -- you've been there many times, a full range of weapons and heavy vehicles and [. . .]

There was nothing to answer her question regarding what the Kurds were being supplied with and time ran out so he was shut down.

As for Cater's remarks?

How nice that, all this time later, 16 months after the US started bombing Iraq, Carter has "begun to convene, uh, with Secretary Kerry."

In fairness to Carter, the failures of State are Kerry's failures and Barack Obama's failures since John wanted to play like he was Secretary of Defense and Barack didn't have the spine to tell him to instead to do his job.

We'll probably note more from the hearing in the next snapshot but, again, the key moment was this remark/announcement by Carter:

Next, in full coordination with the government of Iraq, we're deploying a specialized, expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and put even more pressure on ISIL.  These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders.  

As CBS News' Rebecca Shabad points out, Carter's announcement of US forces in Iraq on the front lines 'assisting'  "comes after Hillary Clinton told CBS News on Monday that she couldn't 'conceive' any circumstance in which the U.S. should send troops to fight ISIS on the ground in the Middle East."

That should probably read "comes after even Hillary Clinton -- even Hillary Clinton -- told CBS News on Monday that she couldn't 'conceive' any circumstance in which the US should send troops to fight ISIS on the ground in the Middle East."


Even Hillary.

And the bombs go on . . .

The US Defense Dept announced today:

Airstrikes in Iraq
Bomber, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 13 airstrikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of the Iraqi government:
-- Near Huwayjah, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL vehicle.
-- Near Habbaniyah, a strike destroyed an ISIL building.
-- Near Makhmur, a strike denied ISIL access to terrain.
-- Near Ramadi, five strikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed two ISIL fighting positions, two ISIL command and control nodes, an ISIL staging area, and an ISIL weapons cache, damaged two ISIL command and control nodes, two ISIL buildings, and denied ISIL access to terrain.
-- Near Sinjar, three strikes struck a large ISIL tactical unit and destroyed seven ISIL fighting positions.
-- Near Qaim, a strike struck an ISIL vehicle bomb facility.

-- Near Sultan Abdallah, a strike struck inoperable Coalition equipment denying ISIL access in support of Coalition operations.

Still on violence, the United Nations published their woeful undercounting of the dead and injured for the month of November:

  • US House Rep Loretta Sanchez asked about recruitment by the Islamic State in today's hearing.

    "The eradication of the gray zone."  Scott Atran and Nafees Hamid's "Paris: The War ISIS Wants" was published by THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS a few weeks ago.  From the essay:

    Indeed, ISIS’s theatrical brutality—whether in the Middle East or now in Europe—is part of a conscious plan designed to instill among believers a sense of meaning that is sacred and sublime, while scaring the hell out of fence-sitters and enemies. This strategy was outlined in the 2004 manifesto Idarat at Tawahoush (The Management of Savagery), a tract written for ISIS’s precursor, the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda; tawahoush comes from wahsh or “beast,” so an animal-like state. Here are some of its main axioms:
    Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the Crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible.
    To be effective, attacks should be launched against soft targets that cannot possibly be defended to any appreciable degree, leading to a debilitating security state:
    If a tourist resort that the Crusaders patronize…is hit, all of the tourist resorts in all of the states of the world will have to be secured by the work of additional forces, which are double the ordinary amount, and a huge increase in spending.
    Crucially, these tactics are also designed to appeal to disaffected young who tend to rebel against authority, are eager for for self-sacrifice, and are filled with energy and idealism that calls for “moderation” (wasatiyyah) only seek to suppress. The aim is
    to motivate crowds drawn from the masses to fly to the regions which we manage, particularly the youth… [For] the youth of the nation are closer to the innate nature [of humans] on account of the rebelliousness within them.
    Finally, these violent attacks should be used to draw the West as deeply and actively as possible into military conflict:
    Work to expose the weakness of America’s centralized power by pushing it to abandon the media psychological war and war by proxy until it fights directly.

    Eleven years later, ISIS is using this approach against America’s most important allies in Europe. 

    Hamid has argued that recruitment -- for all the talk of cyber -- is not done by the computer but by peer-to-peer, people that recruits already know.

    We'll note that and his belief that the Islamic State's goal is "the eradication of the gray zone" in the next snapshot.

    Again, today's key moment regarding Iraq was Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announcing Barack's new move:

    Next, in full coordination with the government of Iraq, we're deploying a specialized, expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and put even more pressure on ISIL.  These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders.  

    The announcement, of course, came after it was implemented.  It was Monday, for example, that
     Fazel Hawramy, Shalaw Mohammad and David Smith (Guardian) reported:

    The US military denies any special operations forces involvement in combat on 11 September or in three other other incidents listed by the peshmerga. Yet in interviews with the Guardian, a dozen Kurdish fighters and commanders said that US special forces troops have been participating in operations against Isis for months.
    [. . .]
    Karwan Hama Tata, a peshmerga volunteer, showed a Guardian reporter a video which appeared to show two Americans in the midst of the battle accompanied by three peshmerga fighters. He said: “They fight and they even fight ahead of the peshmerga. They won’t allow anyone to take photos of them, but they take photos of everyone.”
    The American special forces arrived in Kirkuk earlier this year to train, advise and support peshmerga forces fighting Isis. According to a Kurdish peshmerga commander, about 30 American special forces operatives set up an operations room in the city.

    A senior peshmerga commander, who did not wish to be named, said: “In February, for the first time, four American snipers came to south Kirkuk because we had lost several peshmerga to the Isis snipers.

    Whether or not today's announcement would have been made by Carter without that report being filed yesterday is a question worth considering.