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Iraqi Turkmen forces patrol a checkpoint, close to locations of ISIS fighters. (File photo: AFP)
Staff Writer | Al Arabiya News
An Iraqi senior government official claimed that up to 10,000 Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters are on the outskirts of Baghdad ready to attack the capital, the Telegraph newspaper reported on Saturday.
As Iraqi officials continue to urge the United States to deploy ground troops into the war-stricken country, a roadside bomb killed the police chief of Iraq’s battleground province of Anbar on Sunday, officials were quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.
“Major General Ahmed Saddag was killed by an IED (improvised explosive device) blast targeting his convoy this morning,” Faleh al-Issawi, the deputy head of the provincial council, told AFP.
“The police chief was leading forces involved in an operation to retake Twei” from ISIS, Colonel Abdulrahman al-Janabi said.
He said clashes between government forces and the militants had erupted in the area on Saturday evening.
Anbar in crisis
Sabah al-Karhout, president of the provisional council of Anbar Province, said most of his province, adjacent to Baghdad, is now under ISIS control.
Two of Anbar’s largest cities, Ramadi and Falluja are known as the “graveyard of the Americans,” making it unlikely that the Pentagon would authorize the redeployment of ground forces, the British daily reported.
However, should the entirety of the province fall under ISIS control, it would facilitate an advancement by the militants into Baghdad where a team of almost 1,500 U.S. troops are mentoring a stressed Iraqi army.
As fighting rages between Syrian Kurds and ISIS militants over control of the Syrian border town of Kobane, Iraqi officials claim the Anbar province is on the verge of collapse.
Government forces in the provincial capital of Ramadi fought back an ISIS offensive on Saturday, but U.S. officials warned that the city remains in a “tenuous” position.
“I think it’s fragile there now,” one senior U.S. defense official told Agence France-Presse.
“They are being resupplied and they’re holding their own, but it’s tough and challenging,” the official explained.
ISIS’s heightened activity led to speculation that the group’s offensive to control Kobane was only a decoy architectured by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed ISIS “caliph.”
Observers, the Telegraph reported, say that while an ISIS-controlled Kobane would not greatly benefit the group strategically, the capture of Ramadi and other cities in Anbar would, as it would be catastrophic for both the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition hoping to contain the group.
Andrew Thompson and Jeremi Suri reporting,
Austin, Texas — The Islamic State terrorists who have emerged in Iraq and Syria are neither new nor unfamiliar. Many of them spent years in detention centers run by the United States and its coalition partners in Iraq after 2003. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, spent nearly five years imprisoned at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. A majority of the other top Islamic State leaders were also former prisoners, including: Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Abu Louay, Abu Kassem, Abu Jurnas, Abu Shema and Abu Suja.
Before their detention, Mr. al-Baghdadi and others were violent radicals, intent on attacking America. Their time in prison deepened their extremism and gave them opportunities to broaden their following. At Camp Bucca, for example, the most radical figures were held alongside less threatening individuals, some of whom were not guilty of any violent crime. Coalition prisons became recruitment centers and training grounds for the terrorists the United States is now fighting.
This process began when coalition forces arrived in Iraq in 2003 and detained alleged terrorists with little preparation or oversight. Although soldiers tried to document the circumstances behind the detentions of Iraqis and foreign fighters, the process broke down under the pressure of fighting, the shortage of trained Arabic speakers, and the fog of war.
Simply being a “suspicious looking” military-aged male in the vicinity of an attack was enough to land one behind bars. There were 26,000 detainees at the height of the war, and over 100,000 individuals passed through the gates of Camps Bucca, Cropper and Taji. Quite a few were dangerous insurgents; many others were innocent.
Small-time criminals, violent terrorists and unknown personalities were separated only along sectarian lines. This provided a space for extremists to spread their message. The detainees who rejected the radicals in their cells faced retribution from other prisoners through “Shariah courts” that infested the facilities.
The radicalization of the prison population was evident to anyone who paid attention. Unfortunately, few military leaders did.
At Camp Bucca, the extremists forced moderate detainees to listen to clerics who advocated jihad. The majority of prisoners were illiterate, so they were particularly susceptible. Prisoners frequently refused medical attention and vocational training for fear of breaking religious rules. The prisons became virtual terrorist universities: The hardened radicals were the professors, the other detainees were the students, and the prison authorities played the role of absent custodian.
Policies changed in 2007, as American military leaders began placing more emphasis on understanding the detainee population. Where possible, the military tried to separate hard-line terrorists from moderates. Prisoners gained more access to programs that taught vocational skills, literacy and a moderate version of Islam.
Some of these reforms worked, but the damage had already been done. The terrorists had four years to network, recruit and impose their extreme version of Islam on thousands of detainees.
One of us served at Camp Cropper in 2009 as a compound intelligence liaison officer with the tasks of collecting information on detainees and disrupting extremist activity. Fulfilling the first priority was relatively easy; the second was nearly impossible.
The compound’s “emirs” controlled the prison population. Detainees, for example, refused to watch television or play ping-pong, lest they face the judgment of the Shariah courts. Moderate detainees suffered repeated physical assaults from radicals. When they fought back, they were punished by the prison authorities.
Insurgents with damning evidence against them were released because of the incompetence of the Iraqi court system and America’s refusal to share classified evidence. Efforts at expediency drove both policies, and the mistakes compounded one another.
By December 2009, only a few thousand detainees remained in the prisons and Camp Bucca was closed. Although American soldiers, backed by intelligence agencies, tried to identify the most threatening detainees, that effort was doomed to failure. Poor record-keeping, limited language skills, detainee obfuscation and the pressure to cut costs prohibited the effective evaluation of prisoners.
The most extreme radicals were never slated for release. A number of them had already been sentenced to death and were awaiting transfer to the Iraqi justice system. But after the United States withdrew, these prisoners found themselves in Iraqi custody. The Islamic State made a priority of freeing these extremists as they conquered large parts of Iraq this past summer. With a new lease on life, these former prisoners are now some of the Islamic States’ most dedicated fighters.
The United States should keep this lesson in mind as it begins another counterterrorism campaign in Iraq and Syria. Large detention facilities only create the seeds for further radicalization and violence. There is strong evidence that the prisons run by the Iraqi and Syrian governments have already had this effect.
The United States must convince its regional partners to avoid mixing radicals and moderates, and provide alternatives to prison for small-scale criminals. If we continue to replay the history of mass incarceration in the Middle East, we will remain stuck in the current cycle where our counterterrorism efforts create more terrorists.
Andrew Thompson,a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, served for eight years in the United States military.Jeremi Suri, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama.”
Afghanistan’s national security adviser Mohmmad Hanif Atmar, seated at right, and U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham, left, sign the documents of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) at presidential palace as Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, center right, and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, center left, watch, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. Afghanistan and the United States signed a long-awaited security pact on Tuesday that will allow U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of year. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
Rahim Faiez reporting,
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan and the United States signed a security pact on Tuesday to allow U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of year, ending a year of uncertainty over the fate of foreign troops supporting Afghans as they take over responsibility for the country’s security.
Afghan, American and NATO leaders welcomed the deal, which will allow about 10,000 American troops to stay in the country after the international combat mission ends Dec. 31. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had refused to sign it despite U.S. threats of a full withdrawal in the absence of legal protections for American forces. U.S. officials have said that the delay in the deal’s signing does not affect plans for next year.
President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who was sworn into office a day earlier, told a crowd assembled at the presidential palace in the capital Kabul for the signing ceremony that the agreement signaled a fundamental shift for the positive in the country’s relations with the world.
“This agreement is only for Afghan security and stability,” he said in comments broadcast live on state television. “These agreements are in our national interest. The Bilateral Security Agreement will pave the ground for Afghanistan to take control,” he added.
Afghanistan’s national security adviser Mohmmad Hanif Atmar, center right, and U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham, center left, hug after signing the Bilateral Security Agreement at the presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. Afghanistan and the United States signed the long-awaited security pact on Tuesday that will allow U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of year. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
President Barack Obama hailed what he called a “historic day in the U.S.-Afghan partnership that will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan,” according to a White House statement.
“This agreement represents an invitation from the Afghan Government to strengthen the relationship we have built over the past 13 years and provides our military service members the necessary legal framework to carry out two critical missions after 2014: targeting the remnants of al-Qaida and training, advising, and assisting Afghan National Security Forces,” it said.
More than a decade after U.S. forces helped topple the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Afghanistan is still at war with the Islamic militant group, which regularly carries out attacks, mainly targeting security forces.
Newly appointed Afghan national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar and U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham signed the actual document. A second agreement allowing NATO troops to stay in the country was signed during the same ceremony.
Government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who has assumed a post akin to prime minister after signing a power-sharing agreement with Ghani Ahmadzai, also welcomed the security deal.
“It has been signed after very careful considerations,” he said, adding that “the BSA is not a threat to our neighbors. It will help strengthen peace and stability in the region.”
Abdullah and Ghani Ahmadzai struck the power-sharing agreement earlier this month after a prolonged dispute over alleged voting fraud in June’s presidential runoff. Karzai’s refusal to sign the security pact, and the prolonged uncertainty over who would succeed him, had delayed the signing.
Afghanistan’s national security adviser Mohmmad Hanif Atmar, second right, and NATO ambassador to Afghanistan Maurits Jochems, left, shake hands at the signing of the NATO-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement at the presidential palace, as Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, center, and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, second left, attend in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. Afghanistan and the United States signed a long-awaited security pact on Tuesday that will allow U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of year. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the agreement, saying it outlined the group’s new mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.
“We remain committed to help finance the Afghan security forces through 2017, to help Afghanistan to further strengthen its institutions, and to further develop our political and practical cooperation with Afghanistan through our Enduring Partnership,” he said in a statement.
In this Sept. 23, 2014 photo provided by the U.S Air Force, an F-22A Raptor taxis in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility prior to strike operations in Syria. U.S. coalition-led warplanes struck Islamic State group militants near the northern Syrian town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, near the Turkish border for the first time Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, activists and a Kurdish official said. The coalition, which began its aerial campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria early Tuesday, aims to roll back and ultimately crush the extremist group, which has created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Russ Scalf).
The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group is growing, with dozens of countries among its ranks. The coalition is contributing a wide range of efforts, from carrying out airstrikes to providing military assistance and humanitarian aid.
Here are some of the key partners in the coalition.
The U.S., which is leading the coalition, has launched dozens of airstrikes on Islamic State targets. It also has sent military advisers, supplies and humanitarian aid to help Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces beat back the insurgents.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have participated in airstrikes in Syria. A fourth, Qatar, has played what the Pentagon called a supporting role.
The Emirates and Qatar also host air bases that are being used for the coalition’s aerial campaign against the Islamic State group. U.S. Navy ships involved in the airstrikes are assigned to the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet. Saudi Arabia has agreed to host training facilities for Syrian rebels on its territory.
Jordan has launched airstrikes against Islamic State positions, with government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani calling the move “necessary in light of continuous attempts to infiltrate our borders.” The kingdom didn’t give any specifics about its operations, but said the airstrikes aim to insure the country’s security.
Egypt hasn’t announced any specific participation in airstrikes, but President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told the AP that Egypt is “completely committed to giving support,” and will do “whatever is required” to support the coalition.
Israel is offering intelligence estimates and concrete intelligence to the U.S. on the Islamic State group as part of ongoing intelligence sharing between the two countries, an Israeli defense official said. But, he added, Israel wasn’t asked to contribute anything beyond that. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the issue. The prime minister’s office declined to comment.
Britain said that Tornado fighter bombers, supported by air-to-air refueling aircraft and signals intelligence, are operating over Iraq. Britain’s media has widely reported that six warplanes are on standby in Cyprus, but defense officials have declined to offer specific numbers. Ben Goodlad from IHS Jane’s has said that the Tornado jets offer the coalition enhanced capability to engage moving targets. Britain also has two weapons for long-range strikes: the Tornado’s Storm Shadow cruise missile and the submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missile, he said.
France has carried out airstrikes in Iraq on two occasions since joining the U.S.-led coalition on Sept. 19, firing laser-guided bombs from Rafale fighter planes upon munitions and military hardware stockpiles — first near northern Mosul, then on Thursday, near Fallujah. France is conducting the operations in Iraq from a French air base in the United Arab Emirates. The base, with about 750 French service personnel and six Rafales, is 1,700 kilometers (1,050 miles) from Mosul, meaning that the planes need refueling in flight to strike in Iraq.
An Australian air force contingent, including eight F/A-18 Hornet jet fighters and two support aircraft, has arrived in the United Arab Emirates. About 600 troops — most of them air force personnel — are being deployed with the aircraft. The jets are expected to be used in airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq, although the Australian government has yet to commit to a combat role.
Six F-16 multirole fighters and a contingent of 120 support staff, including eight pilots, to be based in Jordan. Authorized to take part in operations over Iraq for one month, subject to extension if approved by the Belgian government.
Denmark has pledged seven F-16 fighter jets — four operational planes and three reserve jets along with pilots and support staff for 12 months. The U.S. also has asked Danes to provide military trainers to Iraq to school Iraqi and Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State group on the ground. Denmark has already contributed a transport plane with personnel to a U.S.-led humanitarian operation in northern Iraq.
Canada has contributed about 70 special operations soldiers to offer instruction to Kurdish forces battling Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. Early this week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Cabinet will be considering a U.S. request to support airstrikes against Islamic State forces. This could include five to eight CF-18 fighter aircraft as well as tanker aircraft. Canada has already contributed two military cargo planes that carried weapons to Kurdish fighters.
Germany isn’t participating in any airstrikes against the Islamic State group. They have sent weapons to Kurdish fighters in Irbil, and a group of Kurdish peshmerga fighters arrived in Germany to receive weapons’ training here by the German army. There’s also German military in Irbil to train the peshmerga fighters in Irbil.
Greece is participating with humanitarian aid and by sending ammunition for Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State group. They haven’t specified any more details on quantities or type of humanitarian aid.
Georgia will be providing humanitarian assistance, not military aid, according to comments made by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Thursday to local news websites.
Hungary has promised to send 15 types of ammunition totaling nearly 6 million units to Iraqi Kurds. Most of the ammunition, 4.1 million cartridges, was the M43 type for the AK-47 assault rifle.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta said his country would offer “logistic, operational and humanitarian” support to the coalition, but not troops. He provided no details of the assistance.
Poland supports the coalition against the Islamic State, but is not actively engaged in combat.
Sergei Lavrov says situation in Ukraine is improving and recalls ‘reset’ phrase used by Washington at start of Obama presidency.
Reuters in Moscow.
Russian minister for foreign affairs, Sergei Lavrov, speaks at the UN general assembly. Photograph: UPI /Landov / Barcroft Media/UPI /Landov / Barcroft Media.
Moscow called on Sunday for a new “reset 2.0” in relations with Washington, saying the situation in Ukraine that had led to western sanctions against Russia was improving thanks to Kremlin peace initiatives.
Washington and Brussels accuse Moscow of supporting a pro-Russia rebellion in east Ukraine and have imposed sanctions, which they have repeatedly tightened since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March.
The conflict has brought relations between Moscow and the west to their lowest level since the end of the cold war. President Barack Obama said last week that the sanctions could be lifted if Russia takes the path of peace and diplomacy.
In television interviews on Sunday Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who on Saturday made critical remarks about US, western and Nato attitudes to Russia in a speech at the United Nations in New York, said it was time to repeat the “reset”, a word Washington used to describe an attempt to mend ties early in Obama’s presidency.
But he also repeated criticisms of Nato’s “cold war mentality”, criticised Washington for excluding Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad from its campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria, and said Washington “can no longer act as the prosecutor, the judge, and the executioner in every part of the world”.
“We are absolutely interested in bringing the ties to normal but it was not us who destroyed them. Now they require what the American would probably call a ‘reset’,” Lavrov said, according to a transcript of one interview on his ministry’s website.
“The current US administration is destroying today much of the cooperation structure that it created itself along with us. Most likely, something more will come up – a reset No2 or a reset 2.0,” he told Russia’s Channel 5 television.
Shortly after Obama took office in 2009, his then secretary of state Hilary Clinton presented Lavrov with a red “reset” button that was intended to signal a fresh start to relations that had been strained under Obama’s predecessor George W Bush. In a diplomatic gaffe much mocked at the time, the button bore a Russian label that said “overload” instead of “reset”; the two words are similar in Russian.
Lavrov said that thanks to “initiatives of the Russian president”, the situation was improving on the ground in Ukraine, where a ceasefire has been in place for several weeks. The 5 September truce is largely holding, though some fighting has continued in places including the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
“The ceasefire is taking shape, though of course not without problems. Monitoring mechanisms have been introduced, talks between Russia, the European Union and Ukraine have started, gas talks have restarted,” Lavrov said.
Western countries say thousands of Russian troops have fought in Ukraine and accuse Moscow of sending weapons, including a surface-to-air missile used to shoot down a Malaysian airliner over rebel-held territory in July. Moscow denies participating in the conflict or arming the rebels.
Speaking to Russia’s state-funded international broadcaster, RT, Lavrov said “Nato still has the cold war mentality”, and said Moscow needed to modernise its conventional and nuclear arms, though he denied this would lead to “a new arms race”.
Lavrov also repeated Russian criticism of the US-led air campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria, accusing Washington of a “double standard” for refusing to cooperate with Syrian president Assad. Washington has repeatedly called for Assad’s dismissal and backed some of the rebels fighting to topple him since early 2011.
“There’s no room for petty grievances in politics,” Lavrov told RT. “I very much hope that the United States will finally … realise that they can no longer act as the prosecutor, the judge, and the executioner in every part of the world and that they need to cooperate to resolve issues.”
Lavrov said that despite the Western sanctions, Russia did not feel isolated on the world stage. Moscow has responded to the sanctions by banning most Western food imports.
“We feel no isolation. But, having said that, I want to emphasise in particular that we do not want to go to extremes and abandon the European and American directions in our foreign economic cooperation,” Lavrov told Channel 5.
“We have no desire to continue a sanctions war, trading blows,” Lavrov also said. “First of all, it is important that our partners understand the futility of ultimatums and threats.”