Tagged: Syria

Islamic State returning to insurgent roots as caliphate disappears

(CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) — After being nearly defeated on the battlefields of its would-be caliphate, the Islamic State group has reverted to what it was before its spectacular conquests in 2014, analysts say – a shadowy insurgent network that targets civilian populations with guerrilla-style attacks and exploits state weaknesses to incite sectarian strife.

In Iraq and Syria, hardly a week goes by without the group staging an attack on a town or village, keeping its opponents on edge even as it fights US-backed forces advancing on the last remaining slice of territory under its control near the countries’ shared border.

Hisham al-Hashimi, an IS expert who advises the Iraqi government, said the group now operates like it did in 2010, before its rise in Iraq, which culminated four years later with the militants seizing one of Iraq’s biggest cities, Mosul, and also claiming the city of Raqqa in Syria and declaring an Islamic caliphate across large areas of both countries.

Mr. Al-Hashimi said the world’s most dangerous insurgent group is trying to prove that despite losing its territorial hold, “it still has long arms to strike.”

While it fends off attacks on its remaining pockets in Syria, a recent surge in false claims of responsibility for attacks also signals that the group is struggling to stay relevant after losing its proto-state and its dominance on the international news agenda. The main figures behind the group’s once sleek propaganda machine have mostly been killed. Raqqa fell a year ago this month, and the group has lost all but 2 percent of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria.

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ISIS take 700 refugees hostage as US keeps ‘imitating’ fighting terrorists in Syria

(RT) — Islamic State terrorists have attacked a refugee camp in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province and took hundreds of people hostage, while the US and its allied armed groups looked away, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The brazen assault on the El Bahra refugee camp took place on Saturday and saw “130 families of about 700 people” abducted and taken away to Hajin, the head of the Russian Reconciliation Center, Major General Vladimir Savchenko, said in a statement.

“The kidnapped civilians… can be used by terrorists as a ‘human shield’” to protect them from the possible advance of the US-backed Syrian democratic forces, he said.
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The town of Hajin, where the people were taken, is located in the 20-kilometer area along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River currently controlled by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. IS has managed to maintain control of such large territory in Deir ez-Zor as a result of “inaction of the US-backed armed units,” Savchenko emphasized.

“The US-led coalition and the Pentagon-controlled Kurdish forces continue to imitate the fight against Islamic State in the south of Deir ez-Zor province,” without making actual steps to eradicate the terrorists, he said.

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ISIS’s Second Resurgence

(Institute for the Study of War) — The Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) is reconstituting a capable insurgent force in Iraq and Syria despite efforts to prevent its recovery by the U.S. Anti-ISIS Coalition. The U.S. Department of Defense stated in August 2018 that ISIS retains nearly 30,000 fighters across Iraq and Syria and is “more capable” than Al-Qaeda in Iraq – ISIS’s predecessor – at its peak in 2006 – 2007. ISIS is waging an effective campaign to reestablish durable support zones while raising funds and rebuilding command-and-control over its remnant forces. On its current trajectory, ISIS could regain sufficient strength to mount a renewed insurgency that once again threatens to overmatch local security forces in both Iraq and Syria. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) is issuing a map update depicting ISIS’s current operating areas based on an analysis of its activity from January 1, 2018 to October 1, 2018.

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Former ISIS Fighter: Islamic State Will Return With More Rigid Ideology

(OANN) — A former ISIS fighter issues a warning to the U.S. the ideology of the Islamic State will not go away.

Thursday, a Belgian man claiming to be one of the first foreign members of ISIS, gave an interview from a terrorist prison in Syria.

He warned of continued plots and splinter groups that will arise from the now defeated Muslim caliphate in Syria.

He said fighters were already planning to organize break away terror groups before the fall of Raqqa.

Reports show, many displaced ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq are now moving to areas of the Philippines, where one in five residents are Muslim.

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Middle East expert: “Regional empire building” spurred Iran’s involvement in Syria

(THE TOWER) — In a conference call with The Israel Project on Tuesday, Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a Middle East journalist and analyst, said that Syria has “become a subcontractor for the ambitions of outside powers,” notably the Islamic Republic of Iran. Spyer explained that Iran’s involvement in Syria is a key part of its “regional empire building program,” which it views to be of “critical importance.”

Dr. Spyer said the Syrian uprising against Assad was now “without any hope” of success. But “in the moment of victory,” the Assad regime, rather than being victorious and strong, “was absolutely depended for its victory and continued existence on its patrons, Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

He also addressed the emerging conflict between Israel and Iran in southwest Syria. Dr. Spyer said Iran “played a crucial role in the preservation of the Assad regime, now seeking to push its project westwards towards the Golan Heights.” Israel, meanwhile, is “determined to stop that process in its tracks.”

Elaborating further on Iran’s role in the region, Dr. Spyer stated that the JCPOA, the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers agreed to in 2015, played a significant role in cementing Iran’s totalitarian and hegemonic agenda in the Middle East.

The million-dollar windfall from sanctions relief “strengthened and broadened the Iranian hand.” However, Dr. Spyer insisted, even before the deal was signed “Iran still managed to find billions of dollars to prop up the Assad regime in Syria, to finance the Shiite militias in Iraq, and the uprising of the Houthi movement in Yemen.”

In his view, it is testimony that “the regional empire building program is of such critical importance to the Iranian regime that, even when sanctions were having visible effects on the living standard of the Iranian people,” the Iranian leadership set aside billions for its military expansionism.

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US intelligence official: Gains against IS in Iraq, Syria fragile

(VOA) — The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State has been able to decimate the terror group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria but these gains could be easily undercut by continued instability, a U.S. intelligence official warned Tuesday.

“In the near term, I worry about a loss of gains in Syria and Iraq,” David Cattler, of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Tuesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done there,” he said.

The Islamic State terror group has lost thousands of fighters and has been expelled from more than 98 percent of territory it held for over three years in Iraq and Syria.

Last year the group was pushed out of its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa in Syria and declared defeated in Iraq.

Now the coalition is helping the Syrian Democratic Forces to finish off IS remnants in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

IS global ideology

Cattler said IS ideology continues to resonate globally as it tries to adjust to the losses in the region.

In Syria, he warned that gains are threatened by increased complexity in the battlefield where allies and enemies compete for influence.

“The United States, Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia are all combating ISIS. We are fighting the same enemy as our adversaries. As such, they too will likely reap the benefits of a ‘peace dividend,’” Cattler said.

Meanwhile, Turkey and the Kurds, both U.S. allies, have turned on each other, thereby diverting attention from IS, he added.
Displaced Iraqi people are seen at the Amriyat al Fallujah camp in Anbar Province, Iraq Jan. 3, 2018.
Displaced Iraqi people are seen at the Amriyat al Fallujah camp in Anbar Province, Iraq Jan. 3, 2018.

Sunni Shiite dynamics

In Iraq, he said, gains are endangered by increased political instability fueled by reconstruction challenges and lack of trust between Sunni residents and the Shiite-dominated central government.

“Even if these do not lead to the group’s resurgence, fears of reprisals and Sunni grievances due to political marginalization, discrimination, and delays in reconstruction may hamper the reconciliation necessary for a sustained peace, which is a key U.S. objective,” he said.

Islamic State is believed to have exploited Sunni fears of Shiite domination to seize large swaths of predominantly Sunni regions in 2014. Sunni leaders have already accused the Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces of committing crimes in Sunni areas retaken from IS and have asked for the disbanding of the group.

But the Shiite leaders reject those claims and say the group needs to be given an institutionalized role as an effective fighting force to prevent the re-emergence of IS.

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GLOBAL JIHAD What remains of ISIS’s global terror network? Map reveals fanatics still have strongholds in ‘safe havens’ all over the planet

(THE SUN) — SINCE declaring its self-styled caliphate in June 2014, ISIS has conducted or inspired hundreds of terror attacks around the world.

At the height of its powers it was feared the terror group had more than 80,000 jihadi fighters in Iraq and Syria alone.

And although it is now on the run in the middle east, security experts insist the group is still a major threat to global security.

With martyrdom a key factor of ISIS ideology many members still expect to die for the cause – and not just on the battlefield.

This is why so many have gone underground and formed “sleeper cells” in their countries of origin or other safe havens.

Now they lie in wait ready to stage attacks on locations around the world.

Here is what remains of the terror group’s deadly network…

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Iran, Israel battle openly in race to define ‘rules of the game’

(NBC NEWS) — The shift from covert attacks to open fighting between Iran and Israel illustrates that the regime in Tehran feels emboldened enough to confront and provoke its enemy, according to analysts.

Last weekend’s clashes involving an Iranian drone launched from Syria, a downed Israeli jet and retaliatory airstrikes may also signal a new and intensified period of conflict, experts warn.

Fighting between Iran and Israel had until now been conducted furtively or through proxies — such as Tehran-backed Lebanese militant group and political party, Hezbollah.

Saturday’s confrontation signals “a different level of self confidence in Tehran and Damascus in terms of them having the upper hand in Syria,” said Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

He said Iran, Israel and Syria would likely continue to test each other’s boundaries as each tries to “define the new rules of the game.”

The back-and-forth attacks demonstrate how the conflict in Syria — what began as a civil war nearly seven years ago — has turned into a broader power contest with ramifications for the entire region.

The showdown began with Israel shooting down an Iranian reconnaissance drone that Israel claimed had entered its airspace. Israel retaliated for the incursion by striking the Iranian base in Syria from which the drone was operated. A Syrian anti-aircraft missile hit one of the attacking Israeli F-16 jets, which crashed on Israeli soil after the two pilots ejected; both survived, but one was seriously injured.

The incident culminated in the largest set of Israeli airstrikes against Syrian air defenses since the 1982 Lebanon War. The strikes also targeted several Iranian positions in Syria.

By downing Iran’s drone and attacking its sites in Syria, Israel signaled that it has little tolerance for a stronger Iranian presence on its northern border.

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Chinese troops arrive in Syria to fight Uyghur rebels

(JERUSALEM CENTER FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS) — By Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah

The Syrian conflict has an endless capability to surprise analysts as seemingly every other day a new element, unprecedented in the Syrian civil war, comes to the surface.

Such is the case with the arrival of the first Chinese Army special forces unit, “the Night Tigers,” to Syria’s Tartous port on the Mediterranean, according to reports in Arab media close to the Assad and Tehran regimes (the Al-Mayadeen TV channel).2

The Night Tigers were dispatched by Beijing to fight the Uyghurs, the Muslim Chinese ethnic group fighting with the rebel forces against the Assad regime.

According to these press reports, Beijing planned to send two units from the Special Operations Forces – the “Tigers of Siberia” and the “Night Tigers” – to assist Assad’s regime against Chinese Uyghurs fighting with radical Muslim organizations in Syria. However, unlike the news reporting about the arrival of the “Night Tigers,” no confirmation has been received yet on the second unit.

According to the Syrian ambassador to China, some 5,000 ethnic Uyghurs from China’s Xinjiang province are presently in Syria. President Assad stressed the “crucial cooperation” between Syria and Chinese intelligence against Uyghur militants last year. Following the visit of Chinese Admiral Guan Yufi mid-2016 to Syria, the Chinese military has been present in Syria to train Syrian forces on Chinese-made weapons, intelligence gathering, logistics, and field medicine.3

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria and Iraq, Uyghurs have flocked to the Middle East and joined the rebel forces fighting the Assad regime and the Iranian-backed Shiite regime in Iraq. The Uyghurs joined various jihadist militias, suchJabhat al-Nusra Front, Hayaat Tahrir el-Sham, as the and ISIS.

The first reports that Uyghurs returned home to Western China from Syria emerged in July 2013, revealing that Uyghurs were present in the combat areas long before. The Chinese government has alleged that “more than 1,000” Xinjiang separatists have received terrorist training in Afghanistan and claims to have arrested 100 foreign-trained terrorists who made their way back to Xinjiang.4

Fearing the irredentist currents provoked by the separatist Uyghurs and facing the increased violence in Xinjiang Province, the Chinese central government has pursued a policy meant to neutralize the separatist tendencies in that region of China.

It is obvious that the Chinese government has not succeeded in containing the Uyghur separatist threat in the Xinjiang province. The measures adopted against the Uyghurs have boomeranged to such an extent that more terrorist attacks occurred in the provinces and outside China since the end of 2016. Moreover, as reported in July 2016 by New America, a U.S. think tank, Chinese religious restrictions on Muslims in Xinjiang may have driven more than 100 to join ISIS.5

The attacks perpetrated by the Uyghurs follow almost the same patterns as those conducted by Islamic radicals (ISIS and others) in other places worldwide such as car-ramming, suicide bombers, and knife-wielding attackers. But, unlike other places on the globe, the attacks are not publicized by the Chinese government, which keeps a tight grip on the information. As a Reuters correspondent put it: “The government has delayed reporting some previous incidents in Xinjiang, and limits on foreign journalists working there make it almost impossible to reach an independent assessment of the region’s security.”6

The defeat of ISIS in Iraq and the recent successes of Assad’s troops in Syria against the rebels seem to have created a crisis to which Beijing is trying to find solution before hundreds of Uyghurs fighters return home after fighting in the ranks of the rebels, fully trained for guerrilla warfare. Their experience may have a great impact in the manner the separatist Uyghurs are waging their war today. Added to the latest Uyghur threats to“shed blood like rivers,”7 one can anticipate that the Uyghur problem has grown to a dimension unknown in the past.

With this in mind, these exceptional circumstances may have pushed Beijing to deploy its elite troops to Syria to contain the possible flow of Uyghur fighters back to China. In parallel and as a quid pro quo, Beijing has expressed to the Syrian regime its interest in participating in the reconstruction effort of Syria and its readiness to invest billions of dollars to that effect.8

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IDF spokesman: Iran exporting “toxic” ideologies around Middle East to achieve dominance

(THE TOWER) — In the latest episode of ‘Tipping Point’, The Israel Project’s weekly podcast, Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus, the new head of the international media branch at the IDF spokesperson’s unit, discussed the fragile situation on the Syrian border, the prospects of war with Hezbollah, and the significance of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

Addressing the situation in the region, Conricus warned that Iran is striving for hegemony and is on the verge of establishing a direct land corridor from Tehran through Baghdad to the Mediterranean, which would drastically change the security situation in the region.

“The aggressive export that Iran is doing of their specific brand of violent extremism and terrorism to many countries – to Lebanon through Hezbollah, to Syria through various proxies, to Yemen and other regions – it’s a pattern of exporting very toxic and dangerous ideologies around the Middle East, trying to achieve some kind of dominance,” he explained.

Conricus pointed out that Iranian and Israeli interests in Syria couldn’t be further apart, with one party trying to stabilize the situation and saving lives, and the other thriving on chaos and destruction. “It’s interesting to see the contrast of what Iran is doing in Syria and of what Israel is doing on the Golan Heights,” he said, adding “What the IDF is involved in is ‘Operation Good Neighbor’, providing humanitarian aid for more than a year and a half now. More than 3,000 Syrians have been given medical attention, sometimes even life-saving procedures by either Israeli military doctors or in hospitals.”

Moving on, Conricus addressed the prospect of a third Lebanon War. “Hezbollah is in clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701; they are stockpiling weapons in southern Lebanon,” he stated. Conricus continued, “They have their missiles and rockets, approximately 120,000 of those, within the civilian population in Lebanon and aiming their rockets at Israeli civilians, intentionally doing so in order to extort pressure on the Israeli leadership.”

The IDF spokesperson further accused the terrorist organization of war crimes. “In southern Lebanon, they have dug underneath houses, schools, hospitals, mosques, and U.N facilities, using them for military purposes, which is a violation of the law of armed conflict.”

Conricus said the IDF was ready to respond to all eventualities. “We are prepared for different scenarios,” he stressed. “There would be a very heavy price for any act of aggression, whether against the IDF, or, for sure, against civilians, and I think Hezbollah knows this. And I also think Hezbollah is aware of the price they would pay, if they were forced by their Iranian masters to attack Israel.”

But Conricus also acknowledged that Hezbollah is now a more formidable enemy. “For sure Hezbollah has evolved,” he admitted. “What we see today is that Hezbollah is accountable in Lebanon. They bear responsibility vis-à-vis the Lebanese population. They are part of government, they wield significant political power, they have the strongest military force inside Lebanon.” He added, “The bottom line is that Hezbollah has developed. They have become not only a terrorist organization, but an organization that is also political and that has civilian responsibilities.”

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