|September 24, 2014 | 1134 GMT|
The U.S. army is preparing to deploy a division headquarters to Iraq, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said, Army Times reported Sept. 24. Division headquarters are composed of 100 to 500 soldiers, and that deployed to Iraq will be responsible for coordinating the efforts of the 1,600 troops that have been sent to the country for advising and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces. It will also provide extra security, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
The United States, joined by five Arab allies, launched an intense campaign of airstrikes, bombings and cruise-missile attacks against the Islamic State and another militant group in Syria Monday night – marking the first U.S. military intervention in Syria since the start of that country’s civil war in 2011.
U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said in a statement released early Tuesday that 14 Islamic State targets were hit, including the group’s fighters, training camps, headquarters and command-and-control facilities, and armed vehicles. The operation involved a combination of fighter jets, bombers, Predator drones and Tomahawk missiles launched from the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.
“We’re going to do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group,” President Obama said Tuesday, before traveling to New York for meetings at the U.N. He cautioned that the effort “will take time.”
Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the operation as “the beginnings of a sustained campaign.” The strikes in Syria “destroyed or damaged” multiple targets, according to the U.S. military, which reported “all aircraft safely exited the strike areas.”
The mission was not limited to hitting Islamic State positions. Centcom said that U.S. aircraft also struck eight targets associated with another terrorist group called the Khorasan Group, made of up Al Qaeda veterans. Those strikes, near the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo, targeted training camps, a munitions production facility, a communication building and command-and-control facilities.
Centcom said the Khorasan Group was involved in “imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests.”
The military strikes come less than two weeks after Obama, on Sept. 10, authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria as part of a broad campaign to root out the militants. The strikes ostensibly put the United States, for now, on the same side as Bashar Assad, the Syrian strongman whose ouster Obama once sought — though the Assad regime was not involved in Monday’s strikes.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry told the Associated Press that the U.S. informed Syria’s envoy to the U.N. that “strikes will be launched against the terrorist Daesh group in Raqqa.” The statement used an Arabic name to refer to the Islamic State group, which is more commonly known as ISIS or ISIL.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki made clear in a statement Tuesday that the U.S. “did not request the regime’s permission” and had warned the Syrian government “not to engage U.S. aircraft.”
“We did not coordinate our actions with the Syrian government,” she said.
U.S. officials said that the airstrikes began around 8:30 p.m. ET, and were conducted by the U.S., Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. The first wave of strikes finished about 90 minutes later, though the operation was expected to have lasted several hours.
“We believe we hit, largely, everything we were aiming at,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told Fox News. Kirby said the military made the decision to strike early Monday.
The operation involved 47 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles launched from the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea. Officials told Fox News that B-1 bombers, F-16 and F-18 fighters, and Predator drones were also used. The F-18s flew missions off the USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf.
Obama, in announcing plans for an expanded campaign against ISIS earlier this month, said: “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.”
The following day, at a conference with Secretary of State John Kerry, key Arab allies promised they would “do their share” to fight the Islamic State militants. The Obama administration, which at a NATO meeting in Wales earlier this month also got commitments from European allies as well as Canada and Australia, has insisted that the fight against the Islamic State militants could not be the United States’ fight alone.
Until now, U.S. airstrikes have been limited to specific missions in northern Iraq, where 194 missions have been launched since August 8. Lawmakers and military advisers, though, had stressed for weeks that any campaign against the Islamic State would have to include action in Syria, where the militant network is based.
“To defeat ISIS, we must cut off the head of the snake, which exists in Syria,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement late Monday. “I support the administration’s move to conduct airstrikes against ISIS wherever it exists.”
A senior official told Fox News that Obama was briefed by military officials on the operation throughout the night. Earlier in the evening, the president spoke to House Speaker John Boeher, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. A White House official also updated House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on the progress of the airstrikes.
Because the United States had stayed out of the Syria conflict for so long, the Obama administration had spent the last several weeks scrambling to gather intelligence about possible targets in Syria, launching surveillance missions over the country last month.
Syrian activists reported several airstrikes on militant targets in the northern city of Raqqa, ISIS’s main base. One Raqqa-based activist, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AP that the airstrikes lit the night sky over the city, and reported a power cut that lasted for two hours.
The head of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group, Hadi Bahra, welcomed the commencement of airstrikes in Syria.
“Tonight, the international community has joined our fight against ISIS in Syria,” he said in a statement. “We have called for airstrikes such as those that commenced tonight with a heavy heart and deep concern, as these strikes begin in our own homeland. We insist that utmost care is taken to avoid civilian casualties.”
Centcom said that other airstrikes hit ISIS targets near the Syrian cities of Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal. Also, the U.S. carried out four airstrikes against ISIS in northern Iraq, southwest of the city of Kirkuk.
Military leaders have said about two-thirds of the estimated 31,000 Islamic State militants were in Syria.
Some officials have expressed concern that going after Islamic State militants in Syria could inadvertently help Assad, since the militants are fighting in part to overthrow Assad.
Urged on by the White House and U.S. defense and military officials, Congress passed legislation late last week authorizing the military to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. Obama signed the bill into law Friday, providing $500 million for the U.S. to train about 5,000 rebels over the next year.
The militant group, meanwhile, has threatened retribution. Its spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said in a 42-minute audio statement released Sunday that the fighters were ready to battle the U.S.-led military coalition and called for attacks at home and abroad.
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin, Justin Fishel, Ed Henry, Chad Pergram and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
A salvo of 47 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, fired from U.S. destroyers in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, preceded United States-led airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, Sept. 22. The initial operation was conducted without a Western ally, although heavily supported by allied Arab air force assets, reportedly from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and Qatar — composing the largest combined Arab mission since the first Persian Gulf War. Shortly after the operation began, Israel downed a Syrian Sukhoi Su-24 jet fighter which it alleged violated its airspace over the Golan Heights. It was not clear if the shooting down of the jet, by an Israeli Patriot missile, was coordinated in any way with the U.S. strikes on Syria.
Operationally, the participation of numerous Gulf Arab countries (especially Jordan) greatly relieves the U.S. effort in Syria. Turkey has been largely unwilling to commit forces or to allow the United States access to its air bases for manned combat operations over Syria, limiting the United States to its air bases around the Persian Gulf. The active participation of Jordan allows for the potential use of forward operating bases on the Syrian border, the staging of combat search and rescue assets required to rescue pilots having ejected over Syria, and secondary airfields for landing aircraft with mechanical problems en route from their bases in the Persian Gulf. The active participation of a number of Arab countries with a total inventory of hundreds of advanced aircraft also enhances the overall capacity of the force amassed against the Islamic State.
The United States insists that no permission was sought from the Syrian regime for the airstrikes. In an attempt to avoid hostility between Syrian regime air defense assets and coalition aircraft, however, the United States has very likely initiated what is referred to as a de-conflicting process, in which prior warning would have been given to the regime in Damascus. In fact, Syrian state media reported shortly after the strikes began that warning of the attacks had been given to Syria’s permanent envoy to the United Nations.
The de-conflicting process will be significantly aided by the fact that the bulk of the Islamic State presence in Syria is located away from core regime positions in the west of the country. This ensures minimal contact between regime air defense assets and coalition aircraft, while the availability of airbases in Jordan and the Persian Gulf allows forces to avoid transit routes from the Mediterranean across heavy air defense zones in western Syria. The United States and its allies will be monitoring Syrian military forces very carefully, especially given the high tempo of Syrian air operations over eastern Syria in the last few months. For operations too close to regime surface-to-air missile batteries, the United States could elect to rely on more survivable stealth aircraft such as the F-22, which are reportedly already engaged in the Syrian strikes. If the United States makes such a choice, it will be the first time the F-22 Raptor is used operationally in a ground attack role.
Setting the Conditions
While not amounting to a full-scale “shock and awe” campaign such as those waged during the Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War, the first wave of airstrikes occurred almost simultaneously across multiple points in Syria in order to maximize the effect of tactical surprise. The bulk of the air and missile strikes appeared to be concentrated in and around the city of Raqqa, which is the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital. Targets were hit across the country included Aleppo, Hassakah, Deir el-Zour and Abu Kamal. Scores of Jihadist positions were engaged, including command headquarters, supply depots, training camps, armed vehicles, supply trucks, former army bases seized by the group and logistical hubs close to the Iraqi border.
In an interesting expansion of the U.S. campaign against Jihadists in the Middle East, coalition aircraft reportedly also struck facilities used by a non-Islamic State affiliated jihadist group in Syria known as the Khorasan group. The group is reportedly led by Muhsin al-Fadhli and is directly linked to the al Qaeda core in Pakistan.
For weeks prior to the current airstrikes, the United States had been constantly flying intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance flights over Syria, mapping out the militant group’s layout, structure and capabilities. These reconnaissance flights would have been critical in drawing up a list of potential Islamic State sites from which current targets could be allocated.
While air and missile strikes alone will not destroy or even comprehensively degrade the Islamic State in Syria, they will seriously degrade its ability to mass forces for offensive operations, hurt its financing and logistical efforts and aid local anti-Islamic State forces in their attacks against the group. Ultimately, the Islamic State will increasingly find itself on the defensive in Syria, especially as it receives pressure from multiple directions and its many enemies in Syria and Iraq. For the group to be defeated, however, a more comprehensive effort that extends beyond air power is needed. Local Sunni forces in Islamic State territory would need to turn against the group; the Islamic State’s resupply networks — including manpower and finances — would need to be shut off and indigenous forces, whether Syrian rebels in Syria or peshmerga and Iraqi forces in Iraq, would need to advance to reclaim territory from the group.
|September 23, 2014 | 1401 GMT|
Anonymous U.S. officials have said the United States will continue its airstrike campaign in Syria, Reuters reported Sept. 23. On Sept. 22, the United States led an Arab air force coalition against the Islamic State in Syria. The operation reportedly killed at least 70 Islamic State militants. U.S. President Barack Obama is set to address the situation at 10:00 a.m. ET.
|September 17, 2014 | 0051 GMT|
A rumor is circulating in Kurdish media that Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party has unilaterally decided to terminate its alliance with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Originating in an Arbil-based BasNews report citing unnamed sources close to Barzani’s party, the rumor has not been confirmed. However, tensions between the parties are already obvious. Internal complications are growing and Iran and Turkey are vying for influence in Iraqi Kurdistan, returning the Kurdish factions to a familiar state of rivalry.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party was founded in 1946. Barzani’s father, Mustafa, led the party from 1949 to 1979, and the younger Barzani has served as the party’s president ever since. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan was founded in 1976. Jalal Talabani, the former Iraqi prime minister, leads the party and was one of its founding members. The Talabanis and Barzanis, based in Sulaimaniyah and Arbil, respectively, are two of Iraqi Kurdistan’s preeminent families. Their competition for leadership of Iraq’s Kurdish population reflects the linguistic and cultural divisions still present in Iraqi Kurdistan and has provided ample opportunities for neighboring Turkey and Iran to back different sides of this ongoing rift.
Realizing Iraqi Kurdistan’s energy potential, the unique opportunity afforded by having an (albeit temporary) U.S. shield in Iraq and the danger of returning to the level of competition that pitted the parties against each other in a civil war just a decade earlier, the parties signed a power-sharing agreement in 2005. However, Stratfor has regarded this period of Kurdish unity as highly anomalous. Amid growing internal and external pressures, it became inevitable that the Kurdish fault line would not only become active again but also threaten the unity that many energy investors and outside observers have taken for granted.
Reasons for the Split
Several factors are behind the widening split. First, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is undergoing a leadership crisis in the absence of Talabani, its ailing leader, just as the Goran movement is on the rise at the expense of Talabani’s party, in part because of the quiet support of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party. Next, an economic crisis is growing in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Islamic State is creating a security crisis in the region. Finally, Iraqi Kurdistan is feeling the effects of the growing regional competition between Turkey, which is aligned with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and Iran, which has a closer relationship with both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Goran movement.
All these issues have intensified greatly in recent weeks. Fuel shortages in the region have driven protests throughout Iraqi Kurdistan — protests that both factions accuse the other of encouraging. Militant control and sabotage of major refineries are exacerbating the shortages, but so is high-level corruption in which political officials make more money smuggling crude oil across the border to Iran than refining and selling subsidized fuel to Kurdish consumers.
Furthermore, the Kurdistan Democratic Party has maintained a hard line in negotiations with Baghdad, despite the economic pain caused by the central government’s failure to provide its $1 billion monthly budget allocation to Iraqi Kurdistan. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan officials have publicly criticized the Barzani faction’s policies, which advocate an independent Kurdistan under Turkey’s shadow, appealing instead for a more pragmatic approach with Baghdad.
On the security front, the divisions run just as deep. The peshmerga, also split between the two parties despite nominally answering to Barzani as commander-in-chief, has been feuding over failures and successes in its fight against the Islamic State. When peshmerga forces filled a security vacuum in oil-rich Kirkuk in June, the Barzani and Talabani parties fought over whose peshmerga forces would secure the oil formations. Such infighting will only intensify if Kirkuk continues to destabilize in the coming weeks and months. Both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party want to ensure they can keep a tight grip over Kirkuk’s oil (and smuggling schemes). Meanwhile, Kirkuk Gov. Najmaddin Karim is entertaining proposals to make Kirkuk its own autonomous region.
The Split Beyond Iraqi Kurdistan
The parties’ rivalry is also a function of Iranian-Turkish competition in the region. Iran and its Shiite representatives in Baghdad are already coordinating with peshmerga and officials from both parties, making clear that security cooperation against the Islamic State comes with a price: Working with Baghdad means ending the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Turkish-backed bid for energy independence and renegotiating the status of Kirkuk in the disputed territories. With the Barzani and Talabani parties moving in opposite directions on this policy, and with the Goran movement easily played by multiple sides, distrust between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan will naturally deepen.
Even if the Kurdistan Regional Government tries to gloss over these rumors and reassure investors that a formal split is not underway, the divisions are already apparent and growing. This will have significant implications for security in the region, even as the United States struggles to patch together a coalition of local ground forces to support its air campaign against the Islamic State. For those energy firms that have ventured into Iraqi Kurdistan’s disputed regions, such as Kirkuk, the complications in operations will only increase as the Barzani and Talabani factions compete for control of resources. Meanwhile, Turkey, Iran, Baghdad and even local jihadists can be expected to exploit the Kurdish rift as all parties seek to limit Kurdish autonomy while competing on multiple levels.
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Vietnam’s Geographic Challenge
|September 18, 2014 | 2050 GMT|
|Stratfor examines Vietnam’s struggle to unite its dual cores and preserve geographic buffer space against China.|
Vietnam is located on the easternmost edge of the Indochinese Peninsula, with China to the north and Laos and Cambodia to the west. Its more than 2,000 mile-long coastline abuts the Gulf of Tonkin, the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. These seas create both direct access to the wider Pacific Ocean and a critical buffer to Vietnam’s long and narrow land territory.
Modern Vietnam consists of two geographic and population cores – the Red River Delta in the north, home to the capital of Hanoi, and the Mekong River Delta in the southern lowlands, where Ho Chi Minh City sits. These cores are separated by over 1,600 miles and connected by a thin and largely mountainous coastal spine, only around 30 miles wide at its narrowest point.
Despite mountains and jungles, the northern Vietnamese core has a long history of invasion by forces from China. This almost continuous pressure from the north in part forced Vietnam’s early rulers to expand the country’s boundaries, first southward, to the Mekong River Delta, and then westward, into present day Laos and Cambodia.
Historically and today, the natural geographic separation of Vietnam’s northern and southern cores has exacerbated the two regions’ social, cultural and political divide – leaving the country vulnerable to invasion by foreign powers, whether Chinese, French or American.
Vietnam’s primary geographic challenge is to secure buffer space both on land and sea. Today, Vietnam’s need for space and security in the South China Seas pits it against China, also in the throes of maritime expansion, thus adding a new dimension to Vietnam’s longstanding struggle to carve space for itself against its larger northern neighbor.
|September 17, 2014 | 1940 GMT|
U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed his stance against sending combat troops to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq in a Sept. 17 speech at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Bay, Fla., The Tampa Bay Times reported. President Obama said that the United States will rely on contributions from allies in the region and now has a coalition of over 40 countries offering support.
The Formation of National Strategy
The Islamic State’s Role
Forming a New Balance in the Region
|September 12, 2014 | 1524 GMT|
During an Aug. 22 speech at the U.S. Federal Reserve’s annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi laid out the framework for a new plan to raise inflation and promote sustainable growth in Europe. He also implied that the austerity measures imposed during the European crisis have been ineffective. The idea behind austerity, which Germany strongly supported, was that tight restrictions on fiscal policy would reduce debt, and that low debt would in turn facilitate growth. Draghi’s speech seemed to align with an alternative view from southern Europe, which sees economic malaise as a byproduct of a lack of demand and not a preponderance of debt.
The departure may not be as radical as it first appears. For the past two years, the European Central Bank has been forced to take more unorthodox measures to counter dangerously low inflation rates — rates that are actually nearing deflation, which wrecks countries with high levels of debt. The prospect of even looser fiscal policies in the eurozone, such as higher taxes and spending, will worry Germany, which has a longstanding mistrust of eurozone largesse. However, Berlin would be even more hesitant to accept the other major option for stimulating demand: quantitative easing.
Another reason inflation is such a problem involves the relationships among eurozone members. The eurozone inflation rate has been dropping steadily ever since the euro crisis of 2012. Heavily indebted peripheral economies (France, Ireland, Italy and Spain) have a strong incentive to keep their inflation levels as high as possible, since high rates alleviate some of the pain of debt repayments.
Meanwhile, competitiveness relative to Germany has complicated the situation. Before the eurozone was created, countries became more competitive by devaluing their currency. But that was no longer possible once those countries entered a monetary union. Their only recourse was to keep inflation lower than that of the strongest country in the union: Germany, which keeps its unit costs extremely low largely through reforms undertaken at the beginning of the last decade. So as eurozone inflation fell, eurozone economies had a hard time remaining competitive without slipping into deflation. Now, very low inflation levels benefit no one, least of all the fragile economies that are trying to grow while managing their debt.