TIME Terrorism

ISIS Releases New Audio Message by Japanese Hostage

Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, Sajida al-Rishawi
An undated photograph of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, left, and a still image from video, right, of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for her involvement in a 2005 terrorist attack on a hotel that killed 60 people AP

The deadline has been extended

(BEIRUT) — ISIS released a message late Wednesday purportedly by Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, extending the deadline for Jordan’s release of an Iraqi would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida.

The audio was released as Jordan had offered a precedent-setting prisoner swap to ISIS in a desperate attempt to save a Jordanian air force pilot the militants purportedly threatened to kill, along with Goto.

The audio recording, in English, says the Jordanians must present Sajida al-Rishawi at the Turkish border by sunset Thursday, or Jordanian pilot Mu’as al-Kasaseabeh will be killed.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the recording which was distributed on Twitter by IS-affiliated accounts.

On Wednesday, the pilot’s father met with Jordan’s king who he said assured him that “everything will be fine.”

King Abdullah II faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home. However, meeting ISIS’s demand for the release of a would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida would run counter to the kingdom’s hardline approach to the extremists.

Efforts to release al-Kaseasbeh and Goto gained urgency with the release late Tuesday of a purported online ultimatum claiming ISIS would kill both hostages within 24 hours if the al-Qaida-linked prisoner was not freed.

The scope of a possible swap and of ISIS’s demands also remained unclear.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said Jordan is ready to trade the prisoner, an Iraqi woman convicted of involvement in deadly Amman hotel bombings in 2005, for the pilot. Al-Momani made no mention of Goto.

Any exchange would set a precedent for negotiating with ISIS militants, who in the past have not publicly demanded prisoner releases. Jordan’s main ally, the United States, opposes negotiations with extremists.

The release of al-Rishawi, the al-Qaida-linked prisoner, would also be a propaganda coup for the militants who have already overrun large parts of neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan is part of a U.S.-led military alliance that has carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Participation in the alliance is unpopular in Jordan, and the capture of the pilot has only exacerbated such sentiments, analysts said.

“Public opinion in Jordan is putting huge pressure on the government to negotiate with the Islamic State group,” said Marwan Shehadeh, a scholar with ties to ultra-conservative Islamic groups in Jordan. “If the government doesn’t make a serious effort to release him, the morale of the entire military will deteriorate and the public will lose trust in the political regime.”

The pilot’s family, meanwhile, is increasingly vocal in its criticism of the government.

Several dozen protesters gathered Wednesday outside King Abdullah’s palace in Amman, urging the government to do more to win the release of the pilot.

“Listen, Abdullah, the son of Jordan (the pilot) must be returned home,” the protesters chanted.

The pilot’s father, Safi al-Kasaesbeh, was part of the group and was allowed into the palace, along with his wife, to meet Abdullah.

“The king told me that Muath is like my son and God willing everything will be fine,” al-Kasaesbeh said afterward.

Earlier, he criticized the government’s handling of the crisis.

“I contacted the Turkish authorities after I found that the Jordanian government is not serious in the negotiations,” he told The Associated Press. “The government needs to work seriously, the way one would do to free a son, like the Japanese government does.”

Jordan reportedly is holding indirect talks with the militants through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the release of the hostages.

In his brief statement, al-Momani only said Jordan is willing to swap al-Rishawi for the pilot, but not if such an exchange is being arranged. Al-Rishawi was sentenced to death for her involvement in the al-Qaida attack on hotels in Amman that killed 60 people.

In Tokyo, Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, appealed publicly to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Please save Kenji’s life,” Ishido said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian government until the very end to try to save Goto.

“Kenji has only a little time left,” she said in a plea read to reporters. Ishido said both Abe and Japan’s main government spokesman had declined to meet with her.

Abe on Thursday did not make any direct reference to the latest video but reiterated his condemnation of the ISIS hostage-taking.

“The heinous terrorist act is totally unforgivable,” he said in Parliament in response to a ruling party lawmaker’s question.

Later, a few dozen people gathered outside the prime minister’s official residence, holding banners expressing hopes for Goto’s release. “I have been trying to keep my hopes up and believe that Mr. Goto will return. I have this faith within me,” said Seigo Maeda, 46, a friend of Goto.

The militants reportedly have killed a Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and the crisis has stunned Japan.

Muath al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. He is the first foreign military pilot the militants have captured since the coalition began its airstrikes in August.

This is the first time the group has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages. Previous captives may have been freed in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was captured in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage last summer.

ISIS broke with al-Qaida’s central leadership in 2013 and has clashed with its Syrian branch, but it reveres the global terror network’s former Iraqi affiliate, which battled U.S. forces and claimed the 2005 Amman attack.

TIME Iraq

Angelina Jolie Left ‘Speechless’ After Visit to Iraqi Refugee Camp

'I have seen nothing like the suffering I’m witnessing now,' she writes in the New York Times

Angelina Jolie has written a searing account of her visit to an Iraqi refugee camp earlier this week, urging world leaders in a Tuesday op-ed to scale up relief efforts and do more to broker a ceasefire agreement in Syria.

“I have seen nothing like the suffering I’m witnessing now,” Jolie wrote in the New York Times. The accounts by displaced people from Iraq and Syria of rape, abductions and kidnappings left her “speechless,” Jolie wrote.

She goes on to recount individual stories of abuse that she said exceeded the brutality of accounts she had heard heard on four previous visits to Iraq as the special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Only an end to the war in Syria will begin to turn the tide on these problems,” she wrote. “Without that, we are just tinkering at the edges.”

Read more at the New York Times.

TIME Iraq

Japan’s Abe Calls Latest Hostage Deadline ‘Despicable’

PM Abe instructs ministers to work as one over hostage crisis
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with reporters on Jan. 28, 2015. Kyodo

Islamic State threatens to kill remaining Japanese hostage and a Jordanian pilot, which the Japanese PM calls "an extremely despicable act"

(TOKYO) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed outrage at the latest threat purportedly by Islamic State militants to kill a Japanese journalist, as secret talks in Jordan sought the release of the man and a Jordanian pilot also being held hostage.

The effort to free Japanese freelance reporter Kenji Goto and Jordanian Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh gained urgency with the release of an apparent ultimatum late Tuesday from the Islamic State group.

In the message, the extremists say the two hostages will be killed within 24 hours — late Wednesday night Japan time — unless Jordan frees Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for her involvement in a 2005 terrorist attack on a hotel that killed 60 people.

“This was an extremely despicable act and we feel strong indignation. We strongly condemn that,” Abe said. “While this is a tough situation, we remain unchanged in our stance of seeking help from the Jordanian government in securing the early release of Mr. Goto.”

A government spokesman, asked about the message, said there was no reason to believe the video was not authentic.

“I think the Jordanian government would respond on their own,” said Katsunobu Kato, a deputy chief cabinet secretary.

In Jordan, the pilot’s father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, beseeched the government “to meet the demands” of the Islamic State group.

“All people must know, from the head of the regime to everybody else, that the safety of Mu’ath means the stability of Jordan, and the death of Mu’ath means chaos in Jordan,” he told The Associated Press.

About 200 of the pilot’s relatives protested outside the prime minister’s office in the Jordanian capital of Amman, chanting anti-government slogans and urging that it meet the captors’ demands.

A member of Jordan’s parliament said the country was in indirect talks with the militants to secure the hostages’ release. Bassam Al-Manasseer, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, told Bloomberg News the negotiations are taking place through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq, adding that Jordan and Japan won’t negotiate directly with IS and won’t free al-Rishawi in exchange for Goto only.

A prisoner exchange would be contrary to the policy of Jordan’s main ally, the U.S., which opposes negotiating with extremists. Manaseer’s comments were the strongest suggestion yet that Japan and Jordan might be open to a prisoner exchange.

Japan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama was in Amman to coordinate hostage-release efforts with Jordan, but refused comment on details of the talks early Wednesday.

Goto’s mother expressed hope for his release, but also desperation.

“What has my child done wrong?” she said. “There’s no more time.”

The militants reportedly have beheaded one Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and the crisis has stunned Japan.

Although many in Japan are critical of the two men for going to Syria, Goto’s friends and supporters have launched a social media campaign calling for his release.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has protested his plight, demanding his release.

In the group’s blog, Henry Tricks, a correspondent for The Economist who met Goto while working in Japan, said the independent journalist “covers wars with a difference.”

“Instead of focusing on who is winning or losing, he tells the stories of ordinary people, especially children, who are forced to endure conflict and the horrors surrounding them,” he writes.

Tuesday’s video resembled a message released over the weekend showing a still photo of Goto holding what appeared to be a photo of Yukawa’s body. It withdrew a demand for $200 million in ransom for Goto and Yukawa made in an earlier message.

The AP could not independently verify any of the videos, and the latter two lack the logo of the Islamic State group’s al-Furqan media arm. But some militant websites affiliated with the Islamic State group referenced the latest video and posted links to it Tuesday.

The latest message condemns Jordan for not releasing al-Rishawi, saying that unless she is freed within 24 hours, the pilot, followed by Goto, will be killed. It says it is the group’s last message.

“I have only 24 hours left to live and the pilot has even less,” says the audio, purportedly from Goto.

Messages from other Western hostages held by the group have been read by the captives on camera and it is unclear why the group released only a recording and still picture.

Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed near the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa in December. He is the first foreign military pilot they have captured since a U.S.-led coalition that includes Jordan began its aerial campaign against the Islamic State group in August.

This is the first time that the group has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages. Previous captives may have been released in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was caught in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage last summer.

Securing the release of al-Rishawi would be a major propaganda coup for the Islamic State and would allow the group to reaffirm its links to al-Qaida in Iraq.

The mother of another Jordanian prisoner, Ziad al-Karboli, said her family was told the Islamic State group also wants his release as part of a swap, but it is unclear if that was related to a possible deal involving the Japanese hostage.

Al-Karboli, an aide to a former al-Qaida leader in Iraq, was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing a Jordanian citizen.

TIME Middle East

ISIS Still Strong Despite Major Defeat in Kobani

Kurdish people hold a picture of a fighter during a celebration rally near the Turkish-Syrian border at Suruc, Turkey on Jan. 27, 2015. The fighter was killed in battle with Islamic state militants in Kobani.
People hold a picture of a Kurdish fighter—killed during a battle with ISIS—during a celebration rally near the Turkish-Syrian border in Suruc, Turkey, on Jan. 27, 2015. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

ISIS boasted about their control of Kobani last year but despite being expelled from the town they still hold land and resources

Kurdish fighters may have declared victory in a 134-day battle for Kobani and described it as the beginning of the end for the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) but the group continues to hold large parts of both countries and the countryside that surrounds Kobani.

The loss of Kobani is certainly a setback for the jihadists, who first targeted the strategic crossing point between Syria and Turkey last year, long before the town took on symbolic status as a focus of resistance against the seemingly unstoppable insurgents.

With the support of air strikes by the U.S. and its allies, and the backing of Iraqi Kurdish armored troops who joined the fight in November, the Syrian Kurds gnawed away at ISIS positions to secure the last occupied pockets of a shattered town whose civilian population mostly fled months ago.

The victory, like the four-month battle that preceded it, is more symbolic than strategic. That was reflected in a statement from the local Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) militia. “The battle for Kobani was not only a fight between the YPG and Daesh [ISIS],” they declared. “It was a battle between humanity and barbarity, a battle between freedom and tyranny, it was a battle between all human values and the enemies of humanity.”

As much as it was a symbolic victory for the Kurds and their allies, it was a symbolic defeat for ISIS, which has depended on the “propaganda of the deed” — a combination of lightning military victories and brutal terrorism — to rally recruits and to cow both its enemies and the civilian populations that have fallen under its sway.

In October, ISIS posted a video report from Kobani featuring John Cantlie, the British journalist being held by hostage by ISIS. The video boasts of ISIS’ control over Kobani and the failure of any of their opponents to dislodge them. On Tuesday, after the fall of Kobani, rather than boast about controlling a town, ISIS was reduced to threatening to kill a Jordanian pilot and a Japanese journalist that it holds.

It is debatable, however, whether the loss of Kobani marks the beginning of the end for the jihadists, who still hold wide swathes of territory and major cities in both Syria and neighboring Iraq.

“ISIS is still well-entrenched in the areas it controls and still has access to human and other resources,” says Dlawer Ala’aldeen, president of the Middle East Research Institute in Erbil. “It’s not the beginning of the end in any schematic way.”

The positive news from the frontlines in Iraq is that ISIS has been contained and is no longer making territorial gains. Indeed it has lost ground to Kurdish and other Iraqi forces in marginal areas. “But ISIS is by no means reduced enough to retake the big cities,” Ala’aldeen tells TIME in a telephone interview from the Iraqi Kurdistan capital.

In the case of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city that was captured by ISIS last June, “I don’t believe there is an imminent plan to liberate it because the Iraqis in general are not ready to organize the support of the local population,” he says.

There was also little prospect of Kurdish forces going it alone against ISIS in Mosul without first winning over the local Sunni Arab population. “It would be extremely difficult to recapture Mosul and, above all, to retain it,” Ala’aldeen says.

Until ISIS thrust itself into the international consciousness with the capture of Mosul, the declaration of a caliphate, and the widely diffused photos and videos of its beheadings, the threat it posed was largely overlooked.

When shortly afterwards ISIS began an offensive in northern Syria, the autonomous Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria sought vainly for outside support to save Kobani, which was virtually unknown and marked on most maps under its Arabic name of Ain al-Arab.

Turkish and Western governments were suspicious of the nature of the local Kurdish regime, headed by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and linked to Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is designated a terrorist organisation by the U.S. State Department.

By October, the game was almost up for Kobani’s embattled defenders when an 11th-hour intervention by the U.S. and its allies saw the first of a campaign of air strikes that helped slowly turn the tide against ISIS. Washington and its partners decided that the risks of intervention outweighed the prospect of another ISIS propaganda coup.

The PYD and its militia, along with other Kurdish groups, launched a massive and effective propaganda campaign that mirrored and contrasted with that of ISIS. The Kurds promoted their struggle as one of freedom and democracy and specifically highlighted the role of unveiled women fighters as a symbol of egalitarian secularity in the face of the jihadists’ perceived misogyny. “Save Kobani” became an internationally popularized slogan in the anti-ISIS struggle and dozens of Western volunteers traveled to join the Kurds.

It was not just about symbols. ISIS lost close on 1,000 fighters, having been forced to draft in reinforcements to try to avert defeat. The Kurds lost more than 300, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an organisation that monitors events in Syria.

Kobani may not be the Kurdish Stalingrad, as some suggested at the height of the conflict. ISIS still hold the Kobani hinterland and the liberation of the town is not a strategic turning-point. But symbols are important in a war that will depend largely on undermining an image of ISIS invincibility which is popular among some of the local population and foreign sympathizers.

TIME Terrorism

Failed Iraqi Bomber Named in Islamic State Hostage Crisis

Sajida al-Rishawi
In this Nov. 13, 2005 file photo, Iraqi Sajida al-Rishawi, confesses on Jordanian stat- run TV about her failed bid to set off an explosives belt inside one of the three Amman hotels targeted by al-Qaeda. Jordanian TV/AP

The woman the Islamic State wants in exchange for Japanese hostage Kenji Goto is Iraqi citizen Sajida al-Rishawi

(BEIRUT) — In the moments after her husband blew himself up in the ballroom of a Jordanian hotel as part of an al-Qaida plot, Sajida al-Rishawi fled the scene of chaos wearing her own explosive belt.

The 2005 assault on three hotels in Amman, the worst terror attack in Jordan’s history, killed 60 people. Al-Rishawi, an Iraqi, was sentenced to death. But now, almost a decade later, she has emerged as a potential bargaining chip in negotiations over Japanese hostages held by the Islamic State group, a breakaway group from al-Qaida in Iraq that orchestrated the Jordan attack.

The Islamic State group last week threatened to kill Kenji Goto, a 47-year-old journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, a 42-year-old adventurer fascinated by war, unless it received a $200 million ransom.

On Saturday, a day after a 72-hour deadline for the ransom passed, an online message purportedly issued on behalf of the Islamic State group claimed Yukawa had been beheaded and demanded the release of al-Rishawi, 44.

“They no longer want money,” the message said. “So you don’t need to worry about funding terrorists. They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister Sajida al-Rishawi.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told national broadcaster NHK on Sunday that the online message likely was authentic, though he said the government still was reviewing it. U.S. President Barack Obama later called Abe to offer his condolences over what he called the “brutal murder” of Yukawa.

The Associated Press could not verify the contents of the online message, which varied greatly from previous videos released by the Islamic State group.

But securing the release of al-Rishawi would be a major propaganda coup for the Islamic State, following months of battlefield setbacks — most recently in the northern Syrian town of Kobani where Kurdish fighters on Monday managed to drive out the extremists after months-long fighting and hundreds of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

It would also allow the group to reaffirm its links to al-Qaida in Iraq, which battled U.S. troops and claimed the Jordan attack. The Islamic State group had a brutal falling out with al-Qaida’s central leadership, but still reveres the global terror network’s onetime Iraqi affiliate and its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2006.

On Nov. 9, 2005, al-Rishawi and her newlywed husband, Ali al-Shamari, entered the ground-floor ballroom of the Raddison SAS hotel in Amman, which was hosting hundreds gathered for a wedding reception. Al-Shamari set off his explosive belt among crowd. Al-Rishawi fled.

Al-Zarqawi later claimed the attack and mentioned a woman being involved, leading Jordanian officials to arrest her. Several days later, al-Rishawi appeared on Jordanian state television, opening a body-length overcoat to reveal two crude explosive belts.

“My husband detonated (his bomb) and I tried to explode (mine) but it wouldn’t,” al-Rishawi said during the three-minute television segment. “People fled running and I left running with them.”

Later at the trial, al-Rishawi pleaded not guilty and said through her lawyer that she never tried to detonate her bomb and was forced to take part in the attack. But an explosives expert testified that the trigger mechanism on al-Rishawi’s belt had jammed.

Al-Rishawi was sentenced to death by hanging and an appeals court later ratified her sentence, describing her as “guilty beyond doubt of possessing explosives and having had the intention and the will to carry out terrorist attacks whose outcome is destruction and death.”

Her sentence can be overturned by Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Dana Jalal, an Iraqi journalist who follows jihadi groups, said the Islamic State group could be demanding al-Rishawi’s release because she is a woman and comes from a powerful Iraqi tribe that claims many senior Islamic State group members.

“Sajida was close to al-Zarqawi and this gives her special status with Daesh,” Jalal said, using an alternate Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

TIME Iraq

Angelina Jolie: The World Must Do More for Syrian and Iraqi Refugees

She says "the international community is failing" millions displaced by regional conflict

Speaking from a displaced-persons camp in northern Iraq on Sunday, Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie asked the worldwide community to pledge more financial support for refugees in Syria and Iraq to prevent a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

The U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, is facing a a severe budgetary shortfall. Last year, it only received a little over half of the $337 million needed to fund a program for internally displaced Iraqi and Syrians, it reported in a press release.

“It is shocking to see how the humanitarian situation in Iraq has deteriorated since my last visit,” Jolie told media on her fifth trip to Iraq as a special UNHCR ambassador.

According to the UNHCR, over 7 million Syrians and almost 2 million Iraqis remain internally displaced from the ongoing Syrian civil war and attacks by the extremist group ISIS. Almost 4 million Syrian refugees are scrambling to survive in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

“We are being tested here as an international community and so far, for all the immense efforts and good intentions, the international community is failing,” Jolie said.

TIME Military

The U.S. Needs a New Yardstick for a New Kind of War

IRAQ-CONFLICT
Buildings burn Saturday during a military operation launched by the Iraqi army to retake positions held by Islamic State outside the village Sharween, north of Baghdad. YOUNIS AL-BAYATI / AFP / Getty Images

America keeps measuring progress on a battlefield that no longer exists

Body counts are never a good a yardstick for measuring progress in a war of ideas. That’s why the Pentagon freaked out Thursday when Stuart Jones, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the Al Arabiya News Channel that America and its allies “have now killed more than 6,000 ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq.”

The first counter-fire came, within hours, from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “I was in a war where there was a lot of body counts every day,” the outgoing defense chief, who served as an Army sergeant in the Vietnam War, said in one of his most pungent observations in his two years on the job. “And we lost that war.”

Hagel’s spokesman piled on Friday. “It’s not a metric that we’re going to hang our hat on when it comes to talking to the success of this strategy,” Rear Admiral John Kirby said of the Pentagon’s internal body-count estimate. “This is not a uniformed army with identification cards and recruiting posters.”

While Ambassador Jones added that the 6,000 number was “not so important” in the overall scheme of things, the catnip was out of the bag. That’s because Americans, impatient over wars that drag on (like Hagel’s Vietnam and George W. Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq), crave measurements that suggest progress.

Unfortunately, that metric mindset has little utility in wars against ideology. “I don’t know whether 6,000 [ISIS] people have been killed or not,” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “But that is not going to do it.”

That’s because conflicts like the one now underway against the Islamist fundamentalism represented by the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) are not constrained by national boundaries, or the national pressure points that have traditionally been the trigger of wars (and the foundation of ending them) among states.

Without the trappings of formal government—a capital, commerce, standing armies—non-state actors like ISIS or al-Qaeda deny military powers like the U.S. the kinds of targets they prefer. Their allegiance to ideology—be it theology or something else—takes away the fulcrum that victors used to leverage to bring wars to an end.

Industrial powers created industrial militaries, where rear-echelon bean-counters could tote up tanks, ball-bearing factories and troops destroyed—and thereby chart progress, or the lack thereof. But ideological war isn’t industrial in scope. Instead, it’s more like information warfare, where ideas, shared online, create alliances that ripple across borders and oceans.

It took a Detroit to build an industrial arsenal of democracy, with each weapon requiring dollars and sweat to assemble. Today, it merely takes a keyboard to build an ideological alliance, each member a low-cost addition requiring little more than fervor and an Internet connection.

The Administration of George W. Bush concluded the way to prevail after the 9/11 attacks was to invade and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq. Following wars that eventually will cost $3 trillion or more, and at least 6,845 American lives, his successor has decided not to tag along. Instead, President Barack Obama has told the nations involved—those with the most at risk—to step up to the plate to do the fighting, with the U.S. filling the role of best supporting actor.

Some see such a policy as too timid. “The U.S. efforts have always been halfhearted, half-resourced and focused on exit strategies rather than on success,” says David Sedney, who ran the Pentagon office responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia from 2009 to 2013. “We always want to have an exit, and the problem with real life is there’s no exit.” He argues that the U.S. needs to launch nation-building strategies in failed states that currently serve as incubators for ISIS and other groups.

Politicians aren’t calling for such radical action. But some believe the U.S. needs to step up the fight. “We need more boots on the ground,” Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told CBS on Sunday. “I know that is a tough thing to say and a tough thing for Americans to swallow, but it doesn’t mean the 82nd Airborne. It means forward air controllers. It means special forces. It means intelligence and it means other capabilities.”

The U.S., McCain said, can’t simply direct wars against ISIS and similar foes from relative safety behind the front lines. “For [the Administration] to say, ‘we expect [Iraq and Yemen] to do it on their own,’ they’re not doing it on their own,” he said. “And they are losing.”

The last clear victory scored by the U.S. military was against Iraq in 1991, led by President George H.W. Bush, a Cold War commander-in-chief. It was a bespoke war tailor-made for the Pentagon: Iraq’s massive army stormed into Kuwait, occupied it, and waited for the U.S. and its allies to drive it out.

The world watched that conflict and decided, given Washington’s overwhelming advantages in that kind of war, not to fight it again. Unfortunately, too many Americans seem unaware that the rules have changed. So they continue to want to measure progress in today’s conflicts with yesterday’s yardsticks.

But such yearnings are doomed. Persistence and will, not body bags, are the keys to winning these kinds of wars.

TIME Japan

Japan Attempts to Verify ISIS Hostage Message

Japan Islamic State
A passer-by watches a TV news program reporting two Japanese hostages, Kenji Goto, left, and Haruna Yukawa, held by the Islamic State group, in Tokyo, Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. Eugene Hoshiko—AP

The purported message claims one hostage has been killed and demands a prisoner exchange for the other

(TOKYO) — A visibly shaken Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said early Sunday that Japan was working to free two hostages held by the extremist Islamic State group, calling a new online video purporting to show that one had been killed “outrageous and unforgivable.”

The message claimed one of the Japanese hostages, Haruna Yukawa, had been killed and demanded a prisoner exchange for the other, Kenji Goto. But the post was deleted quickly Saturday, and militants on a website affiliated with the Islamic State group questioned its authenticity.

The Associated Press could not verify the contents of the message, which varied greatly from previous videos released by the Islamic State group, which now holds a third of both Syria and Iraq.

The Islamic State group had threatened on Tuesday to behead the men within 72 hours unless it received a $200 million ransom. Kyodo News agency reported that Saturday’s video was emailed to Goto’s wife.

Citing the release of the photo claiming to show hostage Yukawa had been killed, Abe said after a late-night Cabinet meeting: “Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and unforgivable. We feel strong indignation, and vehemently condemn the act.”

Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said officials were trying to verify the video and the photo shown in it.

Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said U.S. intelligence officials were also working to confirm whether it was authentic. “We stand in solidarity with Japan and are coordinating closely,” he said, and called for the immediate release of people held by the Islamic State group.

Abe said the government of Japan will not succumb to terrorism and will continue to cooperate with the international community in the fight against terrorism. He said Japan is still taking every possible step to win the release of both hostages and will continue the effort.

Japan has been struggling to find a way to secure the release of Goto, a 47-year-old journalist, and Yukawa, a 42-year-old adventurer fascinated by war. Japanese diplomats left Syria as the civil war there escalated, compounding the difficulty of reaching the militants holding the hostages.

Abe spoke by phone with Jordanian King Abullah II on Saturday, the state-run Petra news agency reported, without elaborating on what they discussed. He also called the two hostages’ families.

Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, told Japanese public broadcaster NHK in a televised interview that in the purported message her son, “seemed to be taking seriously what may be happening to him as well.”

“This is no time to be optimistic,” said Ishido.

But Ishido also was skeptical about the voice claiming to be Goto. “Kenji’s English is very good. He should sound more fluent,” she said.

One militant on the Islamic State-affiliated website warned that Saturday’s new message was fake, while another said that the message was intended only to go to the Japanese journalist’s family.

A third militant on the website noted that the video was not issued by al-Furqan, which is one of the media arms of the Islamic State group and has issued past videos involving hostages and beheadings. Saturday’s message did not bear al-Furqan’s logo.

The militants on the website post comments using pseudonyms, so their identities could not be independently confirmed by the AP. However, their confusion over the video matched that of Japanese officials and outside observers.

Japanese officials have not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom. Japan has joined other major industrial nations in opposing ransom payments. U.S. and British officials said they advised against paying.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he planned to issue a safety warning to all Japanese citizens traveling outside the country through its embassies around the world.

The nightmarish situation had left him, “at a loss for words,” Kishida said.

Nobuo Kimoto, a business adviser to Yukawa, told the Japanese broadcaster NHK: “I don’t believe this. The world is far from a peaceful place,” he said. “I wish this was some kind of a mistake.”

TIME Davos

Kerry and Hollande Call for Intensified Fight Against Terrorism

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.
Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Demotix/Corbis

"This fight will not be decided on the battlefield, but in the classrooms," Kerry says

Talk at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos turned to the fight against terrorism Friday, with French President François Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry encouraging the influential world figures gathered here to step up efforts to fight Islamist extremists.

Kerry told the audience that the fight against terrorism would include a military component but also needed to address the economic and educational conditions that can provide fertile ground for extremists. “This fight will not be decided on the battlefield, but in the classrooms, workplaces, places of worship of the world,” he said. Kerry said he would be traveling shortly to Nigeria, whose government is waging a war against the increasingly emboldened Islamist group Boko Haram.

Hollande, who led more than one million people in a unity rally in Paris following terrorist attacks in the city this month that left 17 people dead, called on business leaders and governments to cooperate against extremists. “France has reacted and taken measures, but there also needs to be a global, international response,” he said. “It needs to be international and shared, shared between the states who have to bear responsibility on the front line, but also by businesses, particularly the largest ones, who can also take action.”

Hollande also signaled that France’s military involvement in Africa could grow. “In Africa, France is on the ground and it will continue to be so more than ever before,” he said. “It will be present to bring help to those countries who are having to deal with the scourge of terrorism. I’m thinking of the Sahel, in particular, but also the situation in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad, who are under attack from Boko Haram. Now France cannot do everything, France cannot act alone. But whenever it can, it will, to lead by example.”

Speaking after Hollande and before Kerry on the main stage of the Davos conference center, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked for more help in his country’s fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“The cost of action will be high but the cost of inaction will be much, much higher,” said al-Abadi, who has been Prime Minister since September.

Al-Abadi said that in recent weeks there had been improved coordination between the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS and Iraqi ground troops who he said are currently fighting to control territory that would create a route for Iraqi government forces to try to take back the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul. But he said Iraq was struggling under the burden of fighting a war while providing regular government services. “We need help,” he said.

In a sign of how longstanding enemies are finding themselves fighting on the same side in parts of an increasingly complex Middle East, the Iraqi Prime leader acknowledged to interviewer Charlie Rose that Iran is also providing Iraq with military aid. “They’ve helped us in the first stage,” he said. “They have been very prompt in sending arms, in sending munitions.”

TIME Japan

Mother of Japanese Journalist Held Captive by ISIS Pleads for His Release

Junko Ishido, mother of Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist being held captive by Islamic State militants speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo
Junko Ishido, mother of Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist being held captive by Islamic State militants along with another Japanese citizen, speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on Jan. 23, 2015 Toru Hanai—Reuters

The ransom deadline approaches

The mother a Japanese journalist held captive by Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) appealed for his release on Friday.

The Islamic militants are threatening to kill Kenji Koto and another Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa if Tokyo does not pay a ransom of $200 million, Reuters reports.

The Japanese government believes the deadline to be 12:50 a.m. E.T. on Friday.

“My son Kenji is not an enemy of the people of the Islamic faith. I can only pray as a mother for his release,” Junko Ishido told a news conference. “If I could offer my life I would plead that my son be released, it would be a small sacrifice on my part.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to do all he can to secure their safe release, saying that “we are negotiating through all available channels.”

The sum of the ransom is equal to the $200 million Abe has pledged to aid those fighting ISIS.

[Reuters]

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