TIME Iraq

60 Dead in Iraqi Suicide Bombings

Men wounded by a car bomb in Qara Qubah are transported to a hospital in Kifri, Iraq on Oct. 12, 2014.
Reuters Men wounded by a car bomb in Qara Qubah are transported to a hospital in Kifri, Iraq on Oct. 12, 2014.

The police chief of another province was also killed in a roadside bombing

Updated at 4:31 p.m. ET

More than 120 people were wounded and 60 people were killed after three suicide bombers targeted a group of government offices in the Iraqi province of Diyala on Sunday, authorities said.

Many of the people injured and killed were there in the district of Qara Taba in order to collect government subsidies for people who had been displaced or forced to leave their homes in other parts of the country, the New York Times reports.

The police chief of the province of Anbar was also killed Sunday after roadside bombs detonated as his vehicle passed. Authorities say Maj. Gen. Ahmed Saddag’s death sets back efforts to keep control of the province out of the hands of the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which has expanded its control throughout the country over the past few months.

The offices targeted in the suicide bombing included the mayor’s office, a building used by the local Kurdistan government’s security unit and a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office.

[NYT]

TIME Military

Ex-Blackwater Chief Urges Hired Guns to Take on ISIS

Blackwater Founder & XE Worldwide Chairman Erik Prince Interview
Andrew Harre—Bloomberg/Getty Images Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater

If Obama won’t send in troops, he says, time to send in mercenaries

The man who founded and ran Blackwater—the company that sent thousands of private workers into Afghanistan and Iraq—says President Barack Obama should hire a mercenary corps to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

“The American people are clearly war-fatigued,” writes Erik Prince, now the chairman of Frontier Services Group, a company that provides logistical support for much of Africa. “If the Administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job.”

Some Americans might be willing to write private fighters a check (Prince himself has reportedly been linked to developing a mercenary force for the United Arab Emirates). But Blackwater—which earned more than $1 billion in Iraq—shows the dangers inherent with subcontracting out war. Its guards killed 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007; a jury continues to deliberate the fate of four ex-employees implicated in the shooting.

One of its top officials in the Iraqi capital allegedly threatened to kill a State Department employee who had questions about its contracts with the U.S. government. And U.S. military officers routinely grumbled about the lack of “unity of command” that Blackwater’s presence in Iraq created. But that wouldn’t be a problem if there were no U.S. troops around.

Prince sold Blackwater Worldwide in 2010. The company changed its name to Xe a year before he sold it, and changed it again, to Academi, in 2011. In June, Academi merged with rival firm Triple Canopy to form Constellis Holdings, Inc. Constellis’ board includes John Ashcroft, attorney general under President George W. Bush, Bobby Ray Inman, a retired admiral and former director of the National Security Agency, and Jack Quinn, counselor to President Bill Clinton.

Prince echoes many U.S. military officers when he says “the President’s current plan seems half-hearted at best.” Air power will not be able to go into Syrian towns like Kobani—which ISIS has been fighting to take for three weeks—and root them out. The militants increasingly are taking cover among civilians, knowing that the U.S. and its allies will not obliterate buildings where innocent civilians may be mixed in among the jihadists.

“Clearing operations ultimately fall to the foot soldier,” Prince writes, but those available aren’t capable of what needs to be done. The Iraqi army “is demonstrably inept after billions spent on training and equipping them.” The Kurds—including those defending Kobani—“now find themselves outgunned, under-equipped, and overwhelmed.”

Prince, a one-time Navy SEAL, doesn’t think much of the way his old service is waging the campaign:

Unfortunately, the DOD has mastered the most expensive ways to wage war, adding only very expensive options to the president’s quiver. Flying off of an aircraft carrier in the north end of the Persian Gulf may be a great demonstration of carrier air power suitable for a high tempo war, but the costs will quickly become staggering, far higher than they need be for what will quickly become a counter-insurgency effort.

The U.S., he implies, could save money by contracting out the ground war he believes is needed. “The private sector has long provided nations around the world with innovative solutions to national defense problems in a variety of ways, from the kinetic to the background logistical support necessary to keep militaries humming,” he writes. “If the old Blackwater team were still together, I have high confidence that a multi-brigade-size unit of veteran American contractors or a multi-national force could be rapidly assembled and deployed to be that necessary ground combat team.”

The Pentagon could hire such personnel “for their combat skills in armor, artillery, small unit tactics, special operations, logistics, and whatever else may be needed,” he adds. “A competent professional force of volunteers would serve as the pointy end of the spear and would serve to strengthen friendly but skittish indigenous forces.”

Prince warns whatever gains the U.S. has achieved in the wars it has fought since 9/11 hang in the balance:

Defeat [in Iraq] was already snatched from the jaws of victory by the rapid pullout of US forces in 2009. Afghanistan will likely go the same way after never truly defeating the Taliban. Now the danger of a half-baked solution in Iraq is that if ISIS isn’t rightly annihilated, they will portray their survival as a victory over the forces of civilization; thus, there is no room for half-measures. The longer ISIS festers, the more chances it has for recruitment and the danger of the eventual return of radical jihadists to their western homelands.

TIME Military

General Who Championed Air Power Challenges Pentagon on ISIS

Clashes between ISIL and Kurdish armed groups in Kobane
Emin Menguarslan / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images Smoke rising from the Syrian town of Kobani Thursday marks where clashes between its Kurdish defenders and ISIS attackers are underway.

Architect of U.S. air war in Afghanistan says U.S. strikes too limited

Once a United States military effort bogs down, as is now happening in the battle for the Syrian border town of Kobani, two things happen: Pentagon officials explain why what is happening should come as no surprise, and experts carp about how it is a surprise and could be done better.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, explained Wednesday why the U.S. and its allies are basically powerless to stop the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) from taking Kobani, which sits on Syria’s border with Turkey, and the 200,000 residents still living there. ISIS is now reported to control about a third of the town, half of whose population has fled to Turkey. “Airstrikes alone,” Kirby said, “are not going to . . . to save the town of Kobani.”

Them’s fighting words to air power advocates like David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who ran the successful air campaign over Afghanistan in the opening months of the U.S. campaign there.

Deptula responded to Kirby’s comments in an overnight email from Australia:

The issue is not the limits of airpower, the issue is the ineffective use of airpower. According to [The Department of Defense’s] own website, two B-1 sorties can deliver more ordnance than did all the strikes from the aircraft carrier Bush over the last six weeks. Two F-15E sorties alone are enough to handle the current average daily task load of airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria.

Wise analysts understand that those blaming airpower for not ‘saving Kobani’ are confusing the limits of ‘airpower’ with the sub-optimization of its application. One can see [ISIS] tanks and artillery . . . in the open on TV, yet the coalition forces for ‘Operation Un-named Effort’ are not hitting them. Airpower can hit those targets and many others, but those in charge of its application are not—that’s the issue—not the limits of airpower.

The airstrikes to date have been very closely controlled, tactical in nature, and reflect the way they have been ‘metered’ in Afghanistan. The process that is being used to apply airpower is excessively long and overly controlled at too high a command level. The situation in Iraq/Syria with [ISIS] is not the same as Afghanistan with the Taliban. What we are witnessing now is a symptom of fighting the last war by a command that is dominated with ground warfare officers who have little experience with applying airpower in anything other than a ‘support’ role.

The situation requires a holistic, complete, air campaign, not simply a set of ‘targeted strikes.’ It requires a well planned and comprehensive air campaign focusing on achieving desired effects at the operational and strategic levels of war.

The coalition should establish 24/7 constant overwatch, with force application on every element of [ISIS] leadership, key infrastructure, forces and personnel—apply unrelenting pressure day and night on [ISIS] throughout Syria and Iraq. Airmen have the capacity, equipment, training, tactics, and knowledge needed for this fight, but airpower needs to be applied like a thunderstorm, and so far we’ve only witnessed a drizzle.

Fighting words, indeed.

TIME faith

Meet the Iraqi Couple Attending Pope Francis’ Synod

Elizabeth Dias Riyadh Azzu and Sanaa Habeeb

The Synod bishops have already voted to send a letter of encouragement to Iraqi families

Baghdad has been home to Riyadh Azzu and Sanaa Habeeb for their entire lives. It is where they first met at church in 1969, married in 1976, developed their careers—he is an engineer, she is a pharmacist—and raised their son and daughter, who are now both doctors. Their part of town has long been an area where Christians and Muslims have peacefully coexisted. But now all that’s changing—Iraq’s economic, political, and religious turmoil, especially with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s (ISIS) attacks on minority Christian communities, is uprooting their lives.

This week Azzu, 61, and Habeeb, 60, are sharing their story with Pope Francis and the bishops gathered at the Vatican for the Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the Family, a special gathering of church leaders to discuss practical issues of marriage and family in the modern world. They are one of the fourteen couples appointed by the Holy Father to participate as auditors, a term for the non-voting attendees. On paper, their role is to serve as “witnesses of Christian family life in an Islamic context.” In person it is to witness to the larger story of the issues Christian — particularly Catholic — families face in the Middle East.

The couple previously represented Iraq with 10 other families at the 2012 World Meeting of Families in Milan. They are humbled by the opportunity to be the ones to share their story at the Synod, they tell TIME. They were likely selected because their English skills are good and they are regular church attendees, Habeeb says, but she added that lots of families deserve this honor. The two main issues are on their minds as they prepare to speak to the Synod fathers: the impact of war on Christians, and immigration’s role in fracturing the family.

Both are experiences they have lived firsthand. ISIS has driven more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians out of the country over the last few months. The June 11 assault of northern Iraq was a disaster for their community. While Azzu and Habeeb were relatively safe in Baghdad, they watched as fellow Christians were driven from cities like Mosul and are now living in tents and church yards. “That did it for us. They were people like us—they had good homes, good jobs, they were driven away just like that,” Habeeb says. “It’s like the 9/11 of Iraq.”

The pair’s family has been torn apart as conditions have worsened in recent years. Their distant relatives have all left the country. Their son moved to Michigan and is now an American citizen. Their daughter, who has a PhD in diagnostic imaging, and her husband, moved with their grandchildren to Germany to try to build a new life. “She has to start again, from zero,” Habeeb explains, talking about how many youth are leaving the country, in many cases along with older family members, which fractures the close family ties Arab countries have developed over centuries. “She had no future. It is a hopeless case, Iraq.”

For now, the couple is staying in Iraq, but they are considering a move to the United States with their son. The burden brought on by being required to pay religious taxes and not be able to openly celebrate Christian feast days and big holidays like Christmas is taking its toll. Many of their moderate Muslim friends have already left the country. Their own church, St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic, has shrunk to 200 families, compared to 2,000 families two decades ago.

The bishops at the Synod are aware of the challenges Christians in Iraq have been facing, and already voted to send a letter of encouragement to Iraqi families. In the midst of it all, Habeeb and Azzu are trying to bear testimony to their Catholic faith and to loving their neighbors, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or anything else. Church, they say, is what has sustained them and given them social community and friends. But they also recognize there are limits to what the Catholic Church can do to improve the situation.

“[The Church has] shown wonderful acts of solidarity, this is beautiful. They are making their voices heard in the world community . . . they are praying, there are contributing financially,” Habeeb says. “What else can they do? It is a moral voice.”

The U.S. and its military power is another matter. “It is [a] very slow reaction, they are saying it takes a lot of time, years maybe, I don’t know why,” Azzu says of the American response. “It is baffling,” Habeeb adds. “They say you people have to tackle their problems on your own, and they are right. . . . I’m sure our politicians are to blame also. . . . We had large expectations when America liberated us the first time, a beautiful sense of freedom. All of this disappeared.”

TIME Military

No Can Do: The Pentagon Explains Why It Can’t Save a Syrian Town

An allied air strike hits a hill in Kobani Wednesday near where ISIS fighters had planted their flag.
Aris Messinis— AFP/Getty Images An allied air strike hits a hill in Kobani Wednesday near where ISIS fighters had planted their flag.

Limits of air power and lack of allies on the ground doom Kobani

The U.S. military’s motto often seems to be “Can-do!” But the motto at Wednesday’s Pentagon briefing might as well have been “Can-dor”.

That’s because, as the building readied for a visit by President Obama, its spokesman made clear there is little the U.S. military can do to save the more than 200,000 people fighting for their lives in the Syrian town of Kobani, just south of the Turkish border.

It’s strange, as the U.S. war in Afghanistan enters its 14th year, that the U.S. public has this abiding faith that there is nothing the U.S. military cannot do. But it cannot defeat the jihadist fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria as they storm Kobani, Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

“Time matters here,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. That means that while the U.S. and its allies can do little for Kobanis now, they believe they will be able to help them later.

Kurdish leaders in Kobani fear a massacre if ISIS overruns Kobani. But the Pentagon seems unconcerned. “I know of no plans for a humanitarian relief mission in Kobani,” Kirby said. “Many of the residents have already fled.”

The U.S. has been restricted in its ability to battle ISIS for two reasons: it waited for months before taking action, and then—per Obama’s orders—it decided not to commit any U.S. ground troops to the fight. Even a small number of them on the ground in Syria and Iraq could be a major help in improving the lethality of air strikes.

Kirby’s comments about the reach of U.S. military power no doubt echoed what Obama heard later in the day when he met with the nation’s military leaders, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Army General Lloyd Austin, who as head of U.S. Central Command is leading the fight against ISIS.

“There is a broad-based consensus, not just in the region but among nations of the world, that [ISIS] is a threat to world peace, security and order,” Obama said at the Pentagon. “Their barbaric behavior has to be dealt with.”

But the Pentagon spokesman took pains to explain that the limits of air power and the lack of allies on the ground in and around Kobani likely doom it to fall to ISIS. “Airstrikes alone are not going to do, not going to fix this, not going to save the town of Kobani—we know that,” he said. “We don’t have a willing, capable, effective partner on the ground inside Syria.”

The bombing in and around Kobani, while stepped up in recent days, is modest in scope. That, in part, is due to the fact that there are so few targets. “I’m counting 11 strikes just in the last two days,” Kirby said.

“It’s not like we’ve ignored the crisis around this town of Kobani,” he added. “We have hit some dynamic targets, smaller tactical targets there. And we do believe that they have had an effect on [ISIS] in and around that town. [ISIS] does not own Kobani right now.”

Kirby, a Navy surface warfare officer, explained what attacks from the sky can do on their own. “Airpower can have an initial effect on forcing them out of an area or denying them structure, whether it’s hard buildings, or the infrastructure of governance that they have, or revenue,” Kirby said. “You can deny some of that temporarily from the air, but it’s not going to be the long-term fix. The long-term fix is… going to be competent ground forces that can retake territory from them.” That’s more than a year away.

Sure, the U.S. could send in forces that could stop the onslaught, but it’s doubtful that Congress—or the public—would agree with such a move. They were spoiled by 1991’s Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, when a 43-day air campaign was followed by a four-day romp by U.S. ground troops. About 25,000 Iraqis died in the U.S.-led campaign to push them out of Kuwait, compared to 148 U.S. troops.

There’s only one real solution to the problems posed by ISIS, Kirby suggested. “What really has to happen, long term, is good governance in Iraq and good governance in Syria,” he said. “There is an element of strategic patience here that I think everybody needs to consider, all of us, all of you, the American people, everybody.”

Unlike faith in their military, however, strategic patience—or any kind of patience, for that matter—has never been an American trait.

TIME Military

Pentagon to Brief Obama on Grim Battle Against Jihadists

Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani, Oct. 8, 2014.
Umit Bektas—Reuters Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani, Oct. 8, 2014.

Commanders to tell Commander-in-Chief about tough fight to keep key Syrian border town out of ISIS hands

President Barack Obama is heading to the Pentagon Wednesday afternoon for an update on the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and he’s not going to like what he hears. The key Syrian town of Kobani is likely to fall to ISIS fighters in coming days, senior U.S. military officials will tell Obama—and there’s not a whole lot the U.S. and its allies can do to halt the ISIS victory or the expected bloodbath following its collapse.

“We’re not expecting any change to our strategy as a result of today’s meeting,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Wednesday afternoon shortly before the 3 p.m. ET session. “This is going to be a long, difficult struggle.”

An air offensive to protect Kobani from being overrun by ISIS totters on the verge of failure. Stepped-up allied air strikes and Kurdish defenders, armed with only small arms, are fighting up to 9,000 jihadists outfitted with tanks and rockets. But it seems to be too little, too late as ISIS’s black flags rose above an eastern neighborhood Monday and remained flying Wednesday. Kurdish officials have warned that ISIS militants would kill thousands if they prevail.

The fight for Kobani is a key test of a U.S. military strategy limited to air strikes, while its local allies on the ground in Iraq and Syria are proving ineffective or non-existent. Turkish troops with tanks are simply watching from across the border as the battle for nearby Kobani rages. Nearly half of the area’s 400,000 residents have fled to Turkey. U.S. officials are angry that Turkey, a NATO ally, has refused to do more to avert a slaughter, they say largely because of its bloody history with the Kurds. American officials are heading to Ankara to urge Turkish officials to do more.

The second piece of the U.S. strategy is training up to 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels a year to fight ISIS on the ground. But that’s a long-term gambit with no guarantee of success, because many of the rebels are more interested in fighting their three-year old civil war against Syrian strongman Bashar Assad than ISIS.

For now, the jihadists are doing their best to frustrate air strikes by abandoning key outposts and breaking into smaller units. They have given up little ground. The terrorist fighters are moving into civilian areas where they know the U.S. and its allies will not bomb—especially without hard intelligence from on-the-ground scouts they trust. Obama has refused to dispatch such spotters as part of his ban on U.S. ground troops in the conflict.

Obama will be meeting with Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has told Congress he will ask Obama to dispatch U.S. ground troops—especially forward air controllers to call in air strikes—if Dempsey thinks it’s required. Kirby said the Pentagon would not be making such a request of Obama during Wednesday’s meeting.

The growing U.S. frustration has been evident as the U.S. ordered AH-64 Apache helicopters into action beginning Oct. 5 against militant targets in western Iraq. The low-and-slow gunship is better than a jet bomber for attacking moving targets. But that capability also makes its two crewmembers more vulnerable to ground fire. ISIS has shot down a pair of Iraqi choppers in recent days, killing all four pilots aboard.

TIME war

Stop Pretending Drone Warfare Is Casualty-Free for America

The Invisible Front
The Invisible Front

Yochi Dreazen is managing editor of Foreign Policy. His new book, The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War, is out today.

Make no mistake: U.S. troops may not die during the fight against the Islamic State, but there will be a human cost

President Barack Obama has been delivering a single message again and again in the weeks since U.S. warplanes started bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria: there will be no American boots on the ground in either country. Bombing the militants from the air rather than sending U.S. forces to fight them on the ground means that there is virtually no chance of U.S. casualties, which is crucial to maintaining the support of a war-weary American public.

But the White House is wrong to suggest that the current campaign will have no human costs. U.S. pilots may not get killed in combat or suffer physical wounds, but they aren’t immune to post-traumatic stress disorder and the other invisible wounds afflicting hundreds of thousands of veterans of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Quite the opposite: reams of military-funded research has found that growing numbers of the pilots flying both manned fighter planes and armed drones are suffering from PTSD and depression because modern technology gives them uncomfortably vivid views of the carnage that results from one of their airstrikes. Have no illusions about the current campaign: U.S. troops may not die or suffer grievous physical injuries during the fight against the Islamic State, but it will exact a human toll all the same.

Drone operators are being hit particularly hard, and understanding why means taking a closer look at what those responsible for wielding the Obama administration’s weapon of choice against militants around the world see and experience every time they pick up the controls. The drone pilots typically work out of windowless trailers at bases in Nevada and California, spending 12 hours at a time hunched over video screens beaming back high-resolution imagery—better and clearer that what the average American watches on an HD TV—of the people and vehicles moving on the ground thousands of miles away. They track their targets for days or weeks before pulling the trigger. And that’s when, researchers say, the problems really start.

The results of the growing number of studies examining what long-distance war does to those who fight it are stark and striking. An Air Force survey in 2011 found that 41% of the Air Force personnel operating the unmanned aircrafts’ advanced surveillance systems reported “high operational stress,” along with 46% of those actually piloting the robotic planes.

The survey’s findings on post-traumatic stress disorder, one of the worst psychological maladies of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were just as striking. It concluded that 7% of the drone crews were in danger of developing PTSD, roughly half the proportion of troops returning from actual combat (the civilian rate is about 5%). PTSD is linked to depression and anxiety and is thought to be the primary reason for the military’s record suicide rate.

Last year, a study by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center found that drone operators were at “similar risk” for mental health issues like PTSD, depression, and anxiety as the pilots of the manned warplanes and other aircraft flying over Iraq and Afghanistan from bases in the two war zones because they were experiencing — even from the safety of their trailers thousands of miles away — “witnessing traumatic experiences” like the deaths of U.S. troops or the militants they had just killed by pulling a trigger on what looks like a video game joystick.

To understand what that means in human terms, consider the story of former Airman First Class Brandon Bryant, who flew drones over Afghanistan. In searing interviews with GQ, Bryant described the strange intimacy of using infrared cameras to watch the purported militants he was tracking as they went about their daily lives: having sex with their wives on the rooftops of their houses or playing soccer with their children. Then he would pull his trigger, and some of those the men would disappear in a flash of white flame.

“The smoke clears, and there’s pieces of the two guys around the crater. And there’s this guy over here, and he’s missing his right leg above his knee. He’s holding it, and he’s rolling around, and the blood is squirting out of his leg, and it’s hitting the ground, and it’s hot,” Bryant told the magazine, remembering one strike. It took him a long time to die. I just watched him.”

Another time, Bryant was using his drone to fly over a convoy of Humvees traveling down a dusty road in a blood-soaked stretch of Iraq, looking out for possible buried bombs. He spotted something suspicious, but a communications problem prevented him from being able to warn the Humvee commander on the ground. He watched, powerless to help, as a bomb tore through one of the vehicles, killing three soldiers and wounding several others.

The vivid imagery of the deaths he’d caused and seen sent Bryant over the edge. He drank so much whiskey and Coke that he would pass out and sleep in a parking lot near his hometown. Once, his mother woke up to discover that he had left a loaded semi-automatic pistol. She immediately worried he was getting to the point where he would take his own life. He began to seek help and was quickly diagnosed with PTSD. Therapy eventually pulled him back from the brink, but it had been a close call.

Bryant’s invisible wound is all-too-common among the pilots flying manned and unmanned warplanes in war zones. The White House has been deliberately vague about how long the current campaign against the Islamic State will continue, but has warned that it could take years. That means America’s pilots will be at war for a long time to come, even if America’s ground troops are not. Those pilots may never set foot in Iraq or Syria, but they could become casualties of war all the same.

 

Yochi Dreazen is managing editor of Foreign Policy. He covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for The Wall Street Journal and has reported from more than 30 countries. His new book, The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War, is out today.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Military

Jihadist Bullets Are Often Made in the USA

CAR These four rifle cartridges were made in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 at the U.S.-government owned Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Mo., before falling into ISIS hands, according to a new report.

Survey of cartridges in the field reveals ISIS militants are using ammo sourced from China, the former Soviet Union — and the U.S.

Not only are the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) tooling around their new “state” in U.S.-built vehicles recently plundered from the Iraqi army, but many of the bullets they’re firing come from the U.S. as well.

The news suggests just how fluid the battlefield straddling Iraq and Syria has become—and how efforts by other nations to help both beleaguered states can boomerang as their ammo often falls into enemy hands.

A private arms-tracing group vacuumed up more than 1,700 ISIS rounds in the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq and Syria from July 22 to Aug. 15. Nearly one of every five examined by experts from the independent Conflict Armament Research was manufactured in the U.S., according to a report released Monday by the group.

ISIS “forces appear to have acquired a large part of their current arsenal from stocks seized from, or abandoned by, Iraqi defence and security forces,” said the London-based CAR, a nonprofit research organization funded by the European Union. “The U.S. gifted much of this materiel to Iraq.”

CAR used stampings on the bottom of the cartridges—almost like fingerprints—to track their source.

CARHere’s where the cartridges collected by researchers were manufactured.

The variety and age of the ammo used by ISIS fighters shows they have multiple means of supply. “China, the Soviet Union/Russian Federation, and the United States (US) are the top three manufacturing states represented in the sample,” CAR reported. “Ammunition in service with Iraqi and Syrian defence forces is also significant in the sample.”

CAR documented more than 300 U.S.-manufactured cartridges used by ISIS, mostly made between 2000 and 2010. Russian ammo was much newer—“as little as seven months from manufacture in Russia to capture from [ISIS] forces in Syria,” the group says. “Syrian defence forces are a plausible source of this ammunition.” At the other end of the timetable, CAR found a single Soviet cartridge dating back to 1945, the last year of World War II.

Most of the cartridges recovered in Syria were 30 years old and of Chinese and Soviet manufacture. “By contrast, the sample of ammunition recovered in Iraq is mainly U.S.-manufactured and comprises 5.56 x 45 mm cartridges,” CAR’s 16-page field report said. That’s the type “used in U.S.-supplied M16 and M4 assault rifles of the Iraqi defence and security forces.”

TIME Military

Greasing the Skids of War: Rethinking the Carter Doctrine

Obama Speaks At Disabled Veterans Memorial Dedication
Pool / Getty Images President Obama speaks Sunday at a new memorial in Washington dedicated to disabled veterans.

After 34 years—and 14 conflicts around the Middle East—it's time to wean the U.S. off Persian Gulf oil

As the U.S.-led war in Syria enters its third week, Americans can be excused for believing their nation has been shooting up the Middle East forever.

But they’d be wrong. It’s only been going on, off and on, since 34 years ago. That’s when, shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter told Moscow—and anyone else who might be listening—that Washington was willing to go to war to keep the Persian Gulf’s petroleum tap open and fueling the U.S. economy.

“The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: it contains more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil,” Carter said in his final State of the Union address on Jan. 23, 1980.

“The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world’s oil must flow,” he continued. “Let our position be absolutely clear: an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

So here we are, a generation later: the Soviets are out of Afghanistan, and America is in.

And even though the fight in Afghanistan is the nation’s longest war—and gets longer every day—it’s only one of many Islamic hotspots the U.S. has struck since Carter put down his Middle East marker. Former Army officer Andrew Bacevich, now at Columbia University, rattled them off Sunday in a column in the Washington Post:

Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria.

Bacevich writes:

As America’s efforts to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy’ Islamic State militants extend into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

President Obama acknowledged the toll Sunday, when he spoke at the dedication of the new American Veterans Disabled for Life memorial near the Capitol. “Let’s never rush into war, because it is America’s sons and daughters who bear the scars of war for the rest of their lives,” he said at the memorial, which honors the nation’s 4 million disabled vets. “Let us only send them into harm’s way when it’s absolutely necessary.” Perhaps there was a whiff of hindsight in his words.

But it may be foresight to revisit Carter’s declaration. While the hunger for oil remains relentless, the U.S. is far more energy independent today than it was in 1980. That should allow the U.S. to ease its addiction to Persian Gulf oil, which too often has served to grease the skids of war.

“This July the United States replaced Saudi Arabia as the world’s No. 1 oil producer,” Arthur Herman of the Hudson Institute wrote last month in National Review, “and virtually every industry study indicates that the trend will continue through the next two decades and beyond.” Much of the U.S. gain is due to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a production method that now accounts for roughly a third of U.S. oil and gas production.

Adds Herman:

The Islamic State’s use of captured Iraqi oil wells to pay for its murderous atrocities is just the latest and most blatant example of the oil-into-terrorism dynamic that’s ruled the Middle East for decades—and all, ironically, under the protective umbrella of American arms. Just keeping the region’s shipping lanes, including the Strait of Hormuz, open to tanker traffic costs the Pentagon on average $50 billion a year—a service that earns us the undying enmity of populations in that region even as their governments take our protection for granted.

Actually, U.S. taxpayers have spent close to $10 trillion to keep oil flowing to the world from Persian Gulf, based on a 2010 analysis from Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Princeton University.

Imagine if a slice of that had instead been invested to speed up U.S. energy independence. Wars would surely still unfold in the Middle East—as they will likely do so for generations—but it’d be bracing to watch them from the sidelines, for a change.

TIME Israel

Israeli Prime Minister: ISIS and Nuclear Iran Are ‘Twin Challenges’

Barack Obama Meets with PM Netanyahu of Israel
Olivier Douliery—Corbis Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office of the White House on Oct. 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.

"They all want to get rid of Israel on their way to the Great Satan"

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed support for President Barack Obama’s goal of defeating ISIS but said curbing Iran’s nuclear program is also top priority during a recent interview.

Netanyahu told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in a segment airing Sunday that while ISIS is “growing by day,” its power lies not in its numbers, but in “the strength of terror and fear.” Natanyahu reaffirmed previous remarks to the United Nations that “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas” and said that he would never negotiate with Hamas as long as it “remains committed to [Israel’s] destruction.”

In addition to combatting ISIS, Netanyahu said Israel and other moderate Arab states see Iran’s nuclear program as a “twin” challenge that goes hand-in-hand with stopping the spread of radical Islam.

“They all want to get rid of Israel on their way to the Great Satan,” he said. “We’re just the little Satan. The Great Satan is the United States.”

Netanyahu said the biggest security threat in the Middle East is not border disputes but “what lies on the other side,” saying that militant Islam is “walking into the cracks” of Middle Eastern states and citing Hamas and Hezbollah presence in Gaza and Lebanon, respectively, as examples.

The prime minister said that he trusts Obama “to do what is important for the United States” but that “the jury is out on all of us” to combat these threats.

“We’re going to be tested, all of us,” Netanyahu said. “Ultimately, it’s not what we intended to do, it’s what we end up doing, especially what we end up preventing.”

Netanyahu also reaffirmed his hope for a two-state solution with Israelis and Palestinians after a summer of violent conflict between the Israeli military and Hamas forces in Gaza that saw more than 2,000 Palestinians killed.

“I remain committed to a vision of peace, of two states for two peoples, two nation-states, one for the Palestinian people, one for the Jewish people living in mutual recognition with solid security arrangements on the ground to defend Israel, to keep the peace and to defend Israel in case the peace unravels,” he said.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com