TIME conflict

Watchdog Group Says ISIS Has Warplanes

Ex-Iraqi army officials are reportedly training ISIS fighters to fly them

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have acquired three “warplanes that can fly and maneuver,” a watchdog Syrian opposition group said in a new report.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said former Iraqi army officials who have joined ISIS are training militants to operate the planes at an airbase near the contested Syrian city of Aleppo. The report, which has not been verified, cites anonymous “reliable” sources. The U.S. military said it’s not aware of ISIS gaining air capability.

“We’re not aware of [ISIS] conducting any flight operations in Syria or elsewhere,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder told Reuters.

TIME Syria

ISIS Retreating from Kobani, Says Kurdish Official

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border, on Oct. 14, 2014 Umit Bektas—Reuters

The radical Islamist militants now reportedly control only 20% of the border town, as opposed to about 40% before

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has suffered setbacks and has begun retreating from parts of the Syrian border town of Kobani, according to a local official, who said Kurdish forces were advancing against the militant group.

Idris Nassan told the BBC that ISIS had previously controlled almost half the town but currently occupies “less than 20%.”

The retreat comes after the U.S. stepped up the intensity of air strikes in the region, with al-Jazeera quoting U.S. officials as saying Western coalition forces had launched about 40 air strikes in the past two days. “We know we’ve killed several hundred of them,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, while admitting that the strategically important Syrian-Turkish border town could still fall to the radical Islamist group.

Air strikes have also been launched in parts of neighboring Iraq, where ISIS is rapidly making inroads into the Anbar province, and is reportedly advancing on a town just 25 miles from the capital Baghdad.

“That’s probably ISIS’s key victory here,” Matthew Gray, a senior lecturer at the Australian National University’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, tells TIME. Gray is of the opinion that although Kobani’s location on the border with Turkey — and thus with NATO and the Western world — makes it important to defend, Anbar’s proximity to Baghdad and the economic advantages it represents make it far more significant strategically. “If I were ISIS, I’d probably be happy to let Kobani go as long as I have Anbar,” he says.

Despite the recent achievements of Operation Inherent Resolve, as U.S. President Barack Obama has now termed the battle against ISIS, Gray says there’s a limit to how much air strikes — even with helicopters as opposed to fixed-wing aircraft — can achieve without ground troops.

Even so, the current retreat is “significant,” says Gray, “especially if they’ve lost several hundred.”

“It doesn’t neutralize the other observation that to completely destroy or thoroughly degrade ISIS will require substantial action from troops on the ground,” he adds.

Read next: More Americans Say Boots Are Needed on the Ground to Fight ISIS

TIME Iraq

Three Dutch Bikers Have Joined the War Against ISIS

The men, from Netherlands-based motorcycle club No Surrender, have military backgrounds

Three members of a motorcycle club from the Netherlands have joined Kurdish fighters in Iraq to help in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Fellow biker Klaas Otto told Dutch media that the trio all have military backgrounds and were motivated to travel to the war-torn country after seeing the atrocities committed by ISIS, according to the BBC.

“They wanted to do something when they saw the pictures of the beheadings,” Otto said.

There is a significant Kurdish population in the Netherlands.

The three men hail from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Breda, and the gang they are a part of — No Surrender — is reportedly the biggest biker group in the country.

Dutch officials said that joining the Kurdish forces would not be illegal. However, joining terrorist organizations like ISIS is forbidden.

[BBC]

TIME National Security

More Americans Say Boots Are Needed on the Ground to Fight ISIS

Syrian Kurds Battle IS To Retain Control Of Kobani
Smoke billows following an airstrike by US-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and militants from Islamic State, on October 14, 2014 as seen from the outskirts of Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border. Gokhan Sahin—Getty Images

Many believe the air campaign is not enough, a poll finds

More and more Americans say combat ground troops need to be deployed to take the fight to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to a recent poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

Approximately 41% of Americans surveyed said the military campaign against ISIS should include “air strikes and combat troops,” compared with the 35% who said the offensive should be constrained to aerial bombardments. Of the individuals polled, just 15% said they believed no military action should be taken against the radical Islamist group.

The findings represent a reversal in public opinion since a similar poll was taken in September, when 40% of those surveyed only backed air strikes and 34% were in favor of the use of aerial assaults and combat troops together.

Coalition bombers and fighter jets continued to batter ISIS positions across Iraq and Syria this week. U.S. Central Command confirmed that American aircraft and those from partner nations launched 22 strikes in Syria and at least one aerial assault in Iraq on Tuesday.

Read next: The FBI Wants Your Help IDing American ISIS Fighters

TIME Iraq

Report: U.S. Kept Mum After Finding Old Chemical Weapons in Iraq

US Army soldiers wearing their full chemical protection suits walk inside the courtyard of an industrial complex they secured which they thought was a possible site for weapons of mass destruction in the central Iraqi town of Baquba in May 2003.
US Army soldiers wearing their full chemical protection suits walk inside the courtyard of an industrial complex they secured which they thought was a possible site for weapons of mass destruction in the central Iraqi town of Baquba in May 2003. Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

Based on 17 U.S. service members and seven Iraqi police officers who claimed they were exposed to mustard or nerve agents after 2003

American and Iraqi troops came across and, in some cases, were wounded by aged or abandoned chemical weapons between 2004 and 2011, according to a New York Times investigation published late Tuesday.

The report, which is based on redacted intelligence records and dozens of interviews with American and Iraqi officials — and, notably, 17 U.S. service members and seven Iraqi police officers who claimed they were exposed to mustard or nerve agents — analyzes how the U.S. apparently suppressed information about the discoveries and barred the injured from receiving proper recognition and medical care.

The investigation also notes that militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, which has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria over the past year, controls a former production site that Iraq told the United Nations over the summer still held about 2,500 corroded munitions.

[New York Times]

TIME world affairs

Why We Should Send Vets Back to Iraq and Afghanistan

Jake Wood is a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, CEO of Team Rubicon and author of Take Command. Ken Harbaugh is a former Navy pilot and COO of Team Rubicon.

With over 2 million veterans from these wars, the U.S. is sitting on a reservoir of ready and able humanitarians

When we heard the news of Peter Kassig’s capture by ISIS terrorists, it felt like a punch in the gut. While we don’t know Peter, the organization he founded, SERA (Special Emergency Response and Assistance) is much like our own, Team Rubicon. Since 2010, we have been recruiting, training and deploying thousands of military veterans to serve communities afflicted by disasters. Our members are ideally suited for these missions, bringing such skills as strong leadership, effective decision-making and the ability to operate in austere environments with limited information.

As effective as Team Rubicon has become at assisting victims of disasters, the service itself has had a profound impact on our members. During one of our missions to Pakistan in 2010, former Marines and SEALs delivering lifesaving aid realized that the villagers they were helping had never before seen Americans in that light. Those veterans were able to return to a part of the world that had taken something from them– a friend, a limb, a notion of innocence–and replace it with something entirely good. We suspect Peter was driven by a similar impulse.

Imagine if, over the coming decades, the United States could shift the mindset of rural villagers in Pakistan or Iraq or Yemen by sending highly skilled aid workers to serve and teach alongside them. Who better than military veterans to fill that role? How much farther could we get with an army of humanitarians than with ever expanding fleets of drones? With over 2 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. is sitting on a reservoir of ready and able humanitarians. The challenge is finding a way to re-deploy them not as warriors, but as peacemakers.

To start with, the broader public should know that 92% of returning veterans want to continue serving their country. Tapping into this talent is a no-brainer. Privately funded organizations like Team Rubicon are a good start. With nearly 20,000 members, we have deployed to more than 70 disasters across the globe. But any comprehensive solution will require government support. To that end, agencies such as the Peace Corps and USAID should create fast-track programs that enable military veterans to transition seamlessly into humanitarian positions.

We understand the risks involved. One of us, a former Navy pilot, served as a human rights advocate in Afghanistan upon leaving the military. The other, a former Marine sniper who led teams in both Afghanistan and Iraq, helped lead combat medics and doctors down to Haiti four days after the earthquake. As veterans who served during wartime, and chose to return to the front lines as humanitarians, we appreciate better than most that our military is the world’s largest disaster response organization. More importantly, we know that we carry those skills into civilian life.

Every member of Team Rubicon signed up because of his or her time in uniform, not in spite of it. They too know the risks, but still ask “If not me, then who?” Peter Kassig did the same. His bravery and compassion bear witness to an entire generation of veterans who wish to serve humanity. We, his brothers in arms, long for the day when all might answer as he did, “Send me.”

Jake Wood is a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, CEO of Team Rubicon and author of Take Command. Ken Harbaugh is a former Navy pilot and COO of Team Rubicon.

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 Iraq

180,000 People Flee Western Iraq as ISIS Inches Ever Closer to Baghdad

Mideast Iraq
Iraqi civilians sift through rubble in the ruins of homes that were damaged by fighting after an attack from the Islamic State group, in the town of Heet, in western Anbar province, Iraq on Oct. 6, 2014. AP

The Sunni jihadist group has largely consolidated control over western Iraq as terrified civilians flee its advance

Iraqi security forces evacuated another military base in restive Anbar province on Monday in the face of an offensive by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

The base is the latest in a string of military installations to fall into ISIS hands, according to CNN. Its abandonment comes less than two weeks after ISIS fighters captured nearby Heet on Oct. 2, which lies just 85 miles west of Baghdad.

“Our military leaders argued that instead of leaving those forces exposed to attacks by ISIS, they would be best used to shore up the defense of Asad air base,” a senior Iraqi security official told the Agence France-Presse.

On Monday, the U.N. said that an estimated 180,000 Iraqis have fled Heet since it fell earlier this month to the radical Islamist group, which continues to cleave away large swaths of the country’s Sunni heartland from central government control.

“The town was one of the few parts of the governorate where humanitarian aid has been delivered in recent months,” read a report released by the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “This is the fourth major displacement in less than a year in Iraq.”

ISIS is currently believed to control 80% of Anbar province, which is home to a majority of Iraqi’s Sunni population.

Over the weekend, reports circulated that ISIS fighters had also infiltrated the suburb of Abu Ghraib on Baghdad’s outskirts that lies just 8 miles from the capital’s airport.

On Sunday, U.S. Joint Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey made a candid admission that Apache helicopters were deployed earlier this month to prevent ISIS fighters from overrunning Iraqi security forces just 15 miles from the terminal.

“The tool that was immediately available was the Apache. The risk of operating in a hostile environment is there constantly,” Dempsey told ABC’s This Week.

“And had they overrun the Iraqi unit, it was a straight shot to the airport. So, we’re not going to allow that to happen. We need that airport.”

A U.S.-led coalition of nations continued to launch fresh air strikes against ISIS personnel and infrastructure in both Iraq and Syria this week; however, analysts say the aerial assaults have largely failed to reverse the group’s momentum on the ground.

TIME conflict

ISIS Defends Enslaving Women in New Magazine

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A fighter from the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) waves a flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. Reuters

Article appears in the latest edition of its English-language online magazine

The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) appeared to defend its enslavement of women on Sunday in the latest edition of its English-language online magazine.

An article in the fourth issue of Dabiq said the practice of taking women and girls of the enemy is firmly established in the Quran and allowed under the strict laws by which they claim to abide. Anyone who criticized the group’s taking of women and girls as sex slaves, the article continued, would be criticizing Islam and mocking the Prophet Muhammed. Analysts and journalists, among others, began to parse out its contents on Twitter.

The publication came as Human Rights Watch (HRW) published an extensive report on ISIS’s sexual enslavement of women, specifically of the Yezidi minority in Iraq. The organization interviewed 76 Yezidis displaced in Duhok, Zakho, Erbil and other areas of Iraqi Kurdistan. They reported that ISIS was holding 366 of their relatives.

One 17-year old girl who escaped told HRW that a “big bearded man” picked her out from a group of detainees in Mosul. “You are mine,” he said.

TIME Syria

Kerry Says Kobani’s Fate Is Not Key to U.S. Strategy in Fighting ISIS

The Secretary of State calls the situation in Kobani a tragedy, but insists that the enclave does not “define” the American-led coalition’s battle plans

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said keeping Kobani out of ISIS’s hands was not the top priority for the coalition of nations bombarding the Sunni extremist group in Iraq and Syria.

He voiced concern over the potential fall of the besieged Kurdish enclave, also known as Ayn al-Arab, to extremist militants, but was quick to note that the city’s survival did not “define” the U.S.-led coalition’s strategy.

“Kobani is one community, and it’s a tragedy what is happening there,” Kerry told reporters during a press conference in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. “We have said from Day 1 it is going to take a period of time to bring the coalition thoroughly to the table to rebuild some of the morale and capacity of the Iraqi army and to begin to focus where we ought to be focusing first, which is in Iraq.”

Kerry’s admission comes as coalition forces steadily increase the number of air strikes targeting ISIS forces surrounding the conflict-torn city in northern Syria. If it falls under ISIS control, it will give the terrorist group a large strategic corridor running along the Turkish border.

U.S. Central Command confirmed launching three air strikes in Kobani on Sunday that “destroyed an [ISIS] fighting position and an [ISIS] staging area.” However, it appears the strikes have failed to reverse ISIS’s momentum.

Syrian Kurdish militia fighters, known locally as the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been battling thousands of heavily armed ISIS militants in and around Kobani for weeks. Despite exhibiting incredible tenacity, the YPG has steadily lost ground thanks to a lack of reinforcements and access to sophisticated weaponry.

Analysts have also expressed growing concern that the loss of Kobani to ISIS could reignite civil war in Turkey. Ankara continues to prevent thousands of Kurdish fighters and supplies from crossing the border into Syria — a move that sparked days of rioting across Turkey that claimed at least 33 lives.

Cemil Bayik, who helps lead the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), warned that the fall of Kobani would incite fresh insurrection in Turkey, during an interview with the New York Times published over the weekend.

“Negotiations cannot go on in an environment where they want to create a massacre in Kobani,” Bayik told the Times. “We cannot bargain for settlement on the blood of Kobani.”

The PKK, which backs the YPG, has kept a shaky cease-fire with Ankara since 2013, after three decades of bitter civil war.

Bayik went on to promise to “mobilize the guerrillas” if Turkish forces allowed a massacre to ensue after preventing Kurdish forces from entering the fight for the city. Human-rights groups and the U.N. have voiced similar concerns over an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

If Kobani fell, up to “12,000 people, apart from the fighters, will be most likely massacred,” warned U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura on Friday.

On Sunday, ISIS boasted, in an article published by its official propaganda outlet, of taking Yezidi women as slaves during the group’s conquest of northern Iraq in August.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirmed the admission by ISIS. “The group has systematically separated young women and teenage girls from their families and has forced some of them to marry its fighters,” said HRW in a statement published on Sunday.

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

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]

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