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]

TIME State of the Union 2015

Barack Obama Warns Against Terrorist Fear Factor in State of the Union

Obama says he wants Americans to fight terrorists but not fear them

President Obama had a mixed message for Congress on terrorism in his State of the Union address Tuesday: don’t fear terrorists, but do authorize me to use military force against them.

Obama’s not the only one advancing that national security paradox. Leaders around the world face the same problem. Terrorists are scary—that’s their point. So how do you get support to fight them without freaking people out and handing them a win?

“We lead best,” Obama said in his speech, “When we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.” And he implicitly attacked his predecessor, George W. Bush, for failing at the task. “Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing?” Obama asked.

MORE How 7 ideas in the State of the Union would affect you

But Bush has been back in Texas for six years and Gallup reports that 40% of Americans are very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism—a slightly higher percentage than when Obama became President in 2009. That’s particularly remarkable when you consider that an American is more likely to be struck by lightening than get hit by a terrorist.

Obama and Bush may not be entirely to blame. The public’s fear of terrorists and its expectations that government will aggressively defend against them are not necessarily the fault of political leaders, says Daniel Byman, co-author of a recent Brookings Institution analysis of the threat posed by foreign fighters returning to the West, “Be Afraid. Be a Little Afraid.”

“It’s very difficult for people to think rationally about low probability events that are high publicity,” Byman says. Furthermore, Byman says, “There are certain things we expect our government to do and one of them is to keep us safe, especially from foreign terrorists—it’s a core government function.”

MORE: Obama made history by using this word during the State of the Union

Which doesn’t make it any less costly to over-react to terrorist threats. Western fear is very specifically what the terrorists are after, as a recruiting tool, as a means of inspiring the troops they have, and as a way of getting opponents to make costly mistakes, Byman says. Some U.S. intelligence officials look at the long-term strategic challenges posed by China, Russia and European economic weakness and think ISIS and the chaos Middle East amounts at best to a diversion and at worst to a trap.

Obama suggested Tuesday that he wants to avoid such a trap. “Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.” Yet his administration has sought broad powers from Congress to go after ISIS, including the authority to put troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, where the group is principally operating, and to pursue it in other countries as well.

Republicans have the terrorist threat on their mind, too, of course. In her response from the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing room, Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst said, “This is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL, and those radicalized by them,” Ernst said. “We know threats like these can’t just be wished away. We’ve been reminded of terrorism’s reach both at home and abroad; most recently in France and Nigeria, but also in places like Canada and Australia. Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims of terrorism and their loved ones. We can only imagine the depth of their grief.”

In the end, one of the most effective tools against terrorists is domestic resilience, especially an acceptance that some level of violence from terrorists, while extremely undesirable, is probably inevitable. “You have to accept that this is a part of modern life,” says Byman. “We need to resource security services, but you don’t want to make it the focus of foreign policy.”

TIME Iraq

Islamic State Group Releases 200 Captive Yazidis in Iraq

It appears the militants released the prisoners because they were too much of a burden

(ALTON KUPRI, IRAQ) — The Islamic State group released about 200 Yazidis held for five months in Iraq, mostly elderly, infirm captives who likely slowed the extremists down, Kurdish military officials said Sunday.

Almost all of the freed prisoners are in poor health and bore signs of abuse and neglect. Three were young children. The former captives were being questioned and receiving medical treatment on Sunday in the town of Alton Kupri.

Gen. Shirko Fatih, commander of Kurdish peshmerga forces in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, said it appears the militants released the prisoners because they were too much of a burden.

“It probably became too expensive to feed them and care for them,” he said.

Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled in August when the Islamic State group captured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. But hundreds were taken captive by the group, with some Yazidiwomen forced into slavery, according to international rights groups and Iraqi officials.

The militants transported the mainly elderly captives from the northern town of Tal Afar and dropped them off Saturday at the Khazer Bridge, near the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil.

“Their situation is very bad, especially the psychological condition,” said Hersh Hussein, a representative from the Irbil governor’s office who was in Alton Kupri. “Regarding other diseases we provide first aid and the most important medical treatment.”

Maha Faris Qassem, 35, was released with her two young sons, both of whom were covered from head to toe in bug bites which appear to be infected. She said the conditions of their captivity were so dire that infection was inevitable.

Relatives of the captives rejoiced upon hearing that their loved ones would return. Sofian Wahid, 22, was ecstatic when he learned that his 85-year-old grandmother had been freed.

“I spoke to her on the phone. She said: ‘If you’re happy, I’m happy.’ I thank God on my knees she’s back,” he said by phone from the northern town of Dohuk. He said the two would be reunited Monday.

“Some people said she was killed or beheaded. I refused to believe that. Some girls who escaped from Daesh said they saw them, so that’s when we kept hope she was still alive,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

About 50,000 Yazidis — half of them children, according to U.N. figures — fled to the mountains outside Sinjar during the onslaught. Some still remain there.

The U.S. launched airstrikes and humanitarian aid drops in Iraq on Aug. 8, partly in response to the crisis on Sinjar mountain. Since then, a coalition of eight countries have conducted more than 1,000 airstrikes across Iraq in an effort to eradicate the Islamic State group, which now holds a third of both Iraq and Syria.

The Sunni militant group views Yazidis and Shiite Muslims as apostates deserving of death, and has demanded Christians either convert to Islam or pay a special tax.

It was not immediately clear why the extremist group let the captives go rather than killing them. It was the first time a group of elderly were released from captivity, though many were spared death during the initial onslaught, often reporting they came face to face with the militants but were allowed to flee.

The Islamic State group has massacred hundreds of captive soldiers and tribal fighters who have risen up against it in Syria and Iraq, and has publicized the killings in sleek online photos and videos.

“I don’t know the details of why they released us,” Gawre Semo, 69, told The Associated Press. “They are very bad people. They took our children and they took the women. They did bad things with us. We’ve been humiliated by them.”

___

Salama reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.

TIME Syria

The U.S. Military Will Send 400 Troops to Train Syrian Rebels Battling ISIS

Rebel fighters fire a weapon on the al-Breij frontline, after what they said was an advance by them in the Manasher al-Hajr area where the forces of Syria's President Assad were stationed, in Aleppo
Rebel fighters fire a weapon on the al-Breij frontline, after what they said was an advance by them in the Manasher al-Hajr area where the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad were stationed in Aleppo, Syria, on Jan. 7, 2015 Hosam Katan—Reuters

Some 5,400 rebels are expected to be trained each year

The U.S. military intends to deploy more than 400 troops to help train Syrian rebels in their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Training is expected to begin in the early spring in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. Hundreds of American support personnel will also be deployed, a Pentagon spokesman told Reuters on Thursday.

Other coalition partners are also likely to help with the training, reports Defense One, with about 5,400 rebels expected to pass through the program annually for three years.

In neighboring Iraq, U.S. President Barack Obama has already authorized more than 3,000 American troops to guide and train Iraqi and Kurdish forces in their battle with ISIS.

TIME Iraq

Meet the Men Being Trained to Fight ISIS by the U.S.

Iraq Police Fighting ISIS
Policemen from Mosul train at a camp in Dubardan, Iraq. Rebecca Collard

Under the watch of American advisors, dozens of Iraqi police practice marching in unison through a large gravel clearing, 20 kilometers from Mosul. Others sit as a trainer lectures them on how to use a mounted machine gun. Some practice searching an SUV for explosives.

This is the Mosul Liberation Camp, where more than 4,000 Sunni Arab police are training to retake their city from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). “It’s my responsibility to take back my city from ISIS,” says Saad Mohmmed Khalaf who fled Mosul along with other police and army in June.

Mosul is the largest city ISIS controls, and the north-eastern edge of its caliphate which stretches through Iraq to western Syria. Ousting ISIS from Mosul may be the most difficult task facing the anti-ISIS coalition.

“Fighting in Mosul is like working in a minefield,” said Sadi Ahmed Pire. Pire, now a Kurdish politician, commanded Kurdish forces as they fought to take Mosul from Saddam Hussein’s army in 2003.

While the city is home to Christians, Kurds, Shi’ites and other minorities, it is majority Sunni Arab and many in the city welcomed the Sunni ISIS fighters after years of neglect and oppression from the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad. There are some indications that the population has now become resentful of ISIS’s restrictive rule, but communications to the city have been mostly cut-off for more than a month and intelligence about the city is limited.

“The single most important aspect of insurgency warfare is control, or support, of the population,” said Christopher Harmer, a senior analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, who completed several tours with the U.S. army in Iraq. “One of the reasons that ISIS had such an easy time in conquering Mosul was that the existing Iraqi Security Forces…had lost the support of the local population.”

If the residents side with ISIS, taking the city will be almost impossible.

Iraq Police Fighting ISIS
Iraqi national Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi visits the Mosul Liberation Camp in Dubardan, Iraq. Rebecca Collard

The dense urban nature of Mosul poses another problem. Much of the ground reclaimed by Kurdish and Iraqi national forces in recent months has been small, sometimes empty, villages and scarcely populated land. In Mosul, ISIS positions are embedded among the civilian population.

“It’s virtually impossible to do air strikes in dense urban area unless U.S. special forces are on ground, calling them in,” said Harmer. An air campaign against ISIS installations with limited intelligence in urban neighborhoods could result in high civilian casualties, he says.

So the offensive for the city will rely on ground troops. Kurdish leaders have made it clear they don’t plan to send their forces into the city this time. Mosul is outside the territory of the aspirational Kurdish state and their forces are already stretched along the 1,000 km-front they share with ISIS.

Few have faith the Iraqi army could, or would, retake the city. Manned with commanders and recruits from other parts of the country, the soldiers proved unable, or unwilling, to defend the city against the ISIS attack in June, according to the men here. Thousands of troops deserted their posts, dropping their weapons and uniforms as they fled.

“That was the main reason the city fell so quickly, because the commanders were from outside Mosul. They lacked both good management and good intentions,” says General Khalid al-Hamadani, the police chief for the Niveveh governorate, which includes Mosul. “From my experience, those from outside the city won’t sacrifice their lives for the city.”

The only hope then, he says, is the men training here. “The police here, we are all from inside Mosul,” said General Hamadani, adding they know streets and the layout of neighborhoods.

But the challenge is turning a few thousand policemen, who already ran away from ISIS, into a combat force able to retake an urban center from determined defenders.

“You can’t just inject men with courage and morale,” said Pire.

However, the trainers are trying and at times the camp seems more pep-rally than military exercise. Nationalist tunes and songs about defeating ISIS blast from a set of speakers next to a trailer that serves as General Hamadani’s office and men hoist their weapons — empty of bullets — as they chant and bounce up and down.

Over the music some of the men grumble that the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad has been reluctant to support Sunni fighters here. Their salaries haven’t been paid since June and weapons are limited.

Moshir Al-Jabour (left) in a training camp for police from Mosul. Rebecca Collard

“You can’t liberate a city with these weapons,” says Moshir Al-Jabouri, who brags he shot down two American planes while fighting for Saddam Hussein’s army and earned 13 medals of bravery for his service under the deposed ruler. “The Americans and the coalition need to arm us now. We can’t depend on Baghdad to do it.”

While these men may be the front line ground troops, both Jabouri and General Hamadani say, they will need the support of the US-led coalition, Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army to take the city from ISIS. But many here are skeptical about getting the support they need from the central government.

“Baghdad doesn’t care about Mosul,” says Jabouri. “They don’t care how long it stays in the hands of ISIS.”

TIME France

France Votes to Extend Air Strikes Against ISIS in Iraq

The vote was 488 to 1

(PARIS) — France’s lower house of Parliament on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved extending French airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq.

The vote came after France’s worst terrorist attacks in decades. Last week in Paris, a man claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group killed four people in a kosher grocery and a policewoman, while two brothers that he knew for years claimed ties to al-Qaida in Yemen as they killed 12 people at a newspaper office.

“France is at war with terrorism, jihadism and radical Islamism,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the National Assembly to thundering applause ahead of the vote. “France is not at war with a religion. France is not at war with Islam and Muslims.”

The vote was 488 to 1. One lawmaker argued not to extend the campaign, saying the situation on the ground was improving and warning that more bombing could invite more extremist violence but the government and other lawmakers vigorously defended the campaign.

France quickly joined the United States in conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State group last year after the militants took over sections of Iraq and Syria. French law requires a vote on extending such operations after four months. France is not bombing in Syria.

TIME Terrorism

What Those Pentagon Twitter Hackers Posted

The Pentagon
Getty Images

An avalanche of almost-classified info sows confusion

The Pentagon held its breath Monday when Islamic State sympathizers hacked into U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts and began posting internal U.S. military documents on the Twitter feed.

Could this be another Snowden job? Was any of the material classified? After all, they were posting the names, addresses and phone numbers of senior U.S. military officers.

Within an hour, the Pentagon’s sigh was audible. While there was a lot of official-looking, internal documents posted before both social-media accounts were shut down, none of it appears to have been classified.

 

"FOUO" can be found on many released Pentagon documents
“FOUO” can be found on many released Pentagon documents

Many sported the officious-sounding but non-classified For Official Use Only label.

Monday’s bullet-dodging highlights the U.S. government’s preoccupation with secrecy, and its downside: when nearly everything is classified, it can be harder to protect real secrets.

 

Central Command’s feed was back in operation Tuesday. Twitter

Think of the government’s penchant for secrecy like an iceberg: what’s showing above the water line is that tiny share that’s classified Confidential, Secret and Top Secret.

But underwater—where, strangely, you can’t see—are more than 100 different designations that boil down to “Don’t let the public see this.”

…but its feed still featured the CyberCaliphate avatar. YouTube

For example, the non-profit Project on Government Oversight grumbled last year about the Pentagon inspector general’s routine requirement that any member of the public wishing to see some of its more interesting reports file a formal Freedom of Information Act request. “As anyone familiar with the FOIA process knows, turnaround on a request can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years,” POGO’s Neil Gordon noted. “So, it’s reasonable to assume that the DoD IG is indeed trying to bury the report to spare the Pentagon and … its … contractors the embarrassing publicity.”

The varying labels—and each agency’s rules for releasing non-classified information—is confusing, as the Obama Administration itself conceded in 2010:

At present, executive departments and agencies (agencies) employ ad hoc, agency-specific policies, procedures, and markings to safeguard and control this information, such as information that involves privacy, security, proprietary business interests, and law enforcement investigations. This inefficient, confusing patchwork has resulted in inconsistent marking and safeguarding of documents, led to unclear or unnecessarily restrictive dissemination policies, and created impediments to authorized information sharing. The fact that these agency-specific policies are often hidden from public view has only aggravated these issues.

That’s why it wants to toss all those agency-specific labels into the trash and designate them all as Controlled Unclassified Information. Perhaps the reduced profusion of almost-classified labels will help reduce confusion like Monday’s (the Pentagon, of course, has its own process underway for all its non-classified technical data). And having the word Unclassified in the designation should make it clear to even cable-news anchors what’s up.

The Administration plans to issue a proposed regulation to funnel all the labels into that single Controlled Unclassified Information designation this spring. It’s slated to be fully operational in 2018.

Obviously, in addition to craving secrecy, the government abhors alacrity.

Read next: Twitter Hacking Gives Pentagon a Black Eye

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Terrorism

Twitter Hacking Gives Pentagon a Black Eye

Twitter

Embarrassing, sure. But classified info apparently secure

Live by the tweet, die by the tweet.

The latest cyberwar skirmish involves an embarrassing—but apparently nothing more—breach of U.S. Central Command’s social-media accounts by alleged Islamist hackers. Nonetheless, it’s a black eye for the Pentagon, with its multi-billion-dollar preoccupation with cybersecurity.

Centcom is the regional Pentagon command that oversees U.S. military action in 20 nations stretching from Egypt to Pakistan, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Centcom, which is based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., began displaying messages allegedly from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria starting about 12:30 p.m. EST on its Twitter account. At least two ISIS YouTube posts also showed up in Centcom’s account on the video site.

“AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS.” the first apparently non-official Twitter message said (ISIS doesn’t refer to itself as “ISIS,” which immediately led to speculation in the Pentagon and elsewhere that the hackers might not be who they claim to be).

It was followed in quick succession by others. “ISIS is already here, were are in your PCs, in each military base,” a second tweet said. “We know everything about you, your wives and children.”

But a quick review of documents posted suggested they are unclassified. At most, they appear to fall into the category of documents the Pentagon often labels “for official use only,” which are routinely posted on the Internet by the Pentagon itself. Reporters located posted documents involving U.S. military acquisition and strategy on public Pentagon websites.

Twitter suspended Central Command’s account shortly after 1 p.m., with all the prior posts—both legitimate and otherwise—inaccessible.

About 5 p.m. Monday, Centcom issued a statement saying the breaches didn’t affect “operational military networks” and that apparently no classified data was jeopardized. “We are viewing this purely as a case of cybervandalism,” Centcom said. The social-media accounts, it added, “reside on commercial, non-Defense Department servers.”

In an interview broadcast Sunday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that while the Pentagon has an edge when it comes to firepower, it’s merely tied with prospective foes when it comes to cyber warfare. “We don’t have an advantage,” Army General Martin Dempsey told Fox News. “It’s a level playing field, and that makes this chairman very uncomfortable.”

Shortly before the hack began, President Obama was speaking at the Federal Trade Commission on computer security. “This extraordinary interconnection creates enormous opportunities but also creates enormous vulnerabilities for us as a nation and for our economy and for individual families,” he said. “If we are going to be connected, then we need to be protected.”

The White House said that a Twitter hack isn’t the same thing as a major data breach, like Sony recently experienced. “This is something that we’re obviously looking into and something that we take seriously,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

As the Centcom attack unfolded, the Government Accountability Office was issuing a report warning of the soft underbelly of the U.S. government’s dependence on networked computer systems. “To further highlight the importance of the threat, on October 11, 2012, the Secretary of Defense stated that the collective result of attacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure could be ‘a cyber Pearl Harbor, an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life,’” the GAO said.

Thankfully, except for a few outfits, social media doesn’t yet constitute “critical infrastructure.”

– With reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME foreign affairs

Three Reasons France Became a Target for Jihad

Global Reaction To The Terrorist Attack On French Newspaper Charlie Hebdo
Papers with 'I am Charlie' displayed are left near candles at a vigil in front of the French Embassy following the terrorist attack in Paris on Jan. 7, 2015 in Berlin. Carsten Koall—Getty Images

John R. Bowen is a Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis.

The country has long and tangled history with the Muslim world and organized religion

Jihad seems to hit France harder than other countries, with more than 1,000 young people leaving to fight on the side of ISIS or other jihadis in Iraq and Syria, and now the murderous attack by two men of Algerian descent on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Why, and where will this latest attack lead?

There are three points to keep in mind as we watch the investigations play out.

First, France has been more closely engaged with the Muslim world longer than any other Western country. Since 1830, when it conquered Algeria, it has seen much of Muslim Africa as its own backyard. And after World War I, France took control of Syria and Lebanon as well. Many French settled in North Africa, and after World War II, many North Africans came to France to work in new factories, most settling in poor areas in Paris, Lyon, and the industrialized north. In the post-industrial era, factories were shut down but the settlers stayed. And it is their children and grandchildren who in 2005 exploded in rage over their exclusion from French society. The 1995 movie La Haine showed this rage before the fact—and also made clear that these explosions had nothing to with religion.

France left Algeria only at the end of a long and bloody war, from 1954 to 1962, which continues to reverberate throughout the country, especially in the south, where Algerians who fought on both sides of the war settled in Provence and kept the conflict alive. Here is where the far-right National Front was founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a paratrooper nourishing anger against De Gaulle’s “abandonment” of French Algeria. His daughter Marine now leads the party.

But unlike other European colonial powers, the French never really left their former colonies, continuing to intervene economically and militarily to defend France’s national interests in Africa and the Near East. Now this means battling al Qaeda and ISIS in Mali, Iraq, and, perhaps in the future, Syria. So when disaffected young men and women tune in to jihadi web sites, they find French-speaking Muslims telling them of the sins their government is committing against their “brothers and sisters” in Iraq and Syria. Resentment at French racism, at the series of largely symbolic measures taken against Muslims, such as the 2010 ban on wearing face-veils in public, add to this anger, and lead some towards fighting.

Second, the French Republic has nourished a sense of combat with the Church—which for some means with religion of any sort. If in the 19th century, the Church retained its hold on young minds through its monopoly of primary schools, by the end of that century the state had built a secular and free system of schools. Thereafter, the Dreyfus affair pitted an openly anti-Semitic Catholic establishment against pro-Republican intellectuals, Vichy gave powers to anti-Jewish French officials, and after the war schools continued to be the focal point, a microcosm, of the battle between religious and secularist camps.

Modern France thus produced a strong tradition, especially in Paris, of opposition to organized religion, and satire of its pretensions. Charlie Hebdo succeeded a long line of satirical magazines that ridiculed religion, and Charlie took down all with pretensions: Christians, Muslims, Michael Jackson—everyone.

Third, the attack risks to add fuel to the rise of the Far Right in France and throughout Europe. The National Front is already spinning the attack as showing up the basic incompatibility of Islam and the values of France. Even as its leader, Marine Le Pen, the much smoother political heir to her father, Jean-Marie, maintains a moderate line, officially stating that France was united for freedom of expression, she added that “the time for hypocrisy was over,” and that not confusing Islam with terrorism not ought to lead us to deny the obvious. Some of her lieutenants went further, attacking Islam directly, and the immediate commentators to Le Monde’s on-line coverage overwhelmingly took this line: anti-religion and anti-Islam.

France will not change its decades-old foreign policy, nor are rights and practices of satire likely to fade away. But the main impact may be to use the attacks as an excuse to blame Islam and immigration for broad anxieties about where things are going in Europe today. Such a confusion can only strengthen the far right.

John R. Bowen is a Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and author of Can Islam be French, Blaming Islam, and the forthcoming Shari’a in Britain.

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 Syria

Kurdish Fighters Push Back ISIS in Kobani

Kurdish troops now control at least 80% of the Syrian city's territory

Kurdish troops fighting militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured an important district in the city of Kobani in northern Syria, a Syria-monitoring group said Monday.

Kurdish troops now control at least 80% of the city’s territory, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K.-based monitoring group.

ISIS fighters invaded the area in September but Kurdish fighters aided by Iraqi troops and air strikes from the U.S.-led coalition have since been able to push ISIS back.

SOHR said the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as the Kurdish troops are known, successfully took control of the government square and security district of the city, following gun battles in which 14 ISIS fighters were killed.

It was not yet clear whether YPG suffered any losses in the battle. Kobani official Idriss Nassan told the BBC that “the advance has become faster and the air strikes are more intense”, adding that it may not be long until YPG units are in control of the entire city.

Read more: The fight against ISIS on the border between Turkey and Syria

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