TIME Iraq

ISIS Releases Video of ‘Message’ from British Hostage

Futurenet1977/Wikipedia

Press photographer John Cantlie, kidnapped in Syria almost two years ago, appears in a new propaganda video by the Islamic extremist group

A video posted on YouTube shows John Cantlie, a British press photographer, delivering a ‘message’ to the public as a captive of the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Cantlie, 43, has been held prisoner for almost two years by the same militants responsible for the beheading of two American journalists and one British aid worker since August. ISIS began posting videos online after the U.S. began launching airstrikes in northern Iraq.

The video runs for just over 3 minutes and is titled “Lend Me Your Ears, Messages from the British Detainee John Cantlie”.

The journalist, who appears in an orange shirt sitting behind a desk, speaks calmly but makes it clear he is under duress. “Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking: ‘he’s only doing this because he’s a prisoner. He’s got a gun at his head and he’s being forced to do this,’ right?” he says. “Well it’s true I am a prisoner. That I cannot deny. But seeing as I’ve been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of Islamic State I have nothing to lose.”

Cantlie then promises to “convey some facts” about ISIS in a series of “programmes” he will be filming; about the “truth” behind the group, and about how the Western media is being “manipulated.” He notes that many European hostages have been released after their governments negotiated with the extremists, but that British and American authorities refuse to do so.

This is not the first time Cantlie has been captured by Syrian militants, The Guardian reports. In 2012 he was rescued from kidnappers after a seven-day ordeal but returned to Syria four months later, where he was abducted again and sold on to ISIS.

Cantlie has worked for British newspapers including the Sunday Times, the Sun and the Sunday Telegraph. It is thought that he was abducted as he attempted to leave the country along with James Foley, the first U.S. journalist to be beheaded in the video posted online on Aug. 19. Alan Henning, a 47-year-old British taxi driver who went to Syria as a volunteer on an aid convoy, has also been threatened with death by ISIS militants.

TIME Congress

Kerry Seeks to Assure Lawmakers About ISIS Strategy

US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies about US policy towards Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State Group (IS) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17, 2014.
US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies about US policy towards Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State Group (IS) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

The Secretary of State returns from an overseas trip to drum up support in Congress for the fight against ISIS

Secretary of State John Kerry tried to assure lawmakers Wednesday that the U.S. would not be alone in the fight against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria, as Congress looks to pass legislation this week to equip and train the “moderate” Syrian rebels.

“This cannot be simply a campaign by the West against the East,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee before which Kerry testified. Kerry responded that Menendez was “absolutely correct.”

“When we say ‘a global coalition’ we mean it,” said Kerry, who recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to rally about 40 countries for the fight against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). While there’s currently “no discussion” about countries sending in ground troops, Kerry said some have committed to air strikes. U.S. Central Command announced Wednesday that it has conducted a total of 174 airstrikes across Iraq.

Kerry said military action would end “when we have ended the capability of [ISIS] to engage in broad-based terrorist activity.” The ultimate goals of the fight include a “political settlement” in both Syria and Iraq to end terrorist safe havens there, he added. Kerry said that the U.S. strategy will be a “multiyear effort.”

The top two leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez and ranking Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, cautioned the Obama Administration against engaging in such a long military conflict in Syria without new, explicit congressional authority.

“As I have said many times, temporary and targeted air strikes in Iraq and Syria fall under the President’s powers as commander in chief, but if the military campaign lasts for an extended period of time, Congress will need to approve an [ISIS]-specific Authorization for the Use of Military Force,” Menendez said.

Kerry reiterated the Administration’s position that it would act under the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda and associated forces, enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said that when ISIS separated from al-Qaeda a year ago in a “publicity stunt,” the organization did not change its targets and thus was still under the force of the previous congressional authority. Kerry added that he would welcome congressional action, but that President Barack Obama would act if the legislative branch did not.

Corker ripped Kerry’s response.

“To say that you’re going to do this, regardless of what we say—you’re not going to ask for a buy-in from the United States Senate or the House of Representatives on behalf of the American people—in a conflict that you say is going to be multiyear… taking us into another country with a different enemy, it’s exercising the worse judgment possible,” Corker said.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 17

1. Islamic State’s sexual violence is a war crime and U.S. leaders should call it out, seek ways to track it, and hold the terrorists to account. Instead, policymakers are ignoring it.

By Aki Peritz and Tara Maller in Foreign Policy

2. When the rich get richer, states get poorer. Income inequality is eating away at state tax revenue.

By Gabriel J. Petek at Standard and Poor’s Ratings Service

3. Does big philanthropy have too much power over policy?

By Gara LaMarche in Democracy

4. An innovative program is connecting high-performing low-income students with scholarship dollars and guiding them through the daunting financial aid process.

By David Leonhardt in the Upshot

5. Can a major redesign transform Union Station into the commercial and cultural heart of Washington?

By Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Leader Says No to Foreign Ground Troops

Haider al-Abadi
Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi listens to a question during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad on Sept. 17, 2014. Hadi Mizban—AP

"We don't want them. We won't allow them"

Iraq neither wants nor needs foreign ground troops in its battle against Islamist militants who have strongholds in the norther part of the country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Wednesday.

“Not only is it not necessary,” Abadi told the Associated Press. “We don’t want them. We won’t allow them. Full stop.”

Abadi argued that Iraq’s army is capable of waging the ground campaign against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). His wariness of help from foreign troops comes with U.S. lawmakers questioning the scope of American involvement in the campaign against ISIS, which Obama Administration officials have said will not involve ground troops in combat.

[AP]

TIME Iraq

New IS Video Warns U.S. Over Iraq Deployment

(BEIRUT)— The militant Islamic State group has released a video warning the United States that fighters await it in Iraq if President Barack Obama sends troops there, as he and his top general said may happen.

The 52-second video entitled “Flames of War” shows militants blowing up tanks, wounded U.S. soldiers and others about to killed. It then shows a clip of Obama saying that combat troops will not return to Iraq, ending with a text overlay that reads “fighting has just begun.”

The video’s timing, released Tuesday, suggests it was a response to Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee that if the current Iraq strategy doesn’t prevail, he may recommend the use of ground troops.

 

TIME Military

Top General Tweaks Obama’s Iraq War Plan

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs suggests U.S. ground troops might be need in combat

The nation’s top military officer fired tracer rounds at President Obama’s vow not to send U.S. troops back into ground combat in Iraq Tuesday during his testimony on Capitol Hill. In fact, Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did it three times in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

And while he caveated what he told the panel about the escalating fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, his message was clear: if the U.S.-led effort to defeat ISIS and oust it from its self-proclaimed Islamic State straddling the Syrian-Iraq border falls short, Dempsey will go back to the Oval Office and ask Obama for a green light to send at least a limited number of American ground-combat forces to help get the job done.

What was striking was how he delivered the message. Pentagon officials are forever saying they won’t speak in “hypotheticals”—things that might happen in the future—yet Dempsey dropped an atomic what-if into his opening statement. “If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets,” he said, “I’ll recommend that to the President.”

Minutes later, Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the committee, asked Dempsey if having Syrian and Iraqi forces fighting ISIS on the ground was the best approach, “to avoid a Western ground force in a Arab or Muslim country?” Dempsey said Levin’s assessment was true, then added: “But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States, then I of course would go back to the President and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.” Both Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the panel that ISIS already represents a threat to the U.S.

Then Senator Jack Reed, D-R.I., followed up by asking Dempsey what might warrant U.S. troops getting involved in ground combat on Iraqi soil. The general responded by citing the key mission facing the Iraqi security forces: retaking Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from the ISIS. “If the Iraqi security forces and the [Kurdish] Pesh [merga fighters] were at some point ready to retake Mosul—a mission that I would find to be extraordinarily complex—it could very well be part of that particular mission to provide close combat advising or accompanying for that mission,” he said. In other words, he’s likely to make such a request.

Dempsey’s acknowledgement that a limited number of U.S. ground troops might be necessary to achieve mission success—he said he wasn’t talking about “armored divisions with flags unfurled” headed into Iraq—triggered questions for White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who made clear the President was sticking to his guns. “The President does not believe that it would be in the best interest of our national security to deploy American ground troops in a combat role in Iraq and Syria,” Earnest said after Dempsey testified. “That policy has not changed.”

By dinnertime, Dempsey’s spokesman had issued a statement trying to clean up the mess. “While we have advisers on the ground in Iraq today, the chairman doesn’t believe there is a military requirement for our advisers to accompany Iraqi forces into combat,” Air Force Colonel Ed Thomas said. “The context of this discussion was focused on how our forces advise the Iraqis and was not a discussion of employing U.S. ground combat units in Iraq.”

The Presidential pledge has riled serving and former military officers, who believe little is to be gained by unilaterally removing military options from the table. “I think the President made a big mistake in publicly saying he would not put boots on the ground,” says Anthony Zinni, a retired Marine general who led U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000. “Why tell the other guy what you won’t do?”

Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.V., doesn’t think Zinni’s question is relevant. He told Dempsey and Hagel about what he’s hearing from West Virginians. They want to know, he said, how a renewed U.S. war effort in the region—after spending 13 years, $1.6 trillion and 6,600 U.S. troops’ lives in Afghanistan and Iraq—would make things better.

“We took out Saddam. We thought that would change. Iraq’s in worse shape,” Manchin said. “We take out Gadhafi. We thought that would change. It got so bad in Libya, we’ve had to pull out our own embassy and our people in our embassy… it makes no sense to me, and I can’t sell it…no one believes the outcome will be any different.”

TIME Iraq

U.S. Mission to Destroy ISIS Doesn’t Faze Extremists

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
An ISIS militant in Raqqa, Syria Reuters

Militant group remains defiant in the face of a broadening international coalition of military powers and their allies in the region

The U.S. is shoring up support across the Middle East for its mission to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), but the militants seem unfazed by the broadening coalition against them.

“We welcome America into Syria with open arms… and an explosive belt,” tweeted a man calling himself Abu Abdullah Britani.

Since President Barack Obama announced U.S. forces would not hesitate to hit the militants inside Syria, nearly 40 nations have pledged to join the coalition. Increasingly, both regional and international states fear the threat of the expansionist Jihadis.

Yet for now, little has changed in the militants’ strategy. “ISIS is responding by not backing down, ” said Christopher Harmer, a senior analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, who served several tours with the U.S. army in Iraq. That might be due, in part, to the fact that this coalition is so far more about moral support than military backing. The U.S. is the only external state yet to have acted against the group.

“Every nation state in the world is willing to stand up and say, ‘ISIS is evil. I think ISIS sucks’,” said Harmer. “ISIS doesn’t give a tin s–t about what the U.N. says or what the [Gulf Cooperation Council] says. All they care about is what is actually happening to them.”

And perhaps for these militant fighters the mere fact that they have earned such a broad coalition of opposition is a source of pride. Despite over a month of U.S. strikes and ground operations by Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi national forces, the progress against the group has been limited.

One ISIS sympathizer, who tweets in both English and Dutch, appears to welcome the U.S. involvement. “Ya Allaah give us the Honour to Fight the US face 2 face. The problem is they can’t face us only with planes:P,” he wrote on social media. His profile says of the United States military: “They lost the war in Afghanistan, there was NO Mission Accomplished in Iraq, They are just wasting there [sic] Economy.”

Despite the promise of air strikes and weapons for ISIS rivals, those sentiments of defiance have been echoed by militants on the ground, along with threats against states joining the coalition. In the most recent video, believed to show the gruesome murder of British aid worker David Haines, the black-clad killer says in an English accent that the execution is ISIS’s response to the U.K. sending weapons to Kurdish forces to fight them. Other sites have posted broader messages threatening countries that join the coalition.

And even if the intensifying air campaign pushes ISIS off military fronts with the Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian force, the militants could be driven to hide amongst the civilian population of the urban centers—like Mosul—that are under their control.

Then the group could easily return to the traditional methods of terrorism, such as IEDs and suicide bombings, that it used before becoming a well-organized militant movement with state-building aspirations. The group has thousands of members eager to die for their cause.

“Stop threatening me with drone strikes and death. That’s like threatening a fat American with a visit to McDonalds and a Big Mac,” tweeted one self-identified militant, who calls himself Abu Turaab and put his location as inside the Islamic Caliphate.

The U.S. needs an international coalition or regional allies both to lend legitimacy to their military operation, and to provide bases and on-ground training where the U.S. won’t go. But key in battling ISIS will be getting other Sunni militant groups to fight against them. However, the appearance of a broad U.S.-led coalition, backed by many western nations, will not be appealing for most armed Sunni groups and may instead increase resentment against the West, rather than bring others on side. The U.S. has been assisting the Free Syrian Army, who have been battling both Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and ISIS, but in Iraq allies have been harder to find.

“In the face of this new coalition, [these groups] aren’t coming out against ISIS any more than they were before. On the contrary, the focus of their rhetoric is on the air strikes,” said Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on Syrian and Iraqi militants with the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.

In a rare joint statement, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) condemned the U.S.-led alliance in Iraq and Syria and called on the fractured and battling Jihadi movements of Syria to unite against the shared enemy. “Stop the infighting between you and stand as one rank against America’s campaign and that of its satanic alliance,” said the statement, according to a translation by the Jihadi monitoring group SITE.

The U.S. faces an uphill battle convincing other Sunni groups that the enemy of their enemy is their friend, al-Tamimi said. “It’s not looking good. As part of its strategy the U.S. wants to find Sunni allies on the ground who can help build up an internal revolt against ISIS,” he said. But Iraqi insurgents that have tensions with ISIS aren’t convinced. The Islamic Army in Iraq’s spokesman has said the coalition intends to target Muslims under the pretense of a new war on terrorism.

“If [these groups] are going around saying this is war against Islam,” says al-Tamimi, “then there is not much hope for that right now.”

TIME Military

Joint Chiefs Would ‘Recommend’ Ground Troops in ISIS Fight If Current Plan Fails

Top military leader concedes circumstances under which U.S. troops could come within close range of the battlefield

Updated 2:39 p.m.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before a Congressional panel on Tuesday that he would recommend a deployment of ground troops in the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) should the current strategy involving airstrikes and logistical support fail to wrest the organization’s control over strategic assets in Iraq.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said in a Tuesday hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committees that the current goal was to degrade ISIS’ forces by sending American advisors to help Iraqi troops on the ground. Dempsey added the involvement of those advisers could extend into the battlefield under particularly complex missions, such as the re-taking of a densely populated city like Mosul.

“To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [ISIS] targets, I will recommend that to the President,” Dempsey said.

Later on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest emphasized that Dempsey was speaking about a strictly hypothetical scenario.

“As was clear form General Dempsey’s remarks he was referring to a hypothetical scenario in which there might be a future situation in which he might make a tactical recommendation to the President as it relates to the use of ground troops,” Earnest said.

“It is also the responsibility of the commander in chief to set out a clear policy,” Earnest added. “The President has been clear what that policy is. What he has been very specific and precise about is he will not deploy ground troops in a combat role into Iraq or Syria.”

Administration officials to date have stressed that the 1,600 U.S. military advisers currently stationed in Iraq will not be engaged in ground combat missions, a distinction lawmakers pressure-tested under questioning Tuesday. Asked if military commanders would consider sending American troops in a rescue mission to save a hypothetical downed pilot, Dempsey responded “yes and yes.”

[AP]

TIME Iraq

Dempsey: If Campaign Fails, Ground Troops Possible

(WASHINGTON) — The nation’s top military leader told Congress on Tuesday that if President Barack Obama’s expanded military campaign to destroy Islamic extremists fails, he would recommend that the United States consider deploying American ground forces to Iraq.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel that the goal for American advisers is to help Iraqi forces with planning, logistics and coordinating military efforts by coalition partners to take out members of the Islamic State group.

“To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committees, using an alternative name for the group.

Pressed during questioning, Dempsey said he “would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of ground forces.”

Obama has maintained that American forces will not have a combat mission in Iraq.

Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel faced multiple questions from lawmakers in the first high-stakes hearing examining Obama’s expanded military campaign to counter the relentless terrorist threat from Middle East extremists.

Dempsey said Americans in Iraq are serving in a combat advisory role but not participating in direct combat. However, if the Iraqi forces took on a complex mission to retake Mosul, the general said he might want U.S. troops to accompany the Iraqi troops or provide close combat advice.

The apparent contradiction of combat-trained forces not participating directly in combat was captured in one exchange between Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Dempsey.

“Are pilots dropping bombs in Iraq a direct combat mission and will U.S. forces be prepared to provide search and rescue mission if pilots get shot down and be prepared to put boots on the ground to make that mission be successful?” Inhofe asked.

“Yes and yes,” Dempsey said.

The U.S. military conducted strikes near Baghdad against the Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Obama is seeking congressional support to train and equip vetted Syrian moderates fighting both the Islamic militants and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

Dempsey said the United States is prepared to strike Islamic targets in Syria.

“This will not look like ‘shock and awe’ because that is not how ISIL is organized. But it will be persistent and sustainable,” Dempsey said, referring to the air bombardment at the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.

Several lawmakers have their doubts about the United States being pulled into a larger war, with increasing numbers of American troops. The president has already dispatched more than 1,000 Americans three years after combat forces left Iraq.

Many Republicans and Democrats have expressed reservations about the ability to identify moderates in a country awash with rebel formations and shifting alliances. The Islamic State grew out of the al-Qaida movement, but the two are now fighting. In some instances, the moderate Free Syrian Army has teamed with al-Qaida’s local franchise, the Nusra Front.

Hagel said the U.S. will monitor them closely to ensure that weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands.

“There will always be risk in a program like this, but we believe that risk is justified by the imperative of destroying ISIL — and the necessity of having capable partners on the ground in Syria,” the defense secretary said.

Anti-war protesters filled the front rows at the hearing, chanting “no more war” at the start of the session and repeatedly interrupting the testimony. The protesters were escorted from the room.

Hagel said the involvement will not be “an easy or brief effort. We are at war with ISIL, as we are with al-Qaida.”

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met in the Oval Office with retired Marine Gen. John Allen, who is coordinating international efforts to combat the Islamic State militants. Brett McGurk, a top Iraq adviser at the State Department, also took part in the meeting.

Racing to finish its work and leave Washington for midterm campaigning, House Republicans finalized legislation to authorize the mission to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels.

The authorization under consideration will be included as an amendment to a spending bill Congress must pass to keep the government open until mid-December. That would give lawmakers the opportunity to hold a separate debate and vote on the matter — something members of both parties want. Votes could come as early as Wednesday.

Bowing to congressional fears that any vote is tantamount to a war vote, the legislation includes a provision stating that “nothing in this section shall be construed to constitute a specific statutory authorization for the introduction of U.S. armed forces into hostilities or into situations wherein hostilities are clearly indicated by the circumstances.”

The provision reflects a congressional divide between hawks seeking tougher action than that proposed by Obama and lawmakers weary from more than a decade of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The measure compels the Pentagon to present Congress with a plan 15 days before any training begins and requires ongoing updates every 90 days.

The U.S. plan is to develop moderate Syrian forces at Saudi Arabian training sites before helping them return to the battlefield. It’s unclear how long they would need to be trained to be battle-ready or how the U.S. could ensure their attention remained on fighting extremists and not just the Syrian government.

____

AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.

TIME Military

U.S. Launches First Strike In Campaign Against ISIS

The United States launched its first strike under its expanded mission to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), U.S. Central Command announced Monday.

U.S. aircraft targeted an “[ISIS] fighting position southwest of Baghdad that was firing on [Iraqi Security Forces] personnel,” CENTCOM said in a release. Previous U.S. airstrikes had been limited in scope to humanitarian aims and protecting American personnel and facilities.

President Barack Obama announced the expansion of the U.S. mission against ISIS on Sept. 10 in a primetime address from the White House, saying the U.S. would go on “offense” against the militant group. Administration officials said the president has decided to conduct airstrikes in Syria, where ISIS enjoys a “safe haven,” but White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama is still reviewing options from Department of Defense planners for the strikes.

“The airstrike southwest of Baghdad was the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit [ISIS] targets as Iraqi forces go on offense, as outlined in the President’s speech last Wednesday,” CENTCOM announced. A separate airstrike destroyed six ISIS vehicles near Sinjar, Iraq, the mountainous area where Iraqi minorities were trapped by ISIS fighters last month, bringing to 162 the total number of U.S. airstrikes on ISIS.

Senior administration officials confirmed Monday that any effort by Syrian forces to target American aircraft involved in strikes against ISIS would put Syrian military resources at risk of U.S. attack.

On Tuesday, Obama will meet with retiredGeneral John Allen, the newly-named Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, and his deputy, Brett McGurk, at the White House. Obama will travel to Florida on Wednesday for meetings with CENTCOM leaders and officials involved in building an international coalition against ISIS.

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