TIME Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at the New York Times.

TIME Middle East

ISIS Still Strong Despite Major Defeat in Kobani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Military

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

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

America keeps measuring progress on a battlefield that no longer exists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Davos

Kerry and Hollande Call for Intensified Fight Against Terrorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Japan

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

Junko Ishido, mother of Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist being held captive by Islamic State militants speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo
Toru Hanai—Reuters 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

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 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
Hosam Katan—Reuters 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

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

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
Rebecca CollardIraqi national Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi visits the Mosul Liberation Camp in Dubardan, Iraq.

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.

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

“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 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.

 

TwitterCentral Command’s feed was back in operation Tuesday.

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.”

YouTube…but its feed still featured the CyberCaliphate avatar.

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

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