TIME Syria

ISIS Executed Almost 2,000 People in Syria Over the Past Six Months

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STR—AP In this June 16, 2014, file photo, supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria chant slogans as they carry the group's flags in Mosul, Iraq

The great majority of them were civilians

ISIS executed 1,878 people in Syria over the past six months, including 120 of its own members, a U.K.-based Syrian human-rights group said on Sunday.

Most of the people killed by the Islamist terrorist group were civilians, including 930 members of a Sunni Muslim tribe from eastern Syria, Reuters reports, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

All but four of those executed within ISIS’s own ranks were fighters trying to leave and go back home.

ISIS, which has declared a caliphate across a broad swath of Syria and Iraq, and regards breaches of strict Islamic law as punishable by death, frequently releases videos of its executions, including the killings of two U.S. journalists and three aid workers from the U.S. and Britain.

[Reuters]

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Police: Coalition Airstrikes Kill ISIS Governor of Mosul

Hassan Saeed Al-Jabouri is the second ISIS-appointed governor to be killed in the extremist stronghold in December

Coalition airstrikes killed the latest Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)-appointed governor of Mosul on Thursday, according to Iraqi police.

Hassan Saeed Al-Jabouri, known as Abu Taluut, is the second ISIS governor of Mosul to be killed in December, CNN reports.

According to Maj. Gen. Watheq Al-Hamdani, the Iraqi police commander leading the government’s efforts to retake Mosul, Jabouri was killed 29 km south of the city in the village of Qayyara. He had been in office less than 25 days.

Mosul has been a stronghold for ISIS fighters since they took the city from Iraqi forces earlier this year. The Pentagon says they will move to retake the city beginning in January.

[CNN]

TIME faith

Pope Francis Singles Out Iraq and Syria in Christmas Prayer for Peace

VATICAN-POPE-URBI ORBI-CHRISTMAS
Osservatore Romano/AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis gives his traditional Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on Dec. 25, 2014

"There are so many tears this Christmas"

Pope Francis used his Christmas address at the Vatican to pray for peace for those suffering through conflicts in the Middle East, Ukraine and Africa.

Speaking to thousands amassed below his perch on St. Peter’s Basilica, USA Today reports, he singled out residents and refugees of Iraq and Syria “who for too long now suffer the effects of ongoing conflict and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution.” He also mentioned the families of the children killed in the recent school attack in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“There are so many tears this Christmas,” he said, later adding: “May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world.”

Other restive areas noted by the Pope included Central African Republic, Nigeria and South Sudan.

The annual address came the day after he placed a satellite phone call to an Iraqi refugee camp, informing displaced families that they were in his thoughts this holiday season.

“Dear brothers, I am close to you, very close to you in my heart,” the Pope said to refugees outside the Kurdish city of Erbil, according to AFP.

Many of the refugees had fled a campaign of ethnic cleansing waged by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in the northwestern provinces of the country. The Pope condemned ISIS, accusing its members of carrying out attacks against “innocent children, children who have died, exploited children.”

“I am thinking, too, about grandparents, about the older people who have lived their lives, and who must now bear this cross,” he said, hours before he led midnight mass at the Vatican.

[USA Today]

TIME Military

Jordanian Pilot Captured by ISIS Militants

Jordan pilot captured
EPA A still image released by the Islamic State on Dec. 24, 2014 purportedly shows a Jordanian pilot captured by ISIS fighters after they shot down a warplane from the US-led coalition with an anti-aircraft missile near Raqqa city.

First allied troop captured in the four-month war against militants

The second-worst fear of U.S. commanders came true Wednesday, as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria captured a Jordanian pilot attacking ISIS targets in northeastern Syria.

It could only have been worse, from the U.S. perspective, if the pilot had been American, falling into a barbarous enemy’s hands on Christmas Eve. It marked the first capture of an allied fighter in the four-month war against ISIS.

Jordan acknowledged their pilot had been captured near ISIS’s self-declared capital city of Raqqa. “Jordan holds the group (IS) and its supporters responsible for the safety of the pilot and his life,” a statement from the Jordanian army read on state television said. It did not specify whether the plane had crashed or been shot down, as ISIS has claimed.

The family of pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh publicly sought his release. “Please send him back to us,” his brother, Jawad, told CNN. “He is just a soldier who is following orders and has no authority.”

ISIS posted two photographs allegedly showing the capture. In one, a man labeled as the pilot is seen being pulled by militants from a lake, soaking wet and clad only in a white shirt. A second shows him surrounded by militants, some of them masked.

“A Jordanian F-16 aircraft crashed in the vicinity of the northern Syrian city of Ar-Raqqah on Wednesday and the pilot has been taken captive by ISIL forces,” U.S. Central Command said several hours after the plane went down. “Evidence clearly indicates that [ISIS] did not down the aircraft as the terrorist organization is claiming.”

An earlier statement issued by the allies said that an air strike had been conducted against a “weapons stockpile” near Raqqa. “All aircraft returned to base safely,” it added. Twenty-two minutes later it issued what it called a “corrected” statement with that sentence gone.

READ MORE The First Western Journalist to Interview ISIS Is Home With a Terrifying Message

The chance of a pilot being shot down and captured has been a major concern of U.S. war planners. That’s why the Army’s AH-64 Apache helicopters—flying low and slow—haven’t seen much action. High-and-fast flying fixed-wing aircraft are much less vulnerable to ground fire.

But even the world’s best warplanes can be shot down with what pilots call a “golden BB” that hits the plane in the right spot. F-16 and F-117 fighters were shot down over Yugoslavia in Balkan wars of the 1990s. Both pilots were rescued. An RPG downed a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan in 2011, killing all 38 aboard, including 25 SEALs and other special-ops troops.

Repeated flights over those trying to shoot you down increase the chances those shooting from the ground will eventually succeed. Since the U.S. and its allies began stepped-up bombing runs against ISIS targets Sept. 23, they have flown 10,000 sorties. About one of every four has been a non-U.S. flight.

As of Dec. 15, the 11 allies flying such missions have accounted for 14% of 1,287 air-strike missions, the most dangerous kind. In addition to the U.S., allies attacking targets in Iraq are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have joined the U.S. in bombing runs against targets inside Syria.

READ MORE ISIS’s Harrowing Sexual Violence Toward Yezidi Women Revealed

al-Kasasbeh’s fate is grim. The jihadist group holding him has beheaded non-military Westerners for simply being Westerners. Pentagon officials fear he could be used for propaganda purposes, as several of the murdered Westerners were. If the allies claim he is a prisoner of war—and needs to be treated humanely, under the Geneva Accords—that suggests they recognize ISIS as a legitimate state, something they don’t want to do.

The pilot’s Facebook page was filling up with prayers from friends shortly after news broke of the shoot down. U.S. Army General Lloyd Austin, chief of Centcom, said the U.S. would “support efforts to ensure his safe recovery, and will not tolerate [ISIS’s] attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for their own purposes.”

It’s a safe bet the U.S. will do all it can to help Jordan rescue him, although such missions have only a slim chance of success.

The topic came up at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in September. “Will U.S. forces be prepared to provide combat search and rescue if a pilot gets shot down, and will they put boots on the ground to make that rescue successful?” Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., asked Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey’s answer: “Yes.”

Inhofe was referring to a U.S. pilot, but that caveat seems moot now.

TIME Iraq

The First Western Journalist to Interview ISIS Is Home With a Terrifying Message

What he found in Mosul doesn't bode well

Jürgen Todenhöfer, the first Western journalist to be granted access to territories controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), has returned with a warning: the terrorist group is “much stronger and much more dangerous” than its adversaries understand.

The veteran German writer and journalist is back in his home state after traveling through ISIS territories, just months after the extremist group began killing captive foreign workers and journalists. In Todenhöfer’s first interviews about the trip with German-language media, translated by the U.K. Independent, he presents ISIS as having achieved its namesake goal: an Islamic State — or rather, a collection of claimed lands hewed together by an audacious, baffling zealotry that will challenge efforts to beat the group.

READ MORE Kurdish Fighters Regain Territory from ISIS in Most Successful Offensive Yet

Todenhöfer, 74, a high-profile reporter and antiwar activist, traveled to ISIS-held Mosul, in northern Iraq, after seven months of negotiations with the group’s leaders.

In Mosul, Todenhöfer found an “almost ecstatic enthusiasm” for the jihadist group that is unlike anything he had seen “in any other war zone,” he tells the German press. Each day, Todenhöfer says, hundreds of new recruits arrive to pledge themselves to the group’s mission, or what he calls the “largest religious cleansing strategy that has ever been planned in human history.”

Beyond the challenge of beating ISIS’s psychological pull on its followers, the U.S. and its allies will also confront the problem that the group’s some 5,000 fighters in Mosul sleep in barracks all around the Iraqi city, such that attackers “would have to reduce the whole of Mosul to ruins” to rid it of ISIS, says Todenhöfer.

He adds: “With every bomb that is dropped and hits a civilian, the number of terrorists increases.”

[The Independent]

TIME Military

Taking the Crisis Out of ISIS

George H.W. Bush is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
Navy photo / Robert Burck An F-18 leaves it carrier for a bombing run against ISIS targets.

Pentagon reports some good news from the front

After four months of stalemate in the U.S.-led air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, the U.S. military finally expressed measured optimism Thursday over the course of the campaign.

“We’re seeing initial successes in this fight,” Army Lieut. General James Terry told reporters at the Pentagon. “My assessment is that Daesh has been halted in transitioning to the defense and is attempting to hold what they currently have.”

The Pentagon has begun referring to ISIS—which is also know as ISIL, for the Islamic State in the Levant—as Daesh, after prodding from its allies.

In Arabic, Daesh and ISIL sound alike, although “daesh” literally means “to crush underneath the foot,” Terry said. “Our partners, at least the ones that I work with, ask us to use that, because they feel that if you use ISIL, that you legitimize a self-declared caliphate, and they feel pretty strongly that we should not be doing that.”

ISIS forces still control roughly a third of Iraq and Syria. Regaining major territory in both nations won’t be possible until local ground forces can be assembled and trained to take the fight to the Islamic militants in the major cities they now hold. The launch of any such single counter-offensive is months away, and will take years to drive ISIS from all the cities, Pentagon officials believe.

Later Thursday, the Pentagon’s top spokesman said air strikes over the last month have killed senior ISIS officials. “Since mid-November, targeted coalition airstrikes successfully killed multiple [ISIS] senior and mid-level leaders,” Rear Admiral John Kirby said. The Wall Street Journal reported that three senior leaders had been killed.

“We believe that the loss of these key leaders degrades [ISIS’s] ability to command and control current operations against Iraqi Security Forces, including Kurdish and other local forces in Iraq,” Kirby added in a statement. The U.S. and its allies have conducted 1,361 air strikes since August, with 86% of those carried out by U.S. warplanes (the U.S. has carried out 97% of the strikes in Syria this month, Reuters reports).

The Pentagon statements didn’t occur in a vacuum. Last week, lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressed ire at the slow pace of the war against ISIS. “Does the United States have some other strategic plan other than arming these [Syrian] folks that aren’t going to show up till 2016, dropping bombs, that are marginal whether they’ve been successful, and helping with military aid to some of these coalition countries?” Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, asked Brett McGurk, the Obama Administration’s anti-ISIS envoy.

“It was designed,” McGurk said, “to be a long-term program.”

Read next: U.S. Kills 3 ISIS Leaders in Iraq Strikes, Officials Say

TIME Iraq

Kurdish Fighters Regain Territory from ISIS in Most Successful Offensive Yet

The two-day offensive was the largest to date in the war against ISIS in Iraq

Backed by a recent surge in U.S. airstrikes, Kurdish forces recaptured a large area of territory from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militants on Thursday, the New York Times reports.

It was described as “the single biggest military offensive against ISIS, and the most successful” in a statement on Thursday night from the office of Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council. The offensive involved 8,000 local troops and was backed by 53 airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition.

The offensive has allowed for the opening of a path from the autonomous Kurdish region to Mount Sinjar in the west, near the Syrian border. Mount Sinjar came under siege in August, when thousands of Yazidis were persecuted by ISIS, prompting the start of U.S. airstrikes.

Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, overall commander of the campaign against ISIS, told Pentagon reporters: “We will relentless pursue Daesh in order to degrade and destroy its capabilities and defeat their efforts,” using an Arabic word for ISIS.

[NYT]

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

TIME Syria

U.N.: $8.4 Billion Needed for Syria and Neighbors Hosting Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres gestures during a news conference for the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 in Geneva
Pierre Albouy—Reuters U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres gestures during a news conference to launch of the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva Dec. 8, 2014

Nations hosting refugees to also benefit from improvements to infrastructure and services

The U.N. is seeking $8.4 billion to help the nearly 18 million victims of the Syrian conflict.

The money will go toward jobs, education, public health and public works, reports the New York Times. The request for development aid is an acknowledgement that the conflict may last for many years and that it has seriously disrupted the lives of the Syrian people.

Syria’s war is still escalating,” said António Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, in a statement Thursday. “And the humanitarian situation is becoming protracted.”

For the first time, this war chest includes aid for neighboring countries, which are feeling the strain of the flood of Syrian refugees.

More than 12 million Syrians are displaced inside the country while 3.2 million have fled to neighbors such as Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. The U.N. estimates that the number of Syrian refugees will rise to 4.3 million in 2015.

In addition to helping Syrian refugees, the U.N.’s financing plan includes estimates that 20.6 million people in host countries will benefit indirectly from improvements to infrastructure and services.

TIME conflict

U.S. Kills 3 ISIS Leaders in Iraq Strikes, Officials Say

ISIS Jihadi
Reuters An Islamic State of Iraq and Syria waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria, on June 29, 2014

The three killed were mid- to high-level leaders of ISIS

Three leaders of ISIS have been killed by American air strikes in Iraq in the past month and a half, U.S. defense officials said Thursday.

They were identified as Haji Mutazz, a deputy to the ISIS leader; Abd al-Basit, the top military commander; and Radwin Talib, who is in control of ISIS in Iraq. They were described as mid- to high-level leaders.

One official called the deaths of Mutazz and al-Basit in particular a “serious blow to ISIS command and control.” The official said that the setback may be temporary because ISIS has plenty of willing replacements…

Read the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME National Security

A Contrivance of an Alliance

George H.W. Bush is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
Navy photo / Robert Burck U.S. Navy warplanes prepare to attack ISIS targets.

The U.S. is largely flying solo when it comes to attacking ISIS

The U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is complex. A coalition made up of the U.S. and seven allies began bombing ISIS targets in Iraq in August. A month later, the U.S. began bombing targets belonging to the militant group in Syria, along with four allies.

Should the civilized world care that none of the seven U.S. allies bombing ISIS targets in Iraq (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom) are bombing ISIS in Syria? And that, ipso facto, none of the four U.S. allies bombing targets in Syria (Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) are bombing ISIS targets in Iraq?

Does it matter that the U.S. stands alone when it comes to bombing both?

Perhaps more important is the lopsided nature of the air strikes: since Sept. 23, the allies have accounted for nearly 40% of close air support, interdiction and escort sorties, and 25% of total missions flown. “Many of those sorties that conduct dynamic targeting in support of ground forces require specialized capability, and frequently they do not result in a necessary strike on [ISIS] forces, equipment or facilities,” Gary Boucher, spokesman for the campaign, dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, said Tuesday.

But the allies have accounted for only 14% of the air strikes. That’s less than one out of every seven. Think of it like a workweek: the U.S. military is working Monday through Saturday; and the allies work Sunday. It works out to an average of two non-U.S. daily air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, shared among seven nations, and less than one non-U.S. air strike per day among the four countries attacking ISIS targets in Syria.

“The real problem is how few sorties most other countries are flying,” says Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “A 62-country token alliance is only marginally better than the U.S. alone.”

As small as the allies’ contributions may be, there are back-home considerations driving which side of the porous Iraq-Syria border they’re bombing. Many of the nations bombing ISIS in Iraq fought alongside the U.S. there following the 2003 invasion, and don’t want their earlier sacrifices to be in vain. The states bombing inside Syria want to see Syrian President Bashar Assad gone.

The anemic response from the world community suggests the war against various forms of Islamic zealotry is going to get worse before it gets better. Following Monday’s jihadist-inspired bloodshed at an Australian chocolate shop, and Tuesday’s massacre of at least 141 people, nearly all of them schoolchildren, by Islamic militants at a military-run school in Pakistan, it’s past time to ask when the international community is going to come up with a plan to deal with this metastasizing horror.

The right response isn’t necessarily more bombing by more countries. The targets are often elusive and defy military action. But until there’s more buy-in from the rest of the world, Washington’s efforts, military and otherwise, are doomed.

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