TIME Syria

U.S. and Allies Launch New Strikes Targeting ISIS Oil Fields

President Obama Delivers Statement On Recent Airstrikes Against ISIS In Syria
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the recent air strikes against ISIS on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, 2014 Win McNamee—Getty Images

The Pentagon says the targets included oil refineries that produce about 300 to 500 barrels of petroleum per day

The U.S. and partner forces launched additional strikes in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Wednesday, the Pentagon said. Forces from the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly launched 13 air strikes against 12 oil refineries controlled by the Islamist group.

“We are still assessing the outcome of the attack on the refineries, but have initial indications that the strikes were successful,” U.S. Central Command said Wednesday. “Producing between 300-500 barrels of refined petroleum per day, [ISIS] is estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day from these refineries. The destruction and degradation of these targets further limits [ISIS's] ability to lead, control, project power and conduct operations.”

The strikes are a part of the U.S.’s ongoing effort to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for beheading two American journalists and one British aid worker, among other Western casualties. During a speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called on more American allies to join in the fight to “dismantle this network of death.”

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Grants Amnesty and More Autonomy to Separatist Regions

Ukraine
People dressed in old Soviet uniforms attend a parade in the town of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, on Sept. 14, 2014 Darko Vojinovic — AP

Rebel areas will be given "special status" for at least three years

As Ukrainians celebrated the passage of an agreement to deepen ties with the European Union on Tuesday, the country’s parliament approved legislation giving greater political autonomy to pro-Moscow regions in the country’s east.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed the move would protect the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence” of Ukraine following the signing of a tenuous cease-fire earlier this month that has largely quelled most, but not all, of the fighting in the country.

In accordance with the new law, rebel-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk will receive “special status” for at least a three-year period, granting wider political autonomy from Kiev.

Also on Tuesday, the legislature pushed through a bill offering sweeping amnesty to rebels in the Donbass region; however, the legislation exempts individuals who may have participated grave crimes, such as the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, according to Voice of America.

Pro-Moscow separatists, who have been fighting a five-month insurgency against Kiev that has killed at least 3,000 people, remained wary of the resolutions.

“We will translate [the autonomy bill] into Russian, study it and give our opinion,” Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told pro-Kremlin news outlet RIA Novosti.

Zakharchenko’s deputy voiced even harsher skepticism.

“This is nonsense when the [parliament] of Ukraine passes bills not for Ukraine, but for Donbass,” said Andrei Purgin. “We have our own parliament for this purpose.”

Meanwhile in Washington, officials at the Pentagon said large numbers of Russian troops had begun to move back across the border, but remain poised to keep pressure firmly on Kiev.

“Those forces are close enough to be quickly brought back to bear if required,” General Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command, told reporters in Washington.

TIME intelligence

CIA Says ISIS Ranks May Have Tripled

ISIS Mosul Iraq Islamic State
Demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they carry the group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, Iraq on June 16, 2014. AP

Foreign fighters, including Americans, appear to be pouring into Syria to support the terrorist group

The number of combatants fighting under the banner of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) could be three times larger than intelligence officials previously believed, according to a new estimate from the Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA estimates that ISIS, the Islamist terrorist group that has declared a caliphate in the large swath of Iraq and Syria which it now controls, “can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria, based on a new review of all-source intelligence reports from May to August, an increase from our previous assessment of at least 10,000 fighters,” a CIA spokesperson said. That estimate accounts only for individuals fighting with ISIS itself, not with any affiliated group.

The new estimate reflects a sharp uptick in recruitment over the summer “following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate,” the CIA spokesperson said.

The CIA believes more than 15,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries—at least 2,000 of whom are Westerners—have traveled to Syria to join ISIS ranks. A dozen or more could be Americans, the CIA believes.

A U.S. intelligence official cautioned that the CIA’s estimate is not a precise figure and reflects a broad approximation based on limited intelligence. “The gap between the low and high points indicates there is uncertainty about the exact number of fighters in (ISIS),” a US intelligence official said. “Given the changing dynamics of the battlefield, new recruits, and other factors, it is difficult to assess the precise number of individuals in a terrorist group that is evolving and practices good operational security.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 5

1. Our nation’s racial divide starts early: America’s public schools are still highly segregated.

By Reed Jordan at the Urban Institute

2. The Pentagon is getting bad advice about responsibly managing its budget and our national defense.

By Nora Bensahel in Defense One

3. “We need to step up our game to make sure that Putin’s rules do not govern the 21st century.”

By Madeleine Albright in Foreign Policy

4. Over a lifetime, and despite the high cost of tuition, a college education is still a great deal.

By Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

5. Reality television – MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” – triggered a plunge in the teen birthrate.

By Phil Schneider in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

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

TIME Somalia

U.S. Military Attacks Al-Shabab in Somalia

Dick Olum
Ugandan Brig. General Dick Olum of African Union forces holds a flag belonging to al-Shabab after AU and Somali government forces seized the town of Bulomarer from militants in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia on Sept. 1, 2014 Tobin Jones—AMISOM/AP

U.S. drone allegedly targeted al-Shabab leader

(MOGADISHU) — A member of the Somali group al-Shabab says its leader was traveling in one of two vehicles hit Monday night in a U.S. military strike but the spokesman would not say if the leader was among the six militants who were killed.

Abu Mohammed told The Associated Press on Tuesday that six militants were killed in the attack. He said the two vehicles were heading toward the coastal town of Barawe, al-Shabab’s main base when they were hit. He said al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was in one of the vehicles.

Earlier:

U.S. military forces attacked the extremist al-Shabab network in Somalia Monday, the Pentagon said, and a witness described ground-shaking explosions in a strike that reportedly targeted the group’s leader.

Al-Shabab had attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people a year ago this month and the U.S. had targeted planners of the bloody assault. There was no immediate comment from al-Shabab and U.S. commanders were waiting to determine the attack’s outcome.

“U.S. military forces conducted an operation in Somalia today against the al-Shabaab network. We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.

After the U.S. strike Monday night in a forest south of Mogadishu, masked Islamic militants in the area arrested dozens of residents they suspected of spying for the U.S. and searched nearby homes, a resident said.

“Mass arrests just started, everyone is being detained,” said Mohamed Ali, who lives in Sablale district. “They even searched nearby jungles and stopped the nomads transporting milk and grass to the towns for questioning.”

A senior Somali intelligence official said a U.S. drone targeted al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane as he left a meeting of the group’s top leaders. Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, is the group’s spiritual leader under whose direction the Somali militants forged an alliance with al-Qaida.

The Somali official, speaking on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the media, said intelligence indicated Godane “might have been killed along with other militants.” The official said the attack took place in a forest near Sablale district, 105 miles (170 kilometers) south of Mogadishu, where al-Shabab trains its fighters.

The governor of Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, Abdiqadir Mohamed Nor, told The Associated Press that as government and African Union forces were heading to a town in Sablale district, they heard what sounded like an “earthquake” as the al-Shabab bases were hit.

“There was an airstrike near Sablale. We saw something,” Nor said.

The U.S. has carried out several airstrikes in Somalia in recent years.

A U.S. missile strike in January killed a high-ranking intelligence officer for al-Shabab, and last October a vehicle carrying senior members of the group was hit in a U.S. strike that killed al-Shabab’s top explosives expert.

The latest U.S. action comes after Somalia’s government forces regained control of a high-security prison in the capital that was attacked on Sunday. Seven heavily armed suspected al-Shabab members had attempted to free other extremists held there.

Somali officials said all seven attackers, three government soldiers and two civilians were killed. Mogadishu’s Godka Jilacow prison is an interrogation center for Somalia’s intelligence agency, and many suspected militants are believed to be held in underground cells there. The attack started when a suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the gate of the prison and the gunmen then fought their way into the prison.

Al-Shabab had attacked the mall in Nairobi last year in retaliation against Kenya for sending troops into Somalia against the extremists. Godane said at the time that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the West’s support for Kenya’s Somalia intervention and the “interest of their oil companies.”

Al Shabab is now mostly active in Somalia’s rural regions after being ousted from the capital by African Union forces in 2011.

Somali military officials last week launched a military operation to oust al-Shabab from its last remaining bases in the southern parts of Somalia. On Saturday the militants withdrew from the town of Bulomarer, located about 110 kilometers (70 miles) south of Mogadishu, after hours of fighting.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 28

1. New Orleans is at the heart of a new HIV epidemic, and only massive health system reform can remedy the situation.

By Jessica Wapner in Aeon

2. From dismantling Syria’s chemical arsenal to hunting down Joseph Kony, America’s military missions abroad far outlast the public’s attention span.

By Kate Brannen in Foreign Policy

3. To look beyond stereotypes and understand the programs and interventions that improve life for young men of color, the U.S. Department of Education invited them to a “Data Jam.”

By Charley Locke in EdSurge

4. Taking a page from silicon valley, incubators for restaurateurs can help get new ideas on the plate.

By Allison Aubrey at National Public Radio

5. So the homeless can work, worship, and transition to normal life, cities should offer safe, flexible storage options.

By Kriston Capps in Citylab

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

TIME Military

U.S. Launched Operation to Rescue ISIS Hostages, Pentagon Says

Journalist James Foley covers the civil war in Aleppo, Syria, in November 2012.
Journalist James Foley covers the civil war in Aleppo, Syria, in November 2012. Nicole Tung—AP

No hostages were found at the target location

The United States launched a rescue operation this summer to free American hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Department of Defense said Wednesday, but no hostages were found at the target location.

In a statement released a day after the Sunni extremist group released a graphic video showing the execution of American journalist James Foley, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. Kirby confirmed that American air and ground forces attempted a rescue to free a number of American hostages held by militants in Syria.

A U.S. government official confirmed Wednesday night that Foley was among the Americans the military attempted to rescue.

“This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within [ISIS]. Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location,” Kirby said. “As we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity. In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home.”

Lisa Monaco, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said Obama authorized the operation “because it was the national security team’s assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in [ISIS] custody.”

The ground portion of the operation was carried out by U.S. special forces operators. Monaco said the government wouldn’t go into detail on the operation to protect “operational capabilities.”

“The United States government uses the full breadth of our military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can,” Kirby said. “The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable.”

In a statement to reporters Wednesday, Obama referenced the Americans still being held by ISIS. “We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families. We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for. “

TIME Iraq

Obama: U.S. ‘Broke’ Siege of Iraqi Mountain

Displaced Iraqi families from the Yazidi community cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on Aug. 13, 2014.
Displaced Iraqi Yezidi families cross the Iraqi-Syrian border in northern Iraq on Aug. 13, 2014 Ahmad Al-Rubaye—AFP/Getty Images

"We helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives"

Updated 1:33 p.m. E.T.

President Barack Obama said Thursday that U.S. air strikes and humanitarian drops, as well as the efforts of Kurdish forces, have broken the siege of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, where thousands of members of the Yezidi religious minority had been trapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon from Martha’s Vineyard, where he is vacationing, Obama said a U.S. military and civilian team concluded Wednesday that U.S. efforts have dramatically lessened the likelihood that a rescue would need to be staged to free the civilians on the mountain.

“Because of the skill and professionalism of our military and the generosity of our people, we broke the [ISIS] siege of Mount Sinjar,” Obama said. “We helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives.”

U.S. military aircraft have carried out around a dozen air strikes in Iraq since Obama authorized military action a week ago, and U.S. transport planes have delivered more than 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of fresh water on the mountain in airdrops carried out over the past seven nights.

Obama maintained that the situation in Iraq remains “dire” for those Iraqis who live in areas under the control of ISIS, which has taken large swaths of territory and several of the country’s largest cities in offensives over the past several months. Obama said the U.S. stands ready to carry out similar humanitarian efforts elsewhere in Iraq if necessary, and reiterated that U.S. air strikes would continue in order to protect American military advisers and diplomatic facilities in Iraq.

Obama added that the burden for a long-term solution to the crisis in Iraq lies on the shoulders of the Iraqi government, saying that after a conversation with newly selected Prime Minister–designate Haider al-Abadi, he is “modestly hopeful that the Iraqi government situation is moving in the right direction.”

Al-Abadi would replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is struggling to hold onto power even as domestic factions and international leaders have withdrawn support. Al-Maliki insists that he should have a third term in office, given the success of his Shi‘ite-led faction in an election this past April. However, President Fouad Massoum has asked al-Abadi, a lawmaker from al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, to try to form a government.

TIME Military

U.S. No Longer Waging a Time-Share War

Peshmerga forces enter Makhmur
Kurdish Peshmerga forces regained some territory in northern Iraq on Sunday. Ensar Ozdemir / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Unlike Obama's earlier military orders, his Iraq plan lacks a deadline

President Obama was eager to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, is eager to pull them out of Afghanistan, and refused to put them into Libya and Syria. His reticence is justifiably rooted in opposition at home to any more ground combat following more than a decade of war after 9/11.

But over the weekend, he warned that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s threat to Kurdish city of Erbil in northern Iraq warranted U.S. military airstrikes, and that they could continue over a sustained period of time. “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” he said Saturday. “This is going to take some time.” On Sunday, Kurdish forces reportedly ousted ISIS fighters from a pair of border towns 20 miles from Erbil as U.S. warplanes conducted a third consecutive day of attacks on ISIS forces.

Changes in waging war have proliferated since the so-called non-state actors known as al-Qaeda brought down the World Trade Center towers, attacked the Pentagon and sent United Flight 93 diving into a Pennsylvania field. The foe is elusive, metamorphosing from al-Qaeda in Iraq to ISIS, as the jihadist leaders wage battle among themselves for supremacy.

Any conflict that begins, as the latest Iraq venture did, with humanitarian airdrops to thousands of dehydrated and hungry Yazidis in and around Mount Sinjar makes for a different kind of war.

Obama said he acted because of concerns for the safety of U.S. military advisers and consular officials in Erbil, threatened by an ISIS advances over the past week. The advisers are there, and in Baghdad, to plot how the U.S. can aid the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki in its battle against ISIS. Without such a U.S. stake in Libya or Syria, he has felt no need to take military action there.

But the flames now burning around the Middle East are part of a larger conflagration, fueled by crumbling autocracies and religious zealots, who are recruiting unemployed young men eager to belong to something bigger than themselves.

The U.S. and other Western nations essentially are biding their time, hoping such fires will eventually die out with minimal involvement by them. That could happen.

But if ISIS succeeds in establishing anything approximating a real state straddling the Syrian-Iraq border, it will become a new launching pad for attacks against the U.S. and its interests, just like in Taliban-led Afghanistan.

“Every day that goes by, ISIS builds up this caliphate and it becomes a direct threat to the United States of America,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House subcommittee on counter-terrorism, told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “They are more powerful now than al-Qaeda was on 9/11.”

Obama and his successor know that they cannot allow a jihadist-run state, pledged to killing “infidels,” in the heart of the Middle East.

“I would be rushing equipment to Erbil,” Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., told CNN Sunday. “I would be launching airstrikes, not only in Iraq but in Syria against ISIS.”

In a prescient comment that turned out to be correct, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned in 2003 that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would be “a long, hard slog.” Americans tired of both, in part because of the Bush Administration’s ambitious, costly and unrealized plans for remaking both nations.

But what we’re seeing now is a new kind of war, and it requires a new kind of leadership.

Iraq, for its part, needs a leader who can gather its warring factions under one roof and turn it into a functioning 21st Century state.

If such a leader fails to materialize, Iraq will continue its slow-motion suicide.

Then it will take a U.S. leader who is willing to detail the possible risks of continued half-hearted actions—what the New York Times called “a Military Middle Road” in a Sunday headline—in the region. He—or she—will have to fashion a new kind of calibrated, and sustained, warfare that a democracy can support.

TIME Iraq

Pentagon Denies Reports of Airstrikes on ISIS Militants in Iraq

Thousands flee Iraq's Mosul
Thousands of Yazidi and Christian people flee Hamdaniyah town of Mosul to Erbil after the latest wave of ISIL advances that began on Sunday has seen a number of towns near Iraq's second largest city Mosul fall to the militants on August 6, 2014. Mustafa Kerim—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Also claims reports the U.S. had begun humanitarian air drops to people in need in northern Iraq are false

Updated 6:13 p.m. E.T.

The Pentagon denied reports Thursday that it had begun conducting airstrikes on Sunni targets in Iraq or humanitarian air drops to thousands of members of a persecuted religious minority under siege from militants in the northwest of the country.

The New York Times, citing Kurdish officials, reported that U.S. forces bombed at least two targets in northern Iraq. The McClatchy news agency also reported aerial bombings outside the town of Kalak in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, stating that Kurdish media had described jets as American bombers.

But the Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said on Twitter that the press reports were “completely false.” The Pentagon also denied a report, by ABC News, that the U.S. had begun humanitarian air drops to people in need in northern Iraq.

Earlier on Thursday, a defense official told TIME that the Iraqi government had begun airdrops in northern Iraq and that it was considering providing “direct assistance wherever possible.” Multiple news outlets, including CBS News and the New York Times, reported Thursday that airdrops or airstrikes were among the options under consideration.

Thousands of people from the Yazidi minority—considered “devil worshippers” by the advancing Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS)—have fled their homes in the Sinjar region in northwestern Iraq and are holed up in mountains around the town of Sinjar, according to the United Nations, where they face dehydration and hunger. The UN said on Tuesday that some 40 children have died.

“According to official reports received by UNICEF, these children from the Yazidi minority died as a direct consequence of violence, displacement and dehydration over the past two days.”

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