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.
An F-18 leaves it carrier for a bombing run against ISIS targets. Navy photo / Robert Burck

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 Middle East

Syrian War Refugees Born Across the Middle East Risk Statelessness

In this Tuesday, March 11, 2014 file photo, two aid workers measure 1-year-old Syrian refugee Jawad al-Abbas at a medical clinic in the town of Kab Elias in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Bilal Hussein—AP

In Lebanon, nearly 30,000 children risk a life deprived of basic rights

(BEIRUT) — Nearly 30,000 Syrian children born as refugees in Lebanon are in a legal limbo, not registered with any government, exposing them to the risk of a life of statelessness deprived of basic rights.

It is a problem that is replicated, to varying degrees, in nations across the Middle East where more than 3.3 million Syrians have found safe haven from the intractable civil war in their homeland.

The life of a stateless person is a life without a nationality, without citizenship, without the basic documents that establish an individual’s identity and give him the rights accorded everyone else. Without a birth certificate, identity papers or other documents, even basic things like getting married, going to school or finding a job can be next to impossible.

“If you can’t prove your nationality, it means you can’t get legal documentation, can’t cross borders legally, can’t enjoy any other basic rights that citizens of a country are entitled too,” said Isabella Castrogiovanni, a senior child protection specialist with UNICEF. “So the consequences are obviously huge.”

The United Nations launched a major campaign last month to try to end statelessness for an estimated 10 million people around the world within 10 years.

Syria’s civil war is one of the major trouble spots, with more than 3 million people fleeing to neighboring countries to escape the bloodshed. For Syrian refugee women who give birth, acquiring the legal documentation with the local government is a chief concern. And yet, an estimated 70 percent of the 42,000 children born to Syrian parents in Lebanon since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011 remain off the books, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

That figure only relates to the 1.1 million refugees registered with UNHCR. Lebanese officials estimate there are another 500,000 unregistered Syrians in the country. It is not known how many children have been born among that population, but whatever the number, they likely have an even lower rate of registration.

The daily hardships of life as a refugee keep many Syrian parents from registering their newborns: no money, no documents, little time off from work. The process is complicated, with multiple steps that require travel from one government office to another, money for fees and, most importantly, a slew of documents. Without the parents’ marriage license, for example, the birth of a child cannot be registered. But many Syrians had to flee their homeland on short notice and so left legal papers behind, or their papers were destroyed along with their homes.

At a natal clinic in a run-down neighborhood in south Beirut on a recent dreary December morning, around a dozen Syrian mothers with children in tow sat on green plastic chairs waiting for a checkup with the resident midwife. Most of the women said they were aware of the need to register their newborn, but only around half of them had.

Outside, one mother named Khawla from the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria cradled her newborn son in her arms as her curly-haired two-year-old, Mohammed, stomped around the damp pavement.

“It took us eight months to register Mohammed. We’re thinking we may not register him,” she said, nodding at her baby boy, Yousef, asleep in a bundle of clothing in her arms. “My husband works from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day in a grocery store, so he doesn’t have time to go through the whole process. We’re waiting for a miracle to register Yousef.”

For another young mother, who gave her name as Zeinab, the barrier to registering was with the paperwork required by Lebanese authorities.

“I want to register my two youngest,” she said. “The problem is they asked for documents from Syria, but we can’t go back.”

Both women declined to give their last names out of fear of causing trouble with Lebanese authorities.

In Lebanon, the process begins when the child is born and new parents receive a birth notification from an authorized doctor or midwife. The parents must then take that, along with their own identification cards, to the local mayor to get a birth certificate for a small fee.

Then they have to register the birth certificate with a local government department handling family status records. Finally, they must register it again at another office, the provincial personal status department. Each of those steps has its own fees.

The haphazard conditions of refugee life add complications. If the parents married as refugees in Lebanon without getting the proper papers, the process hits a dead end. If a woman gives birth without an authorized midwife or doctor, she can’t even get the birth notification that starts the process.

“We’re getting to the stage where awareness about it is more widespread, but the procedures are a bit difficult to understand … and there are barriers that cause people problems,” said Jocelyn Knight, the protection coordinator for the International Rescue Committee’s office in Beirut.

“I think just because of the number of steps involved, it can be quite daunting for new parents and they’re not really sure what to do.”

The U.N. refugee agency and non-governmental organizations have been pushing to raise awareness among Syrian refugees across the Middle East of the need to register their children.

The situation is markedly better in Jordan than in Lebanon, for example. There, UNHCR says 70 percent of Syrian babies have been registered.

U.N. officials say progress has been made in the past six months to raise awareness in Lebanon.

“If you think in terms of the hope for these children to go back to Syria one day, if and when conditions allow, not having any legal document will make them like ghosts going back to their country,” UNICEF’s Castrogiovanni said.

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
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 Pierre Albouy—Reuters

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 National Security

Passengers Arriving in the U.S. Are Profiled by Nationality, TSA Head Says

John Pistole
Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 14, 2014 Molly Riley—AP

People from Yemen, Syria and certain other countries are subject to greater checks

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) profiles airline travelers based on national origin, screening passengers from Syria, Yemen and other nations with extra attention, the agency’s outgoing head said Tuesday.

John Pistole told the Associated Press that a passenger’s Yemeni or Syrian citizenship might be relevant to the TSA, just as a person’s citizenship of a South or Central American country might be relevant to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Though the Justice Department last week barred federal law-enforcement agencies from profiling based on religion and national origin, it gave an exception to the TSA, as well as to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other security-related agencies.

Pistole, who is leaving the agency at the end of the month, oversaw a reversal in the TSA’s screening practices to shift resources toward chiefly monitoring travelers designated as high or unknown risk. Most passengers are classified as “no known risk” and are now swiftly moved through the security process.

[AP]

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.
U.S. Navy warplanes prepare to attack ISIS targets. Navy photo / Robert Burck

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.

TIME Crime

66 Journalists Killed in 2014: Report

MYANMAR-MEDIA-RIGHTS-POLITICS-COURT
Burmese journalists wear T-shirts that say "Stop Killing Press" during a silent protest for five journalists who were jailed for 10 years on July 10, near the Myanmar Peace Center where Burmese President Thein Sein was scheduled to meet with local artists in Rangoon on July 12, 2014. Soe Than Win—AFP/Getty Images

Media activists say attacks on journalists are becoming increasingly barbaric

At least 66 journalists were killed across the globe this year while another 178 media workers were imprisoned, according to industry monitoring outlet Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

While the number of journalists’ deaths fell slightly when compared to 2013 figures, the high-profile beheadings of Western and Arab reporters by militant Jihadists in the Middle East marked a gruesome escalation in the types of violence employed against the Fourth Estate.

“Rarely have reporters been murdered with such a barbaric sense of propaganda, shocking the entire world,” said the watchdog organization in their annual report published on Tuesday.

RSF also noted that the number of kidnapping cases skyrocketed dramatically in 2014 with 119 journalists reportedly being abducted, a 37% increase year-on-year.

TIME isis

The Fight Against ISIS on the Border Between Turkey and Syria

Here's what the conflict looks like from the border town of Kobani

In recent weeks, the town of Kobani in Syria has become a symbol of resistance against Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militants.

A battle to control the border city has raged for over two months between ISIS and Kurdish fighters, as the town occupies a strategic position on the Turkish border that, if it were to fall, would allow ISIS to control much of the region.

Every day, groups of Kurdish men and women gather to watch the war from across the border in Turkey as their relatives fight the extremist organization. One Kurdish supporter, Hasan Kara, spoke with fear if Kobani were to fall in the hands of ISIS. “As a Kurd I can’t just wait here and watch. Actually as a human being… they shouldn’t expect anyone to stand here and do nothing.”

In recent weeks, coalition forces led by the U.S. have conducted a series of air strikes near the border city and have dropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies in the Kurdish held areas.

Turkey has resisted calls to help the Kurds in their offensive against the radical group, describing them as a terrorist group like the Kurdish militant group the PKK.

But with no clear victor in sight, and an estimated 1,400 killed during fighting according to the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, thousands of Syrian refugees have attempted to escape the war-torn town to reach refugee camps in neighboring Turkey.

 

 

 

 

TIME isis

ISIS Twitter Fan Boy Revealed to be Indian Food Exec

He says he "doesn't know what to do" now that Indian police are searching for him

He is one of the most active supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the Internet but on Thursday @ShamiWitness was revealed to be an Indian food company executive called Mehdi.

With a Twitter following of roughly 18,000, @ShamiWitness has been one of the most influential voices on Twitter propagandizing on behalf of ISIS. Mehdi works for an Indian food conglomerate in Bangalore.

Channel 4 News says the agency is not revealing his full name “as he says his life would be in danger if his true identity was made public.”

Nonetheless, in the wake of his semi-unmasking, Mehdi deactivated the @ShamiWitness Twitter account and has said that Indian police are now searching for him and he “doesn’t know what to do.”

Mehdi said if given the opportunity he would join forces himself with the Islamic State but that he cannot because his family depends on him financially. “If I had a chance to leave everything and join them I might have,” he said. “My family needs me here.”

[Channel 4 News]

TIME Syria

Syria and ISIS Have Been ‘Ignoring’ Each Other on Battlefield Says New Data

Both sides appear to be eliminating smaller rivals ahead of a final showdown

Syria’s military and ISIS may be sworn enemies but instead of wiping each other off the battlefield they have been delicately dancing around each other, according to new data exclusively obtained by NBC News.

Both sides in the bloody conflict appear to be eliminating smaller rivals ahead of a possible final showdown.

Around 64 percent of verifiable ISIS attacks in Syria this year targeted other non-state groups, an analysis of the IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center’s (JTIC) database showed. Just 13 percent of the militants’ attacks during the same period — the year through Nov. 21 — targeted Syrian security forces. That’s a stark contrast to the Sunni extremist group’s operations in Iraq, where more than half of ISIS attacks (54 percent) were aimed at security forces.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Syria

International Community Asked to Take 180,000 Syrian Refugees

ARSAL, LEBANON - DECEMBER 05:  Syrian refugees fled their homes due to the civil war in their country try to hold on life under tough living conditions at Babel refugee camp in eastern Lebanese city of Arsal on December 05, 2014. Syrian refugees in Lebanon face starvation after the suspension of United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) food voucher aid for more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees since financial commitments from nations and other donors remain unfulfilled causing shortfall in funds needed to support refugees in December. (Photo by Ratib Al Safadi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syrian refugees fled their homes due to the civil war in their country try to hold on life under tough living conditions at Babel refugee camp in eastern Lebanese city of Arsal on December 05, 2014. Anadolu Agency

The international community's failure to take in Syrian refugees is "shocking," Amnesty International says

The international community should step up its response to the Syria crisis by accepting 180,000 refugees. That’s the message from an appeal launched Monday by group of more than 30 humanitarian organizations.

The appeal comes ahead of a U.N. pledging conference in Geneva on Dec. 9, AFP reports.

More than 3.2 million refugees who fled Syria in the past three years are registered in neighboring countries but the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) expects that number to grow to more than 3.6 million by the end of 2015.

So far the Gulf states, Russia and China have failed to take a single refugee from Syria and the U.N is calling on these countries to help.

Amnesty International has slammed the global community’s response to the crisis, calling it “shocking.”

“The shortfall in the number of resettlement places for refugees offered by the international community is truly shocking. Nearly 380,000 people have been identified as in need of resettlement by the U.N. refugee agency, yet just a tiny fraction of these people have been offered sanctuary abroad,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, head of refugee and migrants’ rights at Amnesty International.

Turkey and Lebanon each host more than a million refugees but the strain of the crisis is affecting infrastructure and public services. And border restrictions imposed in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have left many refugees trapped in Syria.

“Next week’s pledging conference must be used to turn the tide around. It is time for world governments to take the courageous steps needed to share the responsibility for this crisis and help avert further suffering,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali.

[AFP]

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