TIME Foreign Policy

Treasury Department’s Anti-Terrorism Chief Says Cutting Off ISIS Funds Of High Importance

Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen speaks at the CSIS in Washington
Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen speaks at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, June 2, 2014. © Yuri Gripas / Reuters—REUTERS

Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said Thursday ISIS is probably the “best-funded terrorist organization we have confronted."

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is the “best-funded” terrorist organization the U.S. has ever confronted, the Treasury Department’s top official for combating terrorist financing said Thursday.

Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Thursday David Cohen, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at Treasury, outlined a multi-pronged strategy for cutting off ISIS’s access to resources — including as much as $1 million per day in oil sales.

Touching on a topic of heated international debate, Cohen also called on foreign governments to refuse ransom payments to free their kidnapped citizens from terrorist groups.

Because ISIS “poses a different terrorist financing strategy,” than other terror groups, the strategy against it has to look different, Cohen said. Unlike other major terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, which are primarily reliant on wealthy donors, ISIS gets most of its funding not from the illegal market sale of oil, as well as from ransoms and extortion.

Although ISIS conducts most of its business on the black market, Cohen said the Treasury Department can disrupt the group’s finances by identifying and targeting people who operate within the legitimate economy but who also trade illegally with ISIS.

“The middlemen, traders, refiners, transport companies, and anyone else that handles [ISIS]’s oil should know that we are hard at work identifying them, and that we have tools at hand to stop them,” Cohen said during prepared remarks.

The U.S. government is prepared to impose financial sanctions on both ISIS’s leadership and its financial donors. Cohen said Thursday that two individuals were sanctioned in late September, including a military commander and a person who arranged a $2 million donation to the organization. But the effort will take time, Cohen noted, and will require “cooperation and collaboration with partners in the region,” including private sector banks in Iraq and Syria that might be used to store ISIS cash.

He also urged more countries to refuse ransom payments when their citizens are kidnapped. “If we are to protect our citizens and avoid bankrolling our adversary, every country must adopt and implement a no-ransoms policy,” Cohen said. The U.S. does not pay ransoms for kidnapped citizens, even in cases of threatened execution. Some European governments have reportedly paid millions to free hostages from ISIS and al Qaeda.

“[ISIS] has a fair amount of money today, but what’s important is that we do everything we can to make sure it’s not recurring revenue,” Cohen said. He added that, although ISIS generates an estimated $1 million per day from illegal oil sales, even that figure isn’t enough to meet the needs of the people living in the vast territory the group controls. In areas where ISIS now operates, he said, the Iraqi government’s budget surpassed $2 billion this year.

But he counseled patience as the financial prong of the war on ISIS unfolds in tandem with U.S.-led air strikes against the Sunni radical group.

“This is not going to be an exercise where we can at the end of every month produce a balance sheet,” Cohen said. “This is going to be a steady effort to degrade financing over time.”

TIME Canada

The Rise of the Lone Wolf Terrorist

An Ottawa police officer runs with his weapon drawn outside Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 22, 2014.
An Ottawa police officer runs with his weapon drawn outside Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 22, 2014. Sean Kilpatrick—AP

Ottawa shooting appears to be the latest in a series of attacks carried out by individuals with no clear link to terrorist groups

The shooting death of a Canadian soldier outside Parliament in Ottawa, by a suspect named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau who was then killed inside the building, appears to be the latest in a series of “lone wolf” attacks inspired by radical Islam.

Wednesday’s attack happened two days after authorities said Martin Rouleau-Couture drove his car into two military members, killing one before he was fatally shot by police, and a month after Alton Nolen beheaded a co-worker in Nebraska. All three appeared to be recent converts to Islam.

There is no official confirmation that any of these attacks are considered to be direct retaliation for the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) but Canada’s Public Safety Minister, Steven Blaney, described the violent actions of Rouleau as “clearly linked to terrorist ideology”.

The country raised its terror alert from low to medium last Friday not because of a specific threat but in response to an increase in online “general chatter” from extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. A few weeks ago, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, released a video calling for more individual acts of violence against soldiers and civilians in “countries that entered into a coalition” against the group, encouraging ISIS supporters to “kill them wherever you find them.”

However, the roots of the lone wolf phenomenon go back further than this appeal. “It’s obvious that lone wolf terrorism has increased in the past few years, but that was already the case before ISIS came into existence.” says Peter Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence in London. “It was adopted as a deliberate strategy by al-Qaeda in the late 2000s” and was repeatedly encouraged by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical preacher based in Yemen, who wrote in the online al-Qaeda magazine Inspire: “It is better to support the prophet by attacking those who slander him than it is to travel to land of Jihad like Iraq or Afghanistan.” Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.

Timeline of Lone Wolf Terrorist Attacks

June 2009: Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad shoots and kills a soldier outside Arkansas recruiting station, claiming retribution for the killing of Muslims by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

November 2009: U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan kills 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, saying he was driven by a hatred of American military action in the Muslim world.

February 2010: U.S. Pilot Andrew Joseph Stack III deliberately crashes his aircraft into a building in Austin, Texas, killing himself and one other. He posted a suicide note expressing displeasure with the “greed” of the U.S. government.

March 2011: Frankfurt airport shooting of two U.S. Airmen by Arid Uka, a devout Muslim who says he was radicalized by jihadist propaganda videos.

July 2011: Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik kills 77 people in a bomb attack in Oslo and a shooting spree on the island of Utøya to highlight his far-right beliefs.

March 2012: Mohammed Merah kills seven people (including three soldiers) in Toulouse, France. Merah said he was inspired by al-Qaeda.

April 2013: Dzhokar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev kill 3 people, injure more than 260 at the Boston Marathon. Dzhokar said the brothers were motivated by extremist Islamist beliefs.

May 2013: Two British-born converts to Islam, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale attack and kill a British soldier in London.

May 2014: Mehdi Nemmouche opens fire at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in the center of Brussels, killing 4 people. He is believed to have spent over a year in Syria with radical Islamists.

September 2014: An Oklahoma man with a criminal history, Alton Nolen, beheads a female co-worker after being fired. Authorities said Nolen had recently converted to Islam.

October 2014 : Canadian soldier dies in a hit-and-run in Quebec by Martin Rouleau-Couture. Two days later, another Canadian soldier is shot dead in Ottawa, allegedly by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a man with a criminal record. Reports say both terrorists had recently converted to Islam.

ISIS has had a different approach as it wanted to recruit people to fight in Syria and Iraq. “It wasn’t about attacking the West, it was about building the Islamic State,” says Neumann. Now, U.S.-led air strikes mean that “it is yet again this old narrative of the West versus Islam,” he adds. While the group seeks direct confrontation with the West, it’s difficult to attack them in Iraq and Syria, since ground troops are not present. ISIS now thinks “the way to terrorize the West is asymmetrically: to strike out through individuals inside of Western countries and show the public the terrible price that they have to pay for the West’s involvement” in the conflict, Neumann continues.

Jamie Bartlett, head of the Violence and Extremism Program at London-based think tank Demos, believes that “the internet in the last few years has both increased the possibilities and the likelihood of lone-wolf terrorism.” He says it has made it a great deal simpler for one individual to learn about radical ideologies as well as acquire skills like bomb-making, lowering the barrier to participation in a broader, global network of extremism: “Terrorists usually operate within a group, even if only a very small group, but it’s far easier now to be able to go it entirely alone.”

Neumann says that lone wolves are more likely to suffer from social isolation and mental health problems than “normal” terrorists. This can make them harder to detect than groups. “This will undoubtedly be one of the lures of the tactic,” says Matthew Francis, a researcher on radicalization and extremism at Lancaster University in the U.K.

Speaking about the Canadian car killing case earlier this week, Superintendent Martine Fontaine of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said “it’s very difficult to know exactly what an individual is planning to do before a crime is committed. We cannot arrest someone for thinking radical thoughts; it’s not a crime in Canada.” As well as trying to prevent their citizens from joining extremist groups like ISIS abroad, Western governments now also face another dilemma when dealing with the threat of home-grown terrorism. Canadian authorities suspected Rouleau of becoming radicalized and the police seized his passport when he tried to leave for Syria. Zehaf-Bibeau, the suspected killer in Wednesday’s Ottawa attack, intended to travel abroad but was stopped and had his passport confiscated. “Often people’s decisions to fight at home comes from being stopped going to fight elsewhere,” says Francis. Neumann adds that lone-wolf attacks appeal not only to returnees — those who have come back from fighting alongside ISIS — but also “fanboys,” or those who would like to join the ISIS community but who have, for one reason or another, not made it to the battlefield.

Nevertheless, experts agree that most lone wolves are unlikely to kill large numbers of people. “The only lone wolf who killed a lot of people was not a jihadist,” says Neumann. “It was Anders Breivik in 2011 in Norway, who was very sophisticated, a good planner. He acted all on his own and pulled off a massive operation killing 77 people,” he adds. “Typically, lone wolves do one attack, killing one or two people, because they do not have the expertise or sophistication.” Moreover, Bartlett suggests a rise in lone wolf acts can be seen to represent an increased success in counterterrorism operations. As a result of increased intelligence work in stopping larger, plots like 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings, he says, terrorist groups are “limited to conducting attacks that require very little training, very little preparation, very little communication.”

Yet while lone wolves may not pose the same kind of threat as those who organized attacks like 9/11, Neumann says their acts “have a profound effect in terms of the psychological impact on a society, creating tension, polarization and terror in societies.” Since even a very limited act of violence has the capacity to create terror, lone wolf terrorists represent a different challenge altogether for Western authorities from the terrorist cell plotting spectacular attacks.

Read next: The Ottawa Attack ‘Changes Everything’ and Hopefully Nothing at All

TIME Canada

Canadian Police Say Gunman Was Hoping To Go to Syria

A soldier locks the gates as flowers are placed at a memorial outside the gates of the John Weir Foote Armory, the home of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada in Hamilton, Ontario on Oct. 22, 2014, in memory of Canadian soldier Nathan Cirillo.
A soldier locks the gates as flowers are placed at a memorial outside the gates of the John Weir Foote Armory, the home of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada in Hamilton, Ontario, on Oct. 22, 2014, in memory of Canadian soldier Nathan Cirillo Aaron Lynett—AP

"I think the passport figured prominently in his motives."

The suspected gunman who killed a Canadian soldier in Ottawa and then stormed Parliament before being killed himself Wednesday was waiting for a passport and hoping to travel to Syria, a top police official said Thursday.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson said the lone suspect, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian citizen who is reported to be a convert to Islam, was not previously under surveillance by Canadian authorities, but passport authorities had not yet determined whether to issue him a passport.

“I think the passport figured prominently in his motives,” Paulson said. There was no connection between the attack Thursday and an assault on Monday in Quebec, when a man ran over two soldiers, killing one before the assailant was gunned down by police, according to Paulson.

The slain soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, was shot early Wednesday while on guard at Ottawa’s War Memorial, which stands just steps from Parliament Hill. The gunman then stormed Parliament itself, with shotgun blasts fired just outside the chamber where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was speaking to legislators before being hustled out of the building. A Globe and Mail reporter captured the following violent, but not graphic, footage from inside Parliament:

“We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated,” Harper said in a televised address later Wednesday, adding that the incident will lead to a redoubling of Canada’s efforts to fight terrorism. Canada this month said it would send six jets to join the coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS.

President Barack Obama decried the attack on Wednesday as “outrageous,” telling reporters, “Obviously we’re all shaken by it.” Security was tightened at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington in light of the Ottawa shooting, the Associated Press reports.

Members of parliament gathered at the National War Memorial Thursday morning and then convened as scheduled on Thursday.

Read next: The Ottawa Attack ‘Changes Everything’ and Hopefully Nothing at All

TIME conflict

The Death of Klinghoffer and What Actually Happened on the Achille Lauro

Achille Lauro
Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro leaves Port Said harbor on Oct. 10, 1985 after Egyptian authorities stopped it from sailing to the Israeli port of Ashdod. Mike Nelson — AFP/Getty Images

A controversial opera is based on the events of a 1985 terrorist attack

For New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, this week has been one in which the relationship between art and history got a little bit more complicated, as Monday’s opening night of the John Adams opera The Death of Klinghoffer provoked protests. Those opposed to the production, who included former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, believe that the opera glorifies terrorism in the way it presents the story of those who caused the titular death; those who support it say that the opera, though about the 1985 murder of Leon Klinghoffer, does not celebrate the people who killed him. At its heart, the controversy is about the difficult distinctions between expression and endorsement–and perhaps even the very purpose of art.

But it’s also bound to raise a much more easily answered question, at least among younger observers of the debate: who was Leon Klinghoffer and what happened to him? Some hecklers reportedly yelled during the performance that his murder should never be forgotten, and there’s no sign that the opera’s supporters would disagree with that statement.

TIME covered the murder in the Oct. 21, 1985, issue, as a key element in a cover story about terrorism. As the magazine reported, the Achille Lauro was an Italian cruise liner taking about 750 passengers around the Mediterranean; those on board included 11 friends from New York and New Jersey, brought together by Marilyn Klinghoffer, who celebrated her 59th birthday during the trip. Leon Klinghoffer, Marilyn’s husband, was confined to a wheelchair after having had two strokes.

The ship also carried four other passengers, terrorists from the Palestine Liberation Front who supposedly planned to attack when the ship reached the city of Ashdod in Israel. But according to an Italian report at the time, after a waiter saw them with their guns they decided to launch their attack early, hijacking the ship and ordering the captain to steer the ship toward Syria. If their demands — for the release of 50 prisoners being held in Israel — were not met, they would begin to kill their hostages.

Leon Klinghoffer, tragically, was first. Here’s how TIME reported what happened:

At exactly what point these sadistic threats became reality is not known. But in a now familiar ritual of terrorism, the hijackers had decided to underscore their seriousness by taking a sacrifice. First they separated Leon Klinghoffer from his wife. “No,” said one gunman to the wheelchair-bound passenger. “You stay. She goes.” Marilyn Klinghoffer never saw her husband again. For the next 24 hours she and her friends were consumed by anxiety. When the hijacking was finally over, they looked all through the ship for him, though they expected the worst. Some passengers had noted that the trousers and shoes of one of the hijackers had been covered with blood. And besides, as one recalled, “We had heard gunshots and a splash.” Giovanni Migliuolo, the Italian Ambassador to Egypt, later chillingly reconstructed the event: “The hijackers pushed [Klinghoffer] in his chair and dragged him to the side of the ship, where, in cold blood, they fired a shot to the forehead. Then they dumped the body into the sea, together with the wheelchair.”

After it became clear that no nation would allow the hijacked ship to dock and the PLF negotiated for the hijackers to leave the ship, the Klinghoffers’ children were told that all of the passengers were safe. Hours passed before the State Department informed them that their father had not been found. About two days passed before the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt announced that Leon Klinghoffer had been murdered.

Marilyn Klinghoffer — who reportedly told President Reagan that she spat in the terrorists’ faces when asked to identify them in a line-up, to which he responded “You did? God bless you.” — died of cancer the following year. The opera The Death of Klinghoffer premiered a few years later, in 1991, in Belgium. Though it was controversial then as well, TIME’s critic Michael Walsh wrote that fears over the subject matter should not keep it from the ranks of operatic greatness. “Just as the lyrical and deeply humanistic [Nixon in China, an opera by the same creative team] confounded many who had expected a leftist demonization of the old unindicted co-conspirator,” he wrote, “so has this sweet, sorrowful Klinghoffer upended everyone’s expectations.”

Read the full story of the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, here in TIME’s archives: The Voyage of the Achille Lauro

Read TIME’s review of the premiere performance of The Death of Klinghoffer, here in the archives: Art and Terror in the Same Boat

TIME 2014 Election

Voters Say Events in U.S. ‘Out of Control’

Poll finds anxiety on a range of issues, from Ebola to health care costs

Call it the Freakout Election.

Two-thirds of likely voters in the most competitive states and congressional districts in the midterm election fight think events in the U.S. are “out of control,” according to a new poll. The survey by Politico found widespread anxiety about the Ebola outbreak, terrorism, health care costs and President Barack Obama’s leadership. Only 36% think the U.S. is “in a good position to meet its economic and national security” challenges.

The poll underscores how both Obama’s low approval ratings and a general sense of disarray are weighing down Democrats just weeks before voters go to the polls to decide which party will control the Senate. A majority of voters, 54%, either strongly disapprove or somewhat disapprove of Obama’s job performance.

Read more at Politico

TIME Nigeria

Why the Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram Still Aren’t Home

Experts say the plight of the girls are "symbolic" of the larger problems in Nigeria's fight against the militant group

A lot has happened since April 14th. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in Ukraine; the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seized vast swathes of Iraq; and Ebola has killed thousands in Africa, and spread to at least two other continents. In our hyper-speedy news cycle, six months passes in a blink of an eye. But for the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants when they struck the northeastern Nigerian village of Chibok in April, it probably feels like a lifetime. The militants abducted 276 girls; six months on, more than 200 remain in captivity.

Why haven’t they been rescued yet? Largely, observers say, because of Nigeria’s failure to effectively counter Boko Haram, which has claimed thousands of lives over the years in its violent campaign to carve out a hardline religious state in the north of the country. “The problem is that the girls are symbolic,” says Adotei Akwei, managing director for advocacy for Amnesty International USA. “They’re part of a larger human rights catastrophe, a bad situation in Nigeria.”

“Nigeria’s military strategy isn’t working well,” he continues. “We clearly have not been able to get the girls back, or to change the mindset or approach of the Nigerian government in terms of how it responds to Boko Haram or how it protects its citizens”

Carl LeVan, a professor at American University in Washington D.C. who writes about Nigeria, adds that many civilians consider the Nigerian military almost as bad as Boko Haram when it comes to human rights violations, even as the rebels continue their reign of terror in the north.

Akwei says the problems with the Nigerian military also hinder international efforts to lend a hand. “The Nigerian military has got such a bad reputation that even the US military is concerned about how much they can cooperate because of the kind of abuses we’ve documented,” he explains. “There’s no transparency, no accountability whatsoever.”

The military has an embarrassing track record when it comes to fighting the militant group. Earlier this year, they claimed to have rescued the girls the day after the abduction, but then had to retract that claim. In late May, they released a statement saying they knew where the girls were being held, but wouldn’t use force to rescue them. And in a tragic incident early last month, several Nigerian troops were killed by their own airstrikes aimed at Boko Haram.

U.S. planes spotted large groups of girls in early August that might have been the kidnapped students. Time, however, continues to drag on without a rescue—and, says Jennifer Cook, the director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the longer they stay in captivity, the harder it becomes to bring back the missing girls.

“With hostage situations with this many people, to bring one set back without endangering another set is very difficult,” says Cooke. “In some cases, there’s a pretty good idea of where they are, but extricating them from a group of armed criminals who have so little respect for life is a difficult negotiation process. And the longer they’re there, the greater likelihood they become dispersed, and the more difficult they are to track down.”

According to Cooke, the big-picture strategy for fighting the insurgency would involve capturing key Boko Haram leaders and cutting off funding sources to weaken the militant group. But it’s also important for the government to win the support of communities in that part of the country, where many feel both abandoned by the administration and terrorized by Boko Haram.

“A lot of civilians are feeling pinched between the terror of Boko Haram and the misbehaviors of the Nigerian military,” says LeVan, whose book on Nigeria, Dictators and Democracy in African Development, is set to be released later this month. “They said ‘we’re trapped, we’re fleeing Boko Haram but we also don’t have anywhere to go because our military is suspicious of us.'”

Winning the hearts of northern Nigerians is crucial to stopping the violence and finding the girls, but some communities are reluctant to support the government for fear of violent reprisals from Boko Haram, and because they don’t trust the government to protect them. Cooke says that “fundamental distrust” in the north is one of the government’s biggest impediments to finding the girls, because it makes it much more difficult to get accurate information. In the meantime, the girls are no better off. “These girls are being held under absolutely horrific circumstances, subjected to sexual violence and rape, forced into servitude,” she said. “There are reports that some have become pregnant.”

If those reports are true—and there’s a good chance they are, based on Boko Haram’s history of impregnating abducted women—the pregnant girls could face even greater challenges down the road. Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe runs the Saint Monica Girls’ Tailoring Center in Uganda, where she helps girls who have been victims of sexual violence rebuild their lives with their children, who are often outcasts in their communities. “Because the situation they are taken in, I would not be surprised if a good number of them are pregnant,” she says. “Raising the child of a person who has been maltreating you is always [hard.] That is why there is violence and anger returned on these children. Because they give [the mother] that reminder of the pain they have gone through.”

Sister Rosemary says that if the girls are ever released, they may have trouble re-joining their families and communities. That’s why continuing their education will be crucial for helping them move forward.

“If we leave these kids and say, they cannot catch up, I think we just are going to destroy them more.”

But before anybody can worry about education and rehabilitation, the girls have to come home. “Our world must not forget these adolescent girls,” says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women and a United Nations Under-Secretary-General. “The world must come together and make every possible effort to rescue these girls and bring their captors to justice. We cannot and must not move on with this humanitarian tragedy still unresolved.”

TIME Iraq

Three Dutch Bikers Have Joined the War Against ISIS

The men, from Netherlands-based motorcycle club No Surrender, have military backgrounds

Three members of a motorcycle club from the Netherlands have joined Kurdish fighters in Iraq to help in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Fellow biker Klaas Otto told Dutch media that the trio all have military backgrounds and were motivated to travel to the war-torn country after seeing the atrocities committed by ISIS, according to the BBC.

“They wanted to do something when they saw the pictures of the beheadings,” Otto said.

There is a significant Kurdish population in the Netherlands.

The three men hail from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Breda, and the gang they are a part of — No Surrender — is reportedly the biggest biker group in the country.

Dutch officials said that joining the Kurdish forces would not be illegal. However, joining terrorist organizations like ISIS is forbidden.

[BBC]

TIME Syria

Kerry Says Kobani’s Fate Is Not Key to U.S. Strategy in Fighting ISIS

The Secretary of State calls the situation in Kobani a tragedy, but insists that the enclave does not “define” the American-led coalition’s battle plans

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said keeping Kobani out of ISIS’s hands was not the top priority for the coalition of nations bombarding the Sunni extremist group in Iraq and Syria.

He voiced concern over the potential fall of the besieged Kurdish enclave, also known as Ayn al-Arab, to extremist militants, but was quick to note that the city’s survival did not “define” the U.S.-led coalition’s strategy.

“Kobani is one community, and it’s a tragedy what is happening there,” Kerry told reporters during a press conference in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. “We have said from Day 1 it is going to take a period of time to bring the coalition thoroughly to the table to rebuild some of the morale and capacity of the Iraqi army and to begin to focus where we ought to be focusing first, which is in Iraq.”

Kerry’s admission comes as coalition forces steadily increase the number of air strikes targeting ISIS forces surrounding the conflict-torn city in northern Syria. If it falls under ISIS control, it will give the terrorist group a large strategic corridor running along the Turkish border.

U.S. Central Command confirmed launching three air strikes in Kobani on Sunday that “destroyed an [ISIS] fighting position and an [ISIS] staging area.” However, it appears the strikes have failed to reverse ISIS’s momentum.

Syrian Kurdish militia fighters, known locally as the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been battling thousands of heavily armed ISIS militants in and around Kobani for weeks. Despite exhibiting incredible tenacity, the YPG has steadily lost ground thanks to a lack of reinforcements and access to sophisticated weaponry.

Analysts have also expressed growing concern that the loss of Kobani to ISIS could reignite civil war in Turkey. Ankara continues to prevent thousands of Kurdish fighters and supplies from crossing the border into Syria — a move that sparked days of rioting across Turkey that claimed at least 33 lives.

Cemil Bayik, who helps lead the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), warned that the fall of Kobani would incite fresh insurrection in Turkey, during an interview with the New York Times published over the weekend.

“Negotiations cannot go on in an environment where they want to create a massacre in Kobani,” Bayik told the Times. “We cannot bargain for settlement on the blood of Kobani.”

The PKK, which backs the YPG, has kept a shaky cease-fire with Ankara since 2013, after three decades of bitter civil war.

Bayik went on to promise to “mobilize the guerrillas” if Turkish forces allowed a massacre to ensue after preventing Kurdish forces from entering the fight for the city. Human-rights groups and the U.N. have voiced similar concerns over an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

If Kobani fell, up to “12,000 people, apart from the fighters, will be most likely massacred,” warned U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura on Friday.

On Sunday, ISIS boasted, in an article published by its official propaganda outlet, of taking Yezidi women as slaves during the group’s conquest of northern Iraq in August.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirmed the admission by ISIS. “The group has systematically separated young women and teenage girls from their families and has forced some of them to marry its fighters,” said HRW in a statement published on Sunday.

TIME Military

Ex-Blackwater Chief Urges Hired Guns to Take on ISIS

Blackwater Founder & XE Worldwide Chairman Erik Prince Interview
Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater Andrew Harre—Bloomberg/Getty Images

If Obama won’t send in troops, he says, time to send in mercenaries

The man who founded and ran Blackwater—the company that sent thousands of private workers into Afghanistan and Iraq—says President Barack Obama should hire a mercenary corps to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

“The American people are clearly war-fatigued,” writes Erik Prince, now the chairman of Frontier Services Group, a company that provides logistical support for much of Africa. “If the Administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job.”

Some Americans might be willing to write private fighters a check (Prince himself has reportedly been linked to developing a mercenary force for the United Arab Emirates). But Blackwater—which earned more than $1 billion in Iraq—shows the dangers inherent with subcontracting out war. Its guards killed 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007; a jury continues to deliberate the fate of four ex-employees implicated in the shooting.

One of its top officials in the Iraqi capital allegedly threatened to kill a State Department employee who had questions about its contracts with the U.S. government. And U.S. military officers routinely grumbled about the lack of “unity of command” that Blackwater’s presence in Iraq created. But that wouldn’t be a problem if there were no U.S. troops around.

Prince sold Blackwater Worldwide in 2010. The company changed its name to Xe a year before he sold it, and changed it again, to Academi, in 2011. In June, Academi merged with rival firm Triple Canopy to form Constellis Holdings, Inc. Constellis’ board includes John Ashcroft, attorney general under President George W. Bush, Bobby Ray Inman, a retired admiral and former director of the National Security Agency, and Jack Quinn, counselor to President Bill Clinton.

Prince echoes many U.S. military officers when he says “the President’s current plan seems half-hearted at best.” Air power will not be able to go into Syrian towns like Kobani—which ISIS has been fighting to take for three weeks—and root them out. The militants increasingly are taking cover among civilians, knowing that the U.S. and its allies will not obliterate buildings where innocent civilians may be mixed in among the jihadists.

“Clearing operations ultimately fall to the foot soldier,” Prince writes, but those available aren’t capable of what needs to be done. The Iraqi army “is demonstrably inept after billions spent on training and equipping them.” The Kurds—including those defending Kobani—“now find themselves outgunned, under-equipped, and overwhelmed.”

Prince, a one-time Navy SEAL, doesn’t think much of the way his old service is waging the campaign:

Unfortunately, the DOD has mastered the most expensive ways to wage war, adding only very expensive options to the president’s quiver. Flying off of an aircraft carrier in the north end of the Persian Gulf may be a great demonstration of carrier air power suitable for a high tempo war, but the costs will quickly become staggering, far higher than they need be for what will quickly become a counter-insurgency effort.

The U.S., he implies, could save money by contracting out the ground war he believes is needed. “The private sector has long provided nations around the world with innovative solutions to national defense problems in a variety of ways, from the kinetic to the background logistical support necessary to keep militaries humming,” he writes. “If the old Blackwater team were still together, I have high confidence that a multi-brigade-size unit of veteran American contractors or a multi-national force could be rapidly assembled and deployed to be that necessary ground combat team.”

The Pentagon could hire such personnel “for their combat skills in armor, artillery, small unit tactics, special operations, logistics, and whatever else may be needed,” he adds. “A competent professional force of volunteers would serve as the pointy end of the spear and would serve to strengthen friendly but skittish indigenous forces.”

Prince warns whatever gains the U.S. has achieved in the wars it has fought since 9/11 hang in the balance:

Defeat [in Iraq] was already snatched from the jaws of victory by the rapid pullout of US forces in 2009. Afghanistan will likely go the same way after never truly defeating the Taliban. Now the danger of a half-baked solution in Iraq is that if ISIS isn’t rightly annihilated, they will portray their survival as a victory over the forces of civilization; thus, there is no room for half-measures. The longer ISIS festers, the more chances it has for recruitment and the danger of the eventual return of radical jihadists to their western homelands.

TIME Military

General Who Championed Air Power Challenges Pentagon on ISIS

Clashes between ISIL and Kurdish armed groups in Kobane
Smoke rising from the Syrian town of Kobani Thursday marks where clashes between its Kurdish defenders and ISIS attackers are underway. Emin Menguarslan / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Architect of U.S. air war in Afghanistan says U.S. strikes too limited

Once a United States military effort bogs down, as is now happening in the battle for the Syrian border town of Kobani, two things happen: Pentagon officials explain why what is happening should come as no surprise, and experts carp about how it is a surprise and could be done better.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, explained Wednesday why the U.S. and its allies are basically powerless to stop the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) from taking Kobani, which sits on Syria’s border with Turkey, and the 200,000 residents still living there. ISIS is now reported to control about a third of the town, half of whose population has fled to Turkey. “Airstrikes alone,” Kirby said, “are not going to . . . to save the town of Kobani.”

Them’s fighting words to air power advocates like David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who ran the successful air campaign over Afghanistan in the opening months of the U.S. campaign there.

Deptula responded to Kirby’s comments in an overnight email from Australia:

The issue is not the limits of airpower, the issue is the ineffective use of airpower. According to [The Department of Defense's] own website, two B-1 sorties can deliver more ordnance than did all the strikes from the aircraft carrier Bush over the last six weeks. Two F-15E sorties alone are enough to handle the current average daily task load of airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria.

Wise analysts understand that those blaming airpower for not ‘saving Kobani’ are confusing the limits of ‘airpower’ with the sub-optimization of its application. One can see [ISIS] tanks and artillery . . . in the open on TV, yet the coalition forces for ‘Operation Un-named Effort’ are not hitting them. Airpower can hit those targets and many others, but those in charge of its application are not—that’s the issue—not the limits of airpower.

The airstrikes to date have been very closely controlled, tactical in nature, and reflect the way they have been ‘metered’ in Afghanistan. The process that is being used to apply airpower is excessively long and overly controlled at too high a command level. The situation in Iraq/Syria with [ISIS] is not the same as Afghanistan with the Taliban. What we are witnessing now is a symptom of fighting the last war by a command that is dominated with ground warfare officers who have little experience with applying airpower in anything other than a ‘support’ role.

The situation requires a holistic, complete, air campaign, not simply a set of ‘targeted strikes.’ It requires a well planned and comprehensive air campaign focusing on achieving desired effects at the operational and strategic levels of war.

The coalition should establish 24/7 constant overwatch, with force application on every element of [ISIS] leadership, key infrastructure, forces and personnel—apply unrelenting pressure day and night on [ISIS] throughout Syria and Iraq. Airmen have the capacity, equipment, training, tactics, and knowledge needed for this fight, but airpower needs to be applied like a thunderstorm, and so far we’ve only witnessed a drizzle.

Fighting words, indeed.

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