TIME Syria

Syrian Rebels, Government Clash in Golan Heights

Mideast Israel Palestinians
U.N. soldiers observe Syria's Quneitra province at an observation point near the border with Syria on Sept. 1, 2014 Sebastian Scheiner—AP

Syria's state news agency says the military killed "many terrorists"

(BEIRUT) — Syrian rebels clashed with government troops on Monday in the Golan Heights, where al-Qaida-linked insurgents abducted U.N. peacekeepers last week, activists said.

The fighting was focused around the town of Hamidiyeh in Quneitra province near the disputed frontier with Israel, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory said there were casualties on both sides but did not have exact figures.

Syria’s state news agency said the military killed “many terrorists” and destroyed a heavy machine gun in the fighting. The government refers to those trying to oust President Bashar Assad as terrorists.

Heavy clashes have raged in the area since Syrian rebels captured a border crossing near the abandoned town of Quneitra on Wednesday. One day later, fighters from al-Qaida’s Syria branch, the Nusra Front, abducted 45 Fijian peacekeepers and surrounded two Filipino contingents serving in the U.N. mission that monitors the buffer zone between Israel and Syria.

The Filipino troops escaped over the weekend, while the Fijians are still being held by the Nusra Front. The United Nations says that it is seeking the Fijians’ immediate and unconditional release. It says it has not established where the peacekeepers are being held.

Fiji’s military commander said Tuesday that the Nusra Front has issued three demands for the release of the Fijian peacekeepers.

Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga said the Nusra Front wants to be taken off the U.N. terrorist list, wants humanitarian aid delivered to parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, and wants compensation for three of its fighters it says were killed in a shootout with U.N. officers Tikoitoga said the U.N. has sent hostage negotiators to Syria.

The rebels’ targeting of the U.N. mission has touched off criticism among some nations contributing troops to the peacekeeping force about how the Golan Heights operation functions.

Ireland, which contributes a 130-member armored rapid response unit to the U.N. mission, warned Monday it would not replace its troops next month if U.N. leaders in New York do not agree on strengthening the force’s firepower, command and control, and rules of engagement.

“I’ve made it very clear that I’m not going to continue to commit Irish troops to this mission unless there’s a very fundamental review of how it’s going to operate. Clearly this is no longer a demilitarized zone,” Irish Defense Minister Simon Coveney told RTE state radio in Dublin.

“We need to get a significant reassurance from the U.N., and the Syrian side, that we can operate a mission safely. The risk levels, given what’s happened over the last three days, are not acceptable.”

He said Irish troops in armored vehicles exchanged fire with rebels Saturday as they rescued Filipino troops from one of the besieged border posts. The Indian-led, 1,250-member force includes soldiers from Fiji, India, Nepal, the Philippines and the Netherlands.

Coveney said the Irish unit remained on standby for a potential rescue of the seized Fijian troops. Ireland’s current military deployment has been in the Golan Heights since March and is supposed to be replaced by other Irish soldiers next month.

An Irish withdrawal could deal a final blow to the U.N. mission, which has already seen Austria and Croatia pull their forces last year over fears they would be targeted. The Philippines, meanwhile, has said it would bring home its peacekeepers after their tour of duty ends in October.

The group that abducted the peacekeepers, the Nusra Front, published a statement online on Sunday that included photos showing what it said were the captured Fijians, along with 45 identification cards. The group said the men were “in a safe place and in good health.”

The statement mentioned no demands or conditions for the peacekeepers’ release.

The Nusra Front accused the U.N. of doing nothing to help the Syrian people since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. It said the Fijians were seized in retaliation for the U.N.’s ignoring “the daily shedding of the Muslims’ blood in Syria” and even colluding with Assad’s army “to facilitate its movement to strike the vulnerable Muslims” through a buffer zone in the Golan Heights.

The group is one of the two most powerful extremist factions fighting in Syria’s civil war, which the U.N. says has killed more than 190,000 people. However, the Nusra Front has been eclipsed by the Islamic State group, which broke away from al-Qaida earlier this year and has since carved out a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border.

Human Rights Watch said Monday that it has credible evidence that the Islamic State group has used ground-fired cluster munitions in at least one place in northern Syria. These weapons explode in the air, releasing hundreds of tiny bomblets. Those that fail to explode pose a long-lasting danger to civilians.

The New York-based rights group said that reports from local Kurdish officials as well as photographs indicate the extremists fired cluster munitions on July 12 and Aug. 14 during clashes with Kurdish forces around Ayn Arab near the Turkish border. Five people were killed in the attacks, Human Rights Watch said.

It was no clear how Islamic State fighters had acquired the weapons, the group said.

The Syrian government has used at least 249 cluster munitions since mid-2012, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Any use of cluster munitions deserves condemnation, but the best response is for all nations to join the treaty banning them and work collectively to rid the world of these weapons,” said HRW’s Steve Goose.

TIME Military

The U.S. Should Not Wage War Against ISIS Like Afghanistan and Iraq

Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militias advance towards town of Amerli from their position in the Ajana
Some of the Iraqi security forces who helped free the town of Amerli over the weekend with help from U.S. air strikes Reuters

But those two campaigns offer clues on how it should be done

The U.S. waged two effective short-term wars following 9/11. Unfortunately, the nation then grafted them onto far more ambitious enterprises that not only drove their costs, in American blood and treasure, through the roof, but also sowed the seeds for failure.

That’s the key takeaway to keep in mind as President Obama weighs what to do about the rampage now being conducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in both of those nations.

Over the Labor Day weekend, U.S. airpower, combined with Iraqi help on the ground, broke a two-month ISIS siege of the village of Amerli in northern Iraq. The militants had been tightening a noose around the farming town, cutting off water, food and power, and residents had begun dying. Finally, beginning late Saturday, a handful of U.S. air strikes let Iraqi forces and militias break the siege.

While President Obama said the strikes would be “limited in their scope and duration,” their success offers a template, in miniature, for a broader U.S.-led campaign against the Islamist militant group.

It would mark a departure from recent U.S.-led wars. “No one is advocating unilateral invasion, occupation or nation-building,” Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina wrote in a weekend op-ed column in the New York Times, urging stepped-up U.S. military action against ISIS. “This should be more like Afghanistan in 2001, where limited numbers of advisers helped local forces, with airstrikes and military aid, to rout an extremist army.”

In Afghanistan, the U.S. waged a monthlong campaign that drove the Taliban from Kabul. It relied on U.S. airpower and special operators on the ground, working with local anti-Taliban forces. Then, the U.S. launched a 13-year effort, still under way, to build an Afghan government immune to the Taliban.

Many Taliban fled to Pakistan, where they continue to plot to retake power in Afghanistan once U.S. combat units pull out at the end of 2014. There’s an echo of that Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan in ISIS’s presence in Syria. Any beefed-up campaign against ISIS militants is going to have to attack their targets in both nations.

In Iraq, the U.S. military pushed Saddam Hussein from Baghdad less than three weeks after invading the country. But the U.S. soon became mired in an eight-year nation-building effort that failed to build a nation. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S., despite its best intentions, helped install leaders who have done little to lead their countries to a better place.

And that exposes the futility of the so-called Pottery Barn rule. Retired Army general and then Secretary of State Colin Powell summed it up by saying the U.S. had responsibility for the nations it invaded: “If you break it, you own it.”

But war isn’t always about creating something better. Sometimes it’s simply about ridding the world of terrorists whose zealotry compels them to kill innocents.

For a warrior-diplomat renowned for his earlier guidelines on going to war — the so-called Powell doctrine required a clear and obtainable objective before the first bombs fell — the Pottery Barn rule proved daunting.

Actually, Pottery Barn doesn’t have such a rule. If a customer stumbles into a vase and sends it crashing to the floor, the company writes it off as a cost of doing business. It’s past time for the U.S. government to scrap its misinterpretation of the so-called rule.

War isn’t a positive experience for anyone, and all involved are ill served by pretending otherwise.

If the U.S. deems ISIS to be a threat to U.S. national security, the U.S. military, backed by presidential order and a congressional declaration, should wage unrelenting attacks against it. Instead of embracing Powell’s view, the nation would be better served thinking of war as 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes viewed human life without government: “nasty, brutish and short.”

TIME Crime

Boston Bombing Suspect Requests Trial Delay

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev FBI/AP

The trial is currently scheduled to begin in November

Lawyers for Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev filed a petition Friday asking a federal judge to delay the start of his bombing trial to September 1, 2015 or later. The defense argues that it needs more time to prepare given the volume of evidence to sort through and the severity of the charges.

“The trial in this case is currently scheduled to begin just 16 months after the defendant was indicted,” the petition said. “It is critically important that any trial be fair, which means giving both sides, not just the government, enough time to uncover and present all relevant evidence.”

Earlier this month defense lawyers argued that media coverage in Boston would unfairly harm Tsarnaev’s defense and asked that the trial be moved from Boston.

Tsarnev is accused of carrying out the April 15, 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon with his brother Tamerlan. Three bystanders were killed and hundreds were injured during the bombing. A police officer died in subsequent shootings, and Tamerlan died after he was shot in the head during a manhunt for the two brothers.

The trial on charges of using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death is currently scheduled to begin in November.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 25

1. Slavery’s long shadow is inextricably linked to modern income inequality in the south.

By Stephen Mihm in the Boston Globe

2. Superdistricts in the House of Representatives could end the tyranny of incumbency in Congress.

By Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post

3. Yelp the Police: Georgia teens build an app to rate law enforcement interactions.

By Rebecca Borison in Business Insider

4. The new Egyptian government’s policies of repression and exclusion could push citizens into the arms of extremist groups.

By Michele Dunn and Scott Williamson at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

5. Transforming oil and gas rigs into artificial reefs could save the delicate ecosystems formed around the structures.

By Amber Jackson in Huffington Post

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

TIME Military

The Rescue That Wasn’t

Part of a damaged helicopter is seen lying near the compound where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad
The tail of a downed Special Ops helicopter inside bin Laden's compound in Pakistan in 2011. The pilots who led that successful mission belonged to a unit created because of a failed rescue effort in Iran 31 years earlier. REUTERS

If you're waiting for perfect intelligence to guarantee success, you'll never launch a military rescue mission

The Pentagon spoiled Americans with its near-perfect grab of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Save for a wrecked helicopter, Operation Neptune Spear went off without a hitch (assuming, as many Americans did, that taking bin Laden alive was never a top priority).

But the Navy SEALs drew to an inside straight that night in Abbottabad, Pakistan. All the practice in the world can’t trump bum intelligence. And the U.S. intelligence community’s estimates that bin Laden would be in the compound where he died ranged from 30 to 95%. If bin Laden hadn’t been there, the raid would have been deemed a failure, and would perhaps still be a secret.

The Pentagon only confirmed the failed July raid to rescue James Foley, whose murder was made public in a video released by Islamic militants on Tuesday, and several other U.S. hostages in Syria, after word began to leak out late Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said in a statement.

Such misses have happened before.

In 1970, 56 U.S. troops raided North Vietnam’s Son Tay prison camp to rescue the estimated 55 U.S. POWs believed to be there.

Technically, Operation Ivory Coast succeeded: the U.S., using more than 100 aircraft to support the operation, seized the camp. Unfortunately for the U.S., the North Vietnamese had moved the prisoners a day earlier due to North Vietnamese concerns that the camp was too close to a river that might flood. Two U.S. troops were injured during the mission.

Perhaps the most infamous rescue attempt since then was 1980’s Operation Eagle Claw, the aborted mission to bring home the 52 U.S. hostages held in Tehran after Iran seized the U.S. embassy there. They had been held for six months when President Carter ordered eight choppers on a risky two-night mission to rescue them. But sandstorms and mechanical woes grounded three of them on the first day, forcing the military to scrub the mission. As they withdrew, one of the helicopters hit a refueling plane at the Desert One staging site in the Iranian desert, killing eight U.S. troops.

The fiasco doomed any chance Carter had of winning a second term—Iran released the hostages shortly after Ronald Reagan took office—and led Congress to create the U.S. Special Operations Command to coordinate such efforts in the future. It also led the Army to create the Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the unit whose pilots flew the Navy SEALs to bin Laden’s lair.

TIME Iran

One Result of the Gaza Conflict: Iran and Hamas Are Back Together

Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014.
Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014. EPA

Iran and Hamas were once tightly allied, but the Syrian war drove them apart. Now, after the Gaza conflict, the two sides are making up

Correction appended, 8/19/14

Long considered to be the biggest sponsor of Islamic militants battling Israel and designated as terrorist groups by the United States, Iran’s relationship with the Palestinian group Hamas was once touted as among its strongest. Not only had Iran brought Hamas on board the so-called Axis of Resistance, alongside its other regional allies Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah, but the Islamic Republic had always publicly boasted of its wide ranging support for the group, from providing financial backing to shipping weapons.

However, when the Arab Spring spread into Syria in 2011, the majority Shiite Iran’s long-standing alliance with Hamas deteriorated significantly when the militant group opted to break step with Tehran and support the mainly Sunni rebels against Syria’s Bashar Assad. The falling-out came to a head when the political leaders of Hamas moved their base from Syria to Qatar, a regional rival of Iran.

In retaliation Iran, Syria and Hezbollah reportedly ended their support for Hamas in all fields, effectively ousting it from their Axis of Resistance and cutting off one of Hamas’ most vital lifelines. “The Iranians are not happy with our position on Syria, and when they are not happy, they don’t deal with you in the same old way,” the deputy political leader of Hamas Moussa Abu Marzouk in February 2012, according to the Associated Press.

When the latest battle between Hamas and Israel, called the Zionist Regime in Tehran, flared up in early July, Iran initially remained relatively quiet, though it denounced Israel for the loss of life among civilians. But the number of Palestinian casualties grew, including many children and women, attracting significant international attention and sympathy. (As of Aug. 10 nearly 2,000 Palestinians had been killed according to the UN, along with 66 Israelis.) For Iran, the Gaza conflict was seen as an opportunity to improve its standing in the Islamic world, which had suffered—especially among Sunnis—thanks to its steadfast support of Assad.

Seeking to take advantage of this opportunity and to regain its position as the foremost supporter of the Palestinian militant groups battling Israel—and to reconcile with Sunni Muslims throughout the Middle East—a significant number of Iranian officials have now gone on the record to voice their support for Hamas, the main militant group in Gaza, over its latest battle with Israel. “We are prepared to support the Palestinian resistance in different ways,” said the commander of the revolutionary guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafaria, during a speech on Aug. 4, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. “Just as until now any show of strength in Palestine which caused the defeat of Zionists has its roots in the support of the Islamic Revolution [of Iran].”

The first sign of this shift came on July 29, when Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the resistance against Israel in a speech, calling on the Islamic world to equip Palestinians according to his official website Khamenei.ir. Two days later Khamenei was echoed by one of Iran’s top military officers, Major General of the Guards Qasem Soleimani, who commands the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guardians Corps. Soleimani published a rare public letter to the “Political leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all the resistance,” lauding their continued efforts against Israel. The letter promised that Iran “will continue to perform our religious duty to support and help the resistance till the moment of victory when the resistance will turn the earth, the air and the sea into hell for Zionists,” according to the official IRNA news agency.

That was followed by numerous officials, MPs and military figures, all issuing statements in support of Hamas, and echoing Khamenei’s call for unity among Muslims. “In our defence of Muslims we see no difference between Sunni and Shiite,” said General Jafari, the commander of the guards, in an Aug. 4 speech. Some even promised a supply of weapons to Hamas, which has been officially designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. “You will get the weapons and ammunition you need no matter how hard it might be to do so,” said Mohsen Rezaei, the former wartime commander of the revolutionary guards in a public letter to the commander of the military wing of Hamas Mohammed Deif, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

With Iran already deeply involving in shoring up the Iraqi and Syrian governments against militant Sunni groups, it is doubtful that these promises of support and weapons for Hamas could be fulfilled anytime soon, and while the Islamic Republic is also striving to break the impasse in its nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and other powers, arming militant groups against Israel, America’s main ally in the region, could be potentially disruptive for those talks. But in his letter to Deif, Rezaei tried to address that doubt, writing that “Israel is mistaken in its belief that the instabilities in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, and the pressure on Iran from the United States’ economic blockade has given them an opportunity.”

In the meantime Iran has continued its charm offensive on Sunni Muslims. The head of the influential State Expediency Council, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, met with Iran’s top Sunni clerics and activists recently, and called for unity among all Muslims. Promising them that Iran intended to support and defend all Abrahamic religions and sects—Rafsanjani condemned any act that could cause divisions among Muslims. Backing up that position, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced on Aug. 3 that it had shut down the offices and arrested the staff of four extremist Shiite satellite channels that regularly incite intolerance and hatred against other Islamic sects, especially Sunnis.

Hamas—which has been politically isolated since its last remaining backer, former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, was removed from power—has welcomed reconciliation with its old ally and benefactor. Hamas’ official representative to Iran, Khalid al-Qoddoumi, reportedly said on Aug. 9 that Iranians “have always been the first in line to help and support our people.” Reports from the semiofficial ISNA news agency also indicate that a long postponed visit to Iran by the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, is set to happen soon. For Israel, the ongoing conflict in Gaza has had one more unexpected and unwelcome outcome: Iran and Hamas are together again.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the date of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s announcement that it had shut down the offices and arrested the staff of four extremist Shiite satellite channels was misstated. It was Aug. 3.

TIME Iraq

ISIS to U.S.: ‘We Will Drown All of You in Blood’

The militants are on the defensive following a series of successful U.S. airstrikes

The Sunni extremist group that is ravaging large swaths of northern Iraq has warned it will attack Americans “in any place” should U.S. airstrikes kill any of its members, Reuters reports.

American airstrikes began earlier this month in an attempt to help thousands of people—members of the Yazidi, an ethnic minority in the region—who were trapped on a mountain range by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). President Barack Obama formally told Congress on Sunday that he had sanctioned additional air raids, though he said they would be limited. The new strikes, requested by the Iraqi government, were intended to help Iraqi and Kurdish security forces who had been battling the militants for control of the strategic Mosul Dam. Aided by U.S. air support, these troops successfully recaptured it on Aug. 18.

U.S. Central Command said at least 14 airstrikes were conducted on Sunday, and had successfully damaged or destroyed ISIS vehicles and one of its checkpoints. The group’s latest missive might reflect its anger towards the U.S., whose aerial support has allowed the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim some of the territory that ISIS had seized in a lightning offensive in June.

Reuters adds that the purported ISIS video shows an image of an American, who was beheaded during the U.S.-led war in Iraq that ended in 2011. The 45-second film also shows people being shot by snipers and vehicles being blown up. Near the start of the clip, the group’s black flag appears next to an American one. A message, in English, then flashes up: “We will drown all of you in blood.” A crude splatter of blood then appears on the U.S. flag to emphasize the point.

The militants have focused on territorial gains in parts of eastern Syria and northern Iraq, claiming them in its bid to establish a caliphate, or an Islamic state. But unlike al-Qaeda, which deemed this off-shoot too extreme, ISIS has not yet directly attacked the West.

[Reuters]

TIME Military

Dam Yankees: U.S. Steps Up Bombing in Northern Iraq

IRAQ-UNREST-KURDS-DAM
Smokes rises from U.S. air strikes near Mosul dam on Sunday. Ahmad Al-Ruhbye—AFP/Getty Images

But limiting strikes for political reasons may prove untenable

The Obama Administration made clear last week that its ban against U.S. “boots on the ground” inside Iraq only pertained to combat boots. Sunday, it went back to its dictionary and stretched the definition of “humanitarian” to include offensive bombing strikes against Islamist militants in northern Iraq.

That’s because ever since the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seized the Mosul dam, it has had the power to release the reservoir behind it, turning the Tigris River downstream into Class V rapids with a 60-foot wall of water.

“The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace,” President Barack Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders.

The U.S. military launched 23 airstrikes on ISIS targets over the weekend, including 14 on Sunday. A fleet of fighter-bombers, bombers and drones took out nearly 20 ISIS vehicles—mostly U.S.-built armor and Humvees that ISIS captured from retreating Iraqi forces—on Sunday alone. An Iraq military spokesman said Monday that Iraqi special forces and Kurdish fighters had regained control of the dam, although that claim has not been confirmed.

“These operations are limited in their nature, duration, and scope,” Obama said, “and are being undertaken in coordination with and at the request of the government of Iraq.”

The weekend air strikes nearly doubled the number the U.S. has launched in Iraq since they began Aug. 8, and marked the most coordinated military effort between U.S. and Iraqi forces since the U.S. military left the country in 2011.

Pentagon fingers are crossed that the combination of U.S. air strikes and Iraqi ground operations will be sufficient to defeat ISIS. Defense officials, and the White House, are acutely aware that the American public has no appetite for deeper involvement—military or otherwise—in Iraq.

The operation makes military sense, but justifying it using the original two-prong test—Obama said Aug. 7 that the U.S. would attack targets in Iraq only “to protect our American personnel, and… to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death”—may prove too convenient.

“This policy of not dealing with it as an ecosystem I think is wrong,” Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CBS on Sunday. “They have a long-term plan about where they’re going that would establish their caliphate from Beirut through Syria through Iraq.”

ISIS wants to create that caliphate from which it would seek to attack the U.S. and other targets in the west. Every time the Administration expands its military footprint in Iraq to deal with the threat—and justifies it on humanitarian grounds, or to protect U.S. personnel—it restrains its freedom to act the next time if stronger military action is required.

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 National Security

Experts Warn of Terrorism Blowback From Iraq Air Strikes

IRAQ-UNREST-KURDS
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters look on as smoke billows from the town Makhmur, about 175 miles north of Baghdad, during clashes with ISIS militants on August 9, 2014 Safin Hamed—AFP/Getty Images

ISIS has long threatened America openly — will Obama's strikes inspire it to act?

The American air strikes against a militant group in Iraq could motivate the fighters to retaliate with terrorist attacks against U.S. civilians, experts warn.

President Barack Obama’s air strikes against militants from the group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) “could increase the likelihood that ISIS or somebody inspired by ISIS, would strike against the homeland,” says Seth Jones, a terrorism expert with Rand Corp.

ISIS has long threatened America openly. In June the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, warned Americans that “soon enough, you will be in direct confrontation [with us].” Last week a spokesman for the group vowed that “we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.”

Despite that bombastic rhetoric, ISIS has thus far been consumed with its fights in Iraq and Syria, and with capturing territory to form an Islamic caliphate. But counterterrorism officials worry that the fanatical group could now place a higher priority on attacking Americans. Jihadists in online forums and on Twitter are already calling for terrorist attacks in response to Obama’s intervention in Iraq.

The prospect of blowback was on the mind of senior officials even before Obama approved air strikes last week.

“That’s one of the downsides of U.S. involvement,” former deputy CIA director Michael Morell told CBS News in June. “The more we visibly get involved in helping the [Iraqi] government fight these guys, the more we become a target.”

A U.S. intelligence official would not say whether the threat level has escalated, saying the U.S. continues to monitor the known ISIS threat. “ISIS has previously stated its willingness to strike targets outside of the region and the [intelligence community] is working in close coordination with our allies to track these threats,” says Brian Hale, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In July, Brett McGurk, the top State Department official for Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the 30 to 50 suicide bombers per month deployed in Syria and Iraq by ISIS “are increasingly Western passport holders,” and that “it is a matter of time before these suicide bombers are directed elsewhere.”

Several experts agreed that attacking ISIS will make the group more eager to strike back against America, but said the threat is hard to calculate — and no reason to avoid taking on the group.

“U.S. strikes against ISIS may well raise that group’s interest in carrying out terrorist attacks against U.S. targets,” says Daniel Benjamin, a former top State Department counterterrorism official now at Dartmouth College. “But the significance of that shouldn’t be overstated.”

Benjamin questions whether the ISIS threat has increased significantly, given its previously known desire to kill Americans. Regardless, he adds: “We can’t let our policies be held hostage by this concern.”

Obama’s strikes this month mark the first direct U.S. attacks on ISIS in its current form. But the U.S. military did battle with the group’s prior incarnation, al-Qaeda in Iraq, during the U.S. occupation of that country in the mid-2000s. AQI never found a way to hit Americans beyond the Iraq battlefield.

But since splitting with al-Qaeda, broadening its ambition and declaring itself ISIS — and, more recently, the Islamic State — the group has attracted Westerners whose passports could grant them easy entry to Europe and the U.S.

“What is concerning, and which makes this situation different,” warns Jones of Rand Corp., is that large complement of Western fighters, which AQI did not posses. “The connections to this battlefield from the West are stronger than they were a decade ago.”

Jones says there’s precedent for the U.S. drawing the attention of a regionally focused terrorist group by targeting its ranks. The attempted 2010 Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was trained and directed to strike the U.S. by the Pakistani Taliban, which sought revenge for American drone strikes against the group’s leadership.

At least one expert on Sunni radical groups doubts that Obama’s strikes make Americans any less safe, however.

“I don’t think this changes [ISIS's] calculus,” says Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They are likely planning attacks whether the U.S. conducts targeted air strikes or not. We shouldn’t have reactionary policy when it comes to [ISIS] anyway — why would we let them continue to grow just because they aren’t attacking us now?”

“In my opinion,” Zelin says, “we should destroy them as soon as possible.”

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