The New Lords of Kobani

“For the 192,000 Kurds who fled either the town or the province lies with the military defenders themselves there are bureaucratic obstacles as well. Refugees require permission from Turkish authorities to cross back into Kobani and they also need the go-ahead from the Kurdish town administrators, all members of the autocratic Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian wing of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The administrators are sparing with permissions, arguing with some justification that the town is unsafe for civilians, but locals say there is favoritism in who gains permission and who is told they can’t return.

Many returnees chafe at the high-handedness of PYD bosses and the fighters of the self-defense force, the YPG, essentially the PYD’s armed wing, which they complain is on open display on the streets of the ruined town. “The fighters do what they like and no one can say anything to them, if they order you to do something or not to do something, you can’t say no or argue that it isn’t right,” says Ali, a mustached retiree.”

Read my full Daily Beast report here on what is happening now in Kobani.

ISIS Threatens Syrian Rebel Supply Lines From Turkey

Islamic extremists overran three towns in northern Syria this weekend, capturing them from Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels and Islamist brigades as Syrian warplanes struck widely across the north of the country, dropping barrel bombs on towns controlled by both competing insurgent groups.

Despite FSA claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, were coordinating their attacks, two of the biggest barrel bombs were dropped on the town of Al Bab, controlled by Islamic State.

Read my full VOA dispatch here

A Jihadist Hug Before Being Stoned to Death

“First there were embraces and then the barbaric execution by stoning. Photographs of hugs that jihadists gave a condemned gay couple before killing them in north Syria have gone viral, prompting outrage in the West. For Islamic State sympathizers and members tweeting their responses, the hugs of death are a meant as an expression of compassion, a gesture of forgiveness—before the gruesome reality of their murder.”

From my latest piece for the Daily Beast chronicling the twisted minds of Islamic State enforcers. Read it here.

Hello Washington Post

So nice to see the Washington Post catching up.

This was my dispatch for the Daily Beast posted February 6 on signs of internal fraying within ISIS.

“The propagandists of the putative Islamic State would have you believe it is just one big happy family, righteously slaughtering apostates, enslaving women (literally), beheading and burning alive its prisoners, all in the name of God. But quarrels over a range of issues—from divvying up of the spoils of war to competition over women and, yes, the handling of foreign hostages—point to a lot of trouble beneath the surface of this terror army…

Punitive killings, the flight of some senior ISIS commanders, and the execution of more than 60 foreign fighters who wanted to leave in recent days risk provoking more flare-ups, say residents who recently escaped Raqqa.”

Today — a month later — the Post today reports:

“The Islamic State ­appears to be starting to fray from within, as dissent, defections and setbacks on the battlefield sap the group’s strength and erode its aura of invincibility among those living under its despotic rule.

Reports of rising tensions between foreign and local fighters, aggressive and increasingly unsuccessful attempts to recruit local citizens for the front lines, and a growing incidence of guerrilla attacks against Islamic State targets suggest the militants are struggling to sustain their carefully cultivated image as a fearsome fighting force drawing Muslims together under the umbrella of a utopian Islamic state.”

Qatar: Running with the Hare and Hunting with the Hounds

Qatar’s authorities were quick to condemn earlier this month the burning alive of captured Jordanian pilot Muadh al Kasasbeh. One would expect that from a country that is a member of the international coalition arrayed against the Jordanian’s murderers — militants from the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS.

What one wouldn’t expect is that on the Friday before ISIS posted the horrific footage of the burning pilot a preacher sermonizing in Doha’s state-controlled Grand Mosque called for the destruction of the faithful of other religions. “Allah, strengthen Islam and the Muslims, and destroy your enemies, the enemies of the religion,” intoned invited preacher Saudi cleric Sa’ad Ateeq al Ateeq. “Allah destroy the Jews and whoever made them Jews, and destroy the Christians and Alawites and the Shiites.”

His comments wouldn’t have been out of place in ISIS-controlled Mosul or Raqqa.

Read here in my latest Daily Beast article about how there is no persuading Qatar to stop running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

 

Italy to Return to Libya?

Rome

From my latest dispatch for VOA:

“The beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians by Islamic militants on the Libyan shore of the Mediterranean Sea, a short boat ride from Italy, has shaken Italians and is prompting a fierce debate here in Rome about what Italy can do to quell the anarchy engulfing its former colony.

Italians have watched with growing alarm for months the raging conflict in Libya between competing militias backing rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk. The main consequence for Italy has been a rising flow of illegal immigrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, attempting to cross the Mediterranean from the coast of Libya in rickety boats.

But now Italy worries that the rapid emergence of a jihadist group loyal to the so-called Islamic State spells new dangers – specifically, that jihadists might gain access to Italy by posing as illegal immigrants. The black-clad, masked executioners in the video posted Sunday on the Internet, which authorities here say is authentic, appeared to take pains to emphasize that Rome is indeed a target.”

Read full report here.

Mueller And Why The Delay

Some interesting sleights-of-hand in what I take to be a White House riposte to my Daily Beast article last week authored with colleague Shane Harris. The riposte is carried in the Washington Post. The thrust of our piece was that the administration received from British sources by the and of the first week of June positive identification on the whereabouts of American and British hostages held by the Islamic State. By late May there were three possible locations for the captives — all in or around Raqqa, the de facto capital of the militants in northern Syria.

Our sources — a mixture of British and White House officials and private security contractors as well as family members and friends of American hostages James Foley, Steve Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller — confirm that positive identification of the location the captives were being held at had been passed on to the administration by June 6. The thrust of our article was that, and I quote the opening paragraph of the story, “The U.S. government obtained intelligence on the possible location of American captives held by ISIS in Syria last year, but Obama administration officials waited nearly a month to launch a rescue mission because of concerns that the intelligence wasn’t conclusive and some of it had come from a foreign service.”

The foreign service in question was British intelligence.

Officials — including deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes — seem at great pains in the Post piece to insist that Obama signed off on the rescue mission within about 24 hours when presented with a final operational plan. But the question remains, why if the administration received the crucial information by June 6 did they wait until July 4 to launch the rescue, by which time the captives had been moved. There is no denial carried in the Post article about when the administration received intelligence about the location.

And in our Daily Beast article, we don’t suggest the hold up was with the President but his officials. I quote: “But a U.S. official said that inside the White House, Obama’s senior national-security advisers were not willing to base a raid on intelligence developed by a foreign service. ‘The issue was that they didn’t trust it, and they wanted to develop and mature the intelligence, because it wasn’t our own,’ said the U.S. official, who asked to remain anonymous when discussing sensitive hostage-rescue efforts. ‘They got the information. They just didn’t trust it. And they did sit on it, there’s no doubt about that,’ the official said.”

Dithering Again?

My latest piece co-authored with Daily Beast colleague Shane Harris has prompted a storm of comments. We explore claims that the Obama administration delayed last summer acting on intelligence received about the location of Western captives held by ISIS.

The opening paragraphs:

“The U.S. government obtained intelligence on the possible location of American captives held by ISIS in Syria last year, but Obama administration officials waited nearly a month to launch a rescue mission because of concerns that the intelligence wasn’t conclusive and some of it had come from a foreign service, U.S. and British officials told The Daily Beast.

British officials, as well as private security contractors, said they were frustrated by Washington’s hesitance to give the go-ahead for a rescue attempt, which eventually was carried out on July 4, 2014, by which time the hostages had been moved. The following month, ISIS began beheading its American and British prisoners in a series of grisly Internet videos”

You can read the full report here.

Worth noting the speed with which Israeli acted back in 1976 to mount a mission to rescue hostages held at Entebbe. The Air France passenger jet was seized by Palestinian militants on June 27; the rescue operation was launched July 6.

Ghost of Chamberlin: Munich Revisited

A rift is growing between Washington and Berlin over how to handle Vladimir Putin and his stoking of pro-Moscow separatism in the Donbas region of east Ukraine. Despite the denials of Secretary of State John Kerry, the split is becoming more obvious with each passing conference — or gathering for peace talks.The Munich security conference has exposed the divergence.

While Obama officials are playing it all down, senior US lawmakers aren’t so reticent. “History shows us that dictators will always take more if you let them,” says Sen. John McCain, comparing Angela Merkel and François Hollande’s talks with Vladimir Putin to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.

A useful take on the conference can be found here at the Daily Telegraph.

The split dramatizes the recent remark by Germany’s President, Joachim Gauck: “Germans and Americans appear to live on different planets.”

ISIS Brings Down Coalition Jet

“Islamic militants scored a significant propaganda coup today, displaying the captured pilot of a Jordanian warplane allegedly shot down over northern Syria with a shoulder-fired missile. The Jordanian F-16 is the first plane flying with the U.S.-led coalition to be lost in territory controlled by the self-styled Islamic State since air strikes began against the militants in September. The incident will complicate the air campaign against the jihadists and likely force a re-thinking of ground-attack tactics.”

Read my Daily Beast story with Christopher Dickey here.