From my VOA dispatch last night:
“The days of battle are falling into a pattern.
The mornings start off quietly, but by lunchtime a crescendo builds of furious small-arms fire and airstrikes only to subside.
Then the battle resumes in early evening as the sun begins to fall – the nights are full of fury, explosions and intense gunfire.
This week Islamic State militants tried to bomb their way through Kurdish defenses by using suicide bombers. There have been nearly a dozen efforts.
In low-lying Turkish villages and hills along a 15-kilometer stretch of the border facing Kobani, refugees from the town and local Kurds have been watching the raging battle unfold with a mixture of feelings.
They cheer when an airstrike sends black plumes of smoke into the sky and crane to see where the ordnance struck. They seesaw between hope and despair, expressing one moment confidence the town won’t fall and then conceding they don’t know how the outgunned and outnumbered defenders can hold out.”
Full story here.
TRIPOLI, Lebanon — He is a revolutionary man, this 46-year-old Sunni, Salafist sheik and father of six with the graying beard, twinkling dark eyes, immaculately ironed thawb and manicured fingernails. He endorses the jihadist-led uprising against the Shia-dominated regime in Iraq and he warns the marginalization of Sunni Muslims will lead to an insurrection in Lebanon, too. “The way they are dealing with us they are pushing us to it,” he says.
Read my full Daily Beast dispatch here.
She is there on the street every morning early and stays there all day until dusk, when the traffic along this street in downtown Beirut falls off. She collects little from Lebanese commuters and the only people who stop and talk with her are the old taxi drivers lounging at the end of the road, who are waiting sadly for fares.
In VOA today I explore behind-the-scenes efforts by the West and Saudi Arabia to nudge their favored rebels to adjust to a more southern military strategy in the Syrian civil war — in a shift that analysts say is a bid to strengthen the moderate armed opposition at the expense of hard-line Islamists. Most analysts I spoke to thought this couldn’ be pulled off. Read the article here.
There is a thoughtful piece by the New York Times’ Ben Hubbard exploring the franchising of Al Qaeda and what it means and surely some analysts he quotes are right about how many of the Al Qaeda-aligned, or even officially affiliated country and regional groups, are more local and are focused more on their own immediate struggles than being transnational or a threat to the West.
But Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University professor, makes a killing point, I think, that even these locally focused groups can morph rapidly unto being transnational. He is quoted as saying: “No Qaeda threat has ever remained exclusively local. They have always eventually crossed borders and become regional in operations and attacks and certainly in fund-raising and recruiting.”
Also, I think Ben downplays – in fact doesn’t really acknowledge — how the groups coordinate, share men and equipment and tactical expertise. You can see that in Syria: many of the jihadist fighters are veterans or were members of their local groups before joining up with either ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra.
To question whether there is really an Al Qaeada anymore, as one analyst does, is to say that News International, or Time Warner or Johnson & Johnson don’t really exist because they are split up into subsidiary companies. Of course, you could argue with those companies eventually decision-making will come back to an overall board. And I still think that happens with Al Qaeda, albeit in a less formal way. The raging debate that we catch glimpses of between the top jihadi scholars for example, over the division between ISIS and al-Nusra is part of that “accountability.”
Fears for the safety of dozens of Western captives—among them journalists and aid workers—kidnapped in northern Syria by al Qaeda factions are mounting amid signs they are being moved deeper into territory firmly under jihadist sway. Private security experts and Western intelligence sources say the captives are in the process of being transported closer to the Iraqi border in an operation directed by a Chechen commander.
Read the full report here at the Daily Beast.
First come the pop of fireworks set off by ultraconservative Sunni Muslims here in Tripoli celebrating news of a bombing in Beirut of a suburb controlled by the militant Shia movement Hizbullah. Civilians start edging away and head for safety as the Lebanese army soldiers lounging on their armored trucks tense and warn reporters now would be a good time to scatter before snipers respond and rocket-propelled grenades thunder down the hill.
Lebanese army soldiers know the drill – they should, having spent months trying to keep the peace here. They fire off rounds from their anti-aircraft guns as a warning but to no avail. Soon grenades are flying and AK-47 automatic gunfire rattles in a chorus of anger.
The aptly named Syria Street in the north Lebanon city of Tripoli has been the scene the past two years of 20 major clashes between Sunni Muslims, who back the rebels in the civil war raging next-door in Syria, and Lebanese Alawi Muslims, who support their co-religionist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Alawi are an offshoot of Shia Islam.
Read my report for VOA.
The U.S.-Russia brokered peace talks underway in Switzerland are already demonstrating through sharp clashes their slim chance of success but even before delegates arrived all the signs pointed to the conference being an epic failure. Read my piece on why here at the Daily Beast.
The Syria civil war erupted two-and-half years ago because Bashar al-Assad wouldn’t listen to the demands of protesters and had his security forces shoot at them to suppress the demonstrations. Last night (October 6), the Al Qaeda affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, which has taken over the town of Azaaz near the Turkish border fired at unarmed civilians protesting their takeover of the town.
What a difference a couple of years make! Here is a link to a YouTube video posted this morning.
And so it continues. The Russian-brokered deal that would strip President Bashar al-Assad of his chemical weapons – a deal that averted a U.S. airstrike on Syria – appears to have emboldened the regime in launching ever more brutal attacks with “conventional weapons”. On Sunday (September 29), a Syrian government warplane dropped two bombs on a high school in rebel-controlled Raqqa in northern Syria killing at least 16 and wounding 25 others. Many of the killed and injured were teenagers attending their first day of the school year.
As I report for the Daily Beast rights groups believe the bombs dropped were fuel-air ones that detonate in mid-air and create a fireball of burning fuel. A 2000 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency study compared fuel-air bombs in their violence to chemical weapons. You can read my article here.