The neo-Orwellian character of the 20th century deepened this week as President Barack Obama declared a war that is not a war against a state that is not a state.  --  However, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that we can "think about it as being a war" if we like.[1]  --  And if we can think about it as a war against al-Qaeda, he'll be especially pleased.  --  He told CNN on Thursday that "This group is and has been al Qaeda.  By trying to change its name, it doesn't change who it is."  --  Kerry claimed to know what ISIS "is," but his intelligence services don't seem so sure:  "The CIA estimates the Islamic States in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is made up of anywhere between 20,000 to 31,500 fighters, according to reports Thursday night," The Hill reported Thursday.[2]  --  As for the president's strategy for combating the Islamic State, many are criticizing the plan, the Wall Street Journal said.[3]  --  The principal problem, one unnamed U.S. official said, is that Obama's plan for a proxy war (or whatever it is) involves "relying on lots of different forces who are in some cases highly unreliable and highly divided."  --  Rand Paul called Obama's approach "unconstitutional," but also said, according to Politico:  "This is an intervention, and I don’t always support interventions but this is one I do support."[4] ...



By Elise Labott, Laura Smith-Spark, and Ray Sanchez

September 11, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday would not say the United States is at war with ISIS, telling CNN in an interview that the administration's strategy includes "many different things that one doesn't think of normally in context of war."

"What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation," Kerry told CNN's Elise Labott in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  "It's going to go on for some period of time.  If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL, they can do so, but the fact is it's a major counterterrorism operation that will have many different moving parts."

Kerry made a distinction between ISIS and terror groups operating in Somalia and Yemen.

"ISIL is an animal unto itself," he said.  "And it is significantly such a threat because of the foreign fighters that are attracted to it -- which you don't see in Somalia or . . . Yemen."  Most importantly, Kerry said, ISIL has attracted a "significant coalition" that is determined to go and destroy it.

Kerry, in Jeddah for meetings with Arab leaders to enlist regional support for a coalition to defeat ISIS, defended the administration's insistence that the 2001 authority to go after al Qaeda and affiliates applies to ISIS.  He insisted that, despite the split between jihadist groups, the origin of ISIS as an al Qaeda affiliate is enough to consider them connected.

"This group is and has been al Qaeda," Kerry said.  "By trying to change its name, it doesn't change who it is, what it does."

Asked how much of the interpretation lets Congress get away from a vote on going after ISIS -- a scenario lawmakers would like to avoid in an election year -- Kerry responded "none."

Kerry said the opposition battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria has been outgunned and outmanned, but the administration believes that equation can change "if they receive proper training, if there are recruits that come in, and if it grows over a period of time."

The regime's legitimacy could never be restored, Kerry said.

"It is going to be our policy to separate (al-Assad), who is mostly in the western part of Syria, in a certain corridor from the eastern part of Syria, which he doesn't control," Kerry said.  "ISIL controls that part.  So it is clearly . . . not a very difficult task to target ISIL."

The talks in Jeddah come a day after U.S. President Barack Obama outlined a plan to "dismantle and ultimately destroy" the Sunni extremist group that has seized a swath of territory across Iraq and Syria.

Videotaped beheadings, including two murders of American journalists, have led to the push for a broader counterterrorism mission, including possible airstrikes in civil war-torn Syria.  But the United States has ruled out sending American troops for a ground offensive.

On Thursday, Kerry met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Jeddah before wider talks with other regional leaders.

Asked whether Saudi Arabia supports the extremist expressions of the Wahhabism version of Islam espoused by some terror groups, Kerry told CNN that the nation is "deeply committed to the effort to terminate ISIL."

"They have never funded the kind of effort you're talking about with respect to ISIL," Kerry said, adding that a significant part of the counterterrorism effort will include stemming fundraising for terror groups.

After Saudi Arabia, Kerry will visit Turkey and Egypt for meetings with senior officials, state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

In a statement after Obama's prime-time speech Wednesday, Kerry said the President's strategy would succeed "because doing it with allies and partners isn't just smart, it's strong."

Kerry said his travels through the Middle East and Europe over the coming days were an effort to "meet a unifying threat with a unified response."

While American leadership is "indispensable," he said, "we cannot destroy this group on our own.  Defeating this common enemy calls for a common cause, and we're taking it on to succeed together."

Obama spoke Wednesday with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, a senior administration official told journalists.  "The Saudis made very clear that they support this mission, they will join us in this mission," the official said.

The backing of Sunni-dominated nations such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey will lend support to any campaign to contain the spread of ISIS.

Turkey's capacity or willingness to act may be limited by the fact that ISIS continues to hold 47 Turkish hostages seized from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

So far, Shiite-majority Iran has played the biggest role on the ground in northern Iraq, where its militias have been helping Iraqi forces.

ISIS, which now calls itself the "Islamic State," has said it is bent on creating an Islamic "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria where harsh Sharia law governs every aspect of life.


Baghdad was the first stop on Kerry's tour, where he met with Iraq's new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

In a joint news conference with Kerry on Wednesday, al-Abadi said the international community had a responsibility to help defend Iraqis from the threat posed by ISIS.

He also said Iraqis had worked hard recently to form an inclusive government where "everybody's on board" to fight the militants.

In a separate news conference, Kerry said the U.S. was already coordinating with some 40 other nations to provide humanitarian, military and other assistance to Iraqis to fight ISIS.

The United States has so far launched more than 150 airstrikes to weaken the militants in Iraq, Kerry said.


Obama said Wednesday that 475 more U.S. military advisers will head to Iraq, raising the total of American forces there to 1,700 for a mission originally described as limited.

He also shifted $25 million in military aid to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish fighters in the north combating the ISIS extremists.  The aid could include ammunition, small arms and vehicles, as well as military education and training, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

It's not clear how soon U.S. forces will launch operations in Syria.

Senior administration officials who briefed reporters before Obama's speech on condition of not being identified said airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria would occur "at a time and place of our choosing."

"We're not going to telegraph our punches by being specific about the time and nature of the targets," one official said, adding that "we will do that as necessary as we develop targets."
'Very difficult, long road'

Kerry met with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Jordan before leaving Thursday morning for the Saudi seaside city of Jeddah, where he was scheduled to meet with the leaders of half a dozen Persian Gulf states.

In addition to support for a military campaign against ISIS, administration officials said the United States would be looking to its Gulf allies to crack down on ISIS funding and stop the flow of foreign fighters, both seen as the lifeblood of the jihadist group.

The United States also wants Sunni Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, to counter ISIS by helping to persuade other Sunnis to eschew its ideology.

"It's going to be a very difficult, long road to get there, but it's something that the region and our partners in the Gulf can play a really important role in," a senior State Department official traveling with Kerry said.

"And there's a number of different ways that they can do that, both in terms of just their relationships, in terms of their encouragement, in terms of their financial contributions, in terms of lifting the burden that the government here has."

After Saudi Arabia, Kerry will travel to Paris to attend an international conference on Iraq, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Obama will chair a meeting later this month at the U.N. General Assembly, where the global strategy is expected to be hammered out.




By Mario Trujillo

The Hill
September 11, 2014

The CIA estimates the Islamic States in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is made up of anywhere between 20,000 to 31,500 fighters, according to reports Thursday night.

The CIA previously put the number at 10,000 but revised it upward after stronger recruitment since June, according to CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani, who was quoted in The Associated Press.

Among them are hundreds of foreign fighters, including around a dozen known U.S. fighters. 
The militant group's success on the battlefield and its leaders assertion that it has established a caliphate led to the surge in recruitment, the CIA official said.

The group has taken over broad swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria this year and received universal condemnation in Washington after beheading two U.S. journalist.

The CIA number was unveiled a day after President Obama outlined a plan to destroy the group by broadening its air campaign in Iraq and extending it into Syria.   The United States also plans to increase its military support to Iraq fighters and vetted Syrian rebel groups, along with other allies.


Middle East news


By Julian E. Barnes and Siobhan Gorman

** American Strategy Envisions Training of Iraqi Allies, Syrian Rebels **

Washington Post
September 10, 2014

WASHINGTON -- A cornerstone of the expanded U.S. military campaign against Islamic State militants will be reliance on U.S.-trained local forces to confront the group head on.

But the U.S. has a poor track record of taking or keeping control in areas such as Iraq and Libya for extended periods, experiences that underscore the risks of depending on moderate rebels in Syria and state security forces in Iraq.

Relying on local forces and eschewing the use of American combat troops has become a favorite strategy of President Barack Obama as a way to reduce the risk of being dragged into a protracted foreign conflict.  But some defense officials and experts say that approach also can heighten the risk of failure.

In Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, results have been mixed at best in U.S. efforts to push local forces to the forefront of fights against extremists.  U.S. military campaigns conducted with little or no local ground support -- such as those in Pakistan and Yemen -- have met with some success but have lasted for years.  Success, officials and experts say, is especially difficult when American troops are prohibited from serving alongside local units on the front lines or without a yearslong U.S. presence to train, advise, and mentor the partner forces.

American defense officials are divided over whether it is possible to train local forces in Iraq and Syria without at least a small number of American "boots on the ground," something that Mr. Obama has vowed to avoid.   Weeks of American airstrikes in Iraq have arrested the progress of Islamic State fighters, preventing them from claiming more territory.   But few military experts or officials believe Hellfire missiles and guided bombs will be enough to roll back the group's gains.

Taking back territory in Iraq, defense officials insist, will require a push by Kurdish and other Iraqi forces.  In Syria, the U.S. plans to expand efforts to train moderate rebels, who in theory could challenge both Islamic State and the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

U.S. officials acknowledge big risks with the strategy and that not all of the potential pitfalls have been addressed.  In Syria, officials have repeatedly raised the problem of adequately vetting rebels to ensure the people trained and armed by the U.S. don't join the ranks of Islamic State.  In Iraq, the U.S. believes that many of the Shiite-dominated military forces have been penetrated by Iranian agents.

"You're relying on lots of different forces who are in some cases highly unreliable and highly divided," said a U.S. official.  "It's a delicate balancing act.  Unless we play it really smartly, it could really go poorly.  There are real risks there."

Avoiding American boots on the ground and relying on local partnership forces was a centerpiece of the military strategy unveiled by Mr. Obama in 2011.

The U.S. tried out the approach in Libya, where U.S. and allied war planes conducted strikes in support of Libyan rebels, who ultimately succeeded in toppling the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.  With no U.S. presence in Libya or training plan for Libyan militias, however, the country spiraled into chaos in the years following the war and many U.S. officials now see Libya as a failed state posing a graver threat to international security then it did before Gadhafi's fall. Some U.S. officials, however, dispute this characterization.

In Iraq, the U.S. spent billions training and equipping the Iraqi army before the American military exited in 2011.  After the U.S. departure, many top officers trained by the U.S. were driven from the force, replaced by Shiites loyal to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and military units built up by the U.S. stay fell into neglect.

As a result, Iraqi military units in Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul, and elsewhere collapsed in the face of the militant advance over the past few months.

One example of working with local forces is repeatedly held up by U.S. officials as a successful example:  Colombia.  There, a handful of U.S. special operations forces, along with aid money from the U.S., helped train the Colombian military, allowing them to drive back an insurgency that at one time threatened the government.

While small in number, U.S. troops remained in the country for long periods and regularly went into the field with their Colombian counterparts.

U.S. airstrikes targeting al Qaeda and related groups in Pakistan also are seen as relatively successful.  But U.S. efforts to train security forces there fell short when American special operation forces were asked to leave.

A still-covert Central Intelligence Agency drone campaign in Pakistan has relied on military security and support in Afghanistan, and U.S. military and intelligence officials say that gains in Pakistan could erode once the U.S. withdraws its forces from Afghanistan in 2016.

In Yemen, four years of U.S. counterterrorism and training operations have targeted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group U.S. intelligence officials say poses the greatest ability to attack the U.S. at home.  But this hasn't neutralized the threat posed to the country's government.

As in Iraq, U.S. forces in Afghanistan have extensively trained national security forces.  But gaps remain, fueling fears that the security situation there could deteriorate following the U.S. departure.  Administration officials say if Afghan officials agree to a security deal, U.S. forces will remain in the country until 2015.

In Syria, the U.S. faces the task of training moderate rebel forces that lack unity. The U.S. also will be arming the rebels to fight Islamic State, while the rebels are motivated largely by the prospect of fighting the Assad regime. Among risks, the U.S. may find that it puts considerable effort into building support of regional allies only to find that the rebels suffer setbacks and the U.S. is tethered to them, one U.S. official said.

Some U.S. lawmakers expressed skepticism about the utility of training and arming Syrian rebels.

"We've tried that pretty thoroughly in both Iraq and Afghanistan and it hasn't worked well there," Rep. Hal Rogers (R., Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said after a classified briefing Wednesday.

At least at the outset, the U.S. will be restricted in Syria by limits on usable intelligence, which would be needed to go after key extremist leaders, another U.S. official said.

The challenges faced by the U.S. in Iraq are different, resting largely on whether the Iraqi government and military can take advantage of U.S. support.

Michele Flournoy, a former top Pentagon official, said that under the new Iraqi government, military prospects are better because Mr. Maliki had swapped out competent generals for sectarian yes-men.

Administration officials believe that a new government will spur greater Sunni participation in the effort to counter Islamic State militants. Still, any success isn't likely to happen quickly.

"It takes sustained effort," said Ms. Flournoy. "This isn't a project of weeks or months. It is a project of years."

Write to Julian E. Barnes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Siobhan Gorman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



By Lucy McCalmont

September 10, 2014

Sen. Rand Paul said President Barack Obama made “one important point ” in his remarks on Wednesday saying that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was neither Islamic nor a state, but questioned the constitutionality of the president’s strategy.

“Ultimately, civilized Islam will have to step up. We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves, I’m all in for saying we have to combat ISIS,” Paul said Wednesday on “Hannity.”   “So I think it is important not only for the American public but for the world and for the Islamic world to point out that this is not a true form of Islam, this is an abhorrent form.”

Paul pushed back against whether Obama was trying to “diminish their importance,” saying instead that the president was aiming to underscore that ISIL is not a “true or accurate depiction of Islam.”  The Kentucky Republican repeated that the U.S. will need Muslim nations in the area as allies in the region in the fight against ISIL.

“But they have to step up, because frankly they have been allowing too much of this to go on,” Paul said, adding that he thinks Saudi Arabia has “aided and abetted the rise of ISIS.”

Paul said the president made “one important point” in this distinction.

“Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’  No religion condones the killing of innocents.  [NOTE: This is apparently because of Rand Paul's idiosyncratic definition of "religion."  --  In fact, many religions have condoned the killing of innocents. ( )]  And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim,” Obama said in his address Wednesday.  “And ISIL is certainly not a state . . . It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates.  ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple.”

However, Paul did hit the president on his handling of foreign policy, saying the country is “absolutely not” safer.

“Libya is a disaster. Libya is a jihadist wonderland, the jihadists are swimming in the embassy swimming pool,” Paul said, who also pointed to Syria and Iraq.

Paul added that “Obama “absolutely” needs to ask Congress for authorization for any military action and despite supporting intervention, questioned whether Obama’s strategy is constitutional.

“This is an intervention, and I don’t always support interventions but this is one I do support.   But I think the president would be more powerful, the country would be more united -- he should’ve come before a joint session of Congress, laid out his plan as he did tonight, and then called for an up or down vote,” the senator said.

“It is unconstitutional what he’s doing,” Paul said.