Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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Showing posts for "Non-State Actors"

Is the Top Leader of ISIS Dead? Here’s What to Expect

by Clint Hinote
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first public appearance on July 5, 2014, at a mosque in the center of Iraq's second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the Internet. (Courtesy Reuters)

Numerous news outlets have reported that the U.S.-led coalition operating in Iraq and Syria may have injured or killed the overall leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air strike near Mosul. If this is true, it is welcome news, but it will not signal the end of the movement. Instead, this is a significant part of the overall military strategy to apply broad pressure to ISIS and halt its momentum. Over the long run, stopping ISIS will require alleviating the underlying conditions that drive violence and gave rise to the movement in the first place. While the outside world can help create the necessary conditions, only repudiation by the local population will kill ISIS.

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The Anti-ISIS Campaign Has Expanded Into Syria. What Comes Next?

by Emerson Brooking and Janine Davidson
isis-syria-cruise-missile A Tomahawk cruise missile is launched against ISIL targets from the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke, in the Red Sea September 23, 2014. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez Ii/Courtesy Reuters)

By Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking

On September 22, the air campaign against ISIS expanded into Syria in a coordinated attack that included 47 Tomahawk missiles and nearly 50 coalition aircraft. This action had been all but inevitable since the commencement of overflight reconnaissance in Syria on August 26. Significantly, these strikes also included targets of the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate unrelated to ISIS. Also significantly, five Arab militaries—Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Qatar—participated in the operation. At this stage, there are three important questions to address: the targeting of the strikes, the implications of this action, and potential challenges that might await the operation moving forward.

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The Air Campaign Against ISIS Is About To Get A Lot Bigger

by Janine Davidson
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey look at a map showing Islamic State ambition as they testify during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State on Capitol Hill in Washington September 16, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

It has now become a question of when, not if, the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will expand into Syria.  As I wrote at the beginning of August, the Islamic State has enjoyed a strong and unmolested base of operations from which to coordinate its offensive in Iraq.  If not attacked on that turf, the terrorist organization will continue grow and strengthen. Effective military operations against ISIS—even those short term efforts to stop ISIS momentum—must include operations in Syria to eliminate ISIS sanctuaries.

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Failure to Cooperate with Iran Against ISIS Will Open the Door To Greater Risk

by Ben Fernandes
Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012, a day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Courtesy Reuters)

This commentary comes courtesy of Major Ben Fernandes, U.S. Army, a CFR term member and PhD candidate at George Mason University. He argues that the issues of Iranian nuclear weapon development and the anti-ISIS effort cannot be viewed in isolation. A push to arm “moderate” Syrian rebels without Iranian consultation could quickly antagonize Iran, whose leaders do not draw the same distinctions between the Sunni militant groups. This could result in a renewed Iranian push for nuclear deterrent—and increase the risk of regional destabilization.

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Thirteen Years Later, Echoes of 9/11 Shape Our Battles Still

by Janine Davidson
United States President Barack Obama pauses during a moment of silence at the Pentagon in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks in Washington September 11, 2014. Thursday marks the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. (Gary Cameron/Courtesy Reuters)

Today, September 11, 2014, marks the thirteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  Many of us recall that sunny day like it was yesterday.  We can still recount where we were when we heard the news; how we felt and what we did next.

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We Learned (the Hard Way) the Value of Restraint in Iraq; We Can’t Forget It Now Against ISIS

by Stephen E. Liszewski
Iraqi girls gesture as they celebrate after Iraqi security forces entered the town of Amerli September 1, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

This commentary comes courtesy of Colonel Stephen Liszewski, CFR’s U.S. Marine Corps fellow. Col Liszewski served as the commander if 1st Battalion, 12th Marines in Al Anbar Province in Iraq during 2007. He notes that skillful employment of American firepower was critical in combating an insurgency that often blended in with the local population, and argues that this same lesson must be remembered and applied as the United States moves against ISIS.

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With Release of Steven Sotloff Execution Footage, ISIS Begins To Show Desperation

by Clint Hinote
Journalist Steven Sotloff's executioner, nicknamed "Jihad John" by British security services, gestures to the camera. The ISIS video, called "Second Message to America," leaked online September 2, 2014. (Source: Peru.com)

This commentary comes courtesy of Colonel Clint Hinote, CFR’s U.S. Air Force fellow. Hinote evaluates the timing, context, and strategic intent of the September 2 ISIS propaganda video that shows the graphic execution of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff. He argues that the ISIS messaging strategy shows the “bankruptcy of the movement” and is beginning to show diminishing returns. This article follows Hinote’s analysis of the first “A Message to America” video.

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As Mission Against ISIS Widens, Three Points to Guide U.S. Operations

by Janine Davidson
A U.S. F/A-18A+ Hornet prepares to launch off the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Gulf south of Iraq in this photo released March 6, 2005. The same aircraft has been employed with increasing frequency in operations against the Islamic State, begun August 7, 2014. (Airman Ryan O'Connor/Courtesy Reuters)

Last night, President Obama authorized both manned and unmanned surveillance flights over Syria as a potential precursor to air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS). This action suggests that U.S. policymakers have come to the conclusion that the border between Iraq and Syria will no longer be a barrier to U.S. operations.

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The ISIS Propaganda Machine Is Horrifying and Effective. How Does It Work?

by Emerson Brooking
This undated screen capture of an Islamic State propaganda video sees a masked jihadi standing before a computer generated map of IS territorial control. (Source: Counter Jihad Report)

By Emerson Brooking

The Islamic State’s “A Message to America,” showing American journalist James Foley’s final moments, is vile and horrifying. Significantly, unlike the early propaganda of Al Qaeda, this video is also professionally cut and edited. It is the sort of thing engineered to achieve rapid, viral spread on the open internet. It also represents the main weapon the Islamic State is increasingly employing to great effect against the West.

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These Captured Letters Reveal Al Qaeda’s How-To Manual

by Janine Davidson
al-qaeda-lessons A suspected al Qaeda militant holds his head as he stands with co-defendants behind bars at the state security court of appeals in Sanaa March 26, 2013. The court on Tuesday upheld jail sentences ranging from four to 10 years against 10 defendants convicted of having links to al Qaeda, the state Saba news agency reported. (Khaled Abdullah/Courtesy Reuters)

The New York Times has published letters exchanged in mid-2012 between two senior Al Qaeda leaders, in which Abu Basir of the Arabian Peninsula tries to impart guidance to Abdelmalek Droukdal, leader of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Buried in Basir’s letters are a fascinating series of “lessons learned” by the aging terror network. I’ve highlighted four here:

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