Monthly Archives: September 2015

ITS MORE THAN THE POLITICS OF FEAR

Sep 29 2015

THE ISIS CRISIS – IT’S MORE THAN THE POLITICS OF FEAR

Who: Al Emid. Author. Journalist. Broadcaster. | What: Book Launch
Where: Toronto | WHEN: September 29th, 2015
Party politics overshadowed the extent of the crisis in last night’s leaders’ debate

Toronto, Ontario – During last evening’s Munk Debate on foreign policy, the leaders of Canada’s three major political parties re-iterated their public positions about the country’s involvement in the ISIS crisis and the fight to resolve it.

“Unfortunately none of them actually spoke directly to the crisis or their view of what it would take to end it,” said Al Emid, author of the upcoming book What You Need to Know About Isis: Terror, Religion, War & the Caliphate.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper re-emphasized his government’s intention to remain involved militarily. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau re-iterated his party’s determination to terminate Canada’s military involvement and to focus on training if elected. New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair criticized Canada’s mission since it is not part of a United Nations operation.

“None of the candidates exhibited a clear understanding of the horrific extent of the ISIS crisis and its human cost, except its part in the current refugee catastrophe.” said Emid.

“We call it a crisis because of the murders, rapes, executions, kidnappings and recruitment of foreign fighters and supporters,” he continued. ’It’s an exceptionally complex situation and I would have liked to hear more about their views of those complexities,” he explained. “Although the leaders did compare views on how many refugees Canada could take in from the region, none of them addressed the fact that only 20 per cent of the total flow of refugees are fleeing the ISIS crisis.

Emid spent almost a year talking to a global roster of military, political, financial, terrorism and intelligence experts from the United States, Canada, Africa, Europe and the Middle East to construct the narrative for his upcoming book to be published by Quidne Press later in Fall.

Like the journalist he is, Al Emid delves into this complex situation to explain what is happening, to suggest likely outcomes, and to help us understand why an insurgent group that seems to have sprung from nowhere has become one of the most important threats of our time.

Emid’s book takes us behind the mask of the ISIS crisis and provides some much needed perspective on the security threat and the continuing cost of fighting ISIS.  The information in What You Need to Know About ISIS: Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate will provide those insights and background information.

“While it might please many to assume the eventual defeat of ISIS, we need to come to grips with the possibility that ISIS and the Islamic State will remain intact for the foreseeable future.  The borders may change slightly, drone strikes may remove some leaders periodically, the ‘state’ may continue to have governance programs, but its actual disintegration and total defeat appear unlikely in the short term.  We need political leaders that understand this reality,” Emid says.

Al Emid is available for interviews to discuss:

  • How to assess various political candidates’ responses to the ISIS crisis
  • Why the crisis will not be resolved in the short-term
  • The types of Lone Wolves here in North America

Backgrounder

About Al Emid:

Al Emid is a longtime journalist and broadcaster specializing in financial and geopolitical matters.  He has recently returned from an assignment in the Middle East for New York-based Global Finance Magazine.  His other books include Investing in Frontier Markets and Frontier Markets for Dummies, Financial Recovery in a Fragile World, and What I Have Learned So Far.  A follow-up book on terrorism is planned for 2016.

Al Emid. Author. Journalist. Broadcaster.

44 Charles St. W. Suite 714
Toronto, ON
M4Y 1R7
Canada

https://www.alemid.com

Suzen Fromstein – Publicist

T: 416-471-3845
E: suzen@suzenfromstein.com

THE SYRIAN MESS

By Al Emid
Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 25
The Glamourous Life of an Author

A shocking admission in the United States Senate, developments in the battlefield and some artfully-worded diplomatic statements during last week go a long way to pointing up the complexity of the ISIS crisis in Syria, the fractured state of the country and the almost total unlikelihood that the country will likely ever regain its full pre-crisis territory. In the backdrop these events also demonstrate Syria’s usefulness in an international political game.

(It might appear appropriate to include the European refugee/migration crisis in this list of implications but Syrian nationals accounted for roughly 20% of the flow into Europe in the second quarter of the year, according to the European Commission. Many Syrian refugees appear to have fled to closer destinations, typically the case with refugees from war zones. And that crisis merits several separate posts.)

Syria is currently embroiled in two major wars. Syrian forces loyal to the government fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – ISIS — but also the Free Syrian Army and numerous smaller rebel groups. At one time estimates ranged around an astounding 1000 rebel groups but some of them have faded and some have merged with other groups.

Speaking in Washington to the U. S. Senate Armed Services Committee, General Lloyd Austin, who heads the American war effort in the region, updated Senators on the strategy for training what it had termed ‘moderate’ Syrian troops to fight ISIS in the country. The program had not come even close to meeting its much ballyhooed target of 5400 fighters, all of whom would promise to fight ISIS but not the government. “We’re talking four or five,” Austin said, according to The Daily Beast and other publications.

The plan, originally conceived as a part of President Barack Obama’s strategy for retaking Syrian territory from ISIS, had actually produced 54 fighters, but many of them had left and some had been captured or killed. According to The Daily Beast, the program so far has cost $43 million of the $500 million allotted by Congress or ‘roughly $9 million per fighter’.

Perhaps in a very unintentionally ironic remark, Austin summarized the current status of the group. “The new Syrian Force Program has gotten off to slow start,” he said in a masterpiece of understatement. The Daily Beat account did not mention a collective gasp amongst the Senators present but one can reasonably believe that some of them cringed at the update. The Senators, including Sen. John McCain who normally treat military witnesses quite cordially went into overdrive in their criticisms. “One year into this campaign, it seems impossible to assert that (Islamic State) is losing and that we are winning. And if you’re not winning in this kind of warfare, you are losing,” McCain said according to Reuters.

Had it worked, this strategy would have complemented American President Obama’s longstanding desire to avoid increasing American involvement but it clearly has not succeeded.

At time of writing the Army has started reviewing other options for fighting ISIS in Syria, according to reports.

Meanwhile Russia has built up its base near Latakia, moved in military equipment and personnel to support the Assad regime, and continues transporting more equipment including fighter jets. At time of writing, Reuters reports that Syrian forces have started using the new air and ground weapons and the Russian Foreign Minstar held out the possibility that Russian troops would fight alongside Syrian troops. Russian President Vladimir Putin, a long-time ally of Syrian President Assad called for joint talks on the Syrian situation. Meanwhile Syrian army jets carried out approximately 25 air strikes on the city of Palmyra, currently held by ISIS and Raqqa, often considered ISIS’s de facto capital.

Russia advocates a broad coalition to fight ISIS and argues that helping Assad’s military would do that. Putin did not refer to Assad’s relentless bombing, torture, and rape of civilians and whether those atrocities had in fact pushed anti-government forces even further than otherwise and horrified outside observers. To be fair, the United Nations Human Rights Council has also accused rebel fighters of systematic torture and inhuman treatment.

Although the U.S. has recently softened its position on ‘regime change’ – that is the removal of Syrian President Bashir al-Asaad in recent months, it still wants Assad to step down eventually, on some kind of negotiated schedule. That marks a change from President Obama’s statement in August 2011 that “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Asaad has shown no sign of accepting this verdict and certainly appears unlikely to give it much consideration. He also called for joint action in an interview with reporters.

On the diplomatic front, American Defense Secretary Ashton Carter spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu and Secretary of State John Kerry made clear to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that if the reports of Russia’s moves were true “it could lead to greater violence and are not helpful at all” to efforts by the international community to end the conflict, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report.

Taken together, these developments rather prove that ISIS will not face defeat in the short –term, that it will do whatever it takes to hold on to the Syrian oilfields, that Assad will not leave office unless pushed and because of the crisis, he has had a reprieve. These events also suggest that Russia intends to assert its role in the region, that the United States continues backing away from its role as the world’s policeman in favor of a local solution and that the instability of the region will continue unabated at least in the short- and medium-term. Add to that combination Obama’s obvious desire to continue limiting America’s role in the region, his lame duck status and the increasing preoccupation with the net federal election.

The stakes in these and other developments in Syria during the past week certainly include implications for the ISIS crisis but they go beyond the unlikely resolution in the short term.

Russia and Putin arguably have more to gain than merely helping Assad. With this week’s military moves Putin has re-staked his claim to burnishing Russia’s place on the world stage, arguably one of the motives that drove his Crimea and Ukraine strategy. In the background, Russia’s moves appear to reflect its own fear of jihadists within its own borders.

With all of these factors in view, peace in Syria remains unlikely in the short term. Whenever a brokered peace does become possible, postwar Syria will need a long and expensive restoration programme and the funds for that will have to come from somewhere. Assad will not go without a strong push and guaranteed asylum. The likelihood that at some future date Syria can restore its original territorial boundaries looks near impossible. ISIS currently controls a huge swath of Syria including many of its oil fields, a set of prizes that it will not easily surrender, given the revenue that the fields pour into its coffers. And the Syrian Kurds likely consider themselves entitled to retain the Syrian territory they have captured in the north of the country.

Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in early Fall looks behind the news about ISIS and what might lie ahead. He has begun developing a follow-up book set for release in early 2016.

ISIS: SLAMMED BY AL QAEDA

ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001

By Al Emid
Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 25
The Glamourous Life of an Author

The worst kept – and most misunderstood — secret – in the deadly world of jihadist terrorism burst out front and center last week, perhaps as a macabre anniversary marker for 9/11.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the man who took over the leadership of Al Qaeda after the death of Osama bin Laden, threw down the gauntlet at the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – ISIS –and essentially declared war.

In remarks contained in an audio released by Al Qaeda and widely quoted in various publications, Al-Zawahiri criticized Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS and its Caliphate and charged him with ‘sedition’. He also charged Baghdadi with poaching Al Qaeda members.

Until last year, essentially the same organization then known as Al Qaeda in Iraq and now known as ISIS had fought as Al Qaeda Central’s Iraq franchise. AQC basically disowned it because it would not follow orders, would not restrict its territorial ambitions to Iraq and perhaps most astonishingly had become too brutal in the view of AQC, a dimension of the split that I have always found astonishing. By all accounts AQC remained unrepentant and made no attempt at reconciliation.

In the audio recording, as quoted in various publications, Al-Zawahiri continued chastising the former Al Qaeda franchise and its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi: “But Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his brothers did not leave us a choice, for they have demanded that all the mujahedeen reject their confirmed pledges of allegiance, and to pledge allegiance to them for what they claim of a Caliphate,” said the Al Qaeda leader.

Put more simply, Al-Zawahiri’s barb translates as: “Baghdadi had no business demanding the allegiance of jihadists. They owe their allegiance to us.” Clearly, Baghdadi and the rest of ISIS did not share that view.

He may also have been referring to the pressure both sides placed on smaller splinter groups to declare their allegiance. Whether out of awe, fear, self-preservation or jihadist pragmatism, numerous smaller groups swore allegiance to Al Qaeda Central or to ISIS and several shifted from Al Qaeda to ISIS at the time. Most notably, Boko Haram in Nigeria not only swore allegiance to ISIS but mimics its tactics as well and declared its own Caliphate in the north of Nigeria. However, Boko Haram lacks the territorial control it once touted as a growing Caliphate, according to Nigerian journalist Samuel Okocha. The Nigerian army, with the co-operation of neighboring forces, has incapacitated Boko Haram’s ability to hold onto a Caliphate, Okocha explains. In the absence of a Caliphate, the terrorist group has slipped back to its use of suicide bombings and general hit and run tactics.

ISIS’s declaration of the Islamic State, became a very large sore point following the split. Al Baghdadi designated himself as Caliph of the Islamic State and leader of the Muslim world, a role that Al-Zawahiri likely saw as rightfully his, given the history of Al Qaeda.

Last week’s audio marked a change in attitude for Al-Zawahiri and Al Qaeda. The schism between the two groups had become public at the time but neither group said this much about it until now. As well as marking the 9/11 anniversary, Al Qaeda may have decided that no rapprochement between the two groups could ever work and that it wanted a very public pronouncement of the separation.

While the thought of these two groups slugging it out seems appealing – and understandably – to us here in the West let us consider the downside: clearly the two groups compete ferociously to claim leadership of the jihadist movement but they also compete for world attention and for cash from their patrons who help finance their activities. That could lead to escalating hostilities and atrocities. And their ‘competition’ can only add to the mounting instability in the Middle East region for as long as it continues, potentially leading to ever more battles and claim-staking. They both operate in Syria and in Yemen, for example.

At the same time they differ in several ways that very much matter to us here in the West, starting with the flow of recruits. Al Qaeda has reportedly attracted small numbers of foreign recruits but ISIS’s command of social media, online recruitment and propaganda videos has meant that it recruits thousands of foreign fighters each year with estimates ranging above and below 4000 annually. The figures of course represent the best guesses of various analysts but clearly ISIS has triumphed over Al Qaeda in image-building and attracting foreign recruits.

They also differ in their funding sources. Both organizations receive donations from local patrons but in modern day corporate terminology, ISIS has many more revenue streams. It gets revenues — albeit reduced – from smuggled oil, sale of antiquities, (the ones that they have not destroyed), human trafficking, extortion and other sources. It has also acquired many of its armaments by scooping up equipment left behind by fleeing Iraqi armed forces.

ISIS also appears to have greater military expertise, since it has attracted some of the officers of former President Saddam Hussein’s army, which the Americans disbanded and made unemployed in 2003.

For these individuals joining ISIS represented both a job and a venue to revenge for their dismissals. According to some reports Baghdadi actively sought them out after taking over the leadership of AQI/ISIS.

The groups share some similarities, including their ideological foundations. Members of both groups are largely Sunnis, one of two main Muslim groups in the region. The Sunnis have long suffered at the hands of Shiites and the two groups attract a lot of support from other Sunnis on those grounds alone.

They share one other similarity: both appear set to continue fighting coalition and local forces, as well as each other, for the indefinite future.

Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in early Fall looks behind the news about ISIS and what might lie ahead. He has begun developing a follow-up book set for release in early 2016.

ISIS: POLITICS, WAR AND BEDFELLOWS

ISIS Cover Final 2,pdf-page-001
By Al Emid
Author Journalist Broadcaster
Chapter 23 –
The Glamourous Life of an Author
Politics makes strange bedfellows according to a quote from a near-forgotten American essayist and Shakespeare intimated that war made for strange bedfellows in some of his historical plays. British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill certainly understood that concept and in a sense he had the twentieth century patent on it.

Politics and war make for very strange alliances indeed – and very pragmatic alliances and some recent developments in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — ISIS — sharply bring home that truism. The United States looks to enemies-perhaps-temporarily-uneasy friends to help contain the crisis which has pitted ISIS against the U. S. led- coalition that has not to date resolved the crisis.

Perhaps the most striking of these real or potential turnabouts originated with former Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus. He has urged the administration of President Barack Obama to persuade fighters from the Al-Nusra group to join the U.S.-led coalition in fighting ISIS. One can imagine the number of raised eyebrows in Washington at the concept.

Depending on one’s perspective one can see Petraeus’ plan as either a consummate bold stroke or an act of desperation. Let us remember that the Al-Nusra Front operates as Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria and that in June it released a 43-minute propaganda video commemorating the 9/11 attacks and suggesting that the fact that Americans were ‘arrogant’ played a large part in that tragedy.

During a CNN interview Petraeus explained his logic as one of convenience for disenchanted Al-Nusra fighters: “(But) some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra today have undoubtedly joined for opportunistic rather than ideological reasons: they saw Nusra as a strong horse, and they haven’t seen a credible alternative, as the moderate opposition has yet to be adequately resourced.”

Put more succinctly he suggested that the anti-ISIS coalition offer disenchanted Al-Nusra fighters an appealing alternative and an impressive show of strength. To make Petraeus’ plan work, negotiators would have to overcome a history of antagonism between the U.S. and Syria and that would require some spectacular diplomacy. Last week, the Syrian Air Force reportedly bombed the new Syrian Force, according to CNN. That did not provide a promising start to negotiations. Meanwhile, the U. S. has decreased support for groups fighting the Syrian government and that provided another unpromising start. According to the CNN report some of those groups feel abandoned by Washington.

Meanwhile, the U. S. simply does not have the commitment of forces and dollars in Iraq that it had previously and therefore its negotiating position and attractiveness at the bargaining table seem much less than in the days when it had 100,000 troops and a near-blank check there.

Petraeus’s own background confuses the issue even further. As the most iconic American military leader of his generation with successes in Iraq and Afghanistan his record led President Obama to appoint him to head the Central Intelligence Agency. He would have had absolute credibility in anything he proposed except for his spectacular fall from grace after accusations of providing ultra-top-secret information to his mistress-biographer.

In another twist, President Barack Obama seems to have backed off somewhat from his earlier calls for regime change in Syria – a euphemism for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The target of regime change has morphed into a kind of regime preservation since Assad fights ISIS as well as the Syrian rebels. The Obama administration’s Syrian policy – to the extent that it has one – appears to focus more on defeating ISIS than on removing Assad and any question of confronting Assad appears to have been at least temporarily consigned to a back burner, in hopes that he will at least continue fighting ISIS.

It seems like light years ago that Obama pointedly called for regime change. “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way,” Obama said in a written statement, as reported in the Washington Post and other publications. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

The August 18, 2011 edition of the Washington Post included an assessment from an unnamed Washington official who declared that the White House is “certain Assad is on his way out.” Just over four years later, Assad clings to power and appears unlikely to head for the exit, reprieved by the ISIS crisis. He may, as appears entirely possible, survive to continue leading a much-reduced Syria with ISIS retaining all or part of the Syrian territory that it now controls, perhaps with the rebels remaining in control of all or part the territory they hold.

A third potential bedfellows arrangement necessary for prosecuting the war appears chancy at time of writing. British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to join the air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria but the likely election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Opposition Labour Party may scuttle the plan. While ruling parties and opposition parties in Britain and elsewhere have cobbled together bedfellows arrangements in past, they may not manage it in this case as Corbyn is an avowed anti-war campaigner. He opposed the 2003 Iraq war and has expressed unremitting opposition to Britain’s participation.

Although Cameron has a slim majority in Parliament he may not win a vote on air strikes due to the opposition of some members of his own caucus and might need Labor Party support for the ultimate British Parliament bedfellows relationship. If Corbyn does become chieftain of the Labour Party, Cameron may not get the votes he needs from the Labour members.

Cameron has to avoid the humiliation he suffered in 2013 when rebels in his own Tory caucus joined with the Labour party to defeat his plan to launch missile strikes against the Assad regime. However, this time around, public outrage over the current refugee crisis emergency, resulting partially from the ISIS crisis might yet lead to some rethinking by those otherwise opposed and lead to an uneasy arrangement