• Iraqi commander ordered troops out of Ramadi unnecessarily, leading to city’ fall

    The capture of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, by Islamic State militants made headlines, and was perceived used by ISIS’s savvy media machine as a demonstration of the organization’s military capabilities, but military analysts say the jihadists took over the city because an Iraqi commander unnecessarily ordered his forces to withdraw. “Ramadi was lost because the Iraqi commander in Ramadi elected to withdraw. In other words, if he had elected to stay, he would still be there today,” says a British army’s brigadier. U.S.-led efforts to build up the Iraqi military so it can retake Ramadi and Mosul are stalled because not enough Iraqis enlist.

  • Global conflicts on the rise

    Forty armed conflicts were active in 2014, the highest number of conflicts since 1999 — and an increase of 18 percent when compared to the thirty-four conflicts active in 2013. New data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) shows an increase in both the number of active conflicts but also in the number of battle-related deaths in these conflicts.

  • GW launches Program on Extremism

    The George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security on Tuesday announced the establishment of the Program on Extremism, which GW says is a first-of-its-kind initiative aimed at providing analysis on and solutions to countering violent and non-violent extremism. The program will focus on various forms of extremism, mainly in the United States, with the goal of conducting groundbreaking research and developing policy solutions that resonate with policymakers, civil society leaders, and the general public.

  • Assad’s one-before-the-last stand

    In the last few weeks, Syrian military units have begun to build what military analysts describe as “Maginot Line” east of Damascus in a last-ditch effort to defend the capital from the forces of the Southern Front, which threaten the capital from the south, and from Islamic State, which threatens the city from the east. The line consists of small military outposts, earthen berms, and approach roads. It is being built about fifty miles east of the Damascus International Airport, located east of the capital. The mini-Maginot Line being built east of Damascus is an admission by the Assad regime that battle for Syria is over. It is not yet clear who will control Syria, but it is clear it will not be Assad and the Alawites. Their forty-five years in power are over. The question for Assad, rather, is who will control Damascus and the Alawite region. The building of the line east of the capital is an indication that Assad is getting ready to fight for the control of the capital, but the battle for Damascus may be a delaying tactics, aimed to gain time for the preparations for the ultimate battle – the battle over the Alawite region. It will be a battle over more – much more — than the fate of the Assad regime. It may well be a battle over the very fate of the Alawites.

  • U.S. air strike kills Mokhtar Belmokhtar, jihadi leader in North and West Africa

    The United States has said that a weekend air strike in Libya killed jihadi leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. The al-Qaeda-affiliated Belmokhtar was the mastermind behind the attack on a gas plant in Algeria in 2013 which killed forty hostages. His killing means that after a slow start, the United States has built up impressive intelligence-gathering capabilities in the vast, sparsely populated area which encompasses Libya, Algeria, and Morocco in the north, and the western part of the Sahel region to the south – including Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso. Belmokhtar was loyal to al Qaeda, and in April he made headlines by publicly refusing to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State.

  • U.S. kills al-Qaeda’s second-in-command

    A U.S. drone strike in Yemen on 9 June killed Nasir al-Wuhayshi, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command and the leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda’s most powerful regional organization. Analysts say the killing of Wuhayshi, nicknamed Abu Basir, is a blow to the organization. He was a charismatic and capable organizer who was focused on continuing al-Qaeda’s tradition of hitting Western targets, preferably in a headline-grabbing spectacular fashion. Wuhayshi, who fought in Afghanistan, accompanied Osama bin Laden as they fled the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to the caves of Tora Bora in Pakistan. He served as OBL’s secretary and close aide. He was imprisoned in Yemen for a couple of years but escaped and helped found AQAP in 2009, rising to the leadership of the group.

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  • Israel urges U.S. to send military aid to Druze in Syria

    Israel has asked the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who was visiting Israel last week, to help persuade the White House to rush aid to the Druze in Syria, where the retreat of the pro-government forces and the collapse of the Syrian army have exposed the Druze to attacks by both moderate Sunni rebels and Islamic State militants. Israel said it would be willing to extend humanitarian aid to the residents of Khadr, near the Israeli border, but that intervention to assist the Druze in the Jabal al-Druze region, deeper in Syrian territory, was not in the cards because it would amount to an intervention in the Syrian civil war. About 450,000 of Syria’s 700,000 Druze live in the Jabal al-Druze area.

  • Syrian Druze facing uncertain future

    The broad retreat of the pro-government forces in Syria in the face of increasingly more effective attacks by both Islamic State and moderate anti-regime rebels, have placed the Druze in Syria in a difficult position. The disintegration of the Syria military has forced the regime to abandon areas it regards as less essential to the future of the Alawite community, to which the Assad family belongs. The realization that Syrian government forces are no longer capable of, or interested in, defending them, has triggered urgent debates among Druze leaders about how best to protect the interests – and lives — of the half million Druze who live in Syria. Some Druze leaders still advocate staying close to the Assad regime, which traditionally has been hospitable to the Druze, but the majority of the Druze in Syria – and, importantly, the Druze leadership in Lebanon – are calling on the Druze in Syria to reach out to Sunni insurgents in an effort to reach an accommodation with them in anticipation of a post-Assad Syria. There are also Druze leaders who call for members of the community to mobilize and create a Druze militia in order to repel the approaching Sunni rebels. The Israeli government and military, however, have this week quietly decided not to use, or threaten to use, military force to defend the Druze. If ISIS fighters take the lead in pushing into areas heavily populated by Druze, and if the militants exhibit the same murderous tendencies toward the Druze that they showed in Iraq toward the Yezidis and others, then a humanitarian catastrophe will be unfolding on Israel’s doorstep, forcing Israel to make decisions it has so far resisted.

  • ISIS's new recruits more than make up for militants killed by coalition forces

    For almost every Islamic State militant killed by U.S. and coalition forces, a new fighter is recruited by ISIS supporters in the Middle East or abroad. U.S. officials have boasted that the coalition’s airstrikes are inflicting great harm on ISIS, using a series of different numbers to support their case. Experts say focusing on the enemy body count ignores some trends that are not in favor of coalition forces. “The strength of ISIS continues to grow, so they’re getting more in from recruits than they are losing through casualties,” says one expert.

  • Focusing on how, rather than why, individuals make the transition to terrorism

    Intelligence and counterterrorism officials have spent tremendous effort to understand why people become Islamist terrorists and commit acts of violence. Up till the 1980s, a significant number of terrorism scholars argued that terrorists are “driven” or “pushed” to commit violence because of an internal imbalance or a psychological abnormality rooted inside the individual. In recent years, scholars have suggested that the roots of terrorism are not in the individual, but in the social environment in which terrorists live and act. The debate goes, leading scholars to argue that the concerns of law enforcement officials should be less about why terrorists exist or commit violence, and more about the how, when, and where does the transition to terrorism take place.

  • Local U.S. Muslim communities fight Islamic State's recruitment efforts

    In U.S. cities with larger Muslim populations across the country, local communities are reaching out to fight the threat of Islamic State online propaganda targeting their youth. Recognizing that previous years’ experience of attempting actively to foil plots through espionage and enforcement has damaged the relationship between Muslim-American communities and the government, a new low-key approach is taking shape.

  • Is there a homegrown terrorism trend in Boston?

    Citing several incidents involving Boston-based terrorists, some ask whether homegrown terrorism might be a trend specific to Boston. “Clearly, there have been a number of incidents here, and some of that is because Boston is really an international city,” said former Boston Police Department commissioner Ed Davis. “It seems to be more than a coincidence,” says one scholar. “But there’s no good answer.”

  • U.S. to ratify two long-stalled nuclear terrorism bills

    Deep in the USA Freedom Actwhich was signed into law by President Barack Obama last week, there is a section which will let the United States complete ratification of two-long stalled treaties aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism. “Today, nearly 2,000 metric tons of weapons-usable nuclear materials remain spread across hundreds of sites around the globe — some of it poorly secured,” said former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative(NTI). “We know that to get the materials needed to build a bomb, terrorists will not necessarily go where there is the most material. They will go where the material is most vulnerable.”

  • Major defeat for Erdogan as Islamist ruling party loses majority

    Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not on the ballot in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, but his ambitious agenda for Turkey was – and he lost big. The losses of his Islamist Justice and Development party, or AKP, were the most significant and painful losses in the party’s 20-year history – and the first losses for Erdogan since he emerged in 2002 to dominate the Turkish political scene. Erdogan openly proclaimed that the goal of AKP in Sunday’s election was to win at least 66 percent of the seats in parliament — the number required to make changes to the Turkish constitution. The AKP now has nearly 50 percent of the seats in parliament, short of the constitution-changing threshold. The Turkish voters, however, soundly rejected Erdogan’s ambitious agenda: Not only did the AKP not win the required majority – the party actually lost power. With 99 percent of the votes counted, the AKP had won 41 percent of the vote, down from the 49 percent it won in the last national election in 2011. It will now have only 258 seats in Turkey’s Parliament, compared with the 327 seats it has in the outgoing parliament. There are regional implications for the Erdogan and AKP loses: On Syria, Libya, and other regional issues, a subdued Erdogan and a tamer AKP may be less of an obstacle to more harmony and greater coordination among the key Sunni states in the Middle East, which is good news for the twin efforts to contain Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions and weaken Iran’s allies, on the one hand, and defeat the nihilistic forces of jihadist Islamist extremism, on the other hand.

  • Mapping organized crime, terrorism hotspots in Eurasia

    More than a quarter of all the drugs produced in opium-rich Afghanistan pass through Eurasia. Drug trafficking in the region has been linked to the strength of such terrorists groups as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, and al-Qaeda. The illicit sale of weapons is common in the area, and locals are drawn into human trafficking rings either for forced labor or sexual exploitation. As organized crime plays an increasing role in funding terrorism, researchers aim to pinpoint hotspots in Eurasia where drug trafficking, human trafficking, and terrorism coincide. The research team, selected to receive a $953,500 Minerva grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Initiative, will examine the connections between terrorism and organized crime in Central Asia, South Caucasus, and Russia.