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Why We Should Take Back Americans Who Fought for ISIS

What do we do with Westerners who fought on behalf of, or at least traveled to and joined, the Islamic State? Some like Hoda Muthana, who left college in Alabama to join the Islamic State in Syria, have expressed the desire to return to their native country.

As the Islamic State loses its last safe havens in eastern Syria and policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic confront the question of what to do with the Western “foreign fighters,” I thought I could add my voice and unique experiences to the discussion.

I was the first American foreign fighter for Al Qaeda after Sept.…  Seguir leyendo »

American military advisers at an Afghan National Army base.CreditCreditJames Mackenzie/Reuters

President Trump may be a controversial and disruptive president. But in regard to Afghanistan, his frustration with the 17-year war differs little from the sentiments of President Barack Obama or most of the rest of us. Reportedly, he has asked for a precipitous cut of up to half the 14,000 American troops serving there, early this year.

That would be a mistake. There is still a strong case to sustain America’s longest war — especially if we redefine it, away from nation-building and toward something more like an enduring partnership with the Afghan people against regional and global extremism. Indeed, Washington should stop looking for an exit strategy and view Afghanistan as one pillar in a broader regional web of capabilities against Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and related movements that show few signs of dissipating.…  Seguir leyendo »

A building hit by U.S. airstrikes during the war against the Islamic State near the Turkish border wall in Kobani, Syria.CreditCreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times

The United States is at risk of another “Mission Accomplished” moment. On Wednesday, President Trump declared by tweet, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency.” President Trump is right that the United States has made tremendous progress against the Islamic State, and we’ve been honored to support that mission from the White House across two administrations as senior counterterrorism officials. But the Islamic State has not been “defeated” — and our mission in Syria has not been fully accomplished.

The recent Christmas market terrorist attack in Strasbourg that left five dead and at least a dozen injured serves as an all-too-vivid reminder that the threat posed by the Islamic State persists.…  Seguir leyendo »

A section of the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump made a pledge to fill the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay with “bad dudes.” He brought up Guantánamo again on Nov. 1, a day after the Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov was arrested on a charge of killing eight people in a terror attack in New York. Mr. Trump said that authorities should send the suspect to the prison because the American justice system is a “laughingstock.”

But the next day Mr. Trump apparently changed his mind, indicating a preference for trying Mr. Saipov in New York. He said in a tweet that he’d “love” to send him to Guantánamo but “that process takes much longer than going through the federal system.”…  Seguir leyendo »

The National 9/11 Flag is unfurled during a ceremony on May 15, 2014, marking the opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City. (Don Emmert/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks — 16 years ago on Monday — President George W. Bush declared a war on terrorism that he pledged would not end until every terrorist group of global reach was defeated. Bush drew a line in the sand, telling every nation, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The Bush administration was more flexible than this rhetoric suggested, but it still evinced a strong willingness to act unilaterally.

President Barack Obama sought to make U.S. counterterrorism efforts more sustainable, and thereby enable the United States to focus more on other challenges.…  Seguir leyendo »

A policeman in Manchester, England, on May 25. Credit Jon Super/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The leaking of sensitive information about the investigation into Monday’s terrorist attack on the Manchester Arena, including forensic images of bomb apparatus, to United States media caused dismay and anger among British officials. The prime minister, Theresa May, went so far as to raise the issue directly with President Trump when they met at Thursday’s NATO conference in Brussels.

To modify George Bernard Shaw’s maxim, Britain and America appear to be two countries divided less by a common language than by common secrets. While British investigators jealously guard detailed information about their operations, seeking to run their leads to ground before they are exposed to view, their American counterparts seem more willing to put what they know directly into the public domain.…  Seguir leyendo »

A firefighter trying to extinguish a fire after an attack by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab in Mogadishu, Somalia, last year. Credit Feisal Omar/Reuters

The Trump administration has made it clear that the United States will take a more aggressive approach to battling al-Shabaab extremists in Somalia.

In March, President Trump granted the military expanded authorities to operate in Somalia, paving the way for an accelerated military campaign.

By declaring parts of Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” Mr. Trump gave the Department of Defense authority to approve strikes without going through an Obama-era vetting process, which potentially lowers the bar for tolerance of civilian casualties. And the head of American forces in Africa, who advocated the change, said this would “allow us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion.”…  Seguir leyendo »

With its 9 May announcement that it has decided to directly arm the Kurdish-dominated People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, Washington has inserted itself even further into one of the region’s oldest and bloodiest conflicts: the 33-year-long fight between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is the mother organisation of the YPG and a group deemed a terrorist group by not only Turkey but by the US itself.

In fighting the Islamic State (IS), Washington has been supporting the YPG indirectly for several years and meeting with its commanders. But the decision to provide arms directly further elevates the PKK’s Syrian branch’s status.…  Seguir leyendo »

Smoke from a battle between Taliban and Afghan forces, Kabul, Afghanistan, March 1, 2017

Since assuming office President Donald Trump has barely mentioned Afghanistan, a country where US forces have been engaged in the longest war in American history. Perhaps this is because, after more than fifteen years and $700 billion, the US has little to show for it other than an incredibly weak and corrupt civilian government in Kabul and a never-ending Taliban insurgency. Now Afghanistan faces a new horror—as a testing ground for what can only be called a US weapon of mass destruction.

Trump’s silence on Afghanistan was finally broken on the evening of April 13—not with the announcement of a new political strategy but with the dropping of a monster bomb, the GBU-43, nicknamed the “Mother of All Bombs,” on an ISIS base in a rural area of the country near the Pakistan border.…  Seguir leyendo »

The rubble of a home destroyed by reported coalition air strikes in al-Jadida, Mosul, Iraq, March 24, 2017. Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

In the opening months of the Donald Trump administration, there has been little sign of a coherent foreign policy taking shape. What is happening, however, is a dramatic militarization of US policy in the Middle East—one that is occurring largely without the consultation of American allies, and with hardly any public scrutiny. In the case of the war in Yemen and the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, these developments could have extraordinary consequences for US security and even the stability of the Middle East itself.

The disastrous January raid on an al-Qaeda target in central Yemen, just days after Trump took office, resulting in the death of a Navy SEAL and two dozen civilians, has been widely discussed.…  Seguir leyendo »

This week, we have seen reports that a former British inmate of Guantanamo Bay, Jamal Udeen al-Harith, carried out an ISIS suicide attack in Iraq.

Some will undoubtedly use this news to make the argument that Guantanamo Bay should remain open, that it should be increasingly used to house the current crop of jihadist terrorists and that no further inmates should be released.

Indeed, President Donald Trump has made some of these arguments, and Republicans have put pressure on him to expand the prison in Cuba.

No one is more outraged than me, a counter-extremism specialist, by the reports that a former Guantanamo prisoner joined ISIS and carried out this attack.…  Seguir leyendo »

The recent botched raid on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen is emblematic of Trump's governance style: bold, impulsive, and with a very certain disregard for consequences.

Nobody is yet sure whether this is by design or not. For some, Trump's policies are best explained by a version of chaos theory, largely attributed to the work of chief political strategist, Stephen Bannon. The first weeks' policies seek to create as much chaos as possible, provoke a liberal backlash that discredits its participants and (so the theory goes) fully consolidate the support of Trump's base.

For others, the first two weeks have been trial by fire, reflecting an untamed narcissistic desire to generate attention and affirmation, and made possible by creating an inner circle that has seemingly removed apolitical expert oversight.…  Seguir leyendo »

The first counter-terrorism raid authorised by U.S. President Donald Trump over the weekend targeted al-Qaeda in Yemen. How effective was the operation, and what is known about the new administration’s broader strategy on Yemen?

The raid in al-Bayda, a key battlefront in Yemen’s civil war where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its local affiliate Ansar al-Sharia (AAS) are embedded in the conflict, is a good example of what not to do. The use of U.S. troops and the high number of civilian casualties – local sources report that at least ten women and children were killed – are deeply inflammatory and breed anti-American resentment across the Yemeni political spectrum that works to the advantage of AQAP.…  Seguir leyendo »

ISIS in the Middle East and now here

A comprehensive strategy to defeat Islamic supremacists must include not only a war plan to defeat the enemy on the active battlefields of the Middle East, but it must also address how to defeat this enemy now inside the United States.

Such a strategy must start by recognizing that there is a Global Islamic Jihad Movement which is carrying out attacks in the United States, e.g., Sept. 11, Ft Hood, Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, New Jersey, New York and Minneapolis. This Islamic Jihad Movement is operating on the al Qaeda seven-phase timeline for the conquest of Western Civilization. For example, Phase Four (2010-2013) was to bring about the collapse of hated Arabic governments, such as Egypt, Iraq, and Libya, a goal which was accomplished successfully with the help of the Obama administration.…  Seguir leyendo »

The American killing by drone strike of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, may seem like a fillip for the United States’ ally, the embattled government of President Ashraf Ghani. But it is unlikely to improve Kabul’s immediate national security problems, and may create more difficulties than it solves.

This raises doubts about the American approach — the so-called decapitation strategy — in carrying out such targeted killings against the Taliban leadership.

Commenting on the death of Mullah Mansour during his visit to Vietnam this week, President Obama said, “Mansour rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Is America’s War on ISIS Illegal

In May 2010, Nathan Michael Smith joined the Army, swearing an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” He took up this mission on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and is now serving as a captain in Kuwait at the command headquarters of Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign against the Islamic State that President Obama initiated in 2014.

The president claims that Congress’s authorizations in 2001 and 2002 for the wars against Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein can be stretched to cover his current campaign. But many legal experts question his unilateral assertion of power.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hardly a day goes by without news of the progress being made in the war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In recent months, American-backed forces have secured much of the Syrian-Turkish border, recaptured Ramadi, and stemmed the flow of fighters and supplies to the terror group's capital cities of Raqqa and Mosul.

But momentum is not the same as winning, and the U.S. has fallen into a number of traps in Iraq and Syria -- the most deadly of which has been set by al Qaeda.

Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, is more dangerous than ISIS -- and while the two groups share the common goal of establishing a global caliphate, they are using different means to achieve it.…  Seguir leyendo »

The remains of a car containing three suspected al-Qaeda militants, after a drone strike, Yemen, January 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO / STR.

President Barack Obama’s plan for closing Guantánamo, delivered to Congress on Tuesday, reaffirms his admirable desire to end before he leaves office one of the most problematic legacies of the US response to September 11. But he has yet to adequately address his own more lasting legacy in the “war on terror”: the secret killing of suspected terrorists with armed drones. On the same day the president issued his Guantánamo plan, a bipartisan task force gave him failing grades on his progress in bringing the drone program under the rule of law.

The Obama administration has made drones the weapon of choice for responding to perceived terrorist threats.…  Seguir leyendo »

What the West should have learned from its long ‘war on terror’

Behind President Barack Obama’s Sunday night speech lies an awkward reality. Ever since 9/11, the West has been fighting two in some ways separate, but deeply intertwined battles against Islamist militancy.

One — to protect the West from attack — has actually gone remarkably well. The other, however — to shape events in the Middle East and surrounding regions and push back radical militant groups — has been something of a disaster. Somehow, those two campaigns must be reconciled if groups like Islamic State and its ideology are to be defeated.

Last week’s shooting at a San Bernardino, California, special needs center was the deadliest jihadist attack on U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

More American military personnel are heading to Iraq and Syria. The administration continues its slow progression to renewed ground combat.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter informed Congress that a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” would be sent to Iraq on top of the 3,500 personnel already there, with the authority to operate in Syria too. This mix of Special Forces “will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL [Islamic State] leaders,” explained Carter. Where greater opportunities appear to work with local forces, he added, “We are prepared to expand it.”

Unfortunately, no matter how effective these forces, they won’t turn around a 16-month deadlock.…  Seguir leyendo »