United States/Middle East – The defeat of Islamic State in its de facto capital Raqqa may only be the start of a wider struggle by the United States to contain any insurgency launched by the militant group and to stabilize the region, as Washington grapples with defining a comprehensive strategy in Syria it was reported on the 18 Oct 17. U.S.-backed militias declared victory over Islamic State in Raqqa on the 17 Oct 17 raising flags over the last jihadist footholds after a four-month battle. The Sunni militant group often referred to as ISIS, overran Raqqa in Jan 14 seizing control from rebel factions opposed to the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “While recapturing Raqqa is important symbolically, talk about almost a pyrrhic victory,” said Bilal Saab, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. Addressing the economic, political grievances of the Sunnis so that another ISIS doesn’t come about will be as important as the military fight.” Raqqa was the first big city Islamic State captured, before its rapid series of victories in Iraq and Syria brought millions of people under the rule of its self-declared caliphate, which passed laws and issued passports and money. Islamic State has lost much of its territory in Syria and Iraq this year, including its most prized possession, the Iraqi city of Mosul. In Syria, it has been forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert. Middle East analysts said that among the wide array of problems exposed after Islamic State’s ouster from Raqqa were where to find money to help rebuild the shattered city, how to support fledgling local government in the face of a likely insurgency and how to keep Assad, backed by Iran and Russia, from trying to regain control. “The real challenge is that ISIS will turn into a vengeful ghost, will try to stalk and to wreak havoc on the post-conflict security and governance and administration in order to undermine the U.S. and its partners,” said Nick Heras of the Centre for a New American Security. A U.S. State Department official said Washington remained committed to a peace process in Geneva and supported the “broadest possible group of Syrian representatives in those discussions.” The official said that the United States and allies would continue to provide humanitarian assistance and support efforts to stabilize areas freed from Islamic State rule “to include continuing the removal of IEDs and other explosives ... restoring basic services and refurbishing schools.” The official said the U.S. goals included “supporting local governing bodies that are representative of the area, civilian-led, and credible in the eyes of the populations.” Assad’s use of force to crush an initially peaceful uprising against his family’s more than four-decade rule triggered the country’s civil war in 2011. The conflict helped create a vacuum that Islamic State eventually filled by seizing parts of Syria. Russia stepped in with military support for Assad in 2015. “The greatest challenge for Raqqa and local Syrian partners that are trying to rebuild Raqqa is the ambiguity of Trump administration Syria policy,” Heras said. “A signal needs to be sent that the U.S. intends to keep a residual force in the areas that it has conquered from ISIS in order to oversee the stabilization mission and to have the broader, publicly unstated aim, to constrain Iran’s ability to re-conquer all of the country in the name of Assad,” he said. Several analysts said the United States does not appear to have a durable strategy to stabilize the region, let alone to revive the moribund U.N. talks in Geneva aimed at ending the civil war. “We’ve captured and lost cities before,” said Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican. “This victory underscores the need for a comprehensive Syria strategy.” A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said “If the Russians truly want to ... have something that will really put Syria back together, we will see if they are willing to return to the Geneva process.” Saab, of the Middle East Institute, suggested U.S. influence in Syria may be too slight to shape events. “Our investment has always been and will always be quite limited,” he said. “We have ceded the terrain to Russia and the Iranians and it’s almost too late now, for us, to get involved effectively, you have to have some skin in the game.”
United States/Da’esh – Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned on the 18 Oct 17. Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security, said jihadists were using crude knife and van attacks to keep their members engaged and their finances flowing as they plot another ‘big explosion’ similar to the September 2001 atrocities. Speaking at the US embassy in London, she said intelligence is pointing to extremists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties. Mrs Duke said ISIS is currently in an ‘interim’ period focusing on a much bigger endgame. The security chief, who has served three US presidents, said: ‘The terrorist organisations, be it ISIS or others, want to have the big explosion like they did on 9/11. They want to take down aircraft; the intelligence is clear on that. ‘However, in the interim they need to keep their finances flowing and they need to keep their visibility high and they need to keep their members engaged, so they are using small plots and they are happy to have small plots.’ She added: ‘Creating terror is their goal and so a van attack, a bladed weapon attack, causes terror and continues to disrupt the world – but does not mean they’ve given up on a major aviation plot.’ Yesterday Mrs Duke said the prospect of a terrorist blowing up an airline using a laptop was just one of the threats facing airlines worldwide. She said the free movement of goods and people means security has to be tightened in individual countries around the world. She said: ‘The laptop is one of the many aviation threats, we will never be comfortable and we will always be evolving. ‘What we believe is that because of the movement of goods and people, we have to raise the baseline worldwide, we can’t only consider our borders.’ Mrs Duke went on: ‘We think the level of terrorist threat against the United States too is extremely high. ‘I think that it is challenging for you because you have the proximities to other countries, the ease of movement from some of the terrorist safe havens is a little easier for you, but we feel the terrorist threat is very high in the United States.’ Asked how the US is tackling the threat of another 9/11-style atrocity, she said: ‘We have worked on some strong measures that we can’t talk about. We are trying to play the away game and that is working against them in their terrorist safe havens and homes. ‘We do have some terrorist groups on the move, you just saw the take-over of Raqqa and so if we can keep them declining and moving they have less time to sit and prepare.’ Mrs Duke warned that the number of home-grown violent extremists, mostly inspired by terrorist organisations, is increasing in the US. She said the ability of IS militants to put terrorist propaganda on the internet will appeal more and more to extremists as they are pushed out of Syria and Iraq. Mrs Duke said web giants need to do more to detect extremist content online, and one way of doing this could be using the same technology used to identify people in passenger lists. ‘Terrorists are strong, they are adaptable and the terrorist threat is the highest it has been since pre-9/11. We have got to have every tool that’s possible,’ she added. A total of 2,996 people were killed during the September 11 attacks, when al-Qaeda suicide attackers hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. Earlier in the day she met the British interior minister Amber Rudd to discuss how to force internet giants to do more to tackle terrorism ahead of the G7 summit. Following the recent wave of attacks in Manchester and London, police chiefs have said the threat facing the UK is a ‘new norm’ that will not change. Her chilling remarks came 24 hours after MI5 Director General Andrew Parker warned Britain is facing its worst-ever terrorist threat in his first major speech since the UK was hit by a wave of attacks. The British spy chief said it was taking terrorists just days to hatch plots as violent extremists exploit ‘safe spaces online’ to evade detection. It is harder for the UK to protect itself because of its proximity to other countries and the ease of movement from terrorist safe havens, she suggested.
United States/Iran/al-Qaeda – CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that the CIA will soon publish documents revealing Iran’s work with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Pompeo described the connection between Iran and al-Qaeda as an “open secret”. “It’s an open secret and not classified information that there have been relationships, there are connections,” Pompeo said during an event held by the Foundation for Defence of Democracies on the 19 Oct 17 in Washington DC. “There have been times the Iranians have worked alongside al-Qaeda.” Pompeo added that they have cut deals so as not to come after each other. He said that the intelligence community is still monitoring those ties, especially given the complexity of the situation in Syria. The director also discussed Iran’s interference in regional state affairs, sponsoring terrorism and causing unrest. He also spoke about Iran’s ballistic missiles program and their nuclear efforts. He confirmed that US President Donald Trump had given the security services greater potential to carry out their work. This comes days after the US president announced his policy towards Iran. National Security Adviser H.R McMaster stressed that the strategy would use all means at its disposal to counter Iranian actions. Washington now insists it wants a strong Iraq that does not fall into the hands of Iran and will dry the sources of funding for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The US administration also issued an ultimatum to Iran to stop its use of armed militias in the region and said it would implement the strategy in cooperation with its partners in the Middle East.