Da’esh – ISIS is relying more heavily on child soldiers as growing numbers of fighters desert the militant group, the United States said on the 15 Mar 16. That may indicate the group’s leaders are “struggling with their ability to recruit and retain manpower,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a daily briefing. However, “more and more” defectors are leaving ISIS’s ranks, prompting the group to rely more heavily on child soldiers, the spokesman added. “Originally, they would rely on children for intelligence streams, getting information... and then using them to conduct suicide attacks, which they still do,” Kirby said. “Now we get more reports about them using children in actual engagements side by side with adult fighters,” he added. “All those are good indications they are struggling with their ability to recruit and retain manpower.” However, the United States still considers the threat from ISIS “very seriously,” Kirby said. “They are still very lethal.”
Da’esh – In the first footage to emerge of the Briton for more than a year, the journalist and photographer appears gaunt on the 19 Mar 16. The 45-year-old, who has fronted several ISIS propaganda videos while a hostage, taunts Barack Obama's attempts to tackle the warped terror group. The clip shows Mr Cantile walking around a bomb-damaged building which he suggests is in the Iraqi city of Mosul. Wearing a black jacket and black trousers, Hampshire-born Mr Cantlie addresses the camera as if presenting a news report. He says: "After 20 months and five billion dollars, America has successfully destroyed an Islamic State media kiosk. "If this is what Obama meant when he talked about degrading and ultimately destroying ISIS, he's clearly got a long way to go yet." As the footage emerged this morning, journalist Hala Jaber tweeted: "Worth remembering that whatever John Cantlie says, he is and remains a hostage. “His words are not those of a free man." The reporter added it was "great to see he is alive" although he looked "incredibly gaunt and thin" Mr Cantlie's skills as a journalist have been exploited by ISIS to enhance a series of propaganda films titled Lend Me Your Ears. The last was released in November 2014, in which he discussed as "failed raid" by US forces to rescue him and other hostages.
Da’esh/Syria – The second-in-command of so-called Islamic State (IS) has been killed in a US operation in Syria, US media reported on the 25 Mar 16. Abdul Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, an Iraqi also known as Hajji Iman, died during a raid by US special forces on Thursday, officials stated. The US authorities had offered a reward of $7m (£5m) for Qaduli.
Defence officials said that US special operations forces landed in helicopters in Syria early on the morning of the 24 Mar 16. They lay in wait as Qaduli drove past them in a car, and were able to stop it. There was an attempt to capture Qaduli alive, but the situation escalated and the militant and three other people in the vehicle were killed, the officials said. Qaduli, an ethnic Turkmen, was born in 1957 or 1959 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which has been controlled by IS since 2014. He joined al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) - a precursor of IS - in 2004 under the leadership of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, serving as his deputy and the local leader in Mosul, according to the US. After his release from an Iraqi prison in early 2012, he joined IS forces in Syria. Last year, some sources identified Qaduli as "Abu Alaa al-Afari", who was said to have taken temporary charge of IS after its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was allegedly injured in an air strike. Mr Carter will also confirm on Friday the death of the "minister of war" of IS earlier this month. Tarkhan Batirashvili, a Georgian known as Omar Shishani, was the target of a US air strike in north-eastern Syria on 4 Mar 16 US officials say.
Gaza Strip – Hamas staged major military exercises on the 22 Mar 16 to test its readiness in the event of another Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, which has been ravaged by three wars since 2008. The exercises involving 1,000 police and emergency services personnel were not meant to be seen as an "announcement of war", said a spokesman for the Islamist movement's interior ministry. For the duration of the exercises, however, a state of emergency was observed in Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya, bordering Israel in the north, and Jabalia farther to the south. The media was barred from approaching the area, but loud explosions could be heard from a distance, with hospitals and schools placed on alert. Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fought three wars since 2008, including a devastating 50-day conflict in 2014.
Iran/Iraq/United States – on the 21 Mar 16 it was announced that one of the deadliest Iranian-backed militias in Iraq has threatened to attack US troops deployed fighting the Islamic State (ISIL) and "deal" with them as occupying forces. The Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, known as the League of the Righteous, issued the warning after it emerged the US has deployed several hundred marines to aid Iraqi forces as they try to retake Mosul. The US and the Shia militia are in theory on the same side against ISIL and the threat underscores the complex web of alliances and antagonism among the forces fighting the jihadist movement. "If the US administration doesn't withdraw its forces immediately, we will deal with them as forces of occupation," the League said on its TV channel, al-Ahd. "The forces of occupation are making a new suspicious attempt to restore their presence in the country under the pretext of fighting their own creation, Da’esh," the group said, using another name for ISIL. It is not clear if the League would actually follow through but the group played a major role in fighting Western forces after the US-led invasion in 2003 and is a powerful force within Iraq today. The League was responsible for the kidnapping in May 2007 of British computer expert Peter Moore and his four bodyguards, in what turned out to be one of the worst kidnap crises in modern British history. Mr Moore was eventually released in December 2009, while his four bodyguards - Jason Creswell, Jason Swindlehurst, Alec MacLachlan, and Alan McMenemy - were killed in captivity. Its fighters also shot down a British Lynx helicopter in Basra in 2006, killing five UK military personnel. The militia is backed by Iran and operates under the supervision of Qassem Suleimani, a Revolutionary Guard general in charge of most of Iran's expeditionary missions in Syria and across the Middle East. Members of the League have fought ISIL in Iraq but also sent troops into Syria to fight alongside Hezbollah and the Assad regime against the Syrian opposition. Between 2006 and 2011, the group claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks on US forces, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War. The presence of US Marines in northern Iraq emerged only after a member of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit was killed by a rocket attack on the 19 Mar 16. Staff Sergeant Louis Cardin was part of a force deployed to provide artillery support for Iraqi troops ahead of an operation to retake Mosul, according to CNN. Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq and has been held by ISIL since the summer of 2014. The Iranian-backed Shia militias are watched warily by the US in Iraq. They have repeatedly proved themselves to be more reliable fighters against ISIL than the Iraqi military, which collapsed in the face of a jihadist offensive two years ago. However, many of them are loyal to Tehran before Baghdad and their violence against Iraqis Sunnis has helped inflame sectarian tensions in Iraq.
Iran/Iraq/Syria – The LWJ reported on the 25 Mar 16 that a senior commander in Iran’s Army told reporters on Mar. 23 that Special Forces would be deployed as “advisors” to Syria and Iraq. This would mark the first time that Army forces – in this case, commandos and snipers of the Rapid Response Battalions – will have operated outside Iranian borders since the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) military presence in the country is well-documented, but the announcement denotes the first time Iran’s Army has formally contributed to military operations in Syria, which has been an IRGC-led campaign since Tehran first began sending significant resources to the country four years ago. Iran’s decision to integrate Army Special Forces into major foreign operations underscores its commitment to hone its expeditionary capabilities. In fact, the Army’s involvement in Syria may have begun several months ago, as the head of its ground forces did not deny a report of an Army helicopter spotted flying from Iraq to Syria in December. The Army was Iran’s primary military force prior to the 1979 revolution. The IRGC, on the other hand, was established after the revolution as a praetorian guard charged with protecting the revolution and balancing against a coup by the Army, which the clerics viewed with suspicion for its prior ties to the monarchy. The two institutions have been rivals ever since. The Army is a traditional military organization, while the Guard pursues asymmetric and “revolutionary” warfare. Each has its own ground, navy, and air branches. Since 1979, however, the clerics have marginalized the Army in favour of the IRGC. The Guard receives better equipment and funding, even though it is only one-third in size (150,000 men compared to 350,000). It now dominates Iran’s military affairs, producing almost all of the senior officers in the General Staff. Still, the Army is not totally irrelevant. The Army, for example, appears to be responsible for securing Iran’s western border with Iraq. The army’s ground forces commander announced in mid-March that his team and intelligence apparatus had neutralized two Islamic State infiltration cells and suicide vests at the border. The ground forces also reportedly deployed troops, helicopters, and drones to border crossings to provide security for 800,000 Iranian pilgrims to Iraq in December 2015. The newly announced Army deployment to Syria and Iraq represents a departure from its constitutional mission to protect Iran’s territorial integrity. And while there have been no reported sightings – or casualties – of Army troops yet in Syria or Iraq, the deployment announcement came after the warring parties in Syria agreed to a cessation of hostilities last month. February’s cessation of hostilities agreement means Iran no longer needs the 2,500 troops with which it launched last month’s offensive in northern Aleppo to cut off the main rebel supply route from Turkey. Iran has reportedly kept 700 military “advisers” in Syria. Announcements of IRGC fatalities in Syria have continued since the ceasefire announcement. Despite reports that Iran is drawing back its deployment in Syria, therefore, this week’s announcement is merely a reflection of Tehran reconfiguring its forces in the country to reflect changing conditions on the ground.
Iran/France/Yemen – French naval forces have seized a large weapons cache headed towards Somalia on the 20 Mar 16 a CNN report said on the 30 Mar 16. The cache, according to the report, is considered the second weapons seizure in the region this month. Both shipments may have been heading to Yemen from Iran by way of Somalia, the report said, citing a spokesman for US 5th Fleet. Cmdr. Kevin Stephens told CNN, the seized weapons may have been created in Iran, and their likely ultimate destination was Yemen. Earlier this month, an Australian naval ship had seized a large arms cache on a small fishing vessel, which may have come from Iran and headed to Yemen via Somalia.
Iraq – Iraqi forces have launched a broad offensive to retake the city of Hit from ISIS in the western province of Anbar, a top commander reported on the 19 Mar 16. Led by the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, forces from the police, army and local tribal fighters were making a final push to retake Hit, 145 kilometers (90 miles) west of Baghdad. “They have begun a broad operation to liberate Hit and Kubaysa,” Major General Ali Ibrahim Daboun, said. Kubaysa is a smaller town a few miles west of Hit, a key hub along the Euphrates that the jihadists have controlled since October 2014. Daboun said Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters had retaken a cement plant west of Kubaysa and raised the Iraqi flag there. “Members of the terrorist Da’esh gangs have fled back into the town centre,” the head of the local council for Al-Baghdadi district, Malallah al-Obeidi, said. Daboun said Iraqi aircraft and jets from the US-led international coalition were providing air support. Al-Asad military air base, which houses a large contingent of US and other foreign military advisers, lies around 35 kilometres northwest of Hit. Iraq’s security forces launched a final push against ISIS in Anbar’s provincial capital Ramadi late last year and established full control over the city last month.
Iraq – Powerful Iraqi Shiite Muslim leader Moqtada al-Sadr warned political party leaders on the 25 Mar 16 they would face street protests if they obstruct a government overhaul planned by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to fight corruption. Sadr also called on Abadi to announce a new cabinet line up by the 26 Mar 16 that would see current ministers replaced by technocrats with no party affiliation to tackle systemic political patronage that has abetted bribery and embezzlement. The influential cleric spoke on a Friday sermon (25 mar 16) delivered by a representative to tens of thousands of faithful outside the gates of Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone that houses government offices, parliament and embassies. Sadr’s followers began a sit-in a week ago outside the Green Zone to pressure the government to see through anti-corruption pledges. Abadi has shown a willingness to act but has been slow to deliver on a reshuffle announced in Feb 16. Corruption is depleting the central government’s financial resources at a time when revenues are declining due to lower oil prices and Abadi needs to ramp up funding for the U.S.-backed war against Islamic State militants. “If he brings a logical reform package to parliament and does not get enough votes, there will be a call to escalate protests against those who did not vote” for the proposed cabinet, said Sadr’s envoy, Sheikh Asaad al-Nasiri. “If (Abadi) does not announce a package that appeases the people, then we will have another stance we will announce tomorrow. We will not be content with a sit-in at the Green Zone,” Nasiri added amid crowd chants of, “Yes, yes to Moqtada our leader!” He did not mention a deadline which Sadr gave Abadi last month to implement reforms. The deadline expires next week. Abadi has voiced concern that the Shiite street protests could spin out of control and put Iraq’s security in danger when it needs to keep its focus on fighting ISIS. Iraq, a major OPEC producer that relies on oil exports for most of its revenue, ranked 161 out of 168 on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index in 2015. 361 COMMENT: This is dangerous. And Abadi is correct; Iraq needs to focus on beating Da’esh. If Sadre continues this will bring on unrest and allow Da’esh to operate and in the capital easier which will in turn make the defeat of the terrorist organisation that much more difficult. Sadre should wait and Abadi should implement what he has promised to do. Both need to think carefully of their country. COMMENT ENDS
Iraq/ Iskandariya – A suicide bomber killed at least 29 people and wounded 60 others in an attack on a crowd gathered at a soccer stadium south of Baghdad on the 25 Mar 16, according to multiple media sources. The U.S. State Department confirmed the attack in a statement condemning it. The blast occurred during a trophy presentation in the village of Iskandariya about 25 miles south of the Iraqi capital, wire services reported. Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the Amaq news agency. "The United States condemns today's suicide bombing claimed by Da’esh in Al-Asriya. Iraq, which killed and wounded dozens of Iraqis who had gathered to support a local football game," the statement read. "We extend our condolences to the families and friends of the victims of this cowardly attack."Medical officials confirmed the death toll.
Iraq – Suicide attackers from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have stormed one of the biggest army bases in Iraq and killed at least 18 soldiers, according to a military source on the 27 Mar 16. All 10 ISIL fighters who entered the Ain al-Assad military base in Anbar province on the 26 Mar 16 were killed. An Iraqi defence ministry spokesman said that eight of them were killed by soldiers, and that two had managed to blow themselves up. Ain al-Assad was the second largest American airbase in Iraq after the US-led invasion. At least 300 US military advisers and trainers remain in the base to support Iraqi troops. The attackers were killed before they reached any facilities under the control of the US military, according to army sources. The terrorists reached some important Iraqi offices inside the base, one of them the telecommunications office, before they were killed. There had been an escalation of suicide bombings in areas outside ISIL's control. According to Iraqi and US military sources, as ISIL loses the ability to launch large-scale attacks to gain territory, they are focusing on small attacks.
Israel/Turkey –Israel has issued a new travel advisory for Turkey, warning its citizens to leave the country as soon as possible and avoid any travelling there. The “high concrete threat” is the second-highest warning level that Israel can issue. It raises the directive issued after three Israeli tourists were killed in an Istanbul suicide bombing earlier in March. The National Security Council advised on the 28 Mar 16 that “the risk of additional attacks from terrorist organizations is rising, with an emphasis on the Islamic State, on tourist destinations and in general Israeli tourists,” using a different name for ISIS. Israel has the same level warning as Turkey for Tunisia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has given the highest warning levels for Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Somalia, Sudan and Libya. Israelis are banned from travelling to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.
Saudi Arabia/United States – Saudi Arabia and the US Department of Treasury on the 31 Mar 16 jointly placed sanctions on four individuals and two organizations they linked to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. The groups “have a long history of inflicting violence on Americans and our allies throughout South Asia and the Middle East,” said Adam J. Szubin, acting undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a statement. The action “demonstrates the United States’ and Saudi Arabia’s shared resolve to target those who support terrorism,” he said. Treasury said it used its counter-terrorism authorities to impose the sanctions, and that Saudi Arabia did so under its law against “terrorism crimes and financing.” James Alexander McLintock, a Scottish-born Pakistani national, was targeted for sanctions because he allegedly provided financing for all three groups, Treasury said. He’s the president, chief executive and chairman of Pakistan-based Al-Rahmah Welfare Organization, which was also hit with sanctions. The organization, Treasury said, is a Qaeda front used to finance it, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and other groups, providing financing to militants under the guise of helping orphans. Outside of the organization, McLintock has also personally supported multiple terrorist groups, Treasury alleged. A 2004 profile in The Scotsman dubbed McLintock the “Tartan Taliban,” and detailed his journey from a student in Scotland to radicalism in Afghanistan. The report says he was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001, and later released. He was arrested again in 2009 in Pakistan, according to a report at the time in The Independent. In addition, Treasury said Abdul Aziz Nuristani, and Jamia Asariya Madrassa, which Nuristani controls, were both placed under sanctions for providing support to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. For years, Treasury said, terror groups have used the madrassa “as a financial conduit” to bring money into Pakistan. Nuristani has traveled to Gulf countries to raise money for the madrassa and a trust already under sanctions, Treasury said. Treasury also imposed sanctions on Naveed Qamar, who it said has held multiple leadership positions in Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and Muhammad Ijaz Safarash, a Saudi-based Lashkar-e-Tayyiba member it said has provided funding and logistical support to the group. Saudi Arabia designated these individuals and entities under its Law of Terrorism Crimes and Financing and the Royal Decree A/44, as a result of this action, any property or interest in property of these designated individuals and entities under Saudi jurisdiction are also frozen, and Saudi citizens are generally prohibited from doing business with it, the Saudi Press Agency said.
Syria/Kurdistan – The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and several allied groups have voted to create an autonomous federation in the northern part of Syria it was reported on the 17 Mar 16. Officials of the PYD claimed autonomy in the Kurdish-controlled areas on Thursday after two days of meetings with delegates of different communities in the country's north. Representatives of the Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian communities and other ethnic groups met in the town of Rmeilan in Hassakeh province to discuss combining three Kurdish-led autonomous areas into a federal system. Both the Syrian government and one of the main opposition blocs have rejected the move. The Syrian foreign ministry issued a statement "warning anyone who dares to undermine the unity of the land and the people of Syria under any title," adding: "Creating a union or a federal system ... contradicts the Syrian constitution and all the national concepts and international resolutions." The opposition Syrian National Coalition also said it rejects such unilateral declarations and warned of any attempt to form autonomous regions that "confiscate the will of the Syrian people". The newly declared region, named by Kurds as Rojava, consists of three distinct enclaves, or cantons, under Kurdish control in northern Syria: Jazira, Kobani and Afrin. The move is sure to anger Turkey, which fears that the growing Kurdish power in Syria is encouraging separatism among its own Kurdish minority. Idris Nassan, a Syrian Kurdish official and former leader in the Democratic Union Party, said on the 16 Mar 16 that the announcement would mean "widening the framework of self-administration" across northern Syria. Nassan said preparations for federalism had been ongoing for quite some time. "Federalism should be the future not only for northern Syria or the Kurdish regions but for Syria in general, because under federalism democracy and equality will be guaranteed," he said. Syria's Kurds effectively control an uninterrupted 400km of territory along the Syrian-Turkish border from the Euphrates River to the frontier with Iraq, where Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed autonomy since the early 1990s. They also hold a separate section of the north-western border in the Afrin area. Between 25 and 35 million Kurds live in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. They are split into myriad political parties. While some seek to create an independent Kurdistan, others campaign for greater Kurdish autonomy within existing national boundaries. In the wars in Syria and Iraq, Kurdish forces are at the forefront of the fight against ISIL.
Syria/Russia – Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to continue supporting the Syrian government in its fight against armed groups - even as some of his forces withdraw from the country. Speaking at the Kremlin on the 17 Mar 16 three days after he ordered Russian forces to partially pull out from Syria, Putin said the move had been agreed with President Bashar al-Assad. He added, however, that Moscow could relocate its military contingent back to the country "within a few hours", if needed. "If necessary, literally within a few hours, Russia can build up its contingent in the region to a size proportionate to the situation developing there and use the entire arsenal of capabilities at our disposal," Putin said, repeating that Moscow would keep a contingent at its air and naval bases in Syria. The Russian leader also said Moscow would continue to carry out air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), al-Nusra-Front and other "terrorist" groups. His remarks came after a top Russian general told local media that Moscow would complete the withdrawal of most of its forces in Syria before the end of the week. In an interview with Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, Viktor Bondarev, the commander of the country's air force, said the withdrawal "will be over very quickly". He added: "Within the timeframe determined by (the president) and the defence minister. Today or tomorrow ... within two-three days we will complete the task." The interview was published in the newspaper on the 17 Mar 16 but was put online late on the 16 Mar 16. It was not clear precisely when the general made his remarks. The first group of Russian warplanes that left Syria arrived in Russia on the 15 Mar 16 while the second group of jets left the Khmeimim airbase in Syria on the 16 Mar 16. The number of Russian soldiers in Syria has never been revealed, but US estimates suggest it varies from 3,000 to 6,000 military personnel on the ground.
Syria/Da’esh – Syrian state TV stated on the 25 Mar 16 that the Syrian army recaptured major parts of the historic and strategic city of Palmyra as battles were fought between Syrian army troops and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters. Syria's state news agency that the army, backed by forces loyal to the government had recaptured the Syriatel hill and the Palmyra castle after heavy clashes with ISIL. The army units combed the hill after destroying the last hideouts of ISIS terrorist organisation and dismantled the explosive devices left behind by its members. SANA also reported that the Syrian army captured al-Qubour valley and al-Qusour Mountains, located 3km west of Palmyra city. SANA quoted the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, hailing the operation. "I welcome the liberation of the Palmyra archaeological site, martyr city inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list, which carries the memory of the Syrian people, and the values of cultural diversity, tolerance and openness that have made this region a cradle of civilization," Bokova said. The Syrian advance comes amid a government offensive to capture Palmyra that began earlier this month with support from Russian fighter jets. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the Syrian army, backed by air strikes, had captured the Palmyra castle and that fighting was still ongoing outside the city. ISIL captured the city, also known as Tadmur, in May last year and began a campaign of destroying some ancient sites and using others to stage mass executions.
Yemen – US military planes killed dozens of fighters at an al-Qaeda affiliate’s training camp in a mountainous region of Yemen, the Pentagon said on the 23 Mar 16. The raids came almost one year since the Saudi-led Arab coalition launched its bombing campaign against Iran-backed Shiite militias who challenged the authority of the Yemeni government and seized much of the country. Yemeni government and tribal officials had earlier said Saudi-led air strikes killed or wounded dozens at a training camp in Hajr, west of Hadramawt’s provincial capital Mukalla. Fighters have held the city since April. The early morning raid at a camp used by “more than 70” Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters “deals a blow to AQAP’s ability to use Yemen as a base for attacks that threaten US persons,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement. “We continue to assess the results of the operation, but our initial assessment is that dozens of AQAP fighters have been removed from the battlefield,” Cook said. “It demonstrates our commitment to defeating al-Qaeda and denying it safe haven.” It was not immediately clear whether there were any civilians among the casualties. Tribal sources said wounded militants were taken to a hospital in Mukalla, while witnesses spoke of around nine vehicles rushing casualties out of the area. Dozens of al-Qaeda militants were meanwhile seen rushing to the hospital to donate blood, according to residents. Riyadh launched the intervention in Yemen last year after Shiite Houthi militias seized control of large parts of the country, including the capital Sanaa, and forced the government into exile.