Abandoning Syria to Assad Helps Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 23, 2016

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The deeply problematic attempted Syrian ceasefire agreement between the United States and Russia last week never really took hold and was finally torn asunder on Monday by Russia and the regime of Bashar al-Assad blitzing an aid convoy and launching massive, indiscriminate aerial attacks on rebel-held areas in Aleppo. Last night, the pro-Assad coalition commenced a renewed assault on Aleppo actually as the parties met to discuss putting the ceasefire back online.

It had been surreal that it was the U.S. insisting that “The ceasefire is not dead”. What it exposed was the lack of Western will to restrain the Assad regime, which al-Qaeda, especially, is exploiting, offering its services in the fight against Assad, and building a sustainable presence in Syria that will threaten the West for many years to come. Continue reading

Syria’s Flawed Ceasefire Comes Crashing Down

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 21, 2016

A version of this article was published at The New Arab

Humanitarian convoy in Aleppo after the airstrikes by pro-regime coalition, 20 September 2016

The United States and Russia reached an agreement over Syria on 9 September that was supposed to lead to a week of reduced violence—a ceasefire or “cessation of hostilities” (CoH). During this time, there would be free distribution of humanitarian aid—followed by joint operations against the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in the country, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. This agreement was essentially ignored by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which Russia had pledged to restrain, and on Monday the agreement was torn up by the regime, returning Syria to all-out war. Continue reading

Obituary: Wael al-Fayad (Dr. Wael al-Rawi)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 18, 2016

Raqqa

Raqqa

The Coalition announced on Friday that it had killed Wael Adil Hasan Salman al-Fayad, also known as Wael al-Rawi, Dr. Wael, and Abu Muhammad Furqan, a reference no doubt to al-Furqan Media, IS’s oldest and most important propaganda organ, which al-Fayad controlled. The head of IS’s Media Council, thus a key member of the group’s propaganda output, al-Fayad was a member of its Shura Council. The obscurity of his name is likely a testament to his seniority and importance within IS. Continue reading

Fifteen Years After 9/11

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 11, 2016

Originally published at The International Business Times

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Fifteen years on from the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on the US, al-Qaeda is better-positioned than ever before. Its leadership held, and it has rebuilt a presence in Afghanistan. More importantly, al-Qaeda has built powerful regional branches in India, North Africa, Somalia, Yemen and Syria.

Rebranding itself away from the savagery of Iraq, al-Qaeda has sought to embed itself in local populations by gaining popular legitimacy to shield itself from retribution if, or when, it launches terrorist strikes in the West. This is proceeding apace, above all because of a failure to assist the mainstream opposition in Syria, sections of which were forced into interdependency with al-Qaeda to resist the strategy of massacre and expulsion conducted by the Assad regime. Continue reading

Moscow Rules in Syria, Again

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 11, 2016

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In Geneva on 9 September 2016, the United States and Russia announced an agreement to implement a ceasefire—formally a “cessation of hostilities” (CoH)—in Syria, which is intended to allow humanitarian access and restart the political process to end of the war, and then to begin jointly targeting the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, recently rebranded Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS).

There is reason to wonder if the deal will ever take effect and the lack of an enforcement mechanism against Bashar al-Assad’s regime leaves open the possibility that the pro-regime coalition will, as it did after the February ceasefire, abuse this process to their advantage.

Most dauntingly, if this process worked to the letter it will legitimate the gains of the regime’s aggression, carried out under the cover of the last ceasefire, and has the potential to weaken the insurgency and embolden the regime, strengthening radicalism on all sides, pushing a political settlement further away, and thus protracting the war. Continue reading

Is This the Beginning of the End for the Islamic State?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 8, 2016

Screenshot of an Islamic State video displaying captured materials from the New Syrian Army, 27 July 2016

Screenshot of an Islamic State video displaying captured materials from the New Syrian Army, 27 July 2016

City AM asked for contributions on the above question, and I took the “no” side. As can be seen from the below, however, this was very much a matter of interpretation since both sides gave roughly the same answer: the Islamic State’s statelet is coming to an end, but the group will survive, morphing back into a prior stage.  Continue reading

The End of the Islamic State by Christmas?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 5, 2016

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Last week it was reported by The Daily Beast that United States defence and political leaders believe they can at least begin the operation to remove the Islamic State (IS) from its Iraqi capital, Mosul, before President Barack Obama leaves office on 20 January 2017. This seems unlikely. More to the point, if it is true it is highly dangerous, both in the short-term and especially over the long-term. Continue reading