Turkey’s Intervention in Syria Improves the Prospects for Peace

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 25, 2016

Picture put out by Faylaq al-Sham of Jarabulus soon after the Islamic State was expelled (Telegram, 24 August 2016)

Picture put out by Faylaq al-Sham of Jarabulus soon after the Islamic State was expelled (Telegram, 24 August 2016)

After a horrific suicide bombing by IS at a Kurdish wedding in eastern Turkey had slaughtered more than fifty people on Saturday, Turkey moved to expel the Islamic State (IS) from Jarabulus in eastern Aleppo Province at about 4 AM on Wednesday morning. IS was swept from this last major border town in Syria, a key gateway for resources to the outside world, around ten hours later.

Operation EUPHRATES SHIELD saw Turkey put troops and tanks over the border publicly for the first time, and allow the Free Syrian Army (FSA)-branded and other mainstream Syrian rebels who have been battling IS for years to use Turkish territory to launch the assault. It was supported by airstrikes from the international anti-IS coalition.

For Turkey, this is a strong indication of a change in her threat-perception vis-à-vis IS, but it is also about a (correctly) perceived threat of what was to follow IS. Continue reading

Dehumanization and Murder in Assad’s Prisons

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 19, 2016

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The picture above “went viral” on Thursday. The boy, five-year-old Omran Daqnees, was pulled from a building in rebel-held eastern Aleppo City after an airstrike either by the regime of Bashar al-Assad or Russia.

Like Alan Kurdi last September, Omran’s is hardly a unique case—twelve children were treated at just that one medical centre in Aleppo on Wednesday. But it seemed to capture something of the indiscriminate brutality that has been visited on the Syrian population, which rose against Assad five-and-a-half long years ago.

On the same day this shocking image came to global attention, Amnesty International released a report documenting in greater detail the monstrous scale of the cruelty and murder inflicted on Syrians who fall into the regime’s grasp. Continue reading

The Dangers of Emptying Guantanamo

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 17, 2016

It was announced on 15 August that fifteen more inmates from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility have transferred, twelve Yemenis and three Afghans, to the United Arab Emirates, the largest individual release of the Obama administration. The U.A.E. also took in five “lower-level” Yemeni detainees in November. The Emirates had previously taken in just one—Abdullah al-Hamiri, in 2008—but President Obama leveraged this deal with the Gulf states at the May 2015 meeting when the Khaleejis were deeply concerned about the then-impending Iran nuclear deal, and in exchange for security reassurances, Obama extracted further concessions.

One reason why so many jihadists have been released to the U.A.E., other than having a similar language and culture, is because the U.A.E. has a competent security apparatus to monitor these people. Those released last November were kept in “a custodial rehabilitation program“—a version of house-arrest, basically. The conditions this time around are less clear.

What is clear is just how dangerous the operatives who are being let out of the Guantanamo detention facility are. Every single one of them has been assessed as posing a “high” risk to America, her interests, and her allies. Continue reading

The Intellectual Roots of the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 15, 2016

Published at The Wall Street Journal

Sayyid Qutb

Sayyid Qutb

Why did Prohibition in America fail? The Pakistani Islamic scholar Abul Ala Mawdudi argued that it was because the law “required people to accept human rather divine reasoning.” What was needed was a harsh and absolute divine mandate to root out evils like alcohol. As the Ottoman empire was being swept away and national-independence movements were about to overrun the Muslim world, men like Mawdudi began articulating a new ideology that would meld medieval and modern concepts. That ideology, Salafi-jihadism, now represents one of the West’s greatest security challenges. Continue reading

The Structure of Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 14, 2016

Screenshot of Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) during a video interview, 12 April 2014

Screenshot of Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) during a video interview, 12 April 2014

Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) is an Australian citizen who was born on 14 February 1984 in Port Said, Egypt. Mahamed currently occupies a “senior leadership position” within al-Qaeda in Syria—formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, now Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS)—according to the sanctions levied against him in May by the U.S. Treasury. In an indication of Mahamed’s seniority, he moved from Australia to Syria in late 2012 and within a few months led the mediation efforts between al-Nusra and the then-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now the Islamic State (IS), that began with a breach in April 2013 and ended with al-Qaeda expelling ISIS from its command structure in February 2014. Mahamed is also one of the public faces of al-Qaeda in Syria, now calling himself the “Director of Foreign Media Relations of JFS”. In this capacity, Mahamed has inter alia recently communicated with CNN to further the narrative that al-Nusra/JFS has “split” with al-Qaeda—something, let it be noted, neither the leader of al-Nusra/JFS nor Mahamed have actually said.

With regard to both the ongoing narrative war between IS and al-Qaeda over what their actual relationship was in the lead-up to the schism and al-Qaeda’s structure—the two things very much interlinked—Mahamed gave a very useful interview on 12 April 2014, about ten weeks before ISIS became IS when it declared its caliphate. Mahamed also touches on other interesting matters, such as those jihadi ideologues al-Nusra/JFS regards as guides, and—small point—al-Qaeda’s continuing claim that IS’s founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would have sided with them. (This is matched on the other side by IS continuing to feature Usama bin Ladin in their propaganda as one of their forebears, while regarding Ayman al-Zawahiri as deviant.)

In watching the video back, I ended up taking notes, which turned into a partial (though fairly substantial) transcript that will perhaps be of use to others as well, so it’s posted below. Continue reading

The West’s Kurdish Allies in Syria Can’t Escape Their Authoritarian Legacy

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 13, 2016

PYD/YPG fighters

PYD/YPG fighters

The Islamic State (IS) was driven from the city of Manbij yesterday, a key supply route to the Turkish border in northern Syria, the conclusion of an operation launched on 31 May by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a front-group for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), represented in Syria by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The SDF was backed by U.S. airstrikes. It is difficult not to see the defeat of IS as a positive development. It is, however, worth more closely examining the forces that are being enabled by Western power to fasten their rule across northern Syria, whose vision is deeply problematic—even in narrow terms of the fight against IS. Continue reading

Did Assad Recruit the Leader of Al-Qaeda in Syria?

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

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In the course of al-Qaeda’s rebranding operation in Syria two weeks ago—the full implications of which are discussed here—the organization showed the face of its leader, Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, for the first time. Soon afterward it was revealed that al-Jolani’s real name was Ahmad al-Shara, originally from Deraa in southern Syria, who had lived in Damascus. A report in Al-Monitor has now added details that purportedly show the hand of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in al-Shara’s path to joining the predecessor organization of the Islamic State (IS), from which he eventually split, and underlines the role the Assad regime has played in fostering the terrorism it now claims to be defending the Syrian population and the world from. Continue reading