• 24 Nov 2015 1:59 PM | Anonymous

    By Michael Fenzel and Aaron Picozzi

    The November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and late October bombing of Russian Metrojet flight 9268 have not only crystallized the threat of the self-declared Islamic State to the world, but also created an unlikely opportunity to open a dialogue with Russia. However, these tragedies do not change the long-term threat Russia poses to stability in Europe. Russia’s encroachment in Eastern Europe is a threat to the security and stability of the continent and tests the resolve of NATO in an unprecedented way. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent military intervention in Syria is further evidence of his ambition to broaden Russian influence and capitalize on regional instability.

    One thing appears certain: Putin will not be swayed by tough talk from our allies and friends. The failure to take bold action, even amidst a potential collaboration against ISIS, only serves as tacit acceptance of Putin’s violations of international law. Through an increased military posture, an increase of our ground forces specifically, the United States must take the lead to stem the tide of Russia’s advances with tangible efforts to protect our interests in Europe and strengthen the resolve of the NATO alliance.

    Nine Eastern European members of NATO recently met in Romania to discuss the Russian threat and the challenge of refugee flows from Syria into Europe. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also used the meeting to call for increased pressure from member countries to respond to Russian aggression, particularly stressing the importance of military presence. The challenge of maintaining a heightened posture comes in the midst of the last stage of U.S. troop reductions in Europe, from a force of 40,000 in 2012 to 26,000 planned for this year. Maintaining this course runs counter to NATO requests for additional U.S. troop presence and to our national interests. Over-the-horizon deterrence will simply not work—deterrence must be real, observable, and project strength.

    The commander of NATO’s Allied Land Component, U.S. Army Lieutenant General John Nicholson, reiterated the importance of maintaining U.S. troop presence, stating unambiguously, “If we get there late, then we may have to fight.” The current effort to deter Russia with U.S. presence in Europe is problematic given the number of troops available—an enduring force of two combat brigades can neither be considered an offensive force nor an effective deterrent. The roughly 30,000 American troops on the ground in Europe today are all that Lieutenant General Ben Hodges (U.S. Army Commander in Europe) has at his disposal. Yet Hodges is faced with the very same task that his forebears faced through the Cold War: deter Russian aggression and expansion. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, recognizing these challenges, has called for a “new playbook” for Russia.

    The recent deployment of U.S. F-15C model aircraft to Incirlik, Turkey provide a hedge against continued Russian expansion and a bulwark to their actions in Syria. These aircraft are equipped with only air-to-air weaponry, designed to counter assets that ISIS does not possess, but they are fully capable of responding to threats from Russian fighter planes. This is one example of a number of prudent measures taken by the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, General Philip Breedlove, to address Russian attempts to distract from its actions in Ukraine. The introduction of Russian tanks into the Rostov region, along their southern border, is another echo of Cold War-era saber rattling. Carter responded to this maneuver by rotating two U.S. armored brigades to Eastern and Central Europe. Positioning additional mechanized forces in Europe is the only effective method to counter Russian posturing.

    In order fortify the tenuous NATO position in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, the United States has undertaken a direct training mission in Ukraine. A primary focus for the U.S. Army in Europe is now to train Ukrainian soldiers to utilize their Soviet-era weaponry against Russian separatists. This effort puts one U.S. airborne brigade directly across from Russia’s “little green men” who are conducting operations to further Putin’s aim of consolidating gains. Our training teams in Ukraine, Latvia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovakia are focusing their efforts on training these militaries to fight while staying well clear of direct combat operations.

    Under the tenets of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the United States has begun a yearlong training exercise that spans six NATO countries. This mission not only continues to boost military readiness, but also serves to ease the fears of Eastern European allies. The further expansion of this set of training missions is a prudent method of assuring security and stability in a region that is fearful of what Russia will do next. By rotating U.S. Army combat brigades on a temporary but recurring basis, the United States continues to operate within the confines of the NATO Founding Act while sending a clear message to Russia—the United States will not stand by idly in the face of aggression.

    Russia remains the only country on Earth that possesses the nuclear capability to destroy the United States. Russian encroachment and efforts to expand and consolidate gains at their borders is a direct threat to our vital national security interests. In order to avoid a future conflict and prevent further encroachment, the United States and NATO must increase their commitment to rolling back Russian advances. This can only be done by projecting military force in the same manner that was so effective for over fifty years through the Cold War. Preserving peace in Europe demands action now or it will lead to an even more volatile situation in the future. Even in the midst of global collaboration against ISIS, a clear message must be sent to Russia when it comes to Europe—an attack against one NATO nation is an attack against all.

    Colonel Michael R. FenzelU.S. Army, most recently served as the chief of staff for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Previously, he commanded the Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. His other assignments include commander, 1st Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade at Vicenza, Italy, and director for transnational threats with the National Security Council. Colonel Fenzel holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and MA’s from the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard University, and a PhD from the Naval Postgraduate School. 

    Aaron Picozzi is a research associate for military fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations.

  • 20 Nov 2015 1:03 AM | Anonymous


    ISIS’s attacks in Paris, the deadliest targeting of civilians in France since the end of World War II, will change the political and security landscape of Europe irrevocably.

    President François Hollande has promised a merciless response. Borders have been sealed — in direct contravention of the Maastricht agreement signed more than 20 years ago that within the European Union, national boundaries would be dissolved.

    And most consequential in the short term, since it now appears that at least one of the terrorists posed as a refugee, Western governments are reassessing their immigration policies.

    ISIS: The Threat to the United States by Dr. Sebastian Gorka and Katharine GorkBut what does this mean for the United States? Is America less vulnerable because of the greater distance between our country and the ravaged territories of the Middle East and North Africa?

    Recent trends in law enforcement and intelligence indicate that we aren’t safer. On the contrary: The probability of a Paris-style attack has dramatically increased.

    As part of its support to law enforcement, the Threat Knowledge Group has been collecting and analyzing the open-source information on ISIS arrests in the United States.

    This report, ISIS: The Threat to the United States, contains our findings.

    REPORT — ISIS: The Threat to the United States (pdf)

    by Dr. Sebastian Gorka and Katharine Gorka

    Key Conclusions

    With the November 13th attack in Paris that killed 130 people and injured 368, many are asking what the risk is of a similar attack on U.S. soil. While France has a proportionately larger Muslim population than the United States (7.5% of the total population in France compared with .6% – 2.2% in the U.S.), ISIS has already recruited supporters in the United States with the intent of executing domestic attacks here in America. Key evidence includes the following:

    • 82 individuals in the United States affiliating with ISIS have been interdicted by law enforcement since March 2014 (including 7 unnamed minors and 4 killed in the course of attacks).  (For a full list of those individuals see www.ThreatKnowledge.org)
    • More than 250 individuals from the United States have joined or attempted to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq according to the Final Report of the Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel published by the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee in September 2015.
    • The FBI currently has nearly 1,000 ongoing ISIS probes in the United States, according to a recent report by Judicial Watch.
    • ISIS is recruiting within the U.S. at about three-times the rate of Al Qaeda.
    • Ali Shukri Amin, a 17 year-old Islamic State (IS) supporter from Manassas, Virginia, recently sentenced to 11 years in prison for conspiring to provide support to ISIS, had nearly 4,000 Twitter followers, under the alias, ‘Amreeki Witness.’
    • Ahmad Musa Jibril, an Arab-American Islamist preacher living in Dearborn, Michigan, had 38,000 Twitter followers before his site went silent. A report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) found that 60% of surveyed foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria followed Jibril on Twitter.

    What the numbers demonstrate is that ISIS has a significant base of support in the United States, including both those who have already traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight as jihadis, as well as terror suspects who have been interdicted for attempting to travel there, providing support to ISIS in other tangible ways, or attempting attacks.

    Most importantly, nearly one third of the domestic ISIS cases in the past 18 months involved people who planned to carry out attacks against Americans on U.S. soil. In other words, one third of those interdicted calculated that the best way to serve the new Islamic State and its Caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, is to wage jihad here on the soil of the infidel.

    It is also essential to note the number of followers of ISIS propagandists Ali Shukri Amin and Ahmad Musa Jibril, which shows that domestic support for ISIS may reach well into the thousands. With Syrian refugees starting to arrive in the United States, these numbers may further increase.

    ISIS: The Threat to the United States (pdf)

  • 26 Aug 2010 11:04 PM | Anonymous

    Written by  Matthew P. Dearing

    Amidst the disarray following General McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone, a much less reported but profound event marked the course of the insurgency in Afghanistan. The recent female suicide operation in eastern Afghanistan reveals not only a paradigm shift in Taliban insurgent tactics, but also a mutation of the organization’s founding ideology.

    On June 20th, dressed in a long-flowing burqa, Bibi Halima walked up to American and Afghan soldiers on patrol in Kunar province with the intention of detonating explosives attached to her body. In recent months, soldiers have had reason to be skeptical of burqa-clad pedestrians. Many of the Haqqani Network’s fedayeen tactics in eastern Afghanistan have included men disguised in burqas, allowing them to approach or breach heavily cordoned buildings and district centers prior to detonating explosives. But as NATO and Afghan counterinsurgency experience heightened, security forces became well adept at reading bodily gestures and cues that distinguished a man from a woman underneath the large Afghan dress. Until recently, this was a valuable force protection measure since not one of the over 450 suicide attacks in Afghanistan since 2001, was perpetrated by a woman. In comparison, women have executed nearly one in ten suicide attacks in Iraq. NATO troops could rest assured that of the many insurgent tactics adapted from Iraq to Afghanistan, female suicide bombings was one that would likely never emerge.

    But as in all insurgencies, there is little a counterinsurgent can be certain. The element of surprise is probably the greatest tool an insurgent holds over the parties attempting to glue together the fragile pieces of an orderly society in Afghanistan. Not only have the Taliban opened themselves up to a new range of criticism by moderate and fence-sitting Pashtuns, whom the Afghan government increasingly seeks to win over, but they will also likely find cleavages develop within their own ranks that see the inclusion of women in the insurgency as dishonorable and outside the realm of “acceptable” jihad.

    There are plenty of practical reasons the Taliban would want to use women as suicide bombers. Given cultural constraints, men are forbidden from searching women, leaving insurgents a gap in security measures that they can exploit. In a recent graduating class of cadets from the Kabul Police Academy, only ten of the over 1,600 graduates were women, ensuring that few women will be searched in at least the near future. However, until recently, the Taliban and associated groups have largely avoided implementing women in the insurgency for several reasons. First, there are larger social and historical considerations such as norms and collective memory within Afghanistan that have prevented Taliban tacticians from utilizing women in insurgent operations. Few women participated in the anti-Soviet jihad beyond the important, but less combative supportive roles, such as serving as couriers, conditioning weapons, or preparing the dead for burial. Ever since the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, women have been relegated to second-class citizenship.

    Second, until recently, the Taliban have resided in a fairly permissible environment, controlling large swaths of territory including urban district centers and rural villages throughout the country, as well as having cross-border access in Pakistan. Today, in many respects due to the success of counterinsurgency operations run by General McChrystal and his team, the Taliban have lost vital areas of sanctuary, elements of command and control have been infiltrated and broken down, and operations have been successfully countered and prevented due to a transfer of much needed assets from Iraq to Afghanistan. Thus, deferment of female suicide bombers is less appealing as the organization becomes increasingly threatened.

    Third, martyrdom has been a convenient rhetorical strategy that wraps a variety of economic, political and social grievances around the all-inclusive narrative of jihad. This can be seen through war ballads, poetry, and personal testimonies distributed via 21st century technology. Women have always played a significant role in Afghanistan as poets espousing the heroics of their men in combat and as defenders of a family’s honor. However, under Taliban tyranny, women were noticeably absent in resistance literature, oral narratives or the Taliban movement in general. Thus, the choice to engage women in violent jihad will soon test the viability of the organization’s ideology that has long positioned women as outsiders.

    We may never know who the real Bibi Halima was, nor why she chose to kill herself for an organization that would rather hold women in a position of permanent servitude. But the act she participated in will undoubtedly stand as a changing point in the Afghan conflict. Will more women follow her lead or resist the temptation of asymmetric violence? U.S. and Afghan forces would be wise to capitalize on this moment to lower that risk and build partnerships with a broader segment of society. First, it presents a significant opportunity to characterize the violent, inhumane nature of the Taliban. Second, it shows there is a deep ideological divide between the Taliban’s foundational ideology and what the organization adopts as legitimate conduct today. When approaching options for reconciliation, this can be a notable point of contention between “moderate” Taliban and irreconcilables. Third, there must be a doubled effort to train female Afghan police and intelligence operatives in order to be the eyes and ears preventing future female suicide bombers. Finally, the West should continue to pressure Afghanistan’s government to ensure women have a legitimate voice and opportunity in the new Afghan society. While some women may feel pressured to work with the Taliban, if viable options exist, such as an amnesty or call-in program for potential suicide bombers, the few female bombers who emerge may think twice about ending their life in such a tragic fashion.

    Matthew P. Dearing is a PhD candidate in the Security Studies Program at the Naval Postgraduate School and a member of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs. This article was previously published in the Small Wars Journal.

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