U.S. intelligence agencies recently uncovered new information indicating the al Qaeda terrorist group continues to plan for conducting terrorist attacks around the world.
Until recently al Qaeda has been overshadowed by its more violent offshoot, the Islamic State, in conducting and inspiring deadly terrorist strikes around the world. However, new intelligence obtained over the past several months revealed that al Qaeda had stepped up terror planning using the chaos of Syria as a new base of operations.
Al Qaeda operatives from the Persian Gulf States, Pakistan and elsewhere were detected in Syria. The al Qaeda terrorists are embedded with the Syrian terrorist group Al Nusrah Front but are operating independently.
“They’re using Syria as a safe haven and a place to conduct foreign operations,” said a military official familiar with intelligence reports.
The intelligence triggered major U.S. bombing raids against the group. One of the most significant took place Jan. 19, when a long-range B-52 bomber and several armed drones carried out a bombing raid in western Syria. The bomber and drones struck an al Qaeda training camp with 14 bombs, killing more than 100 terrorists. The “Shaykh Sulayman Training Camp” had been in operation at least since 2013.
“The removal of this training camp disrupts training operations and discourages hard-line Islamist and Syrian opposition groups from joining or cooperating with al Qaeda on the battlefield,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said, adding that since Jan. 1 more than 150 al Qaeda terrorists have been killed.
“These strikes, conducted in quick succession, degrade al Qaeda’s capabilities, weaken their resolve and cause confusion in their ranks,” Capt. Davis added. “We will continue to exert unrelenting pressure to defeat violent extremist groups across the globe.”
The al Qaeda targeting continued with the attack by Navy special operations forces in Yemen Jan. 28. The raid was successful in capturing a significant amount of electronic devices, officials said.
But there were indications the security of the mission was compromised after the U.S. commandos, along with troops from the United Arab Emirates, came under fire shortly after arriving. Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens was killed and several others were wounded. President Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base Wednesday afternoon for a private ceremony welcoming the body home.
U.S. urged to revamp nuclear doctrine
The Obama administration nuclear doctrine must be upgraded to reflect the growing nuclear weapons dangers posed by Russia and China, according to a former Pentagon nuclear arms expert.
Keith Payne, co-founder of the National Institute for Public Policy, a Virginia think tank, argued in a recent speech that the assumptions contained in the Pentagon’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review — that nuclear war had receded as the result of friendly foreign relations — is wrong.
“The world has become a much more dangerous place since the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), and Western security policies and practices need to adjust to this new reality,” Mr. Payne said during a conference on strategic weapons in the 21st century Jan. 26.
The 2010 nuclear review was based on Mr. Obama’s announced goal of creating a world without nuclear weapons. The review stated that “the international security environment has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War” and noted that “the threat of global nuclear war has become remote.”
The review became the basis for U.S. nuclear deterrence and was never revised after Russia re-emerged as a major nuclear threat. Since 2014 Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have issued stark threats to conduct nuclear attacks against the United States and the NATO alliance.
Mr. Payne said that, until recently, the notion of an increasing threat of nuclear conflict would have been deemed farfetched since the post-Cold War world was supposedly moving beyond such fears.
Now the Pentagon is scrambling to bolster an aging nuclear arsenal to maintain nuclear deterrence against both Moscow and Beijing.
“We are now playing catch-up as nuclear deterrence once again is identified as priority No. 1 by senior U.S. civilian and military leaders,” Mr. Payne said, noting a Pentagon report last year as stating America’s “nuclear deterrent is the [Defense Department’s] highest priority mission.”
Mr. Payne said the utopian push for a new world order was “mugged by reality,” notably efforts by the governments of Russia and China to overturn the existing global dynamic and expand their nuclear arsenals.
“Russia’s explicit nuclear-first use threats and reported planning for first-use employment reflect a partial failure of Western deterrence strategies, and the mounting palpable fears of some U.S. allies reflect a partial failure of assurance,” Mr. Payne said. “This is not speculation about some dark future; these partial failures are here and now.”
Russia is building several new land-based and submarine-launched nuclear missiles along with nuclear submarines, including a drone submarine armed with a megaton-size nuclear warhead capable of destroying entire seaports.
To counter Russian nuclear threats, Mr. Payne is urging the West to counter the threats with tougher strategic messaging to indicate that the United States and NATO are prepared to stand up to Moscow “even under the threat of nuclear war.”
A more assertive nuclear declaratory policy is needed, he said.
“The historical evidence is overwhelming that uncertainty and ambiguity sometimes are not adequate to deter; explicit and direct threats are necessary in some cases. The Putin regime may be such a case,” Mr. Payne said.
Coming sectarian conflict in Iraq
A former Army Ranger and combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan recently spent a month in the Middle East and tells Inside the Ring that Iran has effectively taken over most of neighboring Iraq.
The former military expert, a longtime operative and analyst in the region who spoke on condition of anonymity for security concerns because he continues to work in the region, also said that Iraqis are braced for a new round of sectarian war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the country.
“The Middle East and the Persian Gulf region in particular have been lost to Iranian dominance,” the analyst said.
“Iranians rule Iraq,” the analyst said. “Shia militias have more power than the government. Baghdad looks like little Tehran. Lots of Iranian flags, Hezbollah flags. Farsi graffiti is present everywhere.”
The major military campaign to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State has energized well-armed Shiite militias that are preparing to ramp up sectarian violence once the Mosul campaign is completed.
“From north to south and from the highest levels of government [and] military to the lowest level of population, I did not meet anyone that isn’t preparing for sectarian war post the Mosul offensive,” the analyst said.
The Shiite militias’ stronghold is Anbar Province, and their objective is to eliminate or displace the Sunni population and create a Shia autonomous regional zone like the Kurdish Regional Government has carved out in northern Iraq. The Iraqi government in Baghdad has no control over the militias that are supported by Iran with weapons, training and advisers.
The Iranian domination of Iraq should raise questions about the future of the high-end U.S. military weapons systems and technology that are being supplied to the Iraqi government.
“Iranians and Iranian-allied elements have access to all of it,” the military analyst said, noting that some Shiite militias are equipped with U.S.-made M-1 Abrams tanks.
The impending unraveling of Iraq would be a major setback for the United States, which has invested billions of dollars and thousands of lives in the country. In northern Iraq the Kurds remain divided, with the Kurdish Democratic Party aligned with Turkey and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan allied with Iran.
The Obama administration’s conciliatory policies toward Tehran contributed to the Iranian takeover and left the new Trump administration few options to counter it, the analyst said. After Iran’s latest ballistic missile test last week, Trump National Security Adviser Mike Flynn said Wednesday the White House was putting Iran “on notice” that such moves would not be tolerated as they were under Mr. Obama.
“The Trump administration must work with regional allies in the Gulf as well as with disparate groups in Kurdistan, northern Syria and amongst the disaffected Sunni tribal population to begin the long process of unwinding Iranian dominance in the region,” he told Inside the Ring.
— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.
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