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Be Afraid. Be A Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq

January 13, 2015 Comments off

Be Afraid. Be A Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq
Source: Brookings Institution

Many U.S. and European intelligence officials fear that a wave of terrorism will sweep over Europe, driven by the civil war in Syria and continuing instability in Iraq. Many of the concerns stem from the large number of foreign fighters involved.

Despite these fears and the real danger that motivates them, the Syrian and Iraqi foreign fighter threat can easily be exaggerated. Previous cases and information emerging from Syria suggest several mitigating effects that may reduce—but hardly eliminate—the potential terrorist threat from foreign fighters who have gone to Syria. Those mitigating factors include:

• Many die, blowing themselves up in suicide attacks or perishing quickly in firefights with opposing forces.
• Many never return home, but continue fighting in the conflict zone or at the next battle for jihad.
• Many of the foreign fighters quickly become disillusioned, and a number even return to their home country without engaging in further violence.
• Others are arrested or disrupted by intelligence services. Indeed, becoming a foreign fighter—particularly with today’s heavy use of social media—makes a terrorist far more likely to come to the attention of security services.

The danger posed by returning foreign fighters is real, but American and European security services have tools that they can successfully deploy to mitigate the threat. These tools will have to be adapted to the new context in Syria and Iraq, but they will remain useful and effective.

CRS — The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy (December 8, 2014)

December 17, 2014 Comments off

The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Islamic State is a transnational Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group that has expanded its control over areas of parts of Iraq and Syria since 2013. It threatens the governments of both countries and potentially several other countries in the region. The emerging international response to the threat is multifaceted and includes coalition military strikes and assistance plans. There is debate over the degree to which the Islamic State organization might represent a direct terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland or to U.S. facilities and personnel in the region.

CRS — A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom (November 20, 2014)

December 9, 2014 Comments off

A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report presents statistics regarding U.S. military casualties in the active missions Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR, Iraq and Syria) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF, Afghanistan), as well as operations that have ended, Operation New Dawn (OND, Iraq) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF, Iraq). This report includes statistics on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), amputations, evacuations, and the demographics of casualties. Some of these statistics are publicly available at the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) website and others have been obtained through contact with experts at DOD.

This report will be updated as needed.

CRS — The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy (October 22, 2014)

November 3, 2014 Comments off

The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Islamic State is a transnational Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group that has expanded its control over areas of parts of Iraq and Syria since 2013. It threatens the governments of both countries and potentially several other countries in the region, and has drawn increased attention from the international community. There is debate over the degree to which the Islamic State organization might represent a direct terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland or to U.S. facilities and personnel in the region.

See also: Turkey-U.S. Cooperation Against the “Islamic State”: A Unique Dynamic?, CRS Insights (October 21, 2014) (PDF)

Alternative Futures for Syria: Regional Implications and Challenges for the United States

October 29, 2014 Comments off

Alternative Futures for Syria: Regional Implications and Challenges for the United States
Source: RAND Corporation

The civil war in Syria poses a thorny problem for U.S. policymakers. The conflict has morphed from a popular uprising against an autocratic regime into a multi-sided battle involving government forces, pro-government militias, Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi’ite militias, secular/moderate rebels, Kurdish separatists, traditional Islamist rebels, nationalist Salafi-jihadist rebels, and the transnational Salafi-jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) movement. Most neighboring states and several Persian Gulf states have sent arms and money to one or more of the factions in this war. Iran and Russia have consistently supported the Assad regime, including providing advanced weaponry, since the onset of the conflict. The outcome of the conflict will affect Middle East stability and regional political dynamics for years — perhaps decades — and could exacerbate a wider Shi’a-versus-Sunni sectarian conflict in the region.

Momentum has shifted several times during the course of the conflict. Defections from the Syrian army, rapidly growing rebel ranks, and the regime’s loss of key ground convinced many observers early on that the Assad’s demise was only a matter of time. The Assad regime has exploited rebel weaknesses and its own superior weaponry and external support to shift the momentum once again in its favor. The lineup of antagonists is complex and confused. While still seeing the Assad regime as an adversary based on its patron-client relationship with Iran and its implacable hostility toward Israel, U.S. decisionmakers are also dealing with the threats caused by the dramatic recent gains made in Iraq by ISIS and the influence it wields within the Syrian rebel movement. To examine these challenges, this perspective draws on a December 2013 RAND workshop to assess four possible future scenarios for the conflict in Syria: prolonged conflict, regime victory, regime collapse, and negotiated settlement. The authors update and reassess these scenarios based on developments in Syria and Iraq through August 2014 and explore the implications that each has for Syria, the region, and the United States.

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Progress and Continuing Challenges, CRS Insights (October 1, 2014)

October 8, 2014 Comments off

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Progress and Continuing Challenges, CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

On August 18, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced the complete destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons (CW). Despite this significant achievement, serious challenges relating to Syrian CW remain. In early September, the Syrian regime announced previously undeclared chemical weapons research facilities, raising questions about what else it might be concealing. Repeated reports have alleged chlorine gas attacks by the Assad regime. Moreover, press reports speculate that insecure chemical weapons stocks in Syria and Iraq may have gotten into the hands of the Islamic State (ISIL). Most of these questions cannot yet be answered definitively, but the fate of Syria’s CW capabilities warrants continued attention.

CRS — Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief (September 16, 2014)

October 1, 2014 Comments off

Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

The President’s requests for authority and funding for the Department of Defense to provide overt assistance, including possible military training and weapons, to vetted members of the Syrian opposition and other vetted Syrians for select purposes are the subject of close congressional consideration. This report introduces these proposals and the analysis and table below explore similarities and differences among some of these proposals.

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