August 27, 2015

Is your government lying to you about the war against ISIS?

ISIS fighters celebrate a battlefield victory

I thought we had put this issue to rest after the inflated body counts of Vietnam. Quite possibly the Obama Administration is playing a variation of that same alternate reality game. Virtually every assessment and announcement from either the White House or the Pentagon has told us that the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is going well and that the terrorist army of the self-proclaimed Islamic State is on the defensive.

As a military analyst for CNN, I follow the fighting in Iraq and Syria closely - I monitor a variety of media from all sides. That includes not only the American press, but official Syrian, Iraqi and yes, ISIS reporting, as well as a variety of social media sites that cover all aspects of the situation in the region.

As you can imagine, there are great discrepancies in the descriptions of the same events. At times, I have shaken my head at some of the pronouncements from the Pentagon press office and even from the U.S. Central Command, the combatant command conducting the military operations.

Normally the CENTCOM reports are factual accounts of sorties flown, weapons employed and damage assessments. On the other hand, Pentagon spokesmen tend to portray the Operation Inherent Resolve as stopping ISIS's advances and forcing them into a defensive posture. There was certainly a disconnect in the reports of low sortie rates and just a few weapons actually being employed emanating from the theater versus the rosy portrayal coming out of the Pentagon.

I remember the reports of the "success" of the Iraqi Army in ejecting ISIS from the city of Tikrit, when most of the actual fighting was done by Iranian-trained and led Shi'a militias. As the Pentagon assured us that ISIS was now contained, the Islamists mounted a successful assault on the city of al-Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province, located on the Euphrates River just 65 miles from Baghdad - all the while under attack from the air. This hardly fits the definition of "on the defensive."

Obviously there is a problem here - either the intelligence community can't figure out what is going on with ISIS or someone is misleading the public. Having spent a career in the intelligence business - most of it in the Middle East - I am opting for the latter.

In any case, the Department of Defense inspector general (IG) has opened an investigation. Unfortunately, from the wording of the available reporting it appears that the focus is going to be on professional military officers at CENTCOM rather than the political appointees (that means dyed-in-the-wool Obama supporters) at the Pentagon. Guess who is going to be thrown under the bus....

It is obvious that someone is taking the intelligence reporting and putting the best face on it. Actually, that is too kind - someone is cooking the intelligence to make it fit into the narrative dictated by the White House and the political leadership at the Pentagon.

The anemic air campaign - just 20 strikes today - is having an effect, to be sure, but the Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that ISIS is about as strong and capable today as it was when the air campaign began over a year ago. Much of that is due to the easy access to Syria via Turkey for supplies and the thousands of volunteers wishing to join ISIS. Hopefully Turkey's recent decision to participate in the U.S.-led coalition will staunch that flow.

I suspect that at each intermediate echelon between CENTCOM's forward headquarters in Qatar and the Pentagon, the intelligence and operational assessments of the military campaign against ISIS change slightly for the better. Everyone wants to cast the operation in a favorable light - accentuate the positive, downplay the negative. When it gets to the politicos at the Pentagon, I suspect it is tailored to fit the narrative emanating from the White House press room.

I applaud the Defense Department's decision to launch an IG investigation - it is easily warranted. The IG is supposed to be an independent investigative agency that deals in facts and lets the evidence guide the investigation. Pardon me if I am not filled with confidence - some colonel at CENTCOM will take the fall.

Is our government lying to us? I fear that it is.

August 25, 2015

U.S. and Turkey to launch "comprehensive" operation against ISIS

Turkish Air Force F-16 fighters

The Turkish foreign minister announced that Turkey and the United States will soon commence what he called "comprehensive" air operations to force fighters of the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (more commonly called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS) from a security zone to be established in northern Syria.

The establishment of this security zone has been a longstanding Turkish requirement for its cooperation in the fight against ISIS, and was no doubt a condition in the recent agreement by which American forces can conduct operations from three Turkish air bases just north of the Syria's border with Turkey. U.S. Air Force F-16's deployed to Incirlik Air Base near Adana have already conducted airstrikes in both Syria and Iraq. Armed Predator drones are also being flown from the base.

Turkish participation in the fight against ISIS is welcome, and according to some analysts (including me), long overdue. Turkey has been the primary conduit for thousands of foreign fighters to enter Syria and join ISIS. ISIS still controls a portion of the Syrian border with Turkey north of Aleppo. It is this area that the Turks want to declare a security zone. The Turks hope that the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees will return to this area and alleviate the huge burden on Turkish social services.

Declaring a security zone and establishing it are two different things. As can be seen on the map, the area designated as the security zone - a 50 mile stretch of land along the Turkish-Syrian border - is firmly under control of ISIS.

Given the generally anemic air campaign conducted over the past year, it is doubtful that even with Turkish Air Force participation air power alone will clear ISIS fighters from the area. At some point, some ground force is going to have to move into the area and occupy the territory.

This is a key piece of territory - again, it is the only remaining portion of the Turkish border that is still controlled by ISIS. Cutting ISIS's access to the border - now easily traversed despite the large presence of Turkish troops - will staunch the flow of arms and recruits to the Islamist group. Without this portal to Turkey, logistics support and manpower replacements become exponentially more difficult, as does the sale and transport of black market oil to unscrupulous Turkish dealers.

According to the announcement by the Turkish official, American and Turkish aircraft will provide air support for a force of "moderate Syrian rebels" who will remove ISIS forces from the area. This is laughable - thus far the United States has only trained somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 "moderate Syrian rebels" willing to forego their main objective of removing Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and confront ISIS on behalf of the United States.

These few untested troops constitute our "boots on the ground." Add to this the fact that many of the initial group of 60 have been killed or co-opted by the Jabhat al-Nusrah, the al-Qa'idah affiliate in Syria. Pitiful. To think they are going to remove ISIS from this rather large area is fantasy.

There are Kurds in the area willing to be the proverbial "boots on the ground" - in fact, they have functioned in that role in the areas to the east of the erstwhile security zone. The successful defense of Kobani with Kurdish forces on the ground and substantial American airpower shows how effective this match-up can be. The Turks have vetoed any Kurdish participation, fearing that Kurdish control of almost the entire border area will lead to either Kurdish autonomy or an effort to establish an independent Kurdish homeland.

As a CNN military analyst, I was interviewed about this subject. American and Turkish aircraft acting in concert can bring enormous firepower to the fight. However, someone is going to have to remove ISIS fighters - firmly ensconced in the area. The force of a handful of "moderate Syrian rebels" are not up to the task. I asked then, and I ask now, who is going to do it?

I fear that without the Kurds as our "boots on the ground," we will employ massive amounts of airpower and still not dislodge ISIS from the area. It is as if we are setting this up for failure. The Turks are going to have to either let the Kurds participate or they will have to introduce Turkish troops to confront ISIS.

More half measures - when are we going to get serious?

August 9, 2015

US Air Force F-16's finally deploy to Turkish air base

U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters deployed to Incirlik AB, Turkey (USAF photo)

It has taken a long time, but the first six F-16 fighters of what I hope will be a sizable contingent of American combat aircraft arrived at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey today. The base is just 60 miles from the Syrian border and from front line positions of the so-called Islamic State, or what is usually referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Here is the public announcement from the United States European Command (EUCOM) that accompanied the above photo:

Earlier today, the United States Air Force deployed a small detachment of six F-16 ‪‎Fighting Falcons‬, support equipment, and about 300 personnel to Incirlik Air Base - Turkey in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

The detachment is from the 31st Fighter Wing based at Aviano Air Base, Italy. This follows Turkey's decision to host the deployment of U.S. aircraft conducting counter-ISIL operations. The United States and Turkey, as members of the 60-plus nation coalition, are committed to the fight against ISIL in the pursuit of peace and stability in the region.

F-16 forces arrive at Incirlik Air Base

Here's a small clip of the F-16s landing today!In support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Incirlik Air Base received six F-16 Fighting Falcons from Aviano Air Base, Italy, support equipment and approximately 300 personnel Aug. 9, 2015, here. #airpower #Incirlik #F16 #flyfightwin U.S. Embassy Ankara, TURKEY U.S. European Command (EUCOM) United States Air Force U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa

Posted by Incirlik Air Base - Turkey on Sunday, August 9, 2015

I have been encouraging the Department of Defense for over a year to deploy American combat aircraft to Turkish air bases - and chastising our Turkish NATO allies for not allowing it sooner. The Turks changed their minds two weeks ago. See my article on that, Turks to allow coalition access to Turkish air base - finally (July 23, 2015).

If we want to take the fight to ISIS's self-proclaimed capital and its main strongholds in northern Syria, Turkey's air bases are well positioned for air operations. Pilots can now fly to their targets from bases only 75 to 200 miles away, rather than the long flights from Gulf bases or Jordan at least 800 miles away. Reaction time to emerging targets or critical situations can now be measured in minutes rather than hours.

While we all welcome the Turkish government's decision to allow American forces to use Incirlik, and we applaud the EUCOM decision to finally deploy six fighters, there are some concerns and questions still unanswered.

I note in the photograph that that F-16's deployed with the full range of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. I hope this means that these aircraft will be used, and used quickly, for strikes on ISIS targets in Syria. If they are there as some sort of quick reaction force to be used only in cases of emergency, or limited by Turkish authorities on what targets can be engaged, then it is a waste of an effective combat asset.

Now that we have "bomb-droppers" close to ISIS positions, are we finally ready to step up the up-to-now anemic pace of air operations? With F-16's at Incirlik, supported by aerial refueling tankers, we can put aircraft with full weapons loads and full fuel tanks over northern Syria at will. That, of course, requires the political will to use the combat power now just 60 miles north of the target area.

There are also four Predator reconnaissance drones and two armed Predator strike drones at Incirlik. I hope that the drones and F-16s will be used together - find the targets and destroy them immediately. This will require adjustments to the cumbersome, self-defeating rules of engagement currently in place.

This is a deployment of six F-16's - with a lot of media releases by EUCOM. While the F-16 is an extremely capable fourth-generation fighter aircraft, six aircraft will not to change the situation. Normally the U.S. Air Force deploys in squadron strength - 24 aircraft. I hope to see follow-on deployments to bring the American contingent at Incirlik up to wing strength - at least two squadrons. The initial deployment may be limited by the Turks or by logistics considerations.

Now that the Turks granted American access to the base, will the Turks participate in strikes against ISIS? It appears to many of us that the Turks are more concerned about airstrikes on Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) targets than hitting ISIS targets. That may have been the price for American access to Incirlik.

Bottom line: This is a welcome deployment - it could set the stage for drastic improvements to the thus-far mediocre air campaign. If we are going to take the fight to ISIS, Incirlik is a good venue to do just that. Bring in more combat aircraft - F-15E, A-10, AC-130, etc. Then unleash the pilots from the White House-dictated obstructive ROE.

ISIS has yet to meet real airpower - now would be a good time to introduce them to it.

August 8, 2015

The Christie - Paul clash: some clarification for the Senator

Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul

For the most part, I try to avoid politics in this forum, and I will try to do so here - I am not advocating for or against any candidate in the Republican race.

At the August 6 debate the topic of privacy and the collection of what Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky believes is protected information was raised. The senator was challenged on his views by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

On this particular topic, Governor Christie seems to understand the issue and the danger posed by well-meaning critics of bulk meta data collection. That is what the two candidates were arguing, although neither of them clarified it sufficiently. Had Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper been a bit more articulate in the Senate hearings on this topic in 2013, this might not be an issue today.

The director needed to distinguish between storage of meta data versus the intelligence exploitation of that data. He failed to do so, leaving the senators with the impression that intelligence analysts are poring through Americans' phone calls.

Meta data is the term used to describe information about communications rather than the content of those communications - we old-timers in the signals intelligence business used to call these data "message externals." Using phone calls as the example, it would be information such as time of call, length of call, originating number and receiving number - basically the information on your telephone bill or online via your cell phone provider. You have heard references to "LUDs" (local usage details) on police shows - this is meta data.

In the world of domestic law enforcement, a court order is required to have a telephone company provide this information to the police. There must be a reason for that request, made to a judge who then authorizes the police to acquire the meta data on a particular phone line. In the era of online phone calls (like voice over internet protocol, VOIP) and services such as Skype, it becomes a bit more difficult, but the data is there if you know how to access it (we do).

This is predicated on the availability of the data, the meta data that is maintained by the phone providers. It is how they bill consumers. At one point, this information was also being provided to the intelligence community - specifically the National Security Agency (NSA) - and stored. Commercial communications companies cannot be expected to store meta data indefinitely. Here is the key point - the data was stored in massive servers to be available to intelligence analysts if it was ever needed.

Perhaps a scenario would be helpful - this particular scenario is loosely based on actual events.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan is called to a meeting with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI. The ISI officer provides the station chief a stack of materials seized in an ISI raid of an al-Qa'idah safehouse in Quetta, a city near the border with Afghanistan. In that stack of materials are several laptop computers and a few cellphones.

The materials are forwarded to CIA headquarters where all the information is downloaded from each of the devices. Key intelligence information can be found in the call logs on the phones, as well as the email addresses in the laptops. The phone numbers are important in determining who else is involved in this particular al-Qa'idah cell. Several of the numbers are located in the United States.

In order to fully exploit this information, NSA officers, operating under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - more commonly known by its acronym FISA - warrant, access the stored meta data to determine not only who is associated with the phone numbers recovered from the seized laptops and cellphones, but also what numbers were called from those phones, and further what numbers were called from that second set of phone numbers.

This is called network analysis, and is critical in determining al-Qa'idah members (or other group) or sympathizers present in the United States. Again, this is predicated on the availability of historic meta data - it is essential that analysts be able to "go back in time" to uncover these contacts. Only when there is such a requirement is the meta data accessed, and then only with a warrant. Intelligence analysts are not sifting through meta data on a routine basis - imagine the volume of data on the servers.

Senator Paul and others believe that intelligence community storage of this meta data is an invasion of privacy and illegal under the Constitution. They often say that if there is suspicion that someone is involved in illicit or terrorist activities, law enforcement agencies should obtain a warrant and then proceed to monitor the communications of that individual.

That sounds good, but to adequately and effectively analyze these terrorist organizations, you need historical data. Whenever there is an arrest of a key individual or a takedown of a cell in a terrorist or criminal organization, one of the first things these groups do is completely change their communications methods. The phone number on a newly issued wiretap warrant will likely be dead before the ink is dry on the warrant. We need access to the historical meta data to determine the extent of the network.

This access is a key analytical tool in the war on terrorism. Well-intentioned officials like the senator have passed legislation that restricts the intelligence community's storage of this information. The next time there is an attack on the United States, these same people will be blaming the same intelligence community whose hands they have tied. Senator Paul wants the intelligence community to connect the dots - the analysts must first have the dots to connect. Meta data are dots....

Sorry, Senator Paul. Governor Christie gets it - you don't.

July 23, 2015

Turks to allow coalition access to Turkish air base - finally

US Air Force F-16 with both air-to-air and air-to ground munitions

After months of negotiations - and clashes between its troops and fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the Syrian border - Turkey has agreed to allow the United States to launch airstrikes from the large NATO air base in Incirlik.

There were rumors last fall that the Turks were going to allow the Americans to use the base, but an agreement fell through because of Turkish perceptions of the lack of commitment on the part of the Obama Administration to the removal of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Asad. The Turks have always wanted American support for its efforts to oust al-Asad.

It is not clear what, if any, concessions were made to the Turks other than an agreement to assist Turkey in creating a buffer zone inside northern Syria.

This is a welcome development - it significantly reduces the flight time from the airbases currently being used in Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Not only can the aircraft arrive in the target area faster, they are able to remain in the area for longer periods of time dropping significantly more ordnance. The shorter flight distance also reduces the number of aerial refuelings needed, lessening the demands on the heavily used tanker aircraft fleet.

Had coalition aircraft been able to stage from Incirlik during the fighting in the Kobani area last year and again early this year, the flight distance to target would have been as short as 165 miles versus the 800 to 1500 miles using bases in Jordan and the Gulf. The battle for the city may have been shortened significantly.

Access to Incirlik will allow increased air operations against ISIS's self-proclaimed capital at al-Raqqah in northern Syria, just 200 miles from the airbase. Translated into time, that means that American pilots can put weapons on targets in the ISIS capital in as little as 50 minutes.

Aircraft based in southern Turkey can also react more quickly to the changing situation on the ground in both northern Syria and western Iraq. The reaction time to fast-changing events on the ground in northern Syria can be measured now in minutes, not hours. This becomes even more important as ISIS forces move closer to Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

According to press reports, the United States will operate both manned aircraft and Predator drones from Incirlik - at least two of the Predators will be armed with Hellfire missiles. It was an MQ-1 Predator that recently (July 8) killed a senior al-Qa'idah operative about 20 miles west of Aleppo, or just 90 miles from Incirlik. These operations will be much easier to launch from the Turkish base - more quickly and likely more effectively.

The Turks have stated that they still will not participate in coalition air operations, using their air assets only in response to threats to Turkey, its people or its armed forces. They may provide tactical air controllers inside Syria to call in American airstrikes. Although we would prefer to have Turkish troops and pilots directly involved, use of Incirlik is a welcome change.

I have often complained about the lack of support for coalition operations by the Turks. My exact words were, "If Turkey wants to be a NATO ally, they need to start acting like a NATO ally." It appears that they are - finally.

July 14, 2015

REDUX: "Fallout of a bad nuclear deal with Iran" and "The nuclear deal with Iran - the view from Riyadh"

As you all know, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, also called the P5+1, concluded an agreement with Iran that the Obama Administration claims blocks all of the possible paths for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Most analysts familiar with the Middle East and the Iranians believe this is fantasy.

I wrote an article about this when the announcement was made. You have probably read it - if not - Iran Nuclear Deal - Lingering Concerns.

Much of my opinion and analysis in that article is based on my writings earlier this year, although I have been writing about the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear weapons program (let's call it what it is, shall we?) for almost a decade. After the signing of what I consider a bad deal, I was asked to re-post two articles from earlier this year.

To preclude you having to connect to external links, I have included the text of the two articles here.


Fallout of a bad nuclear deal with Iran (March 17, 2015)

Fallout of a nuclear-armed Iran?

Recent polls taken in the United States indicate that an overwhelming majority of Americans - between 70 and 80 percent - do not believe that the proposed agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1* (United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany) will prevent Iran from eventually acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Despite Presidential spokesperson Josh Earnest's claims to the contrary, few people believe President Obama "is driving a hard bargain."

The proposed agreement will provide Iran immediate sanctions relief, permit them to legally enrich uranium to the five percent level, and lift all restrictions on Iran's nuclear program after a ten year period of compliance. To most observers (including this one), that sounds like a great deal for Iran, and a bad deal for the rest of the world - not exactly the result of a "hard bargain."

The Administration realizes that neither the majority of the American people nor the Congress support the "hard bargain" the President's team is negotiating with Iran. Continuing in the vernacular, most Americans believe that instead of a "hard bargain," the President is "giving away the farm."

I believe that lack of popular support is the reason why the United States and some of its European allies are beginning talks in the United Nations (UN) to forge a Security Council resolution to remove UN sanctions on Iran if a nuclear deal is reached. The Administration, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, is trying to circumvent Congress and in effect the American people to make a deal with Iran. Perhaps the State Department deputy spokesperson was right in her condescension - we American people just don't understand the "nuances" of these negotiations.

I have been forthright and forceful in my condemnation of what I believe is an unwise agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although the President has "convinced" (read: directed) his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Jim Clapper to omit references to Iran (as well as its proxy in Lebanon - Hizballah) from the latest annual threat assessment delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terrorism.

Coincidence? I have known General Jim Clapper for four decades - he does not often make errors of omission. This was a deliberate attempt to deflect attention from Iran at a time when the Administration is desperate to reach a deal, any deal, with the mullahs in Tehran. (Read DNI Clapper's statement.)

As I said, I have written on this topic on numerous occasions. The Administration's desire to appease the Iranians is not new. Here are a few of my previous articles, in chronological order, and a quote from each:

Off to the races - Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear energy (April 17, 2010). Quote: "Saudi Arabia is looking across the Persian Gulf at what is likely the world's next nuclear-armed nation. The Saudis, long-time American allies, are unsure of the direction of American foreign policy in the region and probably think they may need something to counter Iran's accession as a regional power. A Saudi nuclear energy research and development center is the logical answer - after all, that's how Iran's program got started."

Mr President - take a lesson from the UAE ambassador (July 7, 2010). Quote: "Here is where [the UAE ambassador] gets even clearer: 'We cannot live with a nuclear Iran. The United States may be able to live with it; we can't.' If the United States will not fulfill its traditional leadership role in the region - which includes protection for the Gulf Arab states - these states will be forced to either make an accommodation with Iran, or in the case of larger countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, acquire their own nuclear arsenal."

"Fallout" from the Iranian nuclear program (August 28, 2010). Quote: "As Iran continues to develop its nuclear programs - power and weapons - it is only logical for other nations in the region to do the same. It is just a matter of time before we see more nuclear-armed states in this volatile region. This is the 'fallout' of Tehran's program."

The coming nuclear arms race in the Middle East (December 5, 2011). Quote: "The King told [National Security Advisor] General Jones that if Iran succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia. The King is convinced that current U.S. engagement efforts with Tehran will not succeed."

The "fallout" of a bad deal, or possibly any deal short of Iran scrapping its nuclear program, is the triggering of an arms race in the region. The major countries in the region - Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey - two Arab and all three Sunni Muslim - are not going to sit idly while Iran develops the capability to develop nuclear weapons to mount atop its huge arsenal of ballistic missiles. The three powers are wary of a Persian, Shi'a state sponsor of terrorism armed with nuclear weapons.

This deal, a bad one in my judgment, does nothing to assuage those fears.
* The P5+1 group comprises the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) plus Germany.


The nuclear deal with Iran - the view from Riyadh (April 5, 2015)

King Salman bin 'Abd al-'Aziz Al Sa'ud

It appears almost inevitable that the Obama Administration is going to push through the completion of what many to consider to be a mediocre-at-best agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran over its nuclear program. Regardless of the hard sales pitches by both the President and Secretary of State John Kerry, the Iranians remain focused on the acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability. I believe they will ultimately be successful.

I am not the only one that believes that the Iranians will eventually have nuclear weapons - it already has the ballistic missiles to deliver them. One need only look to the west across the Persian Gulf to find the country (with the understandable exception of Israel) most concerned with the Iranian nuclear arms program - the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis have been wary of Iran since the 1979 revolution and Tehran's desire to export that revolution throughout the region. Since 1982 when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Syria and Lebanon contingent (forerunner of today's Qods Force) began operations in Lebanon and created Hizballah, the Iranians have been a major force in the politics of both countries.

After the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent civil war, Iran has meddled incessantly in Iraqi politics - after the premature removal of American forces in 2011, Iran became the major power broker in the country. Some say it remains that to this day.

The recent and ongoing crisis in Yemen has Tehran's handwriting all over it. The Shi'a Houthi group is sponsored, equipped and funded by the Iranians. If you are sitting in Riyadh, you see Iran wielding significant influence in four Arab capitals - Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and now Sana'. Iran is constantly displaying new, indigenous weapons, including more capable and longer range ballistic missiles.

The Saudis have reason to worry - they, like most rational observers of Middle East events, are convinced that Iran will at some point in the next few years, possess nuclear weapons.

The Saudi concern with a potentially nuclear-armed Iran is nothing new. I wrote an article in late 2011 - The coming nuclear arms race in the Middle East (December 5, 2011). From that article:

Saudi Arabia
The former director of Saudi Arabia's intelligence service stated this week that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, then the Kingdom may be forced to as well. Although Prince Turki al-Faysal couched his remarks by first citing the world's failure to convince Israel to abandon its nuclear weapons, then casually adding "as well as Iran," his meaning was perfectly clear - if Iran develops them, we'll buy our own. Saudi Arabia is currently planning to build 16 nuclear reactors to generate electricity. The weapons program would be an easy add-on, although the Kingdom is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Saudi interest in a nuclear weapons capability is not new. In 1987, the Saudis purchased CSS-2 missiles from China; the missiles are designed to carry a nuclear warhead. Although the Saudis did not acquire that capability, they did express interest in a joint research and development program with Pakistan. If the Saudis decide to move ahead with a nuclear weapons capability, they have the requisite infrastructure already in place.

While I deplore the release of classified documents by the Wikileaks crowd, some of the information is interesting. Here is an excerpt from a February 2010 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh to the Secretary of State. (10RIYADH178, SCENESETTER FOR SECRETARY CLINTON'S FEB 15-16 VISIT TO SAUDI ARABIA, classified SECRET NOFORN. Read the entire cable here.)

9. (S/NF) COUNTERING IRAN: We expect that Saudi Arabia will continue to develop its ties with China, in part to counterbalance relations with the West. While the King's preference is to cooperate with the U.S., he has concluded that he needs to proceed with his own strategy to counter Iranian influence in the region, which includes rebuilding Riyadh-Cairo-Damascus coordination, supporting Palestinian reconciliation, supporting the Yemeni government, and expanding relations with non-traditional partners such as Russia, China, and India to create diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran that do not directly depend on U.S. help. The King told General Jones that if Iran succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia.

10. (S/NF) The King is convinced that current U.S. engagement efforts with Tehran will not succeed; he is likely to feel grimly vindicated in his view by Ahmadinejad's February 11 boast that having successfully enriched uranium to a level of 20 percent, Iran "is now a nuclear nation." The King told General Jones that Iranian internal turmoil presented an opportunity to weaken the regime -- which he encouraged -- but he also urged that this be done covertly and stressed that public statements in support of the reformers were counterproductive. The King assesses that sanctions could help weaken the government, but only if they are strong and sustained. The King will want you to elaborate on the President's statement that the time for sanctions has come. He will also want to hear our plans for bolstering Gulf defenses vis-a-vis Iran. (The King has invited General Petraeus to his desert camp for discussion on this topic on Tuesday.)


Although some of the situation in the Middle East has changed since I wrote that, such as the hope that Syria could be part of a counter to Iran and the fact that there is a new king in Saudi Arabia, the rest still holds true. I assess that new Saudi King Salman has already given the orders to the new Minister of Defense and Aviation (his son), to scope out what it would take to acquire at least the same capability as Iran.

Of course, by doing so the Saudis may run afoul of the Obama Administration. However, the Administration has proven that they are willing to allow other countries to enrich uranium in contravention of international agreements with little consequence.

If you are living in the Persian Gulf region, the overly optimistic assurances from President Obama and Secretary Kerry that their agreement with Iran will prevent the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability ring hollow.

If I was King Salman, I would do the same thing.


Iran Nuclear Deal - Lingering Concerns

The Obama Administration is touting the conclusion of "the historic deal that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon." Preventing the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is critical to any hope for preventing the entire Middle East from erupting into a conflagration. The White House has issued a slick spin of the deal on its website. You can read the actual text for yourself.

While you read the White House version of reality, take a look at the photograph above. It tells us just who we are being asked to believe has negotiated in good faith - those are officially sanctioned Iranian demonstrations calling for death to America, Israel, United Kingdom, the House of Sa'ud (Saudi Arabia) and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Let me first say that I hope that this deal works. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the mullahs in Tehran would be a disaster, not just for the Middle East, but the entire world. That said, I am concerned that the deal as structured may not prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. I am not confident that this Administration has negotiated the type of agreement that will be successful.

Why do I say that? I have been straight-forward in my assessment that since he took office in 2009, President Obama sought to curry favor with the Islamic regime in Iran, despite the enmity and hostility from that regime. His attempts to make inroads with the leadership in Tehran were consistently rebuffed.

It was not until he directed his negotiators, including current Secretary of State John Kerry, to make concession after concession in the nuclear talks - caving on virtually every negotiating point - that the Iranians began to listen to Barack Obama. The Iranian leadership likely assessed - correctly, in my opinion - that Obama was desperate for a deal with Iran, for whatever reason.

It appears to me that the goal of the negotiations was to reach a deal - any deal - with Iran rather than actually achieving the stated objective of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Otherwise, Obama would have stood firm on what we were all told were non-negotiable conditions - sanctions relief only after compliance, anytime and anywhere inspections, continued arms embargo, etc.

So now we have an agreement, technically, a joint comprehensive plan of action. What has changed? Does anyone actually believe that the Iranians have given up their quest for a nuclear weapons capability? What is the end-goal of their nuclear research and development program? Is this Administration ready to believe that Iran is only interested in a nuclear electrical power generation system?

That thought might be the fiction that Kerry and Obama have bought into, but the analysis from specialists at the government's own research laboratories - specifically Frank Pabian at the Los Alamos National Laboratory - indicates that the Iranian effort is much too small for effective power generation, but perfectly suited for a nuclear weapons program. Pabian further postulated as far back as 2008 that if Iran was actually developing a civilian nuclear power program, there was no need to use front companies and locate the facilities in hardened underground bunkers.

What was the rush to conclude a deal? Sanctions were taking a toll on Iran - the Iranians needed this agreement far more than we did. I am struck by the timing of these hurried negotiations. Just a few months ago, President Obama told the American people that our 50-year old policy toward Cuba was not working and it needed to change.

Contrast that with our policy toward Iran - what we had in place was working. The sanctions protocols had brought the Iranians to the table - it was obvious to anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East that Iran was in a position of weakness.

The answer to my last question is tied to the U.S. presidential election cycle. In November 2016, the Americans will elect a new president. Barack Obama will leave office in January 2017 - what will he have to show for it? Thus far, he has enjoyed a few domestic policy successes, all of them controversial and under threat of repeal should the Democrats lose the White House next year.

Likewise, the President's foreign policy is in severe disarray, especially in the Middle East. This agreement with the Iranians - also a controversial "success" - will serve as his legacy assuming it is not overruled by a Congress representing an overwhelmingly skeptical American public, or cancelled by a Republican president in the future.

Here is how the Iranians see the agreement. This is from IRNA, the official Islamic Republic News Agency:

- World powers have recognized Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and are to respect the nuclear rights of Iranian nation within international conventions.

- The Islamic Republic of Iran is to be recognized as a nuclear technology power authorized to have peaceful nuclear programs such as complete nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment to be identified by the United Nations.

- All unfair sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council including economic and financial sanctions on Iran are to be lifted as per the agreement and through issuance of a new resolution by the United Nations Security Council.

- All nuclear installations and sites are to continue their work contrary to the early demands of the other party, none of them will be dismantled.

- The policy on preventing enrichment uranium is now failed, and Iran will go ahead with its enrichment program.

- Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, no centrifuges will be dismantled and research and development on key and advanced centrifuges will continue.

They did not mention that the arms embargo will be lifted in five years, and the missile embargo in eight years.

I don't see how this is a win for the United States. I fear this is a repeat of a similar deal struck by President Bill Clinton with North Korea in 1994; we all know how that turned out. Although there are a variety of issues that need to be addressed with Iran, we have now given up any leverage we had. For example, what about Iran's continued support for terrorism, and what about the Americans currently being held in Iran? Have President Obama and Secretary Kerry sacrificed them on the altar of legacy?

As I said, I hope this agreement stops the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons, but having worked in the region and on the Iran issue for decades, I fear the mullahs have outmaneuvered Messrs Obama and Kerry - again.

June 29, 2015

Syrian regime might use chemical weapons - how is that possible?

In what can only be regarded as an embarrassing turn of events for the Obama Administration, U.S. intelligence agencies are warning that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Asad may again resort to the use of chemical weapons against Syrian rebel forces, or the forces of the al-Qa'idah affiliate in Syria known as Jabhat al-Nusra (the Victory Front) and possibly the fighters of the so-called "The Islamic State" (more commonly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS).

Syrian forces are under pressure as they try to fight on multiple fronts against the various groups arrayed against the regime. Although the anti-regime forces usually do not cooperate with each other, or coordinate their operations against the Syrian army, nonetheless they are taking a toll on the Syrian military. The recent introduction of the American-made TOW anti-tank guided missile has increased the capabilities of at least one of the anti-regime forces against Syria's army and militias.

Why is this intelligence assessment embarrassing to the Obama Administration?

In the summer of 2013, Syrian forces conducted chemical attacks on Free Syrian Army positions in the eastern suburbs of Damascus called the East Ghutah. The chemical used in the attacks was the nerve agent sarin (known as GB in the chemical warfare community), delivered by artillery rockets. Almost 1,500 people - mostly innocent civilians - were killed in the attacks.

Only months earlier, President Obama stated in a news conference that if the United States intelligence community detected the movement of Syrian chemical weapons from storage depots, he would be inclined to take action to preclude the Syrian regime's use of the weapons.

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad in effect called his bluff in August by not only moving chemical weapons from their depots, but actually firing them from garrisons of the Republican Guard atop a mountain overlooking Damascus. (See my articles on these attacks: Syrian Chemical Weapons Strikes - Random Attacks or Viable Military Targets?, and Syria: United Nations report does not blame the regime for chemical weapons use - really?)

Although it appeared that President Obama was waffling in his decision to take the military action he had threatened, his advisers warned him that what remained of his credibility was at stake. Reluctantly, he ordered the Pentagon to ready military strikes on Syrian chemical warfare facilities. However, our generally ineffectual Secretary of State John Kerry made an off-hand comment at a news conference that the Syrians could avert American retaliation by giving up their stockpile of chemical weapons.

Anyone* who has ever worked or lived in Syria got a chuckle out of the thought that the regime of Bashar al-Asad would give up his chemical weapons. Syria maintains its chemical weapons arsenal and delivery systems to provide a deterrent against an attack by the vastly-superior (and nuclear-equipped) Israeli armed forces. Its ballistic missiles and squadron of SU-24 (NATO: FENCER) fighter-bombers can deliver chemical weapons virtually anywhere in Israel.

The thought that the Syrians would give up their chemical weapons arsenal was, and remains, ludicrous. However, the Syrians' primary sponsor - Russia - saw an opportunity to back Kerry and the United States into a corner. The Russians announced that they had brokered a deal in which the Syrians would give up their chemical weapons in return for an American commitment to call off impending military action against Syria. Obama jumped at the chance.

This "deal" put in motion a carefully orchestrated charade by the Russians and Syrians. Almost immediately after al-Asad's acceptance of the Russian-brokered agreement, there were numerous flights of Syrian Air Force IL-76 (NATO: CANDID) heavy transport aircraft between Syria and Iran. One has to wonder about the cargo of these sorties that occurred days after the Syrians agreed to surrender their chemical weapons.

The Syrians did surrender tons of chemical weapons and precursor chemicals, including artillery shells and aerial bombs, to the United Nations organization tasked with the implementation of the removal and destruction of the Syrian chemical arsenal.

However, at no time did the Syrians surrender any warheads designed for their arsenal of Russian, Iranian and North Korean ballistic missiles, missiles that can range virtually any spot in Israel. I think it safe to assume that these warheads are now located either at a location in Syria considered to be safe, or have been moved to safe haven in Iran, or a combination of both.

So now in the early summer of 2015, American intelligence issues a warning that the Syrian regime may be contemplating the use of chemical weapons. Is anyone asking where these chemical weapons came from? Was there not a huge victory lap in 2013 as Syria agreed to rid itself of chemical weapons?

Is any one going to be held accountable for being so gullible as to believe that the Syrians were going to surrender their entire chemical weapons arsenal? Or was it all a charade on both sides to give the Obama Administration an out from having to follow up on a "red line?"

* From 1992 to 1995, I served as the Air Attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. It was part of my brief to monitor the capabilities of the Syrian armed forces, including their chemical warfare capabilities.

June 28, 2015

Misquoted again - Iran, Iraq, chemical weapons and me

Click on image to read the article in a separate window

Every time a journalist wants to do an in-depth piece about either Iran or Iraq and its long-term relationship with the United States, he or she gets around to American intelligence support for the regime of Saddam Husayn in the last year of the Iran-Iraq War.

Usually in that research, my name comes up. More often than not, the researcher does his homework and gets the story right. Other times, however, they rely on one source. If that source happens to be an incorrect account - and there are plenty out there - it merely perpetuates untruths. The latter apparently happened again today.

I refer you to an article written by British journalist Mehdi Hasan which appeared in the Opinion section of the Aljazeera website (which of course is picked up and distributed by a host of other media). I recommend the article - click on the image above to go to the Aljazeera (English) website - with the caveat that you substitute his version of what happened in 1988 with my account. That section in his article is "1988: Chemical weapons."

In his piece, Mr. Hasan cites his source as an article published in 2013 by Foreign Policy magazine. I have rebutted that article on several occasions, in both print and broadcast media. I posted my rebuttal on this forum immediately after its publication - see
Foreign Policy Article - Corrections and Clarifications.

Let's address Mr. Hasan's account of Iraq's use of chemical weapons against the Iranians in 1988. Here is his text:

1988: Chemical weapons

In April 1988, Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army began an operation to retake the al-Faw peninsula from the Iranians, launching sarin attacks that killed thousands.

These Iraqi attacks on Iranian positions, using banned chemical weapons, were facilitated by the US. In 2013, Foreign Policy magazine revealed that: "US intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein's military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent… The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on US satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence."

In fact, the Reagan administration had become aware five years earlier, in 1983, that the Saddam regime was using banned chemical weapons in its war against Iran, yet US officials continued to offer satellite imagery and other support to the Iraqi military. As retired US Air Force Colonel Rick Francona, a former military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 operation, told Foreign Policy: "The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn't have to. We already knew."

My comments:

-- First paragraph: Fine. That operation in April 1988 was code named Ramadan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadan), and re-took the al-Faw peninsula in 36 hours.

-- Second paragraph: The United States did not "facilitate" the use of chemical weapons. While we did provide intelligence from a variety of sources to the Iraqi military intelligence service, we were not "fully aware that Hussein's military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin...". In fact, in April 1988, we were not aware that Iraq had developed effective nerve agents.

The use of the nerve agent sarin at al-Faw was not confirmed until I was able to gain access to the battlefields on the peninsula and gather physical evidence. Once we had evidence that the Iraqis had used sarin, our intelligence assistance came to an immediate halt pending a review of our options - a review held a much higher pay grade than mine.

The Reagan Administration was faced with two bad options: help Iraq despite its use of chemical weapons (specifically nerve agents), or end the program and allow the Iranians to win the war. The choice was to prevent an Iranian victory, so I returned to Baghdad and continued the program. The Iraqis used chemical weapons - mustard and sarin - in the three following offensives.

-- Third paragraph: The United States was aware that Iraq had attempted to develop the nerve agent Tabun, but had failed; they were using mustard in defensive operations. As for the quote attributed to me, I don't recall saying those exact words, but it is accurate as far as it goes - the Iraqis never told us they intended to use chemical weapons, but why would they? In fact, they denied having them even when presented with the evidence. After the al-Faw operation, they did not need to admit to it, we knew.

The bottom line

The United States was not aware of Iraqi nerve agent capability prior to the al-Faw operation in April 1988. In no way did the United States "facilitate" Iraq's development, acquisition or use of those weapons.

June 24, 2015

The Kurds - key to success against "The Islamic State?"

Kurdish fighters after seizing the border city of Tal Abyad, Syria

The so-called Islamic State, more commonly called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has suffered few military setbacks. The one that the Iraqi and American governments like to tout is the retaking of the city of Tikrit by Iraqi forces in April of this year.

Unfortunately, that "military success" was despite a series of mistakes and missteps on the part of the Iraqi forces and their Iranian-backed militia allies. It was only after tens of thousands of Iraqi forces had been fought to a standstill by less than a thousand ISIS fighters holed up in the city that American airpower had to be employed to save the day, after which the city fell to the Iraqis.

The battle to retake Tikrit did serve as a wake-up call for the Iraqis and their refocused American allies. It demonstrated just how ineffective the Iraqi Army has become, despite the infusion of American arms and training, and how ineffective the Iranian-backed militias are in the face of a determined enemy rather than ill-equipped, untrained Sunni Iraqi civilians.

Those two lessons were reinforced just weeks later as the Iraqis were unable to prevent ISIS forces from seizing the city of al-Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province--a mere 75 miles west of Baghdad. The Iraqi military and security forces continue to falter in the field.

There is one area that often goes overlooked--for several reasons, not the least of which is political. Many military analysts (me included) have assessed that among the Iraqi forces, the Iranian-backed militias are more effective. That is true as far as it goes, but if you consider the Kurdish peshmerga units as part of the mix, the assessment changes. The Kurds are easily the best fighters of them all.

It was the Kurds, backed by American airpower, that regained control of the Mosul Dam, a key infrastructure facility in northern Iraq that had fallen to ISIS when the Islamist group routed the Iraqi Army units in the city. Mosul remains in ISIS hands, but the dam and other parts of the countryside have been retaken by the Kurds.

The major problem the Kurds face is a lack of modern weaponry, especially heavy weapons--artillery, tanks, anti-armor missiles, etc. Because of our (short-sighted, in my opinion) commitment to the Shi'a-dominated, Iranian-influenced, poorly-led government of Prime Minister Haydar al-'Abadi, all weapons and military equipment provided to any Iraqi units, including (or more likely, especially) the Kurds, must go through the defense establishment in Baghdad. Unfortunately, the inept and almost certainly corrupt leadership in the Ministry of Defense provides very little of the materiel to the Kurds.

The Arab Iraqis--Shi'a and Sunni alike--have always been, and remain, wary of the Kurds and are skeptical of the Kurds' commitment to the current makeup and sovereignty of Iraq. Many believe that the Kurds are hoping to establish their own country, possibly in conjunction with their cousins in what is now Syria, or what the Kurds call Rojava or Western Kurdistan, and ultimately with the Kurds in Turkey.

That last part--"ultimately with the Kurds in Turkey"--is the source of much consternation between the Turks and the West over any Western support for the Kurds. The Turks view many of the Syria-based Kurdish militias as mere extensions of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known better by its Kurdish abbreviation, the PKK. The PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and many of its allies.

The Iraq Arabs may in fact be right about the Kurds and their ulterior motives, but that is an issue for another day. The current focus needs to be on the extermination of ISIS, or more politely put by President Barack Obama, to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS. While the Iraqi Arabs do not seem to be capable of taking the fight to ISIS, the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria have demonstrated that they are not only capable, but willing, to do so.

By way of example, let's look at how effective the Kurds in northern Syria have been. We are all familiar with the tenacious defense the Kurds put up in the small border town of Kobani. The failure of ISIS to take and hold Kobani is not only a testament to the fighting capability of the Kurdish peshmerga, but validates the American tactic of using U.S.-led coalition airpower--in this case extensive use of U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers--in conjunction with indigenous ground forces. It also demonstrated that it is possible to have the Turks allow the Kurds in Iraq to provide weapons and materiel to their cousins in Syria via Turkish territory.

Northern Syria (click on image for larger view)

The map above illustrates what the Kurdish People's Protection Units, more commonly known by their Kurdish initials as the YPG, have been able to accomplish against ISIS--albeit with considerable American airpower and some ground support from elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Even after the YPG success in forcing ISIS to withdraw from Kobani, ISIS still maintained two major lines of communications--its major logistics routes--from the Turkish border near the cities of Jarablus and Tal Abyad (west and east of Kobani, respectively) to its self-proclaimed capital city of al-Raqqah, about 65 miles south of the Turkish border.

After the victory at Kobani, YPG forces began moving toward Tal Abyad from both the east and west. After an intense battle--with heavy American air support--the Kurds were able to seize the border city from ISIS on June 15, 2015. Tal Abyad had been in ISIS hands for almost one year.

After the Kurds had established themselves in Tal Abyad, they began to press their advance both southwest and southeast. Their ultimate target is al-Raqqah, but there are intermediate targets as they move towards the ISIS capital.

With the fall of Tal Abyad, ISIS had lost one of its two major supply lines from the Turkish border to al-Raqqah, forcing it to rely on the border crossing to the west of Kobani. That route goes south along the Euphrates River to the city of Sarrin, and after that across the desert via the strategic crossroads at 'Ayn 'Isa or continuing along a longer route along the river.

The Kurds, who live in this area, are well aware of the lines of communications and the road network. ISIS requires logistics to keep its "state" and "military" running--they also need to move money and contraband oil. The Kurds began to move towards the two key cities of Sarrin and 'Ayn 'Isa, hoping to cut ISIS off from its direct lifeline to the Turkish border and forcing it to rely on alternate lines of communications further to the west, areas where they are facing pressure from other armed groups.

With increased U.S. airstrikes, the YPG was able to seize control of the city of 'Ayn 'Isa on June 23, along with a large Syrian Army base that has been used by ISIS, and the crossroads. This puts YPG fighters witihin 30 miles of al-Raqqah. Also, Kurdish forces backed by some FSA fighters have surrounded the city of Sarrin, which lies in a key position north of the militant group’s de-facto Raqqa capital.

What does all this mean?

It means that there is an opportunity for the Obama Administration to "reset" (they are big on "reset buttons") the strategy and tactics used to combat ISIS. The Kurds in both Iraq and Syria have demonstrated the ability to fight ISIS effectively. They have been able to repeatedly seize and hold territory, something the Iraqi government forces seem incapable of, or unwilling, to do.

The original Obama Administration plan to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS was the use of airpower (overwhelmingly American) coupled with someone else's "boots on the ground." In Iraq, that was to be the retrained and re-equipped Iraqi Army.

In Syria, it was to be an initial cadre of 5,000 FSA fighters who would be trained and equipped by the United States. That hasn't worked out well (I am being polite - it has been an abject failure).

What has worked, however, is the use of the Kurdish peshmerga in Iraq and the Kurdish YPG in Syria. Both have been effective on the ground against ISIS, and both have worked effectively with American air support.

In Iraq, we should quit our current focus of attempting to train/retrain Iraqi soldiers who just don't seem interested in fighting to save the Sunni Arab portions of Iraq. We also should withdraw any support or equipment that might benefit or fall into the hands of the Iranian-backed--and Iraqi government-supported--Shi'a militias.

All the support efforts--including training, equipment, air support, logistics support, etc.--should be directed to the Kurds, without any interference from Baghdad. I would assess the Iraqi government in Baghdad as being part of the problem, not part of the solution. This is really no longer about Iraq and its half-hearted--and I am being generous--efforts to create an inclusive government or to field an effective army capable of retaking Iraqi territory.

It should now be about directly addressing the threat to the United States posed by ISIS--the President has stated that ISIS is a threat to the United States. If so, let's use whatever means necessary to defeat them--if that is working solely with the Kurds, so be it. If ISIS is not a threat to the United States, it's time to say goodbye (and good riddance) to the failed Iraqi Shi'a government.

For Syria, the Administration should "reset" as well, this time shifting its training and equipping resources to the Kurds. They are willing to fight ISIS, while the FSA is more focused on the removal of Bashar al-Asad--we can worry about Bashar after ISIS is gone.

Some detractors--including the Turks--will claim that this change will embolden the Kurds and fan the flames of Kurdish nationalism, and only stoke their desire for their own homeland. And the downside with that is...?*

Time to back the winners for a change.
* Disclaimer: I served in northern Iraq as part of a U.S. government effort to support the Kurds. I have always supported their efforts to establish a national homeland.