What are some famous controversial photos that maybe shouldn’t have been taken?

The pictures of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Abu Ghraib is a large prison in Iraq. During the time of the Iraq War, it became a housing facility for American prisoners of war, as well as maintaining its role as a prison in an attempt to maintain order in the country following the collapse of the Hussein regime. Housed there were convicted terrorists, murderers, robbers, and rapists, but it was the US Army staff which brought the prison its most infamy.

Early in the Iraq war, soldiers of the 320th Military Police Battalion, an Army reserve unit far from the front lines of the conflict took over command of the facility. Prior to their arrival acts of barbarity by Iraqi prison officials was not uncommon. It was, in fact, a practice in Middle Eastern society prior to the American’s intervention to take pictures of people in humiliating situations, and to release the photos as a means of shame and humiliation to force coercion. In tribal societies, this works well and it was something the Hussein regime had long practiced. Having an image of a woman, in this case a woman holding a leashed naked Iraqi, I should add, greatly increased the value of the for such a work. Culturally, a women was of an inferior status, so to be depicted in such a demeaning manner by ta women was particularly offensive to Arab Muslims.

When the Americans took over, they were advised to continue the practice. Abuses under the American Army command included being forced to pose nude in demeaning positions, evidence of violence, inducing fear with military working dogs, and mocking poses with female guards. These practices, however, go against the law of war and several levels of military law and justice, as well as standing against many treaties, so when leaders in the prison took the advice to continue the status quo for the Hussein regime, they did so without good judgement or the legal leg to support their actions. This is why investigations for the prison were already underway before news of them began to circulate with international media, which had mostly been tipped off by these very same investigations.

Following the investigation, members of the 320th Military Police Battalion was charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with prisoner abuse. The United States Department of Defense removed seventeen soldiers and officers from duty, and eleven soldiers were charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery. Between May 2004 and March 2006, these soldiers were convicted in courts-martial, sentenced to military prison, and dishonorably discharged from service. Two soldiers, Specialists Charles Graner and Lynndie England, were sentenced to ten and three years in prison, respectively. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer of all detention facilities in Iraq, was reprimanded and demoted to the rank of colonel.

In April of 2004, information about the goings on at the prison began to become public, following earlier stories by the Associated Press. When the news broke, it detailed images of prisoner abuse at the prison not long after the war began.

After the pictures were released, the conversation about the war collapsed. In spite of the Army’s clear message through the imprisonment of the offending Army personnel, and the demotion of one of their Generals, the story that was told by the pictures was that this was acceptable practices for the United States military. This was detrimental to the war effort in that it unfairly misrepresented the rest of the military, myself included, in our efforts to help Iraq stabilize following the removal of the Iraqi Saddamist regime. It was never viewed as a rogue act of an undisciplined and reckless unit, but as representative of the entire United States military, and, to quote a commentor below, “…but it showed the true face of USA…” This radical hyperbole defined the war for many people even today, but the story the pictures told, rather than the truth, dramatically changed the ground war.

The United States military could not really advocate itself as a force for good when this event existed. It cast a very bright light on the decisions of an extremely small group of people in the military. Within the Iraqi population, it made a sound argument that this sort of behavior was the way of the new imperial dictator, and fed propaganda against the American occupation and populist government.  The pictures generated hatred and animosity as the images touched on very deep cultural sensitivities, beyond the obvious human reactions to them. This escalated insurgency activity and fed the increasing terror campaign for three more years before the “Surge” of 2007. In the United States, the event fed the anti-war rhetoric, silencing many supporters of the conflict and empowering those who were never behind the war in the first place with new evidence to support their views. After quickly toppling the government under Saddam Hussein and breaking grounds towards a stable and free government, the legacy of the American involvement in the country was forever damaged by Abu Gharib.

This was a tragedy on many levels. First, the actions of a very few marred the image of the United States’ mission and the conduct of its servicemen. The Marines have a saying, “No greater friend; no worse enemy.” This led many potential allies to think not in the terms of no greater friend, but that the Americans are simply an enemy to be feared. Resistance from that point on, was assured based on these pictures alone. Further, it painted the entire conflict as one of cruelty, forever ignoring the extreme effort that American and coalition forces went to minimize harm to civilians and attempt to rebuild the Iraqi way of life. And even furthermore, painted the hyperbolic assumption that all Americans were really like this.

Second, it was  a tragedy of justice in that it made it impossible to accurately judge who the just were. I will remind readers that the photos are of not just political prisoners of war, and certainly not of poor innocent Iraqis, but of convicted criminals under Iraqi courts. Some were guilty of war crimes under Saddam and some after the war began in 2003. Others were convicted murders, rapists, and all manner of citizens harmful to their own people. In truth, being tied to a leash and paraded around in some humiliating fashion was a far lighter offense than those suffered by many of their victims. You won’t find much remorse from me in the way they were treated, other than that the Americans were obligated by treaty not to participate in such acts. That said, even if these were the vilest of men, that message never got through. When they were masked, their identity was hidden along with all of their individual crimes. When their clothes or uniforms were removed, you remove their allegiances, in some cases to the criminal organizations that committed acts of terror and treason against the Iraqi people.

People can hate a face of a known killer, and they can hate anyone who wears a certain uniform. They couldn’t identify with a murderer, but to them, this was just another defenseless man. There was nothing that stopped them from identifying with just a naked man. Once you look at the picture, you only see illogical cruelty; there is never a question why did that person get into prison in the first place. The pictures didn’t capture their own atrocities, but clearly communicated human suffering they experienced at the hands of people who obligated to at least protect them, be it justified on any level or not. When we no longer saw them as criminals of the most terrible nature, we only saw people, or in this case, martyrs of the American war machine. Quick to forget who these men were and what they did, it was easy to look to those others pictured, cavalier and in American military uniforms as the unjust. I’m not saying that what the American soldiers tasked with overseeing the Abu Gharib prison did was morally justifiable. I’m just not very sorry for the individuals pictured. What I am sorry for is that the stupid actions of the soldiers caused anyone who saw them, both American or Iraqi, to forgive the evils of the men pictured for the story that was immortalized in their imagery.

The seminal tragedy in this is that it made sound the argument that the Americans should not have been in the war, and were incompetent to see it through. It increased pressure to forcing them out of the country long before Iraq was ready for them to leave. In this way, it opened the door to the premature departure of American forces, therefore leaving the door open to terrorists and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to invade and conquer vast swaths of Iraqi territory and empowering them to spread terror throughout not only the Middle East, but also throughout the world into the rest of Asia, Africa, and even Europe. I’d like to hear rational arguments, not for whether or not we should have been in Iraq, but that the world is a better place now that we have given in to emotions and retreated from the region. Having said this, it isn’t just that these pictures should not have been taken. The event they recorded never should have happened. At the bare minimum, they cost the American and coalition forces years on top of the conflict. They fed emotional reactionaries into fleeing the nation with no reasonable objectives adequately met, and worst of all, led to point where far more evil crimes are being committed today.


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Will ISIS attack the United States?

I’ll be straight to the point. Yes, but not in the way you’re probably thinking.

The group we call ISIS will never have a force capable of achieving some sort of international campaign to conquer the United States. Some World War II pitched battle, land exchange style of warfare isn’t going to happen. They way they have been fighting in the Middle East won’t do anything for them abroad. They were barely able to achieve significant gains in Syria and Iraq, owing those victories more to the filling of a vacuum caused by incompetence in the Iraqi military and governance and the Syrians engaged in a state of civil war than to their own military competence. To expect them to expand a great deal beyond their current borders militarily is far reaching, at best.

What is more likely is something like what we saw in France with Charlie Hebdo. Individuals who have fanatical ties and may have been radicalized by direct intervention overseas (such as with the three shooters in France) are also a major threat. Individuals who have actually made a presence in those theaters are a different sort of monster when they return. This is why when people leave the United States presumably to join the Islamic State, they are watched extremely closely by the various intelligence agencies.

The threat of a second 9/11 event is also a legitimate concern. It’s important to remember that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are much, much more advanced and well organized an organization than was the Mujaheddin of Afghanistan in the 1980’s. From that came Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda was able to complete the 9/11 operation with only a total annual budget of $30 million for all international operations. To put that to scale, according to Al Araby Al Jadeed, ISIL’s budget now stands at $2bn with a surplus of $250m. I’m not technically saying that another 9/11 is on its way. Islamic law actually does have rules about this which even ISIL must obey to maintain legitimacy with their followers. While terrorist attacks are obviously allowable by such groups, there does need to be an official declaration of war for it to be legal, such as what occurred in Bin Laden’s Fatwa and subsequent declaration in 1996. That I know of, no such official declaration has been made by the Islamic State. To do so would bring about the immediate retaliatory strike which would be nothing less than an existential threat to the Islamic State’s ability to survive as a land empire. That said, right now, it really doesn’t behoove them to declare war on the United States and it would be an even worse strategy to dedicate a massive force to an operation such as a second 9/11, invoking the historical wrath of the US. That also isn’t to say such a thing is impossible. There is a legal loophole that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s declaration of war may still be legally valid as, by many interpretations, ISIL is an offshoot of the Al Qaeda that existed in 1996.

What is much more likely, though are attacks like what we saw at the Sydney Lindt Chocolate shooting in Australia late last year where a single gunman attacked the store and took hostages and to pull it even closer to home, the Oklahoma beheading in September of last year. Charlie Hebdo in January and the more recent shooting in Denmark also fall into this category. These events were carried out by individual Islamic fundamentalists, inspired by Islamist fundamentalist principles. They are often dismissed as “Lone Gunmen” or simply “Random Fanatics” by media at large, with their ties to fundamentalist Islamic factions and ideology underplayed. Often they are dismissed by the general public as being the work of the mentally unstable and no real connection to Islam, or sometimes rather, no connection to “real Islam”. Symanantics not withstanding, this is a pernicious viewpoint to take, as it is not always the case and rarely the whole truth. Events like these are praised by the Islamic State who has often directly asked sympathizers to conduct such terrorist attacks everywhere. A new poll recently showed that as many as 11% of Muslims in the areas of the Middle East may be sympathetic to Islamic State views. Knowing this, we have to be concerned if the idea that “only a few deranged fanatics” aren’t actually an indicator of a much larger problem.

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, based in Doha, Qatar, surveyed the opinions in the Arab world in relation to IS and the international coalition against it. Their findings were published on November 11.

Findings from telephone interviews with 5,100 respondents in seven Arab countries (Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and “Palestine”) and in Syrian refugee camps located in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey show that 85 percent of Arabs hold negative views of IS, to varying degrees. This compares to only 11 percent of the Arab public whose views towards the group were either “Positive” or “Positive to some extent.”

The Islamic diaspora is estimated to consist of more than 1.3 billion souls. While I don’t want to raise flags, 10%, or even 1% of such a massive population that is sympathetic to the cause of the Islamic State is alarming. Though potential fanatics are possible in any community, they are not evenly distributed. Some Mosques may be places of concern and may even function to funnel support toward IS or spread their ideas, but the majority are still benign in nature in regard to this question. As always, we must not underscore the majority of Muslims who do not support violent interpretations of the doctrine, for they are also victims in this. They will face the suspicion and fear of those who are legitimately concerned by these trends in the years to come until they have purged support for IS from their own communities.

Having said all this, the “Lone Gunman” style of attack, as displayed in Oklahoma, Sydney, Paris, and now Denmark will likely become not just more likely, but the norm in not just the United States, but across Europe and everywhere else where Islamic fighters feel conflict, as well.


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The Lion and the Lights of Al-Baghdadi

Seven years ago, I was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps. During that time, I deployed to Iraq twice. The second of these missions took me to the base known by the Marines as Al Asad.

Al Asad, or Ain Al Assad, is the Arabic term for “The Lion”. The base was built in response to the failures of the Arab world against the Israelis in the early 1970’s as a super base to empower Iraq for the future. It now houses elements of the Iraqi Army’s 7th Division, along with 300 United States Marine Corps military advisors and trainers. The base is located in the Hīt District of Al Anbar Governorate, about 100 miles (160 km) west of Baghdad and 5 miles (8.0 km) west of the village of Khan al Baghdadi. That means that Al Asad has been in the center of the contested ISIS held lands since their initial invasion in June of 2014.

Today Al Asad is back in the news. Beginning last week, insurgent forces occupied the nearby town of al Baghdadi. Al Baghdadi serves a key strategic point for the base as control of the town means control of access to the nearest highway and the only land connection to the rest of the country, as well as access to the Euphrates River. It is also of tactical importance because the town lies within range of numerous rockets, some acquired from the fallen and abandoned Iraqi bases, some bought from overseas, and some – homemade. This shows the base, the vicinity to the town of Al-Baghdadi, and the fact that it is in range of the rockets.

What it doesn’t show is why I care so much about this particular battlefield. As I said before Al Asad, was one of the bases I was stationed during my two tours to Iraq. On the Eastern edge of the base, along the long road snaking in, is an entry control point. At least there was in 2008. I spent every day of my seven month deployment checking trucks and vehicles for contraband and explosives at that control point. Beside that point was a very large tower where, if I was lucky I could spend the night alone to watch the shifting sands and be alone with my thoughts. On many cold Iraqi nights, I remember staring out that tower into the open desert. From it, I could see the distant lights of the town that lay just beyond the hills to the Northeast. These were the lights of Al-Baghdadi. The town was so small and so insignificant then.

Today, those lights still shine, but illuminate a different town. Insurgents with the Islamic State have occupied it in a bold move, hoping to put pressure on the Iraqi government. According to reports, the Islamic State have been shelling the base since their arrival. So far, there has been no damage reported to the base. This doesn’t surprise me because this kind of rocket fire is more of a nuisance than a real threat. I can say this from personal experience. After you have survived a few of them, it really is just an interruption to the flow of events before long. That may change very soon, however. It was reported that last Friday, a suicide squad of eight men, four with suicide vests, attempted to infiltrate the base. It is probable that they wanted to sneak onto the base and inflict either massive casualties against the Iraqi army or destroy many of the important assets crucial to maintaining security in Al Anbar and the fight against ISIS housed therein. This squad was intercepted by the Iraqi army without achieving their goals, later confirmed by a Marine attack helicopter, observing the area where the fighting had already ended.

This attack, while ending with a victory for the Iraqi Army, marks another crucial event where Islamist jihadi fighters took the initiative to what appears to be a passive Iraqi force. It symbolizes the Islamic States’ ability to mount just outside the walls of the Iraqi army and deliver attacks at the time of their choosing. Though it ended in their failure it was only one of many so far, and we will most likely see many more to come in the future, as well. In what is being called the Siege Al-Asad, the base has endured such attacks since October. Months ago, the base was reportedly surrounded by ISIS fighters, hopeful to destroy a key asset to defense of the nation of Iraq. That invasion was pushed back by Iraqi forces with the aid of US Marines and again, attacks took place in December which were also met with the pushing back of Islamic State forces.

What can be sure is that news of my old home will continue to come so long as the Islamic State exists in Iraq and the Al Anbar province. It will remain an important strategic point for Iraqi defense and a handsome target for jihadist insurgents. Even in the event of unsuccessful attacks like last Friday’s, the continued fighting around Al Asad and the town of al-Baghdadi showcase the Islamic States’ willingness and ability to mount attacks against the Iraqi forces at their most fortified locations. As Islamist forces grow more desperate and more bold with the coming of warmer whether, we should expect to see more of the Lion in the months to come.


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Does ISIS really stand a chance in the long run?

The group that exists today is probably doomed, but the ideas that they have propagated and evolved will live on, as will most of the individuals who are taking part in the atrocities.

The ideas that the Islamic State are building themselves around are not new. By some interpretations they can be sourced to Islamic leaders in the mid 1700’s in Saudi Arabia, but more recently in the contributions to these philosophies by others in from the Egypt, Kashmere, and others since the 1920’s. These ideas have spread throughout the Islamic world and are the root cause of Islamic Jihadism today. Until these ideas are segregated from the greater Islamic philosophy, villainized properly for the barbarity they eventually lead to, and purged by Muslims from their own practices, these ideas will continue to grow, prosper, spread, and evolve in places like Iraq and Syria (ISIS) , Afghanistan (Taliban), Mali, Nigeria, and Chad (Boko Haram), and Somalia (Al-Shabaab). Even if ISIS were to be completely routed and destroyed, (magic wand thinking), the ideology behind what brought it into existence will continue to grow even if the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant no longer exists.

Second, the people who fight for ISIS will continue to exist, as well. Most of the people who fight in jihadist wars don’t come from the land where they are fighting. Instead, they follow an international call to arms against a myriad of supposed threats. Below is an estimated map of where most of the international recruits to ISIS come from. The vast majority of are from Middle Eastern and North African nations. Still, a disturbing amount are coming from Islamic communities within Western Europe.

There are several problems with this beyond the sheer terror that it invokes. First that I will mention, is that if the core of ISIS were magically destroyed, all of these individuals would return home to their native countries. In places like France, this phenomenon has directly caused at least one massacre, as well as others in Spain and London, not to mention the rest of the Middle East. The fear that many international security agencies have had is that these individuals will go back home and bring terror with him, once again, independent of what is going on in actual war zones like Syria and Iraq. Charlie Hebdo provided proof of concept in this concern, dubbed “islamophobic” only a month ago.

Moving on from this is the international conflict it invokes. What happens if we were to be able to just capture all these individuals, not kill them, but not let them go back home? Well, they are still citizens of those foreign governments and now they are under US (or whoever’s) control. How would the Russian community respond to hearing of Russians being held by Western forces indefinitely for actions that took place overseas? What about the Chinese, or the French, or the Saudis? The United States doesn’t even understand the rationality behind it and will fight the very act of detaining known terrorists, so I have to ask about the strain this sort of event would have on international relations. Probably, in at least a few cases, important bonds would break down and geopolitical stability would be damaged.

Third, even if ISIS were to disappear, the Jihadi Wars will continue. As I have said, the land may be deprived of the jihadists, but their ideas will not go away, nor will the individuals disappear. They will continue to go on and spread their ideals and attempt to reform their home mosques to their own version of Islam. If we were to even hope to track all these people, it would require the creation of perhaps another separate CIA or an international intelligence task force with the sole purpose of tracking these individuals. It’s an almost impossible problem, let alone the philosophical and legal burdens that implies. This means that keeping track of them is a pipe dream. They will also take with them the connections: financing, weapons dealers, fanatical religious leaders, the media. These relationships will be able to grow, as well. So too will their will their tactics and the ideas which form the pillar of their fundamentalist agenda. All this will be happening as they reintegrate into their native homelands, unaware of the jihadist’s past.

Eventually, the call to arms will move somewhere else. It may be that the fight is called for Somalia, or West Africa. Perhaps it will be in the Kashmere region. It may just as easily move to places like Chechnya, Kazakhstan, Serbia, or even in Southwestern China or France. When that happens, the same mujahid fighting today will flock to the region, this time with their sons and their friends who they have converted to their perverted view of Islam. The rest of the world won’t make the connection between say, Chechnya in 2020 and ISIS today, but by the same connection, no one was tracing the link to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, or between them and the Mujahideen of Afghanistan in the 1980’s or between all of them and some Saudi cleric three hundred years ago.

If we ever want to truly see the forces which caused the rise of the Islamic State to fail, we are going to have to support Muslim’s effort to purge the jihadists’ ideology from their own belief system. Their media outlets and outreach need to be secured and silenced and as many of them as possible need to be killed right now, before they go on to pollute the rest of Islam with their fanatical belief system.


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Kurdistan’s new secret weapon against ISIS jihadists – Humiliation

The Kurdish military is employing a new weapon in their fight against Islamic State jihadists in Iraq. The Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, those who allied with the Americans during the War in Iraq in the hopes of finally receiving a homeland to call their own, have been fighting tooth and nail to ensure that their home stays their own. They have been literally on the front line of this war since Islamists poured over the border last summer and have since, constantly dueled for control of Northern Iraq and Syria. Their villages and cities face regular raids and bombings and the ISIS lines have even pushed to within an hour of the capital city of Kurdistan. They have more to fear from ISIS than any of us.

The Kurds, however, haven’t just taken this abuse idly. They have been the force most responsible for the direct losses against ISIS Insurgents in Iraq and Syria, filling the voids created by US and Allied bombs. In recent months, the Kurds have mounted a heroic comeback from a bleak outlook in the early fall. The Peshmerga successfully pushed back insurmountable odds in the Syrian city of Kobane, and are repelling a horde of Islamic warriors with aid from coalition bombings in Iraq. They’ve even managed to achieve this all on shoestring budgets that don’t even equal the transportation budget of many US states. Now, they are unleashing a new weapon, which, for this type of war, might be the most powerful yet.

Humiliation.

In perhaps the best display of propaganda since “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, Kurdish television networks have put out a video openly mocking fanatical jihadists. It’s worth a watch. The video made me, a political blogger and military writer, with time served in the contested regions of Iraq with the United States Marine Corps in 2005 and 2007, start thinking.

That the Kurds have become so strong in the endeavor to combat a massive force of fanatics, who themselves have the backing of ex-Saddam military officers, funding from wealthy oil barons of the Saudi Arabian peninsula, and a recruiting pool of virtually every hardened Islamic fundamentalist from the 1.2 billion people of the Islamic world, is a story unto itself. This is especially true, given that only a month ago, few would have imagined Kobane being a successful battle against ISIS. It was, however, and the Islamists know it. There is legitimacy to the Kurds mocking the terrorist regime because, deep down, the Islamic State knows that they have lost that battlefield, along with many others. They also know that every day that they fight there, they send more and more people to their doom.

More so than the fact that Kurds are able to broadcast this piece (free from ISIS or Allah having any ability to stop them) the humiliation campaign marks a quintessential attack on the jihadist’s theory. The message itself, mocks not just the individuals who participate in ISIS, but also attacks the very core beliefs around why many of the Islamic State fighters set off to join the Jihad in the first place. Why is a video like this, with its catchy melody, whimsical lyrics, and low budget possibly the single greatest strategy that the Kurds could be using right now? Answer this question honestly and see if you can figure it out:

“How could someone fight for a religious ideal around a God who would allow them to be humiliated so greatly? Why would God will for his warriors to lose this bad?


The Kurds are showing us how to fight wars against a determined jihadist enemy. Humiliate and demoralize them completely. Shatter their belief in the legitimacy of their cause. The recent military losses and, as much, the complete fearlessness of the Kurds’ belittlement of the Islamic State forces sends an international message of their impotence. Reports are coming in of ISIS troops surrendering on all fronts. Many, such as a group from England, wishing to flee back home and abandon their jihad ideal in Syria, are being executed for it. The constant stream of bombings from the US and European allies is withering them and stretching their lines thin. When followed by Kurdish Peshmerga assaults, their backs are broken for good. Finally, when all of this happens, with absolutely no divine intervention to stop it, and to face the additional slap in the face that is the Kurdish secret propaganda weapon, we see the ISIS worldview collapse. When that happens, their most valuable assets are diminished. First, the inflow of millions of dollars sponsored by Jihadist international backers wanting results is suddenly questioned. Second, thousands of zealous fanatics are no willing to join their ranks once they see the “glory” that awaits them in Iraq and Syria. Quite honestly, this may be the most important film no one is talking about.

I can’t say for sure when the threat of fanatical Jihadists like those operating in Iraq today will disappear forever, but what I can say is that this new weapon will be a vital part to bringing it down. When your enemy depends on their own sense of self-righteous, unquestionable perfection, poisoning the well may well be more powerful an assault than to die immediate to American bombs, but suffer the utterly demoralizing truth of realizing, “What if God really isn’t on our side?”


unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

Hacktivists and ISIL – What they’re doing. What they should do.

Why won’t internet vigilante groups like Anonymous target terrorist organizations like ISIS?

There actually are plans which are being laid out. Jasper Hamill, with Forbes, recently uncovered a plan by Anonymous cells to target what it considers to be nations funding or arming the terrorist organization ISIL.

The hacktivist group Anonymous is planning to launch a series of digital attacks against nations it accuses of funding or arming the radical Islamic terror group ISIS.

Sources within Anonymous told me the campaign will be called Operation NO2ISIS and will target three states suspected of offering support to the [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant].  Government websites will be blasted with DDoS attacks with Anonymous planning to “unleash the entire legion” upon its enemies.

One of the targets will be Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim nation that has long been suspected of supporting ISIS and other hardline terror groups. However, the Saudi government has dismissed Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s claims that it arms and funds ISIS, describing the “false allegations” as a “malicious falsehood”. The Saudis are thought to be terrified of blowback from the wars in Iraq and Syria, so have taken steps to ban private individuals from donating cash to ISIS militants.

The first thing to understand about Anonymous is that they are not really the type of group to “plan” things. They are opportunists who move when a vulnerability is found in a target of interest. They move in cells that are not truly organized where there is any sort of  true “membership” in the group. There are just communities of individuals who sometimes align together when any one of them arrives at a plan and convinces enough to help. There is no group consensus on matters like this, no voting, no true leadership, no responsible parties. They come to quick verdicts based on limited information and then take action based on that. They simply share information on what they could do and individuals will carry out an attack of their own free will. When enough do so, with some coordination involved, it can have the impact of a large scale attack. Once an operation is completed, the group disintegrates, never to be seen from again. In that case, you will have groups which can, at will, determine a party’s guilt or innocence based as much the narrative surrounding an issue and popular opinion, rather than anything we would call due process.

Secondly, if they can’t find a route to the actual perpetrators of a particular crime or social injustice, they are have shown a willingness to conduct actions against others who have a relation to the guilty. In the case of ISIL, the direct perpetrators can’t be targeted more than hacking twitter accounts, nor can the individuals who fund them. In this situation, Anonymous has made threats that it will, instead, carry out attacks against the nation of Saudi Arabia, and others, as a means to attack ISIL indirectly.

Taking that into consideration, if the group planning on coordinating an attack against the nation of Saudi Arabia, and others, are successful, they will be doing so against the wrong group. Those funding ISIL are surely, in part, from Saudi Arabia. There are many wealthy individuals there who channel funds to the terrorists through underground, illegal, and backwater channels. They are individuals, citizens of Saudi Arabia, but not state actors. That said, they are not the state of Saudi Arabia. If it could be proven that the king of Saudi Arabia himself were taking part in these funding operations, then that would be a different matter. So far, though, we have no evidence that that is the case. Furthermore, there is little Saudi Arabia can do to prevent its citizens from funding operations. Like the United States, there is little more that could be done beyond banning, and policing what little actionable evidence arises.

Ergo, when Anonymous, or any other group of individuals targets a nation like Saudi Arabia, they are doing so as non-state actors in a direct attack to a sovereign state. That is, by definition, an act of terrorism, obviously to much more minor degree than what we are seeing in Iraq or on 9/11, but still classified as an act of terrorism by the facts. The fact that there is no due process involved, investigation can be extremely biased, and targets are often not the actual cause of the crime, but simply the nearest person who can be reached, I wish that groups like Anonymous would not involve themselves in acts like this. Trolling the Scientologists or prank calling racist radio talk-show hosts is humorous and serves a good and decent function to the world. A direct attack, even a “harmless” denial of service attack, on a sovereign nation, however, paints a very hypocritical picture and will, in the end, invigorate even more hate and hostility against American and other allied forces’ (including Saudi Arabia Proper) efforts to broker a deal to take down the fanatical terrorist threat.

Instead, I wish they would move themselves toward uncovering more about the clandestine operations of ISIL. Once case in point used Google Maps to determine the location of ISIL training facilities in Mosul.

Operations like this are tailor made for groups like Anonymous. Social intelligence forces could easily be made to take advantage of ISIL’s use of social media. They’ve put a lot of information about themselves out there. If only enough smart people with enough time on their hands were to direct their efforts towards uncovering it, it could help forces out there taking action against them such as the Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi Army, Free Syrian Army, or even coalition military airstrike. Forces like the Kurdish defense forces are in desperate of advanced technological analysis and utilizing social capabilities could augment their offensive capabilities greatly. I’d personally like to see news reports of weapons caches, logistical networks, key individuals and other key information being surfaced by the larger community and being acted upon by State actors rather than by non-state actors. They’ve acted in this way before, namely in taking credit for the “hacktivism” which helped solve the notorious Steubenville rape case. One provides a constructive direction in which Anonymous helps the greater cause of the rest of the world, the other does only minor damage to ISIL while severely damaging international relations everywhere else.


  1. Anonymous Hacktivists Prepare For Strike Against ISIS ‘Supporters’ – Jasper Hamill, Forbes – 6/14/2014
  2. ‘Anonymous’ Hacker Group Goes After ISIS, But the Implications Could Be Costly  – Victoria Taft, Independent Journal Review – 9/14/2014
  3. Page on bellingcat.com – 8/22/2014

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Should US infantry be sent back to Iraq to fight ISIL?

Bringing in US ground forces to pacify the population and control the insurgent spread is probably not the best choice for Iraq.

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There does need to be ground troops present to fill the political vacuum in the region. Aerial strikes aren’t enough to solve the problem of Islamist saturation. In a recent report by the Guardian, Syrian Kurdish fighters are saying that the air strikes are not currently effective enough. The article states that the strikes being implemented by the US, UK, France, and Arab allies aren’t able to interrupt ISIL operations enough to prevent them from taking over the town of Kobani, a city bordering Syria and Turkey.

“Air strikes alone are really not enough to defeat Isis in Kobani,” said Idris Nassan, a senior spokesman for the Kurdish fighters desperately trying to defend the important strategic redoubt from the advancing militants. “They are besieging the city on three sides, and fighter jets simply cannot hit each and every Isis fighter on the ground.”

What the Kurdish Peshmerga have said, is that the ISIL forces are simply too numerous and spread out too much for the aerial strikes to have a meaningful effect. Nassan continues by describing how ISIL insurgents are evolving their techniques to react to incoming air attacks.

“Each time a jet approaches, they leave their open positions, they scatter and hide.”

Continuing on, Nassan makes the clear point that, in the absence of ground forces, aerial attacks are only a deterrent or a distraction.

“What we really need is ground support. We need heavy weapons and ammunition in order to fend them off and defeat them.”

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc

Militarily speaking, fortified ISIL locations are being destroyed and they are losing men and materiel. More importantly, key strategic points in the ISIL logistics network are being taken down, weakening all other offensive capabilities. The problem is that there is not adequate ground forces covering the advance. If, in all other locations around the city ISIL is able to continue their advance, even creeping at a house an hour, those destroyed defensive locations are not going to mean much, as they would eventually move well behind the effective lines of battle. Without a follow-on force to retake the ground that ISIL temporarily lost, they will be able to return. The situation for the Syrian Kurds in Kobani is now getting desperate. Some reports have shown that a Kurdish fighting woman suicide bombed near a group of ISIL fighters. Use of such tactics shows the extent of the desperation, that Kobani defense fighters have accepted a certain degree numerical casualties, but that they are willing to make the sacrifice if they believe they can guarantee a certain level of Islamist fatalities. While grim, this tactic also doesn’t solve the problem of not enough men to occupy the town. While suicide bombing does provide a high level of killing power, it also robs the defenders of one more person capable of retaking the city later. Saturation of infantry forces is key to retake, occupy, and defend the city currently under siege and ensure a prolonged counter-insurgency victory.

There are, however, troops in the region which can already provide that level of support.  Not that anyone wants to really accept this part, but the Syrians are there, too, namely, Assad’s forces along with the Free Syrian Army. The problem here is that, while there is actually a surplus of fighters in Syria, the intricate web of alliances and enemies makes it advantageous for most involved to let each handle ISIL in their own territory. Quite honestly, they are behooved to see ISIL gains in other territories as it will mean a weakened enemy for them later. For that reason, good fighters, such as the Syrian Peshmerga don’t have adequate support from numerically larger forces, such as the Free Syrian Army, or Assad’s government, nor do troops in the FSA benefit from Kurdish training, experience, and international resources. Together, their combined infantry would not suffer ISIL resistance long, the poltical make up of the groups, however, almost guarantee this to be an impossibility.

Focusing again on Iraq specifically, they are the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga. These troops need to be trained up, armed, and more importantly, in the case of the Iraqi Special Forces, freed up politically to fight. There are pockets of great fighters in Iraq, namely those Iraqi Special Forces, which were originally pulled from the greatest and most experienced troops in the Iraqi military specifically trained for the role of countering insurgency. These forces have been made the private security for Iraqi political elite and kept away from the roles they were designed to do. If you want to understand the failures of the Iraqi military, look at how the ISF has been used for the last three years. Beyond just the ISF, the Iraqi military still outnumbers anything that ISIL might be able to field by at least 20:1 within Iraq. Point in that situation is that there is not a deficit of capable troops. What is lacking is political will and direction to use them.

For that reason, there really isn’t a reason for a massive deployment of American combat troops in Iraq. There is just a need for some sort of direction and capability in leadership for the offensives to take place between the troops of Iraq. Secondly, the American military presence will only do more harm down the road. After ISIL is taken care of, if ever, then it will turn into another occupation where Iraq’s people will go right back to hating us for all the evils we brought down upon them. Next, it will only continue the practice of allowing Iraq to continue on perpetually neutered. The country needs to stand on its own. It needs to feel independent. It will never do that if some foreign force continues to dictate their day to day life as has been the case for centuries. They need to believe in themselves, as a nation, and be the crucial leader in solving this problem… their problem. Lastly, the Americans shouldn’t have a direct ground presence because to do so will only bring back those old whispers of “American Imperialism.” So that I am clear, we didn’t leave Iraq on our own terms. We were asked to leave by the same Iraqi democracy we set out to build. One gets what one asks for, but the point is that when asked to leave, the Americans did leave. We never took Iraq from the Iraqi, but when we could have kept it, we left it alone and in the care of those same Iraqi. In that moment when the last truck rolled over the border into Kuwait it said to the world that we are not the imperialistic dictators that others have made us out to be, especially those living in Iraq. To send troops back in, especially on a permanent basis, would damage that message throughout the world.

That isn’t to say the US should do nothing. Strategic bombing is doing a good job of collapsing vital points in the ISIL military framework. They are being pushed back and recent acts of violence are proving their desperation. More so than that, there is a major land force being deployed to the region. The US Marine Corps has already began deployments in the creation of a new rapid defense force which was invited to be stationed in Kuwait, not Iraq or Syria.

The US Marine Corps is preparing to deploy about 2,100 grunts to be based out of Kuwait in a new unit configuration designed to respond to crises in the region, according to Corps officials.

Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) Central Command will be equipped to perform noncombat evacuation, humanitarian assistance, infrastructure support, tactical aircraft recovery, fixed-site security and theater sustainment missions, said Brig. Gen. John Love, assistant deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations.

The report obtained by The Associated Press in advance of [June 19, 2012] release provided precise numbers on U.S. forces in Kuwait, a presence that Pentagon officials have only acknowledged on condition of anonymity. Currently, there are about 15,000 U.S. forces in Kuwait at Camp Arifjan, Ali Al Salem Air Base and Camp Buehring, giving the United States staging hubs, training ranges and locations to provide logistical support. The report said the number of troops is likely to drop to 13,500.

Along with this, another 1,500 Marines are being sent into Iraq to join others present there already to protect strategic assets owned by the United States, such as American owned industry assets and embassy locations, as well as to train the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces.

Given these initiatives, I feel that the American presence is good thing. It is toned back from the last decade, but lighter and faster to be more prepared to handle future situations far more easily than was the capabilities over the last six months. Situations like what is happening in Iraq right now, can be handled in much earlier stages, without the need for massive deployments, A political breakdown in the nation won’t leave Americans without aid, such as in Benghazi, and new threats can be challenged as they arise throughout the region. Given all that, they won’t be able to fully occupy anything. The task force simply isn’t that large. It will be able to project force and react quickly, but it will take the local nations to take charge of their own futures.

Keeping the American ground forces in the background of the current Iraq conflict is, in my opinion, a good thing. Having them as a final wall against the encroachment of ISIL threats forces the impetus of action on the local national forces. Building a strong and independent Iraq should have been achieved before we were asked to leave. The blame there goes both on our own governmental failings as much as it falls on the Iraqi. Allowing themselves to become so structurally weak and impotent, while being also so arrogant as to dismiss coalition forces in the first place had a very major role in the circumstances that we have arrived at today. Bringing in several regiments of American military infantry support to clean up the mess won’t, however, do anything to solve the long term problems of this new war. For that, the local infantry capable forces are going to need to band together and prepare an offensive and coordinated strategy to end this threat.


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