ISIS & Africa terrorist groups stirring new, bigger migrant crisis for Europe – UN food chief

ISIS & Africa terrorist groups stirring new, bigger migrant crisis for Europe – UN food chief
Islamic State leaders who fled Syria are now conspiring with terrorist groups in Africa to use food as a recruitment tool and weapon to trigger another migrant crisis in Europe, the head of the UN World Food Program has warned.

David Beasley said that Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) was partnering with terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda to spark a wave of African migration into Europe – and infiltrate the ranks of migrants in the process.

Many IS militants are fleeing from the wannabe caliphate that failed to appear in Syria and Iraq. But now they have reportedly found refuge in Africa’s Sahel region, a belt of semi-arid land spanning east-west across Africa south of the Sahara Desert. According to Beasley, the terrorist coalition is now using food as a weapon to destabilize the region, which is home to 500 million people, and force a new wave of mass migration into Europe.

“You are going to face a similar pattern of what took place years ago, except you are going to have more ISIS and extremist groups infiltrating migration,” Beasley told the Guardian during a visit to Brussels for a two-day Syria summit.

The size of the crisis will also be far worse this time around, Beasley warned. “My comment to the Europeans is that if you think you had a problem resulting from a nation of 20 million people like Syria because of destabilization and conflict resulting in migration, wait until the greater Sahel region of 500 million people is further destabilized. And this is where the European community and international community have got to wake up.”

Referring to the threat of an African migration wave into Europe, Beasley told the Associated Press last month the migration crisis created by the war in Syria “could be like a drop in the bucket compared to what’s coming your way.”

Beasley warned that the international community needed to take immediate action to prevent a food crisis in the Sahel region, noting that the UN’s food program was already over-extended and under-funded due to “19 or 20 countries in protracted conflict.”

More than 2.5 million migrants poured into the European Union in 2015-16, leading to political, social and economic friction that the bloc is still struggling with today.

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Courtesy: RT

Saudi Arabia’s superficial reforms won’t mask ugliness of Wahhabism

Rania Khalek
Rania Khalek is an American journalist, writer and political commentator based in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia's superficial reforms won't mask ugliness of Wahhabism
As Saudi Arabia’s crown prince tours the United States on what has been dubbed a “charm offensive,” the US media has gone into propaganda overdrive, whitewashing Mohammad Bin Salman as a “reformer” who is modernizing the kingdom.

As he meets with a roster of high-level politicians and A-list celebrities like Oprah, front and center of his celebrated reforms has been his decision to allow women to drive, and opening movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, which were banned until now.

“With the ascent to power of young Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the kingdom has seen an expansion in women’s rights including a decision to allow women to attend mixed public sporting events and the right to drive cars from this summer,”said Reuters.

“His rise to power has been accompanied by a loosening of restrictions on women’s dress and an expansion of their role in the work force,”reported the New York Times.

The Times went on to casually mention at the very end of the article that “Prince Mohammad is expected to ascend to the throne after his father, King Salman, dies. If that happens, given his young age, he could rule Saudi Arabia for 50 years.”

This positive press is no coincidence. Saudi Arabia has spent millions on a vast lobbying apparatus that includes a network of think tanks and public relations firms to push for a war on Iran, while combating negative press related to Riyadh’s autocratic government and its US-backed war on Yemen, which has led to famine and a cholera outbreak of epic proportions that kills a Yemeni child every 10 minutes.

Most of the spin has focused on presenting bin Salman as heroic reformer, particularly when it comes to women’s rights.

Putting lipstick on Wahhabism

Yes, soon women in Saudi Arabia will have the right to drive – something they were banned from doing under the strict religious edicts of Wahhabism. While it’s certainly a good thing that Saudi Arabia has chosen to enter the 21st century (sort of), the repeal of the driving ban is largely superficial as it does nothing to address Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system, which treats women as children. Under this system, women must seek permission from a male relative to travel, apply for a passport, study abroad, get married, and so on.

Even if Saudi Arabia were to give equal rights to women tomorrow, it wouldn’t change the destructive impact the Saudis have had in the Middle East, the most important being the intentional spreading of Wahhabism – a toxic and hateful religion practiced in Saudi Arabia.

Wahhabism is a puritanical and ultra-conservative form of Sunni Islam that emerged in the 1700s and has been a major source of inspiration for Salafi jihadist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, or ISIS.

It is difficult to explain why ISIS uses Saudi textbooks to indoctrinate children, why 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi, and why Saudi nationals make up the largest number of foreigners in ISIS, without an understanding of Wahhabi theology.

Rania Khalek

@RaniaKhalek

ISIS is reportedly using Saudi Arabia textbooks in schools bc they promote the same ideology as ISIS.

Many of the Islamophobic tropes peddled by anti-Muslim bigots are based on practices inherent in Wahhabism and carried out in Saudi Arabia and areas controlled by ISIS, such as stoning of adulterers, amputating the limbs of thieves, and death by beheading.

Rania Khalek

@RaniaKhalek

ISIS is reportedly using Saudi Arabia textbooks in schools bc they promote the same ideology as ISIS. pic.twitter.com/OxMSaSLSNb

Rania Khalek

@RaniaKhalek

Saudi Arabia is basically ISIS with huge oil reserves. This is America’s “moderate” ally in the region. pic.twitter.com/A9NidafjOA

Spreading hate

The Middle East wasn’t always plagued by regressive fundamentalism. Salafi jihadist groups like Al-Qaeda were not popular in the region and they still aren’t. They have been violently imposed on people thanks in large part to the actions of Saudi Arabia in partnership with the US, which has a longstanding pattern of backing religious fundamentalists to further its geopolitical ambitions.

As far back as the 1950s, the CIA teamed up with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was then backed by Saudi Arabia, to weaken secular Arab nationalism and communism.

With US backing, Saudi Arabia has spent tens of billions of dollars spreading Wahhabism throughout Sunni Muslim communities around the world. By building Wahhabi-influenced mosques, schools and Islamic centers, Saudi Arabia seeks to remake Sunni Islam in its image. Areas of the world where this tactic has paid off – KosovoAlbania, and South Asia – have provided fertile recruiting pools for Salafi jihadist fighters. In South Asia, Saudi Arabia has also funded Deobandi (an ultra-conservative version of Islam similar to Wahhabism) schools and mosques, the kind from which the original generation of the Taliban emerged.

The most significant chapter in the US-Islamist love affair came in the 1980s, when the US armed the Mujahedeen to bleed the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It was the largest and longest-running covert operation in US history. People like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Osama bin Laden associate whose claim to fame was splashing acid in the faces of unveiled schoolgirls at Kabul University, were the top recipients of CIA funds.

After the Soviet Union fell, some elements who fought alongside the American-armed Mujahedeen groups evolved into Al-Qaeda. Not long after that, Al-Qaeda pulled off an attack that killed 3,000 people in New York City and its existence has been invoked to justify endless war and the curtailing of civil liberties ever since. (Afghanistan, where the US is still at war, remains the world’s second-largest producer of refugees.)

The US has played a similarly dirty game in Syria over the last six years, knowingly arming rebel groups linked to Al-Qaeda to weaken the Syrian government.

In spite of its role in spreading an ideology that inspires terrorism, Saudi Arabia continues to receive special treatment in Washington, first and foremost because it is an arm of US imperialism in the Middle East, but also because its leaders use their vast oil wealth buy friends in high places.

Buying hearts and minds

What I’ve always been most struck by is the genuine adoration American officials seem to have for their Saudi partners. In my experience, behind closed doors American officials despise working with the Israelis. They speak kindly of them publicly because they must, for geostrategic purposes and fear of ruining their careers by offending powerful pro-Israel lobby groups. But in the case of Saudi Arabia, American officials seem to genuinely like the Saudis.

This may have something to do with Saudi Arabia’s approach to Western officials, which is to lavish them with expensive gifts. And it shows.

During a private meeting at the State Department in September 2016, nearing the end of the Obama administration, I expressed frustration about the US allowing Saudi Arabia to spread its toxic Wahhabi ideology, which serves as a primary inspiration for Salafi jihadist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, around the world. Before I could finish, a senior-level official in the Department of Near Eastern Affairs interrupted me to defend the Saudis.

“Saudi Arabia isn’t exporting terrorism, they’re exporting religion and we can’t get into the business of policing religion. It’s a free speech issue,” said the official. “The Saudis are a very important geostrategic ally. And they are changing. They’ve worked very hard to reform their textbooks,” the official added.

The official then brought up the jihadist textbooks printed by the US and disseminated to Afghan school children in refugee camps in Pakistan in the 1980s. The textbooks encouraged violence against infidels, communists and the Soviet Union in the name of Islam and helped inculcate an entire generation. These US-printed textbooks can still be found in Taliban-run schools today.

The senior State Department official insisted that, in the end, printing them was “worth it” because “we got rid of the Soviet Union.”

The official’s response was reminiscent of former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the architects of the US policy to arm the Afghan Mujahedeen. Asked in 1998 if he regretted supporting Islamic fundamentalists, Brzezinski replied“What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

This sort of thinking continues to dominate Washington’s approach to the region with ever more disastrous consequences. Giving women in Saudi Arabia the right to drive, while a welcome development, won’t change that.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Courtesy: RT

Middle Eastern Christians in dire straits – but the West doesn’t want to know

Middle Eastern Christians in dire straits – but the West doesn’t want to know
Since the nineties it has been apparent even in secular company that persecution of Christians was rampant in some countries. Yet beyond lip service, there is no international effort to change this disastrous situation.

More Christians died for their faith in the past century alone than in the history of Christianity to that point  – chiefly at the hands of atheist regimes (mainly in the past) and Salafist militants like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and others (now). The destabilization of the Middle East over the past two decades has had a devastating impact on the region’s native Christian population. In Iraq, a population that numbered more than a million in the 1990s dwindled to less than a third of that in the wake of the US-led invasion and removal of the secular government of Saddam Hussein. In Syria, under threat since 2011 by Salafist groups armed and funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other countries – the US shamefully included – Christians seemed to be facing a similar fate.

But lately there have been grounds for hope. Christmas is particularly joyful this year in Syria. Aleppo, Homs, and other cities liberated from years of oppression by jihadists had reason to celebrate – and the freedom to do so – care of the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian Air Force. Mosul in Iraq was cleared of ISIS fighters by US-led coalition. God willing, 2018 will see the freeing of other areas still under terrorist control.

Even when peace returns to Syria and Iraq, there will still be a formidable task of rebuilding. Earlier this year the US Agency for International Development made a point of announcing it would bypass United Nations agencies in order to “create high-quality, effective, and efficient partnerships” to help return members of “minorities” and “diverse religious and ethnic groups” to their homes across Iraq. Evidently, even under President Donald Trump official US government agencies are loath to explicitly refer to the faith, though commendably Vice President Mike Pence did do so when addressing a Christian conference.

The Russian government – which for years has spoken out against Christian genocide in the Middle East – has pledged its assistance in the rebuilding of Syrian churches, with the participation of the Orthodox Church and religious organizations. But why shouldn’t the governments of other countries pitch in too, not just for generic reconstruction or aid to displaced persons but specifically to help maintain Christians in the region where Christianity was born?

Apart from a few notable exceptions like Pence and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Western governments are still squeamish when talking about persecution of Christianity, which by far is the most widely persecuted religion on earth. But why? The State Department has no trouble at all saying “Muslim” when referring to, for example, Myanmar today or to Bosnia and Kosovo in the past. For example, when speaking in support of Kosovan independence, US Congressional leaders openly spoke of promoting a “US-Muslim partnership” and lauding the fact that “the United States leads the way for the creation of a predominantly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe.”

Would the same officials ever call for a US-Christian partnership or for Washington to play midwife to the birth of a predominantly Christian state – anywhere? Of course not.

To their credit, the governments of majority Muslim countries are not at all embarrassed to stick up for members of their own faith. In particular, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (the OIC), a group of 57 mostly Muslim-majority countries, bills itself as “the collective voice of the Muslim world.” Despite intra-Islamic conflicts – notably the Sunni-Shiite divide between Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively – the OIC is vocal in promoting a unified Muslim perspective on issues where there is a broad consensus.

For example, the OIC issued a strong statement denouncing US President Donald Trump’s declaration that the United States considers Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. The OIC’s information chief also took a position on the internal affairs of traditionally Christian European countries, to the effect that mass Muslim migration is really doing Europe a big favor.

Where is the comparable Christian voice? After all, there are more majority-Christian countries (about 120) than majority-Muslim (about 50). There are approximately 2.5 billion people who identify as Christians, versus 1.8 billion Muslims.There are about 30 countries where Christianity or a particular church has a leading status defined in law, or where a church’s preeminence is customary, like the status of Orthodoxy in Russia or Roman Catholicism in Ireland, as opposed to about 20 where Islam is legally established. The flags of about 20 countries include specifically Islamic symbols, such the crescent moon. In contrast, about 30 national flags carry a depiction of the Christian cross, with an additional dozen or so if naval ensigns are counted, for example the Saint Andrew’s cross on the flags of the Russian and Belgian fleets, and the Saint George’s cross on the ensigns of India, Italy, South Africa, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and others whose civil flags do not display a cross.

In short, there is certainly a sufficient global “constituency” for a hypothetical Christian Counterpart for the OIC. (For the purposes of discussion, let’s call it the Organisation of Christian Cooperation,” or the OCC.) A future OCC should not only welcome all majority Christian countries but others where Christians are numerically or socially significant. For example, while South Korea is only about one-third Christian, Christians form a solid majority of that country’s citizens participating in organized religion. About thirty countries in sub-Saharan Africa would be obvious OCC Member State candidates, as would virtually all of Latin America. China and India, where Christian minorities outnumber the total populations of many majority-Christian countries, should be welcomed as Members or Observers.

A good place for global intergovernmental Christian cooperation to start might be with the collaboration between the world’s two biggest confessions, Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. This involves not only church-to-church contacts (symbolized by the 2016 meeting in Cuba of Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill) but state-to-state activity (symbolized by meetings between Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013 and 2015). Keep in mind that in addition to his spiritual role the Roman pontiff is the ruler of the Holy See – a sovereign, independent state with an active, worldwide diplomatic mission.

Syria and the plight of Middle Eastern Christians were very much on the agenda of the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who in August 2017 met with both Putin and Kirill in Moscow. According to Claire Giangravè of the Roman Catholic publication, Crux, there was a lot of agreement between the two sides:

“Already in late 2013, Francis was largely responsible for helping to head off an anti-Assad Western offensive in Syria, after news broke that the government [supposedly] had used chemical weapons against its rebelling populace.

“This was not done casually by the Vatican, as Catholic voices on the ground had shown support for the Assad regime, which seems to them less dangerous than an unknown and unpredictable alternative. Putin, from his side, has been a strong critic of efforts to impose democratic [sic] states in the Middle East and views the Syrian president as the only hope for stabilization in the crucial region.”

Reports Crux from Rome“As the leadership role of the United States in the Middle East falters, Russia has reiterated its commitment to bringing peace and stability to the region – and safeguarding its Christian communities and heritage.” If the Vatican and Russia can come to a common position on supporting Christians in the Middle East, perhaps it can point to a way for other countries also to get actively involved. Despite recent fears that Christianity was doomed to extinction in the region – most drastically in Iraq – the approaching defeat of the jihadists in Syria may be grounds for optimism.

After all, Christmas is the season of hope!

Jim Jatras for RT.

Jim Jatras is a former US diplomat (with service in the Office of Soviet Union Affairs during the Reagan administration) and was for many years a senior foreign policy adviser to the US Senate Republican leadership.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

‘I ran for a day and a night’: Yazidi girls share blood-curdling stories of ISIS slavery

A woman who spent three years as an ISIS slave and a girl who was only five when taken are among the lucky few to have returned home, while hundreds of Yazidi girls remain in captivity. RT spoke to them about the ordeal.

Samiyah was pregnant when Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants descended on her village in 2014. After three bitter years of slavery in the former IS Syrian stronghold of Deir ez-Zor she managed to break free and was finally brought home a mere three weeks ago.

RT’s Murad Gazdiev traveled to the northern Iraqi district of Dohuk, where the former captive lives with her mother. She told him of her despair when IS ransacked the village, capturing her husband and almost all of her family. To escape her fate, she chose to take poison. Though it proved not enough to kill her, it was fatal to her unborn child.

“I was left alone with my mother. So I took poison, I decided it was better to die. When they caught me, I thought that since my family, my husband and my house were gone, it would be better to die,”she told Murad.

Soon, Samiyah joined some 3,000 Yazidi women and girls, turned into forced laborers and subjected to daily rape. Seeing the Yazidis as devil-worshippers, their IS captors treated the girls as commodities.

“The men would offer us as gifts. In the evenings, they would get together and trade the women, and have their fun with us,” Samiyah recalls.

IS brutality against the Yazidis was recognized as genocide by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, investigating human rights abuses in the protracted conflict.

Samiyah fled during one of the bombings, breaking the window of her sealed cell. She said she ran for “a day and a night” before a local family sheltered her and told her where the Kurdish YPG units were. She threw herself on the mercy of the YPG as soon as she reached them, and within two weeks she had made her way home.

Inas is now nine years old, and her mother found herself in a state of utter despair when all her family members either perished or went missing, including her then 5-year-old daughter.

“It was indescribable for me. Life turned into endless suffering, tears, and hunger. I couldn’t do anything but cry,” she told RT.
Nevertheless, she did not give up hope of finding her child. She posted the girl’s photo on Facebook, and everything changed overnight when someone contacted her relatives, reporting having seen Inas.

In order to reunite with her daughter, she first had to collect $10,000, a ransom demanded by the human traffickers.

“The seller was in Turkey, but said he would deliver her to Baghdad. We paid over 10,000 dollars,” she told RT. After four years away from her mother, Inas did not at first recognize her. The child seems happy, but it will undoubtedly take her some time yet to adjust to a normal life after all that she has been through.

Courtesy: RT

Fighters from US-backed SDF describe unimpeded ISIS exodus from Raqqa on their watch

Fighters from US-backed SDF describe unimpeded ISIS exodus from Raqqa on their watch
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have provided RT’s Ruptly video service with footage confirming reports of a hundreds-strong Islamic State convoy leaving its former stronghold, Raqqa, completely unimpeded.

RT’s Ruptly video news agency has spoken with SDF fighters in Syria, who confirmed for the first time that Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants freely left Raqqa in what was previously described by a BBC investigative report as an IS “exodus.” The SDF fighters were on watch when they witnessed and filmed heavy trucks, buses and cars carrying IS militants from the liberated city.

“We saw them with our own eyes. I was on shift at the grain containers turnabout when IS were leaving. There were many of them, we were not afraid of them,” one SDF fighter told Ruptly in late November. He showed the footage featuring the convoy on his mobile phone, saying that he had recorded it and kept it.

“I saw IS, they left with locomotives and buses, they took their luggage and headed towards Rumelan,” another SDF fighter said. “They carried on till Deir [ez-Zor]. I don’t know where they headed to after that, whether to Abu-Kamal or to Mayadeen, they took that road.”

He added there were about 1,000 injured IS fighters and about 2,000 who seemed unhurt.

In November, the BBC reported that a “secret deal” between the US and British-led coalition and the Kurdish forces allowed hundreds of IS terrorists to leave Raqqa peacefully in a long convoy comprised of up to 50 trucks, more than a dozen buses and around 100 other vehicles. Initially neither the coalition nor the Kurdish forces admitted their part in giving free passage to the terrorists. However, Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, later said the deal was never a secret, confirming Washington accepted the agreement.

The Syrian city of Raqqa, once the de facto IS capital, came under the control of the SDF on October 20, following four months of airstrikes, artillery shelling and heavy urban fighting. What was left of the city was described by international journalists as “hell on Earth” due to the scale of destruction. With some 80 percent of the city destroyed, Raqqa remains a heavily-mined “ghost town.”

“Raqqa’s fate calls to mind that of Dresden in 1945, leveled by the US-British bombings,” the Russian Defense Ministry said following the US-spearheaded “liberation,” referring to the notorious World War II air campaign, during which American and British bombers obliterated the center of the German city, killing some 25,000 civilians.

Courtesy: RT

West should boast about its ‘decisive victories’ in Afghanistan, Iraq & Libya, not Syria – Zakharova

West should boast about its ‘decisive victories’ in Afghanistan, Iraq & Libya, not Syria – Zakharova
The US-led coalition should brag about its ‘accomplishments’ in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, instead of over exaggerating its own role in Syria while diminishing Moscow’s achievements in the victory over IS terrorists, Russia’s foreign ministry has said.

On Saturday, the US-led Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) dismissed the Russian defense ministry announcement earlier this week, which proclaimed the liberation of Syria from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), with only “some spots of resistance” remaining across the war-torn country. Brushing aside Russia’s achievements in Syria, a CJTF-OIR representative told Sputnik that terrorists continue to operate in the Deir ez-Zor province.

“The US-led coalition, not the Russian Federation or Syrian Regime, is the only force that has made meaningful progress against [Daesh/ISIS],” the spokesman told the news agency.

Just before that announcement, French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also refused to acknowledge Moscow’s role in defeating IS, instead, accusing Russia of “appropriating” the US-led coalition victory.

“I sometimes find it a little surprising that Russia appropriates the victory against Daesh,” Le Drian told the BFMTV channel, adding, that the demise of IS came “thanks to the actions of the coalition.”

Earlier Wednesday, President Donald Trump praised himself and Secretary of Defense James Mattis for their achievements in bringing IS to its knees. “He’s knocked the hell out of them,” Trump boasted during a cabinet meeting. “Of course, I made it possible by what I let you do, right?” Trump lightheartedly asked Mattis.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, took note of the statements which significantly downplayed Moscow’s role, and ‘advised’ Western politicians to focus on their perceived successes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, where over the years, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, infrastructure destroyed and vast numbers left in ruins.

US claims full credit for any ‘meaningful’ anti- fight in  https://on.rt.com/8udm 

US claims full credit for any ‘meaningful’ anti-ISIS fight, denies hampering Russia’s Syria op — RT…

Washington has rejected Russia’s contribution in eradicating ISIS in Syria, claiming that only the US-led coalition has made meaningful progress

rt.com

“Our Western partners have been saying in the recent days that it was not Russia but them, the coalition, who defeated Islamic State in Syria,” Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page, especially calling out the Le Drian statement. “Dear Sirs, stop it! Your successes are in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. You should be proud of them,”she sarcastically pointed out.

Russia’s defense ministry also found it “strange” hearing from the French foreign minister that Moscow has somehow “awarded” itself the victory over ISIS.

“The defeat of IS in Syria is first of all result of actions by the Syrian leadership and governmental forces,” the ministry said. “With the support of the Russian Air Force, the Syrian armed forces liberated from IS terrorists hundreds of settlements and returned under control of the legitimate leadership practically the entire territory of the country.”

Russia began providing military support to Syria following an official request from Damascus in 2015 to prevent the terrorists from completely overrunning the country. Russia’s help allowed the Syrian Arab Army to turn the tide and liberate large swathes of the country previously occupied by the jihadists. Smashing the blockade of Deir ez-Zor, the terrorists last stronghold in eastern Syria, represented a turning point in this year’s campaign against the terrorists, ultimately leading to their demise.

The US coalition, meanwhile, Russia’s defense ministry stated, was only able to accomplish a so-called ‘liberation’ of Raqqa, with that ‘victory’ coming through a complete destruction of the city. The coalition also impeded Syrian government forces, conducting direct air strikes on their positions in Deir ez-Zor, the ministry said.

“In three years of its presence in Syria, the coalition only recently achieved its first ‘result’ in the fight against Daesh by destroying Raqqa along with civilians,” the ministry said“That is why, if there is any positive role of the international coalition in defeating Daesh in Syria, it is only that it did not manage to destroy other Syrian cities with its carpet bombing, like it did with Raqqa.”

Courtesy: RT

Trump, Mattis turn military loose on ISIS, leaving terror caliphate in tatters

Hundreds of ISIS fighters had just been chased out of a northern Syrian city and were fleeing through the desert in long convoys, presenting an easy target to U.S. A-10 “warthogs.”

But the orders to bomb the black-clad jihadists never came, and the terrorists melted into their caliphate — living to fight another day. The events came in August 2016, even as then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was vowing on the campaign trail to let generals in his administration crush the organization that, under President Obama, had grown from the “jayvee team” to the world’s most feared terrorist organization.

OIR_CROFT

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Andrew Croft said the Trump administration has put a strong leadership team in place  (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tracy McKithern)

“I will…quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS,” Trump, who would name legendary Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense, promised. “We will not have to listen to the politicians who are losing the war on terrorism.”

ISIS CURSED, MOCKED IN MOSUL, WHERE OLD CITY REMAINS A HAUNTED WASTELAND

Just over a year later, ISIS has been routed from Iraq and Syria with an ease and speed that’s surprised even the men and women who carried out the mission. Experts say it’s a prime example of a campaign promise kept. President Trump scrapped his predecessor’s rules of engagement, which critics say hamstrung the military, and let battlefield decisions be made by the generals in the theater, and not bureaucrats in Washington.

“I felt quite liberated because we had a clear mandate and there was no questioning that.”

– U.S. Marine Col. Seth Folsom

At its peak, ISIS held land in Iraq and Syria that equaled the size of West Virginia, ruled over as many as 8 million people, controlled oilfields and refineries, agriculture, smuggling routes and vast arsenals. It ran a brutal, oppressive government, even printing its own currency.

OIR_FOLSOM

Lt. Col. Seth Folsom credits the cooperation between Iraqi Security Forces and the U.S-led coalition for the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq.  (Courtesy U.S Army)

The terror organization now controls just 3 percent of Iraq and less than 5 percent of Syria. Its self-styled “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is believed to be injured and holed up somewhere along the lawless border of Syria and Iraq.

ISIS remains a danger, as members who once ruled cities and villages like a quasi-government now live secretly among civilian populations in the region, in Europe and possibly in the U.S. These cells will likely present a terrorist threat for years. In addition, the terrorist organization is attempting to regroup in places such as the Philippines, Libya and the Sinai Peninsula.

But the military’s job — to take back the land ISIS claimed as its caliphate and liberate cities like Mosul, in Iraq, and Raqqa, in Syria, as well as countless smaller cities and villages, is largely done. And it has taken less than a year.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis waits to greet Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, upon his arrival at the Pentagon, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Mattis, a US Marine Corps general, said there would be no White House micromanaging on his watch  (Associated Press)

“The leadership team that is in place right now has certainly enabled us to succeed,” Brig. Gen. Andrew Croft, the ranking U.S. Air Force officer in Iraq, told Fox News. “I couldn’t ask for a better leadership team to work for, to enable the military to do what it does best.”

President Trump gave a free hand to Mattis, who in May stressed military commanders were no longer being slowed by Washington “decision cycles,” or by the White House micromanaging that existed President Obama. As a result of the new approach, the fall of ISIS in Iraq came even more swiftly than hardened U.S. military leaders expected.

“It moved more quickly than at least I had anticipated,” Croft said. “We and the Iraqi Security Forces were able to hunt down and target ISIS leadership, target their command and control.”

OIR_SOFGE1

U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Robert Sofge said the military now has a clear mandate  (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Cole Erickson)

IRAQI KURDS STILL LOVE US DESPITE ITS OPPOSITION TO KURDISH INDEPENDENCE, SAYS KURDISH LEADER

After the battle to liberate Mosul – ISIS’ Iraqi headquarters – was completed in July — the U.S.-led coalition retook Tel Afar in August, Hawija in early October and Rawa in Anbar province in November.

Marine Col. Seth Folsom, who oversaw fighting in Al Qaim near the Syrian border, agreed. He wasn’t expecting his part of the campaign against ISIS to get going until next spring and figured even then, it would then “take six months or more.”

Instead, ISIS was routed in Al Qaim in just a few days.

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Mosul, and several other cities liberated by ISIS, were largely destroyed in the fighting.  (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

“We really had one mandate and that was enable the Iraqi Security Forces to defeat ISIS militarily here in Anbar. I feel that we have achieved that mission,” Folsom said. “I never felt constrained. In a lot of ways, I felt quite liberated because we had a clear mandate and there was no questioning that.”

Brig. Gen. Robert “G-Man” Sofge, the top U.S. Marine in Iraq, told Fox News his commanders have “enjoyed not having to deal with too many distractions and there was no question about what the mission here in Iraq was.”

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Iraqi Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool was skeptical of Trump at first, but says success on the ground has been swift  (Fox News/Hollie McKay )

“We were able to focus on what our job was without distraction and I think that goes a long way in what we are trying to accomplish here,” he said.

Sofge said criticism that loosening rules of engagement put civilians at risk is “absolutely not true.”

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Col. Ryan Dillon. Combined Joint Task Force – Inherent Resolve Spokesman  (Photo by CJTFOIR)

“We used precision strikes, and completely in accordance with international standards,” he said. “We didn’t lower that standard, not one little bit. But we were able to exercise that precision capability without distraction and I think the results speak for themselves.”

The U.S.-led coalition said this week the Coalition Civilian Casualty Assessment Team has added 30 new staffers to travel throughout the region. It said military leaders continue to “hold themselves accountable for actions that may have caused unintentional injury or death to civilians.”

The coalition also said dozens of reports of civilian casualties have been determined to be “non-credible,” and just .35 percent of the almost 57,000 separate engagement carried out between August 2014 and October 2017 resulted in a credible report of a civilian casualty.

In addition to air support, the U.S.-led strategy also includes training and equipping Iraqi troops on the ground.

While the Trump administration’s success is often underplayed in the U.S. media, it is obvious on the ground in Iraq, according to a spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Defense, Yahya Rasool.

“I was not optimistic when Trump first came to the office,” Rasool said. “But after a while I started to see a new approach, the way the U.S. was dealing with arming and training. I saw how the coalition forces were all moving faster to help the Iraq side more than before. There seemed to be a lot of support, under Obama we did not get this.”

FILE - This file image made from video posted on a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq during his first public appearance. Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appears to be still alive, a top U.S. military commander said Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, contradicting Russia’s claims that it probably killed the top counterterror target months ago.(Militant video via AP, File)

Al-Baghdadi, who once ruled a caliphate the size of California, is now inn hiding and likely badly injured

Despite the victories on the battlefield, U.S. officials cautioned much work remains to be done.

“ISIS is very adaptive,” noted Col. Ryan Dillon, the U.S.-led coalition spokesman. “We are already seeing smaller cells and pockets that take more of an insurgent guerrilla type approach as opposed to an Islamic army or conventional type force. So we have got to be prepared for that.”

He said as a result the coalition is “adjusting some training efforts” so the Iraqi forces — upwards of 150,000 have already undergone training — are equipped to address such threats and ensure long-term stability.

Folsom said “the worst thing we could do” is not finish the job.

“If a country becomes a failed state, if it becomes a lawless region, you begin to set the conditions for what happened in the years before 9/11,” he said. “In those ungoverned spaces where we don’t know what is going on, that is where those seeds of extremism begin to blossom.”

Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay

Courtesy: Fox News

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