Syrian-Recruits-ISIS
There has been a great deal of criticism lately in regards to the Obama Administration’s efforts and plan to combat ISIS. An article by The Hill says that the GOP even goes as far as to state, “President Obama doesn’t have a serious strategy to defeat ISIS.” One of the strategies by the Defense Department is to train Syrian rebels to fight the terrorist organization.

How many rebels have actually been trained? There are a variety of numbers floating around the Internet; but few of them are actually accurate. According to the Washington Post, less than 200 rebels had started training in May. This July, Nancy Pelosi expressed she was surprised that only 60 people had actually been trained since the project started in 2014.

The low numbers are only partially understandable. It is important to make sure that the recruits may not be in any way connected to ISIS. General Martin. E. Dempsey says that to fight ISIS, the U.S. needs to recruit at least 12,000 people. If at this point the Defense Department has only recruited 6,000 people, and not all of those people can be trained, how is it that this program would be successful?

If the Defense Department is looking to recruit Syrians, perhaps it should look to the 9 million or so Syrian refugees. Out of these 9 million, a good portion is likely able and willing to help the United States fight ISIS. Or at least would be if the funding to aid them was not getting cut over time.

The UN has been making food aid cuts since December 2014, and the cuts are growing, according to the United Nations’ Website. The United Nations News Service says that, “a severe lack in funding is forcing the United Nations,” to make these cuts. As one of the leaders of world policy the United States could be leading the charge in assisting the refugee population. Or perhaps the U.S. could be providing the UN with the funding that it needs to help the people in need.

This population needs help from someone; and it is possible that as an impoverished group from war torn country, they could be vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist organizations like ISIS. If Washington wants to stop ISIS it needs to make sure that the available human capitol is attainable. Primarily by providing the at-risk people, including the refugees, with the food that they need to survive, before another organization provides them with that assistance.

Pelosi is correct in being “surprised” by the number of people that have been trained and recruited, because the United States should be doing a better job of preparing to combat ISIS.

But, it is not in fact surprising that the Defense Department is having trouble recruiting enough people from Syria. How does the United States expect to recruit Syrians to help the U.S., when the government is not doing enough to help the country’s refugees?

Clare Holtzman

Sources: The Hill, Reuters 1, Reuters 2, Syrian Refugees, UN News Centre, The Washington Post
Photo: New York Post

foreign_aid_successes
The International Organization for Migration has estimated that since January of 2014, over 3 million Iraqis have been displaced by ISIS militants and forced to relocate. In the past two months, over 276,000 have been forced to relocate out of fear or danger. Many of the refugees have chosen to abandon their homes and flee to the mountains in Northern Iraq to avoid the constant fear of attacks and violence from the Islamic State. Unfortunately, in addition to protection from violence, there is a desperate need for basic supplies such as food and water.

Amnesty International researcher, Donatella Rovera says, “The civilians trapped in the mountain area are not only at risk of being killed or abducted; they are also suffering from a lack of water access, food and medical care. We urge the international community to provide humanitarian assistance.”

In response to the conflict, UNICEF has worked to set up many transition camps in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Baherka is one such camp that was formerly a concrete factory outside outside the town of Erbil. The makeshift facility currently accommodates approximately 3,000 refugees. In the camp, every family has access to a kitchen, shower, latrine and 150 liters of water per day.

Adding to the numerous fears and concerns, there is also a reluctance for some Iraqis to join the refugee camps. Many of the refugee camps are overcrowded and can present their own unique set of dangers such as violence, disease or abduction. Separation from family members is another serious concern. For these reasons, many of these families choose to take their chances in the remote mountains where their communities are smaller. Access to clean water is also scarce due to the rough, mountainous terrain.

“The plight of displaced people caught up in the fighting in Iraq is increasingly desperate and all parties to the conflict must do more to ensure their safety,” states Rovera.

Thankfully, there are nongovernmental organizations working towards providing aid to these displaced Iraqis. UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) division has received funding from Germany’s KfW Development Bank and has been tasked with aiding 25 families living near the town of Dohuk in the mountains of Northern Iraq.

Fortunately, there are times when complex issues can be solved with ordinary and conventional methods. This has been the case thus far with the aforementioned Iraqi families. A tractor hitched to a 4,000 liter water tank has been providing water to over 62,000 people every day. Families fill up as many buckets and tin cans as they can carry and use the water for drinking in addition to bathing, washing and cooking.

However, funding needs are a constant reminder that this service is not permanent. Without access to clean water, Ghassan Madieh, the UNICEF WASH Specialist in Dohuk, states “There would be sewage in the streets… You will see people getting unchlorinated water. You will see less water quantity. It will have a negative impact on health, especially on children and the most vulnerable.”

Frasier Petersen

Sources: BBC, Telegraph, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2
Photo: International Business Times

Aarhus_Model

Since the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took root in 2012, Europe has experienced a strange phenomenon: European-raised citizens leaving to become Jihad fighters in the Middle East. According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), 3,000 European citizens have joined ISIS since 2012, with Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden producing the highest number of citizens per capita to join the Jihadist cause. In response to this, a variety of methods have sprung up in Europe in order to prevent European citizens from leaving to join ISIS, and to deal with fighters once they have returned home.

In many European countries, such as the United Kingdom and Belgium, suspected ISIS recruits and returned Jihad fighters are treated with scorn and sent to court (in February, 46 suspected jihadists went on trial in Belgium). In stark contrast to these approaches, Denmark has pioneered an approach known as the “Aarhus Model,” which works to reintegrate returned fighters into Danish society using a soft-handed approach which treats returned jihadists “more like rebellious teenagers […] than hostile soldiers beyond redemption.”

The Aarhus Model was pioneered in 2007 after the 7/7 London metro bombings produced alarm in Denmark about the threat of the “home-grown terrorist.” The need for a better approach to dealing with poor, immigrant communities also became evident following the backlash produced by the controversial Muhammad cartoons in 2006, which produced unprecedented tension in Danish society between native Danes and Muslims. The Copenhagen shootings this year on February 14 by a 22-year-old Palestinian-born Danish citizen also solidified concerns about the threat of homegrown terrorism in Denmark, and the need for effective methods to counter this threat.

Indeed, Denmark, a country which provides generous welfare entitlements for all of its citizens and residents (including immigrants), has produced the second highest number of Jihadist fighters in Europe, after Belgium. According to ICSR 2015’s Report, 27 per 1 million Danish citizen have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria, while 40 per 1 million Belgium citizen have also joined ISIS.

Many Danish citizens, according to Preben Bertelsen, a professor of psychology at the University of Aarhus, have expressed confusion over why Denmark has produced such a high percentage of Jihadist fighters, expressing sentiments like “Why do they hate Denmark so much when we have given them so many opportunities?” But, according to Jacob Bundsgaard, the mayor of Aarhus, “it is obviously in part because we have failed […] in making sure that these people are well integrated into Danish society.”

Recognizing that the need to join ISIS stems from feelings of exclusion in Danish society, the Aarhus model aims first and foremost at helping radicalized youth to feel included. This includes making sure that immigrant youths—many of whom live in the poorest neighborhoods in Denmark and may feel socially excluded from their other Danish peers—have a vast network of help that they can depend upon. Individual counseling is provided for people who intend to travel to Syria or Iraq, with mentors (many of whom are returned, deradicalized fighters themselves) assigned to specific cases. Parents of at-risk children are also required to take part in self-help groups, in order to produce a network of elders that can disillusion radical youth with the ISIS dream. For returned fighters, (so long as they are found innocent of any war crimes) individuals are also offered counseling and the chance to become mentors for radicalized Danish citizens intending to leave the country to fight.

According to one young man’s testimony of his experience with the Aarhus model, after he had become increasingly radicalized following a family vacation to Mecca, the police contacted his family and had him brought into the station. Instead of punishing him, however, he exclaimed that the police “offered him a cup of coffee” and told him they would be assigning him a mentor who better understood his frustrations than they did. The young man, whose name was Ahmed, was successfully dissuaded from joining ISIS, and has since graduated from a Danish University and gotten married.

In addition to Aarhus, Copenhagen, other Scandinavian countries, and the Netherlands have since either adopted the Aarhus Model, or have adopted models that are largely based on the Aarhus example. Just days after the Copenhagen shootings on February 20, President Barack Obama also held a conference entitled “The White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism,” in which Bundsgaard, the mayor of Aarhus, was invited to share insight into his city’s innovative approach to fighting terrorism.

While the months since the Copenhagen shootings have produced concern over the supposed success of the model, police commissioner Jørgen Illum, based in Aarhus, has claimed that now, more than ever, it is important to make efforts to include radicalized youths and returned fighters into Danish society. Doing so, according to proponents of the Aarhus Model, is the best way to help prevent immigrant teenagers, who live in the poorest and most marginalized segments of Danish society, from turning to ISIS to give themselves a sense of inclusion, and purpose.

Indeed, by many accounts, the Aarhus Model is not only an innovative approach to tackling jihadism, but a successful one that has produced encouraging downward trends in the number of Danish citizens leaving the country to fight.

While thirty Danish citizens traveled to Syria in 2013, only two have traveled to Syria in the past year, while only one traveled in 2015.

– Ana Powell

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Newsweek, The Washington Institute
Photo: Newsweek

foreign_aid

On June 2, 2015, Iraqi Prime Minister Heider Al-Abadi spoke to an international coalition of over 20 countries in Paris in a bid to refresh the coalition’s strategy on combating violent extremists such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS.

The Iraqi leader requested more foreign aid, specifically intelligence and weapons, and blamed Western nations for not doing enough to stop foreign fighters from joining ISIS.

The next day, at a United Nations forum discussing the role of the media in combating terrorism, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman said, “Groups like ISIS succeed because they offer young people opportunities to engage with their peers and provide a space where they can bond over their grievances, hopes and deeply held desire for a world that is just and fair.”

The fighting that has raged throughout Iraq has left many families desolute and has taken a tremendous toll on children. According to the UNICEF, violations against children has increased by 75% over the last year. This includes abduction and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Missing amidst the talks of military and media foreign aid strategies to combat ISIS is the lack of humanitarian aid investments for displaced Iraqis. U.N. officials warn that millions of Iraqis caught between ISIS and the Iraqi Army could be without food or shelter over the next six months unless $497 million is raised in emergency funds.

As if the current demands are not hard-pressing, on June 23, the World Health Organization has asked for an additional $60 million to prevent 77 healthcare clinics from shutting down. The lack of water and soaring temperatures have led to a rise in dehydration among displaced Iraqis. With desperation mounting, Iraqis are looking for alternatives to extremist groups to find support. However, these alternatives often do not exist.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has shown that when the Iraqi government provides service provisions across the socioeconomic spectrum, there is a reduction in violent insurgency. According to the NBER, a 10% increase in labor-related spending generated a 15% to 20% decline in labor-intensive violence in Iraq. As the violence decreases, social and economic stability ensues.

Unfortunately, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, official development assistance to the poorest countries fell by 8% between 2013 and 2014, excluding debt relief nations where the figures are higher at 16%. Iraq oversaw a spike in violence over that same period of time.

Providing intelligence and weapons may help to slow down ISIS. However, continued foreign aid investments into social and economic programs in Iraq and Syria are needed to ultimately reduce global threats.

If the international community does not supply the necessary foreign aid to Iraq, if people are not fed and do not have their basic health needs met, they will have no choice but to turn to ISIS, a group ready to supply them with work and food. This outcome would be catastrophic for the Iraqi government as well as the United States and our allies.

Adnan Khalid

Sources: National Bureau of Economic Research 1, National Bureau of Economic Research 2, The Guardian, The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, UN 1, UN 2, UNICEF, Wall Street Journal
Photo: NY Post

Driving-People-Toward-Terrorist-Groups
Instability, lack of resources and political corruption are driving everyday people into the “security” of terrorist groups. Most people have a specific understanding of a certain classification of terrorist. These are people in third world or corrupt countries clinging to radical ideas and concepts of violence and revolution. These individuals are often unable to participate politically in their countries and therefore turn to drastic means in order to have their opinions voiced, which eventually leads to violence.

However, many people are unaware of the influx of people in western countries that are continuing to join such organizations. These include affluent European and American men and women, seeking acceptance in radical terrorist organizations around the world.

In recent years, there has been a particular increase in European women joining terrorist organizations that are established in the Middle East, such as ISIS. What could possibly motivate someone from the western world to join such groups?

In the last year, there have been a number of instances in which Americans were found to be supporting ISIS, both financially and otherwise. While this in itself is frightening, the biggest concern here is that of national security, especially in the United States. What is it that draws people into the group?

What people want is a sense of identity and purpose. As is the case with terrorist recruits in developing nations, individuals in the United States and other Western nations join groups like ISIS as a means for significance and a political voice.

Issues of unemployment and economic insecurity contribute to these motives. As people feel the brunt of economic tensions, they blame the government and often feel helpless when it comes to making a difference politically. Thus, joining a radical group, whose name is seen throughout various modes of information and social media, seems to be a surefire way to be heard.

It is struggle and disparity that draws people to radical means for change. As examples of Americans and Europeans showing interest in terrorist groups such as ISIS have shown, radicalization can happen under any type of government or societal structure, and in any country. To protect national and international security, and to prevent individuals from radicalizing and seeking a voice elsewhere, it seems that people need a voice that is going to be heard in their home country.

– Alexandrea Jacinto

Sources: CNN, BBC
Photo: The Dark Room

Peshawar school massacre
The city of Peshawar, Pakistan mourns deeply in the wake of the Pakistani Taliban’s deadliest attack to date. An estimated 132 children and nine staff members were killed in a devastating massacre targeting a school in the northwest region, where gunmen and suicide bombers inflicted damage so horrific that even the Afghani Taliban have condemned their actions. Most of the victims were children of military families enrolled at Peshawar’s Army Public School.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani Army pointedly allowed numerous television crews to enter the school grounds, where they were able to observe the crime scene for themselves and broadcast those observations back to their respective audiences. Images captured by international news teams revealed the devastating extent of the brutality, showing classroom floors coated with blood, walls covered in hundreds of bullet holes, and rooms blown apart by suicide bombers.

The international community has collectively vocalized utter contempt over the massacre, and Pakistan was immediately consumed by a state of national outrage. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responded by declaring three full days of mourning and announcing an abrupt end to the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorist actions.

This decision by Sharif is quite significant given the country’s past responses to terrorist groups. Despite the fact that terrorism in Pakistan has taken more than 50,000 lives since 2001, there has long existed a puzzling lack of a national consensus to fight terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s massacre, politicians refrained from publicly declaring whether they thought the Taliban had been behind the attack, even though the Tehreek-e-Taiban Pakistan, or TTP, had quickly claimed responsibility. The militants describe the Peshawar disaster as an act of revenge for an army attack that they claim killed approximately 1,000 of their own people.

The Taliban has a lengthy history of attacking schools. As an extremist group that first emerged in northern Pakistan in the early 1990s, the Taliban wields its own version of Islamic law as a major justification for and motivation behind its actions. The Pakistani Taliban adamantly opposes Western education for children, especially for girls. Education activists in Pakistan claim that this opposition is the Taliban’s way of trying to exert control over the population by keeping young people in the intellectual dark. An educated girl or boy represents a threat in the eyes of the Taliban, and the terrorist group actively works to eliminate these perceived threats through violence and oppression.

The Peshawar school massacre represents a departure from the Taliban’s usual school attacks. Militants in the past typically attacked schools while they were empty at night, specifically hoping to have the institutions shut down rather than directly harm students. The Taliban has also tried to threaten Pakistan’s education system by intimidating teachers and pressuring parents to quit sending their kids to class.

Some are beginning to question whether the Peshawar attack will force Pakistan to decidedly confront the terrorist group in a way it has generally refrained from doing in the past. Pakistan has long held an ambiguous view of Taliban militants, a phenomenon known as “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban” that for the past decade has baffled the Pakistani public and sent terribly mixed messages to the West. In the wake of the attack, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced “there will be no differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban,” while acting foreign minister Sartaj Aziz has described the tragedy as “our 9/11” and a “game changer.”

Shenel Ozisik

Sources: BBC 1, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, BBC 2
Photo: Wikipedia

isis
Social media can be used for so much good in the world: it connects loved ones who lives in different countries, it can spread messages of good works and can easily inform users of the current events and issues happening not only in their community, state and nation, but in the world as well.

With all of the good content that can exist on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, bad content can be posted just as easily with specific target audiences in mind. One of the most recent groups to use social media sites with the intention of spreading their beliefs is ISIS, who is targeting teenage girls, as young as 14 years old, and young women. The videos produced by ISIS are “slick [and] well-produced … targeting impressionable teenagers often feeling they don’t quite fit in with the society around them,” CBS News reports.

Reports first began coming in of girls from European countries such as Austria, France and then England of girls leaving their homes and families, fleeing to Syria to join ISIS, with hopes to either become a militant themselves or dreaming of marrying a jihadist, an Islamic militant. It is believed many are being roped in by videos and messages, which say becoming a jihad is “a way of giving meaning to their lives,” while “looking for excitement [and] looking for adventure,” CBS News reports. In both cases, it’s believed the girls are going willingly to Syria to live out a “jihad fantasy.” Most recently, three girls from Colorado have left home, getting all the way to Frankfurt before being caught and brought back to the United States.

“Some of these girls are very young and naive, they don’t understand the conflict or their faith, and they are easily manipulated. Some of them are taking young children with them; some may believe they are taking part in a humanitarian mission,” spokeswoman of the UK Muslim Women’s Network Shaista Gohir said.

While the exact number of girls who have joined ISIS is unclear, reports indicate up to 50 British, at least 40 German, 14 Austrian and 63 French girls and women have joined. Hundreds of females are leaving the safety of their homes to fight for the Islamic Extremists.

Kori Withers

Sources: Yahoo Screen,, The New York Times,, The Guardian,, CBS News
Photo: CNN

naming_the_islamic_state
ISIS has been the name many of us have come to use over the summer as this terrorist group has come to prominence. The group is also referred to as IS or ISIL, by many government leaders.

But why discuss it at all?  Should it matter what an extremist group calls itself? Shouldn’t people be focusing on what means they are using to achieve their ends?

According to Jonah Blank, a former staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “the militant organization is waging a propaganda war—and what name it goes by is part of that war.”

This group seeks to reestablish a caliphate, a mecca for Sunni Muslims all over the world run by a supreme religious and political leader. The calphi are older societies, the last of which died out with the Ottoman Empire. They are seen as the Golden Age of Islam. Muslims were at the cutting edge of art and technology. They also controlled vast amounts of political and economic power at this time.

The current attempt of reestablishment has taken place in western Iraq, eastern Syria, parts of Jordan and Turkey. This location has caused the name ISIS to become the front runner. It stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the “Syria” they refer to is Greater Syria. Greater Syria is referred to by many as al-Sham in Arabic.

Al-Sham “is the classical Arabic term for Damascus and its hinterlands, and over time, it came to denote the area between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, south of the Taurus Mountains and north of Arabian desert.”

The Obama Administration has translated the al-Sham differently to mean “the Levant” hence the president’s use of ISIL. It doesn’t have the lengthy explanation of greater Syria, but, more importantly, it also weakens the credibility of the terrorist group in a time when they are trying to recruit supporters.

As The New York Times explains again, the term Levant is “a once-common term that now has something of an antique whiff about it, like ‘the Orient.’ Many Arab nationalists and Islamist radicals disdain it.”

It seems that the President’s administration has come to agree with Jonah Blank. He looks to discredit them openly, causing confusion in the Middle East. This confusion seems to be taking effect.  Many Muslims have already turned their back on the idea of a caliphate, as many have well an established mufti, who is the highest legal authority, giving rulings on practice for the state.

Its name is become confusing, and ISIL cannot seem to decide what to call itself. Islamic scholar Juan Cole says ISISL has no real support beyond their own followers and has no real prospect of gaining the respect of the greater Sunni Muslim community. It seems that its fall might come from internal factors that the U.S. can observe and comment on from afar.

– Frederick Wood II

Sources: NPR 1, NPR 2, NPR 3, New York Times, Juan Cole
Photo: The Christian Post

new strategy against isis
“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

On September 10, President Barack Obama announced a new strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. (Here, the group will be referred to as ISIS. Other sources have labeled the organization as IS and ISIL.)

The aim of ISIS is to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, throughout Iraq and Syria. So far, ISIS has claimed control over northern Iraq and the northeastern region of Syria. The extremist group also targets people who follow religions other than Islam, particularly Christians and the Yazidi, an ethnic minority in Iraq.

Until February 2014, ISIS was a part of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Differing strategies in establishing a caliphate in Syria resulted in the division of the groups. Today, both compete for influence over Islamic fundamentalists.

In an effort to reduce the amount of destruction caused by ISIS, the United States staged successful air strikes to keep the group out of Iraqi Kurdistan and limit their attacks on the Yazidi.

The actions of the militant group in Iraq and Syria have displaced thousands and placed many into a state of poverty. In Qaraqosh, a predominately Christian town in Iraq, 50,000 people have little access to food and water because of ISIS’s actions.

In its attempt to create a caliphate, the group is also raping and abducting women in order to use them as slaves. By targeting women and minorities, ISIS is forcing thousands into poverty. Access to basic necessities and human rights are severely limited. Poverty also compels some to join the extremist group, with no alternative to survival, and furthers its control of the region.

Identifying the force as a threat to national security, President Obama has taken action to provide military support for the Iraqi government. This effort will be continued and expanded, according to his most recent statements.

An additional 475 military representatives will be sent to Iraq to help with training, intelligence and attaining resources. The United States will work with international allies to increase intelligence and create a comprehensive strategy to eliminate ISIS. To address the number of people in Iraq and Syria being targeted, the United States will also provide humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the conflict.

In outlining the new strategy, President Obama highlighted the United States’ leadership. He drew focus to America’s, “capacity and will to mobilize the world against terrorists … our own safety, our own security, depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for—timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.”

President Obama argued that the capacity and willingness to end a problem created a moral obligation for the United States to act. This obligation is not limited to military action. The new strategy against ISIS includes humanitarian efforts to alleviate the burden of conflict, which is closely related to poverty. Should these types of efforts continue, the United States could act as a role model for poverty-reducing strategies across the globe.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: Vox, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian,