MESOP REPORT : US airstrikes target Islamic State at the Haditha Dam

07 Sep 2014 10:40 AM PDTThe US military expanded its campaign against the Islamic State today, targeting jihadists who are threatening the Haditha Dam in the western province of Anbar, most of which has been under control of the group since January.

The military announced the airstrikes in a press release on the Department of Defense’s website.

“At the request of the Government of Iraq, the US military on Saturday conducted coordinated airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists in the vicinity of the Haditha Dam in Anbar province,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said. “We conducted these strikes to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the dam, which remains under control of Iraqi Security Forces, with support from Sunni tribes.”

Four US airstrikes targeted and “destroyed five ISIL Humvees, one ISIL armed vehicle, an ISIL checkpoint, and also damaged an ISIL bunker.”Kirby said that the US would continue to target Islamic State forces near the Haditha Dam.

“We will continue to conduct operations as needed in support of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Sunni tribes, working with those forces securing Haditha Dam,” he said.

Iraqi forces and tribes in Haditha have been battling the Islamic State for control of the area for months. More than 2,000 Iraqi troops, backed by tribal forces loyal to the anti-Islamic State Awakening, have been defending the dam, the largest on the Euphrates River. The Awakening was key to US efforts to secure Anbar and other provinces while US forces were in country.

The Islamic State has controlled the city of Fallujah and the smaller Fallujah Dam, which is downstream, since January. Islamic State fighters had opened the floodgates of the dam earlier this year to impede the movement of Iraqi troops.

The Islamic State previously controlled the Mosul Dam until the US military launched airstrikes in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces in mid-August.

US air campaign expanding across Iraq

Today’s airstrikes in Anbar signal that the Obama administration is widening its campaign against the Islamic State far beyond the initial goals stated at the beginning of the campaign. President Obama had previously balked at military re-engagement after declaring the war in Iraq over and withdrawing US forces in December 2011.

When the Obama administration ordered limited military intervention against the Islamic State beginning on Aug. 7, the objectives were twofold: to halt the Islamic State’s advance on Irbil to protect US personnel based there, and to provide humanitarian relief to the Yazidi minority who fled Sinjar and other towns in Ninewa province and were trapped on Mount Sinjar.

Within a week, the objectives were modified, and the US military was now tasked with serving as the air force to Kurdish and Iraqi forces “to protect critical infrastructure” and “support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish defense forces, who are working together to combat ISIL [the Islamic State].

At the end of August, the US began launching airstrikes against Islamic State fighters who were besieging the ethnic Turkmen town of Amerli in Salahaddin province. Iraqi forces backed by the Asaib al Haq, of the League of the Righteous, an Iranian-supported terror group that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers, liberated the town on Sept. 1. [See LWJ report, US airstrikes in Amerli supported deadly Shia terror group.]

The US military has launched 138 airstrikes against the Islamic State since the campaign began one month ago, making Iraq one of the hottest theaters in which US forces are engaged against jihadist groups.

The Islamic State has beheaded two US reporters in its stated effort to get the US to end the air campaign in Iraq, and has threatened to kill other foreign reporters if the strikes are not halted. It is unclear if the US is planning on striking Islamic State fighters in Syria, where the group controls vast areas of the country.

The Obama administration has yet to articulate a comprehensive strategy to deal with the Islamic State, which President Barack Obama has called a “cancer” and Secretary of State John Kerry has described as “evil.” Administration and military officials have alternately called for defeating and containing the group.

Shabaab names new emir, reaffirms allegiance to al Qaeda

Posted: 06 Sep 2014 03:41 PM PDT

Less than one week after Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in an American airstrike in Somalia, the group has named a new emir and reaffirmed its allegiance to al Qaeda.

Shabaab has selected Sheikh Ahmad Umar, also known as Abu Ubaidah, to serve as Godane’s successor, according to a statement issued by the group.

“The leadership also renews its pledge of allegiance to al Qaeda and its leader, Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri, may Allah protect him,” the statement reads, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.

As expected, Shabaab heaps praise on Godane. The group, which is a formal branch of al Qaeda, sends its condolences to the Muslim community, as well as Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Zawahiri “regarding the martyrdom of their son, the noble knight, the scholar, the military general, the leader and founder of” Shabaab.

According to SITE’s translation, Shabaab refers to Mullah Omar as the “commander of the faithful,” a title usually used to reference the leader of an Islamic caliphate, or caliph. Other al Qaeda leaders, including Zawahiri, address Omar in the same manner. The title is also rendered as the “emir of the believers.”

Al Qaeda announced the creation of a new branch, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), this week. Al Qaeda referred to Mullah Omar as the “emir of the believers” in that announcement and also said that AQIS serves the Taliban leader and his Islamic emirate, or nation. And, in July, al Qaeda’s senior leadership renewed their allegiance to Mullah Omar, “confirming that al Qaeda and its branches everywhere are soldiers among his soldiers.”

The Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, declared in late June that it now rules over a caliphate stretching across parts of Iraq and Syria. The group’s emir, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, is now called “Caliph Ibrahim” and his supporters use the same title for him that al Qaeda uses to describe Mullah Omar. Indeed, al Qaeda’s decision to renew its oath to Mullah Omar as the “emir of the believers” was likely part of its response to the Islamic State’s claims.

Shabaab portrays Godane as being one in a long list of jihadist “martyrs” and vows that the group’s fight will continue. Among the other deceased jihadists listed in Shabaab’s statement are Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al Zarqawi (the first leader of al Qaeda in Iraq), Abu Umar al Baghdadi (the first named emir of the Islamic State of Iraq), Mullah Dadullah (a Taliban commander who worked closely with al Qaeda), Baitullah Mehsud (the Pakistani Taliban commander), Doku Umarov (who led the Islamic Caucasus Emirate), and Said al Shihri (the deputy commander of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula).

Shabaab says that just as the deaths of these leaders did not end their organizations, neither will Godane’s death end Shabaab’s jihad. By listing these fallen jihadists, Shabaab is clearly portraying itself as part of the global jihad. Indeed, according to SITE’s translation, the group says that the supposedly “ruthless and oppressive onslaughts” waged by the “Crusaders, Zionists,” and Shiites “in our lands and the lands of Palestine, Iraq, Sham [the Levant], Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, the Islamic Maghreb, Chechnya and elsewhere has only further inflamed the passion for jihad in the hearts of the Muslim youth across the globe.”

Al Qaeda’s senior leadership and Shabaab long tried to hide their relationship. One of the documents captured in the raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan showed that the al Qaeda master told Godane to hide the ties between their two groups. The document confirmed earlier reporting by The Long War Journal, which revealed the order in August 2010.

After hiding the extent of their relationship for years, Shabaab formally merged with al Qaeda in February 2012. And now the group has reaffirmed its loyalty to Zawahiri and al Qaeda’s senior leadership in the wake of Godane’s death.