Peshmerga and Yazidi fighters, backed by U.S. airstrikes, have begun a “long-awaited” offensive this morning to retake the Iraqi town of Sinjar—which runs along a key supply route between the Islamic State group’s HQs in Raqqa, Syria, and their prized city of Mosul, Iraq. The coalition is also looking to capture the nearby Sinjar Mountain where the U.S. opened its air campaign against the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) to rescue trapped Yazidis more than 15 months ago.
Nearly 7,500 Peshmerga fighters are reportedly moving on “three fronts to cordon off Sinjar City, take control of ISIL’s strategic supply routes, and establish a significant buffer zone to protect the city and its inhabitants from incoming artillery,” according to a statement from the Kurdish security council.
“Describing the unfolding battle,” the New York Times’ Michael Gordon reports on location, “Kurdish officials said that pesh merga forces had taken the village of Gabara, west of Sinjar, and had cut the highway between the city and Syria.”
Pickup trucks, SUVs, “and a small number of armored vehicles, snaked their way across Mount Sinjar as airstrikes boomed in the distance. Some of the fighters walked alongside the vehicles, headed for the front,” Gordon writes, adding Kurdish officials anticipate “as many as 700 Islamic State fighters in and around Sinjar, including foreign jihadists.”
Just hours after the offensive began, “the Kurdish Regional Security Council said forces were in control of a section of Highway 47, of one of IS’s most active supply lines, and had secured the villages of Gabarra, on the western front, and Tel Shore, Fadhelya and Qen on the eastern front,” the Associated Press reports. “Heavy gunfire broke out early Thursday as peshmerga fighters began their approach amid heavy aerial bombardment. An Associated Press team saw a small American unit at the top of a hill along the front line calling in and confirming airstrikes.”
On the importance of Highway 47: “If you take out this major road, that is going to slow down the movement of (IS’s quick reaction force) elements…If they’re trying to move from Raqqa over to Mosul, they’re going to have to take these back roads and go through the desert, and it’s going take hours, maybe days longer to get across,” Capt. Chance McCraw, an intelligence officer with the U.S. coalition told reporters Wednesday.
But the effort to cut off that key transit route is being hampered by an abundance of roadside bombs, a Peshmerga commander told AP. “We expect a lot of IEDS, car bombs, suicide bombing,” another Kurdish commander told the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris. “Getting Sinjar back is crucial because then ISIS have to decide between Raqqa and Mosul.”
The gear involved: “The pesh merga have received 40 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, from the United States, 15 of which have special rollers attached to clear mines,” NYT’s Gordon writes. “The pesh merga have received hundreds of Milan antitank missiles from Germany and 1,000 AT4 antitank weapons from the United States, officials say. Kurds say the Milan missiles have proved to be the most useful in defending against suicide vehicle attacks, but pesh merga commanders say they need more of them. The American-led coalition has also provided the pesh merga with a large number of small arms, including machine guns, rifles, mortar tubes and mortar rounds.”
Where to go from here? “Even if the Sinjar campaign succeeds, the Islamic State still has a stranglehold on vital areas in the region, including Mosul and large portions of eastern Syria and western Iraq,” writes Gordon. “That includes most of the Sunni Arab heartland of Anbar Province, where a government-led military push has advanced toward Ramadi but has not yet managed to retake it from the Islamic State.”
Despite what you may have heard (many, many times before), America isn’t losing the war of ideas to ISIS. That’s the word from J.M. Berger of the Brookings Institution and author of “ISIS: The State of Terror.”
Berger: “In the United States, the notion of a ‘war of ideas’ dates almost as far back as the Revolutionary War…The phrase [also] appeared during the Civil War, in the context of slavery, and returned during World War I. References soared as the United States entered World War II, and became a fixture of American political discourse during the Cold War. The Korean War was a war of ideas; so was Vietnam. And in every era, the same alarm bell has sounded.”
What’s different about our current era? “ISIS is not succeeding because of the strength of its ideas,” argues Berger. “Instead, it exploits an increasingly networked world to sell its violent and apocalyptic ideology to a microscopic minority—people who are able to discover each other from a distance and organize collective action in ways that were virtually impossible before the rise of the Internet.”
So what do all the information operations strategists need to do from here? Read on to find out.
China just unveiled a new breakthrough in stealth technology. Beijing’s researchers developed a new material they say can defeat microwave radar at ultrahigh frequencies, or UHF, writes Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker. “Such material is usually too thick to be applied to aircraft like fighter jets, but this new material is thin enough for military aircraft, ships, and other equipment.”
How this changes the game: “Today’s synthetic aperture radar use arrays of antennas directing microwave energy to essentially see through clouds and fog and provide an approximate sense of the object’s size, the so-called radar cross section. With radar absorbent material not all of the signal bounces back to the receiver.”
Which means a deadly, screaming jet can appear on radar as an innocent old bird in the sky.
How might this affect U.S. military technology like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter? Tucker has more, here.
From Defense One
The secret to defeating the ISIS “caliphate” might just be in Islam itself, argues Quartz’s Senior Religion Correspondent Haroon Moghul. “The demise of the [Ottoman] caliphate in 1924 left a gaping hole at the heart of Sunni Islam (the denomination to which I belong). In the decades since there have been attempts to create alternative pan-Islamic institutions—probably most ambitiously of all, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation—but none has fully met the needs of our time. Nature, however, abhors a vacuum,” Haroon writes. “If good people don’t fill it, someone worse will.” For a bit of history, and a possible way out of the trap, read this.
The Pentagon’s Afghanistan “slush fund”— the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which focused on economic redevelopment in U.S. war zones—will now have to answer to angry U.S. lawmakers. The task force was back in the news last week when an independent inspector general found that it had spent $43 million on a natural gas filling station in Afghanistan, but was unable to justify the huge cost, or even the need for a natural gas station in the first place. Quartz’s Tim Fernholz lays out what’s at stake, here.
Can the U.S. Defense Department ditch the password and finally embrace the “Internet of things,” potentially saving close to $700 million in the process? That’s what a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies asserts. NextGov’s Mohana Ravindranath has more, here.
Get your hands on the latest Defense One eBook that digs into the highlights from this year’s Summit, which featured U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, U.S. Army chief Gen. Mark Milley, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, and many more—plus the eBook is free of charge—right here.
President Barack Obama is in “legacy” overdrive—from Guantanamo to the Keystone XL pipeline to a massive trade deal in the Asia-Pacific—and he has to decide whether or not he will let Congress stand in his way. National Journal’s Lauren Fox and Alex Rogers explain, here.
Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
After the tragic Kunduz bombing, America’s advise and assist mission in Afghanistan slides under the microscope. More than a month after Afghanistan’s national security adviser reportedly “told a European diplomat his country would take responsibility because ‘we are without doubt, 100 percent convinced the place was occupied by Taliban,’” the AP’s Ken Dilanian and Lynne O’Donnell report “no evidence has emerged to support that assertion.”
Citing new evidence, AP reports the “U.S. special forces unit whose commander called in the strike was under fire in the Kunduz provincial governor’s compound a half-mile away from the hospital, according to a former intelligence official who has reviewed documents describing the incident. The commander could not see the medical facility—so couldn’t know firsthand whether the Taliban were using it as a base—and sought the attack on the recommendation of Afghan forces, the official said.”
The bottom line at this juncture: “The strike raises questions about whether the U.S. military can rely on intelligence from Afghan allies in a war in which small contingents of Americans will increasingly fight with larger units of local forces. Also at issue is how the target was vetted. American commanders, with sophisticated information technology at their disposal, allowed the strike to go forward despite reports in their databases that the hospital was functioning. Even if armed Taliban fighters had been hiding inside, the U.S. acknowledges it would not have been justified in destroying a working hospital filled with wounded patients.” Read their report in full, here.
ICYMI: Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only one unveiling a plan for veterans this week. Presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley also unveiled his policy plans for veteran and the military earlier this week. The former Maryland governor calls for “ending veterans unemployment by 2020, overhauling health care offerings and ending ‘wrongful’ military discharges related to post-traumatic stress disorder,” Military Times reports. “The move … gives a direct response to criticism from veterans groups that the Democrat still hadn’t engaged on those issues enough, either on the campaign trail or on his website.”
From the plan: “Veterans have not escaped Washington’s dysfunction. While some progress has been made at (VA), the current situation remains unacceptable. Further reform and bold actions are needed to ensure instances of data manipulation and secret wait lists never happen again.”
O’Malley also addresses veteran suicides and GI Bill benefits. “For troops dismissed under the now-repealed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law, O’Malley supports automatically upgrading their service records, removing any blemish on their military careers,” Military Times reports. O’Malley’s full veterans plan is here.
Your #ThrowbackThursday read—tinfoil hat edition: Do America’s spies need psychics? Time magazine is running a cover story on Edwin May, a former Pentagon scientist who found himself involved in a CIA-funded program at the Stanford Research Institute 40 years ago, three years after “the CIA had embraced ESP,” Time’s Jim Popkin writes. Two years later, in 1977, Langley cut its funding—but “the Air Force, Army and Defense Intelligence Agency kept writing checks.” To follow the entire fairly epic and bumpy story that’s not all that far off from the 2009 film “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” click here.