A bloody end to Ramadan: 200 dead in a Baghdad shopping street and 20 in a Bangladeshi bakery, on the heels of 44 in a Turkish airport — all in attacks linked to or inspired by the Islamic State. The New York Times sums it up: “The three deadly attacks are already being viewed by intelligence and law enforcement officials as proof that the Islamic State, the only terrorist group to create a state with borders, is becoming a larger, more sophisticated version of its stateless chief rival, Al Qaeda, as it loses territory under traditional military attack in Iraq and Syria.”
Let’s start with that loss of territory: The NYT has a good, if aerial-photo-heavy graphic: “The group has been forced out of about 56 places where it once had control, including five major cities, since it made rapid advances across the two countries in 2014.” This is hitting ISIS in the wallet: “With every town and village that is lost, the group also loses income that comes from taxes and fines.” Revenue from captured oilfields is also down, yet still comes to about $23 million a month, NYT says. The Institute for the Study of War adds recent detail in an update to its ISIS Sanctuary Map, here.
But the group’s influence far exceeds its territory, and its devotees are proving to be a disorientingly varied lot. Take the well-off perpetrators of the Dhaka massacre: “Bangladesh’s capital city reeled in shock on Sunday as clues began to flood social media about the privileged backgrounds of the half-dozen attackers believed to have butchered 20 patrons of a restaurant during a bloody siege here late last week,” the Times reported.
And the Islamic State seems to be displaying a strategic talent for using them to best local advantage. The different tactics — and different “official” pronouncements about the week’s attacks suggest “a group that is tailoring its approach for different regions and for different target audiences,” according to analyst Rita Katz, writing for SITE Intelligence Group: “For I.S. to maintain support among its followers and prospects, it must take different considerations into account when planning an attack in a Muslim country versus non-Muslim countries…I.S. encourages the killing of random civilians in France, Belgium, America or other Western nations, but in a country like Turkey, I.S. must be sure that it isn’t killing Muslims — or at least make it look like it’s trying not to.”
What next? Via NYT, again: Even as a senior ISIS leader conceded that his group will eventually lose all its lands and revert to a guerrilla organization, a RAND analyst told lawmakers that “hundreds if not thousands of battle-hardened soldiers would return home to continue the fight”: “This will be the challenge for a generation, in Jordan and Tunisia, in France and the U.S.: how to deal with the combination of a back flow of fighters and radicalized citizens as well,” said Andrew M. Liepman, a former deputy director at the National Counterterrorism Center turned policy analyst.
China says “keep out” of disputed waters during wargame. The PLA Navy has designated a trapezoid of some 38,000 square miles, located in the South China Sea between Vietnam and the Philippines, for a series of naval exercises that began on America’s Independence Day and will wrap up just before an international body is expected to rule on territorial claims. Other nations’ vessels are not to intrude, Beijing said in a press release over the weekend. More from Quartz, here. Vietnam, at least, has sent China a diplomatic protest, AP reports.
From Defense One
No, Rubio, ISIS attacks are not about ‘hating freedom.’ If they were, Turkey wouldn’t be a target, writes The Atlantic’s Peter Beinert. Moreover, GOP insistence on this hoary chestnut prevents “an honest debate about the costs and benefits of America’s war,” he argues, here.
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NATO reveals summit goals: When alliance leaders meet for two days later this week, they will: approve the use of AWACS planes against ISIS; create a multinational brigade in Romania; and “endorse a decision already taken in principle to deploy four multinational battalions totaling around 4,000 troops to bolster the defenses of Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.” That, via Associated Press, from Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who talked to reporters today. Read more, here.
Oh, and what about Brexit? “The British decision to leave the European Union makes NATO even more important as an alliance that binds the West together, NATO leaders say, amid concerns that the political and economic turbulence unleashed by the decision will shrink Britain’s outsize role in global affairs. The departure plans come at a critical time of escalation between Russia and the West.” That’s from the Washington Post, visiting alliance wargames in the Baltics. Read on, here.
Obama releases drone-strike stats. “The promise of the armed drone has always been precision: The United States could kill just the small number of dangerous terrorists it wanted to kill, leaving nearby civilians unharmed. But the Obama administration’s unprecedented release last week of statistics on counterterrorism strikes underscored how much more complicated the results of the drone program have been.” NYT, here.
Next-gen GPS busts cost cap. The Air Force-run, Raytheon-built GPS Operational Control Segment (OCX) is more than 25 percent over budget, which means “The Pentagon will decide whether to continue the programme or restructure it by October,” reports IHS Janes.
ICYMI: former Rep. Silvestre Reyes, once chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, laid out his argument for pressing on with the jam-resistant system, here.
Dept. of Not Helping: “Relatives of a front desk clerk at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Avon, Ohio, called 911 on Wednesday to report that the clerk had panicked after seeing a man in robes and ‘full head dress’ in the hotel lobby, speaking on a phone and ‘pledging his allegiance or something to ISIS,’” the Times reported. Arrested at gunpoint, the man turned out to be a UAE businessman in town for medical treatment at the Cleveland Clinic. In response, the UAE government warned its citizens not to wear traditional dress abroad.
Stuxnet, the documentary: Alex Gibney, who made “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” talked to NPR about his upcoming film “Zero Days”, which traces the malware’s discovery by a pair of American tech nerds, then proceeds to invite debate over how America should conduct itself in an era of weaponized networks. Read on, here.
Remembering the bloodiest battle of the Great War. Kenneth Anderson at Lawfare: “no single battle so exemplifies the sense of pointless slaughter, of men being sacrificed, as the Battle of the Somme…There is more hell and less hell, and the Battle of the Somme testifies to that.” Read it, here.
The BBC has its own remembrance, illustrated in part by drone footage that give a sense of the battlefields — and the losses. Watch, here.