David Bowdich, Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Los Angeles field branch, yesterday said that said that the FBI had classified the San Bernardino attack that resulted in at least 15 deaths and 21 injured on Wednesday as an act of domestic terrorism. The attack, which echoed that of the Paris attack last month, was carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook, a US citizen who was employed as an environmental engineer by the county of San Bernardino, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani citizen who secured permanent residency in the United States after marrying Farook. The two were killed in a shootout with police while in possession of thousands of rounds of ammunition and at least 12 explosive devices.
Authorities believe Farook and Malik may have become radicalized, though neither were on terrorist watch lists or under active surveillance. Investigators found that Malik had posted pro-Islamic State messages to her Facebook profile during the attack on the San Bernardino facility.
The attack highlights the challenge of addressing domestic radicalization. Many of the attackers in the Paris terror attack last month were Muslims who were citizens of Belgium and France, radicalized while living in Europe. A report by NATO following the January 2014 terror attacks in Paris highlighted many of the challenges, noting that
The radicalisation of certain individuals or groups in Western societies is a much more complex issue that requires urgent, in-depth analysis followed by adequate response. The Rapporteur argues that the complex nature of the terrorist threat requires the Euro-Atlantic community to revisit and adjust its strategies and instruments. In particular, improvements are urgently needed in the area of information exchange among law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Also, there is a need to supplement law enforcement methods with long-term strategies designed to tackle the spread of extremist ideologies. The Rapporteur underscores the importance of additional safeguards to ensure that anti-terrorist and de-radicalisation policies do not infringe on fundamental rights and liberties
What do you think? How should the United States and other Western countries address the threat posed by domestic terrorists? What steps, if any, might counter the threat? And what is the proper balance between the need to secure fundamental rights and individual liberties and detect and prevent future terror attacks?
The British Parliament yesterday voted to approve airstrikes against ISIS. By a vote of 397 to 223, Prime Minister David Cameron won approval for his proposal to join the American-led coalition in striking Islamic State targets in Syria. Less than three hours later, four Royal Air Force Tornado strike fighters struck six targets in an ISIS-controlled oilfield in eastern Syria, the first British operation in the region. The British Defense Minister, Michael Fallon, confirmed that addition aircraft were being re-positioned to a British airbase in Cyprus to support and expand ongoing operations.
The vote to approve military action won a decisive majority, with 315 of the 322 Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) voted to approve the action. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had attempted to rally his party in opposition to the movement, but was unable to do so, and 66 Labour MPs defected from their party to support the action, but 152 voted against it. President Obama quickly welcomed the decision.
What do you think? What do you think should be done to weaken the growing influence of the Islamic State? Will Western intervention be successful? Why?
Following the downing of a Russian aircraft by Turkish F-16 fighter jets, the international media quickly speculated that Russia and Turkey were on a warpath. Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), called for an emergency meeting of the group, a move which Russia described as an escalation. The downing of the Russian jet marks the first direct engagement between NATO and Russian forces since the end of the Cold War.
The issue at the heart of the current crisis was the subject of intense dispute. The Russian government maintains that the Russian aircraft were striking Islamic State targets in northern Syria, when Turkish fighter jets engaged and shot down a Russian plane. Turkey maintains that Russia was striking Turkmen rebel forces, repeatedly crossing into Turkish airspace and ignoring multiple warnings to leave Turkish airspace before being fired on. Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan condemned the event, which he said was provoked by a Russian violation of Turkish airspace and an infringement of Turkish sovereignty. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov implied the act was premeditated, stating that the downing “looks very much like a planned provocation.” He ordered the deployment of Russian anti-aircraft batteries to Syria.
In addressing the situation, US President Barak Obama called on both Russia and Turkey to “take measures to avoid escalation.” But Russian intervention in Syria has complicated American and NATO allies efforts to fight the Islamic State in Syria. American strategy has been to oppose both ISIS and the Syrian government, supporting rebel forces in the region and striking ISIS targets from the air. Russian intervention has centered on supporting the Syrian government. While the Russian government maintains that its intervention is focused on defeating ISIS, Russian airstrikes have been condemned by the West for primarily targeting anti-government forces.
What do you think? Are NATO and Russia on a path to war? How might the situation in Turkey (and relatedly in Syria) be resolved to prevent further escalation?
A series of simultaneous attacks launched in Paris yesterday resulted in at last 140 deaths and more than 80 injuries. French President François Hollande described the attack as an “act of war” perpetrated by Islamic State militants, and world leaders expressed sympathy and support. The attack targeted bars, restaurants, and nightclubs popular with young Parisians and a football match underway. At least eight gunmen and suicide bombers responsible for the attack have been captured or killed. The French government responded by temporarily closing its borders and imposing a curfew in Paris. In claiming responsibility for the attacks, the Islamic State warned the Paris attack was “the first of the storm.”
The Islamic State burst on to the international scene in 2014 after capturing large portions of territory in Iraq and Syria. Originally referred to as ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (the Islamic State in the Levant), the organization has launched operations in countries as far as Australia, Belgium, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Norway, and elsewhere.
What do you think? What, if anything, can be done to prevent terror attacks like that in Paris yesterday? How might France, the United States, and others work to address the growing reach of the Islamic State both in Europe and the Middle East? And how might the attacks affect EU migration policy as the European Union struggles to address the influx of Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS in Syria?
It was announced yesterday that missiles launched from a Russian naval vessel intended to strike targets in Syria instead veered off course and exploded in a remote part of Iran on Thursday. Then today, a Russian jet was reportedly shot down by Turkish defense forces after it strayed into Turkey’s airspace. Russian intervention in Syria has largely been condemned by the West as an effort to prop up the Assad regime, which has been destabilized by both anti-government forces and Islamic State militants operating in the country. Although the Russia has maintained its airstrikes are intended to weaken ISIS militants, the United States and its allies have condemned Russian intervention as an effort to help shore up the Assad regime. Shortly after Russian airstrikes, the Syrian government launched a series of renewed operations which drove rebel forces in the country back. And now, key American military advisers warned the Obama Administration that it’s goal of supporting rebel forces in their efforts to overthrow the Assad regime may no longer be a viable strategy in Syria, leading the Obama Administration to concede it would end its policy of supporting rebel forces in the country.
What do you think? Is the Middle East in danger of destabilizing? How has Russian intervention changed the strategic calculus for the United States in Syria? Do you agree with the advisers warning that the United States’ goal of overthrowing the Assad regime is no longer viable? Why? And if so, how should the United States proceed?
More than twenty-five years since the end of the Cold War, the American and Russian foreign policy seem to be at odds in the Middle East. Today, Senator John McCain, who unsuccessfully ran against President Barack Obama for the Presidency of the United States in 2008, took to the Senate floor to condemn Russian intervention in Syria. According to McCain, Russian intervention in Syria is intended to bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. US foreign policy in Syria is complicated, seeking both to destroy the capacity of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) while simultaneously opposing the al-Assad regime.
Russia announced that it had launched airstrikes against ISIS forces in Homs. But according to McCain, the strikes targeted opponents of the al-Assad regime, not ISIS forces. McCain also described the Obama administration efforts in Syria as a failure, noting the sharp increase in the number of refugees fleeing Syria for Europe and the inability of anti-Assad forces to make headway in the region.
What do you think? Has US foreign policy in Syria been a failure? What is the fundamental goal of US policy in the region? Can it be successful? Why? And how does expanded Russian involvement Syria complicate efforts to disrupt ISIS and the Assad government?
Retired General John Allen, who currently serves as President Obama’s envoy in the global fight against ISIS, pushed back against assertions that the United States is losing its fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL). He said that while the fight will be a long lone, progress is being made. He pointed in particular to the situation in Iraq as evidence of success.
At the same time, efforts by the United States and its allies to combat ISIS’s growing influence are complicated by the situation in Syria. Over the weekend, the Russian government announced it was stepping up its support for the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, who is also fighting against ISIS but has been isolated by the West due to human rights abuses in the country. But the situation in Syria is complicated. While the United States and its allies oppose the Bashir government and support Syrian rebels, Russia supports the Syrian government. And both the Syrian government and the United States and its allies are fighting against ISIS. News that ISIS is likely making and using chemical weapons in its fight further complicates the situation.
What do you think? Is the United States losing its fight against ISIS? Why? How does the situation in Syria complicate the struggle against ISIS? What, if anything, should the United States change in its strategy to fight ISIS to more quickly and effectively achieve its foreign policy goals?