Jeremy Scahill reports: A top-secret U.S. intelligence document obtained by The Intercept confirms that the sprawling U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s drone program. Ramstein is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries. The top-secret slide deck, dated July 2012, provides the most detailed blueprint seen to date of the technical architecture used to conduct strikes with Predator and Reaper drones.
Amid fierce European criticism of America’s targeted killing program, U.S. and German government officials have long downplayed Ramstein’s role in lethal U.S. drone operations and have issued carefully phrased evasions when confronted with direct questions about the base. But the slides show that the facilities at Ramstein perform an essential function in lethal drone strikes conducted by the CIA and the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.
The slides were provided by a source with knowledge of the U.S. government’s drone program who declined to be identified because of fears of retribution. According to the source, Ramstein’s importance to the U.S. drone war is difficult to overstate. “Ramstein carries the signal to tell the drone what to do and it returns the display of what the drone sees. Without Ramstein, drones could not function, at least not as they do now,” the source said. [Continue reading…]
Pentagon: Ramadi isn’t about to fall to ISIS, but if it does, it’s not a big deal (unless you live in Ramadi)
The Wall Street Journal reports: U.S. defense officials said a provincial capital in Iraq could soon fall to Islamic State, while America’s top military officer sought to minimize the strategic importance of the city.
At a Pentagon news conference, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested that maintaining control of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, isn’t central to the U.S. and Iraqi aims of defeating Islamic State forces.
“The city itself is not symbolic in any way,” Gen. Dempsey said. “It’s not been declared part of the caliphate on one hand, or central to the future of Iraq.”
Earlier this week, Pentagon officials minimized the possibility that Ramadi was going to fall. But U.S. officials have monitored large numbers of civilians fleeing from the city, a sign that residents fear an imminent takeover.
Islamic State fighters have taken over a number of villages surrounding Ramadi, destroyed bridges and other infrastructure and reversed recent gains by Iraqi Security forces, defense officials said Thursday.
The U.S. has been stepping up strikes around Ramadi, but those have been insufficient to blunt the advance of Islamic State fighters.
Officials compared the city with Kobani, a Syrian city that was on the brink of being taken over before Kurdish fighters, aided by U.S. airstrikes, retook it. [Continue reading…]
Which is to say, Ramadi is like Kobane, minus the Kurdish fighters.
Nancy A. Youssef reports: ISIS is reportedly marching on key Iraqi city of Ramadi—upending the momentum that the U.S.-led military coalition seemed to have just days ago, and threatening to shatter an already delicate recent power shift that both the U.S. and Iraq hoped to exploit.
Until Wednesday’s reports about Ramadi both U.S. and Iraqi officials were examining what effects ISIS’ recent losses could have in future battles. The officials were even talking about where they would take down ISIS next. During his visit to Washington, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi suggested in an interview Wednesday with reporters that his troops could move on both Anbar province—where Ramadi in the local capital—and the oil-rich city of Baiji.
But that was before, according to residents, three cities near Ramadi fell into ISIS hands. Hours later, area security forces reportedly asked for more support from the central government to retain control of the city. Pentagon officials stopped short of saying the city was on the brink of falling. But they didn’t sound confident it would hold, either. [Continue reading…]
USA Today: Iraqi forces have pushed the Islamic State out of about 25% of the territory seized during the militants’ lightning advance last year, according to a Pentagon assessment released Monday.
The area represents 5,000 to 6,500 square miles in northern and central Iraq, the assessment said.
The United States has been backing Iraqi forces with daily airstrikes against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS.
“ISIL is no longer the dominant force in roughly 25 to 30% of the populated areas of Iraqi territory where it once had complete freedom of movement,” the Pentagon said.
The assessment comes as President Obama is to meet Tuesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for his first White House visit as prime minister. Al-Abadi has said Iraq needs more international assistance in his country’s fight against Islamic State militants.
Years ago, Chalmers Johnson took a term of CIA tradecraft, “blowback,” and put it into our language. Originally, it was meant to describe CIA operations so secret that, when they blew back on this country, Americans would be incapable of tracing the connection or grasping that the U.S. had anything to do with what hit us. The word now stands in more broadly for any American act or policy that rebounds on us. There is, however, another phenomenon with, as yet, no name that deserves some attention. I’ve come to think of it as “blowforward.”
In a way, this is what Nick Turse has been documenting for the last two years at TomDispatch as he’s covered the way the U.S. military and its Africa Command (AFRICOM) “pivoted” onto that continent big time. As in his latest piece, he — and he alone — has continued to report in graphic detail on a level of operational hubris and pure blockheadedness that might be considered unparalleled in our era — if, that is, we didn’t have the disastrous story of post-9/11 U.S. military operations throughout the Greater Middle East eternally before us. In Africa, as he reminds us today, when the U.S. military first started moving onto the continent in a significant way, there were almost no Islamic terror organizations outside of Somalia. Now, with AFRICOM fully invested and operational across the continent, count ‘em.
This is no less true of the relationship between American invasions, occupations, wars, raids, interventions, and drone assassination campaigns, and the growth of terror outfits (and the fragmentation of states) in the Middle East. That someone should draw a lesson or two from all this and not do essentially the same things over and over again may seem reasonable enough on the face of it, but evidently not in Washington. The question is: Why? Perhaps part of the explanation lies in the phenomenon I’ve started calling blowforward.
Before the disaster of 9/11, America’s intelligence agencies managed to gather much information on and yet see little of what was coming. The result of their blindness was, of course, the unparalleled growth of those same agencies and the national security state. Moreover, those in key positions who might have been held responsible for missing 9/11 paid no price at all. Instead, they were generally promoted and honored in the years that followed. Ever since, every new terror group or hideous video or newly proclaimed caliphate that surfed in on a wave of American wars and interventions has blown forward on that security state, spurring phenomenal growth, enhancing its prestige, making countless careers, and offering new kinds of power. In short, what might otherwise be seen as failed policies actually strengthened the hand of a shadow government in Washington that had an endless set of get-out-of-jail-free cards at its disposal.
In other words, each disastrous American move that bred yet more of the insecurity the national security state is supposed to prevent has proved anything but a disaster for the movers. Each has translated into more funds, more power, more independence, more prestige, and greater reach. As Turse writes today of AFRICOM’s growth, bad news from the African front after the U.S. military moved onto the continent in a big way only led to a further “swelling of bases, personnel, and funding” — and, of course, no blowback at all when it comes to the officials directing all of this. For them, as Turse’s reporting makes clear, it’s a blowforward world all the way. Tom Engelhardt
2044 or bust
Military missions reach record levels after U.S. inks deal to remain in Africa for decades
By Nick Turse
For three days, wearing a kaleidoscope of camouflage patterns, they huddled together on a military base in Florida. They came from U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and U.S. Army Special Operations Command, from France and Norway, from Denmark, Germany, and Canada: 13 nations in all. They came to plan a years-long “Special Operations-centric” military campaign supported by conventional forces, a multinational undertaking that — if carried out — might cost hundreds of millions, maybe billions, of dollars and who knows how many lives.
Reuters reports: The United States is expanding its intelligence-sharing with Saudi Arabia to provide more information about potential targets in the kingdom’s air campaign against Houthi militias in Yemen, U.S. officials told Reuters.
The stepped-up assistance comes as two weeks of relentless air strikes by the Saudis and other Gulf Arab allies have largely failed to halt advances by the Iran-linked Houthi forces.
The U.S. officials said the expanded assistance includes sensitive intelligence data that will allow the Saudis to better review the kingdom’s targets in fighting that has killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands since March.
“We have opened up the aperture a bit wider with what we are sharing with our Saudi partners,” said one U.S. official.
“We are helping them get a better sense of the battlefield and the state of play with the Houthi forces. We are also helping identify ‘no strike’ areas they should avoid” to minimize any civilian casualties, the official said. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: Hundreds of American citizens trapped in Yemen’s roiling violence have a legal right to be evacuated by the U.S. government, advocacy groups argued in a lawsuit filed Thursday that challenges the State and Defense Department’s perceived inaction on a constitutional basis.
In court documents that name Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon chief Ashton Carter as defendants, U.S.-based lawyers acting on behalf of 41 American citizens or permanent U.S. residents stuck in Yemen described Washington’s decision not to provide any flights or ships out of the conflict zone as “arbitrary” and even illegal. The plaintiffs say they are in grave danger from the escalating violence but have received little more from the State Department than emails or calls about possible third-party flights out of the country and recommendations that they take shelter.
Abed Ayoub, national legal policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said his group and two others that formed the Stuck in Yemen legal action group decided to file a suit as a last-ditch effort to compel the U.S. to act. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: On the volatile front lines facing the so-called Islamic State outside the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, American military personnel have been coordinating with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), according to a local commander from the left-wing guerrilla group that is still on the U.S. State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Ageed Kalary commands a unit of about 30 PKK fighters positioned some 500 meters from the front. He claims that he has met with U.S. military personnel accompanying commanders from Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government, whose soldiers are known as the Peshmerga, and which has strong, open American support. The last direct encounter, he said, was in December. But the coordination does not have to be face to face.
“The Americans tell us what they need and share information but there is no formal agreement,” he says about the U.S. military’s interaction with a group that earned its “terrorist” label for the tactics it employed in its 29-year armed struggle against Turkish rule. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The United States said on Tuesday that it was expediting deliveries of weapons to Saudi Arabia, a sign of the Obama administration’s deepening involvement in the Saudi military offensive against the Houthi movement in Yemen.
Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, Antony J. Blinken, the deputy secretary of state, said the United States had also increased its intelligence sharing and established a “joint coordination planning cell” with the Saudi government to help its war effort, according to the Reuters news agency.
The show of support by the United States came two weeks after the Saudi military launched an air war against the Houthis, members of a rebel movement from northern Yemen that has seized territory and steadily expanded its influence in the country in the past eight months.
The Saudis said they were aiming to restore stability to Yemen by crippling the Houthis and returning President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is backed by the Americans and the Saudis, to power. On Tuesday, Mr. Blinken praised the Saudis for “sending a strong message to the Houthis and their allies that they cannot overrun Yemen by force,” according to Reuters.
The Houthis have defended their military actions, including the capture of the capital, Sana, in September, as part of an effort to overturn a corrupt political order in Yemen. The Houthis, who are allied with forces loyal to Yemen’s former autocratic president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have seemed undeterred by the relentless Saudi bombing.
The fighting and the airstrikes have led to widespread civilian suffering in Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country, and warnings by international relief agencies of an unfolding humanitarian disaster. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Neither Iraq’s government nor the militias have released a comprehensive assessment of the casualties they suffered in Tikrit. But U.S. officials say thousands of Iraqis were killed and that the bulk of the suffering could have been avoided had the Iraqis coordinated with the U.S. in advance.
After two weeks of fighting that inflicted heavy casualties on the militias, Baghdad asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes. Iran’s militia allies withdrew partly in anger, and partly at the U.S. insistence that they step aside. But smaller Shiite militias more closely aligned with Baghdad’s government played a central role in seizing central Tikrit.
U.S. military officials recognize that they will have to work with the irregular militia forces, even if they do not want to, military officials in Washington said.
Iraqi militia leaders agree that the confusion of Tikrit should have been avoided.
“The government is trying to avoid the problem that happened in Tikrit,” said Mr. Hussaini. The militias, Sunni tribal fighters and Iraqi military have established a joint operations command so that Iraq’s sundry anti-Islamic State forces can communicate their needs to the U.S. with a unified voice.
Yet Iraqi Shiite militias still appear determined to fight alone without U.S. support. Their focus on Tikrit appears in part to be aimed at securing a morale-boosting victory without the help of foreign airstrikes.
It’s a question of pride that U.S. officials worry is interfering with tactical considerations.
“Of course, everything depends on the nature of the battle,” said Mr. Hussaini. “But the leadership, they prefer the fight to be purely Iraqi because it tastes better, it has a better impact for the future. It’s a national thing for Iraqis.” [Continue reading…]
The other day, as I was reading through the New York Times, I came upon this headline: “Powerful Afghan Police Chief Killed in Kabul.” His name was Matiullah Khan. He had once been “an illiterate highway patrol commander” in an obscure southern province of Afghanistan and was taken out in a “targeted suicide bombing” on the streets of the capital — and I realized that I knew him! Since I’ve never been within a few thousand miles of Kabul, I certainly didn’t know him in the normal sense. I had, you might say, edited Matiullah Khan. He was one of a crop of new warlords who rose to wealth and power by hitching their ambitions to the American war and the U.S. military personnel sent to their country to fight it. Khan, in particular, made staggering sums by essentially setting up an “Afghan Blackwater,” a hire-a-gun — in fact, so many guns — protection agency for American convoys delivering supplies to far-flung U.S. bases and outposts in southern Afghanistan.
He became the protector and benefactor of a remarkable Afghan woman who is a key character in Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, which I edited and published in the American Empire Project series I co-run for Metropolitan Books. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Gopal covered the Afghan War for years in a way no other Western journalist did. He spent time with crucial allies of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and with a Taliban commander, with warlords and American Special Ops guys, politicians and housewives. He traveled rural Afghanistan as few American reporters were capable of doing. In the process, he made a discovery that was startling indeed and has yet to really sink in here.
In a nutshell, in 2001, the invading Americans put al-Qaeda to flight and crushed the Taliban. From most of its top leadership to its foot soldiers, the Talibs were almost uniformly prepared, even eager, to put down their weapons, go back to their villages, and be left in peace. In other words, it was all over. There was just one problem. The Americans, on Washington’s mission to win the Global War on Terror, just couldn’t stop fighting. In their inability to grasp the situation, they essentially forced the Taliban back onto the battlefield and so created an insurgency and a war that they couldn’t win.
Reaction to Gopal’s book, published last April, was at first muted. That’s not so surprising, given that the news it brought to the table wasn’t exactly going to be a popular message here. In recent months, however, it’s gained real traction: the positive reviews began coming in; Rory Stewart made it his book of the year pick at the New Statesman (“Anand Gopal has produced the best piece of investigative journalism to come out of Afghanistan in the past 12 years”); it was a National Book Award finalist and is a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award For Excellence in Journalism. Most strikingly, it just received the prestigious Ridenhour Book Prize for 2015. (“Through a blend of intrepid reporting and clear-eyed — even beautiful prose — we see and can begin to truly understand the violence and tragedy of our longest war.”)
So today, with thanks to Metropolitan Books, I thought I would give you a taste of a work of reportage that turns the American narrative about the Afghan War on its head. Here, from No Good Men Among the Living, is what it felt like when the war that rural Afghans thought was over just wouldn’t end, when the Americans couldn’t stop shooting and that new crop of Afghan warlords began using Washington’s war on terror for their own ends. The toll in wrecked lives, including most recently that of Matiullah Khan, is now 13 years old and unending. Tom Engelhardt
The real Afghan war
How an American fantasy conflict created disaster in Afghanistan
By Anand Gopal
[This essay is taken from chapter five of Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes and appears at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of Metropolitan Books.]
The sky clotted gray and the winds gusted cold as the men crowded into an old roadside gas station. It was daybreak in Band-i-Timor, early December 2001, and hundreds of turbaned farmers sat pensively, weighing the choice before them. They had once been the backbone of the Taliban’s support; the movement had arisen not far from here, and many had sent their sons to fight on the front lines. But in 2000, Mullah Omar had decreed opium cultivation to be un-Islamic, and whip-wielding police saw to it that production was halted almost overnight. Band-i-Timor had been poppy country for as long as anyone could remember, but now the fields lay fallow and children were going hungry. With the Taliban’s days numbered after the U.S. invasion, the mood was ripe for a change. But could they trust the Americans? Or Hamid Karzai?
The Associated Press: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says a U.S. drone strike killed two of its advisers near the Iraqi city of Tikrit, where a major offensive is underway against the Islamic State group, but the U.S. said Monday its coalition conducted no airstrikes in the area during the time of the incident.
U.S. Central Command said it didn’t target the area around Tikrit from March 22 through March 24, the window when the Guard said the two men were killed.
Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent write: American warplanes have begun bombing the Islamic State-held Iraqi city of Tikrit in order to bail out the embattled, stalled ground campaign launched by Baghdad and Tehran two weeks ago. This operation, billed as “revenge” for the Islamic State (IS) massacre of 1,700 Shiite soldiers at Camp Speicher last June, was launched without any consultation with Washington and was meant to be over by now, three weeks after much triumphalism by the Iraqi government about how swiftly the terrorist redoubt in Saddam Hussein’s hometown was going to be retaken.
U.S. officials have variously estimated that either 23,000 or 30,000 “pro-government” forces were marshaled for the job, of which only slender minority were actual Iraqi soldiers. The rest consisted of a consortium of Shiite militia groups operating under the banner of Hashd al-Shaabi, or the Population Mobilization Units (PMU), which was assembled in answer to a fatwah issued by Iraq’s revered Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani in June 2014 following ISIS’s blitzkrieg through northern Iraq. To give you a sense of the force disparity, the PMUs are said to command 120,000 fighters, whereas the Iraqi Army has only got 48,000 troops.
Against this impressive array of paramilitaries, a mere 400 to 1,000 IS fighters have managed to hold their ground in Tikrit, driving major combat operations to a halt. This is because the Islamic State is resorting to exactly the kinds of lethal insurgency tactics which al Qaeda in Iraq (its earlier incarnation) used against the more professional and better-equipped U.S. forces. BuzzFeed’s Mike Giglio has ably documented the extent to which IS has relied upon improvised explosive devices, and just how sophisticated these have been. Even skilled explosive ordnance disposal teams — many guided by Iranian specialists — are being ripped apart by what one termed the “hidden enemy” in Tikrit. [Continue reading…]
Nicholas Blanford reports: The United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in support of Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) operations against Sunni militant groups dug into mountains along the country’s northeast border with Syria, several diplomatic and military sources have confirmed to IHS Jane’s.
Two Aerosonde Mk 4.7 UAVs are being flown out of the LAF’s Hamat Air Base on the coast, 45 km north of Beirut, the sources said.
The area of operational activity is in the northeast corner of the country, a region of arid mountainous terrain that spans the Lebanon-Syria border where militant groups such as the Islamic State and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra are based.
“The LAF has been very aggressive in tasking Aerosonde [UAVs] to fly missions,” a diplomatic source told IHS Jane’s on condition of anonymity. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: American warplanes began airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Tikrit late Wednesday, finally joining a stalled offensive to retake the Iraqi city as American officials sought to seize the initiative from Iran, which had taken a major role in directing the operation.
The decision to directly aid the offensive was made by President Obama on Wednesday, American officials said, and represented a significant shift in the Iraqi campaign. For more than three weeks, the Americans had stayed on the sideline of the battle for Tikrit, wary of being in the position of aiding an essentially Iranian-led operation. Senior Iranian officials had been on the scene, and allied Shiite militias had made up the bulk of the force.
Mr. Obama approved the airstrikes after a request from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the condition that Iranian-backed Shiite militias move aside to allow a larger role for Iraqi government counterterrorism forces that have worked most closely with United States troops, American officials said. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who has been advising forces around Tikrit, was reported on Sunday to have left the area. [Continue reading…]
Fifteen to 20 years ago, a canny friend of mine assured me that I would know I was in a different world when the Europeans said no to Washington. I’ve been waiting all this time and last week it seemed as if the moment had finally arrived. Germany, France, and Italy all agreed to become “founding members” of a new Chinese-created development bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Great Britain, in “a rare breach of the special relationship,” had already opted for membership the week before (and another key American ally deeply involved in the China trade, Australia, clearly will do so in the near future). As Andrew Higgins and David Sanger of the New York Times reported, the Obama administration views the new bank as a possible “rival to the World Bank and other institutions set up at the height of American power after World War II.”
“The announcement by Germany, Europe’s largest economy,” continued the Times, “came only six days after Secretary of State John Kerry asked his German counterpart, Frank Walter-Steinmeier, to resist the Chinese overtures until the Chinese agreed to a number of conditions about transparency and governing of the new entity. But Germany came to the same conclusion that Britain did: China is such a large export and investment market for it that it cannot afford to stay on the sidelines.”
All of this happened, in other words, despite strong opposition and powerful pressure from a Washington eager to contain China and regularly asserting its desire to “pivot” militarily to Asia to do so.
Whatever world we now inhabit, it’s not the twentieth century anymore. Though no other power has risen to directly challenge Washington, the United States no longer qualifies as the planet’s “sole superpower,” “last superpower,” “global sheriff,” or any of the similarly self-congratulatory phrases that were the coin of the realm in the years after the Soviet Union dissolved.
Only one small problem, highlighted today by Pentagon expert and TomDispatch regular William Hartung: the Department of Defense evidently doesn’t have a clue. As he makes clear, it’s still planning for a sole superpower world in a big way. And in the present atmosphere in Washington, it’s got real support for such planning. Take, for instance, Senator Tom Cotton — he of the “Senate 47″ — who just gave his maiden speech on the Senate floor calling for a policy of total U.S. “global military dominance” and bemoaning that “our military, suffering from years of neglect, has seen its relative strength decline to historic levels.”
It may be a new world in some places, but in others, as Hartung makes clear, it couldn’t be older. Tom Engelhardt
Military strategy? Who needs it?
The madness of funding the Pentagon to “cover the globe”
By William D. Hartung
President Obama and Senator John McCain, who have clashed on almost every conceivable issue, do agree on one thing: the Pentagon needs more money. Obama wants to raise the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2016 by $35 billion more than the caps that exist under current law allow. McCain wants to see Obama his $35 billion and raise him $17 billion more. Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees attempted to meet Obama’s demands by pressing to pour tens of billions of additional dollars into the uncapped supplemental war budget.
What will this new avalanche of cash be used for? A major ground war in Iraq? Bombing the Assad regime in Syria? A permanent troop presence in Afghanistan? More likely, the bulk of the funds will be wielded simply to take pressure off the Pentagon’s base budget so it can continue to pay for staggeringly expensive projects like the F-35 combat aircraft and a new generation of ballistic missile submarines. Whether the enthusiastic budgeteers in the end succeed in this particular maneuver to create a massive Pentagon slush fund, the effort represents a troubling development for anyone who thinks that Pentagon spending is already out of hand.
Nancy A. Youssef reports: The U.S.-led coalition is preparing to expand its air strike campaign into the city of Tikrit where Iraqi forces, backed by Iranians, have stalled in their efforts to reclaim the hometown of Saddam Hussein from the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Two U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that the United States is awaiting a formal request from the Iraqi government for the strikes. Once they receive that request, it could be only a matter of days before the attacks begin.
“The preparatory work is probably already done. The [U.S. military] has started to bring in more assets for a Tikrit air support campaign,” an adviser to the U.S. government tasked with monitoring and engaging with Iraqi officials told The Daily Beast. “Unless there is an impediment on the Iraqi side, and I don’t see it happening, the campaign could begin within days.” [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Islamic State militants are skimming tens of millions of dollars a month from salaries paid to Iraqi government employees in occupied areas such as Mosul, and Baghdad continues to send the cash to maintain local support.
The group is using the money to fund operations, U.S. officials say, underlining the delicate balancing act U.S. and Iraqi governments face in what they know is a hearts-and-minds campaign against Islamic State ahead of a military operation to retake Mosul, for which U.S. officials are training Iraqi troops.
U.S. defense officials say U.S.-led strikes have put pressure on Islamic State, hurting its command-and-control operations, but they remain cautious about the near-term prospects of retaking Mosul and other territory under the group’s firm control.
A lack of desirable options has put U.S. officials in an awkward position, forced to choose between the goal of denying funds to Islamic State and the goal of persuading Sunnis to back the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. [Continue reading…]