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Artificial intelligence and intelligence

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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As was also clearly stated by Vladimir Putin on September 4, 2017: “whichever country leads the way in Artificial Intelligence research will be the ruler of the world”.

According to Thomas Kuhn’s old, but still useful, epistemological model, every change of the scientific paradigm – rather than the emergence of new material discoveries – radically changes the visions of the world and hence strategic equilibria.

Hence, first of all, what is Artificial Intelligence? It consists of a series of mathematical tools, but also of psychology, electronic technology, information technology  and computer science tools, through which a machine is taught to think as if it were a human being, but with the speed and security of a computer.

The automatic machine must representman’s knowledge, namely show it, thus enabling an external operator to change the process and understand its results within the natural language.

In practice, AI machines imitate the perceptual vision, the recognition and the reprocessing of language -and even of decision-making – but only when all the data necessary to perform it are available. They do so creatively, i.e. they self-correct themselves in a non-repetitive way.

As can be easily imagined, this happens rarelyin a complex system with a high rate of variation over time and space, as is exactly the case in war clashes.

Just think about the intelligence reserved for the Chiefs of Staff, which obviously no one ever feeds into any machine to “run” it.

Hence, first and foremost, AI is about making the machine imitate the human reasoning process, which is achieved by applying the Turing test.

As you may remember, Alan Turing was the mathematician who devised for the British intelligencea number of techniques for speeding the breaking of German ciphers and cracking intercepted coded messages that could find settings for the Enigma machine used by the German Nazi Intelligence Services.

Due to the large amount of data to be checked and translated, his mathematics required an electromechanical machine, a sort of computer which was in fact created at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre, with the technologies of the time: vacuum valves, copper wires and electric engines.

To be precise, the Nazis had developed a primitive computer, namely Z1, that was hard to program, while the British Colossuspermitted the introduction of cards and tapes that allowed its adaptation to the various needs of the British SIGINT of the time.

Furthermore, in Turing’s mind, the Imitation Game involving three people (a sort of deception game) could be replaced by a machine – and here the mathematical theory permitting AI comes into play.

The machine takes the place of either human beings who try to prevent the correct identification of the third human being (C) – an identification that remains hidden to both A and B.

Hence Alan Turing claims that man A can be replaced by a machine and that this can be correctly defined as “thinking”.

Hence, according to Alan Turing,the human thought can be creatively imitated and recreated through a Finite State Machine (FSM) that can simulate other Discrete State Machines.

In principle a Finite State Machine is a machine allowing  to fully describe – in mathematical terms – the simultaneous or non-simultaneous behaviour of many systems.

With a view to better understanding this concept, we can think of an image: the warp of a fabric with respect to its weft, which can have various colours or designs.

Conversely, a Discrete-State Machine is a calculator, i.e.a machine evolving by sudden jumps from one state to another.

The same evolutionary jumps that the epistemologist, Thomas Kuhn, thought as steps of a scientific paradigm.

Finally, in Turing’s mind, the Discrete State Machine was the most suitable for simulating the human thought-behaviour.

Currently, in AI, almost exclusively “hybrid spots” are used, i.e. systems unifying various types of finite or discrete state machineswhich develop and process also probabilistic scenarios.

There is no need for going further into this network of technical reasoning, which only partially regards the topic of this article.

It is worth recalling that the issue has its true conceptual and strategic origin in March 2017, when a computer program developed by Google, namely AlphaGo, beatthe world champion in the ancient Chinese board game Go, an extraordinary strategy game.

According to some US analysts, it was the game that inspired the Head of the North Vietnamese Armed Forces and of the Viet Mihn Communists, Vo Nguyen Giap, in his confrontation with the United States and its allies.

A game in which – unlike what happens in chess-there is no immediate evidence of the victory of either contenders.

Years before, in 1997, a much less advancedalgorithm than AlphaGo had beaten the chess champion Gary Kasparov.

With a view to better understanding what an AI system is, it is worth recalling that AlphaGo is made up of two deep “neural networks” having millions of neural connections very similar to those of the human brain.

A neural network is a mathematical model inspired by the structure of the neural networks typical of the human brain.

It consists of information interconnections and it is a mathematical-information system made up of artificial neurons and processes using computational connections common to all “neurons”.

Furthermore the AlphaGo system self-corrects and learns by itself, because it stores and quickly processes the many matches and games in which it participated.

As can be easily imagined, this also makes it largely unpredictable.

In the future, however, the new military robots with high autonomy of movement and selection of targets – and, sometimes, even of the AI ​​procedure to be used – will incorporate a great deal of Artificial Intelligence.

This will make the difference between a losing robot and a winning one on the ground.

Hence, at some point of technological evolution, they may also take autonomous actions.

Therefore the problem arises of how much autonomy can be given to robots, whether they are mobile on the ground or centralized in a command brigade.

Tactical autonomy, while the neural connections between the various military robots are managed simultaneously by a “classic” human system and by a 2.0 AI mechanism?

Probably so.

But here factors such as each country’s doctrine and the assessment of the probability of a war clash and with whom, must be considered.

Therefore many human lives can be saved even in a conflict and on the war theatre, except in a counter-resource robot action, which hits the civilian population.

It will also be easier to resortto armed confrontation, but a higher cost of automated defense or attack operations will be expected.

Obviously considering that the AI systems are derived from “natural thought”, if – in the activities – very few changes are to be made to an already-defined program, the machines always work better than human beings.

They are faster, much more precise and they never rest. Moreover, they have no parallel reasoning patterns deriving from personal tastes, ideologies, feelings, sensations, affections.

They are not distracted by value, cultural, symbolic, ethical and politicalissues and probably not even by the typical themes of the Grand Strategy.

In principle, however, if what is at stake are substantially equivalent technical choices or similar evaluations of the final future scenarios, on which the machine has no pre-set programming, man will always prevail in the match between man and robot.

Hence Metaphysics – or the “science of aims”, to put it in Aristotle’s words – is the unique attribute of our species.

But the process to achieve extra-technical goals can always be formalized and hence there is always at least one finite state machine in the world that can imitate it – on its own, however, without further support of the homo sapiens sapiens.

It must also be considered that the techniques for the AI “autonomous weapons” cannot be completely classifiedbecause, in these technologies, the commercial sector can often overcome the efficacy of “covered” technology weapons.

If we open up to commercial technologies, that would be the end of confidentiality.

In fact all AI, ranging from finance to machine tools up to biological and environmental programming, is a market-driven technology controlled by open markets- or rather  still oligopolistic ones.

However, what are the limits and the merits of a war or global strategy technology entirely rebuilt according to  AI standards?

The simple answer is that firstly no finite state or hybrid machine can evaluate the reliability of the data and systems it receives.

Hence we can imagine a new kind of intelligence action, that is the possibility of “poisoning” the command systems of the enemy’s AI machines.

The deep Internet, the area of ​web​sites – often having  criminal relevance – not resulting in the official search engines, could also host viruses or even entire opposing systems, which directly reach our AI machines, thus making them fulfill the enemy’s will and not ours.

It is worth recalling that Von Clausewitz defined victory as “the prevailing of the opponent’s will or of our will”.

Nevertheless the Artificial Intelligence systems can be extremely useful in the military and intelligence sector, when it comes to using them in the “computer vision”, where millions of data must be analyzed creatively in the shortest possible time.

In fact, the Turing machine and the derived AI ​​machines can imitate abduction, a logical process that is very different from that of deduction and induction.

Deduction, which is typical of traditional machines, such as the calculator, is the logical process that, starting from a non-analyzed premise, rationally derives particular propositions describing the perceivable reality.

Conversely, induction is a logical process that, with a number of finite steps fully adhering to the natural logic, allows to shift from empirical data to the general rule, if any.

Hence abduction is an Aristotelian syllogism in which the major premise is certain while the minor one is only probable.

The Aristotelian syllogisms are made up of a general statement (the major premise), a specific statement (the minor premise) and a conclusion that is inferred.

They are adaptable to both induction and deduction.

Furthermore,  in the various types of syllogism the Stagirite developed, the major premise is the general definition of an item belonging or not to a whole.

For example, “All men are bipeds”.

The minor premise is that “George is a man (or is a biped)” and hence the conclusion is that “George is a biped (or a man)”.

Finally, in abduction, there is an opposite reasoning compared to the other two: it is used when we know the rules and the conclusion and we want to reconstruct the premise.

The definition of abduction given by Charles S. Peirce, who long evaluated it in his pragmatist philosophy, is the following: “the surprising fact, C, is observed; but if A were true, C would be a matter of course.

Hence there is reason to suspect that A is true”.

If I have white beans in my hand and there is a bag of white beans in front of me, there is reason to believe  that the beans in my hand were taken out of that bag.

In fact, this is exactly the way in which an AI machine corrects or enhances its knowledge starting from the program we put in it.

Another military use of AI is the “deep” face recognition, far more analytical and fast than it can be done today.

There is also voice recognition, the immediate indication of the sources of an enemy communication and its almost simultaneous comparison with the countless similar or anyway opposing communications.

Artificial Intelligence can also be used for military logistics issues or for the multi-variable resolution of war games, and even for combat automation in mixed environments with men and machines in action.

Therefore recourse to a limited war will be ever more likely if there are no human victims and if the confrontation is directed by advanced automatic systems.

There will also be an impact on political responsibility, which could be shifted to AI systems and not to  commanders or decision-makers in the flesh.

What political and strategic effects would an automatic clash have and what immediate psychological mechanisms would it trigger in the population?

However, who wins in the recently-started war for dominance in AI military and intelligence technologies?

For the time being, certainly China.

In fact, in November 2017 the Chinese startup company Yitu Tech won the contest for the best face recognition system.

The challenge was to recognize the greatest number of passengers accidentally encountered in a civilian airport.

The Chinese government has already approved a project called “Artificial Intelligence 2.0” having specific applications both in the economy and in military and intelligence structures.

The Chinese  Armed Forces are now working on a unified project in AI 2.0, an initiative regarding precisely the relationship between AI civilian and military applications.

As already noted, this is the strategic weak point of the AI military programming, because it verifies strong competition between the market and state organizations, at least in the West.

In fact, for the US Intelligence Services, the line to be currently followed in the smart war automation is to implement the new technologies to enrich the information already present on the President’s table.

In China the “merger” between market and State in the AI ​​sector is directly regulated by the Commission for Integrated Military and CivilianDevelopment, chaired  personally by Xi Jinping – and this says it all.

In the framework of the new AI strategic evolution, the Chinese Armed Forces follow the criterion of “shared construction, shared application and shared use” with private individuals and entities – at least for all innovations in the programming and automatic management of information (and actions) on the battlefield and in the intelligence area.

Therefore the Chinese AI 2.0 puts together robotic research, military systems without pilot or other staff and  the new military brain science.

A new theoretical-practical branch that affects even the mental and remote control of machines through human applications such as headsets detecting and interpreting the brain activity of the wearer, thus allowing them to control the machines.

This already happened at the Zhengzhou Military Academy in August 2015, with students guiding and controlling  robots through sensors placed on their skullcaps.

Hence the new AI activities in the intelligence sector can be easily imagined: infinitely broader and faster data collection – and even structured and semi-processed – creation of automatic intelligence contrast systems; entry into electronic media systems and networks available to  “anonymous” data decision-makers that change the perception of the battlefield and of the whole enemy society.

Finally, the synergic coverage of the civilian and military data of the country that has achieved dominance in AI technologies.

Each new technology in the AI military sector is protected and, hence, implies a civilian, military or hybrid battlefield , in which all the operations of those who possess the advanced tool always hit the target with the minimum use of soldiers and with the utmost confidentiality.

It would be good for the EU to think about these new scenarios, but currently imagining that the European Union is able to think is mere theory.

Furthermore China has created a new Research Institute on AI and related technologies linked to the Central Military Commission and the Armed Forces.

Liu Ghuozhi, the Director of this Research Institute, likes to repeat that “whoever does not disrupt the adversary will be disrupted”.

The current rationale of the People’s Liberation Army is that the new and more advanced AI environment 2.0 –  i.e.  that of war, of the strategic clash and of the apparently peaceful political one – is already a new stage in military thinking.

This is a qualitatively different level, far beyond the old conflict information technologies – a stage requiring a “new thinking” and a completely different approach to military confrontation, which immediately turns into a social, economic, technological and cultural one.

Hence a Chinese way – through technology –  to the Russian “hybrid warfare”, but a strategic thinking remaining along the lines of the Unrestricted Warfare theorized by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui in 1999, at the dawn of globalization.

In fact, the origin of globalizationshould not be found in the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s Four Modernizations in 1978.

It is also worth noting that, from the beginning, the implicit planning in the “Unrestricted Warfare” theorized by the two Chinese Colonels had been thought against “a more powerful opponent than us”, namely the United States.

Hence merging of technical and intelligence services in the area of ​​operations;union of intelligence and AI networks; integration of command functions with other activities on the ground, obviously also with intelligence, and finally use of the large mass of information in real time.

This is made possible thanks to the adaptation of the Chinese Intelligence Services to the speed and wide range of data provided by all technological platforms and by any “human” source.

The ultimate goal is unrestricted warfare, in which you do not dominate the “enemy’s will”, but all its resources.

Therefore China currently thinks that “technology determines tactics” and the People’s Liberation Army intends to develop also support systems using Artificial Intelligence to back strategic decision-making.

Still today this should work also on the basis of the old US program known as Deep Green created in 2005 by the  Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA).

It is an AI system intended to help military leaders in the strategic evaluation of scenarios, of their own options and of the enemy’s options, as well as their own potential – at such a speed enabling to counteract any enemy move before it could be fully deployed.

Finally what is the Russian Federation doing in the field of modernization of its Armed Forces by means of Artificial Intelligence?

It is doing many things.

First and foremost, Russia is carefully studying unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), such as Uran-9, Nerekhta and Vir.

They are all armoured tanks that can host anti-tank missiles and mid-sized guns.

Secondly, since 2010 Russia has favoured the development of its Armed Forces in relation to what its military doctrine  defines as “intelligence exchange and supremacy”.

In other words, the Russian military world believes that the intelligence superiority is central both in times of peace and in times of war.

Superiority vis-à-vis its own population to be protected from others’ dezinformatsjia and superiority with respect to the enemies’ propaganda in their own countries – an information action that must be mastered and dominated, so that the enemy’s public can develop an ideological universe favourable to Russian interest.

This psycho-intelligence “exchange” – always based on AI supports – implies diplomatic, economic and obviously military, political, cultural and religious tools.

It is mainly developed through two intervention areas: the technical-intelligence and media area and the other one  more traditionally related to psychological warfare.

Russia is also developing a program to adapt its supercomputers to deep learning, with an AI system  significantly callediPavlov.

The deep learning of computers having hundreds of petaflops (a petaflop is equivalent to 1,000,000,000,000,000 floating point operations per second)is an AI system allowing to fully imitate not only the “normal” human thought- which is defined as “logical” – but also the possible statistical variations, which are in fact involved in abduction, of which we have already spoken.

It is worth repeating that the EU closely follows America with regard to drones, computer science and information technologies and it is also starting to fund some projects, including military ones, in the 2.0 AI sector.

However, they are technological goals far away in time and, in any case, despite the dream, or the myth, of a  European Armed Force, intelligence, advanced battlefield doctrines and intelligence neural networks – if any – are strictly limited to the national level.

With the results we can easily imagine, above all considering the intellectual and technological lack of an EU doctrine on “future wars”.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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After a New Massacre, Charges That ISIS Is Operating With Assad and the Russians

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ardian Shajkovci

On July 25 in the Syrian province of Sweida a massacre began in the early morning. Ten jihadists from the so-called Islamic State entered Sweida town. They wore the traditional baggy trousers and loose-fitting overgarments of Druze men, but beneath the clothes they had hidden explosive vests. Three detonated in the main vegetable market, then one of them accompanied the many injured to the hospital and set off his explosive charge there. The other six suicide bombers were overcome before they could detonate, according to senior officials in the Druze community.

At the same time, hundreds of ISIS fighters entered three nearby villages, moving house-by-house slitting throats and shooting to death men, women and children. Some reported that the killers left a witness from each family alive to tell their hideous story. In all, 273 Druze were killed and 220 injured, Druze officials told us.

They strongly suspect that the attack by ISIS was carried out in cooperation with the Russian-backed Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and this is corroborated to some extent by ISIS prisoners we have interviewed who are being held by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces here in northern Syria.  The Druse politicians and officials came here to try to forge an alliance with like-minded Kurds for mutual self-protection, which is when they told us the details of the massacre.

News of the atrocity has been reported internationally, but the story behind it still is not well understood.

The Druze are one of the smaller minorities in Syria, perhaps three percent of the population. But their reputation as fighters in the wars of the Levant goes back centuries.  Altogether, they number about a million adherents of a monotheistic, Abrahamic faith mingling elements of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also beliefs in reincarnation. Long persecuted for their beliefs, they keep their scriptures secret.

Their lands and their strongholds traditionally have been in the mountains of Syria and Lebanon, although some Druze are in Jordan and a large contingent are in Israel. Many live outside the region as well, and fit easily into the secular West. (Amal Clooney, for instance, is from an influential Druze family in Lebanon.) In Syria, the hills east and south of Damascus officially are known as Jabal al-Druze, the Druze mountain, and the communities that live there are very close-knit.

To this day, Druze fighters are well represented in the militaries of Lebanon and Israel, and until recently of Syria as well. But when the Syrian uprising of 2011 turned violent, Druze leaders decided to stay neutral in the conflict. They called those serving in the Syrian army to desert and return home. Druze officials we spoke to, who did not want to be quoted by name, claim to have their own militia of 53,000 – reservists, military deserters and young men whom they have trained – ready to defend their Syrian heartland.

As the ISIS massacres in the Sweida region began just after dawn, mysteriously, telephone land lines and electricity in the area had been cut off. But the news spread by cell phone, and well-armed Druze men came out in droves to defend their population. “The big battle started around noon and lasted until 8 p.m,” said one Druze official who joined the fight.

According to the Druze politicians we talked to, there were approximately 400 combatants from ISIS, or Daesh as they are called here, facing thousands of individually armed Druze who rose to fight — and who did not take prisoners.

“Currently 250 Daesh are dead,” one Druze official told us. “There are no injured [ISIS fighters]. We killed them all and more are killed every day in ongoing skirmishes in which the Daesh attackers continue to come from the desert to attack. Every day we discover the bodies of injured Daesh who died trying to withdraw. Due to the rugged terrain, Daesh could not retrieve them with their four-wheel-drives. We have no interest to bury them.”

Of 10 known ISIS captives taken during the fighting, three were hanged immediately.  Another was captured and hanged during skirmishes earlier this week. The Druze officials said that the Syrian authorities are demanding any surviving ISIS captives be turned over to them, but the Druze are refusing to do so.

The horror of the Sweida massacre in an area most considered safe—and in these last moments when ISIS rule in Syria appears to be all but over—was magnified when the Druze learned that some of their women and children had been taken captive by ISIS cadres. “Most of the Daesh attackers were killed,” a Druze official told us. “The only escapees were those who were kidnapped in the first village: 29 women, teenagers and babies.”

One 19-year-old student already has been beheaded by ISIS, which also quickly posted pictures of their Druze female captives and demanded that the Syrian regime stop attacking them and exchange ISIS prisoners held by the regime for these women and children.

In addition to the sensational pictures of the helpless women holding their hands above their heads in the desert, ISIS sent a video of one of their Druze captives, 35-year-old A Shalguinz, who delivered her baby in the desert.

“Daesh said they will make them sabaya [slaves] if the regime doesn’t’ give 100 prisoners to them and the regime refused,” one of our interlocutors told us.

People in the Middle East constantly speculate about the machinations of their governments and political parties, and rumors are taken seriously since verifiable facts often are hard or impossible to come by. But the Assad regime and ISIS at this moment have a coincidence of interests that is hard to mistake.

Assad currently is readying his troops and Russian- and Iranian-backed allies to attack the jihadist militants in Idlib, and the Druze leaders we talked to feel that their people were directly punished for not agreeing to join the Syrians in that operation.

Replaying the events that occurred prior to the slaughter and kidnapping, one Druze leader points out that about a week before the massacre, “Three Russian military officers came to the region to meet the political representatives of our area. They were meeting to create the 5th army in the region, exclusively for that region, so that all the young Druze who fled the Syrian Army and the Druze reservists are invited back.”

If the Druze have anything like as many as the 53,000 combatants they claim, obviously they could be hugely valuable to the regime’s army. But that was not going to happen.

“We don’t attack outside of our area. We only defend ourselves if necessary,” said the same official. “They came and said, ‘We’ll make the 5th battalion to protect the area. They can join the combat against al Nusra [al Qaeda linked jihadists] in Idlib,” he explained. “But the local representative answered them clearly, that they cannot join any Syrian Army to combat outside the mountain of the Druze, only defensive not offensive actions.”

Assad’s alleged complicity with ISIS is long, gruesome, and well documented. Recently he has had a policy of allowing armed militants to escape from cities in busses, ostensibly to reduce the risk of civilian casualties.

““It is known that Daesh militants in the suburbs of Damascus have been displaced to the east of Sweida in green buses by an agreement with the government: 1,400 Daesh were moved this way to the area east of Sweida and near the Tanf base of the Americans,” one of our Druze sources told us.

The U.S. garrison at al-Tanf sits on the strategic Baghdad-Damascus highway, located in Syria on the Iraqi border and within miles of the Jordanian border. This outpost has served as a launching point since 2016 for counter-ISIS operations including training for Syrian opposition factions fighting ISIS, al-Nusra and other jihadists.

“Adding to that, 1,000 combatants of Daesh came in a discreet way from the Yarmouk area [a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus] to join the local Daesh, estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 combatants,” said one of the Druze officials who talked to us. “We know this by internal sources of the Syrian army. There are still some Druze of the army who leak this information to us.” In these transfers, ISIS fighters “have the right to take their individual Kalashnikov and three magazines. According to the government all of them came armed this way as the Syrian government gave them this safe passage to move to our area.”

“On the 24th of July most of the official checkpoints of the Syrian army around Sweida were withdrawn—all around the villages where the massacres occurred,” this Druze official told us. “They hit at 7 a.m., but at night something else was happening. Where the villages are—facing the Daesh area—the Syrian army withdrew the local weapons from the local protection militias. No one knew why. They also withdrew their checkpoint in the area and cut the electricity and local phone service. The regime was a spectator to the massacre.”

“We think there is complicity between Daesh and the regime,” another of the Druze leaders said. “It’s so obvious to us. The regime refused to send ambulances to assist the population. They cut the electricity as well and the local telephone service to make it difficult to communicate. They couldn’t cut the mobiles.”

One of the 10 captured ISIS attackers admits on an interrogation video shared by the Druze leaders that in the village massacres a man from the Syrian government guided them from house to house, knocking on the doors and calling the inhabitants by name so they would unwittingly open their doors to the ISIS attackers.

This is not the first time we have heard of such cynical and deadly complicity between the Assad regime and the ISIS terrorists it supposedly is fighting. We have interviewed, now, 91 men and women who defected from ISIS or were taken prisoner by the forces fighting it. They have told us that ISIS sold grain and oil to the Syrian government while in return they were supplied with electricity, and that the Syrians even sent in experts to help repair the oil facility in Deir ez Zour, a major city in southeast Syria, under ISIS protection. Early in the the revolution, Bashar al-Assad released al Qaeda operatives and other jihadists from his prison to make the case that he was fighting terrorists, not rebellious people hoping for democracy. One of those jihadists he released, known as Alabssi, was one of the ISIS leaders in the battle in Sweida.

In neighboring Iraq, ISIS has been declared militarily defeated since November 2017. President Donald Trump, in his state of the union speech in January this year, said, “I’m proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated very close to 100 percent of the territory just recently held by these killers in Iraq and in Syria.” But on the ground, U.S.-led coalition forces say that in the area patrolled by Americans and their close allies, around 1,000 ISIS militants are still at large. And an estimated 9,000 ISIS militants are still roaming free in Syria and Iraq. And in both places heinous attacks continue to occur.

Where did the fighters come from who carried out the massacre in Sweida? Ten ISIS fighters were captured and hundreds killed. According to our sources 83 ID cards were recovered. Most were Chechens, Palestinians from the Syrian camps, and some Saudis. There was a Moroccan and a Turkman among them, a Russian and a Libyan, as well as some Iraqis. Supposedly the brother of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, commanded the assault.

The Chechens who were slain were all wearing suicide vests—as usual, our source said. Those who attacked in the center of Sweida wore suicide vests, but so did the snipers using powerful rifles to shoot from distant rooftops. “That’s where most our casualties came from,” said one of the Druze officials. “It seems ISIS is alive and well despite international reports that they are defeated, or nearly defeated.”

One of the officials will only speak to us anonymously out of concern the attack can be repeated. “If they kidnap one, they will kidnap more,” he worries. Some 114 villages and small towns are around Sweida with half a million Druze living there.

The leaders of Druze mountain tell us that they are now also appealing to the international community to be protected by an international force, as the Kurdish area is protected by the Americans, and to assist them to bring back the kidnapped women to their families.

“To safeguard our community and to protect the diversity in the future of Syria, we need to create a crescent against aggressors,” said one of the politicians. Running from north to south, including parts of Iraq, it would protect the Kurds, the Yazidis, Christians, and Druze. “The minorities are looking to the Coalition as the only credible force in the area,” he said, adding, “The crescent strategically speaking would also cut the Iranians from access to the regime.”

The world must decide whether or not to respond, but the record thus far does not hold out much hope.

Author’s note: This piece first published at the Daily Beast

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The armed conflict between ISIS and al Qaeda has reached its climax

Uran Botobekov

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Al Qaeda-backed Central Asian jihadists

How Central Asian jihadists kill each other in Syria?

Exactly one year ago, on July 10, 2017, the Islamic state citadel of Mosul city was liberated and, as a result, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi solemnly announced that the Caliphate in Iraq had finally and irrevocably fallen.More than three months later, on October 17, 2017, the Kurdish combat units of the Syrian Democratic Forces, with the support of the aviation of the international anti-terrorist coalition led by the United States, drove out the Islamic State from the Syrian city of Raqqa.

But, as the terrorist attacks carried out by the supporters of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2018 in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Canada showed, the Islamic state managed to regain its strength over the past year and further expanded the geography of its military operations. While victorious fanfares sounded, ISIS fighters successfully mastered the tactics of guerrilla warfare and deeply integrated into the Sunni population of the Middle East and Central Asia. Pinpoint terrorist strikes clearly indicate that the victory over the Islamic state is still far away and the jihadists are determined to take revenge. Today ISIS is conducting an intense offensive guerrilla war not only against Western countries and government regimes in the region but also against the Taliban and armed groups of alQaeda, who are its ideological rivals for leadership in the jihadist world.

In this brutal and intra-factional war between ISIS Islamist groups on the one hand, and al Qaeda and Taliban on the other hand, the jihadists of the Central Asia’s five countries, called the “Stans”, are actively participating.Islamists from the Fergana Valley, because of ideological confrontation, were divided into supporters of al-Baghdadi and Ayman al-Zawahiri and often commit terrorist acts against each other in Syria.

According to the Hayat Tahrir al Sham–affiliated information agency Ebaa, on July 9, 2018, an attack was carried out in Syria’s city Idlib against the amir’s house of the Central Asian terrorist group Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad Abu Saloh. As a result of the attack, his wife and four-year-old son were killed. The Uzbek jihadists’ leader himself was not injured. Security officer Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Anas al-Sheikh said that the house of Abu Saloh was attacked by an armed Khawarij (al Qaeda uses the term “Khawarij” as a synonym for ‘extremist’ to describe members of the ISIS), who was detained by the security forces of the city after hot pursuit.During the interrogation, a member of the Islamic state confessed to the crime. He was recruited by ISIS in Turkey. Later “Khawarij” was executed, Ebaa agency reported.

This is not the first victim among the Central Asian jihadists as a result of an armed confrontation between ISIS and al Qaeda. On April 27, 2017, during the evening prayer in the mosque of a Syrian city of Idlib, leader of the al Qaeda-backed Katibat Imam al Bukhari Sheikh Salahuddin was killed by an ISIS militant who was from Uzbekistan. The Islamic State distributed the following statement via Telegram messenger in this regard, “The emir of detachment of Katibat al-Imam Bukhari, Sheikh Salahuddin, was punished according to Sharia law for all the betrayals he committed.”Two ISIS terrorists from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan who murdered the Sheikh Salahuddin were detained and executed.

Lately in the northwestern province of Idlib, which is the last stronghold of the Syrian armed opposition, terrorist attacks of ISIS militants on military and religious sites al Qaeda-backed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham sharply intensified.Lately in the northwestern province of Idlib, which is the last stronghold of the Syrian armed opposition, terrorist attacks of ISIS militants on military and religious sites of al Qaeda-backed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham sharply intensified.

Terrorist organizations from Central Asia such as Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Katibat al-Imam Bukhari, as well as Uyghur groups from Chinese Xinjiang, the Turkestan Islamic Party and Katibat al-Ghuraba are located in Idlib.All of them were affiliated with al Qaeda and were fighting within the largest jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The Salafi-jihadi ideologues of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham are making efforts to transform the Idlib province into an emirate ruled under Shariah.

According the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 229 jihadists of al Qaeda were assassinated by ISIS terrorist attacks. Of these, 153 fighters belong to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, al Qaeda-linked jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Izza, and other factions operating in Idlib. 25 jihadists of Uzbek, Uyghur and Caucasian nationalities have been assassinated in the same ways.

Caliphate rising from the ashes

On July 12, 2018, ISIS’ media center Amaq issued the message with three images from an improvised explosive device attack in Idlib city. The target was Sheikh Anas Ayrout, the President of the Court of Appeal in Idlib, a longtime opposition figure and senior Sharia official who played a key role in the formation of the Syrian Salvation Government. Based on Shariah rule the Syrian Salvation Government is a civil authority formed in Idlib province in early November 2017 and backed by the rebel coalition Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

A pinpoint attempt on such a high ranking religious and political figure indicates that the explosion was not accidental or chaotic.The al-Baghdadi militants have studied the possible routes of Sheikh Anas Ayrout and easily identified his car. They received from the Syrian Salvation Government information about when he would travel on this route.From this, it can be concluded that the Islamic state succeeded in introducing its agents into the military and religious structures of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and created a complex network of underground cells throughout Syria, including the Idlib province.

On July 13, 2018, the Islamic State’s propaganda machine released the information with several photos about the assassination of the Turkey-backed Sultan Murad Division rebel group’s leader Abu Ahmed al-Sansawi in Idlib city.ISIS’ photos clearly showed that the killing was a targeted assassination, during which the terrorists confidently pursued the car of al-Sansawi. This once again testifies that the underground ISIS network is organized at a high level, and they have mastered the tactics of guerrilla warfare.

The Media Center Amaq almost daily reports about Islamic state’s successful armed attacks on the positions of the “enemies of Islam” Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in the province of Idlib.Indeed, the guerrilla attacks and terrorist acts of the supporters of al-Baghdadi not only complicated the life of al-Qaeda-backed jihadists in Idlib, but they also caused a more serious threat to the security and defense of the entire armed Syrian opposition, than a possible attack by the Assad army and Iranian proxy Shiite militias with the support of Russian aviation.

On July 25, 2018, ISIS gunmen committed the bloodiest attack in Syria’s history in the southwestern Sweida province, killing 215 people and injuring 180 people.The sad reality is that the fighters of al Baghdadi survived the air strikes of the Western coalition and today continue to pour out streams of blood in Sham.They are trying to prove to the outside world and the entire Sunni jamaat that, despite the fall of Mosul and Raqqa, the military, human and organizational potential of the ISIS remains high.

Today, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Central Asian Salafi-jihadi groups have to fight on three fronts: with the armed forces of the Assad regime, the Iranian controlled Shiite proxy units and ideological opponents of the Islamic state.If the war with the first two is outlined by a clear front line, then the fight against ISIS is conducted as an invisible guerrilla war.

Since 2017, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham regularly conducts a security campaign to identify ISIS clandestine cells and eliminate its agents in the province of Idlib.But it is very difficult to solve the problem of ensuring the security.To intimidate those who support the emir of the overthrown Caliphate al Baghdadi and those who sympathize with him, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham began to publicly execute the ISIS prisoners of war.

On July 14, Anas Sheikh, a security officer inIdlib, told Eba news agency that in the village of Sarmin,Hayat Tahrir al-Sham executed 8 ISIS members led by their commander Abu Barra Sahili. As evidence, the group’s propagandists published a photo of executed terrorists.

On July 24, Eba agency reported that HTS militants destroyed a large cell of the Islamic state in the village of Jisr Shugur in the west of Idlib.As a result, the deputy amir of ISIS in Idlib Abu Said al-Shishani was captured and immediately executed. His photo was published on the Eba website.

Abu Said al-Shishani was the brother of ISIS military minister, Abu Omar al-Shishani (real name Tarkhan Batirashvili), a well-known Chechen terrorist and the closest military adviser to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.The US Treasury Department added Batirashvili to its list of “Specially Designated Global Terrorists”, and the US government announced a reward up to $5 million for information leading to his capture in 2015.

A sacrifice of the pure Islam

It should be noted that according to the direction of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri,Hayat Tahrir al Sham and Central Asian jihadist groups avoided publicizing public executions of their enemies.But the difficult situation caused by the terrorist attacks of ISIS, apparently, forced the ideologists of al Qaeda to change the tactics of their propaganda.

In response, the jihadists of the Islamic state staged a wave of terror in the province of Idlib, as revenge for the murder of their members.They named their operation in honor of the murdered commander Abu Barra Sahili.Such a tradition was initiated by al Baghdadi himself.Earlier, ISIS carried out a military operation in honor of the lost military minister, Abu Omar al-Shishani, and in honor of the official spokesperson and senior leader of the Caliphate, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani.

The ideological rivalry and armed conflict between al Qaeda and ISIS for the leadership in the jihadist world has reached its peak.As is known, both terrorist groups are fighting for the purity of Islam.Both seek to establish Sharia laws, create an Islamic caliphate and to spread it around the world.ISIS ideologists consider the supporters of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham apostates and kaafirs (infidels).Al Qaeda described the supporters of the Islamic state as Khawarij (the early Islamic sect that was involved in the disruption of the unity of the Muslims and rebelled against the Khalifah).

From the analysis of ISIS activities over the last six months, it can be concluded that, firstly, the group leaders are trying to compensate for the loss of the Caliphate with abundant terrorist acts behind enemy lines and by expanding the geography of “the holy war.” Secondly, the supporters of the Islamic state managed to create at an advanced level an expanded underground network among Sunni Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Yemen and Egypt. Thirdly, the publication of statements and press releases in the Amaq News Agency show that terrorist acts in different countries and regions are managed from a single ISIS center.

From a practical point of view, fighting between jihadists of the Islamic state and al Qaeda is beneficial to all countries that are fighting Islamist extremism and terrorism. A long and bloody confrontation will undoubtedly weaken the human, technical and financial potential of both Salafi-jihadi groups.

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Total Catastrophe Demands Total Solution: Boko Haram and the Dilemma of Northeast Nigeria

Chukwuemeka Egberase Okuchukwu

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The Boko Haram insurgency, far from being over and ravaging Northeastern Nigeria, has affected both the physical and social environment and led to displacing many residents of the Northeast from their homes. The Boko Haram insurgency, which can be traced back to the year 2009, has resulted in a grave humanitarian crisis with so many internally displaced persons in dire need of global intervention and assistance from donor agencies and states. The insurgency since 2013 has led to the displacement of 2.4 million people, including women and children making up the highest percentage most affected by the conflict. Food insecurity remains a major concern to the international community, with 5.2 million people in need of life-saving food assistance, especially those who are in IDP camps. Also, there is a growing health challenge being experienced by internally displaced persons.  For instance, on 16 August 2017 a cholera outbreak was reported on the outskirts of Borno’s capital, Maiduguri, and later on in Dikwa and Monguno as well. Within just two weeks there were 125 suspected/confirmed cases as well as eight suspected cholera-related deaths. These health challenges facing IDPs won’t change in the foreseeable future due to the limited humanitarian aid from donor agencies. Thus, these entirely preventable diseases are becoming endemic throughout the northeast.

Also in August 2017 there were major attacks against civilians, including despicable suicide bombings inside of IDP camps. Over 10 suicide bombing attacks took place during the reported period in Borno alone. These attacks have understandably discouraged humanitarian agencies from deploying their aid workers to the theatre of the conflict. Considering the high risks posed by the Boko Haram insurgency, most aid workers are unwilling to work in the Northeast part of Nigeria entirely, which consequently means the fate of all the IDPs there, within camps and without, are at the mercy of Boko Haram.

In order to ensure that humanitarian actors can continue to address the most pressing needs, physical access must be improved in northeast Nigeria which will help reduce the dilemma confronting IDPs in the region. It was discovered that by August 2017 the lack of access in certain areas of northeast Nigeria prevented food security organizations from reaching over 337,000 affected persons. Furthermore, the unpredictable internal migration movements of IDPs continue to pose a grave challenge to humanitarian agencies’ ability to respond in a timely and targeted manner. There is a collective agreement by all the non-Boko Haram northeast stakeholders that a return to normalcy and comprehensive resettlement of all IDPs across the region is the penultimate goal, second only to ensuring stable economic growth for the region’s sustainable redevelopment as the ultimate fight against extremism. This collective agreement has led the federal government of President Muhammadu Buhari to intensify its efforts to bring normalcy to the region and resettlement of all IDPs by directly engaging selected Boko Haram-controlled areas. In the meantime, however, this engagement increases the instability (if also dynamism) of the IDP situation.

According to the UNHCR December 2016 Report, out of the estimated 176,000 Nigerians (a sub-set of the total 2.3 Million IDPs) who fled to neighboring countries (Cameroon, Chad, and Niger), only 17,000 have returned and under circumstances falling far short of international standards. In many of these cases, the returnees are being processed to join other IDPs in formal and informal camps. This above report shows a certain level of dynamism, as they indicate that the returns are beginning to happen spontaneously. For instance, 2016 governmental reports on return assessments indicated that an estimated total of 332,333 IDPs (47,476 IDP households) returned to northern Adamawa (Mubi North, Mubi South, Michika, Maiha, Hong and Gombi). IDPs in Yobe are also beginning to relocate to communities and camps close to their original communities and only Borno State currently has the slowest rates of IDP returns. This is on account of the intermittent progress being made by the Nigerian military to defeat Boko Haram and the fact that many IDPs indicated a strong willingness to return of their own accord to their home communities if safety and security was at least semi-guaranteed. However, the comprehensive and full resettlement and return of IDPs to their homes depends largely on the total defeat of Boko Haram insurgents. Despite progress by the Nigerian military, that total victory is far from achieved or guaranteed.

There is a dire need for infrastructural development in the region as the Boko Haram insurgency has resulted in the destruction of facilities and installations, especially healthcare and educational institutions throughout the northeast. This dearth of infrastructural development has generated immense concerns which led to the National Assembly putting forward a bill to begin engineering this essential development of the region. Most recently, there was the signing of the Northeast Development Commission Bill by President Buhari. This law provides for the establishment of the Northeast Development Commission (NEDC). How effective this will be in bringing meaningful development to the conflict-ravaged region depends largely on how much funding is diverted to it and how sincerely and honestly will the commission manage those funds?

Thus, the way forward to ensure lasting peace while overcoming the grave humanitarian crisis confronting the northeast part of Nigeria is for the federal government (through its military and executive branch) to intensify efforts and show a high level of commitment toward not only defeating Boko Haram insurgents but making the economic, social, and food security of all citizens there politically paramount. Humanitarian global actors should also increase their efforts by committing more personnel physically to the region, thus reinforcing the commitment of the Nigerian government.  Finally, the management of the Northeast Development Commission (NEDC) should be free of corruption and manipulation when rebuilding the northeast, in order to avoid the pitfalls that bedeviled an earlier commission with similar mandate, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Until all parties involved, local and global, understand the holistic effort needed to not just overcome extremist elements but make Nigeria truly safe for all Nigerians, then the scourge of Boko Haram will continue.

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