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Dec. 1, 2016
Notes from the Pentagon

Islamic State continues to recruit scores of suicide bombers
The State Department on Monday released details of its most recent meeting of representatives of what it calls the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL — the Islamic State terrorist group.

While trumpeting progress in weakening the group, the department acknowledged that the al Qaeda offshoot, also known as ISIS, continues to recruit large numbers of suicide bombers for its attacks.

Islamic State “continues to produce scores of suicide bombers every month and it is poised to fight until the death in the territory that it continues to hold,” the department said in a readout of the latest meeting with ambassadors and officials from 68 countries. Still, coalition military, intelligence and law enforcement efforts have inflicted what the State Department called a “significant degradation to ISIL’s global network.”

The point man to counter the Islamic State is Brett McGurk, who outlined progress of the global campaign on Monday.

According to Mr. McGurk, President Obama’s special envoy to the coalition, local ground forces, backed by coalition forces, have retaken 56 percent of the territory held by the Islamic State since 2014 in Iraq and 27 percent of its territory in Syria. The flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq has dropped from around 1,000 per month in 2014 to about 500 a month in 2015, and to a “negligible” level today.

The drop in incoming fighters means the group will be unable to replenish its insurgents or reinforce positions in territory it holds.

On funding, joint intelligence and military operations cut the Islamic State’s ability to generate revenue and fund operations. “Coalition airstrikes have targeted its oil and gas production facilities, the trucks that have moved oil and gas to consumers, and its cash storage sites that hold ISIL’s financial reserves,” the department’s statement said. “Its access to the international financial system and outside funding has also been cut. This pressure has led ISIL to slash payments to its fighters and levy extortionist taxes upon the population it seeks to control.”

Additionally, tighter border controls have limited the ability of Islamic State fighters to move easily to areas outside Syria and Iraq where they could conduct attacks in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

A key success was the recent liberation of the northern Syrian town of Manbij on the Turkish border, which has served as a hub for foreign terrorist travel and operational plotting. The capture of Manbij produced what the department called “a treasure trove of intelligence information.”

The coalition also continues to target Islamic State leaders, who are being killed at an increasing rate. “We intend to dramatically accelerate this pressure over the coming months,” the statement said. The killings have removed nearly all of the deputies to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They include the chief of external operations and ministers of war, finance and propaganda.

“And it is a matter of time before Baghdadi meets the same fate,” the statement said, adding that Islamic State military planners of foreign terrorist attacks have been hit with drone and aircraft strikes.

Intelligence sources have said al-Baghdadi was targeted several times in the past two years but that strikes were called off to avoid collateral damage.

On the social media front, Twitter has blocked nearly 400,000 accounts related to the Islamic State in the past year, and recruiting efforts have been undermined by military gains against the group.

The coalition, however, remains unable to conduct counterideological operations against the Islamic State based on restrictions imposed by the Obama administration that prevent addressing the root cause of the terrorism — radical Islamic doctrine.

“While we continue to make significant gains against this barbaric enemy, we acknowledge that this will be a long-term fight that requires international cooperation,” the statement said.

Aides to President-elect Donald Trump say one of the many presidential directives to be struck down early in the Trump administration will be Presidential Study Directive-11, or PSD-11.

Key advisers to Mr. Trump, including incoming White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, have criticized the Obama administration over its policy of playing down or ignoring the Islamic nature of the global terrorist conflict. Many security analysts say one basis for the Obama administration’s ideological approach to terrorism is PSD-11. The still-secret directive, according to an official who has read it, is the main rationale behind the counterterrorism strategy of President Obama, who has sought to court the Islamist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood as an alternative ideology to that of al Qaeda and now the Islamic State.

Trump advisers told Inside the Ring that PSD-11 will be canceled as soon as the national security team takes office after Jan. 20. As part of a new transparency policy, the order also may be declassified to expose what the advisers say were harmful counterterrorism policies that restricted the government’s ability to understand and adequately counter the Islamist terrorist threat.

A Congressional Research Service report states that Mr. Trump will have powerful executive authority to cancel or revoke executive orders once in office.

“While the Constitution does not permit the president to single-handedly repeal or amend statutes, there is much that a new president can do to rapidly reverse the policies of a previous administration,” the Nov. 22 CRS report states.

Most executive actions fall into three categories: executive orders issued by the president that govern executive branch officials and agencies; discretionary agency directives and guidance documents that do not have the force of law; and agency rules issued pursuant to delegated authority from Congress that have the effect of law.

“An executive order may be as swiftly repealed as it was issued, and recent presidents have traditionally exercised this prerogative,” the report said. “For example, both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush acted quickly to revoke executive orders issued by their predecessors that did not reflect their own policy goals.”

Discretionary orders can be withdrawn by the heads of executive agencies, and agency rules and regulations can be repealed, although the repeal process can take time and must comply with mandated procedures.

“Reports suggest that the Trump Administration may target any number of existing rules for repeal, including rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Labor, and Food and Drug Administration,” the report said.

Security analysts discovered a new weapon in the Chinese air force arsenal — an air-launched missile dubbed the PL-XX. The missile was photographed by Chinese military enthusiasts and posted online — often the method used by Beijing authorities to disclose the first details of weapons systems.

The missile is over 15 feet, much longer than medium-range air-to-air missiles like the PL-12 or the U.S. AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile.

Private-sector military analysts say speculation about the missile ranged from the PL-XX being used as an aircraft-launched anti-satellite missile or as a missile to attack enemy radar. Richard Fisher, a China military specialist, believes the missile most likely will use a “lofted” or ballistic trajectory to extend its range up to 186 miles.

“It is similar to the Russian Novator KS-172 revealed in 2003, which also uses a ballistic trajectory to achieve 300-kilometer to 400-kilometer ranges,” Mr. Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told Inside the Ring.

“A Chinese air-to-air with a 300-kilometer (186-mile) or greater range would pose a new and unacceptable threat to U.S. air power in Asia, as well as to the air forces of major U.S. allies,” Mr. Fisher said.

The likely targets of the missile are large and slow-moving electronic support aircraft like Airborne Warning and Control aircraft and refueling tankers that are crucial for current U.S. air dominance operations.

“To deter China the U.S. needs to quickly develop a similar very long range air-to-air missile while both addressing the weaknesses of the Chinese air-to-air missile and increasing the survivability of U.S. large-support aircraft,” Mr. Fisher added.

Rapid fielding of a new long-range U.S. aerial strike missile could be used to counter Chinese electronic support aircraft that provide long-range targeting data for their new missile.

Also, future U.S. support aircraft should be made with greater radar-evading stealth features along with new active anti-missile defenses like lasers.

Military correspondent David Axe, writing for the online War Is Boring website, said the new missile was flight-tested recently and may be capable of striking U.S. warplanes at twice the range from which American pilots can shoot back.

Mr. Axe stated that the missile’s motor may propel it up to six times the speed of sound.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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