America’s plans to fight Islamic State are in ruins as the militant group’s fighters come close to capturing Kobani and have inflicted a heavy defeat on the Iraqi army west of Baghdad.
The US-led air attacks launched against Islamic State (also known as Isis) on 8 August in Iraq and 23 September in Syria have not worked. President Obama’s plan to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State has not even begun to achieve success. In both Syria and Iraq, Isis is expanding its control rather than contracting.
Isis reinforcements have been rushing towards Kobani in the past few days to ensure that they win a decisive victory over the Syrian Kurdish town’s remaining defenders. The group is willing to take heavy casualties in street fighting and from air attacks in order to add to the string of victories it has won in the four months since its forces captured Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, on 10 June. Part of the strength of the fundamentalist movement is a sense that there is something inevitable and divinely inspired about its victories, whether it is against superior numbers in Mosul or US airpower at Kobani.
In the face of a likely Isis victory at Kobani, senior US officials have been trying to explain away the failure to save the Syrian Kurds in the town, probably Isis’s toughest opponents in Syria. “Our focus in Syria is in degrading the capacity of [Isis] at its core to project power, to command itself, to sustain itself, to resource itself,” said US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, in a typical piece of waffle designed to mask defeat. “The tragic reality is that in the course of doing that there are going to be places like Kobani where we may or may not be able to fight effectively.”
Unfortunately for the US, Kobani isn’t the only place air strikes are failing to stop Isis. In an offensive in Iraq launched on 2 October but little reported in the outside world, Isis has captured almost all the cities and towns it did not already hold in Anbar province, a vast area in western Iraq that makes up a quarter of the country. It has captured Hit, Kubaisa and Ramadi, the provincial capital, which it had long fought for. Other cities, towns and bases on or close to the Euphrates River west of Baghdad fell in a few days, often after little resistance by the Iraqi Army which showed itself to be as dysfunctional as in the past, even when backed by US air strikes.
Today, only the city of Haditha and two bases, Al-Assad military base near Hit, and Camp Mazrah outside Fallujah, are still in Iraqi government hands. Joel Wing, in his study –”Iraq’s Security Forces Collapse as The Islamic State Takes Control of Most of Anbar Province” – concludes: “This was a huge victory as it gives the insurgents virtual control over Anbar and poses a serious threat to western Baghdad”.
The battle for Anbar, which was at the heart of the Sunni rebellion against the US occupation after 2003, is almost over and has ended with a decisive victory for Isis. It took large parts of Anbar in January and government counter-attacks failed dismally with some 5,000 casualties in the first six months of the year. About half the province’s 1.5 million population has fled and become refugees. The next Isis target may be the Sunni enclaves in western Baghdad, starting with Abu Ghraib on the outskirts but leading right to the centre of the capital.
The Iraqi government and its foreign allies are drawing comfort, there having been some advances against Isis in the centre and north of the country. But north and north-east of Baghdad the successes have not been won by the Iraqi army but by highly sectarian Shia militias which do not distinguish between Isis and the rest of the Sunni population. They speak openly of getting rid of Sunni in mixed provinces such as Diyala where they have advanced. The result is that Sunni in Iraq have no alternative but to stick with Isis or flee, if they want to survive. The same is true north-west of Mosul on the border with Syria, where Iraqi Kurdish forces, aided by US air attacks, have retaken the important border crossing of Rabia, but only one Sunni Arab remained in the town. Ethnic and sectarian cleansing has become the norm in the war in both Iraq and Syria.
The US’s failure to save Kobani, if it falls, will be a political as well as military disaster. Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the loss of the beleaguered town are even more significant than the inability so far of air strikes to stop Isis taking 40 per cent of it. At the start of the bombing in Syria, President Obama boasted of putting together a coalition of Sunni powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to oppose Isis, but these all have different agendas to the US in which destroying IS is not the first priority. The Sunni Arab monarchies may not like Isis, which threatens the political status quo, but, as one Iraqi observer put it, “they like the fact that Isis creates more problems for the Shia than it does for them”.
Of the countries supposedly uniting against Isis, by the far most important is Turkey because it shares a 510-mile border with Syria across which rebels of all sorts, including Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, have previously passed with ease. This year the Turks have tightened border security, but since its successes in the summer Isis no longer needs sanctuary, supplies and volunteers from outside to the degree it once did.
In the course of the past week it has become clear that Turkey considers the Syrian Kurd political and military organisations, the PYD and YPG, as posing a greater threat to it than the Islamic fundamentalists. Moreover, the PYD is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey since 1984.
Ever since Syrian government forces withdrew from the Syrian Kurdish enclaves or cantons on the border with Turkey in July 2012, Ankara has feared the impact of self-governing Syrian Kurds on its own 15 million-strong Kurdish population.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would prefer Isis to control Kobani, not the PYD. When five PYD members, who had been fighting Isis at Kobani, were picked up by the Turkish army as they crossed the border last week they were denounced as “separatist terrorists”.
Turkey is demanding a high price from the US for its co-operation in attacking Isis, such as a Turkish-controlled buffer zone inside Syria where Syrian refugees are to live and anti-Assad rebels are to be trained. Mr Erdogan would like a no-fly zone which will also be directed against the government in Damascus since Isis has no air force. If implemented the plan would mean Turkey, backed by the US, would enter the Syrian civil war on the side of the rebels, though the anti-Assad forces are dominated by Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate.
It is worth keeping in mind that Turkey’s actions in Syria since 2011 have been a self-defeating blend of hubris and miscalculation. At the start of the uprising, it could have held the balance between the government and its opponents. Instead, it supported the militarisation of the crisis, backed the jihadis and assumed Assad would soon be defeated. This did not happen and what had been a popular uprising became dominated by sectarian warlords who flourished in conditions created by Turkey. Mr Erdogan is assuming he can disregard the rage of the Turkish Kurds at what they see as his complicity with Isis against the Syrian Kurds. This fury is already deep, with 33 dead, and is likely to get a great deal worse if Kobani falls.
Why doesn’t Ankara worry more about the collapse of the peace process with the PKK that has maintained a ceasefire since 2013? It may believe that the PKK is too heavily involved in fighting Isis in Syria that it cannot go back to war with the government in Turkey. On the other hand, if Turkey does join the civil war in Syria against Assad, a crucial ally of Iran, then Iranian leaders have said that “Turkey will pay a price”. This probably means that Iran will covertly support an armed Kurdish insurgency in Turkey. Saddam Hussein made a somewhat similar mistake to Mr Erdogan when he invaded Iran in 1980, thus leading Iran to reignite the Kurdish rebellion that Baghdad had crushed through an agreement with the Shah in 1975. Turkish military intervention in Syria might not end the war there, but it may well spread the fighting to Turkey.
A field supervisor in the Census Bureau’s Denver region has informed her organization’s higher-ups, the head of the Commerce Department and congressional investigators that she believes economic data collected by her office is being falsified.
And this whistleblower – who asked that I not identify her – said her bosses in Denver ignored her warnings even after she provided details of wrongdoing by three different survey takers.
The three continued to collect data even after she reported them.
When I spoke with this whistleblower earlier this year as part of my investigation of Census, she told me that hundreds of interviews that go into the Labor Department’s unemployment rate and inflation surveys would miraculously be completed just hours before deadline.
The implication was that someone with the ability to fill in the blanks on incomplete surveys was doing just that.
The Denver whistleblower also provided to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform the names of other Census workers who can spill the beans about data fraud in other regions.
Census is broken up into six regions. Cheating has already been proven in the Philadelphia region. And with this whistleblower’s letter, Census authorities now have allegations that the same kind of nonsense was going on in Denver – that office covers Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming
The Oversight Committee recently completed a report along with the Joint Economic Committee of Congress that verified one case of falsification in the Philly office. But the committee said it couldn’t prove or disprove that there was a nationwide pattern of data fraud because Commerce – which oversees Census – had “obstructed” its investigation.
“There are serious issues within the Census Bureau Denver regional office management and I feel it’s time that you are made aware of them,” the whistleblower wrote on Sept. 30 to Penny Pritzker, the head of Commerce, and Wayne Hatcher, associate director of Census Field operations.
That same information, along with about a thousand e-mails and other documents, was also sent to the Oversight Committee.
The case of falsified data in Philly – by a surveyor named Julius Buckmon – resulted in a lengthy investigation by Commerce’s Inspector General as well as the probe by the Oversight Committee and the Joint Economic Committee.
The IG’s investigation resulted in widespread changes in the way data is collected and checked. One of the key changes is that supervisors can no longer conduct what are called “re-interviews” of their own workers’ surveys.
By conducting a re-interview, Census can often spot a fraudulent survey. The problem is that the supervisors conducting the re-interview weren’t motivated to report fraud because it reduced the number of completed responses they could report toward their quota.
I asked recently the Denver whistleblower her opinion on the surveys Census is providing. “When the question is asked about data quality, my answer would be simple, there is none,” she said.
“I wouldn’t trust any data from the Census Bureau,” she added.
Last Friday, for instance, Labor announced that a healthy 248,000 new jobs were created in September, when the unemployment rate dipped to 5.9 percent from 6.1 percent.
Those 248,000 new jobs are determined by a survey of companies – the Establishment Survey, it’s called – that is conducted by Labor itself. So while some people rightly take issue with the quality and temporary nature of many of those new jobs – and the fact that not enough have been created in the current economic cycle – the tabulation itself isn’t really in doubt.
The 5.9 percent unemployment rate comes from the Household Survey that Labor hires Census to conduct. There are big concerns about the truthfulness of the jobless rate, especially since this is the last report before the November congressional elections.
For instance, in September the rate fell to 5.9 percent mainly because 315,000 more people told Census they stopped looking for a job.
In fact, about a third of the recent decline in the unemployment rate can be attributed to a decline in the so-called Labor Participation Rate, which is now at a 36-year low. Ninety-six million Americans no longer consider themselves in the labor force.
Some think there is a logical explanation for this: baby boomers who are leaving the workforce because they simply don’t want to work anymore. But the data doesn’t bear that out.
There were 230,000 more workers aged 50 or older in the Household Survey released Friday. So how did the workforce decline by 315,000 people, if aging baby boomers were increasingly looking for jobs?
It’s either a miracle or someone’s pulling our leg.
It was advertised as must-see, the first meaningful – and potentially impactful – week of the youthful college football season. Oftentimes these instances provide more sizzle than steak, Week 6 was a glaring, glorious exception. It was madness. It was historic.
Take that AP Top 25 Poll from last week and toss it in the nearest wastebasket or fireplace. It will do you no good now. After 11 ranked teams (that’s almost half) fell in one weekend, we’ll have to go back to the drawing board.
It began with No. 2 Oregon on Thursday night. The Ducks, even as more than a three-touchdown favorite coming off a bye and playing at home, were unable to hold off Rich Rodriguez and the Arizona Wildcats.
Texas A&M, the nation’s No. 6 team heading into Week 6, fell to Mississippi State in Starkville, albeit as a slight underdog. And to ensure that the entire state of Mississippi had something to celebrate, Ole Miss took out Alabama – the No. 3 team – prompting a field takeover for the ages.
Just as the chaos of Oxford was setting in, TCU took out No. 4 Oklahoma following a blitz of touchdowns and turnovers. And, to cap off a day of carnage, Utah took down No. 8 UCLA on a missed last-second field goal.
The result is pure, unaltered chaos and the first major shakeup of a season that still has so much more to give. Given the scenario, it also makes the search for the nation’s No. 1 team a taxing task.
As for the unbeaten contenders worthy of consideration, let’s explore the options.
Until further notice, this is the No. 1 team. Florida State has acquired that label, and it didn’t change on Saturday. Now, despite the label, the Seminoles haven’t looked the part of the nation’s top team for much of this season, although one of the alternatives to winning ugly is losing outright. (See: Above.)
Florida State started slow once again against Wake Forest – one of the country’s most anemic offenses – but quickly pulled away after some initial struggles. The defense played its best game, albeit against a unit it should look good against, and the offense eventually picked up the pace.
But Jameis Winston, at least by the absurd standards he set last year, has struggled. The offensive line has had issues. The defense, at times, has looked vulnerable.
And yet, Florida State still has more overall talent than just about any other team. It simply comes down to putting it together. More importantly, it comes down to staying unbeaten, and the Seminoles have managed to do just that.
Until that changes, regardless of the style points attached, Florida State isn’t going anywhere.
It’s no longer just a really fast, talented offense. The Auburn defense has taken enormous strides in 2014, something that was evident in an ugly win against Kansas State earlier this year and on Saturday in a blowout win against LSU.
The Tigers, having put it in cruise control for much of the season, showed off their next level against Les Miles’ youth-infused group on Saturday night.
Quarterback Nick Marshall showed the full range of skills that make him (and this team) dangerous. With multiple touchdowns passing and rushing on Saturday, Marshall showcased his advanced versatility that will continue to keep defenses honest. He also has a lovely buffet of weapons around him.
If Marshall’s defense can come close to matching the production it has delivered early on, this team will be incredibly difficult to beat.
With many meaningful conference games on the horizon – including an enormous tussle against Mississippi State next week – Auburn will have ample opportunities to validate its inclusion in this discussion.
It’s time to start viewing Mississippi State as more than just a good story. And really, this conversation should have started before Week 6.
Following its dominating 48-31 victory over Texas A&M – and it wasn’t even that close – the Bulldogs have thrown their name in the ring when it comes to consideration for the top team in the country.
We don’t hand out October Heismans, thankfully, but you could make the argument that quarterback Dak Prescott would be your winner if the award was handed out Saturday. That’s a fancy way of highlighting his incredible production, and his five-touchdown game against A&M was an extension of what he’s done all season.
Add in running back Josh Robinson – maybe the nation’s most underrated back – and offensively this group has been sensational. With the defense playing the way it is, particularly up front, it’s hard to find any glaring holes with this roster.
With Auburn on deck, the celebration will be short. The Bulldogs, no longer content with a “nice” season, are on the verge of something far greater.
When you beat Alabama, you get noticed. That’s not the only reason why Ole Miss warrants your consideration as the nation’s top team, although it’s a fabulous place to start.
The Rebels’ 23-17 victory over the Crimson Tide was a good synopsis of what they’ve done all year. The defense might be the best in the country or, at the very least, one of the most athletic.
The offense, led by quarterback Bo Wallace, hasn’t been embraced quite the same way. After Wallace threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes on Saturday, however, that might change. Still, the reputation surrounding his inconsistent play will continue, even if he’s tired of hearing it, a sentiment echoed in his comments, courtesy of The Clarion-Ledger’s Riley Blevin:
Like its in-state rival, Ole Miss won’t have to wait long to back up this talk. Hugh Freeze’s team will visit a hungry Texas A&M next week, as the SEC West gauntlet continues.
We’ve been waiting for Freeze’s recruiting success to develop into something more. With no ceiling in sight yet, it would appear that this time is now.
OTHER TEAMS TO CONSIDER
Baylor: The Bears offense was stagnant for much of the first half against the Texas Longhorns, although the defense stepped up and has been better than anticipated. With Oklahoma’s loss, Baylor is suddenly the favorite in the Big 12. There’s plenty of work to be done – including a road game against the Sooners along with a lively and alive TCU squad – although the Bears have done more than simply survive.
Notre Dame: At this point, perhaps it’s a stretch to anoint the Irish as the nation’s top team. And yet, Notre Dame’s victory against the Stanford Cardinal in brutal conditions highlighted the various ways this team can win. It’s so much more than quarterback Everett Golson; this defense has played fabulously thus far.
An Array of One-Loss Teams: We’re breaking the rules here, but it’s important we do so. Look at your calendar. It is early October. So much can and will happen over the next few months, which is something this sport has taught you time and time again.
A loss isn’t the end of the world, especially with the debut of a four-team playoff. While it can be an enormous, telling setback, the beauty of it all is the finish line is still nowhere in sight.
Given the limited sample size that suddenly seems exponentially larger, give me Auburn as the nation’s No. 1 team after six weeks of college football.
The programs listed above – as well as others not mentioned – could all make strong cases as the top team in the country. With Auburn becoming more balanced each week, however, I’ll give the Tigers a slight edge at the moment.
But, as chaos looms, we’ll see how long this lasts.
…..Just a little taste of what you’ll find at the Daley Gator Videos site:
PAT CONDELL: LAUGHING AT THE NEW INQUISITION
MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS: MINISTRY OF SILLY WALKS SKETCH
DR. PAUL VITZ: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ATHEISM (PART 1)