ISIS Recruits Take to the Sea

At an Interpol conference this week, outgoing Chief Ron Noble said European ISIS recruits are facing stepped up airport and bus station checks in Turkey, making it harder to get to Syria. Their solution: Book a cruise to Turkey, and exit at a port close to the Syrian border, like the coastal town of Izmet, and from there make their way into Syria.

Interpol is calling for the expansion of its I-Checkit program in the private sector. It already gets airline passenger information. Now it is is hoping to get passenger and customer information from cruise operators, banks, hotels and others. [More...]

The Cruise Lines International Association tells the AP they already share their U.S. passenger manifests with authorities so they can run the names through their databases.

Why doesn't Turkey just increase security and checks at border crossings into Syria? Even if the recruits get into Turkey via a cruise ship, they still have to cross a border to get into Syria. Maybe instead of sending our military to train Iraqi forces and Peshmerga, a likely futile endeavor, the U.S. should take some border patrol agents off the Mexican border and send them to Turkey to show them how it's done.

The Mexican cartels, which are just as violent as ISIS, haven't been blowing up U.S. border crossings or staging mass executions at them. How many border guards have been killed while doing car and truck searches? The cartels view having a load caught at the border as an acceptable risk and the cost of doing business. Maybe ISIS would see failed border crossing attempts by new recruits the same way – particularly since the recruits haven’t yet been accepted into ISIS, let alone trained as fighters.

While that’s not a serious suggestion, it would be nice to see some creative outside-the-box proposals, instead of the same old, ineffective one of stepped-up intrusions into everyone's privacy in hopes of catching a few bad guys.

Other half-serious suggestions: Where are the FBI and DEA informants, like the ones who are so good at playing members of FARC that they can trick seasoned Russian and Syrian arms smugglers and corrupt African officials willing to move huge loads of drugs? The U.S. only needs a few, because they use the same ones over and over. Even after the pretend FARC informants are outed and testify in court, they get their next prey to fall for the same ruse. Surely by now the FBI has some agents who can play an ISIS guy well enough to be able to meet a newbie recruit in Turkey and trick him into thinking he's the Syrian connection who's going to take him to a safe house and then across the border.

If not, maybe the FBI could recruit a few cooperating incarcerated terrorists for the job. They wouldn't even have to know a lot about Turkey or Syria, if they're only tasked with tricking European or American recruits who have never been there before.

Stopping the recruits at the Turkish-Syrian border and increasing the obstacles at the Syrian-Iraqi border seems like a better plan to me than spending $5.6 billion on aid and training for the Iraqi forces and Peshmerga in Iraq. Without new recruits ISIS may die out on its own in Iraq. While ISIS could change its policy at any time, at least so far, the European recruits say they are given their choice of going to Syria or Iraq, and the overwhelming majority choose Syria. They say Iraq is more difficult -- both in terms of the fighting and the accommodations. (Also, access to the internet isn't as good as it is in Syria.)

If ISIS can't regenerate the hundreds or thousands of fighters it loses in battle with new recruits, ISIS' rivals will sense when their numbers start dwindling. They will align with each other to take ISIS out. The rival militant groups may share ISIS' goal of a Caliphate state with Sharia law, but they sure don't agree al-Baghdadi should be the Caliph.

Obama was careful not to include Syria in yesterday's announcement of sending more advisers to Iraq to beat back ISIS. It's all about aid to Iraq. He said he wants to re-establish the border between Syria and Iraq so ISIS can't go back and forth between the two, making it easier for ISIS to advance in Iraq. It appears he's abandoned the ill-advised idea of training the Syrian rebels.

The so-called moderate rebels of the Syrian Revolutionary Front are in tatters. They want to take out Assad. They worked with Jabhat al Nusra (al Qaida) when it suited them. But they were also willing to work with the U.S. to get arms and training to use against Assad. When that didn't happen, and they saw civilians being killed in the airstrikes, they became unhappy with the U.S. But their earlier willingness to support the U.S. earned them a target on their back from al Nusra.

The other day, U.S strikes hit the Ahrar al Sham headquarters in Idlib, supposedly in its quest to kill "Khorasen" leaders. Ahrar al Sham are al Qaida backed rebels fighting Assad who sometimes work with Jabhat al Nusra. They are also popular in Syria. With the U.S. hitting Jabat al Nusra and Ahrar al Sham, what once was a decent relationship between the moderate rebels and JaN, is no more. The moderate rebels are basically in no-man's land, untrusted by the U.S., other rebels and al Nusra. None of the rebels believe any longer that the U.S. cares about taking out Assad. So who would the U.S. train?

Obama may agree we're just unnecessary surplusage in Syria and it’s better to let the rebels, ISIS and its assorted competitors in Syria fight it out by themselves. That way all of them get weakened. But whatever his thinking, he's making it very clear he's only interested in seeing ISIS beaten back in Iraq. His interest in Syria seems limited to blocking ISIS from using the Syria-Iraq border to advance in Iraq.

If the coalition partners would just increase the pressure on Turkey to control its borders and stop the recruits from crossing into Syria, it wouldn't matter whether they come to Turkey by cruise ship, bus or airplane. If the recruits can't get into Syria, they can't go from Syria to Iraq. By the time we finish training the Iraqis and Peshmerga, ISIS may already have disintegrated as a major threat -- or have self-destructed. I would rather wait and see if that happens before committing $5.6 billion. That money, and the millions or billions more dollars we will spend on weapons and tanks and fighter jets, much of which will end up in the hands of ISIS or other militant groups, could be put to much better use here at home.

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  • Display: Sort:
    The Lo-o-v-v--v-e Boat... (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by unitron on Sat Nov 08, 2014 at 12:31:22 PM EST
    ...promises something for everyone...

    The Turkey conundrum (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by christinep on Sat Nov 08, 2014 at 12:52:47 PM EST
    A delicate conundrum ... as a good friend of mine--who hails from Cairo, is a naturalized American for many years, and stays very up-to-date on Egyptian and Mid-East events via family there and a second home that he & his wife stay at when there each year--happened to remark this a.m. over coffee that Turkey "right now" may be the most dangerous place in the world.  Pressures on all sides pushing & pulling the Turkish government's President ... the advantages and disadvantages of having a foot/an interest in both the Western & Mid-Eastern world has never been more obvious than the situation in Turkey as escalated by ISIL.

    And then there is this bit of a "personalized" matter for me right now ... since my husband & I are scheduled to be on board a cruise ship in that part of the Mediterranean next summer.  It is a long way off; and, by then, the various world crisis will probably be elsewhere. We will only be in one Turkish port: Ephesus.  (Funny thing is that before we booked this cruise, we almost decided on a Black Sea cruise to the ole Crimea ... but, when the line never changed the name of some ports from Ukraine to Russia, it kind of looked that the line was ignoring the world.)  

    Turkey is a hopeless mess here (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Dadler on Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 01:53:36 PM EST
    Too riddled with ancient religious, tribal, ethnic, everything bullsh*t, so I think it'll simply do as much of nothing as it can. Then again, I am a child of the newest parts of the "New World," so what do I know? It's a sort of a born irony for me. Hope the trip works out for you, should be a beautiful time if so.  

    Yes; and, thank you, Dadler (none / 0) (#12)
    by christinep on Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 05:52:29 PM EST
    For some strange reason, the thought of the Mediterranean--even with the upheavals in eastern bordering countries--sounds like a soothing session of calm ripples & sensuous air.  (And, someday I'll cross the Black Sea too ... one other time that my husband & I & sister were slated to do so on an archeological-related trip, the Achille Lauro terrorist act occurred and all the trips in the eastern Med, etc. were cancelled ... oh, where art thou, Byron?)

    "where are thou, Byron?" (none / 0) (#13)
    by Mr Natural on Mon Nov 10, 2014 at 07:31:23 AM EST
    - Sailing to Byzantium, with a much better poet.

    The Black Sea cruise my friends did in Aug. (none / 0) (#9)
    by oculus on Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 02:26:20 PM EST
    Began and ended in Istanbul but did not Visit the Back Sea!

    Not for Nothing... (none / 0) (#14)
    by ScottW714 on Tue Nov 11, 2014 at 11:53:05 AM EST
    ...but really, "Turkey "right now" may be the most dangerous place in the world."

    A bit of hyperbole, as there are countries in the mist of some sort of war, many, and Turkey is not a dangerous place in any way.  I would guess it safer than the US.

    There is a lot of political and religious tugging and I think it's struggling to find a happy medium, but that does not make it unsafe.  Maybe in the distant future, but for now Turkey is not dangerous in an meaningful sense.

    Turkey is huge, larger than Texas, you will be over 700 miles from the Syrian border.


    In the literal sense (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by christinep on Tue Nov 11, 2014 at 01:00:12 PM EST
    as well as in the very real sense, you are most definitely correct, Scott.  It is neither war torn nor in a state of ambush ... and, you should know also, the friend who used the term "most dangerous" does tend to overstate things (somewhat in keeping with the prevalent style of his own background.)  But, in the thirty-ish years that we have been acquainted with this gentleman, he has been remarkably on point in his analysis of what may transpire in several parts of the Mid-East.  His point--tho strongly stated--is that the pressures & negative possibilities in Turkey are enhanced by activities that earlier transpired on its border with Syria.

    I am not becoming all freaked-out fearful; yet, it is a matter not to be ignored.  


    Does your friend... (none / 0) (#16)
    by unitron on Tue Nov 11, 2014 at 05:17:29 PM EST
    ...share his insights online anywhere accessible to us common folk?

    A record of accurate ME predictions is quite a recommendation these days.


    I'll have to ask him (none / 0) (#17)
    by christinep on Tue Nov 11, 2014 at 05:45:00 PM EST
    It isn't that he or anyone else is un-common; it is really that his international travels coupled with his own professional background seem to have served him well in terms of geo-political & sociological understanding respecting the Mideast. In any event, he is as opinionated as any of us and fun to argue/debate.

    Christine, I must say (none / 0) (#18)
    by fishcamp on Tue Nov 11, 2014 at 08:51:38 PM EST
    you are an acceptably understanding person.

    Invincible ISIS becoming vincible, (5.00 / 4) (#3)
    by KeysDan on Sat Nov 08, 2014 at 02:25:59 PM EST
    according to the NYT's Middle East reporter, Ben Hubbard (Nov, 6.)  The days of easy and rapid gains may be coming to a close in Iraq, as the ISIS momentum is changing.  The airstrikes have played a role in slowing advances and key factors in their early successes are abating. These factors include unfavorable sectarian and political demographics, push-back from overrun communities, and damage to their financial base.

    ISIS has been required to change the openness of their operations.  Bases and hospitals have moved to civilian homes so as to be harder to identify and bomb and crossing the dessert in convoys like an army has yielded to smaller groups or travel by motorcycle.  

    ISIS expansion has been most successful in areas where it can enter into partnerships (including those of convenience)  with the local populations which limits it best prospects to Sunni, disenfranchised and poor areas.

    None of this is to say that all has been a setback for ISIS or that they are no longer a threat, but it does suggest that the central appeal and recruitment tool of re-establishing a Caliphate is undermined by a need to go underground and to have  a stalled expansion on their hands.

    Another guerilla insurgency that takes control from within rather than by a grand army arriving, albeit, in large measure, in white Toyota pick-ups,  from without,  lacks the jihadist marketing luster.  Moreover, the dramatic gains of last summer were funded and supplied, in large measure, by that abandoned by Iraqi forces, Bonny and Clyde tactics, and sale of captured oil. Some of that,, hopefully, has dried up.  

    Of course, the renewed supplying and training of Iraqi forces by the US may be counter-productive.  And, the sectarian dynamics do not permit the use of Shiite forces to fight to take back some areas held by ISIS, such as Anbar.  And then there is Syria, another and different mess we have gotten into.

    Truly bizarre... (none / 0) (#4)
    by lentinel on Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 12:00:02 PM EST
    ISIS cruises.

    Terror "affiliates" and "branches".

    Terror Incorporated.
    How 21st Century.

    Are these recruits formerly (none / 0) (#5)
    by oculus on Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 12:31:17 PM EST
    Somali pirates?

    I believe (none / 0) (#6)
    by lentinel on Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 01:09:40 PM EST
    they worked as Entertainment Directors on cruise ships to the Bahamas.

    These Cruise Ship (none / 0) (#8)
    by KeysDan on Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 02:24:38 PM EST
    jihadists are bringing germs to warfare--Norwalk virus is likely to do more harm to their ISIS cohorts than the re-equipped (necessarily so, since the first batch was left on retreat for the taking) Iraqi army.

    You'll (none / 0) (#10)
    by lentinel on Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 04:07:56 PM EST
    have to excuse me, but personally I don't relish the thought of engaging with people who are recently discovering the joys of germ warfare.

    Now that it scary.... (none / 0) (#11)
    by christinep on Sun Nov 09, 2014 at 05:46:23 PM EST
    Agreed with about half (none / 0) (#19)
    by Jack203 on Tue Nov 11, 2014 at 09:38:33 PM EST
    -I doubt Turkey has any interest in keeping Jihadists on their soil.  They are probably glad to be rid of them.  If they want to help ISIS fight the Kurds, I'm sure that sounds good to Turkey.

    -Yes, Mexican cartels are just as brutal and psychotic as ISIS.  Probably more of a threat to our nation than ISIS (I'm glad marijuana is being legalized).  I'm a catholic, but I'll always point out to some of my fellow Americans who go on anti-Muslim rants that the catholic Mexican Cartels are worse.

    -No military supplies for the Kurds or Shiite Iraqis.   I agree wholeheartedly.   The possibility any weapons we provide being used against us sometime in the future is very strong.  The air drop we did for the Kurds with food and small arms is the limit of what we should be giving them, and was a special circumstance to lift a siege for propaganda value.

    -We should only intervene in Syria to the extent that the Sunnis stop attacking the Kurds.  Then we shouldn't care how the Shiites want to be governed (Let them have Assad) or how the Sunnis want to be governed (Let them have whoever they want).

    -Shiite Iraq now has the momentum against ISIS.  Let's dial down our meddling there.  Let them come to their own peace terms.