Summary of the Presentation on….
Assessing the Challenge
from Islamic Fundamentalism
The National Security Forum was able to bring three regional experts together to discuss the increased challenge represented by radical Islamic groups, principally from the Sunni sect. The shoot down of the Russian airliner over the Sinai, followed by the horrific attacks in Paris, brought a sense of timeliness and urgency to this session.
Colonel/Dr. Dick Hobbs identified five plus broken countries, as well as five centers of power vying for varying degrees of control in the increasingly fragmented Middle East. Hobbs’ presentation was global in nature, identifying regions where the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims live, the vast majority of which are Sunni, with the remainder– the Shia– primarily centered in Iran and Iraq. Hobbs noted that many radical Muslim groups– from al Qaeda to ISIS to the Taliban, Boko Haram and al Shabaab– are among many aligning with the Sunni sect. The primary war within Islam is to see which groups will be able to institute “Sharia” by their own interpretation.
Hobbs focused on key leaders of the various Sunni radical movements including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who formed ISIS two years ago. Under Baghdadi, ISIS is creating a new “Caliphate” centered in the Syria/Western Iraq areas. Hobbs noted that the war against ISIS has expanded, with now Russia (who has its own large Sunni population) committing extensive military forces to the conflict. Hobbs observed that the struggle has given growth to new alliances, which may soon include U.S.-Russia and U.S.-Iranian working relationships.
Ted Morse focused his comments only on Syria, where he identified more than 200 separate fighting militias, that demonstrates the complexity of the conflict. Just in Syria there is the Assad regime, the Syrian opposition, ISIS forces and its allies, and numerous other jihadist fighters. That war zone is further complicated by the active participation of Kurdish forces, who operate principally against ISIS, but also see Turkey and Syria as adversaries.
General Joe Shaefer assumed the role for this presentation as the Chief Intelligence Officer at CENTCOM. Shaefer highlighted five things that the Chairman needed to know about regional conflicts in this combat zone. He identified areas currently under Islamic State control, the refugee crisis and its impact on European nations as well as nearby countries, such as Jordan, and the implications of this conflict for NATO. General Shaefer pointed out that there is no such nation as Syria or Iraq, rather they are remnants of the occupation by western powers who drew artificial boundaries. As such, the divisions also spawned instability engendered by a civil war within the Islam religion, pitting Sunnis against Shia. However, he said, the conflict with ISIS is by far the most dangerous challenge we face today and the one that has the highest probability of extending well beyond Syria’s borders.
The NSF was extremely pleased to bring such expert and seasoned professionals together for this presentation. Colonel/Dr. Dick Hobbs has extensive combat experience in his 30+ years in the army and has served in the Middle East, at the Pentagon and in the State Department. Ted Morse is a retired foreign service officer whose expertise and assistance the State Department continues to draw on. Morse is frequently asked to go to the conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa in efforts to stabilize these situations. General Joe Shaefer served as a Deputy to the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has extensive experience in the Middle East, including during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and continues to advise corporations and governments on international, financial, and politico-military issues.
The link to the PowerPoint used for this presentation is below, put together principally by Dr. Hobbs.