From Iraq to Syria, splinter groups now larger worry than al-Qaeda

411629-365Washington Post (June 11) — The takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul on Tuesday illustrated an increasingly disconcerting reality for the United States: From Iraq to Syria and beyond, radical offshoots of al-Qaeda are expanding their ambitions and directly threatening American national security interests.

The splinter groups have become a bigger problem than what remains of the old core al-Qaeda, and one that is in many ways harder to address or contain. The loss of Mosul to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), U.S. officials and experts acknowledged, is a powerful demonstration of the extremists’ growing effectiveness and reach.

Insurgents overran the western bank of the Tigris River in Mosul overnight after U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers and police officers abandoned their posts. Among the facilities captured were the provincial government headquarters, two prisons, two television stations, numerous police stations, the central bank and the airport, a major military base that used to serve as a hub for U.S. operations in northern Iraq.

ISIS fighters also seized large quantities of weaponry from the security forces when they overran their bases, including vehicles, arms and ammunition, much of it probably supplied by the United States.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians also fled the surprise onslaught.

The Obama administration on Tuesday pledged continued American support for the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who announced a “general mobilization” of the country’s security forces and asked parliament to declare a state of emergency. But there are growing concerns about the Iraqis’ ability to stop the Islamist march, even with U.S. advice, weapons and training.

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