King Abdullah II – A Man Not to be Trifled With

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Nobody scares me. – King Abdallah II of Jordan

When news broke that ISIS had brutally burned downed Jordanian pilot, Mouath al-Kasaesbeh, alive, King Abdullah II of Jordan was visiting in Washington, DC. He was reported to be so angered he quoted Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie Unforgiven , “I’m going to kill his wife and all his friends and burn his damn house down.” He said, “There is going to be retribution like ISIS hasn’t seen”, vowing to his people that “our response will be on the level of disaster.” king abdullah2

King Abdullah had been trying to negotiate the release of Kasaesbeh but ISIS was demanding the release of convicted terrorist Sajida al-Rishawi who was sentenced to death for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack that killed 60 people. After learning of the inhuman killing of Kasaesbeh, Abdullah’s s first action was to have her publicly hanged along with another al Qaida operative convicted of murder.  Then he went to the home of the murdered pilot, personally consoled the family, and promised them he would avenge their son for his sacrifice.

Initial reports out of Jordan claimed that when the first flights of  F-16 attack aircraft streaked over the skies of ISIS’s capital that night dropping a barrage of bombs on ISIS targets, King Abdullah II was flying the lead aircraft.  Jordan has officially denied this, but many think it is true given the release of a photo showing him dressed in full military gear with an “I’m mad as hell” expression shortly before the strikes. On the way back to base, the squadron flew a Missing Man Formation over the home of the pilot’s family.

King Abdullah II is more than capable of carrying out such an attack. At 53 years of age he has spent 35 years of his life in the military.  He’s a trained Cobra attack helicopter pilot, an armored warfare tank commander, a graduate of the British Military Academy, and the founder of Jordan’s Special Operations Command unit of elite counter-terrorism commandos.  He’s performed hundreds of drops as a front-line paratrooper.

He graduated the UK Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, served as a Second Lieutenant of the 13/18th Royal Hussars Cavalry Regiment in Northern Ireland, flew Cobra helicopters in North Africa, became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Jordanian Third Armored Division, and then ultimately was appointed Commanding Officer of the Jordanian Special Forces in 1993.  Abdullah’s forward-thinking policies and commitment to “quality over quantity” led him to completely reorganize the unit into a unit that is now universally recognized as the most over-the-top hardcore special operations unit the Arab countries have to offer.  These guys are trained in counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, interrogation, and close-quarter combat in urban environments, can deploy anywhere in the Middle East at a moment’s notice, spend their summers in the USA training with Rangers and SEALs, and operate deep behind enemy lines for extended periods with little to no support.  They are also believed to have agents who have infiltrated at all levels at ISIS.King Abdullah5

So when King Abdullah II of Jordan says he’s going to “open the gates of Hell on them,” this is what he’s working with.  He has vowed to fight ISIS until “we run out of fuel and bullets.”

Besides being a formidable warrior King Abdullah is an impressive figure. His wife, Queen Rania looks like a supermodel and is a progressive leader in her own right. Four beautiful children round out their family. Since taking over as king in 1999 he’s done a lot of work to grant freedom to the media, improve the economy, advance women’s rights, and build peaceful political relations with Israel.  He has kept his country together despite war and revolution all around him.  He is member of the Hashemite Dynasty, the traditional guardians of Mecca and Medina  and has been  genetically confirmed as a 41st-level direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad.  In 2004 he gave the Amman Message, a speech he issued after he organized a convention for 200 Muslim clerics (both Sunni and Shia) from over 50 countries.  He told his fellow Muslims they should strive for compassion, mutual respect, tolerance, acceptance and stop declaring jihad on everyone they perceive to be infidels.

King Abdullah is the epitome of a life well-lived. He once rode a Harley across California and drives a variety of awesome muscle cars and motorcycles. The most amazing bit of trivia is that he once appeared in a Star Trek: Voyager episode. His U.S. advisor arranged a surprise visit to the set for a cameo role as a non-credited extra as a human science officer. The then 34-year old Abdullah enthused, “I would have been thrilled just to visit the set but this is too much.” He is a majority owner of a Star Trek theme park in the Jordan city Aqaba that will open in 2017. King-Abdullah3

Abdullah collects ancient military weaponry, takes princesses skydiving in his spare time, has won a couple of international Rally Car races and is an author. The most endearing quality of this warrior king with a chest full of well-deserved medals is his unpretentiousness. In a time when world leaders demand to be treated like royalty, this true royal drives his own cars instead of using a chauffeur. In 2013, during a rare Middle East cold snap in Amman he helped push a car stuck in deep snow on a street.

King Abdullah II stands as a leader that most countries long for; strong, ready to fight for his country and someone whose actions back up his rhetoric. He looks to the future and moves his country forward to a more progressive nation. Yet he is a man of compassion who truly cares for humanity. Jordan is not perfect and has a way to go before it is a country where women have equal rights, but it is rated number one in 19 Arab countries in democratic reforms.

As an American, I look to his example of bravery and resolve and wish we had the same leadership. We have a president who was elected on words of hope and change, and while I admit we have changed as a country under his leadership, it has not been for the better. Our leadership branch is rife with bipartisanship that hobbles any meaningful progression for us as a nation. The current administration’s hesitant foreign policy has left us ridiculed and weak in the world’s eyes. We don’t need or want a king, but we do crave leadership, something we haven’t had in a long time.

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Kurdish Women Warriors

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When they see a woman with a gun they’re so afraid they begin to shake. They portray themselves as tough guys to the world, they see women as just little things-but one of our women is worth a hundred of them. – Kurdish woman fighter

Recently images and stories are emerging from Syria of the Women’s Protection Unit (WPU), a 7,000-strong Kurdish military group. These images of young women taking up arms against ISIS has become an Internet phenomenon and put a face on the war against terror. The Kurds are an Iraqi ethnic group, mostly inhabiting Iran, Syria, Iraq and Turkey, a geo-cultural region often referred to as “Kurdistan”. They are mostly Sunni Muslim but are adherents to a large number of different religions and creeds. The Iraqi Kurds have mostly been pro-Western, despite our reluctance in the past few years to address their pleas for support.

In an area where women face extreme subjugation, these women fighters clad in camouflage and body armor are a stark contrast to the burka clad, veiled women we normally associate with the Middle East. While it is tempting to paint these women taking up arms as merely a zealous patriotic desire to defend their land against a monstrous invader, it is more complicated than that. Patriotism and a desire for freedom certainly is a big factor, but serving in the WPU also provides women an avenue to escape abusive marriages and other forms of repression. While Western media and Kurdish leaders don’t hesitate to use the images of the women fighters as a propaganda tool, the WPU and the Peshmerga, the national military force for Kurdistan, provide a network of support for women who might otherwise be locked in the struggles of a repressive society.

Kurds are the most progressive in an area of extreme conservatism but life for women is still not a bed of roses. Human Rights Watch reports that 60% of women in Kurdistan have been victims of female genital mutilation and forced marriages are common. The Kurdish women fighters have been instrumental in the war against ISIS especially in the town of Khobani, where they have been defending the city from radical jihadists since September of 2014. One young woman explained her enlistment in the military, “I didn’t really have any other ambitions. I just wanted to live a free life, as a woman, to be able to see our reality, and have our rights and just live.”

Kurdish women have been training and fighting for decades, especially under the highly oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, it is just now that we are hearing of them in the Western world. While their bravery and heroism in battle is undeniable, I think the bravest revolution they are waging is against the oppression of women. These women are fighting against stereotypes and they belong alongside the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo Windtalkers and Russian sniper Lyudmilla Pavichenko of WWII. Their love of country, freedom and the camaraderie they share as they fight their battles inspire me. I salute you, brave warriors. Your victories are our victories.

Lost Treasures

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The largest Buddha before it was destroyed.

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. – Marcus Garvey

We are used to seeing horrifying images and video propaganda from ISIS and last week we saw new disturbing images showing the wanton destruction of ancient artifacts at the Mosul Museum in Iraq. Jihadists can be seen toppling statues, smashing them to bits with sledgehammers and using power tools to grind off the faces of the Assyrian artifacts, many of which date back 3,000 years. Mercifully most of the artifacts are replicas after some 1500 objects from the museum were relocated to the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad for safekeeping. However the larger statues that were destroyed are originals.

The most devastating loss is the lamassu—large winged human-headed bulls– at the Nergal Gate. The beautiful and intricate gate was built during the expansion of Ninevah sometime between 704 and 690 BC. The images were destroyed with a jackkammer and it appears the damage is irreparable. The worst damage was done to the 2,000 year-old sculptures from Hatra and the damage is catastrophic. And this attempt to erase all culture other than Islamic didn’t stop there. In another appalling attack on Iraq’s heritage ISIS militants have bulldozed the Nimrud archaeological site in northern Iraq. “They are erasing our history,” said Iragi archaeologist Lamia al-Gailani.

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ISIS destroying 2,000 year old Hatra sculptures.

In 2001 the Taliban, on orders of Mullah Mohammed Omar, dynamited and destroyed the twin 6th century Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in Bamyan in central Afghanistan. The larger Buddha was over 190 feet tall and the smaller was over 114 feet tall. The main bodies were hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs and details were modeled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco. They were painted to enhance the expressions of the faces, hands and folds of the robes; the larger one was painted carmine red and the smaller in multiple colors.

I was in my office on Forward Operating Base Morales Frazier when one of our Afghan interpreters, Dr. Najibullah came in to see me. Before the Taliban came to power he worked at the Kabul Museum and was responsible for hiding and saving many artifacts before the Taliban destroyed them just as ISIS is doing now. He held out a piece of gravel he had picked up from the road outside. It was stained with red. “This is from the Buddha,” he said with sadness in his voice. He wanted to give it to me, but I made him keep it. I simply could not take even a fragment of this ancient treasure. It would have broken my heart every time I looked at it.

From primitive to modern man humans have always used art to express what their lives are like. Whether it is a cave painting of animal hunts or sculptures of ancient Gods these legacies tell us where we came from and that is something every society has the right to know. I recently had my DNA tested and when I got the results and saw my diverse ethnic heritage it was thrilling. It gave me a sense of place and belonging. Just as we marvel at our history when we visit Washington, DC and gaze upon all the monuments and memorials that celebrate our heritage, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan deserved the right to look upon their past and marvel at the artistry of their ancestors.

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The site of the large Buddha after being destroyed by the Taliban.

Any religion or culture that destroys the past has no future. While Japan and Switzerland have pledged money to restore the Bamyan Buddhas, it just won’t be the same. The tranquil giants that looked benignly down on the valley, as travelers from China made their way to the west on the Silk Road for almost 2,000 years, were destroyed by fanatic Islamic jihadists who are so narrow-minded they cannot tolerate music, art, books or secular education. When these historic legacies vanish a part of humanity vanishes and the treasures of ancient Assyrians in Iraq and the Buddhas in Afghanistan can now only be marveled at by looking at photographs.

It should come as no surprise that fanatic extremists who do not care for human life would have no respect or reverence for art. As an artist it is a loss that I take personally and I am thankful that dedicated individuals such as Dr. Najibullah preserved some of the heritage that belongs not only to Afghanistan, but to the world.

Evil Lies in Wait

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Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended. – George W. Bush, 9/11/2001.

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that 2014 was the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled. The statistics he presented are grim. Since 2013 about 11,500 worldwide attacks killed over 22,000 people, but in the first nine months alone of 2014 nearly 13,000 attacks have killed 31,000 people. Half of those attacks and deaths were in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He also stated that the Islamic State conducted more attacks than any other terror group in that nine month period.

Compare Clapper’s testimony with Sec. of State John Kerry’s appraisal of terror threats just a day earlier. Kerry stated, “Despite ISIL, despite the visible killings that you see and how horrific they are, we are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally; less deaths, less violent deaths today, than through the last century.” Clearly there is a disconnect between the most senior intelligence official in the nation and the White House.

Clapper also stated that about 180 Americans have been involved in various stages of traveling or trying to travel to join up with ISIS. More than 3400 total western fighters have gone to Syria and Iraq hoping to link up with one of the most brutal terror groups we’ve seen in modern times. FBI Director James Comey has said his bureau is investigating possible ISIS supporters in all 50 states.

This information doesn’t make me feel any safer. I expect the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing don’t feel safer. I wager that the family and friends of Colleen Hufford, the grandmother beheaded by a ISIS sympathizer in Oklahoma don’t feel safer. And I can also bet police officers everywhere who are being targeted just because of their profession don’t feel safe either.

I have seen brutality and the aftermath of terrorism but for a long time most Americans have largely operated under the delusion that “these things don’t happen where I live”. The national pain and shock that followed the 9/11 attacks has lost its edge. Time has softened the horror we all felt. Sleeper cells and lone terrorists are clever and they are expert at blending in as they plan their heinous acts. The pilots who hijacked planes on 9/11 that killed 3000 innocent people were considered good neighbors by people that lived near them in Florida and California. Jihad John, the butcher who beheaded our journalists is described by his friends in Britain as a gentle, kind hearted person who would do anything to help you. Folks, terrorists are here and we need to be vigilant.

What we do not need to do is to suspect every Muslim in America of being a terrorist. That is counterproductive and not what America is about. But we do need to have what we called in Afghanistan “situational awareness”. This is particularly important when we are in places where large groups of people gather such as malls, sporting events, etc. Of course we are reluctant to give up our ideal view of America where we can travel anywhere, do anything we like and have the life of freedom our military men and women have fought and died for. But the threat of Islamist extremism is real and it is relevant, even if our President cannot name it.

My Muslim friends are not offended by me saying this. They know I don’t believe for a minute that these savages represent the majority of Muslims. Let’s face it; they don’t represent any group other than madmen and mass murderers. They need to be exterminated and our country needs to act swiftly to uncover the sleeper cells and sympathizers being homegrown in America. The young girls who are being recruited are in for a rude awaking if they manage to get to Syria. When they are repeatedly raped, brutalized and subjugated into a life no better than slavery, they will long to escape. But escape attempts or objecting to the life they live will result in beatings, disfigurement or death. I have seen a face that has been melted by acid because a 15 year old wife dared to try to escape her husband. Pictures of women who have had acid attacks or with their noses and ears sliced off should be publicized in America to counteract the “glamour” that ISIS is using to recruit these young girls. Sadly, there will be plenty of pictures to choose from.

We can no longer hide our heads in the sand. Terrorism is and has been a part of our lives ever since 9/11. Talk to your elected officials and talk to them often. If you have the opportunity to meet with them in person, do so and tell them your concerns.

America is still the greatest country in the world and because of that evil people everywhere want to destroy our way of life. Individually we may be limited in stopping terrorism, but collectively I am convinced we can force our country’s leaders to provide more protection than they have been. Personally, I don’t want to hear that 2015 was the worst year for terrorism on the books.

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

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The suicide bomber’s imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other people’s lives. – Salman Rushdie

ISIS has released a propaganda video claiming to show a terror training camp for children called “Cubs for the Caliphate” with rows of boys as young as five shouting Allah Akbar. This is shocking and offends even the most jaded of us. It brings to the mind the shining cherubic faces of the Hitler Youth, their stiff arms raised in a salute as they shouted Sieg Heil. Childhood should be a time of joy and discovery of the good things in life. No child should be forced to learn how to kill in the name of a twisted ideology. These children will be trained to associate valor with torture, degradation and death. Unless they are rescued from this training soon it will be too late. They will never be able to function in normal society. The proof of this is in the hideous videos that have been released over the last several months of beheadings and burnings. These heartless savages are the result of being raised as these children are being raised, away from love and anything that is honorable by most of the world’s standards. When you look at the sweet, innocent faces of these children you are looking at the butchers of tomorrow who will need to be shot like rabid dogs in the street.

While I was in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai pardoned two dozen boys who had been arrested for planning or attempting to carry out suicide attacks –the youngest only eight years old. One 11-year old said his instructions were “just to get close to a group of foreign soldiers and touch these two wires together.” His Taliban trainers told him he would be able to detonate his vest and kill the foreign occupiers without dying himself. Many of the children were drugged before sending them on their missions.

The Taliban brainwashes these young children and they are very effective at convincing them that their religion sanctions what they are doing and they will be rewarded in heaven. After such intense brainwashing it is near impossible to deprogram them. One 15-year old said, “I am a Muslim, and there are still infidels in this land. With God’s help, I will continue to fight against them.”

The release of these children angered my dear Afghan friend and colleague, Javed. I remember saying, “But they are just children.” He said,” Kathy, these are not children like you know them. They have been taken out of their homes by the Taliban at very young ages with the promise of getting an education and a better life. They are taken to religions madrassas (schools) in Pakistan where they are drilled with hate and raised with no love. These children should be locked up for years and studied by psychiatrists and deprogrammed. And even then, they might not be safe to release.” He continued, “It is the parents who release their children to these maniacs who should be punished.” I have never forgotten that conversation and it was brought to the front of my thoughts with the release of the ISIS video.

While in Kabul I got the opportunity to visit the Kabul Zoo. Much to my surprise it was a beautiful and clean facility and as I strolled through the beautifully paved paths I reflected on how peaceful it seemed in a city littered by the skeletons of bombed out buildings. Then I remembered that only a few weeks prior to my visit the Taliban handed a package to an 8-year old girl and told her to carry it into a police station that was only a few blocks away from the zoo. The package contained explosives and was remotely detonated, killing only the innocent little girl.

ISIS using children to carry out heinous acts of terror unwittingly and training them to do them willing is nothing new. The terror group Boco Haram used a girl suicide bomber no more than ten years old to blow herself up at a busy market in Nigeria killing four others and seriously wounding 46 people. This is what the Western world must realize. Islamist terrorists respect no one—not women, children and not themselves. And nothing will ever convince me they love other Muslims and the Islam faith. These heartless savages are dedicated and prepared to have an endless supply of recruits to take their place. Like the Hydra, when one head is cut off, two more will grow back. This is why we must be vigilant. While many of the children’s psyches in these “Cubs of the Caliphate” camps are already too twisted to save, maybe, just maybe, we might be able to save a few and show them that the true rewards in this life come from living a peaceful, loving life. As each new Hydra’s head is cut off the stump must be cauterized so another cannot grow back. ISIS, Boca Haram, Al Shabab, Al Qaeda, Taliban, etc. must be destroyed and we must be vigilant to ensure no new heads can grow. That is the only way the world can be assured that children can hear the sounds of laughter instead of gunfire and explosions.