The Islamic State’s varied releases this week have seemed to have been designed to send one message: show the spread of the caliphate’s reach as world powers gather in Vienna to hash out a Syria solution.
One set of images, said to be from the Wilaya [Province] West Africa branch of the Islamic State — aka Boko Haram — shows a rocket manufacturing workshop, complete with ISIS flags in the background.
In a separate set of images, ISIS fighters are shown mingling in the woods of the Caucasus region.
Tweets accompanying the photo spread said the “caliphate soldiers” were in Qawqaz — the name ISIS has given the land in Russia that it claimed as its province this June.
That includes the autonomous republics of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and the KBK (Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachay). Their competitors — the al-Qaeda-allied Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus — claim the Nogay steppe and Cherkessia regions.
Secretary of State John Kerry met with the “Quad” — his counterparts from Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia — in Vienna to prepare for Friday’s “larger multilateral set of meetings…to discuss obviously the ongoing crisis in Syria and the options for pursuing a political transition there,” State Department press secretary John Kirby said Thursday.
ISIS also released photos of its fighter battling on the “west side of Samarra” — less than a two-hour drive north of Baghdad, on the road between the capital and Tikrit.
ISIS was turned back from the city in summer 2014, but has continued its offensive with suicide bombings and vows to destroy a major Shiite holy site, the Al-Askari Shrine.
The images included gruesome photos of slain men wearing Iraqi National Police uniforms.
ISIS supporters released an infographic tallying their claimed Iraqi soldier kills by rank, with one lieutenant general and 12 major generals at the top.
In a Wednesday videoconference from Baghdad, Army Col. Steve Warren from Operation Inherent Resolve told reporters that “we’re in combat.”
“That’s why we all carry guns. That’s why we all get combat patches when we leave here. That’s why we all receive imminent danger pay. So, of course it’s combat,” Warren said.
“Far be it for me to interpret the commander-in-chief. But what I think you’ve see is — again, people trying to make rhetorical hay, but not really understanding what’s going on. I mean, of course, this is a combat zone. There’s a war going on in Iraq, if folks haven’t noticed. And we’re here and it’s all around us.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded Thursday by calling it “far different than the kind of long-term, large-scale ground combat mission that the United States was previously engaged in in Iraq under the orders of President Bush.”
“This president has a very different strategy and it’s a strategy that involves significant risk for our men and women in uniform. And it’s why we owe them a debt of gratitude for their courageous service,” Earnest said. “But the kind of commitment that we’re making is a different one.”