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Hours after the most senior American military official raised the possibility of sending US combat troops into action in Iraq, the extremist Islamic State released a short video apparently threatening to kill US forces if they are deployed there.
The 52-second clip was released late Tuesday night by the group’s media wing, the Al Hayat Media Center. The propaganda clip is made in the style of a Hollywood trailer, with slow-motion fighting scenes and shots of injured American troops. It ends with the words “Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun,” followed by “coming soon.”
The video is the latest example of the group’s sophisticated use of social media, which it has used for fundraising and recruitment. In the past month, IS has released three videos showing the beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker, as well as recruitment clips and videos glorifying IS martyrs, The New York Times notes.
Laith Alkhouri, a senior analyst at the New York based security consulting firm Flashpoint Global partners, told the Times that the video indicates that IS “appears to be more relentless than ever, not only expanding in territory but also raising the bar in its confrontation with the world’s top superpower.”
In some ways, it’s attempting to prove to jihadists that while Al Qaeda is missing in action, we are rising to the occasion,” Mr. Alkhouri said. “It demonstrates the true intention of the group, to operate on an international level.”
While IS offered no explanation of its video, the timing of its release suggests that it was in response to Gen. Martin Dempsey’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.
Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the panel that if the international coalition that President Obama is building to counter IS fails, he “would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of US military ground forces.” Mr. Obama previously ruled out any "boots on the ground."
The video also follows the Pentagon’s release of more details Tuesday on US air strikes against IS, also known as ISIS and ISIL, the Guardian reports.
In a statement, the US military's central command said: "In total, two air strikes north-west of Irbil destroyed an Isil [Isis] armed truck and an Isil fighting position, while three air strikes south-west of Baghdad damaged an Isil truck and destroyed an Isil anti-aircraft artillery piece, a small Isil ground unit and two small boats on the Euphrates river that were re-supplying Isil forces in the area.
It said the strikes were conducted as part of US efforts to help an Iraqi offensives against Islamic State militants. The US has conducted 167 air strikes in Iraq since it launched the current campaign on 8 August.
IS consolidated its media wing over the summer, escalating its social media activities, according to the Monitor.
Last year, there were no official newsfeeds, just people advertising either on forums or on Facebook,” says Aymenn J Al Tamimi, who closely follows jihadi social media as the Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum. “Now, it’s a centralized media operation,” he says. “All their accounts follow each other; there is coordination.”
The use of social media has fueled a debate about the extent to which extremist groups' accounts should be blocked. Some counter-intelligence analysts point out that IS releases have helped them track operations, troop movements, and foreign recruits, the Monitor reported.
The online tussle since [James] Foley's death highlights an ethical dilemma. As IS captured swathes of Iraqi territory in June and eastern Syria over the last month, they also made gains online. In addition to opening dozens of official accounts and media outlets, the militants have spawned a universe of ‘fan boy’ Twitter feeds re-posting their statements and praising their cause.
Left unchecked, their feeds spread a violent message and rally support. But closing down all the feeds is a nearly impossible, even futile chore. And if successful it would also deprive those who seek to track and counter such groups of important data points.
As Twitter and YouTube have blocked IS content, the group is turning to other outlets. This summer, IS transferred its regional spokesman accounts to another social media platform called Diaspora.