Posts Tagged ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’

Raqqa Liberated

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

The onetime capital of the short-lived caliphate of the Islamic Republic of Iraq and Syria has been completely liberated by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces:

A US-backed alliance of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters says it has taken full control of so-called Islamic State’s one-time “capital” of Raqqa.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Talal Sello said the fighting was over after a five-month assault.

Clearing operations were now under way to uncover any jihadist sleeper cells and remove landmines, he added.

An official statement declaring victory in the city and the end of three years of IS rule is expected to be made soon.

IS made Raqqa the headquarters of its self-styled “caliphate”, implementing an extreme interpretation of Islamic law and using beheadings, crucifixions and torture to terrorise residents who opposed its rule

The city also became home to thousands of jihadists from around the world who heeded a call to migrate there by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“On Tuesday morning, the SDF cleared the last two major IS positions in Raqqa – the municipal stadium and the National Hospital.”

Here are a series of maps (captured from Syria.livemap.com) that paint a picture of how the battle unfolded:

June 9:

July 12:

August 13:

August 25:

September 5:

October 8:

October 14:

Some additional perspective from Robin Wright in The New Yorker:

“There are other places for ISIS to go and survive, but there’s something special about Syria and Iraq and the Fertile Crescent,” [Will] McCants, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said. “It’s the theatre of prophecy. It’s where the apocalyptic drama unfolds. It’s the heartland of the historic caliphate, and it’s the scene of the final end-of-times drama, as predicted by Islamic scripture. Nowhere else in the Islamic world compares with it.”

McCants said that the fall of Raqqa, a city that was once home to more than two hundred thousand Syrians but is now mostly destroyed, will weaken the group’s ability to recruit fighters and inspire attacks. “The fight will go on, and ISIS will morph into an insurgency and may try to reëstablish another state, but, for now, it’s a crushing blow,” he said. “ISIS put all its chips on creating a state and taking territory as proof of its divine mandate. Some of its followers now have to have doubts.“

At its height, the Islamic State was about the size of Indiana, or the country of Jordan, with eight million people under its control. ISIS transformed the world of jihadism by recruiting tens of thousands of followers from five continents—faster, in larger numbers, and from further corners of the Earth than any other modern extremist group. The caliphate was formally declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on June 29, 2014, from a pulpit in the Grand Mosque of Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control. It, too, was liberated, in July, after a gruesome nine-month offensive by Iraqi security forces.

ISIS still holds bits and pieces of territory in both countries. But it no longer rules. Baghdadi, an Islamic scholar who was detained by the U.S. military in Iraq for almost a year, in 2004, as prisoner number US9IZ-157911CI, has not been sighted in public since the unveiling of his caliphate.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition supporting the campaign against ISIS, said, “Over all, ISIS is losing in every way. We’ve devastated their networks, targeted and eliminated their leaders at all levels. We’ve degraded their ability to finance their operations, cutting oil revenues by ninety per cent. Their flow of foreign recruits has gone from about fifteen hundred fighters a month down to near zero today. ISIS in Iraq and Syria are all but isolated in their quickly shrinking territory.” Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS at the State Department, tweeted that an estimated six thousand fighters had died in the battle for Raqqa.

There’s talk that the Islamic State’s surviving foreign fighters will relocate to Libya, where a civil war has ranged off and on since Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster/execution (thanks, Obama).

Now if only the various factions fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria can finish it off there rather than turning on each other…

Raqqa’s Fall: “Hours or Days”

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

Islamic State is on the verge of defeat in Syria’s Raqqa and a deal has been reached to evacuate civilians and Islamic State fighters, but not foreign militants, the U.S-led coalition fighting ISIS said on Saturday.”

Here’s the Syria LiveMap screencap from October 8:

And here’s a screencap from today:

It looks like the already compacted Islamic State pocket in Raqqa has already been reduced by 80% in that time.

Here’s some video of the most recent push:

I look forward to putting up the “Raqqa Liberated” post in a day or two…

Islamic State Update: Hawija Falls, Final Push for Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor Fully Invested

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Quick update on the ongoing destruction of the Islamic State.

First, “Iraqi forces have driven Islamic State fighters from the northern city of Hawija, the militants’ final urban stronghold in Iraq, three years after they seized control of nearly a third of the country, the Iraqi government said Thursday.”

There’s still lots of fighting along the Euphrates, but the Islamic State doesn’t control any cities outside that region any more.

Second, the the final offensive against Islamic State holdouts in what remains of their territory in besieged Raqqa just began, with commanders of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces estimating that all of Raqqa will be liberated this week.

Third, like Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor has been completely cut off from the rest of the Islamic State by both SDF and Assad’s Syrian army. SDF also captured the Islamic State’s Deir ez-Zor headquarters.

(Pictures, as usual, from http://isis.liveuamap.com/.)

In western Syria, there are conflicting reports about the remaining Islamic State pocket near Hama there. The Syrian government claims it has destroyed the last elements of the Islamic State there, while the Islamic State claims that it is attacking and gaining ground from the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the rival Islamist group in the Syrian civil war that incorporates former elements of the al-Nusra Front.

In 2014, the Islamic State took and ruled vast swathes of Iraq and Syria. Now they struggle to hold on to what few cities they still control, and soon will rule over nothing at all.

Las Vegas Shooting Follow-Up

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Nothing about the Las Vegas shooting makes sense:

Legally-owned fully-automatic weapons have been used in three crimes since 1934.

So, a person who’s “not a gun guy” has either expended untold thousands of dollars to legally purchase fully-automatic weapons, somehow found them on the black market, or purchased and substantially modified multiple semi-automatic weapons — and did so with enough competence to create a sustained rate of fire. This same person also spent substantial sums purchasing just the right hotel room to maximize casualties. I cannot think of a single other mass shooter who went to this level of expense and planning in the entire history of the United States.

Snip.

He was the multimillionaire son of a notorious bank robber. He had no known history of mental illness, there’s no record of radical politics, and he had no criminal history. It looks like his first crime was the worst mass murder in American history, and ISIS is still trying to take credit for his attack. These facts are unique, to say the least.

Add to that the fact that [Stephen] Paddock owned multiple homes and two planes, which doesn’t exactly fit the spree-killer profile. Also, age 64 is quite old for an active shooter, but not unprecedented.

Most older active shooters seem to be acting on some sort of workplace grudge. Jose Mendez, 68, shot up his printing shop, while Biswanath Halder, 62, apparently had a grudge against someone in the Case Western Reserve University computer lab. John Chester Ashley (a Baptist Decon!) shot up a law office after his divorce case. John Suchan Chong shot up the Christian retreat where he worked as a handyman.

Alburn Edward Blake, who was 60 when he shot up a Wendy’s, might be the closest comparison shooter. But Blake already had a long history of weird behavior and mental instability (like legally marrying a women who he had never met and who wasn’t present during the ceremony).

The Islamic State continues to claim Paddock as one of their own:

“Responding to the call of [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi] to target the states of the Crusader alliance, and after careful observation of gatherings of the Crusaders in the US city of Las Vegas, one of the soldiers of the caliphate (Abu Abd al-Bar al-Amriki, may Allah accept him) lay hidden armed with machine guns and various ammunition in a hotel overlooking a concert,” it said.

“He opened fire on their gathering, leaving 600 killed and injured, until his ammunition was finished and he departed as a martyr.:

Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, immediately called both for more gun control, as well as defeating a bill under consideration to make suppressors more readily available for shooters. This piece explains why that position is bunk. “An automatic weapon creates so much heat that it rapidly deteriorates the effectiveness of sound suppression (or simply melts it).”

Indeed, it’s part of the usual liberal push for disarming law-abiding citizens. “They are interested not merely in stopping mass shootings, but limiting gun ownership.”

If Paddock wasn’t working for the Islamic State, and absent some reason showing up in his autopsy (ala Charles Joseph Whitman’s brain tumor), his motivation for meticulously planning and perpetrating the largest mass shooting in American history (with a death toll at 59 as of this writing) seems unfathomable.

Over 50 Dead From Active Shooter in Las Vegas

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

An active shooter attacked a country music concert from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, leaving over 50 dead. Shooter has been identified as “64-year-old Stephen Paddock,” a local, and has been confirmed dead. Police also have his girlfriend/companion/whatever in custody.

Video and witnesses indicate he was firing some sort of fully automatic weapon.

The MO fits the jihadi profile, and the Islamic State called on followers to attack Las Vegas months ago, but Paddock appears to be a 64-year old white guy, which doesn’t fit the usual pattern.

Developing…

Update: Family said shooter had no religious or political affiliation.

Update 2: Islamic State claims he’s a recent convert to Islam.

Update 3: Death till 58, FBI says not international terrorism involved, Islamic State doubles down on Paddock being one of theirs, he was reportedly a high-stakes gambler, and his father was a bank robber on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list.

Islamic State Near Collapse?

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

That’s what this headline implies. The truth is a little less dramatic: Raqqa is on the edge of full liberation and the Islamic State is in retreat everywhere else.

Static lines of control that held for months in northern Raqqa have collapsed, as seen in this Syria Livemap screen cap:

Compare that to this map from September 5:

Islamic State fighters are running out of territory in Raqqa to defend.

Here’s a video from the battle of Raqqa:

Southeast of Raqqa, Syrian government forces and the SDF are both pushing toward Deir ez-Zor.

SDF also say they have captured Syria’s largest oilfield from the Islamic State near Deir ez-Zor.

Elsewhere in the theater, “Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces have cleared ISIS out of about 50,000 square miles and liberated more than 6 million people who were living under Islamic State occupation.”

Here’s a map of Iraqi forces collapsing the pocket of Islamic State forces to the southwest of Kirkuk that have been cut off from the rest of the Islamic State at least since the investment of Mosul.

Everywhere within it’s supposed caliphate, the Islamic State is in retreat, and nowhere is it counterattacking successfully. But it still holds a lot of territory, and there’s a lot more fighting left before declaring it dead.

Bonus video: Royal Air Force drone stops Islamic State public execution:

Possible Conflict Between Assad/Russia and SDF/U.S. Brewing?

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

Remember how a month ago how almost all the different Syrian factions were concentrating on crushing the last remnants of the Islamic State?

Good times, good times.

Well the good times may be over, as Russian and Syrian forces launched an airstrike against the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces northeast of Deir ez-Zor.

Both are converging on Deir ez-Zor, thought to be the de facto capital of what’s left of the Islamic State. SDF also wants to keep Assad’s forces on the western side of the Euphrates.

Here’s the situation from Syria Livemap:

It would be nice if both sides could finish dismantling the Islamic State before launching the next war…

Islamic State War Update: Deir ez-Zor Relieved, Raqqa Crumbling, Tal Afar Captured

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Before we turn our attention to North Korea, there’s still the war against the Islamic State to be won. And there’s lots of significant news there.

First, Syrian government forces have just relieved the Islamic State’s three year siege of Deir ez-Zor (AKA Deir el-Zour):

Syrian government forces and their allies reached the eastern city of Deir el-Zour on Tuesday, ending a nearly 3-year-old ISIS siege on government-held land near the Iraqi border, Syrian state TV reported.

State TV said troops advancing from the west reached the outskirts of the city and broke the siege after ISIS defenses “collapsed.”

Breaking the siege, which has been divided between an ISIS and a government-held part since January 2015, marks another victory for President Bashar Assad, whose forces have been advancing on several fronts against ISIS and other insurgent groups over the past year.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have taken the old city of Raqqa:

U.S.-backed forces in Syria have captured the Old City of Raqqa, the latest milestone in their ongoing assault against the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State’s rapidly shrinking territories, according to a U.S. military statement on Monday.

Kurdish and Arab fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces secured the neighborhood over the weekend after vanquishing a last pocket of resistance in the city’s historic Great Mosque, the statement said.

The capture followed a grinding two-month battle for the neighborhood that has proved the toughest challenge yet of a three-month-old offensive for Raqqa, launched in June and still far from over.

Unlike in Mosul, the Old City does not lie at the heart of Raqqa and its seizure does not signify an imminent end to the fighting, said a U.S. military spokesman, Col. Ryan Dillon.

The SDF now controls about 60 percent of Raqqa, said Dillon, who would not put a timeline on how long it would take to claim the rest but predicted that weeks of fighting lie ahead.

Here are some maps (captured from Syria.livemap.com) that paint a picture of how the battle unfolded over the last few months.

June 9:

July 12:

August 13:

August 25:

September 5:

For an idea of what it’s like in Raqqa right now, this piece, originally publishing in the Wall Street Journal over a week ago, provides a pretty vivid account:

Before launching the battle to capture Islamic State’s de facto capital, the U.S.-led military coalition dropped leaflets calling on extremists to surrender. On the ground, militants were going door to door, demanding that residents pay their utility bills.

Islamic State, long bent on expanding its religious empire with shocking brutality in the form of public executions, crucifixions and whippings, is desperately focused on its own survival.

Raqqa has been a crucial part of the terror group’s self-declared caliphate. Until a few months ago, public squares were lined with decomposing bodies of those who had run afoul of Islamic State’s religious rules or bureaucracy.

Instead of ruthlessly enforcing no-smoking decrees and dress codes, though, militants now are doing whatever they can to hold on to areas still controlled by the group—and revenue needed to help keep Islamic State afloat financially.

They are so preoccupied that some women in Raqqa dare to uncover their faces in public. A few men defiantly smoke in the streets and shave their beards, current and former residents say.

When the call to prayer sounds from mosques, some residents no longer bother to go. Islamic State used to force shops to close and people to pray.

Women accused of violating Islamic State’s strict dress code were once whipped. In May, though, militants released two women unharmed after they were forced to buy new robes and all-covering face veils sold by Islamic State’s religious police for 10,000 Syrian pounds each, or a total of about $40, says Dalaal Muhammad, a sister and aunt of the women.

Ms. Muhammad, 37 years old, says her sister had to beg a family member to borrow the $40 from friends.

“They didn’t even have enough to buy bread,” she said at a camp for displaced Syrians, wearing sandals held together by twine. “They just wanted to get the money quickly because we were running out of time” to flee Raqqa.

An estimated 25,000 civilians remain trapped in Raqqa under Islamic State control, according to the United Nations, and more than 230,000 people have fled Raqqa and its suburbs since early April. On Thursday, the U.N. called for a pause in the assault so civilians can escape.

Fighters for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which is leading the assault to oust Islamic State from Raqqa, say on some days they have helped dozens of civilians reach safety. Other days, no one makes it out. Militants execute smugglers helping civilians flee and those accused of collaborating with the U.S.-led coalition.

The Pentagon has estimated there are fewer than 2,500 Islamic State militants left in the city, down from about 4,500.

Militants spent months girding for the long-anticipated assault before it began in June. They dug extensive tunnels beneath streets and homes, set up snipers’ nests and planted improvised explosive devices everywhere to stop people from fleeing.

“They wanted us as human shields,” says Obaida Matraan, 33 years old, a taxi driver who escaped with his family one night just before the battle began. They carried a piece of white fabric to wave as they approached the SDF.

Before the escape, he saw on public display the bodies of executed men with signs that said “smuggler” as “a warning to others,” recalls Mr. Matraan.

In early 2014, Raqqa was the first city in Syria or Iraq to fall under Islamic State’s complete control. The group has lost about 60% of the territory it held in January 2015, including its former Iraqi stronghold of Mosul, according to analysts at IHS Markit Ltd.’s Conflict Monitor.

Even as the self-declared caliphate crumbles, Islamic State has continued to claim responsibility for deadly terror attacks around the world, including in Spain last week, in a bid to project power.

The SDF has encircled Raqqa and says it has seized more than half the area of the city. But militants are capable of striking behind the coalition’s front lines and are scrambling to hoard the little food and water left in areas they control. Much of Raqqa remains a battlefield.

The ground advance by the SDF has been aided by coalition airstrikes. At least 465 civilians have likely been killed in those airstrikes since the battle began, independent monitoring group Airwars reported.

The U.S.-led coalition said it investigates civilian casualties. Monthly reports released by the coalition show far lower estimates of civilian casualties.

Syrian activist groups estimate that at least dozens more civilians were killed during the past week. Civilians still in Raqqa say the airstrikes seem indiscriminate and kill more civilians than militants, who hide out in tunnels.

At the height of Islamic State’s control, life in Raqqa and elsewhere in the group’s territory was dictated by so many laws on everyday life that residents struggled to keep track of them.

Banned items ranged from men’s skinny jeans (too Western and provocative) to canned mushrooms (made with preservatives) to bologna (because the group said it contained pork).

Enforcement slackened as the Syrian Democratic Forces advanced toward Raqqa through the Syrian countryside and eventually surrounded the city, according to residents who fled recently.

Checkpoints thinned out as Islamic State leaders and many militant fighters abandoned the city and headed to the eastern province of Deir Ezzour, residents said. The group still holds much territory in the oil-rich region and is expected to make its last stand there.

People who have left Raqqa say militants suddenly seemed to care much more about money than morals. Islamic State’s revenue—from oil production and smuggling, taxation and confiscation, and kidnapping ransoms—is down 80% in the past two years, IHS Conflict Monitor estimates.

For months, Islamic State ordered businesses and residents to use only the caliphate’s own currency of gold and silver coins, current and former residents said. The move forced people to trade in their U.S. dollars and Syrian pounds to Islamic State, which wanted those currencies as its territory shrinks.

Mr. Matraan, the taxi driver, says Islamic State made him pay $30 for water, electricity and a landline telephone bill just weeks before his family fled.

“They would go to people’s homes and demand payment,” said Mr. Matraan, who wore a San Jose Sharks cap under the searing sun at a camp for displaced Syrians in Ain Issa, a city north of Raqqa. “In the end, their main concern was money.”

Abdulmajeed Omar, 27, says militants began fining those caught violating Islamic State’s smoking ban, rather than jailing or whipping them. Being caught with a pack of cigarettes brought a $25 fine. The fine for a carton of cigarettes was $150.

“They didn’t bother with poor people,” says Mr. Omar, who fled Raqqa before the battle and returned with the Kurdish YPG militia to fight Islamic State.

Before Ms. Muhammad fled the city, militants spent a month digging a tunnel underneath her home in the eastern neighborhood of al-Mashlab, she said. Like many of her neighbors, Ms. Muhammad was afraid to ask them what they were doing.

Inside one house in al-Mashlab, which has since been captured by SDF forces, a tunnel opening cut through the living-room floor. The fighters filled the hole with broken furniture because they weren’t sure where the tunnel led.

“We are suffering from snipers and tunnels,” said Dirghash, a Kurdish YPG commander on the city’s eastern front line who wouldn’t give his last name. “The tunnels are all in civilian homes, and we suddenly find [Islamic State militants] popping up behind us.”

On the western side of Raqqa, a warning painted in silver on the metal shutters of a motorcycle shop simply read: “There are mines.”

In captured neighborhoods, the walls already are covered with new graffiti by the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia that is the dominant group in the Syrian Defense Forces. Every conquering force that has swept through Raqqa since the Syrian conflict began more than six years ago has left its mark with cans of paint.

The Islamic State has also reportedly been driven from Uqayribat, its last stronghold in Hama Governorate in central Syria. What little territory they still hold there is completely cut off from the rest of the Islamic State by Syrian government forces.

Assuming both Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa both fall this month, the Islamic State is left with very little viable territory in Syria, mainly a populated strip along the Euphrates from Al Busayrah to Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border, which is some 63 miles or so.

In Iraq, U.S.-supported forces also continue to make gains against the Islamic state, including the liberation of Tal Afar at the end of August. “The Iraqi forces killed over 2,000 Islamic State (IS) militants and more than 50 suicide bombers during a major offensive to free Tal Afar area in west of Mosul, officials said.” The operation is described as a “blitzkrieg” rather than the grinding urban warfare that characterized the Battle of Mosul.

Finally, the anti-Islamic State coalition received a new commander today: Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commander of III Armored Corps stationed at Ft Hood, assumed command of coalition forces, relieving Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who took over in August 2016. The timing suggests a regular duty/force rotation than any change in policy.

To quote Funk: “ISIS is on the run.”

“The War George W. Bush Had Won, Barack Obama Had Lost”

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

This video is an antidote to the widespread revisionism that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a debacle from beginning to end and that George W. Bush was responsible for the rise of the Islamic State. One can question the wisdom of many decisions involved in the conduct of the that war, but the fact is that The Surge had largely succeeded in pacifying Iraq and that the country was functioning quite well by the very lose standards of the Middle East before Barack Obama withdrew American troops, facilitating the rise of the Islamic State.

(Hat tip: Legal Insurrection.)

Battle of Raqqa Grinds On

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

News from the Battle of Raqqa is hard to come by.

U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have reportedly linked up to completely surround Islamic State forces. The Islamic State had already been surrounded on land, but their access to a small stretch of the Euphrates allowed some passage of fighters and supplies. That’s now gone.

Here’s another Livemap screen cap:

Compare that with this screen cap a month ago:

It’s obvious that the SDF have taken more of south and southwestern Raqqa.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State itself is making claims of a successful counter-offensive…that seemed to consist of four car bombs.

Here’s an interview that suggests that conditions for remaining residents of Islamic State-held Raqqa are desperate, which is exactly what you would expect of modern urban warfare in a besieged city.

The battle is an urban street fight where IS relies on snipers and traps [IEDs]. From what I’ve been able to gather, Islamic State numbers do not exceed 400 fighters.

The SDF is slowly advancing with air support from the coalition.

It’s clear that IS has no intention of giving up easily.

That 400 fighters would be encouraging, if true, but it’s probably too low. Yesterday’s fighting reportedly killed 95 Islamic State fighters, which would suggest they’re quickly running out of fighters, but given the lack of a sudden collapse in Islamic State resistance, this seems unlikely.

Indeed, Syrian Kurdish commander Haval Gabar says that the capture of Raqqa could take up to four months:

“We’ve cleared about half of Old Raqqa … and we’re advancing on all axes,” said Haval Gabar, the 25-year-old commander from the Kurdish YPG militia who is directing the assault on the Old City front in Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold.

Units of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance dominated by the YPG, fully linked up in Raqqa’s southern districts on Tuesday, encircling the militants in the city center which includes the Old City.

“The day before yesterday there was still a small gap,” Gabar said on Wednesday. “Yesterday it was closed. We are now pressing towards Mansour and Rashid districts.”

If you wonder why those northern battle lines seem static, it’s evidently because they’re heavily mined.

Gabar said that despite resistance, several hundred militants had surrendered themselves, and estimates not more than 1,000 are left. He believes their morale “is zero”.

“Maybe 600 Daesh have surrendered. It’s mostly foreign fighters left in the city now. Those with families tend to be the ones to hand themselves over.”

Gabar said that Chechen snipers were especially deadly.

Supposedly even the Russians are helping out:

After a sweeping Syrian military advance to the edge of the besieged Isis “capital” of Raqqa, the Russians, the Syrian army and Kurds of the YPG militia – theoretically allied to the US – have set up a secret “coordination” centre in the desert of eastern Syria to prevent “mistakes” between the Russian-backed and American-supported forces now facing each other across the Euphrates river.

That piece is by Robert Fisk, who says he thinks the Syrian army will be heading toward Deir ez-Zor, where Syrian army units have been besieged by the Islamic State since 2014. But keep in mind this is the man for whom the word “Fisking” was coined, so add as many grains of salt as you see fit…