On a visit to Baghdad this week, Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of the Pentagon's Central Command, announced that US forces in Iraq will be reduced in the coming weeks from some 5,200 troops to about 3,000. McKenzie later told reporters that troop levels in Afghanistan will drop from the current 8,600 to 4,500. All of this is to happen by "late October," he said. How convenient. (AP, Politico) This all smells more of politics that strategy. There are still more than 10,000 ISIS fighters remaining across Iraq and Syria, according to a UN estimate from August. So, as Defense One comments, "any 'mission accomplished' moment remains elusive to clear-eyed observers of ISIS and the Middle East."
In an exhaustive report released June 30, the independent monitor Mwatana for Human Rights documents a chilling aspect of Yemen's more than five-year war that has gone overlooked, precisely because of its secretive nature: "enforced disappearances," torture, and deaths at illegal detention centers across the country. The report documents abuses by all parties to Yemen's war, some of which it says may constitute war crimes. The Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, and the Ansar Allah (Houthi) rebel group are all accused of running detention centers—some on military bases or intelligence compounds, some in cellars below private homes or requisitioned public buildings.
Saudi activists and dissidents are disputing official accounts alleging that a northern tribesman who refused government orders to surrender his home to make way for a new mega-project was killed in a shoot-out with security forces. Authorities say Abdul Rahim Ahmad al-Hwaiti, from Tabuk province on the Red Sea, was a "wanted terrorist" who opened fire on State Security agents when they arrived at his home in Khraybah town April 15. But the incident came two days after al-Hwaiti posted a video statement saying he and other local residents were being pressured by the government to give up their properties and accept financial compensation. Al-Hwaiti, a member of the powerful al-Huwaitat tribe, said: "Anyone who refuses to leave the area would be arrested by government agents." He accused the government of a policy of "forced displacement."
Yemen's southern separatist group declared self-rule in the parts of the country it controls on April 26, leading to fears of a new and even more dangerous conflict after five years of war. The Southern Transitional Council said in its announcement that it plans to govern several southern provinces, including the de facto capital city of Aden, which the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi also claims as its seat.
A senior UN official charged Feb. 16 at a press conference in Munich that numerous countries are violating the Libya arms embargo and that they must be held accountable. UN Deputy Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams said that "the arms embargo has become a joke." Williams' comments follow a UN Security Council resolution passed just a week earlier expressing "grave concern" for the humanitarian situation in Libya, noting especially "deteriorating living standards and insufficient provision of basic services" and "the situation faced by migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people." The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Khalifa Haftar, has been fighting with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) for control of Tripoli since April of last year. Russia, Egypt and the UAE are said to be supporting the LNA, while Turkey supports the GNA. Foreign powers are violating the arms embargo "by land, sea and air," Williams said. (Jurist)
Trump's Israel-Palestine "peace" plan (sic), unveiled at the White House Jan. 29 in a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, has been anointed by the media with the very Trumpian epithet "Deal of the Century"—although he appears not to have used that actual phrase. Trump boasted the plan, officially dubbed "Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People," as a "win-win solution for both sides" and a "realistic two-state solution." With typical bluster, he said: "Today, Israel takes a big step towards peace. I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems." Netanyahu went on Fox & Friends the next day to hail the scheme as an "opportunity of a lifetime for Israel and the Palestinians and for peace."
With the forces of eastern strongman Khalifa Hifter stalled outside Tripoli in his drive to oust Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA), both sides have been sniping at each other with drone strikes. Experts say that Haftar has procured Chinese-made Wing Loong drones from his main backer, the United Arab Emirates. The GNA, meanwhile, has turned to Ankara, its own increasingly open backer, which is believed to be supplying Turkish Bayraktar drones. All of this is in defiance of a supposed arms embargo, just renewed by the UN Security Council in June. Over 1,000 have been killed, close to 6,000 injured, and 120,000 displaced in the battle for Tripoli, which opened a year ago. (SCMP, Spet. 19)
Over the past weeks, the two biggest members of the international coalition supporting the official government of Yemen against the Houthi rebels have fallen out, with Saudi Arabia continuing to back President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates switching its support to southern separatists. Last week, the UAE-backed Security Belt militia, armed wing of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), seized effective control of the port city of Aden after days of fighting with Saudi-backed forces of the official government.