Rodrigo Tovar AKA "Jorge 40," one of Colombia's most wanted paramilitary leaders, was flown back to his home country Sept. 28 after spending 12 years in US prisons for drug trafficking. Once a local official in his hometown of Valledupar, Tovar became commander of the feared "Bloque Norte" of Colombia's right-wing paramilitary network in the first decade of this century. Revelations upon his demobilization in 2006 triggered the so-called "parapolitics" scandal, with his testimony implicating top government figures in the officially illegal armed networks. But Tovar stopped cooperating with Colombian justice after his brother was assassinated in 2009, a year after his extradition to the US. He now faces multiple charges of war crimes and human rights violations in Colombia, most notoriously the February 2000 massacre of 60 civilians at the village of El Saldado, in the Medio Magdalena region. His one-time mentor in the paramilitary movement, Salvatore Mancuso, is currently fighting deportation to Colombia after also serving a drug trafficking sentence in the US.
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."
Sudan’s power-sharing government signed a peace deal with an alliance of rebel groups this week, sparking hopes of an end to decades of conflict in the country. The agreement will see rebels given government posts, power devolved to local regions, and displaced people offered a chance to return home. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok dedicated the deal—one of his main priorities following the ousting of Omar al-Bashir 14 months ago—to children born in refugee camps, while the UN commended an "historic achievement." But there are reasons to be cautious. Two of Sudan's main armed groups in Darfur and the southern states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan refused to sign. Abdul Wahid, leader of a faction of the holdout Sudan Liberation Movement, said the deal was "business as usual" and unlikely to address root causes of conflict. With Sudan's economy in freefall, it's also unclear how the transitional government will be able to afford the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to make it workable. Previous agreements in 2006 and 2011 came to little. However, with al-Bashir now out of the picture—perhaps soon facing the ICC—things could be different this time around. With violence rising in Darfur and in other parts of the country, there's a lot riding on it.
Eight young people at a social gathering were killed in Colombia's southern Nariño department when unknown gunmen barged in and opened fire Aug. 15. The victims, between the ages of 17 and 25, were university students who had returned to the village of Samaniego due to the pandemic. They were enjoying a small party at a family farm on the edge of the village when the attack took place. One woman and one minor were among the dead. Nariño Gov. Jhon Rojas said the massacre was probably related to a struggle for control of narcotrafficking networks in the region. He did not name any group as responsible for the attack, but noted the presence in the area of ELN guerillas, "dissident" FARC factions that have remained in arms despite the peace accord, and the Clan del Golfo drug cartel.
Nobody has less patience than CounterVortex with the kneejerk squawking of "McCarthyism" any time new revelations of Moscow misdeeds emerge. Unlike all too many on the "left," we have no illusions about Russia's increasingly fascist direction, or its obvious designs on the political process in the United States in favor of Donald Trump. But we nonetheless must register our skepticism about the claims that Russia is arming the Taliban in Afghanistan, and offering them a bounty to kill US troops. This makes little sense in terms of the regional alliances. Russia and the Taliban have traditionally been on opposite sides, and the mutual animosity between them was the basis for the post-9-11 rapprochement between Washington and Moscow. We also aren't sure why the Taliban would need any extra motivation to kill US soldiers—they seem quite sufficiently motivated on their own.
The Sudanese government is sending more forces to the restive Darfur region, following a new escalation in violence there. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said the troops are to protect people during the farming season. Dozens of people have been killed and several villages destroyed in Darfur over the past weeks. The most recent outburst came on July 25, when some 500 armed men attacked Masteri village, West Darfur, killing at least 60 people from the Masalit ethnic group. In a separate incident that same day, another armed group attacked the Um Doss area in South Darfur, killing at least 20 people.
A joint Jewish-Palestinian rally against Israeli plans for annexation of West Bank settlements drew thousands to Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on June 6. The protest was originally forbidden by the authorities due to fears over the coronavirus, but police relented and issued a permit the previous night. Organizers took measures to ensure that "distancing" regulations were observed. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders addressed the rally via video conference, saying he was "heartened" to see Arabs and Jews demonstrating together. "The plans to annex any parts of the West Bank must be stopped," he stated. "The occupation must be ended and we must work together for a future of equality and dignity for all people in Israel and Palestine."
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced on May 21 that the United States would formally submit notice the following day of its intent to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, a post-Cold War trust-building measure signed in 1992 by the US, Russia and 33 other countries. The treaty, which took effect in 2002, allows each state-party to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others' entire territories to collect intelligence on military forces and activities. In accordance with Article XV, the US withdrawal will take effect six months after formally submitting notice. In a letter addressed to Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Trump, Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Adam Smith (D-WA) protest that the withdrawal is in violation of Section 1234 of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the president to notify Congress at least 120 days before giving formal notice of intent to withdraw from the treaty. (Jurist)