President Donald Trump has given the CIA "secret new authority" to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, the Wall Street Journal reported March 13, citing US officials. This is said to depart from the Obama administration policy of a "cooperative approach" to drone strikes, in which the CIA used surveillance drones to locate suspected terrorists and the Pentagon then conducted the actual strike. The drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was named as an example of that "hybrid approach." The report asserts that the Obama administration had the Pentagon carry out the strikes "to promote transparency and accountability." The CIA, operating under covert authority, wasn't required to report its drone strikes. The Pentagon, in most cases, was required to do so.
US warplanes and drones struck supposed al-Qaeda targets in Yemen for a second straight day March 3, killing at least 12 suspected militants, according to local officials. The Pentagon said it had carried out more than 20 strikes overnight targeting al-Qaeda positions in the southern provinces of Shabwa and Abyan, and the central province of Baida. In the latest strikes, US fighter jets hit three houses in the Yashbam Valley before dawn, one of them reportedly the home of al-Qaeda's Shabwa province commander, Saad Atef, local sources said. Tribal sources said that several civilians were wounded, including women and children. One resident said it had been a "terrifying night." (Middle East Online, Al Jazeera, BBC News)
Late last year, when the evacuation of Aleppo began as the city fell to Assad regime forces backed by Russian air-strikes, we noted that residents were being sent to Idlib governorate, which is both under control of jihadist factions and also targeted for air-strikes and eventual conquest by the regime and its Russian patrons. So secularists fleeing Aleppo were likely to find no refuge from either regime or opposition forces in Idlib. Now comes the news that Radio Fresh, voice of the embattled secularist civil resistance in the Idlib town of Kafranbel, is being censored by the jihadists—and finding a creative way to resist. The FM station's manager Raed Fares told BBC News that they've been broadcasting hours of barnyard sounds each day to protest and mock censorious orders from local militants of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front). "They tried to force us to stop playing music on air," said Fares. "So we started to play animals in the background as a kind of sarcastic gesture against them."
According to the annual report (PDF) by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), civilian casualties in Afghanistan for 2016 were at a new record high. A total of 3,498 civilians were killed and 7,920 were wounded. Of the dead, 923 were children, as were 2,589 of the injured. Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Special Representative of the Secretary General, said, "All parties to the conflict must take immediate concrete measures to protect the ordinary Afghan men, women and children whose lives are being shattered."
This week's recapture of the Wadi Barada enclave outside Damascus by the Bashar Assad regime's forces points to a deft strategy by the regime and its Russian backers. The valley had been excluded from the supposed "ceasefire" because of the presence there of a small number of fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham—the former Nusra Front, which was officially excluded from the ceasefire. This means, effectively, the ceasefire not only doesn't apply to ex-Nusra, but also does not apply to any forces that have (often of necessity) allied with ex-Nusra—or even that just happen to be near ex-Nusra and not actively fighting them. This strategy seems to have had the desired effect. Nusra's former ally, Ahrar al-Sham, is now reported to have turned on Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, sparking an internal civil war within rebel-held areas of Idlib governorate. (Al Jazeera, Feb. 2; Al Jazeera, Jan. 29)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an ultimatum to the defenders of Aleppo's rebel-held east that they abandon the city by Friday Oct. 4. The rebel leaders pledge defiance, saying that promised safe passages out of besieged areas are a trap. "This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won't surrender," Zakaria Malahifji, of the Fastaqim rebel group, told Reuters, denying that there are safe exit corridors. "It's not true. Civilians and fighters are not leaving. Civilians are afraid of the regime, they don't trust it. And the fighters are not surrendering." (The Guardian, Al Jazeera) A Russian military fleet is meanwhile making its way to Syria, signaling an imminent escalation in the ongoing aerial assault on Aleppo. There has been some controversy about the fleet's refueling stops along the way. While NATO member Spain has allowed Russian warships en route to Syria to resupply at its port of Ceuta before, this time international pressure led Moscow to withdraw its request for a stop there. (World Post, The Local, Spain) The Royal Navy, which monitored the fleet's passage through the English Channel, says it includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as well as three submarines (two nuclear-powered) armed with cruise missiles. (The Independent)
Air-strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 90 prisoners and injured dozens more in the Zaydiyah district of the Red Sea port city of Hudaydah, Yemen on Oct. 29. The prison housed up to 84 prisoners and was bombed for hours, resulting in the collapse of the building. The bombing occurred hours after a peace agreement between Yemeni rebels of the Houthi movement and Saudi Arabia failed. Before the airstrikes began, Saleh Al Samad, the head of Yemen's Supreme Political Council, accused the coalition of committing human rights abuses in Yemen. The bombings were part of a series of strikes that occurred throughout the day, resulting in a multitude of deaths and injuries. The death toll continues to rise as first responders clear out the area. Ironically, many of those who were detained at the Houthi-controlled prison were actually opponents of the rebels. The coalition has yet to make a comment on the bombing.
Russia used its veto power on the UN Security Council Oct. 8 to kill a French-backed resolution demanding an immediate end to air-strikes on besieged Aleppo. Venezuela, shamefully (but not surprisingly), also voted against it. This was the fifth time Russia has used its veto to kill a UN resolution on Syria since the war began more than five years ago. (Reuters) The aerial terror remains unrelenting. On Oct. 13, a Russian or Assad regime air-strike (it matters little which) killed at at least 15 at a marketplace in rebel-held eastern Aleppo. (Rudaw) Secretary of State John Kerry has called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime.