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."
US troops clashed this week with an Assad regime unit in northeast Syria, an incident that illustrates the uneasy patchwork of power in the region. One regime soldier was reportedly killed and two wounded. No US personnel were injured, according to a Pentagon Central Command spokesman. Central Command said a joint convoy of US personnel and Kurdish forces were fired upon near the city of Qamishli in Hasakah province Aug. 18: "Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces, conducting a routine anti-ISIS security patrol near Tal Al-Zahab, Syria, encountered a checkpoint occupied by pro-Syrian regime forces. After receiving safe passage from the pro-regime forces, the patrol came under small arms fire from individuals in the vicinity of the checkpoint. Coalition troops returned fire in self-defense."
Jihadist militants continue to wage a low-level insurgency in Mali, targetting government troops and their French allies. Last week, the Group for Support of Islam & Muslims (Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on French forces in northern Mali. The assault with two explosive-laden vehicles on a base in the Gossi area of Timbuktu region left one French soldier dead. (LWJ, July 30) But internecine fighting between jihadist factions has also started to take an increasing toll. Since an apparent truce broke down in February, there have been repeated clashes between JNIM, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and the self-declared Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS, or EIGS by its French rendering). The ISGS has also engaged another Qaeda-aligned faction active along the border with Burkina Faso, the Macina Liberation Front.
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 self-proclaimed Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) issued a statement July 9 claiming its fighters killed 40 Nigerian soldiers in an ambush along the Damboa-Maiduguri highway in northern Borno state. The statement said ISWAP fighters captured five all-terrain vehicles, weapons and ammunition, and burned an armored vehicle during the attack, at the locality of Bulabulin. The Nigerian military confirmed the attack but said only two soldiers were killed.
The US State Department's newly released "Country Reports on Terrorism 2019" makes special note for the first time of an international white supremacist threat. The report states that the Department's Counterterrorism Bureau last year "increased its efforts to combat racially or ethnically motivated terrorism (REMT). REMT, in particular white supremacist terrorism, continues to be a threat to the global community, with violence both on the rise and spreading geographically, as white supremacist and nativist movements and individuals increasingly target immigrants; Jewish, Muslim, and other religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex (LGBTI) individuals; governments; and other perceived enemies. The CT Bureau is working with our law enforcement and foreign partners to take concrete actions to address this growing threat."
Soldiers rampaging through villages in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have unlawfully killed or forcibly disappeared at least 199 people between February and April 2020, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published June 10. Some of the killings amount to extrajudicial executions and among the victims are internally displaced persons. The briefing, "'They Executed Some and Brought the Rest with Them': Civilian Lives at risk in the Sahel," calls on the governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to put an end to the impunity by their security forces, and to ensure that military operations are in conformity with human rights and international humanitarian law. In Mali and Burkina Faso, where the situation amounts to a "non-international armed conflict," the deliberate killings of unarmed civilians by security forces could meet the qualification of war crimes.
More than a thousand people are on the run following a brutal attack on a camp for refugees and displaced persons in western Niger on May 30. Three were killed and several others wounded as over 50 gunmen on motorbikes swarmed into the camp at Intikane, Tahoua region, some 70 kilometers from the Malian border. The camp housed some 20,000 refugees from Mali and an additional 15,000 internally displaced persons from within Niger, including many ethnic Tuaregs, who have fled fighting in their own communities. The dead were identified as two Malian refugees and a local leader of the Intikane host community. In addition to killing the three men, the assailants torched food supplies and other aid. They also destroyed mobile phone towers and the main water station and pipes—cutting off communication and the water supply to the displaced population and host community. Around 1,100 people who fled the attack have now arrived at the village of Telemces, 27 kilometers from Intikane, and are in urgent need of water, food and other assistance.