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US steps up drone ops as Sahel violence flares

In the latest outbreak of fast-escalating violence across Africa's Sahel, gunmen in southwestern Niger on March 15 killed at least 58 people when they intercepted a convoy of four commercial transport vehicles carrying local civilian residents from a weekly market, and attacked nearby villages. The passengers were summarily executed, and homes and granaries put to the torch in the villages. The attacks took place in the Tillabéri region, near the flashpoint "tri-border area" where Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso come together. Militant groups linked to ISIS and al-Qaeda cross back and forth between all three countries.

US, Portugal send special forces to Mozambique

A week after the US State Department added the Islamist insurgents in northern Mozambique to its list of "foreign terrorist organizations," the Pentagon is now preparing to send a team of military advisors into the conflict zone. The US Embassy in Maputo announced March 15 that the two-month Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program will see US Special Forces troops instructing Mozambican marines. This follows an announcement weeks ealier by Portugal, the former colonial power in Mozambique, that it is dispatching an elite military unit to help fight the insurgents, known locally as the Shabaab. Lisbon is also petitioning the European Union to send an international military mission to the region to back up the Mozambique Armed Defense Forces (FADM).

African ISIS franchises make US 'terrorist list'

The Biden administration on March 10 designated two alleged affiliates of the Islamic State, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique, as "Foreign Terrorist Organizations." The State Department named as FTOs the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in DR Congo and Ansar al-Sunna in Mozambique. The Department also designated the respective leaders of those organizations, Seka Musa Baluku and Abu Yasir Hassan, as "Specially Designated Terrorists." The designations freeze all US property and assets in the names of these groups and leaders, and prohibit US citizens from doing business with them. Additionally, the Department stated that "it is a crime to knowingly provide material support or resources" to the groups, or "to attempt or conspire to do so."

Pakistan: Hazara massacre sparks hunger strike

Members of Pakistan's Hazara people have launched a sit-in and public hunger strike after a massacre targeted the Shi'ite minority at a coal-field in a remote area of Balochistan province on Jan. 3. Hundreds have been blocking a major thoroughfare through the provincial capital, Quetta. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid was sent in to meet with a delegation of the Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), the organization leading the sit-in, but his offer of compensation to victims' families was rebuffed as insufficient. In the attack, armed men rounded up miners from worker housing at the Machh coal-field in mountainous Bolan district. Those determined to be Hazara, 11 in all, were marched into the hills and summarily shot. Many had their throats slit or were otherwise mutilated. The local franchise of the "Islamic State" claimed responsibility for the massacre. Families of the victims are refusing to bury their loved ones, but have brought the bodies to the site of the sit-in, demanding the Balochistan government either arrest the killers or resign. (IANS, ANI, Dawn, Al Jazeera)

UN to investigate 'crimes against humanity' in Mali

UN investigators into political violence in Mali reported to the Security Council that they found evidence that government forces have committed "war crimes," while jihadists and other armed groups perpetrated "crimes against humanity." The allegations are made in a 338-page report compiled by the International Commission of Inquiry, a three-member panel examining events in Mali over the six years after it spiralled into conflict in 2012. The Commission was created in January 2018 as part of the Agreement for Peace & Reconciliation between rebels and the government, which was signed in 2015 after years of fighting. The report, which has not yet been made public, recommends establishing a special court to try accused perpetrators. (France24, Dec. 23)

Trump announces Somalia (pseudo-)withdrawal

President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all US troops from Somalia by mid-January, the Pentagon announced Dec. 4. The US currently has about 700 troops in the country, assisting local forces to fight al-Shaabab and insurgents operating in the name of the Islamic State. The Pentagon statement stressed that the order to "reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021" does not signify a change in policy: "We will continue to degrade Violent Extremist Organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition."

Mozambique conflict draws in neighboring countries

Jihadist insurgents variously calling themselves "al-Shabaab" or the "Islamic State Central Africa Province" (ISCAP) are fast escalating brutal attacks in Mozambique's oil-rich Cabo Delgado province, in the north of the country. In twin attacks Nov. 9, more than 50 residents were beheaded in Muatide village, where militants turned a football field into an "execution ground," while several more were beheaded and houses put to the torch in Nanjaba village. 

Mali: now a three-way war —or four?

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

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