Human rights organizations on Sept. 1 claimed mounting evidence shows Russia is behind the increasing number of cluster bombings in Syria. The accusations were levied in response to the annual Cluster Munition Monitor report (PDF) which found that Syrian government forces used 13 types of cluster munitions in more than 300 attacks. The cluster munition report maintains that civilians instead of opposition forces are often killed or harmed during munition usage, as some of the bombs have delayed detonation devices, essentially making them landmines. The report claims that not only are most of the munitions manufactured by Russia but also that the spike in their usage did not occur until after the joint Russian-Syrian military partnership began in September 2015.
It requires a really special kind of cynicism to pull this one off—the kind born of complete impunity, when the world gives you a blank check to carry out any kind of atrocity. Saudi fighter jets on Aug. 21 carried out air-strikes on a peaceful rally in Yemen's capital Sanaa that had been called to protest Saudi air-strikes. Most recent accounts put the death toll at three, but it seems very likely to rise. The protesters were mostly armed, and began firing on the warplanes with their AK-47s after the air-strikes, in a useless act of defiance. The rally was called after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) withdrew its staff from six Yemen hospitals in response to a Saudi sir-strike on a hospital that left 19 people dead in the northern province of Hajja. It was the fourth health facility supported by MSF to be hit by Saudi-led coalition air-strikes over the course of the war, now in its 17th month. The US continues to have military advisors directly supporting the Saudis' air war in Yemen. This week, their number was cut from about 45 to five, although US officials said this was not due to concern over civilian casualties. (Nine News, Australia, Aug. 21; BBC News, Aug. 20; NYT, Aug. 18)
The US Department of Defense on Aug. 15 announced the transfer of 15 Guantánamo detainees to the United Arab Emirates. Twelve of the detainees were from Yemen, and the other three were from Afghanistan. Six of the detainees had been approved for release since 2009, and the others were cleared for release more recently. Thirteen of the detainees had never faced any charges, and two of the Afghan detainees had their military commission charges drops. This marks the largest single detainee transfer so far, as the Obama administration works toward its goal of shuttering the detention center. After these transfers, there are 61 detainees remaining at Guantánamo.
The White House said July 1 that between 64 and 116 civilians have been killed by drone and other US strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya since Barack Obama took office in 2009. But this first public assessment by the administration put the civilian death toll significantly lower than estimates by various human rights groups, which range as high as 1,000 killed. Obama also signed an executive order outlining US policies to limit civilian casualties, and ostensibly making protection of civilians a central element in US military operations planning. The order requires an annual release of casualty estimates, and says the government should include "credible reporting" by non-government groups when it reviews strikes to determine if civilians were killed.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced the transfer of nine Yemeni Guantánamo Bay detainees to Saudi Arabia on April 16 as it continues efforts to close the facility. The prisoners would have been sent back to their home country but were instead transfer to Saudi Arabia due to the instability in Yemen. Eight of the detainees had been cleared for release since 2009, after an extensive review, and 26 more are also cleared and expected to be released this summer. At the end of March, a US government official said the DoD told Congress that it plans to transfer as many as 12 prisoners from Guantánamo in the coming weeks. Eighty detainees remain at the facility.
The US military killed "dozens" of AQAP fighters in an air-strike that targeted a training camp in western Yemen March 22. The Pentagon claims that the strike—on a camp in Hajr, in mountains west of the port city of Mukallah—will deny AQAP "safe haven," but the air campaign waged by the US against the al-Qaeda franchise since 2009 has done little to halt its advance. Since launching an offensive last year, AQAP has gained control of at least eight cities and towns in Yemen, including the provincial capitals of Hadramout (Mukallah), Abyan (Zinjibar) and Lahj (Houta). (See map.) (Long War Journal, BBC News, March 23)
US President Barack Obama delivered his plan to close Guantánamo Bay (PDF) to Congress on Feb. 23. This plan comes seven years after Obama first announced he planned to shut down the prison by the end of his presidency. Under the proposed plan, detainees not fit for US prosecution or deportation would be transferred to a yet-undisclosed detention facility in the US. The plan also prioritizes transferring detainees to their home countries when possible, or resettlement in third countries. The plan states that "closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility is a national security imperative. Its continued operation weakens our national security by furthering the recruiting propaganda of violent extremists, hindering relations with key allies and partners, and draining Department of Defense resources."
Two of three Guantánamo Bay detainees scheduled for release boarded a plane for transfer on Jan. 20 while the third detainee turned down the opportunity. Though the two released detainees were natives of Egypt and Yemen, they were resettled in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. The third detainee, Yemeni national Mohammed Bawazir, has gained a reputation for hunger striking as a protest against his 14 years of captivity without trial. Though Bawazir originally agreed to resettle in an unidentified country, he changed his mind reportedly upon realizing that he would not be returning to any family. Currently, 91 detainees remain in Guantánamo Bay, and 34 await resettlement in foreign countries.