ISIS forces in Libya have doubled over the past year, now reaching up to 6,000 fighters, Gen. David M. Rodriguez, head of US Africa Command, told a news briefing in Washington April 7. But he emphasized that local militias "are contesting the growth of ISIS in several areas across Libya." (Reuters, April 7) He did not mention that many of those militias fighting ISIS are themselves jihadist, and loyal to rival Qaeda-linked factions. Additionally, the rate of growth may be significantly low-balled, if we go by Gen. Rodriguez's own prior statements. Just over a year ago, he characterized the ISIS presence in Libya as "very small and nascent," with "around a couple hundred" militants.
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)
Gunmen from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) targeted a popular beach resort in southern Ivory Coast on March 13, killing at least 14 civilians and two soldiers. The resort, in the city of Grand Bassam, is located only 25 miles east of Ivory Coast's largest city of Abidjan. According to the AFP, the gunmen "roamed the beach firing shots" before targeting the L'Etoile du Sud and two other nearby hotels. Ivorian security forces quickly "neutralized" the gunmen. The government's statement says that "six terrorists" were killed; however, AQIM's short claim of responsibility released online, states only three of its fighters were involved in the assault. “Three heroes from the knights of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were able to break into the tourist resort city of Grand Bassam," the jihadists said, indicating a larger statement will be released soon. Mauritanian news site Al Akhbar reports that sources within AQIM said that its "Sahara Emirate" and Katibat al-Murabitoon, led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, were behind the attack. (Long War Journal, March 13)
Amid reports of jihadist chemical attacks against Kurds in both Syria and Iraq, Turkey is reviving the same accusations against Kurds that were used during the Armenian Genocide a century ago. The latest in a string of such statements, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a Feb. 27 speech in the (heavily Kurdish) eastern province of Bingol: "They are collaborating with Russia like the Armenian gangs used to do. They are opening a diplomatic mission in Moscow." This was a reference to the Kurdish-led People's Democratic Party (HDP), whose leader Selahattin Demirtaş had in fact just visited Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It was also the most blatant and unaplogietic invocation of the Armenian Genocide yet by a Turkish leader. A report on this ominous statement in Al Monitor notes that supposed treasonous collaboration with Russia was precisely the charge made against the Armenians during World War I, justifying their mass deportation into the Syrian desert by Ottoman Turkish authorities—from which over a million never returned. The account also says that anti-Kurdish graffiti has started to appear on walls in Turkey's east, with the unsubtle phrase "Armenian bastards." This was seen alongside "We are with you, RTE"—a reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
An ISIS commander described by the Pentagon as the group's "minister of war" was announced to have been likely killed in a US air-strike in Syria on March 8. Abu Omar al-Shishani AKA "Omar the Chechen" ranked among the most-wanted militants under a US program that offered up to $5 million for information leading to his removal from the battlefield, Reuters reports. The conspiranoid website Levant Report responds to this development with the headline "ISIS Leader Omar al-Shishani Fought Under US Umbrella as Late as 2013." As is often the case with conspiranoid claims, there is a grain of truth here worthy of examination, but it hardly justifies the click-bait headline...
A US air raid, carried with both warplanes and drones, killed more than 150 al-Shabaab militants in Somalia March 5, with the Pentagon citing an "imminent threat" to US and African Union forces. Spokesman Cpt. Jeff Davis said a "large-scale" attack was being prepared at the camp. The target, identified as "Raso Camp," was in Bulobarde province, about 200 kilometers north of the capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011 but has continued to launch frequent attacks in its bid to overthrow the Western-backed government—including the twin bombing at a busy restaurant in the Somali city of Baidoa that killed 30 on Feb. 28.
Two Turkish journalists were released from Silivri prison early Feb. 26 after Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled that the detention violated their personal liberty, security, and freedom of expression and press. Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, employees of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, were arrested last November for reporting in 2014 that Turkish trucks were smuggling arms to Islamist groups in Syria. The Turkish government denied the allegations and later made contradictory claims that the trucks were carrying humanitarian aid or ammunition to rebel groups. Subsequently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed a claim against the reporters and accused them of cooperating with FETO, a secret movement intending to falsely link the Turkish government to terrorist groups. Though Dundar and Gul have been freed, they still face the government's charges and must stand trial on March 25.
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."