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."
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."
In another sign of the Islamist insurgency in the Sahel reaching West Africa's littoral states, the armed forces of Ivory Coast announced on May 24 the completion of a joint operation with the military of neighboring inland Burkina Faso, to clear out a Qaedist camp that had been established on the border between the two countries. Some 1,000 Ivorian soldiers took part in the operation, in which eight militants were reported killed and 38 others detained—24 in Burkina Faso and 14 in Ivory Coast. More are thought to have escaped on motorbikes through the bush of Comoé National Park, which lies along the northern border of Ivory Coast. The militants are said to be followers of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda's West African franchise. Automatic weapons, motorbikes and other equipment was seized in the raid outside Alidougou, a border town in southern Burkina Faso.
The Court of Cassation of Belgium on Jan. 28 upheld a lower court's judgement and ruled that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is not a "terrorist organization." The case, one of several in Belgium relating to the nature of the PKK, stems from an investigation into three local Kurdish supporters of the party by Belgian judicial authorities. The legality of the investigation was challenged, and in May 2017 the Court of Appeals ruled for the three activists. The Federal Prosecutor's appeal of this ruling has now been rejected. Speaking to Kurdish news agency ANF after the high court decision, one of the three targeted leaders, Zübeyir Aydar of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), said: "The Court of Cassation ruling recognizes the fact that the Kurdistan freedom struggle cannot be accused of terrorism, that what is in question is not terror but a war, and the PKK is a party of this war. This is a first in Europe and we hope it will set an example to other countries." A case has been pending since November 2018 before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg challenging the European Union's listing of the PKK as a "terrorist organization."
Donald Trump and the man he executed in a targeted assassination on Jan. 3, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, mirror each other as war criminals who treat the people of Iraq and the greater region as pawns in their power game. And, in fact, they were long de facto allies—Soleimani had been overseeing a "dirty war" in Iraq against Sunni militants and suspected ISIS sympathizers. His allied paramilitary forces have serially massacred anti-government protesters in Baghdad over the past months. In less explicit alignment with Washington, Soleimani also provided similar services on a far greater scale to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria. As overall commander of Iranian forces in Syria backing up Assad's genocidal counter-insurgency campaign (and by no means just against ISIS and jihadists, but the secular opposition as well) Soleimani is probably responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of Syrian lives.
A spokesman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Nov. 19 that he is "very concerned" by President Donald Trump's pardons of two US army officers and the restoration of rank of a Navy SEAL. The president last week granted full pardons to Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, and restored Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher to his previous rank of chief petty officer. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the OHCHR, said the pardons sent "a disturbing signal to militaries" around the globe, noting that international law requires the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, and that the pardons "simply void[ed]" the legal process. Colville was "particularly troubled" by the pardon issued to Golsteyn, who was still awaiting trial on charges of murdering an unarmed Afghan man during his deployment in 2010.
The utterly surreal news that Taliban leaders were invited to Camp David—a week before the 9-11 commemoration, no less!—will further fuel the perverse fantasy that Trump is a hippie pacifist. So it is almost comforting that the meeting was axed, and on the 9-11 commemoration in Washington, Trump was back to his blustering, bellicose self. "The last four days, we have hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before, and that will continue," he boasted. The Taliban responded in kind, releasing a statement saying that Trump "will soon regret" cancelling the peace talks. (Khaama Press, CBS)
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a midyear report July 30 detailing the 3,812 civilian casualties in Afghanistan since Jan. 1, 2019. According to this report, Afghan government forces and their allies killed 717 civilians, while the Taliban and other militant groups have killed 531 civilians. Nonetheless, there was an overall 27% decrease in civilian casualties from the same period of 2018, with the decrease being attributed to a shift away from ground engagements and suicide bombers. Aerial operations continue to be a rising cause of civilian casualties. The report also states that women are disproportionately affected by the ongoing attacks, not only due to loss of life or serious injury, but also secondary effects such as economic insecurity and displacement. In addition, women are at a higher risk of sexual violence and gender-based violence.