Many organizations, individuals, and governments are taking up arms against extremism. The following reports are ones we believe bring unique value to the conversation. If you would like us to share your work or have other suggestions for research we should share with the counterextremism community, please contact us via the Join the Conversation Page.
Rainer Hermann, “Opinion: ‘Islamic State’ may fall, but will not vanish,” Deutsche Welle, March 17, 2019. Despite the physical caliphate of the Islamic State having almost entirely collapsed, Hermann posits that the group’s adherents will go underground and wait for the next power vacuum in a fragile state. Further, militant Salafism and a lack of future for the younger generation must be acknowledged in order to prevent the rise of such extremism in vulnerable regions in the future.
Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Ali Soufan, “White Supremacy and Terrorism,” National Public Radio, March 17, 2019. Former FBI agent Ali Soufan reflects on right-wing extremism, arguing that despite their domestic targets, the groups are international in nature. Further, their ideologies and recruiting tactics are similar in nature to those of Islamic militants, highlighting the need for an increased focus on the threat posed by these right-wing extremists.
Najim Rahim and Rod Nordland, “Taliban Capture about 150 Afghan Soldiers after Chase into Turkmenistan,” The New York Times, March 17, 2019. The Taliban captured approximately 150 Afghan soldiers in the northwestern province of Badghis last week in the largest setback for the Afghan security forces since last August and the biggest capture of Afghan forces in the war. The assault reveals that the Afghan forces continue to face difficulty in securing territory from the Taliban and maintaining control over regions outside the parameters of government centers.
Rahim Faiez, Associated Press, “Taliban kill 22 Afghan forces in attack on checkpoints,” Yahoo News, March 17, 2019. The Taliban continued its assault against Afghan security forces, killing twenty-two in its overnight assault on security checkpoints in northern Afghanistan. The attack marks another blow against Afghanistan’s forces, even as the U.S. continues its settlement negotiations with the Taliban.
“Battle rages for last Islamic State Syria enclave,” Reuters, March 17, 2019. Despite hoping to clear the last enclave of Islamic State almost a month ago, a battle still rages between the SDF and the remaining militants. The SDF are taking care not to harm civilians and have been forced to slow and even halt their assault in their effort to ensure that non-combatants are not killed. Analysts also belief that even if defeated the group will remain a threat until at least the capture of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Eric Mack, “WashPost: NZ Attacks Expose Lack of Domestic Terror Intel,” NewsMax, March 17, 2019. The recent mosque shootings in New Zealand expose a weakness in the intelligence sharing of the Five Eyes: The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Although the five countries share intelligence related to international terrorism, they rarely share information regarding domestic terror, despite clear ideological similarities between domestic terrorists in each of the five nations.
Rich Creed and Nathan Jennings, “Winning the Deep Fight: Why We Should Return to Echeloned Reconnaissance and Security,” Modern War Institute, March 15, 2019. Creed and Jennings examine the effective use of combined-arms teams during Operation Desert Storm as a way to inform the conduct of modern war. They conclude that only by using such teams to conduct counter-reconnaissance, acquire information, and generally create freedom of action for other military elements can the United States conduct effective warfare against modern enemies.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria praises Taliban, Shabaab operations,” FDD’s Long War Journal, March 14, 2019. The Guardians of Religious Organization recently released a statement praising actions by the Taliban and al-Shabaab against the ‘infidels.’ The statement highlights the Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda and should serve as a reminder that the group should be dealt with in accordance to its terrorist links.
Bill Roggio, “Afghan military kills 31 AQIS fighters in Ghazni,” FDD’s Long War Journal, March 13, 2019. Recent airstrikes over the contested Ghazni province by Afghan security forces have killed 31 AQIS members in the region. Importantly, the Ghazni province is at least partially controlled by the Taliban, and AQIS would not be able to operate within the region without acquiescence from the Taliban. Roggio and The Long War Journal continue to highlight the ongoing connection between the al-Qaeda and its protector and supporter, the Taliban.
Bill Roggio, “US on track to nearly triple airstrike record in Somalia,” FDD’s Long War Journal, March 13, 2019. As the Trump administration looks to leave conflicts with other jihadists, it appears to be ramping up airstrikes against al-Shabaab in Somalia. However, Roggio postulates that the increase in airstrikes could be a prelude to withdrawal, serving as a cover by allowing the United States to claim victory over the al-Qaeda affiliate.
Eric Schmitt and Charlie Savage, “U.S. Airstrikes Kill Hundreds in Somalia as Shadowy Conflict Ramps Up,” The New York Times, March 10, 2019. Despite drawing down across the rest of the continent, the United States has continued to conduct a record number of airstrikes against al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab in the past four months. These strikes are in stark contrast to the more vocalized Trump administration policies of withdrawal from long-term counterinsurgency missions and a renewed focus on great power threats.
“SDF Attack Islamic State group’s Syria enclave Baghuz,” BBC News, March 10, 2019. The SDF launched another ‘final assault’ on the last remaining ISIS fighters in Northern Syria after being forced to slow its offensive last week because the group was using human shields. Although it appears that the caliphate is almost officially defeated, the group continues to pose a large security threat across the globe as it returns to its guerilla tactics.
RFE/RL, “Bosnia To Bring Back, Put On Trial Two Nationals Suspected Of Joining IS In Syria,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, March 9, 2019. Bosnia-Herzegovina has said that it will bring back two nationals suspected of joining ISIS in Syria and place them on trial for their involvement in a terrorist group. However, Bosnia’s difficulty in establishing a body to coordinate the return of Islamic fighters indicates the ongoing struggle to cope with the influx of returning fighters as the ISIS caliphate collapses.
Hannah Beech and Jason Gutierrez, “How ISIS Is Rising in the Philippines as It Dwindles in the Middle East,” The New York Times, March 9, 2019. Despite the SDF beginning its final push against the last bastion of ISIS’ original caliphate in Syria, the threat of the militant group continues to spread across the globe. In East Asia, the group’s presence has grown in the Philippines southern islands, creating and exacerbating conflict between their radical adherents and the state’s military.
Nancy A. Youssef, “U.S. Still Hunting for Allied Cooperation in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2019. U.S. officials were unable to secure commitments from European allies to send military forces to Syria to support the Trump administration’s efforts to withdrawal from the region. The administration has already had to back down from its original withdrawal date after overwhelming criticism and difficulty in establishing a new plan for control of the area.
James Dobbins, “Trump should reconsider his Obama-like Afghanistan plan,” The Hill, March 8, 2019. Dobbins compares President Trump’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan to former President Obama’s similar policy five years ago. He argues that, as was the case in the Obama era, the decision is largely between losing and not losing rather than between winning and losing.
Antonia Ward, “Deconstructing Deradicalization: Why the UK Needs a New Approach to Assess CT and PCVE Programs,” Georgetown Security Studies Review, March 1, 2019. As foreign fighters flee from the almost fully extinguished ISIS caliphate, countries are forced to evaluate whether or not foreign fighters should be reintroduced to their native countries and whether or not they should be placed in deradicalization programs. However, Ward addresses the lack of empirical evidence supporting the efficacy of such programs and highlights the necessity of creating a better system for examining their effectiveness before allowing such programs to become a mainstay in the process for returning extremists.
Michael Birnbaum, “The difficult diplomacy involved in returning former ISIS fighters and their families,” The Washington Post, February 23, 2019. With a defeat of ISIS’ last stronghold in Syria looking to be imminent, many Western countries are struggling with how to repatriate citizens who joined the terror organizations. Difficult diplomacy with Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and the Kurds complicate the situation, while some countries also worry that once home, these citizens will not be appropriately charged with their involvement with ISIS.
Jodi Brignola, “Between a Rock and a Hardline Place: The Conundrum of Providing Humanitarian Aid to HTS-controlled Idlib,” Georgetown Security Studies Review, February 22, 2019. Brignola discusses the implications of providing humanitarian aid to citizens and areas controlled by terrorist organizations. Often, humanitarian aid is exploited by these groups when they tax or steal the products, resulting in the aid bolstering the terrorist organization and elongating the conflict, rather than alleviating the suffering of the civilians.
Nabih Bulos, “The caliphate is all but finished, but its online presence endures,” The Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2019. Despite President Trump arguing that both the physical and digital presence of ISIS is all but defeated, ISIS’ media arm remains active. Its use of supporters and sympathizers to spread its message, as well as its ability to use less obvious mediums (i.e. chat rooms on games), has allowed ISIS’ digital presence to remain a potent force of radicalization.
Caleb Weiss, “French military claims senior JNIM leader killed,” FDD’s Long War Journal, February 22, 2019. The French military have claimed the death of JNIM co-founder Yahya Abu Hammam in a recent operation in Mali. Although there has not been independent confirmation of the claim, if accurate, Hamman’s death will be a significant victory against al-Qaeda in the Sahel.
Rodi Said, “Operation to End Last IS Syria Pocket Hits Evacuation Snag,” U.S. News, February 21, 2019. A delay in evacuating civilians from the city of Baghouz has slowed the SDF’s operation to take ISIS’s last stronghold in Syria. However, once the region has been cleared of ISIS control, Syria still faces issues concerning the repatriation of foreign fighters and the likely power vacuum that will develop upon American withdrawal.
Katie Bo Williams, “AFRICOM Adds Logistics Hub in West Africa, Hinting at an Enduring US Presence,” Defense One, February 20, 2019. The addition of a logistics hub in Accra, Ghana appears to reveal that the United States intends to play an enduring role in the region. Despite a reduction in special forces in the region and President Trump’s disdain towards “forever wars,” the hub is the latest in AFRICOM’s efforts to support local militias and militaries in their push against ISIS West Africa and Boko Haram.
Bill Roggio, “’Our soil is not used for carrying out terrorist attacks,’ Pakistani PM claims,” FDD’s Long War Journal, February 19, 2019. Pakistan’s prime minister used language remarkably similar to that used by the Taliban when he denied Pakistani involvement in the most recent terror attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed in Kashmir. However, as in the case of the Taliban, evidence to the contrary starkly contradicts the claim and continues to indicate Pakistani cooperation with terrorist organizations.
Gordon Lubold, “Top U.S. Commander Says Military Has Flexibility to Keep Some Troops in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2019. Despite President Trump’s assertions in December that the United States would execute a complete withdrawal from Syria, top U.S. commanders are hoping to maintain a small presence in the area to act as a counter to Iranian influence and maintain relations with the SDF.
Catie Edmondson and Charlie Savage, “House Votes to Halt Aid for Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen,” The New York Times, February 13, 2019. The Democrat-controlled House voted to end military assistance for the Saudi coalition in the Yemen civil war. While the vote appears to be a response to the administration’s unwillingness to recognize the Saudi Arabian crown prince’s role in the killing of Jamal Kashoggi, there is little discussion of the potential impact of withdrawing U.S. assistance on the actual civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Raja Abdulrahim, “U.S.-Backed Forces Push to Capture Islamic State’s Last Territory in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2019. U.S.-backed SDF forces began what they hope to be a short-lived battle to capture ISIS’ last territory in Syria over the weekend. Although President Trump has indicated that the territory will be captured by the end of the week, the coalition on the ground has not emphasized that timeline. Further, SDF forces continue to focus on the threat posed by ISIS’s guerrilla activity as the group is routed from its last territorial holds.
Fahim Abed and David Zucchino, “Afghan Forces Arrest Man Accused in 2017 Attack That Killed 150,” The New York Times, February 9, 2019. The Afghan intelligence agency reported that Afghan special forces arrested the man suspected of being responsible for two of Kabul’s deadliest attacks. In another operation, special forces arrested a professor believed to be a top recruiter for ISIS. Despite setbacks against the Taliban outside of the city, Afghan security forces have greatly enhanced security in Kabul in recent months with the help of American advisors.
Dionne Searcey, David M. Halbfinger, and Rukmini Callimachi, “A Battle Cry Seldom Heard These Days: The Palestinian Cause,” The New York Times, February 9, 2019. Two recent attacks in Africa answered Ayman al-Zawahiri’s calls to respond to President Trump’s decision to move the America’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Overshadowed in recent years by ISIS, the attacks serve as a stark reminder that al-Qaeda has not shrunk its vision to regional conflict, but rather still seeks to use terror to demonstrate its global political agenda.
Kyle Rempfer, “Special operations launches ‘secret surrogate’ missions in new counter-terrorism strategy,” Military Times, February 9, 2019. In an effort to adhere to the 2018 National Security report which placed state threats like North Korea, China, and Russia above the threats posed by terrorism, the U.S. military is looking to increase its use of local, surrogate forces in counterterror operations. This strategy of using irregular forces to ‘do [the United States’] bidding’ would lessen the need for large-scale troop deployment to these regions, allowing for a shift in manpower towards the aforementioned great power threats.
Krystel Von Kumberg, “The Nonpolar Order; Lessons from Syria,” Georgetown Security Studies Review, February 9, 2019. Arguing that the conflict in Syria exists within a nonpolar global system, Kumberg examines the lessons learned by accepting the new role of non and sub-state actors in such a system. Importantly, Von Kumberg uses the Syria example to emphasize that by failing to acknowledge the role of these actors, large state actors only handcuff their own influence and power within conflicts and regions.
Jessica Donati, “Major Obstacles Remain to Afghan Peace, U.S. Envoy Says,” The Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2019. Despite an increase in peace talks with the Taliban, U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has indicated that there remain two major obstacles to creating a lasting peace in the region. First, the Taliban refuses to agree to a cease-fire until the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, while the United States wants the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire before withdrawal as an indication of both sides’ dedication to the peace process. Second, the Taliban refuses to engage with the Afghan government, which delegitimizes the current government.
Liz Sly, “Withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria is proving easier said than done,” The Washington Post, February 8, 2019. As the U.S.-backed coalition in Syria gets closer to capturing the final territory controlled by ISIS, negotiations surrounding U.S. withdrawal from the region are becoming more desperate. With diametrically opposed forces including Russia, Syria, Turkey, and the SDF all seeking to play a role in a post-U.S. Syria, the possibility of a withdrawal without negotiation appears possible, with potentially devastating consequences. With so many forces seeking power in a post-U.S. region, withdrawal without negotiation is likely to lead to a chaotic power vacuum similar to that seen in Afghanistan following Soviet withdrawal in the early 1990s.
Sarah Dadouch and Tom Perry, “U.S. military aims to withdraw from Syria by April: WSJ,” Reuters, February 8, 2019. A recent report published by The Wall Street Journal indicated that the United States plans to withdraw its forces from Syria by the end of April. However, Washington’s inability to reach an agreement with Ankara concerning the safety of YPG fighters after the U.S. withdrawal appears to be an impediment to the withdrawal process. Spokesmen and officials from the U.S.-led coalition, Ankara, and the SDF have all indicated that there is not a set timeline for withdrawal.
Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, “Taliban continues to host foreign terror groups, despite assurances to the contrary,” FDD’s Long War Journal, February 7, 2019. U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, appears to have accepted the Taliban’s verbal reassurances at a summit in Moscow, stating that the summit made progress on the issue of counter terrorism. This is despite decades of stark evidence to the contrary and serves as an indication that the current administration may be willing to accept what it knows to be false information in order to justify withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Martin Chulov, “ISIS leader believed to have fled coup attempt by his own fighters,” The Guardian, February 7, 2019. Although there have been rumors of unrest within the dwindling ranks of ISIS’s fighters in Syria, the uncovering of a recent coup attempt against Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has lent credence to what was previously only speculation. The coup is believed to have been orchestrated by foreign fighter, Abu Muath al-Jazairi, and a bounty has been placed on his head. The unrest comes as ISIS appears to be losing the battle to hold its last sliver of territory in Syria and transitioning towards guerilla-style tactics.
Lt. Col. Alexander L. Carter, “How the NYPD Can Help Fight Terrorism in Indonesia,” U.S. Naval Institute, February 2019. In an article discussing maritime terrorism in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, Carter addresses the global efforts necessary to fight modern terrorism. Consequently, he argues that the NYPD’s experience in fighting maritime terror could provide invaluable expertise to Indonesian counterterror efforts. His insight into the global nature of the modern fight against terrorism emphasizes the necessity of both interagency and international counterterror communication.
Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan, “Islamic State Enlists Women as Covert Operatives in Survival Bid,” The Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2019. As the Islamic State is forced underground by its diminishing territorial holdings, the group has turned to women to help ensure its survival. Capitalizing on an eastern mentality that deemphasizes the role of women and often employs weaker, less stringent security measures against them, Islamic State has used women in roles as diverse as couriers and suicide bombers to aid its cause.
Jack Detsch, “Syrian Kurds tell Washington they may join forces with Assad if US pulls out of Syria,” Al-Monitor, January 29, 2019. A Kurdish delegation in Washington led by Ilham Ahmed is looking to clarifying the Trump administration’s withdrawal timeline for Syria. As the details remain unclear, Ahmed has revealed that the Kurds may be willing to negotiate with the Assad regime to be part of a new Syrian Army.
“Trump Said Turkey Will Finish Off ISIS. Maybe Not,” SOF News, January 29, 2019. Despite assurances by President Trump that Turkey is capable of routing the remaining pockets of ISIS in Syria, the complex situation on the ground provides evidence to the contrary. Without U.S. support, the SDF is likely to turn its attention to possible attacks by Ankara, taking away from its current efforts to fight ISIS in the region.
Hannah Beech and Jason Gutierrez, “ISIS Bombing of Cathedral in Philippines Shows Group’s Reach Into Asia,” The New York Times, January 28, 2019. ISIS claimed the recent bombing of a cathedral in the Philippines that resulted in at least 20 dead. The attack highlights ISIS’ ability to capitalize on local unrest, extending their global impact by leveraging existing militant action in far-reaching regions. The local groups use their association with ISIS to gain legitimacy and financial support.
Fawzia Koofi, “The Afghan Taliban Stage a Comeback,” The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2019. Koofi warns against a peace deal with the Taliban, noting that the Taliban does not seek to participate in open elections or a coalition government. Rather, the group has learned to participate in negotiations when it furthers the group’s goals. Koofi also warns against U.S. withdrawal, noting the spread of Taliban influence after partial U.S. withdrawal in 2014.
Michael Hirsh, “Ryan Crocker: The Taliban Will ‘Retake the Country,’” Foreign Policy, January 28, 2019. Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, warns against negotiating a deal with the Taliban from a position of weakness. Arguing that local insurgencies have learned to play the long-game against Western powers, Crocker believes that the United States should only engage in talks with the Taliban that include the Afghan government or risk delegitimizing the regime that the United States has propped up for almost two decades.
Liz Sly, “The once vast ISIS ‘caliphate’ is now reduced to a pair of villages in Syria,” The Washington Post, January 27, 2019. U.S. and SDF officials have declared that they believe that ISIS’ last territorial strongholds in Syria will be overtaken within the next month. However, both sides agree that ISIS remains a threat in areas where its fighters have been routed and warn that this is not the end of the fight against the group. In addition, control of the territory once controlled by ISIS remains in question, as Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the United States all look to exert their influence over the region.
Caleb Weiss, “Treasury designated Syria-based Iranian proxy groups,” FDD’s Long War Journal, January 25, 2019. The U.S. Treasury Department recently added two Iranian proxy groups based in Syria to its list of Specially Designated Nationals. The two groups capitalize on impoverished and often undocumented Afghan and Pakistani refugees and migrants, coercing them to fight on behalf of Iran and the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war. This comes as U.S. policy in Syria remains uncertain.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda ideologue justifies Shabaab’s war with the Islamic State in Somalia,” FDD’s Long War Journal, January 23, 2019. Bilal Khuraysat, an al-Qaeda ideologue from Syria, recently released an audio version of his statement promoting al-Shabaab’s violent resistance to the Islamic State’s expansion into Somalia. Citing Quranic verses that allow Muslims to wage war against believers if they are oppressing other believers, Khuraysat maintains that the Islamic State is extreme even amongst extremists, and its oppression against fellow Muslims should be denounced and resisted.
Jahara Matisek and William Reno, “Getting American Security Force Assistance Right: Political Context Matters,” Joint Force Quarterly, January 23, 2019. This article provides an overview and assessment of the current failures of American Security Force Assistance. It primarily notes the necessity of a legitimate, central state to allow for the creation of an effective, nationally-loyal, security force.
Dorian Jones, “Erdogan Visits Moscow with Looming Turkish Military Op in Syria,” Voice of America, January 22, 2019. Although Turkey and Russia have been on different sides of the conflict in Syria, recent meetings and phone calls between Turkish President Erdogan and Russian President Putin highlight the ongoing complexity of the situation in Syria. Importantly, the Idlib province remains an area of conflicting interests, and one which continues to see control by terrorist groups including Jabhat al-Nusra.
Ayaz Gul, “Taliban, US Open Afghan Peace Talks in Qatar,” Voice of America, January 21, 2019. Despite rumors of a breakdown in U.S. negotiations with the Taliban for peaceful reconciliation in Afghanistan, U.S. special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, met with Taliban representatives in Qatar for two days of peace talks. However, the delegations did not include a representative from the Afghan government, likely exacerbating Taliban claims that the current government does not wield legitimate power in Afghanistan.
Mujib Mashal, Fahim Abed, and Fatima Faizi, “After Deadly Assault on Afghan Base, Taliban Sits for Talks with U.S. Diplomats,” The New York Times, January 21, 2019. A deadly attack against an Afghan intelligence base on Monday morning killed at least forty Afghans, some of whom were members of Afghan intelligence forces. The attack took place in Wardak Province just hours before Taliban representatives began peace talks with the United States in Qatar. Many believe that negotiations will continue to be preceded by violence as both sides attempt to gain leverage.
Uri Bollag, “Intelligence Minister: Israel Is in Open Confrontation with Iran in Syria,” The Jerusalem Post, January 21, 2019. In contrast to previous strikes by the IDF in Syria, Israel claimed its most recent attacks on Syrian military targets in real time. This policy change followed Iran’s recent missile launch from Syrian territory towards the northern Golan Heights.
Bill Roggio, “’They will beg us for talks but we will reject them,’ Taliban spokesman says,” FDD’s Long War Journal, January 20, 2019. As the United States enters its peace talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar early this week, the Taliban continues to delegitimize the current Afghan government and claim that it is unwilling to enter into a power-sharing agreement. Despite the overt and constant statements to this end, the United States continues to negotiate with the group as though negotiations could end in the peaceful establishment of a coalition Taliban-Afghan government.
Jamie Dettmer, “Israel Reveals More about Its Military Engagement with Iran in Syria,” Voice of America, January 18, 2019. Israel has recently opened up about its operations inside Syria against Tehran, in a move that appears to emphasize the nation’s unwillingness to settle for an overt Iranian presence in Syria. This comes as analysts warn that Israel may face a multi-front war against Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip, which could spill over into direct confrontation with Iran. Iran reacted to Israel’s statements with forceful rhetoric, warning Israel that it is “playing with the tail of the lion.”
Phil Hegseth, “Indian Forces kill top terror commander wanted in Jammu and Kashmir,” FDD’s Long War Journal, January 16, 2019. Indian security forces killed Zeenat-ul-Islam, a bomb maker and top commander of the Al-Badr terror organization, in a “cordon-and-search” operation in Kulgam last week. Following the terrorist’s death, funerals were held throughout the region honoring the commander’s life, which resulted in several civilian deaths as Indian security forces attempted to break up the crowds. This violent cycle has repeated itself throughout the region, and Indian forces should recognize the detrimental impact of civilian casualties on the state’s larger counterterror operations.
Nancy A. Yousef and Raja Abdulrahim, “At Least Four Americans Killed in Syria Attack Claimed by Islamic State,” The Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2019. Islamic State claimed a suicide bombing in northern Syria that claimed the lives of at least four Americans, two of whom were service members, and an unknown number of Syrian civilians and allied forces. The attack is highly relevant as the Trump administration considers withdrawal from Syria, claiming that ISIS has been defeated in the region.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Shabaab says Nairobi attack carried out in accordance with Zawahiri’s guidelines,” FDD’s Long War Journal, January 16, 2019. In a statement released following the attack on the Nairobi hotel last week, Shabaab spokesmen tie the attack to the larger al-Qaeda and Palestinian cause. Despite efforts to lift the attack to a grander scale, the statement clearly reveals its resentment towards Kenyan troops in Somalia. Shabaab remains a dangerous force in Somalia and Kenya, despite efforts by both nations and the United States to weaken the group.
Chad Garland, “US pushes back on reports of civilian casualties following strike at ISIS in Syria,” Stars and Stripes, January 9, 2019. Although there have been several reports of at least 10 civilian casualties in the most recent U.S. airstrike against ISIS in Syria, U.S. officials deny the validity of the reports. However, humanitarian organizations warn that the U.S. anti-ISIS campaign in the region has decreased in transparency. Civilian deaths hinder counterinsurgency efforts and should be monitored closely to ensure that they are not undermining the U.S.’s mission in the region.
Valentina Pop, “Jihadists Behind Bars Pose New Threats for Europe,” The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2019. Returning foreign fighters pose a significant risk to their home countries as they return after fighting in places like Syria and Iraq. However, research is now indicating that they also pose a threat once prosecuted, promoting radicalization in the prisons in which they are held. In addition to the complexity of how to hold foreign fighters convicted of fighting with terror organizations abroad, European officials also struggle to prosecute potential radicals, emphasizing that being radical is not, in itself, a prosecutable offense.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda-linked operations room calls for another mediation effort in Syria,” FDD’s Long War Journal, January 8, 2019. A recent call by “Incite the Believers,” a coalition of jihadist groups in Syria, clashed with a former ally, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Although the jihadist groups share a common animosity towards the Bashar al Assad’s regime, Syria continues to see conflict between disparate jihadist organizations, heightening the chaos and disruption plaguing the state.
RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, “Taliban Calls Off Peace Talks in Qatar with U.S. Officials,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, January 8, 2019. Taliban officials called off what would have been the fourth in a series of talks and the U.S. special envoy to the region. They maintain that their main enemy in Afghanistan is the United States and refuse to participate in talks that include the current Afghan government. Their unwillingness even to negotiate with the current government emphasizes that they will be unlikely to agree to any sort of power-sharing deal.
Raja Abdulrahim, “Foreign Fighters Are Held in Syria as Home Countries Refuse Their Return,” Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2019. As uncertainty surrounds the U.S. plan to withdraw from Syria, the SDF remains responsible for the guarding and detention of hundreds of foreign fighters captured in the fight against ISIS. Many countries are refusing to repatriate these foreign fighters, arguing that it will be difficult to prosecute them in their home countries for crimes committed abroad. Foreign fighters are part of the ongoing crisis that still surrounds the fight against ISIS.
Bill Roggio, “US strike that killed USS Cole plotter first in Yemen in 3 months,” FDD’s Long War Journal, January 7, 2019. Although CENTCOM confirmed the death of USS Cole plotter, Jamal al-Badawi, on January 1st, the strike is the first against AQAP or IS-Y (ISIS in Yemen) since September of last year. AQAP remains a formidable force in Yemen and a dangerous enemy to the United States, making it likely that the decrease in strikes was related to President Trump’s efforts to drawdown engagement in the Middle East.
Francesca Paris, “Trump Advisor Bolton Says U.S. Withdrawal From Syria Is Conditional On Defeat of ISIS,” National Public Radio, January 6, 2019. Despite President Trump’s announcement late last month that the United States would be withdrawing almost immediately from Syria, the administration now says that U.S. withdrawal is conditional on the defeat of ISIS and the protection of American Kurdish allies. Senator Lindsey Graham’s remarks that a quick withdrawal could allow for a resurgence of ISIS fighters highlight the dangerous possibility that the group could take advantage of the power vacuum left by the United States.