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“American Kurds take up Syria fight as Erdogan visits Trump,” BBC News, November 17, 2019.
In the wake of President Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, America’s Kurdish population has come together to protest the continued abandonment of the ethnic group.
Sommer Brokaw, “Car bomb in Syria kills at least 15,” United Press International, November 16, 2019.
A car bomb in the Turkish-backed al-Bab district killed at least fifteen, with some Turkish sources indicating that the toll could be as high as eighteen. Turkish officials have blamed Kurdish forces in the region and made comparisons between the attack and those by ISIS.
Craig Nelson and Ehsanullah Amiri, “Stalled Prisoner Swap Slows Steps Towards Resuming Talks in Afghan War,” The Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2019.
A prisoner exchange between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which was intended to swap three members of the Haqqani network for two English teachers abducted in Kabul in 2016, was postponed after attacks by the Taliban in the Logar province and Kabul in the days leading up to the exchange. The prisoner swap was intended to help restart peace negotiations in Afghanistan.
Karen DeYoung, “Allies seek reassurances from Trump administration as U.S. policy on Syria shifts,” The Washington Post, November 15, 2019.
Following President Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, U.S. allies in the coalition against ISIS has sought reassurance that the United States will not shift policies again without consultation. The withdrawal has already altered the regional environment, with Russia gaining an increased role in the region and ISIS remaining a significant threat.
Adam Nossiter, “How ISIS Changed France,” The New York Times, October 31, 2019.
The French response to the death of ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was muted, demonstrating the heightened state of concern in France towards Islamic terrorism. Nossiter highlights the impact of the ISIS attacks on French culture, but further indicates that the divide between French society and its Muslim minority existed prior to the influx of radicalism as a result of ISIS attacks.
Ayaz Gul, “Afghan Government Links Peace Talks With Taliban to One-Month Cease-Fire,” Voice of America, October 29, 2019.
Following President Trump’s end to U.S. negotiations with the Taliban in September, the Afghan government has attempted to take over the peace talks that it had been left out of during the U.S.-Taliban exchange. Under its new plan, the Afghan government will only consider negotiations after a one-month cease-fire intended to demonstrate that the Taliban retains the authority to control its widespread troops and ultimately carry out any future peace deal.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi killed himself during raid, U.S. says,” FDD’s Long War Journal, October 27, 2019.
Joscelyn provides a brief background of the history of ISIS and al-Baghdadi in the wake of his suicide during a U.S. raid in northern Syria.
Caleb Weiss, “Al Qaeda leader reported killed in Tunisia,” FDD’s Long War Journal, October 20, 2019.
A senior leader of al-Qaeda’s Tunisian branch, Uqba bin Nafi Battalion (KUBN), was reportedly killed in a Tunisian military operation on October 20th. However, this claim has not been verified by KUBN and a similar false claim in 2017 raises questions about the validity of the Tunisian report. If accurate, the death marks another blow against KUBN, while simultaneously signaling the breadth of al-Qaeda influence across the region.
Cameron Abadi, “Why is Turkey Fighting Syria’s Kurds?” Foreign Policy, October 17, 2019.
Abadi provides a basic overview of the formation of the SDF and illuminates the distinctions between some of the more commonly used, but not necessarily understood, Kurdish groups. The article highlights the idea that while the SDF and the PKK (a U.S.-designated terror organization) may share political ideologies, the SDF should not be found “guilty by association.”
“7th October: A Black Day in the history of Afghanistan,” Voice of Jihad, October 7, 2019.
This article, produced by the Taliban and published on their official website, Voice of Jihad, recalls the 2016 interview given by Mullah Omar where he declared that the Taliban would outlast the United States in Afghanistan. The article reiterates the fact that the Taliban do not plan to end their violence until a full U.S. withdrawal occurs, highlighting the ineffectiveness of negotiations with the group.
Ayesha Tanzeem, “Taliban Kill 11 Policemen in Northern Afghanistan,” Voice of America, October 1, 2019.
As part of the violence threatened by the Taliban leading up to Afghanistan’s presidential election, 11 Afghan police officers were killed in Northern Afghanistan at police checkpoints. Although the Taliban did not capture that district, they are currently holding 30 police and armed locals siege in the Darzab district in the Jawzjan province. The Taliban remain committed to disrupting peace and democracy in the region despite Western efforts to perceive the group as a possible route through which to pursue a stable Afghanistan.
John Vandiver, “US airstrikes kill 10 Somali militants after troops thwart Al-Shabaab attack on airfield,” Stars and Stripes, September 30, 2019.
Al-Shabaab conducted two suicide attacks yesterday, one against Baledogle Military Airfield used by American troops in Somalia and one against EU peacekeepers in Mogadishu. Although no Americans or allies were injured or killed during the attack on Baledodgle, several Somali civilians were injured in the attack in Mogadishu. Though fairly ineffective, these attacks demonstrate al-Shabaab’s ongoing efforts to thwart peace and stability in the region.
RFE/RL, “In Repeat of 2014, Both Rivals Claim Win in Afghan Presidential Election,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, September 30, 2019.
In addition to low voter turnout and security threats by the Taliban, the two main candidates both claimed victory without offering evidence to support their claims. Overall election results are not expected for about three weeks, and there is concern that the competing claims of victory may result in the same political upheaval that followed the election in 2014.
Jared Malsin and Summer Said, “Saudi Prince Backs Away from Military Clash With Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2019.
Despite recent attacks on Saudi oil facilities believed to be orchestrated by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be looking for a political rather than military solution to relations with Iran. Although he emphasized the need for global action to deter Iran, Prince Mohammed appears willing to pursue political action, perhaps as part of Saudi Arabia’s larger efforts to repair its international reputation after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
Mohammed Hatem, Arsalan Shahla, and Hailey Waller, “Houthis, Saudi Prince Weigh In as Efforts to End Yemen War Grow,” Bloomberg, September 30, 2019.
Following recent comments by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman indicating that the kingdom is optimistic about the end of the Yemen war, Houthi rebel leaders appear willing to negotiate as well, after their announcement ending drone and rocket strikes on Saudi Arabia last week. However, meaningful negotiations remain complicated as tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are high as a result of the recent attack on Saudi oil fields.
Meghann Myers, “Afghanistan peace negotiations may be dead, but the war’s still very much alive,” Military Times, September 30, 2019.
Although President Trump recently declared negotiations with the Taliban “dead,” the war remains an active combat zone for the United States and the fate of American involvement in the region remains very much up for debate. Although Mr. Trump campaigned on withdrawing troops, the difficulty involved in providing assistance, training, aid, and special operations support makes the idea of withdrawal seem like a short-term victory set to result in a long-term defeat.
Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Sees Rising Threat in the West from Qaeda Branch in Syria,” The New York Times, September 29, 2019.
Although ISIS has dominated recent headlines and international focus, American counterterrorism officials are now voicing concern that Hurras al-Din, a new al-Qaeda branch that emerged out of the Khorasan Group in Syria, poses a dangerous threat to the West. With international ambitions deviating from the local goals of other extremist groups in the region and its inadvertent shielding by Russian air defenses, the group has the potential to formulate and execute attacks against the West.
Jeff Seldin, “White Supremacists Lead New Wave of Foreign Fighters,” Voice of America, September 29, 2019.
In a wave reminiscent of the influx of foreign fighters to Syria, foreign fighters espousing white supremacist ideologies and jihadist methodologies are flocking to Ukraine, where turmoil and chaos provide a “playground” for many such neo-Nazis. Just as vast number of foreign fighters flocking to Afghanistan in the 1980s and Syria in the 2010s represented a global security threat, these fighters cannot be overlooked as they are galvanized into violent action.
Faisal Edroos, “’Easy Pickings’: In Tunisia’s Forgotten interior, neglect leaves youth ripe for indoctrination,” The Middle East Eye, September 12, 2019.
In Kasserine, Tunisia, unemployment rates reach close to thirty percent and the majority of the population dislikes the government, feeling as though the transition to democracy has not produced promised results. Consequently, extremists in the region have an easy time enticing younger citizens, pulling them in with promises of financial gain and a better life. If the government hopes to counter extremism in the region, it must show a vested interest in bettering the lives of vulnerable youth.
Reuters, “Taliban Car Bomb Blast Kills Four Afghan Special Forces in Kabul,” Jerusalem Post, September 12, 2019.
Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed a recent suicide bombing on an Afghan security base near Kabul that killed at least four commandos and injured three others. This attack comes in the wake of President Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from peace negotiations with the Taliban and supports concerns that the end of the negotiations will result in heightened violence in Afghanistan.
Amy Zegart, “Viewpoint: U.S. Intelligence Needs Another Reinvention,” The Atlantic, September 11, 2019.
In the months and years leading up to the September 11th attacks, the U.S. intelligence community was too slow to adapt and reform in order to face the “grave new threat of terrorism.” Zegart warns that the intelligence community is again acting too slowly in the face of new technologically driven security threats and must reinvent itself or face deadly consequences.
The Associated Press, “Al-Qaida Chief in 9/11 Speech Calls for Attacks on West,” Military Times, September 11, 2019.
Al-Qaeda’s media foundation released a thirty-three minute video on the 18th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks calling for further attacks on the West and criticizing those jihadis who have denounced the attacks due to their civilian casualties. The announcement comes as the United States and other western nations look to reassess the threat posed by al-Qaeda as the imminent threat posed by ISIS appears reduced following the collapse of its caliphate.
John Grady, “Marine Who Led ISIS Fight Says Threat Still Remains,” USNI News, September 11, 2019.
As emphasized by many in the counterterror community, retired Marine Gen. John Allen, now president of the Brookings Institution, has reiterated the need to focus on refugees and displaced persons in the effort to reduce the longstanding impact of ISIS’ short-lived control. Importantly, if not appropriately addressed, the family members of detained foreign fighters currently housed in refugee camps, often with poor conditions, may be the future of terrorist threats against the United States.
Ben Chapman, “Islamic State Targets New York City and Police with Online Propaganda,” The Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2019.
Likely as a result of its loss in physical territory, ISIS has increased the volume and intensity of its online propaganda, specifically targeting New York City as a cultural landmark and police officers. As the last three Islamic terror attacks in the city were inspired by ISIS propaganda, the online messaging by the terror group is extremely relevant in its ability to inspire local extremists as ISIS no longer has the capacity to coordinate complex attacks.
Caleb Weiss, “AQAP and Islamic State resume fighting in Yemen,” FDD’s Long War Journal, September 11, 2019.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS’ Yemen branch have claimed a combined total of 29 attacks against each other as they resume fighting in Yemen. The renewed violence highlights the conflict between the two terror organizations, negating claims that ISIS fighters may join al-Qaeda in the wake of ISIS’ defeated caliphate and serving only to exacerbate Yemen’s war-torn state.
Jon Brown, “Mattis pinpoints ‘increasing contempt’ between Americans as major national security threat,” The Washington Examiner, September 8, 2019.
After naming China and Russia as the United States most dangerous external threats, former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, cautioned against the rising contempt and lack of friendliness between Americans with differing political opinions. Mattis argued that the growing contention between the political sides in the United States may be an even larger existential threat than China or Russia and plays into the hands of those enemies hoping to divide the nation.
Kelly Moss, “Learn to Live with It: The Necessary, But Insufficient, State Counterterrorism Approach,” Georgetown Security Studies Review, Vol. 7, Issue 2, August 2019.
Moss argues that learning to accept terrorism as a fact of life helps to reset a nation’s psychological state, allowing the state actor to establish and evaluate more effective counterterrorism approaches.
Saeed Shah, “Pakistan’s New Plight in Kashmir: What to Do About the Jihadists,” The Wall Street Journal, August 11, 2019.
Following India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy earlier this week, Pakistan’s military is left attempting to determine its best course of action in the region. Although Pakistan has faced international pressure to curb extremist groups in the region, it now appears that such jihadist groups may be Pakistan’s best hope of pushing back against India’s tightened control.
“Yemen conflict: Southern separatists seize control of Aden,” BBC News, August 11, 2019.
Yemeni separatists took control of Aden, a port city being defended by the security forces of the internationally-supported government. While Yemen’s civil war has raged for years, these separatists claim that they are acting now due to the Saudi coalition’s willingness to allow Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda to operate within the areas that it controls. Importantly, failed or failing states in the Middle East have led to the rise of Islamic militants in the past and such concerns remain relevant as there appears to be no end in sight for the Yemeni civil war.
Dov Lieber, “Israel Says It Foiled Large Attack on Gaza Border,” The Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2019.
Israel claims that it recently thwarted a potential mass-casualty terror attack on the Gaza Border when it killed four heavily armed militants attempting to cross the border. While it did not blame Hamas directly, Israeli officials blame the Palestinian ruling group for not preventing the attack. While much of the world remains concerned with the rise of extremism aimed towards the West, this attack should serve as a reminder of the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, which often serves as the ideological impetus behind other jihadists groups.
Bill Roggio, “Taliban threatens Panjshir province,” FDD’s Long War Journal, August 4, 2019.
The Taliban seized a district in Badakhshan, a province neighboring the strategically important Panjshir province. Although the United States would like to claim that the Taliban is seeking control of districts in order to boost its negotiating positions, the group’s rhetoric and actions reveal that its military plan is intended to aid in its reestablishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Thomas Joscelyn, “UN Security Council continues to report on al Qaeda-Taliban alliance,” FDD’s Long War Journal, July 31, 2019.
Despite the ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and the United States that have led the United States to indicate that it will set a withdrawal schedule from Afghanistan based on “counterterrorism assurances” by the insurgent group, the UN Security Council continues to publish reports that closely link the Taliban to al-Qaeda. The most recent of these reports was last month and revealed that al-Qaeda continues to view Afghanistan as a safe haven and relies on a long-standing relationship with Taliban leaders.
Thomas Joscelyn, “UN: Islamic State replaced leadership in Afghanistan after visit from central leadership,” FDD’s Long War Journal, July 30, 2019.
The leader of the Islamic State’s Khorasan province was replaced in April after a visit from central ISIL leadership due to poor performance in the region. Despite territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, this leadership replacement reveals that the central ISIL operation has retained active control over its regional branches.
Jennifer Cafarella, Brandon Wallace, and Jason Zhou, “ISIS’s Second Comeback: Assessing the Next ISIS Insurgency,” Institute for the Study of War, July 23, 2019.
Although ISIS has been defeated in the short term in Iraq and Syria, its slow demise allowed it to plan for its eventual defeat in those areas and establish the groundwork for its second insurgency. By retaining its financial network and replacing many of its militants to old areas of control, ISIS has retained its influence and ability to act effectively in the region. This report suggests that the United States would be remiss to repeat its 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, instead proposing that the United States prioritize its efforts against ISIS at this time when its gains against the group are most tenuous.
Harun Maruf, “Somalia Car Bombing Kills at Least 17,” Voice of America News, July 22, 2019.
A car bomb claimed by al-Shabab killed at least seventeen in the latest attack conducted by al-Qaeda’s East African Branch. Despite efforts by the United States to curb al-Shabab activity in the region, the group remains active and deadly in Somalia.
Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim, “Hundreds of Islamic State militants are slipping back into Iraq. Their fight isn’t over.” The Washinton Post, July 21, 2019.
Many Islamic militants have returned to Iraq from Syria after the defeat of their caliphate earlier this year. While these militants are able to carry out effective attacks outside major cities primarily against community leaders and security forces, Iraqi citizens, once indifferent or even supportive of the group’s initiatives now appear willing to work actively against members of the group to prevent its renewed rule over areas in Iraq.
Emanuele Ottolenghi, “To Fight Terrorists, Follow the Money,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, July 19, 2019.
Ottolenghi emphasizes the need to focus not just on thwarting terrorist attacks but also on the funding and financial processes that have made such terrorist attacks possible. Ottolenghi proposes that the United States and its international partners against terrorism and trafficking financiers should “more frequently and aggressively target financial crimes” related to such illicit activities.
Reuters News Agency, “Two killed in suicide bombing in Egypt’s North Sinai,” Al Jazeera, July 18, 2019.
One civilian and one member of Egypt’s security forces were killed in a suicide bombing near a military checkpoint in Egypt’s North Sinai region this week. The bomber was killed before he reached his intended target, but his explosive detonated, killing the two around him. The bombing was claimed by ISIS and highlights the ongoing conflict in the region between Egypt’s security forces and extremist groups.
Bill Roggio, “Taliban kills 25 Afghan commandos,” FDD’s Long War Journal, July 18, 2019.
25 Afghan commandos and 20 Taliban militants were killed in a recent clash in the northwestern Afghan province of Badghis. Although the commandos are Afghanistan’s most effective combat forces, they are overextended and often placed in missions outside their expertise, resulting in high casualty rates. Further, these consistent attacks by the Taliban continue to foster fear amongst the Afghani soldiers and citizens that the ongoing Doha peace talks will not adequately address the violence enacted against them by Talibani forces.
Saeed Shah and Waqar Gillani, “Pakistan Arrests Militant Wanted by the U.S.,” The Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2019.
Although Pakistan recently arrested Hafiz Saeed, a well-known Pakistani militant believed to be the mastermind behind the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, both Washington and New Delhi feel that, while important, these steps are not enough to indicate that Pakistan is committed to ending its sponsorship of terrorism.
Jason Douglas, “Brother of 2017 Manchester Arena Bomber Is Extradited to U.K.,” The Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2019.
Hashem Abedi, the brother of the 2017 Manchester Arena suicide bomber, was extradited to the U.K. from Libya this week after being held in Libya for more than a year. He now faces murder and conspiracy charges in the U.K.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Taimoor Shah and Najim Rahim, “‘What Kind of Peace Talks Are These?’: On the Front Lines of a 17-Year War,” The New York Times, July 17, 2019.
Quotations from a range of soldiers in the Afghan National Army reveal trepidation concerning the ongoing peace talks in Doha between the United States and the Taliban. Many Afghan soldiers feel that too many concessions will be made, and the lives of their fallen and injured comrades will have been lost in vain. It is imperative that the United States ensure that any deal it strikes with the Taliban does not forsake its Afghan allies, or it will risk alienating the Afghan population in a manner similar to the post-war environment in the early 1990s after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union.
Eoin Higgins, “Limited Wars Are Forever Wars,” Foreign Policy, July 17, 2019.
Higgins discusses the idea that “limited war” is a misnomer that creates a scenario in which the public supports an initial aim or goal that ultimately results in passive support for a “forever war.” Higgins uses Donald Stoker’s new book on the topic to discuss the negative effects of the “limited war” and the reality that such warfare actually has a tendency to lead the United States into long-term military quagmires.
John Grady, “Experts Mull Who Will Lead Iran After Ayatollah Khameneni,” USNI News, July 16, 2019.
As Iran’s Supreme Leader ages, the answer to the question of his potential successor could help to provide insight into the future of the Middle East. However, while the actual successor is uncertain, it is almost certainly going to be someone deeply rooted within the traditions of the Islamic Republic, making it likely that Iran will continue its hardline, extremist tendencies even after Khameneni’s death.
Caleb Weiss, “AQAP responds to Al Jazeera documentary,” FDD’s Long War Journal, July 16, 2019.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a statement in response to Al Jazeera’s documentary that claimed that AQAP has worked alongside the Bahraini government to remove political opposition. AQAP denied such accusations, arguing that these claims were created “in conjunction with their master, America.” Bahrain, following the line of several other Gulf States previously accused of working with terrorist organizations, has denied these accusations.
Caleb Weiss, “US sanctions leaders of al Qaeda in Mali,” FDD’s Long War Journal, July 16, 2019.
The U.S. Treasury has continued its efforts to designate global leaders in terrorist organizations by naming two high ranking members of JNIM, al Qaeda’s branch in West Africa and the greater Sahel. Despite these designations and efforts by France’s G5 force, JNIM continues to operate openly in this region.
Mike Sweeney, “Nothing Is Forever: When the US Military Eventually Leaves the Middle East, It’s Going to Need a Plan,” Modern War Institute, July 15, 2019.
Sweeney argues for the possibility that there are several future scenarios in which the potential negatives associated with retaining a large number of bases in the Middle East will outweigh the potential positives. After briefly examining the current volatility of the Middle East and providing a few examples of these negative effects, Sweeney goes on to indicate that the most pressing issue facing the United States is not the question of withdrawal or not, but the development of a plan with clear objectives and goals.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda growing stronger under Taliban’s umbrella, UN finds,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 23, 2019. Despite some efforts to present the Taliban as a national Afghani movement, the United Nations has reported again that al-Qaeda has grown stronger in Afghanistan due to its ties to the Taliban and ability to operate openly in areas controlled by Afghanistan. Joscelyn outlines the plethora of connections between the Taliban and terror organizations, highlighting the fact that the Taliban’s claims that it will combat terror in Afghanistan if the United States withdraws.
Ayaz Gul, “Afghans Remain Skeptical About U.S.-Taliban Talks,” Voice of America, June 23, 2019. A recent peace conference in Bhurban, Pakistan between Pakistani officials and members of the Afghan government has emphasized the necessity of an intra-Afghani peace dialogue to accompany the negotiations between the United States and the Taliban. Unfortunately, the U.S.-Taliban talks have, so far, failed to jump start such internal negotiations, largely negating the relevance of the talks for the long-term future of Afghanistan.
“U.S., Global Force Threaten Iran With Sanctions Over Money-Laundering, Terror Financing,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, June 22, 2019. Amid ongoing global tensions with Iran over the disputed downing of a $160 million unmanned drone, the Financial Action Task Force, an international organization whose goal is to fight the financing of terror, has threatened renewed sanctions against Iran. If Iran fails to meet an October deadline by taking significant action to prevent money-laundering and terror financing, FATF will impose these sanctions, which will likely contribute to Iran’s ongoing economic difficulties.
Caleb Weiss, “Islamic State claims attacks on American, French forces in Sahel,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 20, 2019. IS claimed a recent attack on American forces in Niger and on a French helicopter in Mali. Although IS claimed to have killed several American forces, AFRICOM did not confirm these details. The continued activity of IS in the region highlights its ongoing impact on volatile regions and ability to disrupt security despite no longer holding a landed caliphate.
Johnny Walsh, “Amid a Spike in Violence, Have Afghan Peace Talks Lost Momentum,” United States Institute of Peace, June 19, 2019. Despite ongoing violence between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Walsh argues that Afghanis have long ascribed to the method of “fight and talk,” the idea that war can occur at the same time that genuine efforts to achieve peace are pursued. However, it is possible that the upcoming Afghani elections will inhibit the current negotiations by creating internal divisions amongst Afghan factions that might be better served facing the Taliban as a unified front.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State’s Sinai province renews allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 19, 2019. A recent video from Islamic State’s Sinai province showed the group renewing its allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi only four days after IS’ West African province released a similar video. Both videos appear to be intended to highlight the continued presence and power of IS in the Middle East and Africa, despite the loss of territory in Iraq and Syria.
Ian Talley and Bradley Hope, “Accused Terrorists Use Loopholes to Tap Frozen Funds,” The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2019. A loophole that allows designated terrorists to access funds for “basic necessities” has created a system that lacks oversight and fails to adequately audit the spending of such withdrawals. Consequently, it is likely that designated terrorists have been able to access and use their funds to support illicit activities.
Kyle Orton, “The PKK Roots of America’s Ally in Syria,” The Jamestown Foundation, June 14, 2019. Orton examines the connections between the American-supported, Syrian SDF, and the terror organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). By highlighting the terror connection between the two groups, Orton reveals the detrimental effects of the U.S. alliance with the group against ISIS and posits that rather than removing the threat of ISIS, the divisions created by the SDF could potentially create a new environment in which the remnants of ISIS could flourish.
“Mali attack: ‘100 killed’ in ethnic Dogon village,” BBC News, June 10, 2019. A recent attack in Mali has resulted in the death of 100 ethnic Dogons, purportedly at the hands of their ethnic rivals, the Fulani. However, both sides of the conflict have claimed that the other has extremist ties, complicating the violence between the two. Further, while Dogans and Fulanis previously settled disagreements through negotiation, the 2013 Islamist uprising in Mali has greatly increased violence between the two groups, highlighting the sometimes indirect impact extremism has on increased violence within a region.
Zachary Halaschak, “Iran-linked terrorists caught stockpiling explosives in London,” The Washington Examiner, June 10, 2019. Despite discovering an Iranian-linked terror organization stockpiling explosives in London for use at a later time, the U.K. signed the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. The relevance of this discovery has become more important as the nuclear deal looks to be dissolving. It is possible that, given the current tension between Iran and the United States, this discovery, which at the time was largely discounted in favor of signing the nuclear deal, will be used to support a cooling of relations between Iran and the U.K.
Andrew Dys, “He grew up in York and twice tried to join ISIS to kill Americans. Now comes prison,” The Herald, June 9, 2019. Despite demonstrating a desire to join ISIS and a willingness to kill officials who disrupted his plans to do so, Zakaryia Abdin was released from juvenile detention after being detained for a weapons charge. Shortly after his release and despite warnings by officers and agents close to the case that Abdin was still a threat, Abdin again tried to join ISIS and was arrested by the FBI as he tried to board a plane to Jordan. His story provides a warning to the United States and other western nations as they attempt to combat the pervasive spread of extremist ideology and rhetoric within their states.
Associated Press, “US envoy launches new push on Afghan talks with Taliban,” Yahoo! News, June 10, 2019. The United States has launched new efforts to try to reach a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. However, while the United States is calling for direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the Taliban continue to conduct almost daily attacks in Afghanistan, making their claims desiring peace appear spurious.
John Irish and Angus McDowall, “French, Dutch Islamic State orphans repatriated from Syria,” Reuters, June 10, 2019. Twelve French and two Dutch orphans were relocated from Syria to their countries of origin in the midst of the ongoing debates concerning the repatriation of jihadist and their families following the defeat of the ISIS caliphate. Although these fourteen orphans have been relocated, approximately 250 others remain in Syria, along with thousands of other foreign fighters whose countries of origin are reticent to bring them home to face a justice system that may acquit them of their transgressions and an arduous and inconclusive rehabilitation process.
Scott Peterson, “American University in Kabul: Wielding soft power, in an age of war,” The Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2019. The American University in Kabul has provided a liberal arts education and place through which to expand horizons and understandings since its inception in 2005. While students of the university extol the benefits of the university, they also mention the stereotypes and stigmas they initially had to overcome in order to attend. The university is largely viewed as apolitical and serves as a soft power contrast to America’s military mission in Afghanistan.
Liz Sly, “Mystery crop fires scorch thousands of acres in Syria and Irag – and ISIS claims responsibility,” The Washington Post, June 7, 2019. ISIS claimed responsibility for the early wave of crop burnings that struck Iraqi and Syrian farmlands and encouraged their followers to continue the scorched earth policy. However, while ISIS is certainly responsible for some of the destruction, it appears that the early attacks have been mirrored by those hoping to reclaim lost land or enact revenge against those who purportedly stole their property. Both scenarios emphasize the destructive role of ISIS and its ability create the lawless and desolate areas in which it best thrives.
Caleb Weiss, “Islamic State claims first attack in Mozambique,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 4, 2019. Although Islamic State claimed its first attack in Mozambique, the attacks have not been independently verified. IS claimed that it killed and wounded several Mozambican soldiers and captured weapons and equipment from its army. If Islamic State is definitively linked to Mozambique, the dynamic of the violence within the state will take on more significant meaning with the context of the fight against global jihad.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Taliban leader claims US-led war effort ‘condemned to defeat,’” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 1, 2019. In a statement credited to its leader, the Taliban indicates that it is not going to surrender prior to achieving its goals in Afghanistan. The statement emphasizes that the negotiations with the United States are to end foreign occupation and refuses to acknowledge the validity of the Afghan government. Given this and that the statement does not acknowledge counterterror assurance, it should serve as an indication that the Taliban does not intend to negotiate a peace deal that fails to achieve all of its stated goals in the region.
Agence France-Presse, “Fresh strikes on Syria jihadist enclave kill 15,” Agence France-Presse, May 29, 2019. Despite the September truce brokered by Turkey and Russia, Russian and regime airstrikes continue to assault the Idlib province in Syria. Idlib is largely controlled by former members of al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate but the area is home to almost three million civilians. As the airstrikes by Russia and the Assad regime continue, civilian casualties also mount, with more than 270 civilian deaths in the last month. The Assad regime has said that it will “spare no effort” as it looks to retake control of the territory from the jihadist group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
Ayaz Gul, “Taliban, Russia Demand Foreign Troops Leave Afghanistan,” Voice of America News, May 28, 2019. In an unusual public address by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Russia, the political deputy of the Taliban called for the removal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, a demand echoed by Russian officials. The meeting in Moscow marked the Taliban’s continued refusal to work with the Kabul government, overtly undermining the government’s legitimacy.
John Rossomando, “The Left is mainstreaming Palestinian Marxist terrorists,” Washington Examiner, May 28, 2019. An op-ed examining the rise students and politicians who support the “trendy terrorists” that make up the U.S.-designated terror group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Mary Harper, “Somalia’s frightening network of Islamist spies,” BBC News, May 27, 2019. Although al-Shabaab officially withdrew from the capital city of Mogadishu in 2011, its secret network of spies, Amniyat, remains active throughout government-controlled regions of the country. Amniyat is largely responsible for al-Shabaab’s success as it actively recruits new members, warns its enemies of its omniscient presence, and guides the terrorist actions taken by the group.
Rikar Hussein, “IS Threatens ‘Hot Summer’ by Scorching Iraq, Syria Farmlands,” Voice of America News, May 24, 2019. In a recent newsletter, IS claimed responsibility for the recent burning of farmlands in Iraq and Syria. The group warned that more destruction was impending and claimed that the fires were retaliation for the destruction of IS lands by Shiite and apostate forces. The fires could also ignite ethnic conflict between Arab and Kurdish farmers as the Kurds claim that Arab fields are not being affected. Further, the economic impact of the fires highlights that while IS may no longer be able to claim territory, it still wields a far reach within the region.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda-linked jihadi leader killed in Kashmir,” FDD’s Long War Journal, May 24, 2019. Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH) leader, Zakir Musa, was killed by Indian security forces in South Kashmir when he refused to surrender during a firefight. Musa and AGH have been linked to al-Qaeda, although they have focused their energies on establishing a regionally relevant terror organization without links to Pakistan. Musa’s death was widely mourned in Kashmir, highlighting public discontentment towards Indian forces.
Bill Roggio, “AFRICOM hits Shabaab, Islamic State in Somalia,” FDD’s Long War Journal, May 24, 2019. U.S. AFRICOM launched its 5th airstrike against IS and its 33rd against Shabaab this year in the continuation of its efforts to deter and degrade two terror groups. AFRICOM’s mission is specifically not to defeat the groups, rather to provide the Somalian government with the opportunity to secure the regions in which these organizations currently operate.
Greg Myre, “John Walker Lindh, The ‘American Taliban,’ Is Released From Prison,” NPR, May 23, 2019. By giving a brief overview of Lindh’s history, Myre provides context for the discourse surrounding the early release of Lindh, who served seventeen years for his involvement with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Lindh case can be used as a careful case study for the process that should be enacted as a wave of Americans linked to extremism are set to be released in the next half decade.
Alicia Chavy, “Don’t Discount the Threat Posed by Female Foreign Fighters,” Georgetown Security Studies Review, May 9, 2019. Chavy demonstrates the ongoing tendency to discount the role of female foreign fighters in ISIS’ jihad. By failing to recognize the threat that they pose, Chavy argues that the states looking to repatriate foreign fighters will fail to accurately assess the security risks associate with female jihadists. Noting the ongoing use of women in active combat roles, Chavy indicates that female foreign fighters pose a significant security threat to the countries of origin and should not be assumed to be less dangerous than their male counterparts.
“Sudan army chief says Sharia law must be legislation source,” BBC News, May 8, 2019. As Sudan looks to establish new legislation in the wake of the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir, there appears to be contention concerning the role of Islam and Sharia within the new government. Military officials have indicated that Sharia should serve as the basis of new legislation, while human rights activists argue that in the past, Sharia has been used in Sudan to target women. The tensions highlight the ongoing conflict between seemingly outdated Sharia and modern human rights.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Taliban assaults ‘anti-Islamic’ NGO in Kabul, citing its promotion of ‘western culture,’” FDD’s Long War Journal, May 8, 2019. The Taliban attacked the site of NGO, Counterpart International, in Kabul today and claimed to have killed several in its assault of the building. The attack comes during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan and specifically targeted civilians, highlighting the group’s terrorist tendencies. Further, despite continually positive reports about the peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, the group continues to attack noncombatants and target non-Muslim and Western people.
Ahmed Charai, “The Arab Spring is Not Returning to Algeria and Morocco,” The National Interest, May 7, 2019. Citing distinct differences between the continually oppressive ruling elite of Algeria and the effective incorporation of opposition by the politically legitimate monarch of Morocco, Charai argues that neither state is experiencing a new Arab Spring. Further, Charai emphasizes the importance of both states in combating terrorism within their rural regions and presses the Western world to help end the territorial disputes between the two states so that they can better aid regional counterterrorism efforts.
David Johnson, “Urban Legend: Is Combat in Cities Really Inevitable?” War on the Rocks, May 7, 2019. Johnson first provides basic commentary concerning the validity of the U.S. military’s focus on urban warfare, highlighting the possibility that there may be too much emphasis placed on its inevitability. However, accepting urban warfare as a likely possibility, he goes on to detail the questions that should be examined as the United States develops new strategies and technologies for this type of combat.
Jessica Donati, “As Diplomacy Shifts, U.S. Expands Military-Style Counterterrorism Training,” The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2019. The U.S. will look to open new counterterrorism training centers around the world including three new centers in Africa and Southeast Asia. These training centers are part of the State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance program, which with local law enforcement agencies and authorities to guide and strengthen their efforts against the growing jihadist threats in the region. The emphasis on these centers highlights the Trump administration’s ongoing assessment that jihadist groups pose a significant threat to U.S. national security.
Hasib Danish Alikozai, “Pashteen: PTM Hurt Pakistan Military’s Terror-Sponsoring Industry,” Voice of America, May 6, 2019. The leader of Pakistan’s Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), Manzoor Pashteen, has alleged that the Pakistani military has lied about the PTM’s connection to foreign intelligence operations in an effort to hide its own connection to foreign aid. Pashteen argues that his group has prevented the Pakistani military from continuing its training, sponsorship, and exportation of militants, making PTM a target for the military’s defaming statements.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda-linked operations room counterattacks as bombs fall in northern Syria,” FDD’s Long War Journal, May 6, 2019. As Bashir al-Assad’s forces, supported by Russia, have increased their bombing campaign in northern Syria, Assad’s regime has been attacked by Sunni jihadists, including Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Hurras al-Din. The attacks emphasize that even with the fall of ISIS, the state’s potential power vacuum lends itself to the continued rise of local terrorism.
Shiraz Maher, “Islamic State and the age of atrocity,” New Statesman America, May 1, 2019. As Islamic State faces the fall of its landed caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the potency of its messaging and violence continue to be pervasive across the globe. The attacks on churches in Sri Lanka highlight the extremist quality of IS as it has repeatedly refused to call the attacks revenge for the bombings in Christchurch, New Zealand, instead incorporating them as part of their more nihilistic world view. This is in contrast to al-Qaeda, which has tried in recent years to present itself as “righteous” Islamists responsibly protecting the rights and lives of Muslims.
Anthony Loyd, “Dead men walking: why terrorist embraced suicide bombing,” New Statesman America, May 1, 2019. Loyd uses Iain Overton’s, The Price of Paradise, to analyze the rise of suicide bombing in the modern age. Importantly, Loyd emphasizes the particular use of suicide bombing by Islamic jihadists, citing some of the Islamic beliefs that have been contorted to both fit and fuel the suicide jihadi model.
MEE Staff, “Syria: At least 1,600 civilians killed by US coalition in Raqqa, probe finds,” Middle East Eye, April 25, 2019. Amnesty International and Airwars has recently published a news report indicating that 1,600 civilians were killed in Syria during the United States’ air campaign against ISIS in the region. Although some of these deaths have not been corroborated, the number is significantly greater than that admitted by the United States. These deaths highlight the complexity and necessary reevaluation of fighting a war against terrorist organizations that intentionally hide among civilians and use non-combatants as human shields.
Jeffrey Gettleman, Dharisha Bastians, and Mujib Mashal, “Sri Lanka Warns of More Suicide Bombers as Police Scour Capital,” The New York Times, April 25, 2019. As Sri Lankan officials look to complete the arrests of those associated with the Easter bombings, they warn of continued and retaliatory violence in the country’s capital of Colombo. Importantly, it appears the dysfunction and competition within Sri Lanka’s government played a role in its inability to act on earlier intelligence that detailed the impending attacks. The role of the dysfunctional government in allowing the attacks to take place emphasizes the role of weak central governments, failing, and failed states in creating environments in which terrorism can thrive.
Craig Nelson, “Afghan and U.S. Forces, Not Taliban, Killed More Civilians This Year,” The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2019. Amid an overall decline in civilian casualties, a report by the U.N. revealed that Afghan and U.S. forces were responsible for just over fifty percent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan this year. U.N. officials cite a harsh winter and a reduction in suicide bombings as contributing factors to the decreased number of deaths caused by the Taliban and insurgent groups. This again highlights the difficulty that the U.S. faces in attempting to conduct war against an enemy embedded amongst civilians.
Jeff Seldin, “US Official: Afghan Peace Deal Could Trigger Internal Woes,” Voice of America, April 24, 2019. John Sopko, U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction warned recently against a hasty peace deal in Afghanistan. Noting that “we all want peace,” Sopko cautioned that the $1 trillion that has been spent to aid Afghanistan’s reconstruction could be wasted if a deal is reached without addressing issues like women’s rights, health clinics, and military pay.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Terrorists in Sri Lanka swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” FDD’s Long War Journal, April 23, 2019. New information from the Islamic State appears to support Sri Lankan authorities’ assumptions that the Easter attacks were tied to international actors. The attacks were clearly pre-meditated and their near simultaneous detonations are an indication of professional jihadi operations. However, Islamic State media has denied that the Easter attacks were retaliation for the March attacks on New Zealand mosques.
Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State’s Khorasan arm targets government ministry,” FDD’s Long War Journal, April 22, 2019. A small team of Islamic State jihadis attacked Kabul’s Ministry of Communications building, in a common, IS-style of attack where a suicide bomber is used to clear the way for the other attackers. IS has regularly targeted government and civilian facilities, likely hoping to disrupt the Afghan government and limit civilian participation within it.
Michelle Quinn, “Sri Lanka Shuts Down Social Media After Terror Attack,” Voice of America, April 22, 2019. Social media shut downs have followed politically sensitive events in the past as governments have argued that the platforms can serve to fan dangerous flames and increase violence. The shutdown in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Easter reveal a heightened mistrust of the information being spread by social media in times of crisis. It further demonstrates the at least perceived role of social media in worsening the overall effects of terrorist attacks.
Kevin Truitte, “Why Counterterrorism Efforts Against Salafi-Jihadists Should Emphasize Information Warfare,” Georgetown Security Studies Review, April 18, 2019. Although physical efforts against terrorist organizations, including U.S. efforts against al-Qaeda and ISIS, have been partially successful, counterterror efforts should place new focus on information warfare in order to more definitively defeat Salafi-jihadists. By disrupting command and control, preventing the spread of propaganda, and enacting counter-messaging, information warfare can be used to prevent jihadist operations, limit communications, and delegitimize jihadist groups’ claims.
Robin Wright, “The Dangerous Dregs of ISIS,” The New Yorker, April 16, 2019. This article takes a closer look at the ad-hoc camps that have been set up to hold the thousands of ISIS fighters that have been arrested in the aftermath of the caliphate’s final defeat. Wright cautions that the camps, like Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca, could become the breeding grounds for the resurgence of ISIS.
Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss, “US kills deputy Islamic State leader in Somalia,” FDD’s Long War Journal, April 15, 2019. In its first strike against Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) since November 2017, AFRICOM has confirmed the death of deputy emir, Abdulhakim Dhuqub, in an airstrike. Although this is the first strike against ISS in more than a year, AFRICOM has heavily targeted al-Qaeda-affiliated, al-Shabaab, which controls an estimated 25% of Somalia.
Phil Hegseth, “Al Qaeda linked Kashmiri terror chief denounces Pakistan, calls for renewed jihad,” FDD’s Long War Journal, April 15, 2019. Although dormant for more than a year, Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind released an audio message recently that indicated that the group was set for a resurgence in the Kashmir region. Denouncing those terror organizations with ties to Pakistan and lauding the Taliban for its success in Afghanistan, the message emphasized the need to separate jihad from the Pakistani agenda. However, it remains to be seen whether the group will become active again or if more traditional jihadist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed will continue to dominate terror activity in the region.
“Treasury Designates Key Nodes of ISIS’s Financial Network Stretching Across the Middle East, Europe, and East Africa,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, April 15, 2019. The United States Department of the Treasury designated seven individuals and one entity that are part of the Rawi Network that works to facilitate ISIS funding. The release gives an overview of the network and those individuals designated by the U.S. Treasury, six of whom are located in Iraq, Turkey, and Belgium and the seventh of whom is located in Kenya.
George C. Herring, “Lessons From Vietnam on Leaving Afghanistan,” Foreign Affairs, April 15, 2019. A comparative review of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam as it relates to the potential U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Although it notes several significant similarities, the article indicates stark contrasts between the two conflicts and cautions against too closely using the past as a guideline for the present.
Alistair Walsh, “Taliban launch attacks as they start Afghan spring offensive,” Deutsche Welle, April 14, 2019. Although largely symbolic in recent years due to continued fighting over the winter, the Taliban has released its ‘spring offensive’ and said in its release that it remains committed to ridding the country of occupation. Blaming the Afghan government and international forces, a Taliban spokesperson has said that although the group remains committed to peace, it ‘cannot be unmoved…by occupiers and mercenaries.’
Ryan Browne, “US military mission in Somalia could take seven years to complete,” CNN, April 13, 2019. Although President Trump has indicated his desire and willingness to scale back global counterterror operations, his administration appears to remain committed to the military mission in Somalia. Aimed at creating an elite, Somalian military force capable of clearing villages and towns of terrorist groups, the mission could take almost another decade to achieve success.
WSJ Editorial Board, “The West’s Foreign Fighter Problem,” The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2019. This op-ed cautions against denying foreign fighters the right to return to and be prosecuted in their home countries. Many Western governments cite security concerns, the potentially radicalizing effect of foreign fighters on other prisoners, and low conviction rates in terror cases as they turn a blind eye towards the globally destabilizing effects these fighters could have if released by the SDF without being prosecuted.
Adrienne Thompson, “Degraded Not Defeated: A Proposition for Forming a New US Security Strategy in Syria,” Georgetown Security Studies Review, April 11, 2019. Rather than leave Syria in the wake of the final defeat of ISIS’ landed caliphate, Thompson suggests that the U.S. should develop a comprehensive security strategy for Syria. Such a strategy should include cybersecurity capabilities, support for its allies to build trust in the region, and specific training for Kurdish forces to prevent an ISIS resurgence. A clear, counterterror strategy in the region will also allow the United States to counter its adversaries influence in the region, including Iran and Russia.
Zouhir Al Shimale, “’No way back’: The law that stops displaced Syrians from ever going home,” The Middle East Eye, April 8, 2019. Law 10 was enacted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government last year, and effectively prevents Syrians displaced from their homes by war from returning to their properties. Although the law was presented as a way for the government to aid the rebuilding process, many believe that the government is using it to remove any trace of political opponents, many of whom once lived in the affected areas.
Carla Babb, “Suicide Blast Kills 3 US Soldiers, Contractor in Afghanistan,” Voice of America, April 8, 2019. The Taliban claimed a suicide attack that took place outside Kabul on Monday and killed three American service members. This attack comes even as the United States continues to work with Taliban representatives to negotiate a peace settlement in the region.
Rebecca Ballhaus and Jessica Donati, “U.S. Designates Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Terror Organization,” The Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2019. The United States has officially designated all of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organization, while in the past it has only designated the al-Quds branch of Iran’s military. The designation opens the United States up to the possibility of branches of its military receiving similar designations from unfriendly states.
David Gauthier-Villars, “Erdogan Vows to Buy Russian Missiles Despite U.S. Warnings,” The Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2019. Despite U.S. warnings against the transactions and its withholding of F-35 equipment and supplies, Erdogan has moved forward in the deal with Russia to buy its antiaircraft system, the S-400. Turkey’s continued shift towards Russia and away from the United States is particularly relevant as the United States has hoped in the past to use Turkey as a solution in Syria for preventing the return of ISIS.
Mujib Mashal and Fahim Abed, “Afghans Name Council to Ease Logjam on Talks with Taliban,” The New York Times, April 7, 2019. The Afghan government has announced a council of political leaders to engage with the Taliban and appoint negotiators to work towards a peace settlement with the group. Although a promising improvement over the longstanding stalemate between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the effects of the council are tenuous as the Taliban remains opposed to direct negotiations with the Afghan government, regarding it as a puppet of the United States.
Nadia Al Faour, Kim Hjelmgaard, Trevor Hughes, and Deirdre Shesgreen, “The making of an American terrorist: Hoda Muthana joined ISIS. Now she can’t come back,” USA Today, April 6, 2019. The specific case of Hoda Muthana is detailed as a case study through which to examine both the factors that lead Americans to terrorism and the factors that should be considered as some of those extremists look to return to their home country.
Lisa Schlein, “Boko Haram Militants Target Civilians in Niger’s Diffa Region,” Voice of America, April 6, 2019. Boko Haram and Boko Haram-affiliated groups were responsible for 88 civilian deaths in the Lake Chad Basin in March of this year compared to 107 deaths in all of 2018. The groups now appear to be targeting vulnerable civilians, including women, children, and refugees. Despite the increase in violence, the U.N. is continuing its humanitarian operations in the region.
“US to designate elite Iranian force as terrorist organization,” CNBC News, April 5, 2019. Although Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has largely been viewed as a terrorist-like, militant group charged with imposing Iran’s will in the region, Western nations have refrained from officially labeling Iran’s military as a terrorist organization. However, it is believed that Washington could place the official designation on the group as early as next week, demonstrating the fluidity between state, sub-state, and militant actors in the ongoing efforts to fight global terrorism.
Ayaz Gul, “Taliban Says Dostum Remains on Hit List,” Voice of America, March 31, 2019. The Taliban has claimed an assassination attempt against Afghanistan’s First Vice President, General Abdul Rashid Dostum yesterday. Although the attack resulted in an hour-long battle between the ethnic Uzbek’s convoy and Taliban militants, a Taliban spokesperson has indicated that the assault should not impact the ongoing peace negotiations with the United States.
Reuters, “Egypt Sentences 30 Men Over Church Attack Plot,” The New York Times, March 30, 2019. In the latest of Egypt’s efforts to crack down on terrorism within its borders, the Alexandria Criminal Court sentenced 30 men (10 in absentia) to between 10 years and life in prison for planning an attack on a church in Alexandria. The defendants are believed to have been acting in adherence with Islamic State ideologies.
Reuters, “Tunisia says U.N. official arrested in anti-terrorism probe: agency,” Reuters, March 30, 2019. Tunisia’s anti-terrorism judiciary unit arrested U.N. official, Mocef Kartas, as part of an ongoing investigation. Although Tunisian officials have confirmed the arrest, they have given no further details despite a U.N. spokesperson calling for clarification around the arrest.
“Germany: Police conduct major anti-terrorism operation,” Deutsche Welle, March 30, 2019. German police conducted a raid that resulted in the arrest of 11 male suspects between 22-25 years old. However, all of the men were later released after officials found no sign of weapons or explosives. The raid comes as many European nations are taking more aggressive stances on terrorist affiliation.
Jodi Brignola, “Regime Change and Counterterror in the Trump Era,” Georgetown Security Studies Review, March 29, 2019. In an examination of the Trump administration’s “America First” policy and its impact on terrorism, Brignola emphasizes that civil liberties and political freedoms, hallmarks of the democracies that American intervention has striven to support, have a negative correlation to terrorism. However, regime change and leadership decapitation have historically failed to produce stable democracies. The article draws three possible conclusions in light of these almost contradictory factors.
“Austrian far-right extremist denied US travel permit after Christchurch link,” Deutsche Welle, March 28, 2019. Martin Sellner, leader of the Austrian faction of the far-right extremist group, Austrian Identitarian Movement, has been denied entry to the United States after he was linked to the man responsible for the recent mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. Both the United States and the UK have recently denied Sellner entry, emphasizing the rising focus on the dangers associated with far-right extremism.
Caleb Weiss, “Islamic State claims several ISGS attacks across the Sahel,” FDD’s Long War Journal, March 29, 2019. Although there is some uncertainty surrounding the hierarchical structure between Islamic State central and the group most commonly known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Islamic State central has recently claimed credit for attacks conducted by the group based in Mali and Burkina Faso. Further complicating the connection, ISGS has also had civil relations with JNIM (al-Qaeda’s faction in the region) in the past, emphasizing the ongoing complexity of terrorist organizations within the region.
Caleb Weiss, “Shabaab continues to target Mogadishu in car bombs,” FDD’s Long War Journal, March 28, 2019. Despite ongoing efforts by the United States and its allies to deter al-Shabaab’s movements in Somalia, the group conducted a recent attack that resulted in the death of 15 people on one of Mogadishu’s main roads. The al-Qaeda affiliate continues to be active in the region and appears not to be deterred by regional anti-terror efforts.
Amandla Thomas Johnson, “Massacre in Mali: How the ‘war on terror’ fuels tribal violence in the Sahel,” Middle East Eye, March 28, 2019. In Mali, al-Qaeda has largely recruited poorer, pastoralists Fulanis, creating a lasting association between the Sahel-based tribal group and the international terror organization. The resultant link has led to a rise in violence against Fulanis, regardless of their association with the group. Although tensions between the Fulani and the Dogon, a farming-based tribe In Mali, have always existed, the violence and atrocities against the Fulanis has been fueled by perceived links to terrorism and have amounted in many cases to full-scale massacres.
“Canadian peacekeepers evacuated injured French counter-terror troops in Mali,” Times Colonist, March 26, 2019. In a previously unreported incident in Mali, Canadian peacekeepers working with the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali evacuated several French soldiers after several were injured in a skirmish with regional militants. Although the French are conducting Operation Barkhane, a counter-terror mission in Mali, and the Canadians are part of the UN, some fear that the evacuation may link the two forces in the minds of extremists.
Gordon Lubold, Warren P. Strobel, and Nancy A. Youssef, “With End of Islamic State Caliphate, U.S. Shifts to Long New Fight Ahead,” The Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2019. Although victory over the Islamic State’s physical caliphate marks an important moment in the war against extremism in Syria and Iraq, the group’s adherents and ideologies remain prevalent across the globe. The United States must remain committed to fighting ISIS’ extremist ideologies and eradicating the pockets of the group that have gone underground in hopes of resurging at a later time.
Jack Detsch, “Pentagon sustains budget for arming local anti-IS forces amid US pullout,” Al-Monitor, March 25, 2019. Despite once threatening a full withdrawal, the U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed that a small number of troops with remain in Syria and that the U.S. will continue to support the SDF forces in the region. These changes appear to underscore the administration’s commitment to preventing the return of ISIS in the region, despite its almost desperate efforts to end U.S. intervention in the Middle East.
David Kenner, “All ISIS Has Left Is Money. Lots of It,” The Atlantic, March 24, 2019. Although the United States and its allies have defeated the last area of ISIS’ original physical caliphate, the terrorist organization still has access to millions of dollars in funding, a factor which will severely aggravate efforts to defeat the group entirely.
Amichai Magen, “The New Normal? Terrorist Governors and Transnational Civil Wars,” Carnegie Europe, March 21, 2019. Arguing that the causes and nature of violent conflict have dramatically shifted over time, Magen discusses the idea that the evolution of terrorists to semi-state actors and the internationalization of civil wars combine to create a new and hazardous environment for modern conflict.
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.