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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.