IW Roundup — June 7, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Israel fears unrest in the lead up to the formation of a new coalition Government; Pakistan makes progress in combatting terrorist financing; Tribunal investigates China’s atrocities on Uighurs can amount to Genocide; Extremist attack kills 100 in Burkina Faso; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. As always, we hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

Israel fears unrest in the lead up to the formation of a new coalition Government

Israel’s Security Chief issued a warning regarding the high risk of conflict by rightist elements following key vote in order to form the coalition government. The far-right Jewish activists have planned a provocative march to further increase tensions. The new coalition government, if formed, will force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leave the office he has held for the last 12 years. The New York Times, June 6. [Israel Security Chief Warns Against Incitement of Conflict as Tensions Mount Before Key Vote – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

Pakistan makes progress in combatting the terrorist financing

The Asia Pacific Group, a regional affiliate of Financial Action Task Force (FATF), issued a report indicating that Pakistan has made progress in terror financing ratings. According to the report, Pakistan has made progress in 21 parameters out of 40 and downgraded in 1. The result is that Pakistan has moved one category up in the Asia Pacific Group evaluation framework. Pakistan’s government officials believe that this and other improvements warrant keeping Pakistan off the FATF’s “blacklist.” The Hindu, June 5. [Pakistan makes progress on terror finance ratings – The Hindu]

Uighur tribunal investigates whether China’s atrocities on Uighurs can amount to Genocide

London-based people’s tribunal explores the nature of the Chinese Atrocities on Uighur minority to understand whether they can be categorized as a genocide. The tribunal is not backed by any state. It is headed by a human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Nice, and consists of other human rights activists. Some of the victims have given testimony in the initial round of investigation alleging horrendous acts including forced sterilization, forced labor, torture, and gang rape.  Al Jazeera, June 4. [‘Uyghur Tribunal’ opens with testimony of alleged rape, torture | Human Rights News | Al Jazeera]

Extremist attack kills more than hundred people in Burkina Faso

The attack took place in the village of Solhan in the Yagha province of the country. The extremist conducted the attack at night killing around 130 civilians, burned homes and markets. The responsibility of the attack has not been claimed by any group however the Sahel region of Africa including the countries of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have seen a series of extremist attack recently linked to AL Qaeda and Islamic State in West Africa. The Guardian, June 5. [Suspected extremist attack on Burkina Faso village kills 130 people | Burkina Faso | The Guardian]

California Sherriff warns officers not to join extremist groups — left or right

The Orange County Sherriff’s Department has been working to increase awareness among its officers regarding extremist groups. The officers have been instructed not to engage with such elements on the web or associate with militias or supremist groups. The department acknowledged the concern that officers might get drawn to such groups and disseminate racist and extremist content. While appreciating the effort, some experts have criticized the department for equating the threats posed by the “alt-right” and the “extreme left.” The Guardian, June 4. [California sheriff warns officers not to join far-right extremist groups, records reveal | US policing | The Guardian]

Buying a Stalemate: U.S. aid may still save Afghanistan

In an article on War on the Rocks, Dominic Tierney argues that an American troop withdrawal does not have to spell the end of the Afghan government. Tierney argues that continued U.S. financial aid may be enough for the Afghan government to hold off the advance of the Taliban, as happened when the Soviets withdrew in 1989. Following their withdrawal, the Soviets continued to provide substantial aid in cash, arms and other equipment. The result was that the government of President Mohammad Najibullah and his People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) held off the Mujahideen for several years. It was only the fall of the Soviet Union and the resulting end of Soviet aid that led to Najibullah’s defeat.

A U.S. aid program to Afghanistan of around $4–5 billion per year is affordable — even indefinitely so. The figure equates to less than one percent of the U.S. defense budget. Indeed, to put the number in perspective, Washington spends over $300 million every year just on military bands. The aid program is also much cheaper than deploying U.S. troops. Washington can pay for around 50 to 100 Afghan soldiers for the same cost as stationing a single American soldier there (about $1 million per year). The aid program is only a tiny fraction of the expenditure in Afghanistan a decade ago.

Continuing aid to Afghanistan does not guarantee success, but curtailing aid guarantees failure. $4 billion is a lot of money. But it buys Washington a reasonable chance at creating military deadlock in Afghanistan, forcing the Taliban to make peace, and avoiding a repeat of Saigon 1975, with all the associated trauma and recrimination.

One major oversight in Tierney’s argument is the distinct difference between the fractious Mujahideen that Najibullah fended off, and relatively cohesive Taliban facing the current Afghan government. This time there is much less hope of peeling off local commanders and driving wedges between rival factions.

That said, the continued provision of aid and other “over the horizon” aid does appear at this time to be the best option that is politically salable to the American people. And as Tierney argues committing to that assistance for the long term will maximize the odds of ultimate success.

IW Roundup — June 1, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commander killed in Quetta, Baluchistan; Myanmar’s Junta uses bodies of dead to spread terror; Austria launches “Islam Map”; Most of the people involved in Capitol Riot of January 6 are not in custody; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. As always, we hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Commander killed in Quetta, Baluchistan

The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) carried out an intelligence-based operation against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Killi Aghbarh area of Quetta. In an exchange of fire between security officials and terrorists, four members of the banned terrorist organization were killed, Included among the dead was a key commander named as Riaz Thekedar. Riaz was involved in multiple attacks, including the one conducted in 2016 on Civil Hospital Quetta. Dawn, May 27. [TTP commander, 3 other terrorists killed in Quetta: CTD – Pakistan – DAWN.COM]

Myanmar’s Junta uses bodies of dead to spread terror

In different videos and images, security officials are seen using bodies of the dead to create fear in the civilian population. The corpses and the bodies of wounded are dragged like sacks on the streets. Missing persons’ bodies are sent back with signs of torture and mutilation. Nick Cheesman, a researcher at Australian National University, claimed that the events of torture and killing might appear random but are actually deliberate and systematic, designed to demobilize the people and quash the growing resistance. The Washington Post, May 26. [Myanmar’s junta uses bodies as tools of terror in crackdown – The Washington Post]

Austria suffers backlash from Muslim communities on launching Islam Map

The Austrian Government launched a map labelling location of Mosques and Muslim institutions around the country. The map is called as the National Map of Islam. The group Islamic Religious Community in Austria plans to sue the government on putting the security of Muslims in danger. The integration minister is response to the backlash said that the aim was to fight political ideologies not religion. Turkey’s foreign minster called out the act as part of Austria’s wider “xenophobic, racist and anti-Islam policies.” Al Jazeera, May 29. [Austrian Muslims to sue government over ‘Islam map’ | Islamophobia News | Al Jazeera]

Most of the people involved in Capitol Riot of January 6 are not in custody

Around 70% of the people charged in Capitol Riot are not detained ahead of trial whereas usually only 25% of the federal defendants are released before their hearing. The members of the groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who are were facing serious charges due to their alleged planning of violence have also been released.  A former federal Attorney Zunkel and his colleague said that the problem is not that white people are released but it is that Judges are not making similar calls for other people in the Federal System. The Guardian, May 28. [Revealed: majority of people charged in Capitol attack aren’t in jail | US Capitol breach | The Guardian]

Terrorist attacking 3 French Police officers shot dead

The extremist who attacked and wounded a female officer recently have been shot and killed in France. The assailant was on terrorist watchlist. After the attack on the female officer, a team of 80 officers was instructed to arrest the attacker. In an exchange of gunshots, 3 officers were wounded and the attacker was killed. The Hindu, May 28. [Man attacks 3 French police officers, shot dead – The Hindu]

Three jailed over Barcelona attacks conducted in 2017

Three individuals belonging to an Islamic extremist cell were given prison sentences ranging from 8 to 53 years due to attacks conducted in Barcelona in 2017. The three were sentenced on the matter of aiding and facilitating the attacks. Two of the extremists were involved in manufacturing and preparation of explosives and were given 53 and a half and 46 years in prison respectively. The third extremist has been sentenced on the matter of buying explosive material for the attacks. He has been given 8 years in prison. The Washington Post, May 27. [3 jailed over 2017 Barcelona attacks by Islamist extremists – The Washington Post]

IW Roundup — May 24, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Myanmar military targets rebels as coup resistance intensifies; Investigations held on reports claiming death of Boko Haram’s leader; Chad accuses Libyan fighters of undermining terrorism fight; Iran rejects Canadian ruling of Ukrainian plane shot down as act of terrorism; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. As always, we hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

Myanmar military targets rebels as coup resistance intensifies

The nature of the protests against the recent coup in Myanmar is changing. The once-peaceful protest movement, which had been employing various forms of non-violent resistance, is now increasingly turning into an armed resistance after months of the military junta responding with a heavy hand, killing around 800 of the protestors. The military has now planned to target the militia groups and protestors in the town of Mindat. Military bombardment forced both resistance fighters and civilians to flee the town. The junta has labelled the militia members as terrorists in a bid to legitimize the use of military force. The Washington Post, May 21. [Myanmar conflict sends thousands fleeing as military targets rebels – The Washington Post]

While Myanmar has had armed ethnic groups fighting government authority for decades, this armed resistance is new. The recent fighting not only included a resurgence of conflict with well-established groups like the Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Army, but has also emerged in areas that were once peaceful. These new resistance groups are of various strength and technical capability, and it remains to be seen how well they will be able to stand up to (or evade) the military. At this time, they appear to have the moral support of the people of Myanmar, but in addition to support, an effective insurgency requires that the resistance survive government pressure while building relative strength.

Investigations held on reports claiming death of Boko Haram’s leader

Nigerian local intelligence reports claim the death of Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, who has been leading the terrorist organization since 2009. Shekau has been allegedly killed in a clash with Islamic State Western Africa Province’s (ISWAP) members. The military, nonetheless, is investigating the matter as Shekau has been declared dead multiple times in the past which later turned out to be false. Al Jazeera, May 21. [Nigerian army investigates reports of Boko Haram leader’s death | Nigeria News | Al Jazeera]

Boko Haram has a complex past regarding affiliation and competition with ISIS and al Qaeda. The gist as it applies here: Boko Haram had become an official affiliate of ISIS in March, 2015, becoming ISWAP, but by August, 2016, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had replaced Shekau as leader of ISWAP due to his overly aggressive use of “takfiri” ideology and targeting of civilians. Rather than accept the demotion, Shekau split off from ISWAP under the old name of the group. There has been a rivalry between these two (and another anti-Baghdadi Boko Haram) ever since, although periods of cooperation have occurred as well.

Chad accuses Libyan fighters of undermining terrorism fight

Chad’s Foreign Minister cautioned the United Nations Security Council about the deteriorating security situation of the Sahel as Libyan mercenaries and foreign fighters have become more active in Chad after the death of President Idriss Deby. The Foreign Minister stressed that similar situations could occur across the whole of the Sahel as the terrorist elements crossing into the Sahel can undermine the security measures and the progress made up till now in the fight against terrorism. He urged the Security Council to finance and strengthen the Five Nation African Force in order to enable it to defeat the terrorists. The Washington Post, May 19. [Chad says Libya fighters risk undermining terrorism fight – The Washington Post]

Iran rejects Canadian ruling of Ukrainian plane shot down as act of terrorism

The Iranian Foreign Minister called the ruling shameful and stressed that Canada has no legal jurisdiction over the incident. The plane was shot down in January last year by IRGC’s foreign wing, Quds Force, killing 176 people on board. The accident was assessed by Iranian officials to be caused by to human error, as the system was not recalibrated during a night in which Iran expected a potential attack by United States. Al Jazeera, May 21. [Iran denounces Canada ruling plane downed an ‘act of terrorism’ | Aviation News | Al Jazeera]

German Police Officer accused of Far Right Terrorism

The German officer, Franco A, has been taken on trial and accused of far right extremism. The case highlights the infiltration of extremist elements in the German security forces. The alleged terrorist has been living a dual life, one as a police officer and other as a Syrian refugee. He has been planning and plotting political murders of Claudia Roth; Vice President of German Parliament, Heiko Maas; German Foreign minister and a few others in order to damage the political system of the country. New York Times, May 20. [German Officer Goes on Trial, Accused of Plotting Far-Right Terrorism – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

Senate confirmation hearing for ASD (SO/LIC)

The Senate Armed Services Committee will consider four pending nominations, including Christopher Maier to be assistant secretary of defense for special operations (ASD(SO/LIC)). [This week in Congress: Biden’s budget due out at last – Military Times]

There have been no reports of significant opposition to Mr. Maier’s appointment. However, this appointment comes only weeks after the partial reversal of late Trump-era policy changes to elevate the ASD (SO/LIC) to directly and independently report to the Secretary of Defense and exercise oversight of the U.S. Special Operations Command. Therefore, expect some questions from the committee on organization, command and control, and civilian oversight.

IW Roundup — May 17, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City kill nearly 200; Western intelligence agencies seek new Afghan allies; U.S. targets domestic extremism with new efforts; New Zealand calls for “ethical algorithms” to counter online radicalization; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. As always, we hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City kill nearly 200 people

Israel’s intense raids and strikes have destroyed multiple residential building and killed almost 200 civilians which include 58 children and 34 women. The home of Hamas Chief Yehya Al Sinwar was also targeted. Despite diplomatic efforts to restore peace, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the end of hostilities, going on for a week, was not imminent. Al Jazeera, May 16. [Gaza death toll nears 200 amid surge of Israeli raids | Conflict News | Al Jazeera]

Western intelligence agencies seek new Afghan allies

As United States withdraws from Afghanistan, Western intelligence agencies look for new entities to provide intelligence information about militias and terrorist threats. The hunt has become more essential as the Intelligence agencies are of the view that the peace will not last long in Afghanistan and ultimately the country will face civil war. Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shah Massoud head of Northern Alliance in 1980s, is among the considered candidates for intelligence information. The New York Times, May 14. [Spy Agencies Seek New Allies in Afghanistan as U.S. Withdraws – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

U.S. targets domestic extremism with new efforts

In the wake of Capitol Riot on January 6, President Biden pressed Federal Law enforcement agencies to figure out the threat of domestic extremism. The report launched by the department in March warned about amplified threat from white supremacists and Militias. The Department of Homeland Security on May 11 took new initiatives to curb the threat. These include the dedication of an intelligence wing to curb domestic terrorism and the opening of a new center to help local and state law enforcement. The New York Times, May 11. [Biden Targets Domestic Terrorism With New Initiatives – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

U.S. sanctions seven Lebanese men connected to Hezbollah

The United States Treasury Department has sanctioned seven Lebanese men connected to Hezbollah for participating in evasive “shadow banking” activity. the seven men had been involved in illicitly transferring as much as $500 million on behalf of Hezbollah. The sanctions imposed by the U.S. block all assets the individuals hold in any U.S. banking facility and any future transactions. The U.S. Treasury director said in a statement that Hezbollah persistently abuses and drains Lebanon’s financial resources. Al Jazeera, May 11. [US imposes sanctions on seven Lebanese men connected to Hezbollah | Hezbollah News | Al Jazeera]

New Zealand calls for “ethical algorithms” to counter online extremism

In order to get rid of extremist content online, New Zealand and France hosted an initiative called the Christchurch Call. The Initiative was initiated after the Christchurch attack where the attacker live streamed the attack. The commission of the Christchurch mosque attack found out that the attacker had been radicalized by watching white supremacist content online. New Zealand’s Prime Minister urged tech companies to work on algorithms to control the extremist content online. The Guardian, May 15. [Jacinda Ardern calls for ‘ethical algorithms’ to help stop online radicalisation | New Zealand | The Guardian]

IW Roundup — May 10, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Germany takes action against extremist group; U.S. Attorney General requests more funding to curb domestic terrorism; SOCOM knocks down a straw man; The Canadian Proud Boys dissolves; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. We’re coming to you late this week due to a family emergency. As always, we hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

German spy agency labeled Pegida as extremist group

German intelligence agency has decided to broaden its surveillance of Islamophobic group ‘Pegida’. The intelligence agency, known as LfV, labelled the group as extremist and said that it has become a platform for right-wing extremists to disseminate anti-constitutional ideologies. Dirk-Martin Christian, president of the agency, said everyone belonging to the group would be put under surveillance with the exception of those who are just protesting peacefully. The Hindu, May 7. [Islamophobic group Pegida is extremist: German spy agency – The Hindu]

Islamic group Ansaar banned by Germany as extremist group

The German interior ministry has banned and alleged that the Islamic organization Ansaar International has been financing terrorism across the globe. The interior minister, Horst Seehofer, tweeted that Ansaar and its affiliate spread Salafist world view and financed terrorism under the cover of humanitarian aid. The website of the alleged organization states that it provides humanitarian aid to the people of war-torn areas and those affected by crises. The Hindu, May 5. [Germany bans Islamic group Ansaar, suspected of financing terrorism – The Hindu]

U.S. Attorney General requests more funding to curb domestic terrorism

The United States’ top law enforcement officer, Merrick Garland, asked for increase in funding during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing about the justice department’s budget request The increased funding is intended to help the Justice Department investigate domestic terrorism and elevate civil rights enforcement. Garland submitted proposals for $45 million additional funding for FBI to curb domestic terrorism and $232 million to limit gun violence. The Washington Post, May 3. [Merrick Garland hearing: Attorney general seeks more funding for domestic terrorism, civil rights work – The Washington Post]

The Canadian chapter of Proud Boys dissolves itself

The Far-right extremist group, Proud boy’s Canadian branch has dissolved itself. The organization was added to the list of terrorist organization by Canada in February. The organization was accused of far-right extremism and holding anti-Muslim and misogynist rhetoric. In response to the dissolution of the network, the Canadian anti-hate network tweeted that it is important to recognize the dissolution but that does not mean that the members of the group have abandoned their perceptions. Al Jazeera, May 3. [Canada branch of far-right Proud Boys group dissolves itself | The Far Right News | Al Jazeera]

SOCOM study highlights struggle over civilian control of special operations

A study being conducted by Joint Special Operations University (the academic arm of the U.S. Special Operations Command) is set to review arguments for and against establishing a separate military branch for the special operations community. It also asks what SOCOM may be able to learn from then-President Donald Trump’s surprise campaign to establish a separate service for the military’s space professionals. Former and current officials see the study as an elaborate straw-man argument meant to keep civilian oversight at a minimum. [Internal study highlights struggle over control of America’s special ops forces | Politico]

This study comes as the top brass at SOCOM and the Pentagon are wrangling over how and how much to empower the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD(SO/LIC)). Congress has mandated that the ASD(SO/LIC) be given oversight authority over SOCOM and that they be placed in its administrative chain of command. SOCOM has been reluctant to give up the enormous autonomy that it has enjoyed since it’s central role in responding to the 9/11 attacks, and the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy is bristling at having one of its components cut away to act as a stand-alone policy enti.

IW Roundup — May 5, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Anti-poaching journalists killed in Burkina Faso; France to use algorithms to detect extremism; Seven Italian terrorists arrested in France; Close aide of ISIS leader caught in Istanbul; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. We’re coming to you late this week due to a family emergency. As always, we hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

Two Spanish journalists and Irish ranger kidnapped and killed in Burkina Faso

The journalists, David Beriain and Roberto Fraile, were filming a documentary on Anti pouching efforts with an Irish ranger when they were kidnapped and later killed. The security situation at the border of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali has been deteriorating, resulting in increased violence. Most of the recent attacks have been linked to the terrorist groups Islamic State and Al Qaeda. The terrorists are alleged to have conducted forceful conversion to Islam and killing in cases of non-compliance. The New York Times, April 27. [2 Spanish Journalists and an Irish Ranger Killed in Burkina Faso Ambush – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

France to use algorithms to detect extremism

The recent terror acts have brought French President Emmanuel Macron under pressure. The nature of attacks has majorly been changed from planned attacks conducted by terrorist organizations to young individuals using knives without any credible affiliation with any terror organization. The French government is planning to strengthen counter-terrorism laws by using algorithms to curb the extremist threats keeping in view next year’s Presidential elections. The Guardian, April 28. [France planning to allow use of algorithms to detect extremism online | France | The Guardian]

Seven Italians far-right terrorists arrested in France

Guerilla fighters involved terror activities of late 1960 and early 1980s in Italy hid in France for decades. Under the Mitterrand Doctrine the convicts were allowed to live in France as long as they were not involved in violent activities. The Italian government has been urging French government to detain and extradite terrorist for many years. The terrorists were arrested after a meeting between Italian and French Justice minister on April 8th.  The Guardian, April 28. [France arrests seven Italians convicted of far-left terrorism | France | The Guardian]

Close aide to ISIS leader Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi caught in Istanbul

According to the Turkish police, top ISIL figure has been caught in an operation in Turkey. Baghdadi’s close aide, who has been identified with a code name, Asim, is an Afghan national. He suspected to have been involved in helping Baghdadi hide in Syria after the group went through a decline in 2019. He is also believed to have organized training for ISIL in Syria and been a member of the decision-making council of the organization. Al Jazeera, May 2. [Turkish police say top ISIL figure captured in operation | ISIL/ISIS News | Al Jazeera]

Crypto firms added to terrorist funding regulations in Turkey

Under a Presidential decree, the Cryptocurrency trading platforms have been added to the list of firms covered by anti-money laundering and terror financing regulations. The trend of increasing tilt towards cryptocurrency has been seen in Turkey as a protection from the declining value of lira. The Central bank of Turkey banned the use of crypto assets for payments last month. Al Jazeera, May 1. [Turkey adds crypto firms to terror funding regulations | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera]

IW Roundup — April 19, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Secretary of State makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan; China concerned over U.S. withdrawal; U.S. presses regional actors to cooperate in Afghan peace process; Sri Lanka & Pakistan ban political organizations; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. We hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

US Secretary of State makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken had an unannounced visit to Afghanistan following President Joe Biden’s call for withdrawing all military forces on September 11. Blinken had meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and National Reconciliation Chairman Abdullah Abdullah. The Secretary of State reassured Afghan leaders about continued US support after troops withdrawal and asserted that withdrawal was another chapter in US Afghan relationship. The Washington Post, April 15. [Blinken makes unannounced stop in Afghanistan amid calls for troop withdrawal – The Washington Post]

Continued support from a major donor country (or, preferably, multiple donors) is vital to continued viability of the regime. No Afghan government has succeeded in the modern era without outside assistance—including the Taliban.

China concerned over US withdrawal from Afghanistan

China expressed its concerns over US withdrawal from Afghanistan as says terrorists might take advantage of the vacuum created as a result of the military pull out. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian bashed American government for linking troops withdrawal to the threats posed by China. He asserted that the question of terrorism in Afghanistan remains unsolved, hence Biden administration should accommodate regional states legitimate concerns regarding the post-withdrawal scenario and troops must be withdrawn in a way that does not provide terrorists the space to strengthen their position. The Hindu, April 15. [‘Terrorist forces’ may take advantage of U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan: China – The Hindu]

Regional players pressed as Biden announced Troops pull out from Afghanistan

President Joe Biden announced complete withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan before September 11. In his speech, American President warned Taliban to fulfill their commitment and maintain peace in the country and not allow any terrorist outfit to threaten US and its allies. Along with that, President Biden coercively instructed regional players namely India, China, Russia, Turkey, and—in particular—Pakistan to cooperate in bringing peace to Afghanistan. Iran was notably not among those Biden called to support the peace process. Dawn, April 15. [Biden presses Pakistan as he announces Afghan exit – Newspaper – DAWN.COM]

With or without the U.S. directly involved in the fighting, the active cooperation of bordering states is vital to the peace process. In particular, these states must ensure that their territory is not used as a sanctuary for the Taliban or other spoilers, and that illicit trafficking is kept to an absolute minimum. Major powers, as current or potential donors, can also have a major impact on both the Taliban and the government by setting and enforcing expectations and standards.

Sri Lanka banned 11 extremist organizations

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in an official announcement banned 11 extremist organizations including al Qaeda and ISIS, under Prevention of Terrorism (temporary) Provisions Act, for their links to violent activities in the country. Local Muslim groups like Sri Lanka Islamic Students Movement have also been banned. The Hindu, April 14. [Sri Lanka bans 11 extremist groups, including ISIS and al-Qaeda – The Hindu]

Drone attack at Iraq’s Erbil Airport

On Wednesday, a drone attack targeted U.S. forces at the Erbil airport in northern Iraq. The interior minister of Kurdistan regional government confirmed that no one was hurt in the attack. It was also confirmed that the unmanned drone carried TNT, targeting U.S. forces. Claims have been made that a militia group linked with Iran conducted the attack, however no one has yet claimed responsibly. The Hindu, April 15. [Drone targets U.S. troops at Iraq’s Erbil airport – The Hindu]

Look for more of attacks like this as Iran seeks to increase pressure on the Biden administration in advance of expected talks on Iran’s nuclear and rocket program, its support of violent non-state actors, and U.S. sanctions.

Pakistan to ban Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan under anti-terror law

The government of Pakistan has decided to ban the Religiopolitical organization TLP under Anti-terror law. The Interior minister announced on Wednesday that Punjab provincial government had recommended to ban the outfit and the summary has been sent to federal cabinet. The supporters of the organization were protesting against the blasphemous caricatures launched in France and demanded to cease trade activities and send French ambassador home. However, after the leader was arrested the protest became violent and attacked policemen and law enforcement agencies. Dawn, April 14. [Government has decided to ban TLP under anti-terror law, says interior minister – Pakistan – DAWN.COM]

Biden will withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan — But this is not the end of the war

Biden will withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021

President Biden will announce his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan over the coming months. This withdrawal deadline will mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the Twin Towers in New York. While this would extend the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan beyond the May 1 deadline negotiated by the Trump administration, and well into the summer “fighting season.” However, it would be too short a period to create a serious incentive for the Taliban to agree to meaningful concessions in the ongoing peace process.

At present there are approximately 3500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan (which in DoD math is counted as 2500), with about another 7000 NATO and partner forces. The withdrawal of U.S. troops would necessitate the withdrawal of these other foreign forces as well, leaving the Afghan government on its own to fend off the Taliban.

The Biden administration has decided against using a “conditions-based” approach–an approach which most analysts believe is the most likely to result in a favorable outcome. According to a senior administration official, “The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.” Instead, he will withdraw U.S. troops according to a logistics-informed timeline that will result in the removal of all U.S. combat forces by September 11, 2021.

The delay beyond will allow time for the U.S.’s NATO and other international partner forces to withdraw in a measured, intentional fashion. It does however, effectively force them to follow the same policy as the U.S. since most rely on U.S. logistics to move major equipment.

The Afghan government will struggle

As pointed out by the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School,

… the 2021 threat assessment report from U.S. intelligence agencies assessed that a peace deal with the Taliban was unlikely in the next year, and that the Taliban would make battlefield gains. “The Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support,” the report said. The report released Tuesday did not contain an assessment of the likelihood of a return of al-Qaeda to Afghanistan, and some senior officials remain skeptical the Taliban would allow it. The report did say that Afghan government forces continued to hold major cities, but they have been “tied down in defensive missions and have struggled to hold recaptured territory.” 

This is not the end of the war, but a moment of humility

As Eliot Cohen argues in the Atlantic, “This is not the end of the war; it is merely the end of its direct American phase …. Strategic freedom will come at the cost of strategic reputation. It is not possible simply to walk away from a war one has been committed to and pay no penalty, even if the penalty is less than the cost of continuing to fight.”

He goes on to say, “This is, then, a humbling moment for the United States. It is a moment of relief for the parents of servicemen and servicewomen who would otherwise deploy to a war in which their politicians do not believe. It should be a moment of reflection for the leaders of institutions that performed less well than they ought to have. It is a moment for diplomats to rebalance and reconfigure elements of American foreign policy.”

However, the U.S. is unlikely to be fully done with Afghanistan. Given the precarious balance of power in Afghanistan and the continued interest of various regional and global powers (including the U.S.), the fighting in Afghanistan will continue for the foreseeable future. This move will give the Taliban a clear edge in the fight, but history shows that a central government in Afghanistan can hold off a concerted insurgency nearly indefinitely if it has enough international support. And since enough international powers want to avoid an outright Taliban victory, that support will likely be forthcoming.

So the war will grind on. The U.S. will send in troops again at some point, either as it did in scale in Iraq after its 2011 withdrawal and the subsequent rise of ISIS, or as it regularly does in smaller increments in Somalia to tamp down the terrorist cells that have taken root in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal in 1993. And as Cohen points out, we should not forget that it was the American penchant to declare success and go home that enabled the rise of the Taliban in the first place.

If we had been more honest with ourselves about the responsibilities that the U.S. was taking on when we toppled the Taliban, things would have been different. If we recognized that we would be taking on the role of patron (an enduring role) rather than “liberator” (a short-term role), we could have structured our aid and our military campaigns in such a way as to make progress not only more feasible, but also more durable. Lets be honest: Afghanistan was never going to be self-sufficient, given its political, demographic, and geographic position. What remains to be seen now is whether and how the U.S. will continue its role as patron, or if that role will be taken up by another regional or global power.

IW Roundup — April 12, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq; Multiple peace plans in Kabul; Saudi Arabia’s exit strategy from Yemen; Designation of White Supremacists as FTOs; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. We hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. To that end, we’ll be updating the format as we go in order to make this product as useful and informative as possible. Now on to the roundup:

US and Iraq agree to withdrawal of U.S. forces

On Wednesday, in a videoconference, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Iraqi foreign Minister Fuad Hussain agreed on the matter of Iraqi forces taking more combating responsibility and US withdrawing its remaining troops from Iraq. However, the timeline of the withdrawal of U.S. forces has not been set yet.  The US and coalition forces have now limited their task to training and advisory purpose. The Hindi, April 8. [U.S. commits to withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq – The Hindu]

This marks the beginning of a long process of determining how and when the U.S. will depart, and the details of the hand-off of responsibilities to Iraqi forces. It is unlikely that this withdrawal will be quite as complete as the 2011 withdrawal. Some limited number advisors may stay to continue training and supporting Iraqi troops and leaders, and U.S. special operations forces may visit the country on a regular basis to engage with Iraqi counterterrorism forces. Additionally, we may see a fairly robust intelligence-sharing relationship continue well past the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Multiple peace plans circulating in Kabul fracturing political leadership ahead of withdrawal of U.S. forces

The Afghan government and rival groups are each pressing their own peace plans, each aiming to grab a share in future government. Along with President Ashraf Ghani, warlords like Gulbuddin Hikmatyar and Abdurrashid Dostum have come up with their own proposals. Each is different in vision and depth. Abdullah Abdullah, who leads the peace process for the government, worries that the lack of consensus among pro-government political groups will help the Taliban secure a stronger foothold in future Afghan Government. The long-standing rivalry between Ghani and Abdullah has also contributed to that lack of consensus. The Washington Post, April 10. [Afghan peace process: Ghani, Abdullah splinter over U.S. proposal – The Washington Post]\

Failure of the government to come to a general consensus in a timely fashion will become extremely hazardous to its position if the withdrawal of U.S. forces goes forward. Afghanistan’s history of fractious alliances, makes building and maintaining trust difficult, but failure to do so would mean that the Taliban would be the only unified political force in the country going into the peace negotiations.

Saudi Arabia in dire need of an exit strategy from Yemen

Operation Decisive Storm, launched by Saudi Arabia in 2015 to fight Iran-backed Houthi Rebels, has failed in achieving its objectives as Houthis are still in control of the capital, Sana’a, and most of the north-western parts of the country. According to analysts, the recent calls for peace from Kingdom is not related to maintaining peace in the country, but are rather seeking an effective exit strategy from Yemen. Al Jazeera, April 5. [Saudi Arabia’s scramble for an exit strategy in Yemen | Conflict News | Al Jazeera]

Saudi Arabia appears to be coming to the conclusion that its strategy since the beginning of the conflict–applying pressure from the air in the hope that the Houthis would be unable to hold out against their competitors on the ground–is not working and will not work. The loss of a supportive U.S. president may have been a deciding factor. The choice to seek dialog implies that they have in effect decided to concede the contest and allow Iran a proxy in their back yard. Now they will try to make the best of the situation by shaping the terms of their defeat.

White Supremacist Groups must be designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations – Elissa Slotkin

Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) has been pressing President Joe Biden to designate overseas white supremacist organizations as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). In the letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Slotkin argued that this measure would help the government tackle rising domestic extremism and hatred. Elissa Slotkin is a former CIA analyst and now chairs US House subcommittee focusing on intelligence and counterterrorism. Al Jazeera, April 9. [Biden pressed to label foreign hate groups ‘terrorists’: Report | Joe Biden News | Al Jazeera]

An FTO designation allows the government to apply additional law enforcement tools to investigate, freeze the assets of, and otherwise curb the activities of the designated organization. Applying the FTO rubric to white supremacist organizations abroad would not only allow the government to begin isolating and reducing these foreign organizations, but would also act to cut off any existing or emerging ties that U.S.-based groups may have to these organizations. Like-minded organizations engaged in political violence regularly engage in foreign assistance and exchange ideas, training, and sometimes material goods. A move like Slotkin recommends would be a good first step in reducing the influence of domestic white supremacists and other right-wing extremists.

Muslim Brotherhood leader sentenced to life in prison

Leader of Egypt’s oldest Islamist organization, Mahmoud Ezzat has been sentenced to life in prison by a court in Cairo. He has been accused of terror acts that followed the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The court based its verdict on charges of provoking violence and supplying arms to the supporters during clashes with political opponents. Mr. Ezzat’s lawyer claimed that the charges Ezzat is pursued on are false political charges. Al Jazeera, April 8. [Egypt sentences Muslim Brotherhood leader to life in prison | Muslim Brotherhood News | Al Jazeera]

Al Shabab targeted Somali Regional Governor in suicide bombing

Ali Wardhere Dooyow, the regional governor of Somalia was the actual target of the suicide bombing that took place on Saturday outside a hotel in Baidoa. The Governor was not hurt but three other people were killed, two of whom were governor’s bodyguards. Five others were wounded in the attack. Al-Shabab has been fighting to overthrow Somalia’s federal government since 2007 and launches regular attacks against government and civilian targets. Al Jazeera, April 10. [Several dead as suicide bombing targets Somali regional governor | Somalia News | Al Jazeera]

Army special operations recruiting station opens

The Army’s Special Operations Recruiting Battalion officially opened their new recruiting station at the Main Post Exchange on Hunter Army Airfield with a ribbon cutting ceremony on March 31.Command Sgt. Maj. Tremayne Robbins, Hunter Army Airfield garri­son senior enlisted leader, and Lt. Col. Jody Daigle, Special Operations Recruiting Battalion commander, were on hand to celebrate the grand opening. Unlike most military recruiting, Army special operations recruiting is only open to current service mem­bers. This provides a unique opportunity for Soldiers to alter their career trajectory, opening several pathways ranging from special oper­ations civil affairs to Special Forces. U.S. Army, April 8. [https://home.army.mil/stewart/index.php/about/news/special-operations-recruiting-station-opens]

Army Special Operations Command has considered recruiting to be one of its top priorities. It currently operating understrength in a number of key areas, and its projections of future force structure have been dire for a number of years.