IW Roundup — April 5, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

India supports the Afghan Peace Process; Polio workers killed in Afghanistan; TTP terrorists arrested in Pakistan; French airstrike hits wedding; The Islamic State claims responsibility in Palma attack; ASD(SO/LIC) and USSOCOM testify before SASC; 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:

Afghan Peace Process — India supports Afghan-Taliban talks

At the 9th Heart of Asia Conference held in Dushanbe, The Indian Minister of External Affairs asserted that India is supportive of the Afghan Peace Process, and intra-Afghan negotiations in particular. He exclaimed that the parties must engage in good faith. The minister also put forward his concerns regarding attacks on civilians in Afghanistan. The Pakistan Foreign Minister also present at the conference raised his concerns that gains made by IS and Al Qaeda could allow them to act as spoilers in the peace process. The Hindu, March 30. [India supports Afghan-Taliban talks: Jaishankar – The Hindu]

Meager representation of women in Afghan Peace process

As the Afghan Peace process proceeds, women see themselves increasingly marginalized in all sectors of society in the future. The U.S. peace plan has failed to significantly highlight the importance of gender equality and the representation of women in conflict resolution and in other fields. In the last six months representation of women in the peace process has been reduced from five women to just one. The space for women‘s participation in politics and other sectors is increasingly becoming narrow and may be completely erased if the Taliban get a significant share in a future Afghan government. Foreign Policy, March 30. [Women Cut Out of the Afghan Peace Process (foreignpolicy.com)]

Female polio workers killed in Afghanistan

After an attack in female journalists in the initial days of March, the month ends with an attack on three female polio workers in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. Officials have accused Taliban for the attacks however they have denied the claims. Taliban and other orthodox people are against the vaccinations, calling them part of a western conspiracy. However, the Islamic State (IS), who have also killed polio vaccine workers, is active in the province. Dawn, March 30. [Three women polio workers shot dead in Afghanistan – World – DAWN.COM]

Six TTP terrorists arrested in Pakistan

Six terrorists belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have been arrested by Pakistan’s security agencies. The terrorists were plotting attacks in two main cities, Lahore and Rawalpindi mainly targeting army personnel. The terrorists revealed during investigation that they have been working for masterminds based in Afghanistan. The Hindu, April 1. [Pakistan arrests six terrorists for plotting attacks against army – The Hindu]

Attack in Palma, Mozambique — Responsibility claimed by ISIS

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility of an attack killing dozens of people including a few foreigners in Palma, located in the northern part of Mozambique. The town is in close proximity to the oil rich area where an energy project has been set up by International companies. The attack was carried out by IS’s local affiliate, Islamic State in Central Africa Province. Many analysts claim that the worsening security situation of Mozambique has deep links with the grievances of locals, who out of frustration are joining militant groups. New York Times, March 30. [ISIS Claims Responsibility for Mozambique Attack – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

The attack in Palma has brought this relatively new extremist group to the fore. The U.S. government, journalists, and most terrorist analysts are rushing to catch up on understanding this group, its relationship to IS, its operations, and its role in the region. Even the name of the group appears to be in flux, including al Shabab, Al-Sunna wa Jama’a, Islamic State in Central Africa Province, Ansar al-Sunna, and others. The most likely scenario appears at this point to be that a local insurgency has be seized upon by the Islamic State as an opportunity for growth and “diversification of its portfolio.” The deal would work well for both in that IS expands its reach and prestige at little cost, while Ansar al-Sunna likely receives training and some material support.

French airstrikes killed civilians instead of militants

France conducted airstrikes on January 3, claimed to be targeting militants near Bounti in the Mopti region of Mali. The French military asserted that the airstrikes targeted 30 men and all were militants. The Malian government seconded the statement. However local groups disagreed, claiming that the attack was conducted on civilians gathered for a wedding ceremony. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) also confirmed that the airstrikes attacked around 100 civilians out of which only 3 men were suspected to be members of a militant group. The Washington Post, March 30. [French airstrike in Mali killed 19 civilians, UN investigation finds – The Washington Post]

ASD(SO/LIC) and Commander, USSOCOM testify before Senate Armed Services Committee

Christopher P. Maier, the Acting Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Special Operations And Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD(SO/LIC)) and General Richard D. Clarke, the Commander of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) provided testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 25th, along with the Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, General Paul M. Nakasone. Too much was said to adequately summarize here, but you can read ASD(SO/LIC)’s Statement for the Record here and the USSOCOM Commander’s Statement for the Record here.

IW Roundup — March 30, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Saudi Arabia offers ceasefire to Houthis; U.S. intelligence predicts Taliban victory; Insurgency in Mozambique; Progress in Libya; 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:

Saudi Arabia offers a ceasefire to the Houthi Rebels

The Saudi Foreign Minister offered a ceasefire for the six-year war that has sunk the country into one  of the worst humanitarian crises in recent years. The ceasefire plan includes a partial lift of the blockade of the Sana international airport and some seaports. However, the offer does not appear to be appealing for the Houthis. The Houthis insist on complete lift of the blockade from the Hodeidah port and, more generally, a separation of humanitarian issues from political negotiations. The Guardian, March 22. [Saudi Arabia proposes ceasefire plan to Yemen’s Houthi rebels | Yemen | The Guardian]

Terrorism Warrants issued for exiled Algerian activists 

An Algerian court issued arrest warrants for three exiled activists under terrorism charges. The activists included a former diplomat, a blogger and a journalist. The three have been accused of turning a peaceful protest into a violent one.  The former diplomat, Mohamed Larbi Zeitout is the founder of the political movement “Rachad.” Its membership includes some former Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) members. Rachad is accused of sending these FIS members into the protest to stir up violence. The warrants come at the time when anti-government rallies are increasing as Algeria awaits parliamentary elections in June. Al Jazeera, March 22. [Algeria issues ‘terrorism’ warrants for exiled activists | Politics News | Al Jazeera]

US intelligence predicts Taliban take-over after withdrawal of foreign troops

As the Afghan peace process proceeds and enters its final rounds, an intelligence assessment has to surfaced in Washington. U.S. intelligence predicts the Taliban’s coming back to power if U.S. troops are evacuated without a proper power sharing mechanism. Some the U.S. officials against the withdrawal deal have relied on the assessment to argue that withdrawal might give ground to terrorist entities such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State to regain their strength, as well as allowing the Taliban to roll back gains in women’s rights. The New York Times, March 26. [Officials Try to Sway Biden Using Intelligence on Potential for Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

Mozambique responds militarily after Islamic State attack

There is ongoing fighting between Islamic State fighters, government security forces, and private militia in the town of Palma in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. The situation is dire, with bodies littering in the streets. The attack is part of an ongoing insurgency that has become a major threat for the region. Security forces are trying to restore law and order. All three parties have been accused of “war crimes” for civilian deaths and destruction of civilian property. Al Jazeera, March 25. [Mozambique military launches offensive after ISIL attack | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera]

The insurgency in Cabo Delgado began after the discovery of large deposits of rubies andnatural gas. Expectations had been raised that the resources would lift the local community out of poverty, but few of the jobs ended up going to Cabo Delgado workers, while Mozambican elites and foreign investors reaped the vast majority of the benefits. Weak institutions, transnational crime, and heavy-handedness by the government have exacerbated the situation. It is little wonder, then, that the Islamic State would seize upon this classic case of the “resource curse” as an opportunity to spread its influence to yet another fragile region.

Libyan commander wanted for war crimes by ICC shot dead

Mahmoud al-Werfalli, Commander of Libyan National Army (LNA) and “a relentless and merciless killer,” was shot dead in Benghazi by unidentified attackers. The killing of al-Werfalli marks a turning point for a weakening LNA as it will have to face a number of social, political and military challenges. But it could also lead to a series of retaliatory attacks. Al Jazeera, March 24. [Libyan commander wanted for war crimes by ICC shot dead | Middle East News | Al Jazeera]

While the killing of al-Werfalli may remove a key figure in LNA’s power structure, the newly minted Government of National Unity (GNU) will be have to confront any violent reactions to his death at a time when it is already strained by a precarious security environment. And this additional strain is placed on the GNU at a time when it is already saddled with difficult tasks—effectively merging state institutions that were divided by years of competing governments and managing upcoming elections. Both of these tasks, if not conducted flawlessly, could rekindle the conflict.

Libyan government demands for complete withdrawal of mercenaries

In an effort to regain sovereignty and peace within the region, the new Libyan government demanded pull-out of the foreign forces. French, German, and Italian counterparts joined the GNU in the call for the withdrawal of all mercenaries, stating that there is no other solution to this crisis. To overcome the problem of crippling inflation and endemic corruption, the diplomats agreed that the departure of foreign forces is important to ending the crisis, as is the opening of the coastal road. Al Jazeera, March 25. [Libya demands mercenary pullout; Syrian militia on its way | Conflict News | Al Jazeera]

The reopening of various embassies, including France, Italy, Russia, Germany, and Egypt provide a good indicator that the security situation in Libya is improving. Additionally, the presence of these embassies will make foreign assistance and advice much more readily available to the newly-seated NGU. This will make the tough road ahead a little more manageable.

IW Roundup — March 22, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan; Al Shabab and U.S. Special Forces in Mozambique; Attacks in Mali, Niger; and more…

Welcome to the fourth 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:

Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan unlikely to meet agreed deadline

President Joe Biden said that it will be “tough” to meet the May 1st deadline for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, as negotiated by the Trump administration.  He explained that the negotiations by his predecessor were not effective and that now he is in position to make decisions regarding when the troops should leave the Afghan soil. This indicated that the new President might prolong the presence of troops in Afghanistan, although Biden says it would not be “a lot longer.” The New York Times, March 17. [Biden Says Withdrawing U.S. Forces From Afghanistan by May Deadline Is ‘Tough’ – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

Non-Compliance with troop withdrawal deadline will lead to “a reaction”—Taliban

As a response to the statement of President Biden relating to a possible delay in withdrawal of U.S. forces beyond the May 1st deadline, Taliban have issued a warning. At a press conference in Moscow, the Taliban negotiating team asserted that Washington must hold their part of the deal and leave on the agreed deadline. It was also conveyed that non-compliance with the deal will have repercussions. However, the nature of “the reaction” was not discussed. The negotiating team also emphasized on their demand of installation of Islamic government in the country. Dawn, March 20. [Taliban warn US against delaying troop pullout beyond deadline – Newspaper – DAWN.COM]

The Taliban’s threatened retaliation if the U.S. stays past the May 1st deadline should come as no surprise. The withdrawal of U.S. forces on this timeline would create an opening for the Taliban to freely attack the government just as the “fighting season” opens. Without direct and substantial support, the Afghan government forces may well collapse under the sudden strain. By way of comparison, last year there were four times the current number of US forces in Afghanistan.

Young children beheaded by terrorist group in Mozambique

Brutal activities and atrocities gain momentum in Mozambique as the world is distracted by COVID-19. The local insurgent group, Al Shabab, beheaded numerous children in the province of Cabo Delgado, some as young as 11 years old. Although the group has same name as the group operating in Somalia, no direct links have been found between them. However, the groups use techniques similar to those used by in the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Mozambican Al Shabab has reportedly received foreign fighters from the Islamic State (IS), and has recently been designated as Foreign Terrorist Organization by Biden Administration.  The Washington Post, March 16. [Cabo Delgado: Children as young as 11 beheaded by Mozambique militants, U.K. aid group says – The Washington Post]

US soldiers help Mozambican troops fight Islamic State

United States Special Forces have started training Mozambique’s troops in order to curtail insurgent elements. Over the course of two months, a dozen Green Berets have to train Mozambican marines in counterinsurgency tactics. Some of the insurgents are reported to be from Tanzania but most are Mozambican nationals who have joined due to extreme poverty and systemic corruption. The New York Times, March 15 [American Soldiers Help Mozambique Battle an Expanding ISIS Affiliate – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

Atlanta shootings mark rapid increase in Anti-Asian hate crimes

Anti-Asian hate crimes have risen exponentially in West, especially during the tenure of the Trump administration as violent voices perceived support from the White House. Adding to the list of violence against Asians, a shooting spree in  Atlanta took life of 8 people among which 6 were Asian women. According to some, the virus has come as an opportunity to turn micro-aggressions that existed previously into full-fledged violence.  The Washington Post, March 18. [A new focus on Asian communities in the West as Atlanta shootings continue year of heightened anti-Asian violence – The Washington Post]

Time has yet to tell wither the Biden Administration’s more empathetic tone and regular appeals to rationality will have a noticeable effect in reversing the racism that emerged under former President Trump.

Attack on military post in Mali killed 33 soldiers

A military post was attacked in Mali, at Tessit, near the border with Burkina Faso and Niger. The attack took lives of 33 soldiers, with 14 wounded. No one claimed responsibility for the attack. Nevertheless, evidence exists that IS and Al Qaeda fighters have been active in the area recently. The conflict started as a separatist movement in the northern part of the country. However, many armed groups seized upon the opportunity and joined in. The conflict has had a domino effect as it has spread to Burkina Faso and Niger, contributing to greater regional instability. Al Jazeera, March 17. [Attackers on trucks and motorbikes raid Mali base, kill 33 troops | Armed Groups News | Al Jazeera]

Attack on civilians in Niger — 58 killed

A group of civilians have been attacked in the villages situated in Tillaberi region of Niger. Gunmen on motorcycles launched the attack as people were returning from market day and claimed lives of 58 civilians. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but the region is known to have an Islamic State presence. As the situation of the country deteriorates, it adds to the challenges faced by newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum.  The Guardian, March 16. [Motorcycle gunmen kill at least 58 civilians on market day in Niger | Niger | The Guardian]

IW Roundup — March 18, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

March 8 – March 17

Welcome to the third 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:

Secretary of Defense faces a choice on SO/LIC reforms: Defy Congress or stand up to the Generals

Former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD(SO/LIC)) Mark Mitchell has called out Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on his first bureaucratic dilemma. According to recent reporting, Secretary Austin is considering at least partially reversing reforms made by his predecessor, Acting Secretary Christopher Miller. Miller had instituted changes required by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which sought to rebalance the relationship between the ASD (SO/LIC) and Commander of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) by placing more power and responsibility in the ASD(SO/LIC). However, as with any change in power balances, the change has upset those who stand to lose in the deal. Mitchell says Austin has a “clear choice: eliminate the legally mandated Miller reforms and eviscerate civilian control of USSOCOM or stand up to his erstwhile colleagues in the general officer ranks.” [Will Lloyd Austin stand up to the generals? | Opinion | The Hill]

And it’s not just USSOCOM that is set against the changes. The powerful Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (USD(P)) also stands to lose. Until the recent reforms, ASD(SO/LIC) was subordinate to USD(P), and reported to the Secretary through USD(P). Upending the recent reforms could return the ASD(SO/LIC) to this subordinate position, weakening advocacy for SOF-related issues. [SECDEF Needs to Obey Congress and Not Undermine Special Operations | Opinion | SOFREP]

US has more troops in Afghanistan than it officially declared

As the Afghan Peace Process enters crunch time, new facts are uncovered about the number of US troops on ground. A special report of The New York Times stated that the disclosed number of troops on ground is less than those actually present. The officially declared number of troops is 2,500. However, the report establishes that there are 3,500 US troops on ground in Afghanistan. The difference reportedly is caused by some special operations forces having been put “off the books.” But the deadline of the withdrawal of troops is getting down the wire, according to the deal signed between Taliban and Trump administration. Under that deal, Washington has to withdraw its troops for the Afghan soil by May 1, New York Time, March 14. [U.S. Has 1,000 More Troops in Afghanistan Than It Disclosed – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

UNSC asks for withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya

The United Nations Security Council has urged states involved in Libyan conflict to withdraw their forces. All 15 parties to the conflict have agreed to implement the ceasefire agreement. This is an important and positive development in case of Libya but the post withdrawal scenario might be the one Libya is not ready for. The vacuum generated due to the withdrawal can aid terrorist entities grow stronger in the state. Al Jazeera, March 13. [UN urges withdrawal of foreign forces, mercenaries from Libya | Khalifa Haftar News | Al Jazeera]

Lacking concrete implementation powers, the United Nations so far seems to plans to lead this effort through the use of monitor teams and advocacy for observance of ceasefire agreements.

International and regional actors strive to bring political resolution to Syrian conflict

New developments are underway in the decade-long Syrian conflict, a hotbed of extremism, terrorism, and war crimes. The major stakeholders of the conflict Turkey, Russia, and Qatar, have come together to discuss how to bring an end to the conflict. Through their “trilateral consultation process” the states will strive to bring peace in Syria through political resolution. The foreign ministers of the three states agreed that the solution to the long-fought conflict is not military but political. They also reaffirmed their support of Syria’s “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.” Al Jazeera, March 12. [Turkey, Russia, Qatar push for political resolution in Syria | Syria’s War News | Al Jazeera

Despite having these three important international players at the table together, it is important for the sustainability and longevity of peace to include all domestic stakeholders in the process. Otherwise peaceful Syria would remain a dream. 

Bashar Al Assad‘s wife faces possible terror charges in UK

In other Syria-related news, Asma al Assad, wife of the Syrian President Bashar al Assad, faces investigation in UK. The investigation by British police was started in response to a referral by Guernica 37, a conflict-based law firm. The investigation centers on her alleged support for the Syrian army’s war crimes and crimes against humanity including use of chemical weapons. The allegations are supported by Ms. Assad’s own speeches. Ms. Assad is a dual British-Syrian national and as a result of these allegations, her British nationality could be canceled. The Guardian, March 14. [Asma al-Assad risks loss of British citizenship as she faces possible terror charges | Asma al-Assad | The Guardian]

IW Roundup — March 8, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

March 1 – March 7

Welcome to the second installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest. No summary can capture all the news related to irregular warfare around the world, but 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:

Counterterrorism drone strikes temporarily limited by Biden Administration

Just one week after authorizing his first military action, President Biden has temporarily limited counterterrorism drone strikes away from war zones. The military and intelligence agencies must now seek permission before conducting any drone strikes away from conventional battle fields like Afghanistan and Syria. The Biden administration hopes this will allow them time to formulate a new counterterrorism strategy and to understand pervious government’s strategy and analyze how it operated in theory and in practice. The Biden admiration has not yet formally announced the new limits for drone strikes. New York Times, March 3[Biden Secretly Limits Counterterrorism Drone Strikes Away From War Zones – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

German AfD party under watch for extremism

German domestic intelligence agency, BfV, has placed far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party under observation for extremism, to monitor its activities in this election year. The party has been accused of extremist links as some of the members were linked to Neo Nazi groups previously. The party members have accused the government of deliberately using the intelligence agency to damage party’s election chances, which have been improving dramatically in recent years. Washington Post, March 3. [German intelligence places far-right AfD on extremist watchlist – The Washington Post]

Three women journalists killed by Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan

Three more women journalists were killed on Tuesday in the Afghan province of Nangarhar—further evidence that Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for media workers. Police arrested a man named Qari Baser for the three killing. Police initially claimed that he was Taliban, which was denied by the Taliban. However, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks later on Tuesday. The journalists worked for local TV and radio stations. The Islamic State claimed that the reason behind the killing of the journalists was their work for stations that support the “apostate Afghan government.” Dawn, March 4. [IS claims killing of three women media workers in Afghanistan – Newspaper – DAWN.COM]

Attack Saudi oil facility — claimed by Houthis

Spokesperson of Houti rebels, Brig. Gen Yahya Sarea tweeted on Thursday that Saudi Aramco oil facility has been attacked by a Quds 2 cruise missile. The attack was said to be conducted in response to Saudi-led atrocities and its blockade in Yemen. Along with this, two more sites were attacked on the same day, including an attack on King Khalid Air Base and an attack on Jazan. There have been no reported casualties for any of the three attacks. Washington Post, March 4. [Yemen’s Houthis claim attack on Aramco – The Washington Post]

A car bomb blast in Somalia killed 20 people

A suicide car bomb blast occurred in the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, on Friday. The blast killed at least 20 people and injured at least 30. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but the police believe that it was conducted by Al Shabab. Al Shebab, a terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda and operating in Somalia, Yemen and Kenya, frequently carries out similar attacks as part of its campaign to establish its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Al Jazeera, March 5. [At least 20 killed by suicide car bomb blast in Somalia | Al-Shabab News | Al Jazeera]

IW Roundup — March 1, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

22 – 28 February

Welcome to the first installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest. No summary can capture all the news related to irregular warfare around the world, but 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 strikes Iranian backed Militant site in Syria in response to rocket attack

Air strikes were carried out following the authorization of newly-elected US President, Joe Biden, in the eastern part of Syria where Iranian-backed militants were alleged to be present. The strikes were conducted in response to the rocket attack against American troops in Iraq by same militants. The rocket attack on February 15th killed a Filipino contractor and wounded 4 American contractors. The retaliation was conducted to clearly convey that President Biden will ensure safety of American citizens and personnel by any necessary action. New York Times, February 26. [Biden Orders Airstrikes in Syria Targeting Iran-Backed Militias – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

PKK killed 13 Turkish hostages – Turkey accused United States of supporting Kurdish militants

13 Turkish hostages were killed in Northern Iraq by Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). The US State department condemned the attack but did not confirm the PKK’s involvement in the attack. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President, called the statement “ridiculous” and alleged United States of backing the PKK by supporting Syrian Kurds who are also affiliated with PKK. Washington Post, February 15. [Turkey accuses U.S. of supporting Kurdish militants after 13 Turkish hostages are killed – The Washington Post]

Attack on UN convoy – Italian Ambassador to DRC killed

Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio, along with another embassy official and a driver, were killed in the attack in the DRC. The attack was launched on a World Food Program convoy near the city of Goma, in the Northern Kivu Province. The province is in close proximity with the border shared with Rwanda, a breeding ground for violent activities. Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda have been accused for the attack. New York Times, February 22. [Italian Ambassador Among Three Killed in Attack on U.N. Convoy in Congo – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

Mass Shooting in Pensacola declared as an act of International Terrorism

In the lawsuit filed in Pensacola Federal Court by the families of victims, it was stated that the shooter had accomplices and facilitation from Saudi Arabia. The shooter, Royal Saudi Air Force 2nd Lt. Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, was accused to be working with Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He and his facilitators had been planning the attack of five years. Washington Post, February 22. [Pensacola Navy base mass shooter had accomplices, help from Saudi Arabia, victims claim in terror lawsuit – The Washington Post]

Facilitator of Ehsanullah Ehsan’s escape convicted

Major General Babar Ifthikar, Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), claims that actions have been taken against those involved in Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan’s escape in January 2020 from a “safe house” where he was being held. Ehsan had been taken in custody in 2017 after he claimed the attack on Army Public School Peshawar in which hundreds of children were killed. The details of the soldiers alleged to be involved in the escape have not been shared with public. Dawn, February 24. [Action taken against army officers over Ehsanullah Ehsan’s escape: DG ISPR – Pakistan – DAWN.COM]

Venezuelan court orders trail of US citizen charged with terrorism

Mathew Heath, a US citizen has been detained in Venezuela on terrorism charges. He was alleged to be spying on OPEC nation’s oil refineries and carrying specialized weapons. Washington denies its involvement or support in the matter; however, the US State department’s spokesperson called for a fair trial for the detained US citizen. On Wednesday, the court ordered that a trial proceed for Mr. Heath, although no further dates have been set. Al Jazeera, February 25. [Trial of US citizen charged with terrorism in Venezuela to begin | Courts News | Al Jazeera]

FATF keeps Pakistan on Grey List

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in its meeting on Thursday stated that Pakistan will continue to remain on its increased monitoring list as it has some serious deficiencies in keeping a check on terror financing. FATF also elaborated that Pakistan has made progress and addressed 24 out of 27 action items. However, country is yet to take serious actions against UN designated terrorist organizations. The Indian Express, February 25. [Serious deficiency on part of Pak in checking terror financing, will continue to remain on increased monitoring list: FATF | World News,The Indian Express]

Afghan Air Force Makes Headway as Tactical Air Controllers Get More Extensive Training


Photo: An Afghan Air Force MD-530 flies above Camp Shorabak, Afghanistan, as Afghan tactical air controllers conduct simulated airstrike training Dec. 18, 2017.
An Afghan Air Force MD-530 flies above Camp Shorabak, Afghanistan, as Afghan tactical air controllers conduct simulated airstrike training Dec. 18, 2017. (Sgt. Lucas Hopkins/Marine Corps)

An article in Military Times describes the strides made in recent operations by Afghanistan’s own tactical air controllers:

During recent operations around ­Marjah, Afghan troops used small ­ScanEagle drones to identify targets, which were then destroyed by Afghan A-29 Super Tucano turboprop aircraft, said Marine Maj. Kendra Motz, a spokeswoman for Task Force Southwest. The highly trained Afghan controllers are “making a tangible impact on the battlespace,” said Marine Capt. Robert Walters, an air adviser with Task Force Southwest. It was the first time that Afghan Tactical Air Controllers called in airstrikes on targets that were not stationary or preplanned, Motz told Marine Corps Times.

By using drones and coordinating airstrikes with its own aircraft, the Afghan military outmaneuvered the enemy and now controls Marjah’s district center. “With weeks of planning, training and integrating prior to [the Marjah operation], their close-air support is causing the Taliban to lose ground while the [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] take that ground,” Walters said in a news release.

The Afghans’ successes comes after the Marine Corps expanded training for Afghan Tactical Air Controllers from three to eight weeks, Motz said. The curriculum focuses on the ­close-air attack process, casualty evacuation, map reading and other skills that make Afghans more adept at destroying targets and getting wounded troops to safety.

The Afghan security forces have struggled since the U.S. declared an end to combat operations at the end of 2014. Without U.S. airpower to support Afghan security forces, the Taliban and ISIS overran nearly half of the country. Now the U.S. wants to boost the Afghan air force as part of a wider effort to prepare for the traditional fighting season, which begins in spring.

Read the rest of the article here.

1st Security Force Assistance Brigade is headed for Afghanistan

1st Security Force Assistance Brigade Tab (via http://soldiersystems.net)

Is the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade Mission Ready?

According to Army Times, the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, based out of Fort Benning, Georgia, will be making its inaugural deployment to Afghanistan in early 2018, following pre-deployment training at Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in January. Astonishingly, this comes less than one year after the Army unveiled the new concept of Security Force Assistance Brigades, which are specifically designed and mandated to train foreign conventional infantry, artillery and other troops, also known as security force assistance.

Other security force assistance brigades are in the process of standing up, with one SFAB aligned to each geographic combatant command. Each SFAB is meant to approximate a brigade combat team’s headquarters, with specially selected officers and senior noncommissioned officers who will be trained at the Army’s new Military Training Adviser Academy.

Who do these guys think they are?

The advent of security force assistance brigades as a standing Army capability has not been without controversy, particularly with regard to their relationship to US Army Special Forces. While some of the issues revolved around superficial appearances, such as the choice of beret color, similarity of certain patches and insignia, etc., some of the controversy is more fundamental, relating to the very purpose of the security force assistance brigade.

This confusion is exemplified in the comments of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. Gen. Milley, discussing the role security force assistance brigades would play, initially told Army Times that SFABs would focus on training conventional troops, which Army conventional forces have done for decades, adding that SF did not train Afghan National Army or Iraqi Security Forces troops. Following a swift and sizable uproar, he clarified that, “The majority of advising to the ANA [Afghan National Army] and ISF [Iraqi Security Force] conventional units was done by conventional US Army and Marine units while SF focused on the ANA Commandos, Iraqi Special Forces and other specialized units. All of which were part of the ANA or the ISF. Also, there were some SF teams that did advise ANA and Iraqi conventional units.”

US Army Special Forces has a storied history of training foreign troops, but they haven’t been the only ones, as Gen. Milley pointed out. Two of the most historically significant foreign training organizations, the Korean Military Advisory Group and Military Assistance Command-Vietnam, included conventional troops. More recently, conventional forces have been central to the training and advising of local partner forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. This should be of little surprise, since conventional forces are more suited to teach artillery, armor, aviation and other specialties employed by conventional forces, according to Gen. Milley. Special Forces, conversely are optimized to train, advise, and assist irregular and special operations forces.

“There is no intent to replace Special Forces, or to compete with Special Forces. This is a unique mission gap that needs to be filled.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley

On top of this difference in capability sets, there is the question of capacity: “[Special Forces] can’t really train the scope and level of training of an entire national army,” Milley added. “ It fell to the regular Army to do it.”

A Custom-Built Capability

Over the course of the Global War on Terror, Army conventional units have been heavily relied upon to stand up, train, and advise local forces, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq. Recently, the Army has sent brigade and division headquarters units to train, advise and assist conventional units, but this practice has created significant readiness problems. On top of the elevated op-tempo for these headquarter units, the deployments interrupt the deployment preparation cycle of the unit as a whole. With the headquarters deployed on a security force assistance mission, the brigade cannot train as a whole for combat deployments, which are increasingly on the forefront of military leaderships’ mind given the increased tensions in Europe and Asia.

Enter the Security Force Assistance Brigade. Designed to replicate a brigade combat team’s headquarters, with specially selected and trained officers and senior noncommissioned officers, the security force assistance brigade is custom-built for the job of training, advising and assisting foreign conventional forces.

In addition to the concerns already discussed, some have expressed concern that conventional advisers would not be prepared to enter some of the austere, denied environments where Special Forces routinely operate. But while most of the advise and assist missions in denied environments would still go to Special Forces rather than a security force assistance brigades, the SFAB is designed to be able to take on missions where combat may occur. This is in part ensured by the selection process, such as the requirement that volunteers must have already served in a leadership role an operational unit before joining the SFAB, enhanced physical training standards, and a selection rate of only 60 percent. Indeed, some volunteers are actually from the special operations community: one current battalion commander is a Green Beret, and another is on his way from the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Special Operators are Everywhere – Why it shouldn’t be a surprise that U.S. Special Operations Forces were operating in Niger

In the wake of the deaths of four soldiers in Niger on October 4th, many politicians, pundits, and commentators expressed surprise that the US had special operations forces in Niger. But none of them should have. At the risk of hyperbole, U.S. Special Operations Forces are everywhere. This is partly the result of the Global War on Terror, and partly just the continuation of a decades-long practice.

U.S. Special Operations Forces have grown Since 9/11 in myriad ways, including funding, manpower, operational tempo, and geographic sweep. Approximately 8,000 of USSOCOM’s roughly 70,000 special operators are deployed at any given time in around 80 countries. Cumulatively, their operations reach around 70 percent of the world’s countries each year.

For example, the number of SOF in Europe has expanded in recent years. In the decade between 2006 and 2016, the number of special operators on the continent increased from three percent to twelve percent of special operators deployed overseas. According to Maj. Michael Weisman, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, U.S. Special Operations Forces have deployed to 21 European countries in 2017 and conducted exercises with even more.

“Outside of Russia and Belarus we train with virtually every country in Europe either bilaterally or through various multinational events.”
Maj. Michael Weisman, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command Europe

Only Africa saw a larger increase over the same timespan.

According to Special Operations Command, 55.29 percent of special operators deployed overseas in 2016 were sent to the Greater Middle East, a drop of 35 percent since 2006. Over the same span, deployments to Africa skyrocketed by more than 1600 percent—from just 1 percent of special operators dispatched outside the U.S. in 2006 to 17.26 percent last year. Those two regions were followed by European Command (12.67 percent), Pacific Command (9.19 percent), Southern Command (4.89 percent), and Northern Command (0.69 percent).

Special Warfare

Many of these engagements are conducted by Special Forces personnel during Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET). But JCETs are more than just simple training missions. JCETs serve as a platform for ensuring persistent engagement in those countries designated as critical to overseas contingency operations.  The training value of JCETs a means to the true end: ensuring SOF are fully trained in the language, culture, geography, politics, and communication skills needed to conduct special warfare, including unconventional warfare, while strengthening ties to the institutions and people that may be needed in an unconventional warfare campaign.

Iran’s “Pipeline” of Advanced Weapons Systems to Houthis

The outgoing commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), Vice Adm. Kevin M. “Kid” Donegan, accused Iran in a recent interview of providing advanced weapon systems to the Houthi Rebels in Yemen.  It is not news that Iran is supporting the Houthis in their rebellion against the central government of Yemen as part of an unconventional warfare campaign aimed at reducing Saudi influence in the region. It is by now well known that they have been smuggling illicit weapons and technology into Yemen for the last several years. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have been repeatedly accused Iran of providing arms helping to fuel the civil war in Yemen, including assisting the Houthis, rebels from the country’s north, to oust the government from the capital of Sana in 2014. 

It is not as well known or conclusively proven that Iran is providing the Houthis with advanced weapons technology and the training needed to employ it. But as the top American admiral in the Middle East, Admiral Donegan should know as well as anyone.

Admiral Donegan asserted that the arsenal Iran has bestowed upon the Houthis includes anti-ship cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, sea mines and explosive boats.

“These types of weapons did not exist in Yemen before the conflict. It’s not rocket science to conclude that the Houthis are getting not only these systems but likely training and advice and assistance in how to use them.”

Iranian-designed explosive ships have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea or Saudi territory across Yemen’s northern border. The US, the Yemeni government and their Gulf allies have retaliated with strikes of their own and recaptured some coastal areas from the Houthis. But Admiral Donegan pointed out that the danger is not gone.

The US and other Western states have provided enormous quantities of aid to the Yemeni government, including weapons, However, this aid is offset by an apparent Iranian “weapon pipeline, extending from Iran to Somalia and Yemen, which involves the transfer, by dhow, of significant quantities of Iranian-manufactured weapons and weapons that plausibly derive from Iranian stockpiles,” according to a report from Conflict Armament Research.

ARABIAN SEA (March 31, 2016) A cache of weapons is assembled on the deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107). The weapons were seized from a stateless dhow which was intercepted by the Coastal Patrol ship USS Sirocco (PC 6) on March 28. The illicit cargo included 1,500 AK-47s, 200 RPG launchers, and 21 .50 caliber machine guns. Gravely supported the seizure following the discovery of the weapons by Sirocco’s boarding team. This seizure was the third time in recent weeks international naval forces operating in the waters of the Arabian Sea seized a shipment of illicit arms which the United States assessed originated in Iran and was likely bound for Houthi insurgents in Yemen. The weapons are now in U.S. custody awaiting final disposition. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Darby C. Dillon/Released)

ARABIAN SEA (March 31, 2016) A cache of weapons assembled on the deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely.  (U.S. Navy Photo/Released)

This weapons pipeline stands in violation to a series of international sanctions prohibiting Iran from exporting arms. According to information from the United States Navy, US and allied warships interdicted four Iranian dhows between Sept. 2015 through March 2016 involved in the illicit transfer of arms. The cargo aboard the ships included more than 80 antitank guided missiles and 5,000 Kalashnikov rifles as well as sniper rifles, machine guns and almost 300 rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Other weapons, seized by UAE in Yemen, include a 2015 Iranian manufactured Dehlavieh anti-tank guided weapon (ATGW) and a Russian  9M133-1 Kornet ATGW with a serial number from the same lot as those seized in March 2016 at sea. This provides strong evidence of Iranian involvement and the intent of the dhows to deliver the weapons to the Houthis, regardless of Iran’s denials. Additional evidence can be found in the manufacturer of the dhows themselves. At least two of the dhows interdicted were built by Iranian shipbuilder Al Mansoor, whose ships are have been involved in smuggling drugs and weapons in the region since at least 2012. These ships are known to have regularly transited through three ports in northern Somalia that are often used as transshipment points for onward movement to Yemen. Transfer of this illicit cargo from the dhows to smaller vessels helps to conceal the shipments and mitigate the losses in the case of interdiction in route.

In the end, these seizures likely represent a small proportion of the arms shipped during this period, and improvements in Iranian smuggling expertise since 2016 have allowed it to avoid further seizures.

ARABIAN SEA (March 31, 2016) Siezed small arms aboard USS Gravely. (U.S. Navy Photo/Released)