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.

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