The US military will keep an unspecified number of ground troops in Libya to help local forces further degrade the ISIS faction there, and also seeks greater scope to target insurgents in Somalia, Africa Command chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told reporters at the Pentagon March 24. "We're going to maintain a force that has the ability to develop intelligence, work with various groups as required, or be able to assist if required...to take out ISIS targets," said Gen. Waldhauser, boasting that the ISIS presence in coastal Libya has fallen below 200 from an estimated 5,000 only a year ago. In Somalia, where al-Qaeda affiliate Shabaab remains a threat, Waldhauser hopes the Trump White House will loosen rules of engagement established by the Obama administration to avoid "collateral damage." "I think the combatant commanders, myself included, are more than capable of making judgments and determinations on some of these targets," he said. (Military Times, March 24)
Iraqi security forces suspended military operations to retake western Mosul from ISIS due to the increased number of civilian casualties after a series of deadly coalition air-strikes. An estimated 200 civilians were killed were killed in US-led air-raids over the past days, with the deadliest incident in al-Jadida neighborhood March 17, according to on-the-ground monitoring group Mosul Eye. Reports indicate a coalition air-strike hit three houses filled with explosives laid by ISIS where the militants had gathered large numbers of civilians as human shileds. The Pentagon says the strike on the target was called in by Iraqi commanders. If confirmed, the series of air-strikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in a US-led air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights reports that more than 500 civilians have been killed in coalition air-strikes in the Mosul campaign. (Military Times, NYT, The Guardian, Rudaw, Kurdistan24, Iraqi News)
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr on March 24 issued a presidential permit to TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, authorizing the Canadian company to construct, operate and maintain pipeline facilities at the US-Canadian border in Phillips County, Mont., for the importation of crude oil from Canada's tar sands. The Trump administration's State Department is headed by former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who backs the pipeline. However, Tillerson recused himself from the decision after environmental groups objected that it would be a conflict of interest for him to decide the pipeline's fate.
The high court in India's Uttarakhand state issued a ruling March 20 recognizing the Ganga (Ganges) and Yamuna as "living entities," officially giving these rivers that have seen long years of ecological damage a legal voice. "This order may be seen as a precedent and come across as strange but it is not any different from the status of being a legal entity as in the case of family trusts or a company," said Raj Panjwani, attorney with India's National Green Tribunal, a body charged with prosecuting enviromental crimes. Under the ruling, the rivers are accorded all rights guaranteed by India's constitution, including the right not to be harmed or destroyed. The ruling, which comes in a public interest litigation brought by the NGT, mandates action by the national government if Uttarakhand state authorities fail to meet their responsibilities regarding the rivers.
New evidence is deepening fears in the scientific community that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years. Already, per capita availability of fresh water in the region—encompassing 22 countries and home to nearly 400 million inhabitants—is 10 times lower than the world average. The region's fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50% by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). By century's end, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields by up to 55%. "Looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an urgent and massive response," said FAO director general Graziano da Silva on his recent visit to Cairo.
Ecuador's government has deployed military drones and police helicopters to the Amazon village of El Tink, where Shuar indigenous residents have for weeks been blocking the only bridge leading to the community, over the Río Zamora. The stand-off began after a confrontation between indigenous protesters and National Police left one police officer dead in December at another Shuar village, Nankints, across the Cordillera del Condor from El Tink. The clash at Nankints came after Shuar warriors reportedly attacked a camp of the Chinese-owned Explorcobres copper exploration project. Nankints residents wanted by authorities in the attack have taken refuge at El Tink, also in Morona Santiago province. Nankints has been in resistance since troops arrived to demolish the settlement to make way for the 41,700-hectare mining project last August. With the stand-off at El Tink, the uprising has spread to a second village. (The Guardian, March 19; Mongabay, Feb. 8; Mongabay, Jan. 26)
Some 70,000 are displaced and at least 70 dead as Peru's heaviest rains in two decades have unleashed flash-floods and landslides across the country. The National Civil Defense Institute (INDECI) is stretched to limit, with several communities left isolated by washed-out roads and bridges. The north coast has been hit the hardest, with the worst impacts in Lambayeque region, where some 40,000 are displaced. But the situation is grim both up and down the coast from there. INDECI is coordinating with the Defense Ministry to establish an "air bridge," bringing aid by helicopter to the stricken coastal cities of Ácash region. At least 15 pueblos outside Chimbote are cut off after the bridge over the Río Lacramarca was wiped out by a huayco (mudslide). Residents are also trapped in Huarmey district, and the town's hospital was destroyed. In all, 20 of Peru's 25 administrative regions are impacted.
The March 13 seizure of an oil tanker en route from Djibouti to Mogadishu—the first such incident since 2012—enflamed global fears of a resurgence of piracy off the coast of Somalia. But the tanker and its Sri Lankan crew were released without ransom or any other conditions March 16—hours after brief a gun battle between the captors and the marine force of Somalia's autonomous region of Puntland, followed by intensive negotiations brokered by local clan elders. International media reports referred to the captors as "pirates," whereas local media in Somalia called them "fishermen." In an interview with Puntland's Radio Garowe via phone to the fishing village of Alula, one hijacker said: "We are fishermen in Alula town, our livelihood destroyed by the illegal trawlers and chemical waste dumping. We were fishing and then we saw the vessel spilling waste in the sea, which reached our coast... We are not pirates as reported by the media. We are protecting our territorial waters from the international ships dumping the toxic and chemical wastes on our coast."