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)
At least 33 people were killed in an air-strike on a school sheltering displaced residents outside the ISIS-held city of Raqqa, in northern Syria, according to monitoring activists on the ground. The behind-lines anti-ISIS monitoring group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which has heroiically reported on realities under Islamic State rule in the city, said the school at the village of al-Mansoura was sheltering some 50 families when it was levelled by air-strikes earlier this week. The raid is believed to have been carried out by US warplanes. "The massacres committed by [the] US-led coalition in Raqqa is unacceptable," the group said in a statement. "The international community must intervene to stop this." (The Independent)
More than 40 people, including women and children, were killed when an Apache helicopter fired on a boat carrying Somali refugees in the Red Sea off war-torn Yemen March 17. A coast guard officer in the Hodeidah area, controlled by Houthi rebel forces, told Reuters the refugees, carrying UNHCR documents, were on their way from Yemen to Sudan when they were attacked near the Bab al-Mandeb strait. The rebel-controlled Saba news agency accused the Saudi-led coalition of being behind the attack. The coalition immediately released a statement denying responsibility. While the International Organization for Migration said 42 bodies have been recovered, the death toll may be much higher. The UNHCR said 140 passengers were believed to have been aboard the vessel.
The US military is denying reports that it bombed a mosque in northwestern Syria during evening prayers March 16, killing at least 50. There is even controversy over whether the Omar Ibn al-Khattab Mosque in al-Jinah (Jeena) village, Aleppo governorate, is still standing. The Pentagon admits to a an air-strike that supposedly killed several al-Qaeda militants in the village, which is held by Islamist factions including Ahrar al-Sham. The Pentagon released a statement saying the strike was "across the street from a mosque," with footage (supposedly taken minutes after the strike) showing that a mosque next to a destroyed building remained standing. (Al Jazeera, BBC News, Reuters) But Bilal Abdul Kareem, a US national who operates On the Ground News from northern Syria, recorded his own video from the purported bombing site. Kareem shows what he calls part of the "mosque compound" in ruins, and claims the mosque was operated by Jamaat Tablighi, a proselytization group that has hosted prayers there every Thursday for the past four years. (LWJ)
President Donald Trump has given the CIA "secret new authority" to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, the Wall Street Journal reported March 13, citing US officials. This is said to depart from the Obama administration policy of a "cooperative approach" to drone strikes, in which the CIA used surveillance drones to locate suspected terrorists and the Pentagon then conducted the actual strike. The drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was named as an example of that "hybrid approach." The report asserts that the Obama administration had the Pentagon carry out the strikes "to promote transparency and accountability." The CIA, operating under covert authority, wasn't required to report its drone strikes. The Pentagon, in most cases, was required to do so.
US warplanes and drones struck supposed al-Qaeda targets in Yemen for a second straight day March 3, killing at least 12 suspected militants, according to local officials. The Pentagon said it had carried out more than 20 strikes overnight targeting al-Qaeda positions in the southern provinces of Shabwa and Abyan, and the central province of Baida. In the latest strikes, US fighter jets hit three houses in the Yashbam Valley before dawn, one of them reportedly the home of al-Qaeda's Shabwa province commander, Saad Atef, local sources said. Tribal sources said that several civilians were wounded, including women and children. One resident said it had been a "terrifying night." (Middle East Online, Al Jazeera, BBC News)
Late last year, when the evacuation of Aleppo began as the city fell to Assad regime forces backed by Russian air-strikes, we noted that residents were being sent to Idlib governorate, which is both under control of jihadist factions and also targeted for air-strikes and eventual conquest by the regime and its Russian patrons. So secularists fleeing Aleppo were likely to find no refuge from either regime or opposition forces in Idlib. Now comes the news that Radio Fresh, voice of the embattled secularist civil resistance in the Idlib town of Kafranbel, is being censored by the jihadists—and finding a creative way to resist. The FM station's manager Raed Fares told BBC News that they've been broadcasting hours of barnyard sounds each day to protest and mock censorious orders from local militants of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front). "They tried to force us to stop playing music on air," said Fares. "So we started to play animals in the background as a kind of sarcastic gesture against them."