GWOT

US broaches air-strikes on ISIS in Philippines

On the heels of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's Manila meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, NBC News reports that the Pentagon is considering a plan for the US military to conduct air-strikes on ISIS targets in the archipelago nation. The account quotes two unnamed defense officials who told the network that "authority to strike ISIS targets as part of collective self-defense could be granted as part of an official military operation" likely to be named in the coming days. The strikes would probably be conducted by armed drones.

Qatar crisis places US regional policing in pickle

In a strange imbroglio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 all announced that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. All but Egypt also cut off all travel links with the country. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of "adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, " and of "supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Days earlier, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based news websites after Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was quoted as saying "There is no reason behind Arabs' hostility to Iran"—an obvious reference to the Saudis and Bahrain. Qatar quickly responded that the comment had been "fabricated" when hackers took control of the official Qatar News Agency website (which appears to still be down, although the QNA Twitter account is up). (BBC NewsAl Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)

UN: Saudi anti-terror laws threaten rights

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Ben Emmerson on May 5 said that Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism laws are too broad and pose a threat to individual rights. He noted that Saudi Arabia's definition of terrorism, which includes "endangering 'national unity' or undermining 'the reputation or position of the State,'" is over-inclusive and should conform to international law, which maintains that terrorism must include "acts or threats of violence." Emmerson also expressed concern about the reported prosecution of writers and activists for non-violent actions. He urged Saudi Arabia's government to establish an "independent national security and due process review mechanism" to re-examine those prosecuted for political expression.

US troops for Libya, escalation in Somalia

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)

Activist attorney Lynne Stewart dead at 77

Lynne Stewart, the fighting activist attorney who gained fame with her 2005 conviction for "providing material support" to terrorism, died March 7 at her home in Brooklyn. She was 77, and had been granted a "compassionate release" from federal prison in January 2014 after she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. The obituary in the New York Times says she was convicted of "helping smuggle messages" from her imprisoned client Omar Abdel Rahman "to his violent followers in Egypt." It doesn't mention that the "messages" were essentially press releases, barred by stringent "Special Administrative Measures" imposed by the Justice Department, which Stewart rejected as illegitimate. Her prison term, initially set at 28 months, was later increased to 10 years after an appeals court ordered the trial judge to consider a longer term. In a statement after her release, her longtime partner Ralph Poynter said: "The enduring global movement for social justice has persevered—ever inspired by Lynne Stewart's steadfast refusal to bend the knee, submit to coercion or official duplicity."

US general in Afghanistan calls for more troops

The top US military commander in Afghanistan told lawmakers Feb. 9 that he needs several thousand additional troops to break "a stalemate" in the 15-year-old war against the Taliban and other insurgents. Gen. John Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that more troops could come from the US or other NATO members, and would be tasked with training Afghanistan's security forces to provide better offensive capabilities. Under questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the  general said did not need 50,000 troops in the country, but did not rule out the potential for up to 30,000. There are currently some 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan, with 38 other NATO members providing about 6,300 troops.

Obama's final year: a CounterVortex scorecard

Our last annotated assessment of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) must inevitably be viewed in light of the current countdown to the death of democracy and the imminent despotism of Donald Trump. The fact that the transition is happening at all is a final contradiction of Obama's legacy. He is fully cooperating in it, even as his own intelligence agencies document how the election was tainted. Following official findings that Russia meddled in the elections, the White House has slapped new sanctions on Russia—deporting 35 Russian officials suspected of being intelligence operatives and shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Maryland, both suspected of being used for intelligence-related purposes. The latest bizarre revelation—that Russian intelligence can blackmail Trump with information about his "perverted sexual acts" involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel—broke just hours before Obama delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago. The speech was surreally optimistic in light of the actual situation in the country, and contained  only a few veiled swipes at Trump. The best of them was this: "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."

US builds regional drone base in Niger

The US is building a military air base in Niger that will be capable of deploying drones to police the greater Sahara and Sahel regions. The US already has a presence in the capital Niamey, where it shares an airbase with with French troops from the anti-Islamist Operation Barkhane. The new facility, in the central city of Agadez, will give Washington greater ability to use drones against Islamist extremists in neighboring Libya, Mali and Nigeria. A Pentagon representative confirmed the US has agreed to pay for a new runway and "associated pavements, facilities and infrastructure," estimating the cost at $50 million. But The Intercept, which broke the story, said it is projected to cost twice that. The news site reports that it has obtained files indicating the project is considered "the most important US military construction effort in Africa," and will be completed in 2017. (BBC News, Sept. 29)