Africa
Sahel

France announces Sahel drawdown

France is to reduce its forces battling jihadists in the Sahel—a seven-year deployment that has failed to stem the violence, and which has proved increasingly unpopular both in the region and domestically. President Emmanuel Macron said there would be a “profound transformation” of its Operation Barkhane, with France relying more on special forces, air power, and cooperation with allies. France has suffered a recent setback in the Sahel with the death of its close ally, Chadian leader Idriss Déby, and an increasingly complicated relationship with Mali—the focus of Barkhane’s 5,100-strong intervention. Earlier this month, Paris suspended joint military operations with Malian forces after a second coup. Macron has also refused to support moves by some Sahelian countries to open negotiations with jihadists, and has suggested that African partners have not pulled their weight in the counter-insurgency fight—a conflict widely seen as militarily unwinnable. (Map: Wikivoyage)

The Caucasus
Lake Sev

Armenia-Azerbaijan border stand-off —over water

Armenia’s Security Council held an emergency meeting in response to a reported border incursion by Azerbaijan. Local authorities in southern Syunik province issued urgent reports that Azerbaijan’s forces had crossed the border and completely surrounded Lake Sev. The glacial lake, which provides water for irrigation in the area, is bisected by the frontier between the two countries, with its northern third lying within Azerbaijan. But the territory on the Azerbaijan side had been held by Armenia between the 1991-4 war and last November’s ceasefire, under which it was ceded back. The two sides remain at odds on the precise demarcation of the line, which had not been formalized in Soviet times. (Photo: Albero/Wikimedia Commons via Armenian Weekly)

Watching the Shadows
Gitmo

Gitmo ‘forever prisoner’ petitions United Nations

Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah, who has been held for 19 years without charges or a trial, filed a complaint with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (UNWGAD) requesting intervention in his case. Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks and was held and tortured by the CIA in various top-secret “black sites.” The CIA originally believed that Zubaydah was a close associate of al-Qaeda, but after four years of interrogation, they concluded that he was not linked to the group. He was then moved to Guantánamo in 2006. The US government has justified Zubaydah’s continued detention by asserting its broad authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Under the AUMF, passed after 9-11, detainees can be held until the “cessation of hostile activities,” But Zubaydah asserts in his complaint that this “law of war” rationale is in conflict with international human rights laws. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Africa
Dirkou

US steps up drone ops as Sahel violence flares

In the latest outbreak of fast-escalating violence across Africa’s Sahel, gunmen in Niger killed at least 58 people when they intercepted a convoy of four commercial transport vehicles carrying local civilians from a weekly market, and attacked nearby villages. The passengers were summarily executed, and homes and granaries put to the torch in the villages. The attacks took place in the Tillabéri region, near the flashpoint “tri-border area” where Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso come together. Militant groups linked to ISIS and al-Qaeda cross between all three countries. The CIA is stepping up drone surveillance flights from a base it has established at Dirkou, in Niger’s Agadez region. MQ-9 Reapers are stationed at the base, and armed strikes on militant targets are said to be under consideration pending a review by the Biden administration. (Photo: Airman Michelle Ulber via Israel Defense)

Africa
JCET

US, Portugal send special forces to Mozambique

A week after the US State Department added the Islamist insurgents in northern Mozambique to its list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” the Pentagon is now preparing to send a team of military advisors into the conflict zone. The US Embassy in Maputo announced that the two-month Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program will see US Special Forces troops instructing Mozambican marines. This follows an announcement by Portugal, the former colonial power in Mozambique, that it is dispatching an elite military unit to help fight the insurgents, known locally as the Shabaab. Lisbon is also petitioning the European Union to send a military mission to the region to back up the Mozambique Armed Defense Forces. (Photo: US Embassy in Mozambique)

Afghanistan
afghan army

Afghanistan: US withdrawal on hold?

With a May 1 deadline for withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan approaching but a final peace deal stalled, the White House is said to be considering an extension beyond this date for removal of its 2,500 troops remaining in the country. “Intra-Afghan” negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul opened in Doha in September, but remain deadlocked over fundamentals of the power-sharing deal—with the Taliban rejecting President Ashraf Ghani’s insistence on remaining in office for the remainder his five-year-term. Predictably, they haven’t even got around to discussing protection of minority and women’s rights, or the role of sharia law in the new order. Meanwhile, civilian casualties are mounting, and the Taliban has just launched a spring offensive. (Photo: Khaama Press)

Watching the Shadows
Gitmo

Biden launches review of Gitmo prison camp

The Biden administration launched a review of the US military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine the facility’s fate over the next four years. White House spokespersons told reporters that the administration is considering an executive action to close the prison camp by the end of Biden’s term. When asked whether the administration would close the prison within that timeframe, a White House spokesperson replied, “That certainly is our goal and our intention.” A National Security Council spokesperson reaffirmed this goal, saying, “We are undertaking an NSC process to assess the current state of play that the Biden administration has inherited from the previous administration, in line with our broader goal of closing Guantánamo.” (Photo via Jurist)

The Andes
comunes

Colombia’s ex-FARC rebranded —again

Colombia’s former FARC rebels voted to no longer use the acronym of their now-defunct guerilla army as that of their new political party. The change in name was proposed by the FARC’s former military commander Rodrigo Londoño AKA “Timochenko,” ahead of the leftist party’s Second Extraordinary Assembly. It was approved by a majority vote of 250 participating delegates at the assembly, which was held via video link at several points around the country. Delegates agreed to change the party’s name to Comunes (Commons). The former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia originally re-branded in 2017 as the Revolutionary Alternative Forces of the Commons. The full name and associated acronym were dropped to disassociate the party from the former guerilla army, which remains listed as a “foreign terrorist organization” by the US State Department, as well as from “dissident” guerilla factions that have remained in arms. The acronym dates to the founding of the guerilla army in 1964. (Photo via Colombia Reports)

The Caribbean
havana

US returns Cuba to ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ list

The US Department of State has once again designated Cuba as a state that sponsors terrorism. In 2015, the Obama administration removed Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which currently includes North Korea, Iran and Syria. In a statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the State Department accused Cuba of “repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.” Ironically, this is a reference to Havana’s hosting of peace delegations from Colombian guerilla groups in their efforts to broker an accord with Bogotá over the past six years. (Photo: Falkanpost/Pixabay)

Greater Middle East
Yemen

US slaps ‘terror’ label on Yemen’s Houthi rebels

The United States has announced it will designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, a move aid groups and diplomats have long warned will make getting assistance to people trapped in the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” even harder. In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was officially notifying the US Congress of his intent to designate Ansar Allah, the official name of the Houthis, a “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” The change is go into force on Jan. 19, and three Houthi leaders will also be blacklisted. NGOs have lobbied heavily against the designation, saying it will seriously hamper efforts to bring aid to the estimated 80% of Yemen’s 30 million people who live in parts of the country controlled by the Houthis. It’s already hard to deliver aid in Yemen, in part because of obstacles put up by the Houthis themselves. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Africa
Somalia

Trump announces (pseudo-) withdrawal from Somalia

President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all the approximately 700 US troops in Somalia by mid-January. But the troops are not coming back to the US—they will be stationed just outside Somalia’s borders, in Kenya and Djibouti, ready to go back in as circumstances mandate. Air-strikes and drone warfare are to continue. Also remaining in Somalia will be a team of Pentagon advisors and a significant force of private contractors from the DC-based firm Bancroft Global, working with a US-trained elite commando unit to fight al-Shabaab and ISIS insurgents. (Photo: Nick Kibbey/US Air Force via Military Times)