In its latest quarterly report to Congress (PDF), the official US watchdog for Afghan reconstruction finds that the security situation is at an all-time low since monitoring began. Since the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) began tracking district control in 2015 Afghan government-controlled or "influenced" districts have declined 16% to 55.5%. In the same period, areas of insurgent control or influence rose 5.5% while "contested" districts increased 11%. As of late July, the US military assessed that the Kabul government controls or influences 226 of Afghanistan's 407 districts, while the Taliban controls/influences 49. The remaining 132 districts are identified as "contested." Since the prior quarterly report, Operation Resolute Support downgraded eight districts from "government influenced" to "contested." SIGAR said that Afghanistan's security forces "made minimal or no progress in pressuring the Taliban" from July 1 to Sept. 30 , the period covered in the report. (Long War Journal, Stars & Stripes, Nov. 1)
Amnesty International called upon countries to ban fully autonomous weapons systems on Aug. 27, the first day of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems meeting in Geneva. Amnesty states that technology related to advanced weapons systems is outpacing international law. Future technologies may be able to replicate human responses, including "the ability to analyse the intentions behind people's actions, to assess and respond to often dynamic and unpredictable situations, or make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack." A complete ban on fully autonomous weapons is necessary in order to avoid possible "dystopian" futures. Human interaction should be required by law to be involved in the identification, selection, and engagement of targets in advanced weapons.
Journalist Dan Young speaks with CounterVortex editor Bill Weinberg in an interview for Northern California's KNYO. They discuss the prospects for resisting the global vortex of ecological collapse, totalitarianism and permanent war—and supporting indigenous and autonomy struggles, popular democracy, and peace initiatives. Weinberg traces his own political evolution through the Cold War endgame of the Reagan era, the Lower East Side squatter scene, the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, 9-11 and the "Global War on Terrorism," to the Arab Revolution, the Syrian war and the current dilemma. The discussion touches on the abysmal politics of the contemporary American left, the urgent need for international solidarity across Great Power "spheres of influence," the contradictions and challenges posed by digital technology, and the possibilities for a decent future for humanity on Planet Earth.
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.
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 News, Al Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)
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.
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)
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."