A spokesman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Nov. 19 that he is "very concerned" by President Donald Trump's pardons of two US army officers and the restoration of rank of a Navy SEAL. The president last week granted full pardons to Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, and restored Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher to his previous rank of chief petty officer. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the OHCHR, said the pardons sent "a disturbing signal to militaries" around the globe, noting that international law requires the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, and that the pardons "simply void[ed]" the legal process. Colville was "particularly troubled" by the pardon issued to Golsteyn, who was still awaiting trial on charges of murdering an unarmed Afghan man during his deployment in 2010.
The utterly surreal news that Taliban leaders were invited to Camp David—a week before the 9-11 commemoration, no less!—will further fuel the perverse fantasy that Trump is a hippie pacifist. So it is almost comforting that the meeting was axed, and on the 9-11 commemoration in Washington, Trump was back to his blustering, bellicose self. "The last four days, we have hit our enemy harder than they have ever been hit before, and that will continue," he boasted. The Taliban responded in kind, releasing a statement saying that Trump "will soon regret" cancelling the peace talks. (Khaama Press, CBS)
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a midyear report July 30 detailing the 3,812 civilian casualties in Afghanistan since Jan. 1, 2019. According to this report, Afghan government forces and their allies killed 717 civilians, while the Taliban and other militant groups have killed 531 civilians. Nonetheless, there was an overall 27% decrease in civilian casualties from the same period of 2018, with the decrease being attributed to a shift away from ground engagements and suicide bombers. Aerial operations continue to be a rising cause of civilian casualties. The report also states that women are disproportionately affected by the ongoing attacks, not only due to loss of life or serious injury, but also secondary effects such as economic insecurity and displacement. In addition, women are at a higher risk of sexual violence and gender-based violence.
The Supreme Court on June 10 denied certiorari in the case of Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi, a Yemeni who has been held as an "enemy combatant" at Guantánamo since 2002. Al-Alwi was captured in Pakistan in late 2001, and the government concluded that he had fought in Afghanistan as part of a Qaeda-commanded unit. Al-Alwi denied this unsuccessfully during his original round of habeas corpus proceedings, and in 2015 initiated a new habeas case arguing that the nature of US involvement in Afghanistan had changed such that the use of military detention is no longer justified under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The district court and the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit disagreed, and the Supreme Court has now declined to review the appellate court's conclusion.
Victims of war crimes in Afghanistan filed an appeal June 10 with the International Criminal Court (ICC) challenging the court's recent decision not to pursue a war crimes investigation in Afghanistan. The appeal was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the Global Justice Clinic at the New York University School of Law, among others, on behalf of the victims. The victims claim that significant war crimes have taken place in Afghanistan and that failure to investigate will deny the victims justice, while allowing the perpetrators to escape justice. The victims further claim that the perpetrators will be free to continue committing war crimes and that the mandate of the ICC will be severely damaged if justice is not served. The victims specifically highlighted that top officials in the US government have failed to comply with the court's requests and, as such, have interfered with the effectiveness of the investigation and the ICC as a whole.
The UN General Assembly on May 22 passed a resolution demanding the United Kingdom return control of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius within six months. There were 116 votes for the motion, with more than 50 abstentions, and just six votes against—the UK, United States, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives. The non-binding resolution follows an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in February, finding that the UK is "under an obligation" to end its administration of the islands "as rapidly as possible." The UK retained control over the islands after Mauritius gained its independence from Britain in 1968, following a supposed compensation deal between the two states. Mauritius now rejects the deal as having been imposed unilaterally.
In an amusingly grim development April 8, Donald Trump formally designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a "foreign terrorist organization," and Tehran's Supreme National Security Council immediately retaliated by issuing a statement declaring the Pentagon's Central Command a "terrorist organization." Both moves mark a first, in applying the designation to actual government entities. Trump's signing statement charged that the IRGC "actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft." Iran's state news agency IRNA said in a statement that the Islamic Republic "declares that it considers the regime of the US a 'state sponsor of terrorism' and 'the Central Command of America, known as CENTCOM' and all forces related to it 'terrorist groups.'"
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)