Monday 10.1.18
  • The US State Department on September 28 announced the evacuation of personnel from the consulate in Basra, Iraq, citing “security threats from Iran.” A day earlier, Iraqi media outlets reported that mortar shell or rockets landed near the consulate, though an “anonymous” Iraqi security source said that no strikes had taken place. Another “anonymous senior Iraqi official” told the Washington Post, “We are not aware of any intention by Iran or its friends in Iraq to attack American diplomats or the consulate.”
  • In an action suggesting the intent of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) to expand their presence and increase the number of their cadres in Iraq, the PMU’s Basra office announced Sept. 12 the formation of the Voluntary Reserves. However, this expansion is facing considerable objections from various parties in the Iraqi arena. According to a statement issued by the PMU, the force consists of 10 brigades. The Voluntary Reserves were formed in response to the demonstrations that took place in Basra at the beginning of September, in which the demonstrators burned several offices belonging to pro-Iran PMU parties, in addition to the Iranian Consulate in the city.
  • Iran's Revolutionary Guards said Monday they launched a missile strike against a "terrorist" headquarters in Syria in retaliation for an attack that killed 24 people in the Iranian city of Ahvaz. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had vowed a "crushing" response to last month's assault -- claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group -- on a military parade commemorating the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. "The headquarters of those responsible for the terrorist crime in Ahvaz was attacked a few minutes ago east of the Euphrates by several ballistic missiles fired by the aerospace branch of the Revolutionary Guards," the Guards said on their website.
  • Iran’s state TV has broadcast footage purporting to show a close encounter between the Revolutionary Guard’s navy and the USS Theodore Roosevelt early this year. Press TV’s website said the encounter occurred March 21 in the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, the passageway for nearly a third of all oil traded by sea. The footage is likely meant as a show of strength amid new US sanctions on Iran and the Trump administration plans to bring Iranian oil exports down to zero.
  • A German court said Monday it gave the green light for an Iranian diplomat linked to an alleged bomb plot against an Iranian opposition rally to be handed over to Belgium. The superior regional court in Bamberg said in a statement that it had on September 27 approved the extradition of the Iranian diplomat based in Vienna who has been named as Assadollah Assadi. "The wanted man cannot cite diplomatic immunity because he was on a several day holiday trip outside his host state Austria and not travelling between his host country and the state that dispatched him," the court said.
  • An Afghan official says security forces killed three bodyguards of a parliamentary candidate during a raid on a house near his residence in the eastern Kunar province. Abdul Ghani Musamem, a spokesman for the provincial governor, says two suspects were arrested during the raid late Sunday. The house targeted in the raid was near the home of Atallah Safi, who is running as an independent candidate in parliamentary elections scheduled for Oct. 20. Safi was unharmed.
  • The Trump administration has opened a new chapter in American involvement in Syria, vowing to remain until the civil war’s conclusion in a bid to halt Iran’s expansion across the Middle East.  The vision articulated last week by senior U.S. officials marks a dramatic reversal six months after President Trump said he would pull American troops out of Syria and end U.S. involvement in a conflict that has killed at least half a million people and confounded two administrations. James Jeffrey, the State Department’s special representative for Syria, said the United States would maintain a presence in the country, possibly including an extended military mission, until Iran withdraws the soldiers and militia forces it commands. U.S. officials expect that possible outcome only after world powers broker a deal ending the war.
  • Security forces in northern Syria’s Raqqa city said on Sunday they had uncovered an Islamic State sleeper cell which was plotting series of large attacks across the devastated city. Raqqa served as the de facto capital of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate until it was retaken by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia alliance last October. A spokesman for the Raqqa Internal Security Forces set up by the SDF said it had killed two members of an Islamic State cell and detained five others during an operation on Saturday.
  • A Saudi-led military coalition fighting against Yemen’s Houthi movement foiled an attack by two explosives-laden remote controlled boats deployed by the Houthis against Saudi Arabia’s Jizan port, Saudi state news agency SPA reported on Sunday. “The Royal Saudi Navy Forces detected the movement of two remote control explosive boats headed to the port of Jizan. They were intercepted and destroyed... which has led to minimal damage,” the coalition’s spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement carried by SPA. The attack occurred in the early hours of the morning on Sunday, he said.
  • The city of Sirte, once the crowning jewel of the Islamic State in Libya, was part of the ISIS-controlled coastline from 2015 to 2016. Over a six-month offensive, Libyan security forces combined with U.S. airstrikes wiped out ISIS combatants from the area. But sleeper cells still lurk in the Sirte desert, and though it no longer controls Libyan territory, ISIS has renewed its attacks there. In 2017 ISIS managed to pull off only four attacks. So far this year, it's more than a dozen. 
  • A growing diaspora of battle-hardened Islamic State fighters fleeing lost territory in Syria and Iraq have returned to the southern Philippines, providing a major complication just as the Trump administration quietly ramps up a U.S. counterterrorism operation in the Pacific island nation. There are more Islamic State-affiliated foreign fighters in Southeast Asia, especially from jihadi groups based in the southern Philippines ‘ autonomous Muslim Mindanao region, than there ever were battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq during the height of the U.S.-led wars there, according to figures compiled by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  • Three people were killed in a suicide car bombing by Islamist group al Shabaab which hit a European Union armored convoy in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on Monday, police and an emergency service worker said. The blast struck the convoy around 12:10 PM local time on Industrial Road, a major thoroughfare in the heart of the city. "We carried two dead locals and four others injured," Abdikadir Abdirahman of AMIN Ambulance Services told Reuters. Police said the bomber had also died in the blast.

Tuesday 10.2.2018

  • A suicide bomber struck an election rally in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province on Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and wounding more than 30, a provincial official said. The attack, the first since campaigning began last week ahead of the elections for the lower house of parliament, underscored the widespread violence gripping the country 17 years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban. The vote is scheduled for Oct. 20 but it’s unclear if the balloting will go ahead in areas controlled by the Taliban.
  • France seized assets belonging to Iran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals in response to a June plot to attack an exiled Iranian opposition group’s rally outside Paris, the government said on Tuesday. A senior French official said Paris had no doubt that elements of the Iranian state were behind the bomb plot and that it was likely to have been hatched by hardliners looking to undermine President Hassan Rouhani.
  • The United States has criticized an Iranian missile attack on purported militant targets in eastern Syria, calling it “reckless, unsafe and escalatory.” In a statement sent to VOA on Monday, Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson said Iran took no measures to notify other military powers operating in Syria of Monday’s predawn missile strike. Unlike Iran, he said, “professional” military forces such as those of the U.S.-led coalition in Syria and of Russia deconflict their operations to ensure maximum safety.
  • The US-led military alliance battling the Islamic State group faces "a tough fight" to oust the jihadists from their last holdouts in Syria, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday. While the extremists have lost almost all of the self-declared "caliphate" they held across Iraq and Syria four years ago, Mattis warned that destroying the group completely was "still going to take some time". "Make no mistake about it, as ISIS has collapsed inward, in their own way they have reinforced the centre as they've been forced into what is now less than two percent of their original territory," Mattis told reporters in Paris.
  • The number of U.S. diplomats in Syria has doubled as Islamic State militants near a military defeat, U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis said on Tuesday. “Our diplomats, they are on the ground (and) have been doubled in number,” Mattis said during a press conference in Paris with his French counterpart. “As we see the military operations become less, you’ll see the diplomatic effort now able to take (root),” Mattis added.
  • The rise of “super militias,” which last month triggered the worst spasm of violence in the Libyan capital Tripoli in four years, has exposed the weakness of Western efforts to stabilize Libya while creating an opening for the Islamic State to resurrect itself in North Africa. Since late August, clashes between rival armed groups have shattered Tripoli. Rockets and heavy artillery have destroyed residential neighborhoods, forcing thousands of families to flee their homes. The violence has killed more than 115 and injured hundreds more, pushing the United Nations to declare a state of emergency in the capital.
  • The U.S. military said on Tuesday it had killed nine militants in an air strike in southern Somalia this week during a battle between U.S. and Somali government troops and al Shabaab Islamist fighters. The military’s Africa Command (Africom) said the strike was carried out on Oct. 1 approximately 40 km (25 miles) northeast of the city of Kismayo, which is in the south of the country. “We currently assess no civilians were injured or killed in this air strike”, Africom’s statement read.

Wednesday 10.3.18

  • At least nine Afghan police officers were killed in attacks by insurgents on checkpoints in three different parts of the country, provincial officials said Wednesday. Wali Ahmad Sarih, police spokesman in southern Nimroz province, said Taliban fighters attacked a checkpoint late Tuesday, killing four police and wounding two others. He said four insurgents were killed and six wounded in the ensuing gunbattle.
  • The young man and three older men agreed to talk under the condition that neither their names, nor pictures would be used, as any identifying markers could put their lives at risk. In this area near Kabul, the Taliban have gained a stronghold. The younger man said the Taliban come regularly to this village to shop. The village is Khak-e-Jabbar, a district of Kabul province, less than an hour’s drive from Afghanistan’s capital. It has dozens of small villages, with populations ranging from 100 to several hundred people each. For years the Taliban had tried to get a foothold in this area. This year, they appear to have succeeded. 
  • President Donald Trump’s announcement in April that he wanted to pull U.S. troops out of Syria left the country’s Kurds fearing they would be abandoned by their most important military ally. Six months later, as the battle against Islamic State draws to a close, Syrian Kurdish leaders see signs of renewed U.S. interest in the oil-rich region they control in northern and eastern Syria. A spate of visits to Syria by U.S. diplomats in the past two months and a new readiness to discuss the country’s future point to a longer-term U.S. commitment, they say.
  • Rebel groups in Syria on Tuesday began to withdraw their heavy weapons from a planned demilitarized zone in the country’s last opposition stronghold, but confusion over its implementation threatens to derail it ahead of a looming deadline. Russia and Turkey reached a tentative agreement last month to create a buffer zone between opposition and government forces in the northwestern Idlib province to forestall a regime offensive that aid groups warned would cause a humanitarian disaster. Under the deal, all heavy weaponry and radical groups would be moved out of the demilitarized zone—a 10 to 12-mile corridor that would run along the front lines between rebel and regime-controlled territory—by Oct. 15.
  • The Islamic State group has announced the death of one of its leaders in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, where a security source said 15 jihadists were also killed separately. The Egyptian army, which launched a major offensive against the jihadists in February, killed Abu Hamza al-Maqdisi in an air raid, IS said Tuesday in a message on Telegram. Maqdisi, a Palestinian, had been in charge of planning and training for the jihadist group in the Sinai, IS said, without giving further details. 
  • In a recently released video, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) – a jihadist group primarily based in West Africa and the Sahel – went to great lengths to portray its fight against Mali and France as conjoined with al Qaeda’s global jihad. Speeches and footage from several al Qaeda leaders from around the world were shown interlaced with combat footage from the African jihadist group. At the very beginning of the video, JNIM showed its media division, Az Zallaqa, as being in the same family as other al Qaeda media wings. This includes As Sahab (al Qaeda central’s media division), Al Malahem (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), Al Kata’ib (Shabaab), and al Andalus (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). By putting its media wing alongside other media branches of the global jihadist organization, JNIM is portraying Az Zallaqa as another official al Qaeda media organization.

Thursday 10.4.18

  • An American service member has been killed in action in Afghanistan, the U.S. military announced Thursday. The announcement from Kabul provided no details. It said the matter is under investigation. In line with standard practice, the name of the person will not be officially released until 24 hours after family members have been notified.
  • Pakistan's foreign minister called on the United States to restore good relations and military aid and stop blaming Islamabad for militant attacks on Afghanistan, even as he pledged to support negotiations with the Taliban to end the Afghan war. Shah Mehmood Qureshi visited Washington on October 3 to explain new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's strategy on Afghanistan. The former cricket star has long advocated negotiating with the Taliban and other Islamist insurgents rather than taking military action.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran on Wednesday for threats to American missions in Iraq and said the United States was terminating a treaty of amity with Tehran, which is the target of increasing U.S. sanctions over its missile programs. “Iran is the origin of the current threat to Americans in Iraq,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department days after he announced the closing of the U.S. consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra.
  • U.S. troops and their local partner forces have surrounded what has been called the “last pocket of ISIS resistance,” according to military officials involved in the campaign. The final push, known as Operation Roundup, is in its third week. It is occurring in the Middle Euphrates River Valley’s Deir ez-Zor province, close to the Iraq-Syria border. Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition’s fire support, have dialed back the Islamic State precipitously over the past few years.
  • Government aid agencies of the United States and Britain have directed their humanitarian partners to stop using a border crossing between Turkey and Syria, officials said, due to concerns that taxes on aid trucks were used to fund an extremist group. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) directed its partners working in northwest Syria to immediately cease all use of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for USAID-funded awards on Sept. 26, a USAID official said.
  • Seven Turkish soldiers were killed and three others were wounded after a roadside bomb in the southeastern province of Batman was detonated by Kurdish militants, security sources said on Thursday. Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants detonated the improvised explosive during the passage of a military convoy in the Gercus region of the province, the local governor’s office said. An operation was launched to capture the perpetrators, it said.
  • Egyptian security forces have killed 15 suspected militants in a shootout during a raid on their hideout near al-Arish, the capital of North Sinai province, state news agency MENA and security sources said on Wednesday. The men were suspected of planning attacks on security checkpoints ahead of the 45th anniversary of Egypt’s October 6 1973 war with Israel, the sources and MENA said, quoting an interior ministry statement.