Eye on Extremism, January 25, 2019

The New York Times: Down To Its Last 2 Villages In Syria, ISIS Still Fights Back

“Along two sharp curves of the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria, the Islamic State is fighting to hold on to the last speck of the vast territory it once controlled. At its height, the group enforced its brutal version of Islamic rule over more than 60,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq. It is now squeezed into two villages occupying six square miles. There, its foot soldiers have been engaged in heavy clashes with the American-backed and Kurdish-led militia Syrian Democratic Forces who are battling to take back the turf, according to a spokesman for the militia and observers in the area. While some of the extremists are fighting to the end, local officials say the militants have been surrendering by the dozens, repeating a pattern observed in other cities shortly before the group was overrun. Even with the end of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq within view, Western officials caution that this is not the end of the violent threat posed by the group. It has continued carrying out devastating attacks as it reverts to its insurgent roots, including a suicide bombing that killed four Americans in Manbij last week.”

The Wall Street Journal: Taliban Assures U.S. It Opposes Use Of Afghanistan As Platform For Terrorists

“In a landmark concession, the Taliban has reassured the U.S. that it opposes any attempts by militant groups to use Afghanistan to stage terrorist attacks abroad, a person familiar with the pledge said, as talks to end the 17-year Afghan war entered a fourth day. Still under discussion in the talks between the insurgents and American diplomats in the Gulf state of Qatar are a cease-fire and the future of American forces in Afghanistan, including the withdrawal of some or all of the approximately 14,000 U.S. forces and the status of American military bases in the country, the person said. The Taliban has said for years that it wouldn’t allow Afghan territory to be used to attack others, but since formal discussions on ending the war resumed in July, American negotiators have sought the insurgency’s pledge that militant groups such al Qaeda wouldn’t be allowed to operate from Afghan soil following any peace deal. The Taliban already are engaged in a fierce, often violent, rivalry with Islamic State’s local affiliate. Previous attempts by the negotiators to gain such a concession have been rejected by some Taliban officials over concern that it would be viewed by rank-and-file fighters as joining forces with Washington against the jihadist group al Qaeda, founded in Pakistan in 1988 by the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, who is still revered by some militants, several people with knowledge of the talks have said.”

Voice Of America: US Adds Iran-Backed Militants In Syria To Terror List

“The U.S. Treasury Department added two Iran-backed militant groups to its official list of terrorists on Thursday. The Fatemiyoun Division, composed of Afghan nationals, and the Zaynabiyoun Brigade, consisting of Pakistani nationals, have been fighting alongside the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad against the opposition and Sunni militants in the country. The groups’ members — mostly refugees and migrants residing in Iran — have been recruited by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). “The brutal Iranian regime exploits refugee communities in Iran, deprives them of access to basic services such as education, and uses them as human shields for the Syrian conflict,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “Treasury’s targeting of Iran-backed militias and other foreign proxies is part of our ongoing pressure campaign to shut down the illicit networks the regime uses to export terrorism and unrest across the globe,” the statement added.”

The New York Times: Venezuela’s Military Backs Maduro, As Russia Warns U.S. Not To Intervene

“The embattled government of Venezuela struck back against its opponents on Thursday, winning strong support from the country’s armed forces and the solid backing of Russia, which warned the United States not to intervene. The events put Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, at the center of a Cold War-style showdown between Russia, an ally that has shored up his government with billions of dollars, and the United States, which has denounced him as a corrupt autocrat with no legitimacy. The Trump administration pressed its case on Thursday, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on all countries in the hemisphere to reject Mr. Maduro and “align themselves with democracy,” setting up a test of wills with the Kremlin. Only a day before, Mr. Maduro’s political nemesis, the opposition leader Juan Guaidó, seemed to have the momentum. During nationwide protests against the government, he proclaimed himself the country’s rightful president, earning endorsements from President Trump and several governments in the region.”

Forbes: Exclusive: Google Caught Hosting Hezbollah’s Violent Android Games

“Holy Defence looks like your typical shoot ’em up. The Android game sees the protagonist running around a carbon copy of the Sayyeda Zeinab mosque in Damascus, defending it from invaders with automatic weapons. More than 10,000 people have downloaded the game from the Google Play store, and it’s received plenty of praise from reviewers. Little is disclosed about the game on Google’s site. But Forbes can reveal the developer behind Holy Defence and one other Google-hosted title, in which child characters deflect bombs onto Israeli soldiers, has a hidden motive: to disseminate Hezbollah propaganda. Deemed by the U.S. government a terrorist organization, Hezbollah has, ironically, in recent years used American online platforms to spread its message. Holy Defence for Android represents its first foray into the mobile space and the first known case in which a game developed by any listed terror group has been spotted on Google’s marketplace for apps. Not only do the smartphone games represent a new weapon in Hezbollah’s information wars against its myriad enemies, they also bring into focus a case where one of the world’s biggest private companies has to decide: Is Hezbollah a terror group or a political body as it claims?”

The Wall Street Journal: Facing Backlash, Tech Leaders Shift Tone

“The world’s biggest tech firms have a message for the world’s policy makers and business leaders: We’re changing our ways. Companies including Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc., are facing a growing backlash against their increasing size and power. Over the past year, politicians, consumers and even business partners have raised concerns about the companies’ scale, their handling of users’ personal information and the potential for artificial intelligence to destroy jobs and distort decisions. This week at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, some tech execs are responding that many critics have a point—saying they have a greater responsibility to mitigate the dangers of their own creations. “There is a lot of angst and anxiety about the tech companies, the power of the tech companies,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told a packed audience in Davos this week. “There’s a phase right now of really being worried about the harms, and a lot of those are legitimate, and we need to do a better job.”

United States

Business Insider: All Of The Extremist Killings In The US In 2018 Had Links To Right-Wing Extremism, According To New Report

“Every extremist killing in the US in 2018 had a link to a right-wing extremism, according to a new report from the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. The report zeroes in on incidents such as the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, and the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in October 2018.  There were at least 50 extremist-related killings in the US in 2018, according to the report, making it the fourth-deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related killings since 1970.  “The extremist-related murders in 2018 were overwhelmingly linked to right-wing extremists,” the report states. “Every one of the perpetrators had ties to at least one right-wing extremist movement, although one had recently switched to supporting Islamist extremism. White supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings, which is typically the case.”  Guns were involved in the vast majority of the killings – 42 of out 50. The Anti-Defamation League’s findings are consistent with other recent research on right-wing extremism in the US, which shows it’s on the rise.”

The Washington Post: US No Longer Announcing Deaths, Damage In Somalia Airstrikes

“The U.S. military says it has carried out two new airstrikes in Somalia against the al-Shabab extremist group but will no longer give details on fighters killed or damage done. A U.S. Africa Command spokesman says those details are now up to Somalia’s government to share. The spokesman later said one extremist was killed. On Saturday the U.S. announced its deadliest airstrike in Somalia in months, killing 52 of the al-Qaida-linked extremists after a “large group” attacked Somali forces. The U.S. says the latest airstrikes occurred Wednesday near Jilib in Middle Juba region, where Saturday’s strike occurred. The United States has dramatically stepped up airstrikes against al-Shabab in Somalia since President Donald Trump took office, carrying out at least 47 last year to diminish the Islamic extremist group’s “safe havens.”

Lansing State Journal: What We Know: U.S. Case Against Three Lansing Men Arrested For Supporting ISIS

“More than two years of investigation using Facebook and undercover agents led to Monday’s arrest of three Lansing men, who are now charged with conspiring to provide “material support” to an Islamic State group.  Muse Abdikadir Muse, Mohamud Abdikadir Muse and Mohamed Salat Haji were arrested Monday at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids by members of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force federal records show. They face up to 20 years in prison. But who are they, how did the FBI find them and what did investigators find that led to their arrest? Mohamud Abdikadir Muse is 23. He’s also known as Abu Osama Almuhajir. Muse Abdikadir Muse is 20. He’s Mohamud’s younger brother and is also known as Ali Almuhajir. Mohamed Salat Haji is 26. He is Muse and Mohamud’s cousin and brother-in-law, according to federal documents. He’s also known as Salamujahid Almuhajir. All three men were born in Kenya.  The Muse brothers became U.S. citizens when their parents were naturalized. Haji is also now a U.S. citizen.  All three have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, according to a federal complaint filed in Grand Rapids.”

AZ Central: Terrorism Suspect Ismail Hamed Arraigned In Court

“An 18-year-old man shot by a Maricopa County sheriff’s deputy in Fountain Hills and later charged with terrorism was arraigned in court Thursday morning. A not-guilty plea was entered for Ismail Hamed during the proceedings held before Commissioner Thomas Kaipio in Maricopa County Superior Court. Hamed is scheduled to return to court at 8:15 a.m. March 8. A hearing was also scheduled for April 8. Hamed made no statements during the hearing. He has retained private counsel, Mark Mendoza, who had no comment after the arraignment hearing. A complaint filed by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office alleges Hamed “intentionally or knowingly, did provide advice, assistance, direction or management” to the terrorist organization ISIS, which is listed under several formal names, including the Islamic State of Iraq al-Sham. He is facing one count of terrorism under state law, a Class 2 felony, for that allegation. Hamed faces a second count of terrorism for his actions on Jan. 7, the night he was shot and wounded by a deputy in Fountain Hills outside the town’s government complex. Additionally, Hamed is facing a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which was filed prior to the terrorism charges were filed.”


Reuters: Exclusive: Syrian Kurdish YPG Expects Negotiations With Damascus Soon

“The head of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia believes talks with the government over the future of the northeast region will begin in days after a “positive” reaction from Damascus. Any deal between the YPG and President Bashar al-Assad’s state could piece together the two biggest chunks of a nation splintered by eight years of conflict. Dialogue attempts have revived in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from the Kurdish-led region. ”There are attempts to carry out negotiations … the Syrian government stance was positive,” the YPG commander Sipan Hemo told Reuters. “We believe they will start in the coming days.”  In a voice recording sent from his representatives late on Wednesday, Hemo said U.S. moves to withdraw were over-hasty and could not happen while the battle against Islamic State militants still rages.  Syrian Kurdish leaders have sought Russian mediation for talks with Assad’s state, hoping to safeguard their autonomous region when U.S. troops currently backing them pull out.  They fear an attack by neighboring Turkey, which has threatened to crush the YPG.  On a recent visit, U.S. envoy James Jeffrey talked to him and other officials about both satisfying Turkey and protecting northern Syria, Hemo said.”

Fox News: Fox News Poll: Most Voters Say ISIS Not Defeated In Syria

“Few voters believe the Islamic militant group ISIS has been defeated in Syria, and a plurality supports keeping U.S. forces there, according to the latest Fox News Poll. On December 19, President Trump declared “we have defeated ISIS in Syria” and ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. The poll, released Thursday, finds 12 percent of voters say ISIS has been defeated.  Yet six times as many, 72 percent, disagree. In addition, 46 percent think the U.S. should keep military troops in Syria for counterterrorism operations, while 36 percent want troops removed as soon as possible. Eighteen percent are unsure. The president’s decision on Syria received negative responses from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.  That included some close to him, like GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham. “I would hope the president would look long and hard at where he’s headed in Syria,” Graham said.  “I know people are frustrated, but we’re never going to be safe here unless we’re willing to help people over there who will stand up against this radical ideology.”

Times Of Israel: Car Bomb Explodes Near Russian Embassy In Damascus

“A bomb attack hit a northeastern neighborhood of the Syrian capital Thursday, state media said, in the third such explosion in a regime-held area in less than a week. State news agency SANA reported “a terrorist bombing in the Adawi area with an explosive device planted in a car, causing material damage but no casualties.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast hit near the embassy of key government ally Russia. The Britain-based war monitor said four people were lightly wounded. The latest blast came after the first explosion in Damascus in more than a year on Sunday, in which the Observatory reported “some people killed and injured.” State media said there were no victims. On Tuesday, a car bomb killed one in the regime’s coastal stronghold of Latakia, according to state media. Syria’s civil war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the bloody repression of anti-government protests. With key military backing from Russia, President Bashar Assad’s forces have retaken large parts of Syria from rebels and jihadists, and now control almost two-thirds of the country.”

Business Insider: The Conflict In Syria Has Lasted Nearly 8 Years — Here’s What It Would Take To Finally End It

“To begin to understand this war, let’s look at the outside players.  First there’s also Iran, Assad’s main regional ally. Its government’ opposed by some hostile Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE’ wants to see the Islamist groups, rebel militias and other Assad enemies crushed, but its leaders are also watching to be sure Russia, Assad’s other reliable ally, doesn’t muscle Tehran out of the way.  That brings us to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. He wants to expand his country’s influence in the Middle East. He’s looking to avoid a bloody battle in Idlib that would further alienate Europe and make it more difficult to raise funds to rebuild Syria.  Russia is, for the moment, supporting Turkey’s bid for a truce. But like Assad and like Iran, Putin is ready to end this war and his patience, too, isn’t unlimited.  Next there’s Turkey. President Erdogan really wants to avoid an all-out final battle in Idlib because Turkey’s economy has more than enough problems now without another surge of refugees. They already have 3.5 million Syrians in makeshift camps in Turkey and a full-on fight in Idlib would send another tidal wave of desperate Syrian civilians scrambling toward Turkey’s border.”


The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Sanctions Two Airline Companies For Aiding Iran

“The Treasury Department added two private airline companies to its sanctions blacklist on Thursday for allegedly aiding Iran, including ferrying weapons from Tehran into Syria. The move, which also targets an Iran-backed militia composed of foreign fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan, underscores the role regional actors play in the Syria conflict and evasion of U.S. sanctions against Iran. The Treasury blacklisted Iranian firm Qeshm Fars Air and two freight planes it allegedly used to ship weapons into Damascus from Iran under the direction of sanctioned Iranian airline Mahan Air and on behalf the Quds Force, an elite military arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a U.S.-designated terror group. Iran for years has backed the Syrian regime in its civil war.  “Treasury’s targeting of Iran-backed militias and other foreign proxies is part of our ongoing pressure campaign to shut down the illicit networks the regime uses to export terrorism and unrest across the globe,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, including by exploiting refugees in Iran as fighters and human shields in Syria. Iran’s mission to the United Nations and Qeshm Fars Air didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.”

Times Of Israel: Iran’s Nuclear Chief: We Bought Spares For Nuke Equipment We Agreed To Destroy

“Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, has detailed how Iran quietly purchased replacement parts for its Arak nuclear reactor while it was conducting negotiations for an international agreement under which it knew it would be required to destroy the original components. In an interview broadcast on Iran’s Channel 4 TV on January 22, Salehi recalled that during talks for the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 deal that lifted sanctions on Iran in return for it dismantling the weapons-capable parts of its nuclear program, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned his country’s negotiators that he expected Western parties to renege on the agreement. An English translation of some parts of the interview were provided Thursday by the Washington-based non-profit Middle East Media Research Institute.  “When our team was in the midst of the negotiations, we knew that [the Westerners] would ultimately renege on their promises,” Salehi said. “The leader [Khamenei] warned us that they were violators of agreements. We had to act wisely. Not only did we avoid destroying the bridges that we had built, but we also built new bridges that would enable us to go back faster if needed.”

Newsmax: Report: Iran Launching War Games To Warn ‘Enemies’

“Iranian military leaders declared Thursday the Islamic Republic would launch a “massive” set of drills that will include the regime’s Army’s Ground Force and 12,000 “combat and mobile forces” – and the war games are intended to send a message to Iran’s “enemies.” “The massive Eqtedar 97 war games of the Army’s Ground Force will be staged for two days in an extensive area of Isfahan region on Friday,” said Iranian General Kiomars Heidari, commander of its ground force, Fars News reported. The general added “different home-made weapons will be tested in the drills and various types of military equipment, including helicopters, drones and fighter jets will be used” in the drills.” “The message of war games for the friends of Iran is that they can consider the country’s military capabilities as part of the power of Islam’s army, meantime, adding that the Iranian army is always ready to give a crushing and quick response to any aggression by enemies,” Heidari said, Fars reported.”

The Washington Free Beacon: Iran To Launch ‘Massive’ War Drills

“Iranian military leaders announced on Thursday that the Islamic Republic would be launching a “massive” set of war drills later this week that will include the regime’s Army’s Ground Force and some 12,000 “combat and mobile forces,” according to Iran’s state-controlled media. “The massive Eqtedar 97 war games of the Army’s Ground Force will be staged for two days in an extensive area of Isfahan region on Friday,” Iranian General Kiomars Heidari, commander of its ground force, said on Thursday. The military leader disclosed that “different home-made weapons will be tested in the drills and various types of military equipment, including helicopters, drones and fighter jets will be used” in the war games, according to a report carried in the semi-official Fars News. The military display is meant to send a message of reassurance to regional allies and one of warning to “enemies” of the Islamic Republic, Heidari said. “The message of wargames for the friends of Iran is that they can consider the country’s military capabilities as part of the power of Islam’s army, meantime, adding that the Iranian army is always ready to give a crushing and quick response to any aggression by enemies,” Fars reported. Iran conducted similar military drills earlier this month.”

Al Jazeera: New US Sanctions Target Iran-Backed Fighters In Syria

“The United States has announced new sanctions on two Iran-backed militias fighting in Syria in a move aimed at raising pressure on Tehran and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as Washington prepares for a military withdrawal from the war-torn country. The Fatemiyoun Division, comprising Afghan nationals, and the Zaynabiyoun Brigade, comprising Pakistani fighters, were placed on the US Treasury’s financial blacklist, which aims to cut off their access to international financial networks to choke their operations. Both militias are recruited by Iran’s elite military unit, the IRGC, the Treasury said, from communities of refugees and migrants living inside Iran, and sent to fight for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. “The brutal Iranian regime exploits refugee communities in Iran… and uses them as human shields for the Syrian conflict,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement. “Treasury’s targeting of Iran-backed militias and other foreign proxies is part of our ongoing pressure campaign to shut down the illicit networks the regime uses to export terrorism and unrest across the globe.” In a post on social media, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of “preying” on refugees and using them as “cannon fodder in Syria.”

Brookings Institute: The Iranian Revolution And Its Legacy Of Terrorism

“The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran has proved one of the most consequential events in the history of modern terrorism. The revolution led to a surge in Iranian-backed terrorism that continues, albeit in quite different forms, to this day. Less noticed, but equally significant, the revolution provoked a response by Saudi Arabia and various Sunni militant groups that set the stage for the rise in Sunni jihadism. Finally, the revolution sparked fundamental changes in American counterterrorism institutions and attitudes. The new clerical regime in Iran initially viewed the world in revolutionary terms. Tehran’s leaders saw foreign policy through the lens of ideology, downplaying the strategic and economic interests of the country in pursuit of an Islamic revolution. In addition, like many revolutionary states, the new regime overestimated the fragility of neighboring regimes, believing that their people, too, would rise up and that they were ripe for revolution. The charisma of Iran’s new leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the compelling model of religious activism he offered, and the numerous ties among Shiite community and religious leaders in Iran to Shiite leaders in other countries led to a surge in militant groups in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other states that looked to Iran as a model for a Shiite revolution.”


Xinhua: Spotlight: IS Resorts To New Tactic To Evade Detection By Iraqi Forces’ Thermal Cameras

“Iraq’s security forces’ increasing dependence on thermal cameras is now met by a new tactic from the Islamic State (IS) militants, who tried tinfoil cloaks to evade detection by the cameras. “Thermal cameras played a major role in monitoring IS militants’ movements in rugged areas in northern Diyala, such as Himreen mountainous area,” Abu Ahmed al-Shammari, leader of Hashd Shaabi, told Xinhua. According to Shammari, Hashd Shaabi foiled an infiltration attempt by IS militants four days ago in al-Safra area, some 90 km north of Diyala’s provincial capital Baquba despite tinfoil cloaks worn by some of the extremist militants. “Tinfoil cloaks may reduce effectiveness of thermal cameras but Hashd Shaabi have a substantial monitoring experience and they are vigilant to thwart IS movements, regardless of their tactics,” Shammari said. Another security source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that “we have experienced such using of tinfoil cloaks recently by IS, including one in the rugged area of al-Safra.” Outside Iraq, al-Qaida militants in Yemen previously resorted to similar tactics to dodge detection by U.S. drones with thermal cameras by wearing what they called “invisibility cloaks” made of aluminum foil.”


USA Today: Afghanistan May Be A Mess If US Troops Leave; They Should Leave Anyway. Trump Is Right

“When President Donald Trump announced that he would be withdrawing half of the U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan, the national security establishment was aghast. Afghanistan will become a failed state! The Taliban will expand their power! Chaos and disorder will follow! The critics might be right. The president should follow through anyway. Aware the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, Trump nevertheless now dithers. He is being pressured by military leaders who understandably want their sacrifices to have achieved something. And he is selfishly concerned with being blamed if the government in Kabul collapses on his watch. But letting the Afghanistan War “muddle along” for so many years has been a grievous mistake. Roughly 2,400 U.S. service members and 4,000 American contractors have been killed there, including four just over Thanksgiving. As my old boss, John Kerry, asked a Senate committee in 1971, after returning from that other quagmire in Vietnam, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

The New York Times: U.S. And Taliban Make Headway In Talks For Withdrawal From Afghanistan

“American and Taliban negotiators are making headway on a deal in which the United States would withdraw troops from Afghanistan in return for a pledge by the Taliban not to allow the country to host terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, senior Taliban officials and Western diplomats said Thursday. The possibility of an agreement came after a fourth day of face-to-face talks between a delegation led by the American peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar, where the insurgents have long maintained an office. But many of the details remained to be ironed out, including how many American troops would be pulled out and over what period of time. Though Afghan officials did not publicly criticize the emerging outlines of the agreement, they said any end game to the war would have to be finalized in direct negotiations between the government and the Taliban, which the insurgents have so far spurned. In the discussions, the United States seemed to be making concrete concessions in exchange for Taliban commitments that would be hard to enforce once American forces leave the country. Most observers do not believe the Afghan military can stand against the Taliban without American support.”

The New York Times: Our Longest War Is Still An Important War

“President Trump may be a controversial and disruptive president. But in regard to Afghanistan, his frustration with the 17-year war differs little from the sentiments of President Barack Obama or most of the rest of us. Reportedly, he has asked for a precipitous cut of up to half the 14,000 American troops serving there, early this year. That would be a mistake. There is still a strong case to sustain America’s longest war — especially if we redefine it, away from nation-building and toward something more like an enduring partnership with the Afghan people against regional and global extremism. Indeed, Washington should stop looking for an exit strategy and view Afghanistan as one pillar in a broader regional web of capabilities against Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and related movements that show few signs of dissipating. Over time, we can gradually reduce our forces, but we will want selective intelligence and military capabilities in South Asia for many years to come. A United Nations report estimates the total current ISIL membership in Iraq and Syria to be between 20,000 and 30,000.”

Voice Of America: Top Taliban Leader Joins Talks With US

“A co-founder of the Taliban who was released from prison in Pakistan in October has been appointed head of the group’s political office in Qatar as it negotiates with the United States over ending the 17-year-old Afghan war, the Taliban said Friday. Abdul Ghani Baradar, a senior Taliban military commander, was arrested in Pakistan in 2010. His release is believed to have been arranged by the United States as part of the negotiations, and his presence could reassure battlefield commanders who may fear concessions by the political leadership. Baradar was brought in to “strengthen and properly handle the ongoing negotiations process with the United States.” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. “Multiple changes have also taken place in the military and civilian departments” of the group, “so that the ongoing jihadi process and political efforts can develop positively,” he added. Several meetings U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met with the Taliban on a number of occasions in recent months in the latest bid to end America’s longest war. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to topple the Taliban, who were harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The Taliban have staged a comeback in recent years and hold sway over nearly half the country.”


Al Arabiya: Arab Coalition: Houthis Blocking Passage Of Four Aid Ships Since 34 Days

“The Arab Coalition in Yemen said on Thursday that Houthis have been blocking the passage of four aid ships since 34 days. The ships heading towards the Hodeidah port carry oil and food aid, said the Coalition, stressing on the fact that preventing the ships from unloading will affect the lives of the Yemeni people. Al-Salif port has been clear of ships for the past 12 days, and Houthi militias are blocking the entrance of all ships, according to the Coalition. The Coalition also announced issuing 12 permits for ships heading towards Yemeni ports, in addition to 34 aerial permits and 120 permits for convoy protection.”


Haaretz: Israel Tells Lebanon: We Won’t Hesitate to Act Against Hezbollah’s Precision Missiles

“Israel has sent strongly-worded messages to Lebanon, delivered through France, warning of the consequences of continued efforts by Hezbollah to acquire precision-guided missiles. The issue was discussed at length during a meeting on Wednesday between President Reuven Rivlin and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. Unusually, the meeting was also attended by the commander of Israel’s air force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, who presented the French president with maps and aerial photos detailing changes in Hezbollah’s deployment. France has close relations with Lebanon and Macron is scheduled to make an official visit in early February, in which he’ll meet with Lebanese leaders. France’s position is that Lebanon’s government and army need bolstering, partly in order to offset Hezbollah’s growing power and influence. Israel, for its part, emphasizes the links between Lebanon’s government, army and Hezbollah. It has made repeated threats that in the event of war, Lebanon will pay a high price for allowing Hezbollah to operate from its territory.”


News24: Nigeria Finds More Than 20 000 Kidnapped Girls In Mali

“Nigeria’s anti-trafficking agency has said it found thousands of missing girls and women in southern Mali, many of whom were sold as sex slaves. According to the agency NAPTIP, there are between 20 000 and 45 000 kidnapped Nigerian women in Mali it intends to return to Nigeria. General Julie Okah-Donli, NAPTIP Director, said the women mostly came from rural areas of six different states in Nigeria. “They were tricked into going to Mali by giving them the impression they were going to get jobs in hotels, for example,” Okah-Donli told Al Jazeera. “Some were actually abducted while going to school. “There are over one million Nigerians residents in Mali, out of which about 20 000 are trapped into forced prostitution. The conditions are horrible. They are kept in the thick of the forest where they cannot escape and with the ‘madames’ watching over them.”

Premium Times Nigeria: Eight Soldiers Killed In Fresh Boko Haram Attack

“Boko Haram fighters defied Nigerian military security and stormed a major community in Yobe State on Wednesday, leaving at least eight soldiers killed and many others wounded, military sources have told Premium Times. It was a major market day in Geidam when the insurgents arrived in a convoy of 12 gun trucks at about 6:00 p.m., sending residents and traders from nearby communities scampering for safety. The insurgents looted several grocery stores before torching them. The main campus of Mai Idris Alooma Polytechnic in the community was also attacked, with its technical equipment plundered. Military sources said one of the eight military casualties occurred there. The soldier was amongst a team of security personnel, which included police officers, guarding the institution. Many of them fled in the battle. In separate interviews with Premium Times under anonymity on Friday morning, military officers were troubled by Boko Haram’s ability to inflict such damage on an area that had long been fortified to serve as a buffer against unchecked movement of insurgents south of River Komadougou-Yobe. Geidam has been regularly targeted since November 2011 when Boko Haram launched a string of deadly assaults on residents in the community and Damaturu, the state capital.”

The Guardian Nigeria: Army Kills Four Boko Haram Terrorists

“The Nigerian Army said it killed at least four Boko Haram insurgents and recovered weapons in a clearance operation on the sect’s suspected hideout along Makinta Meleri in Konduga Local Government Area, Borno state. The Deputy Director of Public Relations, 7 Division Nigerian Army, Colonel Ado Isa, revealed this in a statement on Friday. Isa said the soldiers recovered 4 AK-47 Rifles with registration numbers 58012289, 565240898 and 58006027, respectively during the clearance operation. Other items also recovered included three Rifle Magazines containing 32 rounds of 7.62mm (special) ammunition and three bicycles. In reaction, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, according to Colonel Isa, commended the troops for their doggedness. Nigeria’s government and military maintain that the Islamist militants, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, are on the verge of defeat. The conflict, which began in 2009, has killed more than 20,000 and forced some 2.6 million others from their homes, triggering a dire humanitarian crisis in the region.”

Defense Post: Nigeria: Islamic State Claims Attack On Geidam Military Base

“ISIS claimed fighters from its Islamic State West Africa province affiliate attacked a military base in Geidam in northeast Nigeria on Wednesday, January 23. The Yobe state town of Geidam, near the border with Niger, came under attack by suspected Boko Haram insurgents at around 5:30 p.m., the Daily Trust reported. One resident said militants infiltrated the town on market day, and that local people had days earlier been warned of an impending attack. Two Nigerian Air Force jets were deployed during the incident, according to the report. According to a Thursday Daily Trust report, two armored personnel carriers were burned. A vigilante member, said militants were in control of the town for almost three hours after ‘overpowering’ the military, while a resident said soldiers fled the town during the assault, returning the following morning. The Defense Post has been unable to confirm details of the attack. ISIS in a Wednesday statement claimed ISWA fighters attacked a military base in Geidam in Yobe state “resulting in the death and injury” of a number of soldiers. It said a “tank” and five four wheel drive vehicles were captured, along with weapons and ammunition.”


The Washington Examiner: US Stops Touting How Many Al-Shabaab Terrorists It’s Killed In Somalia

“America’s shadowy war in Somalia just got a little more shadowy. For more than a year, the U.S. Africa Command has been issuing regular press releases after each U.S. airstrike in Somalia detailing now many strikes were conducted and how many al-Shabaab militants were believed to have been killed.  But in the latest release announcing two airstrikes targeting al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, on Jan. 23, 2019, no estimate of enemy dead was included. “We no longer discuss battle damage assessments resulting from our airstrikes,” said Maj. Karl Wiest, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command, in response to an inquiry from the Washington Examiner. When pressed, Wiest said in a follow-up email that the U.S. assesses the Wednesday strikes killed one al-Shabaab militant.  “While enemy casualties are an expected outcome of strike operations, the resulting number of EKIA [Enemy Killed in Action] is much less important to understand than how these strikes are helping our Somali partners achieve their strategic security objectives,” Wiest added. As recently as last week the U.S. touted the fact that a single airstrike killed 52 al-Shabaab fighters who had attacked Somali government soldiers who were being backed by U.S. troops.”


Asharq Al-Awsat: Morocco Busts ISIS-Linked Terrorist Cell

“Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) has arrested 13 people, whose ages range between 22 and 44, on suspicion of forming a cell linked to the ISIS terrorist group, the interior ministry announced Wednesday. During the raids, the authorities seized electronic devices, knives, masks, manuscripts promoting extremist ideology and a document in which the suspects have pledged allegiance to the ISIS leader, the ministry said in a statement. The suspects were propagating ISIS ideology and plotting terrorist attacks in the country, it said, adding that they have been remanded in custody for further investigation. The network’s arrest came only two weeks after the authorities broke up a three-member terrorist cell. The suspects ranged in age from 18 to 31. Since the Casablanca bombings in 2003, Morocco has adopted stringent counter-terrorism measures by breaking up several extremist cells and stopping potential attacks in France, Belgium, Denmark, and other states. In one of the most recent operations, Moroccan authorities have arrested a total of 22 people in connection with the murders of two Scandinavian tourists in mid-December.”

All Africa: Kenya: Govt Asks UN To Finance War Against Al-Shabaab

“Kenya has urged the United Nations to finance the continental counter-terrorism mission in Somalia, arguing that this will stop the country from falling back to Al-Shabaab control. Foreign Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba said there is need to plug funding gaps and boost counter-terrorism efforts. “The promotion and maintenance of peace and security in the world is the primary mandate of the United Nations,” Mr Namwamba told a gathering of diplomats from the African Union and the European Union in Brussels on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) continues to suffer insufficient and unpredictable funding,” he said. Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti and Burundi have jointly contributed troops to the 22,000-strong force, initially meant to last only six months in 2007, but which is still engaged in a dogged fight with the terrorist group. Mr Namwamba, who represented Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma, spoke as Foreign Affairs ministers met in Brussels to buttress AU-EU relations just a week after the DusitD2 attack in Nairobi in which 21 people were killed.”


The Verge: Advocacy Groups Are Pushing The FTC To Break Up Facebook

“Advocacy groups are calling for Facebook to be broken up as a result of its Cambridge Analytica scandal, subsequent privacy violations, and repeated consumer data breaches. Groups like Open Market Institute, Color of Change, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote to the Federal Trade Commission today requesting a major government intervention into how Facebook operates. The letter outlined several moves the FTC could take, including a multibillion-dollar fine, reforming the company’s hiring practices, and most importantly, breaking up one of the most powerful social media companies for abusing its market position. Last week, it was reported that the Federal Trade Commission could seek a record-setting fine from Facebook after the company violated a 2012 government agreement, requiring it to properly disclose how a user’s personal and private information was obtained and used by the company and third parties. Facebook has acknowledged that user data was improperly obtained by Cambridge Analytica last year, violating that agreement.”

Reveal: Facebook Knowingly Duped Game-Playing Kids And Their Parents Out Of Money

“Facebook orchestrated a multi-year effort that duped children and their parents out of money, in some cases hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and then often refused to give the money back, according to court documents unsealed tonight in response to a Reveal legal action. The records are part of a class action lawsuit focused on how Facebook targeted children in an effort to expand revenue for online games, such as Angry Birds, PetVille and Ninja Saga. The more than 135 pages of unsealed documents, which include internal Facebook memos, secret strategies and employee emails, paint a troubling picture of how the social media giant conducted business. Facebook encouraged game developers to let children spend money without their parents’ permission – something the social media giant called “friendly fraud” – in an effort to maximize revenues, according to a document detailing the company’s game strategy.” o

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