Eye on Extremism: February 8, 2019

The Guardian: ISIS Leader Believed To Have Fled Coup Attempt By His Own Fighters

“The Isis leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, survived a coup attempt last month launched by foreign fighters in his eastern Syrian hideout, intelligence officials believe, and the terrorist group has since placed a bounty on the main plotter’s head. The incident is believed to have taken place on 10 January in a village near Hajin in the Euphrates River valley, where the jihadist group is clinging to its last sliver of land. Regional intelligence officials say a planned move against Baghdadi led to a firefight between foreign fighters and the fugitive terrorist chief’s bodyguards, who spirited him away to the nearby deserts. Isis has offered a reward to whomever kills Abu Muath al-Jazairi, believed to be a veteran foreign fighter, one of an estimated 500 Isis fighters thought to remain in the area. While Isis did not directly accuse Jazairi, placing a bounty on the head of one of its senior members is an unusual move and intelligence officials believe he was the central plotter. “They got wind of it just in time,” an intelligence official said. “There was a clash and two people were killed. This was the foreign fighter element, some of his most trusted people.”

The Jerusalem Post: Iran Builds New Secret Missile Site In Syria For Hezbollah

“Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are establishing a missile factory on the outskirts of the Syrian town Safita, Israel exposed on Thursday according to Channel 12. Israel’s strategy, according to the report, is to make the efforts public to thwart the construction and success of the factory, which is supposed to be where Iran will turn Hezbollah’s missiles into precision-guided munitions, capable of striking targets in Israel with unprecedented accuracy. The Israeli report claimed that a front organization named “Anas Group” was created to purchase materials from Italy, China and other Asian nations, and that the factory is currently run by Jamal Said, said to be a known figure in the field of missile production in the Middle East. Speaking in the United Nations in September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressured the international community to pay attention to Israel’s findings and inspect Iran’s movements in Syria. Netanyahu at the time revealed several sites in Beirut, where he said Hezbollah attempted to convert ground-to-ground missiles to precision missiles.”

Foreign Policy: Don’t Trust The Taliban’s Promises

“In his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump tied the withdrawal of U.S. troops to a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. For a famously mercurial president, that may be no guarantee. But if the United States goes ahead with this course, negotiations should focus on fashioning a peace deal that can last instead of seeking a fig leaf to justify U.S. withdrawal. At present, the framework agreement looks all too much like the negotiated exit of the Soviet Union three decades ago under the cover of the 1988 Geneva Accords. The Soviet withdrawal brought no peace or reconciliation to Afghanistan, and unless backed up with serious precautionary measures, neither will the U.S. exit. The desire of Trump and his supporters to not act as “the world’s policeman” is understandable. But they fail to realize that the United States cannot be a global leader unless it has a global role—even if that is more as umpire than policeman. Trump’s trumpeted withdrawal from the Middle East and Afghanistan is not compatible with his talk of winning. U.S. priorities in talks with the Afghan Taliban should be to seek a cease-fire, the release of Western hostages held by the Taliban, and an accommodation between the insurgents and the lawful Afghan government.”

Vice: Inside The Al Qaeda Heartlands Of Yemen

“Fourteen-year-old Hareth Omar Al Moallem was asleep when armed men stormed his home and set fire to his bedroom one day last year. ”It’s all ruined,” he said, pointing to a hole in the ground. “There’s nothing now. They came up and burnt it with gasoline.”  The soldiers were after his brother, a member of Yemen's deadliest terror group: al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). “When they came looking for him, he was already long gone. They should’ve gone after him. It shouldn’t have involved us,” Hareth told VICE News. Most Yemen coverage centers on the civil war between the Saudi-backed military and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. But other groups have brought death and destruction to the impoverished country, most notably AQAP, and the United Arab Emirates forces trying to extinguish them. Here in the country’s east, where AQAP is active, Hareth’s story is not unique. Emirati forces, backed with U.S. support, have waged a ruthless campaign against the terror group — or anyone they suspect of being an al Qaeda fighter. And that’s taking a toll on Yemeni civilians, who say the operations are heavy-handed and sometimes target innocent people.”

BBC News: Nigerian Elections: Has Boko Haram Been Defeated?

“The Islamist militant group Boko Haram has been active in north-eastern Nigeria for well over a decade. President Buhari says its activities have been largely brought under control since he assumed office in 2015. His political opponents disagree and say the situation has recently deteriorated both in terms of the number of attacks and kidnappings by the group.  Ahead of Nigeria's elections on 16 February, BBC Reality Check examines the competing claims over the security situation in the country. Formed around 2002 as a non-violent organisation with the aim of purifying Islam in northern Nigeria, it became increasingly radicalised and eventually adopted militant tactics in pursuit of its aims. It has been active not only in Nigeria, but also in the neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and more than two million displaced over the past decade. Boko Haram has been notorious for kidnapping schoolchildren and attracted global media attention in 2014 following the abduction of almost 300 girls from a school in the town of Chibok, in Borno, the state where the militant group has been most active.”

ABC News: Germany: No Choice But To Reject Terrorist Extradition To US

“An American request for the extradition of a Turkish man wanted in the United States on terrorism charges was rejected because there was no other option under German law, authorities said Thursday, in a case that has raised the ire of officials in Washington. Adem Yilmaz, who was indicted under seal in the U.S. in 2015 on charges of participating nearly 10 years earlier in attacks on U.S. military forces along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, was convicted of membership in a terrorist organization in Germany in 2010. To extradite him to face trial in the U.S. on terrorism charges would constitute double jeopardy under German law, Frankfurt state court spokeswoman Gundula Fehns-Boeer told The Associated Press. “An extradition could have only occurred if the Americans said they would restrict the charges to crimes not already punished,” she said. After the Frankfurt court's decision on the American request last week, Hesse state officials on Tuesday deported Yilmaz to his native Turkey, said state Interior Ministry spokesman Marcus Gerngross. Gerngross said there was “nothing unusual” about deporting a foreign national who had violated German laws, but the decision angered American officials.”


The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Military Sets April Target Date For Leaving Syria

“The Pentagon is preparing to pull all U.S. forces out of Syria by the end of April, even though the Trump administration has yet to come up with a plan to protect its Kurdish partners from attack when they leave, current and former U.S. officials said. With U.S.-backed fighters poised to seize the final Syrian sanctuaries held by Islamic State in the coming days, the U.S. military is turning its attention toward a withdrawal of forces in the coming weeks, these people said on Thursday. Unless the Trump administration alters course, the military plans to pull a significant portion of its forces out by mid-March, with a full withdrawal coming by the end of April, they said. Still, the military planning comes as the State Department maintains that there is no timetable for a withdrawal. While President Trump has put no firm deadline on withdrawing troops from Syria, he has directed the Pentagon to get all forces out of the country, an order that has led to the current U.S. military timeline to leave by the end of April. The Trump administration has been struggling to come up with an agreement to protect Kurdish allies from being attacked by Turkish forces. The U.S. has been trying to work out a deal with Ankara on a political plan for northeastern Syria that would avert a destabilizing fight between Turkish forces and Kurdish forces in Syria that Turkey views as terrorists.”

Arab News: Daesh Down To Less Than 1% Of Original Territory: Coalition

“Recent gains by Kurdish-led forces in Syria have shrunk Daesh's territory to less than one percent of its original size, the US-led coalition said on Thursday. Major General Christopher Ghika, the coalition's deputy commander, described the size of the last patch of land held by the extremists as “now less than one percent of the original caliphate”. The coalition and allied Kurdish forces have captured “approximately 99.5 percent” of Daesh-controlled territory, he said in a statement. At its height, the extremist proto-state proclaimed by Daesh in Syria and Iraq in June 2014 was roughly the size of Britain. But it has since lost most of that territory to various offensives. The terrorists are now clinging on to a small sliver of land near the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria and many residents are fleeing and turning themselves in ahead of a final offensive. Daesh militants “are attempting to escape through intermixing with the innocent women and children attempting to flee the fighting”, coalition deputy commanding general Christopher Ghika was quoted as saying. “These tactics won't succeed, our Syrian partners are focused on finding ISIS wherever they hide, and our Iraqi partners have secured their borders,” he said.”

Arab News: US-Backed Syria Force Says Captures Foreign Militants ‘Daily’

“US-backed forces in Syria said Wednesday they were detaining foreign Daesh group fighters on a “daily basis,” days after confirming the capture of German militants Martin Lemke. AFP reported Lemke’s capture last week after speaking to two of his wives who said they had fled together from the militant group’s final pocket of territory in eastern Syria. Daesh is clinging to a tiny sliver of its once sprawling “caliphate” and many residents are fleeing and turning themselves in ahead of a final offensive. A spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Mustafa Bali, said Daesh fighters were hiding among the fleeing civilians. “On a daily basis, we are arresting foreign Daesh fighters,” he told AFP, declining to provide further details on Lemke’s arrest. The SDF has captured at least 50 foreign Daesh fighters over the past three weeks, Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar told AFP on Wednesday. The SDF announced Lemke’s capture in a statement posted on their website on Monday. It said two other militants had also been captured, identifying them as Egyptian national Hussein Fardid and Saudi Arabian militant Salem Al-Shamrani. The three were detained following “two special operations” on January 25 and February 1, it added.”

CBS News: ISIS Territory Almost Fully Reclaimed, But Is U.S. Leaving The Job “Halfway” Done?

“President Trump said he expects to announce the final defeat of ISIS' so-called “caliphate” within the next week. In late 2014, ISIS held major cities throughout Iraq and Syria, but U.S. officials now say the group has lost more than 99 percent of that territory. The territorial defeat of the terror group may now be down to just a matter of days, with the U.S.-led coalition and its allies advancing on the last sliver of territory still under ISIS control. But as CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata reports from the front line in eastern Syria, with the militants concentrated in such a small area, all the fighting that's left to do is at extremely close range. The CBS News team had to run from a suspected ISIS rocket as the fighting raged this week. An airstrike slammed into an ISIS target much closer than anyone expected. It was followed immediately by a whirring noise, feared to be the sound an incoming ISIS mortar that flew right over their heads, sending everyone scrambling. Kurdish soldiers eventually shouted for everyone to break cover and run to a safer place. Reaching that last strip of ISIS-held territory meant a sprint through the desert to avoid ISIS ambushes to an abandoned home, which is now a forward operating base for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).”

Arab News: HRW Warns Against Secret Transfer Of Militants From Syria

“Any transfers of suspected foreign militants and their relatives out of Syria should be transparent, Human Rights Watch told AFP, as camps in the northeast fill with families of different nationalities. With the crumbling of Daesh, France is now considering bringing dozens of accused French militants, as well as their wives and children, back home from the detention centers and camps run by US-backed forces fighting Daesh. “We would definitely like to be present (during the transfer), or at least there should be some transparency,” Nadim Houry, HRW’s director of counter-terrorism, told AFP in the northern Syrian town of Amuda late on Wednesday. “As we speak, there may already be transfers happening. There’s been a total lack of transparency, and bad things happen in the dark,” he warned. Tens of thousands of foreigners are estimated to have joined Daesh since 2014, but they have streamed out of the militants’ collapsing “caliphate” in recent years. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are bearing down on the shrinking pocket of Daesh territory in east Syria, told AFP they were detaining foreign fighters on a “daily basis.”

Reuters: U.N. Urges Full Rights For Syria's Displaced Children

“A U.N. watchdog urged Syria on Thursday to grant full rights to its displaced children, adding that thousands had been killed, tortured or enslaved during the country’s civil war. Rights experts said all children living in opposition-held areas and returning as refugees should be given official documents and full access to health, education and social services. Many displaced or besieged families had not been able to register births due to the war, yet were being fined for late registration, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child said. The panel of 18 independent experts issued its findings after a two-day review of Syria’s record during the conflict. “The Committee is very concerned about children who are not registered ...in particular those who are displaced or live in besieged and hard-to-reach areas,” panel member Jorge Cardona told a news briefing. Children with Muslim mothers and non-Muslim fathers, or unmarried parents or born as a result of rape were being discriminated against. “We ask the state to change the law to avoid this situation, which results in children that are stateless,” Cardona said. Yasser Kelzy, of Syria’s interior ministry, told the panel that birth registrations had been a major wartime challenge, but that a unified civil status office was being set up.”

Military Times: Guantanamo Prison Looms As Option For Detained ISIS Fighters As US Withdraws From Syria

“The Guantanamo Bay detention center would receive new prisoners for the first time in more than a decade under one option being considered as the U.S. withdraws its forces from Syria and works to resolve the fate of hundreds of captured suspected Islamic State fighters, officials say. U.S.-backed Syrian fighters have custody of nearly 1,000 suspected ISIS fighters who the State Department said should be sent back to their home countries and prosecuted. The Syrian fighters have warned they may not be able to continue to hold the ISIS fighters after the withdrawal of American forces from Syria ordered by President Donald Trump in December. If they can't be repatriated, though, the detention center on the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could be used to hold them “where lawful and appropriate,” the State Department said Thursday. “The Administration's National Strategy for Counterterrorism makes very clear that Law of Armed Conflict detention, including at Guantanamo, remains an important and effective counterterrorism tool,” it said in a statement to The Associated Press in response to questions about the prisoners. What to do with hundreds of foreign Islamic State fighters captured in Syria has become a critical and growing problem for the Trump administration as it prepares to pull troops out of the country."

The Jerusalem Post:  What Happens After US Withdrawal From Syria?

“Six weeks after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from Syria, the US-led coalition of 79 partner countries and organizations gathered in Washington on Thursday to assess the fight against ISIS and the situation in eastern Syria. At the meeting, held the day after his State of the Union address, Trump praised the Coalition’s partners and the Syrian Democratic Forces for liberating “virtually all the territory previously held by ISIS.” The confab took place as ISIS is largely defeated, having lost 99.5% of its territory, according to recent Defense Department estimates. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said 110,000 sq. km. of territory had been liberated and seven million people freed from ISIS control in the last four and a half years. He laid out the coalition’s strategy going forward, saying the US is committed to Iraq’s security forces, and to preventing ISIS threats to the partner countries. He encouraged every one of the 79 members to “put our money where our mouth is.” This would include investing in “civilian stabilization assistance,” the programs that would return areas liberated from ISIS to functioning and safe parts of their respective countries. “Our final objective is to promote justice for victims.”


Fox News: Iran May Release Huge Number Of Prisoners

“Iran claims it will pardon a “large number” of prisoners to mark the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, though how many of those locked up might actually get out remains an open question, according to Sky News. State TV in Iran has not confirmed the exact figure, but some reports have said as many as 50,000 prisoners would either be freed, or have their sentences reduced. If true, that number would represent about 20 percent of the estimated 250,000 prisoners in Iran. Among those prisoners are a huge number of political prisoners, according to human rights groups and Iranian exiles. How many of those held for political beliefs or activity might be released is also unknown. It’s a particularly hard question to answer, because Iranian officials claim there are no political prisoners. Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Amoli Larijani made that claim Monday, where he reportedly referenced the 50,000 who might be released. Dismissing the calls for the release of people held because of their opposition to the regime, he said “we currently do not have such prisoners.”

The Washington Post: Trump Is Moving Us Closer To War With Iran

“Throughout his tenure, President Trump has directed rhetorical barbs at Iran’s regime, including in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, during which he said: “My administration has acted decisively to confront the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, the radical regime in Iran…To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal.” That’s mild compared to last year’s tweet putting Iran’s president on notice: Taken on their own, his words aren’t a total departure from those of other politicians: In his 2002 State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush marked Iran as part of an “axis of evil.” In 2007, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) quipped, “Bomb Iran? Bomb, bomb, bomb. . .” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.” But as president, Trump has been more consistent with his aggressive posture toward Iran than he has on many other issues. In his first two years in office, the changes he has made to his Cabinet, the disregard he has shown for diplomacy and his choices in the Middle East all conspire to make war with Iran a growing danger. First, there are now fewer voices of restraint on Iran inside the White House.”


Al Jazeera: Kurds In Iraq Say US Withdrawal From Syria A Mistake

“A pair of armoured vehicles parked in a corner of the Peshmerga headquarters in northern Iraq form a stark reminder of the threat the region is facing by ISIL. “They were full of explosives when we captured them,” Kurdish Peshmerga commander General Sirwan Barzani said, as he discussed the battle his forces fought two years ago against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).  ISIL fighters came within 25km of Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, before the Peshmerga got the upper hand in continuous battles, retaking control of towns in the region from 2014 to 2016. While ISIL has since been driven from Mosul and other towns and villages in northern Iraq, they are still active in the area, Barzani said. The current Kurdish-run Peshmerga front line is situated along the high ridge running north from the town of Makhmur, about 65km southwest of Erbil to Gwer, behind which ISIL fighters are hiding in the caves and on cliff faces on steep hills, Barzani said; it is terrain that makes it difficult to dislodge them. A military operation last year to rid the area of ISIL was only partially successful, Barzani said, blaming constraints placed on his battle plan by Iraqi officials and US and coalition forces.”

Voice Of America: UN: Clearing Iraq's Mosul From Explosives to Take Decades

“The U.N. Mine Action Service (UNMAS) estimates it could take 10 years to clear Mosul, Iraq, of landmines and decades longer to free this former Islamic State stronghold of thousands of tons of other explosive hazards. The nearly year-long battle by Iraqi forces to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants has left the city with a legacy of death and destruction. An estimated 800,000 people fled Mosul during the conflict.  Most would like to return to their homes. But officials with the U.N. Mine Action Service say the old city of Mosul has been flattened and they cannot return. They say no buildings are left standing and the city is heavily contaminated with landmines and explosive hazards. Chief of the UNMAS program in Iraq, Pehr Lodhammer, told VOA these weapons must be cleared before people can return home safely. He said unexploded ordnance, booby traps and other explosive devices are particularly hazardous. “People are getting injured, yes. But there is also more of a tendency that people actually are getting killed by those devices rather than injured because of the explosive weight. And, the fact that many of them are also within a container that is made from metal, creating fragmentation,” Lodhammer.”

Arab News: Iraq’s Shiite Militants Vow To Oust US Troops — By Law Or Force

“Ousting US troops from Iraq despite President Donald Trump’s vow to stay is now the top goal of pro-Iranian Shiite armed groups. And their leaders say there are only two ways — by passing a new law, or by force. US-Iraq relations have grown tense once again, after a series of ups and downs over the years, from the 1990 Gulf war though crippling sanctions to the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and the fight against Daesh. But a year after Iraq declared victory over Daesh following a three-year war against the militants in which it was also backed by Iran, the Americans are seen by some as an unwanted “occupying force.” And if they do stay, “every Iraqi will have the legitimate right to confront them by any means,” warned Mohammed Mohie, spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq, a force close to Iran that has also fought on the side of President Bashar Assad in Syria. The powerful leader of the Asaib Ahel Al-Haq armed group, Qais Al-Khazali, echoed the warning. “If we are ever needed, we are ready,” he said. There were nearly 4,500 US troops killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, including in fighting with Shiite armed groups. But before any decision to take up arms again and spill more blood, Mohie said he wants to give lawmakers a chance to set a time frame for the departure of US troops from Iraq.”

Arab News: Iraqi Armed Factions Hit Daesh Targets Inside Syria

“Iraqi armed factions said Thursday they have launched dozens of missiles targeting Daesh militants holed up in a Syrian village across the border. The state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces said they fired 50 missiles at targets in Baghouz village, in the last speck of territory held by the extremists. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported shelling from the Iraqi side but had no details on casualties. Iraq’s military has bombed Daesh posts inside Syria before, but the militias — many of which are backed by Iran — rarely engage in cross-border shelling. The militias’ social media account claimed to have shelled inside Syria last on Feb. 1. Daesh claims to have downed a PMF-operated drone in Baghouz on Wednesday. Some PMF factions are fighting inside Syria. Daesh has lost virtually all the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq. Hundreds of militants are now confined to a small area where they are surrounded by Syrian fighters backed by US-led airstrikes. US President Donald Trump said the militants will have lost all their territory by next week. He said the US will not relent in fighting remnants of the extremist organization despite his decision to withdraw American troops from Syria over the objections of some of his top national security advisers.”

Air Force Times: Like Trump, Troops Say We Should Watch Iran — But Maybe Not By Increasing Our Forces In Iraq

“Troops agree with President Donald Trump that we should keep an eye on Iran — but that doesn’t mean they want a big presence in Iraq to do so, the results of a recent Military Times poll suggest. On Sunday, Trump told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he planned on moving the roughly 2,000 troops currently stationed in Syria to Iraq so the U.S. can better “watch Iran.””All I want to do is be able to watch,” Trump said. “We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It’s perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East.” In an October Military Times poll, which included responses from nearly 900 active-duty troops, 51 percent of respondents said the U.S. should either slightly or substantially decrease its force levels in Iraq, with fewer than 20 percent saying we should slightly or substantially increase our presence. Meanwhile, 40 percent of troops see Iran as a significant or very significant threat and an additional 37 percent view the country as a moderate threat. That said, service members view Iran as a lesser threat than cyber terrorism, foreign Islamic terrorists, China or Russia.”


Reuters: Russia Tells Turkey To Do More To Clear Syria's Idlib Of Militants

“Russia demanded Turkey do more to tackle militants in Syria’s Idlib province and fulfil promises it made as part of a deal with Moscow last year, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday. Turkey and Russia, the Syrian government’s principal foreign ally, brokered a deal in September to create a demilitarised zone in the northwest Idlib region that would be evacuated of all heavy weapons and jihadist fighters. The deal helped avert a government assault on the area, the last major bastion of opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Zakharova said the situation there was rapidly deteriorating and that militant fighters were trying to seize control of the entire de-escalation zone. ”Given the extremely difficult situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone, we expect our Turkish partners to activate their efforts to ultimately turn the tide and to fully carry out the obligations they took upon themselves...,” Zakharova was quoted as saying by the foreign ministry. The comments came with Russian President Vladimir Putin due to meet the leaders of Turkey and Iran next week at a summit in the southern Russian city of Sochi where they are expected to discuss Syria.”


The New York Times: Why A Deal With The Taliban Will Prevent Attacks On America

“The United States and the Taliban made progress in peace talks in late January after coming to a basic understanding about withdrawing American troops in return for Taliban commitments to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for transnational terrorists. An agreement between the United States and the Taliban has been long overdue — as part of a broader settlement also involving the Taliban's Afghan opponents — and is the way out of a war without victory. The fear of Afghanistan-based terrorists attacking the United States has been the key reason for keeping American troops in the country and keeping the Taliban out of power, but it is rooted more in perception than in reality. The transnational terrorist threat from Afghanistan has been exaggerated. For years, I have puzzled over claims from American and Afghan officials that 20 terrorist groups operate in Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan, portrayed the country as a “front line” in the global fight against terrorism. These statements make the Afghan conflict appear terribly chaotic. The reality is that the Afghan war is a two-sided struggle, something increasingly rare in the fragmented landscape of modern warfare.”

Al Jazeera: Russia Says Ready To Help Taliban Talks On US Withdrawal

“A top Russian diplomat has met with Taliban representatives and expressed Moscow's support for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The meeting came after two days of talks between prominent Afghan figures and Taliban representatives in Moscow and contradictory statements about an immediate US forces pullout from the country. A senior Taliban official said on Wednesday the United States promised to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, but later retracted the assertion.  The head of the Taliban delegation said no time had been fixed for a US withdrawal from the country and negotiations were in progress. The US' chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad also refuted the claim in a tweet. Zamir Kabulovm, the Russian presidential envoy on Afghanistan, told the RIA Novosti news agency on Thursday that Russia is willing to help talks between the US and the Taliban on the withdrawal of US troops. It wasn't clear what assistance the Russians would offer. Kabulov also said Moscow would be willing to support lifting sanctions on the Taliban as long as other UN Security Council members were also on board.”

Arab News: US Envoy Denies Taliban Claim On Foreign Troop Withdrawal 

“The US special envoy to Afghanistan on Thursday denied Taliban claims of a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. Senior Taliban negotiator Abdul Salam Hanafi said that US diplomats had agreed to remove half of the 14,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of April and that the withdrawal process had already begun. US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad denied this assertion, tweeting: “I’ve heard some Taliban officials claim we have a troop withdrawal timetable for Afghanistan ... To be clear, no troop withdrawal timetable exists.” There were six days of peace talks in Doha — where Hanafi said the timetable had been set — but there have also been talks elsewhere as the insurgents meet top officials from Asia, Europe and beyond to reach a political settlement aimed at ending the war. The Taliban refuses to meet the Afghan government, dismissing it a puppet of the West, and insists that foreign troops must leave the country. Hanafi made the troop withdrawal claim in Moscow, where Taliban delegates held talks with prominent Afghan politicians. Kabul objected to the meeting, with one army general describing at as a “white coup” against the government.  “It was like a white coup and a warning for Ghani.”


Reuters: Exclusive: Once Spoiler, Pakistan Starts Behind-Scenes Aid To U.S.-Taliban Talks

“Pakistan, long at odds with the United States over the war in Afghanistan, has begun to play a behind-the-scenes but central role in supporting U.S. peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, including by facilitating travel to negotiations, U.S. officials and Taliban sources tell Reuters. The Pakistani assistance, which has not been reported in such detail before, also includes exerting pressure on Taliban leaders who fail to cooperate, including by detaining members of the militants’ families, the insurgents say.  The Pakistani role in the peace negotiations is a delicate one, with Islamabad seeking to avoid demonstrating the kind of broad influence over the Taliban that Washington has long accused it of having. Sources caution its help could be temporary. The Taliban also do not want to appear beholden to Islamabad, which has long denied U.S. accusations that it provides safe haven and assistance to insurgents as a way to preserve influence in neighboring Afghanistan throughout its more than 17-year-old war. President Donald Trump has repeatedly signaled his intention to wind down America’s longest conflict, declaring this week in his State of the Union address that “great nations do not fight endless wars.” 


Reuters: Yemen's Houthis: Prisoner Swap Talks Could Drag On For Months

“Talks on a U.N.-sponsored prisoner swap in Yemen’s war could drag on for months if the Saudi-backed government denies the existence of thousands of Houthi fighters in captivity, the Iranian-aligned Houthis said on Thursday. In two rounds of talks in the Jordanian capital Amman, the warring parties have been hammering out details of the prisoner exchange they agreed last December as a confidence-building gesture at the first major peace talks of the nearly four-year-old war. The United Nations is pushing for the swap and for a peace deal in the country’s main port city of Hodeidah as part of stepped up efforts to end the nearly four-year conflict that has left 15.9 million people facing severe hunger. Delegates to the talks have been struggling to come with a final list of detainees after verifying an initial one they exchanged in Sweden that had around 15,000 people. Abdul Qader Murtada, who heads the Houthi delegation, said the government side had accounted for only a tenth of a total of 7,500 of Houthi prisoners held in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.”

Xinhua: Yemeni Army Commander Killed In Battle Against Houthi Rebels Near Saudi Border

“A Yemeni army commander was killed on Thursday in a battle against Houthi rebels in the northwestern province of Hajjah, pro-government media Almasdar Online reported. Ahmed Abu Hadi, commander of the First Division of the Yemeni Special Forces Brigade, was killed along with dozens of soldiers in the early morning when the government troops attempted to repel an attack by the Houthi rebels in the east of Harad district near the southern border of Saudi Arabia. The government troops managed to repel the hours-long attack, which also led to the injury of dozens of soldiers. Meanwhile, the Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for killing Abu Hadi, another Yemeni military officer, according to a statement carried by the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency. Harad, a small district located about 6 km south of the Saudi border province of Jizan, is in the control of the Yemeni government troops backed by the Saudi-led coalition forces. The Special Forces Brigade is one of the Yemeni brigades re-established in 2015 near the Saudi southern borders with the task of advancing toward the northern rebel-held provinces of Hajjah, Saada and Jawf. Thursday's deadly attack was the latest by the rebels against the government troops.”

Saudi Arabia

The Washington Post: Saudi Study: Millennial Jihadis Educated, Not Outcasts

“A study by a Saudi research center is challenging the notion that jihadi fighters are necessarily disenfranchised and lacking opportunity, with its lead researcher saying Thursday that a new generation of Saudi militants are relatively well-educated, not driven purely by religious ideology and show little interested in suicide missions. The 40-page study, published by the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in conjunction with the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College in London, looked at 759 Saudi recruits who joined the Islamic State group mostly between 2013 and 2014. That’s roughly a third of the overall number of Saudis who fought in Syria. The data was drawn from leaked Islamic State group entry documents. The Saudi Interior Ministry previously said that 2,500 Saudis had gone to Syria in the years before the kingdom criminalized fighting abroad in early 2014. Only Tunisia sent more foreign fighters. Subsequently, the kingdom was the target of numerous IS group attacks that killed dozens of people, as well as in Kuwait. Researcher Abdullah bin Khaled Al-Saud said the fighters were neither loners nor social outcasts but appear to have been motivated by the heightened sectarianism that began to color the 2011 Syrian revolution as it slid into armed conflict.”


Libya Observer: Foreign Minister Urges Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS To Include Libya In Rebuilding Program

“The Foreign Minister of the Libyan Presidential Council's government Mohammed Sayala called on the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS to include Libya in the rebuilding program, citing massive destruction in the country due to the fighting against ISIS. Sayala also added at the conference of Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS member states' foreign ministers in Washington that the coalition should also help Libya in education, media, and development. The conference was attended by the US President Donald Trump and foreign ministers of 79 member states of the coalition, besides representatives of international organizations. “Coordination among the member states is very vital given the growing threat of terrorism with the persistent influx of illegal immigrants via the borders. Also, surveillance to track foreign fighters and undermining the funding of terrorists shall be also part of coordination among all involved countries.” Sayala told the conference's attendees. He also asked for more support for the role of police, army and intelligence apparatuses in fighting terrorism, saying the Presidential Council is ready to coordinate with the coalition in those regards.”


Premium Times: Boko Haram Is Defeated; Nigeria Now Facing ‘Global Insurgency’ — Minister

“The Nigerian government is insisting that its military has “successfully defeated” Boko Haram insurgents, but says the country is now facing a fresh crisis, which it called a “global insurgency.” The government stated this when it launched a national campaign to rally the support of the citizens behind the troops, especially those fighting the insurgency in the northeast. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, announced the launch of the campaign on Thursday in Abuja. Mr Mohammed said Nigerian troops have “successfully cleared the remnant of the home-grown insurgency called Boko Haram and are now being confronted by a fresh crisis, a global insurgency. “A faction of Boko Haram has aligned with the global terror group, ISIS, to form ISWAP, the Islamic State’s West African Province. In other words, ISIS now has a strong foothold in West Africa – with Nigeria at the forefront of the battle against them. “With ISIS largely dislodged from Iraq and Syria, there is undoubtedly a flush of fresh fighters and weapons to ISWAP. Therefore, our military is fighting a global insurgency, without the kind of global coalition, including the United States, that battled ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” he said. There has been a resurgence in attacks on Nigerian soldiers by the insurgents since last year.”


Voice Of America: Burkina Faso Plagued By Terror Attacks, Rights Allegations

“The Burkina Faso government claims to have killed 146 jihadists in the country's north this week, but Human Rights Watch says it believes some of the dead are civilians. The military is also implicated in dozens of extrajudicial killings in the same region. The international rights group says some of the nearly 150 men killed were innocent civilians who were pulled from their homes and executed in front of their families. “It is entirely possible that a good number of those people that the army are alleging are so-called terrorists are in fact civilians or suspects who were killed unlawfully,” said Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Human Rights Watch. “I spoke with a few people with knowledge of the incidents. One of them described speaking with women who were weeping, talking about how their husbands had been taken from their homes and killed in front of them.” The Burkina Faso military did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations. The nation's army commander reports Thursday that terrorists killed five paramilitary police and wounded three others in retaliation for this week’s counterterror operation. Earlier this week, leaders of the so-called G5 Sahel Forces met to discuss regional efforts to combat Islamist militants in the region.”

Daily Nation: Kenya Joins Global Coalition Against Islamic State

“Kenya has joined a grouping of countries collaborating against terror merchants Isis, even as government officials criticised what they called a “pattern” of travel advisories during attacks. On Tuesday, Kenya was formally accepted into the Global Coalition against Daesh (also known as Isil, Islamic State, or Isis), seeking to benefit from information shared and systems the countries use to tame financial flows to the terror group. The coalition brings together 79 countries across the globe. The group which also includes the US and UK says it works together to dismantle networks of Isis and countering its networks, and according to its website: “Financing and economic infrastructure; preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across borders; supporting stabilisation and the restoration of essential public services to areas liberated from Daesh; and countering the group’s propaganda.” Foreign Affairs Cabinet Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba who led the Kenyan delegation said joining the coalition will help Kenya to benefit from the methods used to curtail financing as well as discourage recruitment of fighters, as well as allow Nairobi to push through beneficial policies on terror on the global stage.”

News 24: Sahel Leaders Seek UN Help Against Jihadist Attacks

“Five nations waging a battle against jihadi fighters in the Sahel asked the UN on Tuesday for money and other aid to help tackle a scourge which claimed more lives even as officials met. Leaders of the so-called G5 Sahel - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger - gathered in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou seeking to beef up the battle against jihadists who have killed hundreds of civilians and inflicted crippling economic damage. In the latest incident, five security personnel were killed on Tuesday in a what the army called a “terrorist” attack in northern Burkina Faso. “A military detachment from forces ensuring security in the north at Oursi, in the Sahel were attacked by terrorists,” the army said in a statement. “Five gendarmes were killed and three injured, including two seriously,” it said, shortly after another similar attack Monday left 14 civilians dead. In a statement issued at the close of a one-day meeting, the G5 renewed their “concern” over the situation, and called for “closer cooperation between the G5 Sahel and the United Nations”. This should include assistance to a joint G5 military force under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which can authorise measures to help a country “which finds itself confronted with special economic problems” arising from “prevention and enforcement measures” aimed at safeguarding peace, they said.”

United Kingdom

The Guardian: UN Tells UK: Stop Using Terror Charges Against Peaceful Protesters

“UN human rights experts have demanded that the UK cease the use of security and terrorism-related charges against peaceful protesters, after 15 anti-deportation activists were prosecuted for an offence carrying a potential life sentence. They described the use of the charge – which had to be signed off by the attorney general – as disproportionate for non-violent protesters. “It appears that such charges were brought to deter others from taking similar peaceful direct action to defend human rights and in particular the protection of asylum seekers,” they said. The experts, from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote to the government at the beginning of February, drawing ministers’ attention to the importance of the right to peaceful protest after the group, known as the Stansted 15, were prosecuted for endangering the safety of an aerodrome after blocking the departure of an immigration removal flight. The rapporteurs’ letter will remain private for 60 days to give the government an opportunity to respond, a spokesman said. However, details of the letter were alluded to in a statement published on the OHCHR website.”


Channel NewsAsia: Alleged Brussels Museum Killer Was 'Sadistic' Syria Jailer

“Two French journalists on Thursday (Feb 7) told a terrorism trial in Brussels that they had “no doubt” the accused Jewish museum killer is the man who imprisoned and tortured them in Syria. The former hostages came to Brussels to testify against Mehdi Nemmouche, who faces life in prison if convicted of four anti-Semitic murders in the Belgian capital on May 24, 2014. Nemmouche, a 33-year-old Frenchman, smiled several times as he looked at the journalists during their testimony. “I have absolutely no doubt about the fact that Mehdi Nemmouche who is present here was my jailer and torturer in Syria under the name of Abu Omar,” former hostage Nicolas Henin told the trial. Henin described Nemmouche as a “sadistic, playful and narcissistic” man. He said Nemmouche expressed “admiration” for Mohammed Merah in the year after he shot dead a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse in 2012. Merah, a self-described Al-Qaeda sympathiser, also shot dead three French soldiers nearby three days earlier. Journalist Didier Francois also said he “had no doubt” Nemmouche was the man who held him hostage.”