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Old 01-11-2019, 06:46 AM
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Arrow Eye on Extremism January 11, 2019

Eye on Extremism
January 11, 2019
RE: info@counterextremism.com

The Wall Street Journal: Pentagon Pushes Forward On Syria Pullout

“The U.S. military is moving ahead with its plans to withdraw all troops from Syria, in keeping with a White House directive in December, even though a U.S.-Turkey rift appears likely to delay the pullout, defense officials said. White House national security adviser John Boltonsaid this week that the U.S. wouldn’t leave Syria until Turkey promised not to target the U.S.’s Kurdish partners, provoking a furor during his visit to Ankara and throwing the withdrawal plan into turmoil. But the defense officials said the Pentagon hasn’t received any new direction and until it does, officials are proceeding with withdrawal plans. Scores of ground troops are headed toward Syria to help move troops out, and a group of naval vessels headed by the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge is headed to the region to back up troops at the vulnerable moment they are leaving the country, the officials said. The Kearsarge carries hundreds of Marines, helicopters and other aircraft. “Nothing has changed,” one defense official said. “We don’t take orders from Bolton.” To account for shifts in plans, the military will stage the personnel and equipment needed for a possible withdrawal, rather than move the U.S. forces out.”

Reuters: U.S. Committed To Dismantling Islamic State In Middle East: Pompeo

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the United States was a “force for good” in the Middle East and remained committed to the “complete dismantling” of the Islamic State threat despite its decision to withdraw troops from Syria. “When America retreats, chaos follows,” he said in a speech at the American University in Cairo in which he also urged Middle Eastern countries to do more to combat Islamic State militants.”

Fox News: Exclusive: Pompeo Announces International Summit On Iran

“The United States will host an international summit next month to promote stability and freedom in the Middle East, focusing on Iran’s regional influence, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an exclusive Fox News interview, while traveling in the Middle East. "We'll bring together dozens of countries from all around the world,” said Pompeo, announcing the February 13-14 event in Poland. "Countries will all come together to focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence." Pompeo added that the summit will bring together countries from Asia, Africa, the Western Hemisphere, Europe and the Middle East. The announcement is the latest step in the Trump administration’s pursuit of what it calls a "pressure campaign" against Iran that includes withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement and restoring sanctions the U.S. once lifted as part of the deal.”

The Wall Street Journal: Terror Group Seizes Last Syrian Opposition Stronghold

“A powerful extremist group seized control of most of Syria’s last opposition stronghold on Thursday, threatening a fragile cease fire intended to avert a Syrian military offensive and likely humanitarian catastrophe. Russia and Turkey reached a deal in September to create a demilitarized buffer zone in northwest Idlib province to forestall a Syrian government offensive against rebel groups, many of whom are backed by Ankara. The truce has largely held since mid-October despite the activities of one terrorist group there—Hayat Tahrir al-Sham—which refuses to abide by it. But over the past two weeks, the group has stepped up attacks on the Turkish-backed rebel groups and taken control over many towns. Then on Thursday, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham struck a truce with those rival groups, giving it administrative control over nearly all of Idlib and small surrounding areas, according to a copy of the handwritten agreement posted online. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which evolved from the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and other countries. It has said the cease-fire deal in Idlib was a plot to weaken opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

The Guardian: Separate Jailed Islamist Extremists From Other Inmates, Says Expert

“A former prison governor who led an official review into Islamist extremism in prisons has said jails in the UK have become “incubators” of radical behaviour, and repeated calls for the most subversive offenders to be separated from other inmates. Ian Acheson, who led the independent government review of Islamist extremism in prisons and probation in 2016, said the high number of lower-tariff extremist offenders entering squalid, overcrowded jails, combined with a low chance of them receiving treatment for their behaviour, were behind the worsening problem. He called for the “enlightened separation of extremist ideologues” in prison, but acknowledged it was a “controversial” recommendation. Acheson, writing in an essay published by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said: “In 2018, 41% of convictions for terrorism-related offences were of sentences of four years or less. In particular, these lower-tariff prisoners enter a penal system severely disordered by overcrowding, squalor and insufficient staff. “The prospect of them receiving treatment for their offending behaviour in this environment pales beside the pragmatic attraction of safety in religious or ideological groups that provide security, kudos and structure.”

The Jerusalem Post: IDF Chief: Hezbollah Planned To Infiltrate 1,500 Fighters Into Israel

“IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot said Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah was planning to infiltrate 1,500 fighters into Israel through the series of tunnels the military has recently discovered along the border. Eisenkot made the comments in an interview with Hadashot News on Thursday. Israel embarked on Operation Northern Shield in early December to expose and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels.”

United States

Fox News: Venezuela, Iran And Hezbollah - All Hostile To The US - Forge Closer Ties

“As Iran and Venezuela become increasingly isolated and sanctioned by the U.S and much of the international community, the two governments are said to be tightening their bond - with the help of Tehran's proxy group, Hezbollah, in the middle of the action. "Training between Iran and Venezuela has increased in the past few years as part of a larger plan between the Venezuelan regime, consisting of increasing the number of Hezbollah operatives and their supporters across Latin America,” Johan Obdola, President of the Canada-based Global Organization for Intelligence (IOSI) and former counter-narcotics chief in Venezuela, told Fox News. “(Hassan) Rouhani and (Nicolas) Maduro have established a very firm and close relationship, which was of course initiated by (Hugo) Chavez.” Venezuela’s connections to Iran – and by default its proxy militia, Hezbollah – go back more than a decade. Hezbollah, which translates to “The Party of God,” is an Iran-backed, Shiite-dominant political and military group that began in Lebanon in 1982, following the Israeli occupation. It was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S State Department in 1997.”

The Wall Street Journal: The Bin Laden Attack That The U.S. Failed To Answer

“On New Year’s Day, a Yemeni jihadist named Jamal al-Badawi was driving by himself east of the Yemeni capital of San’a, unaware that it was the last day of his life. He was killed by an American precision strike, according to U.S. defense officials. If Badawi felt surprise in his final moments, it may have been because he assumed that he had evaded justice—and because so few people now seem to remember the audacious and unanswered attack that he had once helped to plan. In October 2000, Badawi was part of an al Qaeda cell whose operatives rammed into the USS Cole off the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors and wounding 40 more. It was the last major al Qaeda attack before 9/11, and it remains perhaps the most troubling episode in the history of U.S. efforts against Osama bin Laden—for the simple reason that neither President Bill Clinton nor President George W. Bush ever retaliated for the Cole attack.”

The Wall Street Journal: Pompeo Courts Arab Support Against Iran While Touting U.S.’s Mideast Role

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used a speech here to rally the Arab world against Iran, casting the Islamic Republic as the Trump administration’s top concern in the region at a pivotal moment in U.S.-Mideast relations. His address at the American University in Cairo on Thursday comes as he tries to reassure U.S. allies rattled by President Trump’s sudden decision in December to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. The planned departure was in keeping with Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to wind down American wars abroad, but the abrupt timing of the decision unsettled U.S.-aligned states grappling with war, political crises and extremist threats. Mr. Pompeo offered a rebuttal of the notion that the planned withdrawal from Syria in particular suggested the U.S. was abandoning the region. “Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over,” he said. His remarks also reflected the Trump administration’s broader effort to cast Iran as an obstacle to peace and promote the U.S. as the preferred partner for progress and prosperity in the region. “The nations of the Middle East will never enjoy security, achieve economic stability, or advance the dreams of their people if Iran’s revolutionary regime persists on its current course,” he said.”

BBC News: US To Expel Every Last Iranian Boot From Syria - Pompeo

“The US will work with allies to “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says. Mr Pompeo warned there would be no US reconstruction aid for areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar al Assad until Iran and its proxies had left. He also criticised ex-President Barack Obama's Middle East policy, saying he had made “dire misjudgements”. Mr Pompeo was speaking in Cairo three weeks after President Donald Trump said US troops were pulling out of Syria. The announcement had shocked US allies and sparked strong criticism in Washington. Mr Pompeo, who has been seeking to reassure allies following Mr Trump's surprise announcement, said: “America will not retreat until the terror fight is over. We will labour tirelessly alongside you to defeat Isis [the Islamic State group], al-Qaeda and other jihadists that threaten our security and yours.” He said that the US was a “force for good” in the Middle East, adding: “Where America retreats, chaos follows.” Iran, alongside Russia, has been supporting the Syrian government in the Syrian civil war, providing arms, military advisers, and reportedly combat troops. The US is deeply suspicious of Iranian activity in the Middle East and views it as a destabilising force in the region.”

The New York Times: U.S. Begins Syria Withdrawal, Amid Uncertainty Over Strategy

“The United States has started withdrawing its troops from Syria, an American military spokesman said on Friday, further muddling the Trump administration’s plans for disengagement from one of the Middle East’s most complex battlefields. As recently as Sunday, President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, had said that the pullout was conditional on circumstances that could leave American forces there for months or even years. That followed by less than a month President Trump’s announcement that he intended to pull out the roughly 2,000 American troops within 30 days. The surprise announcement came in a statement from Col. Sean Ryan, the spokesman for the United States-led coalition against the Islamic State. Colonel Ryan said the coalition had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” adding that he would provide no further information about “specific timelines, locations or troop movements.”

PJ Media: ISIS Threat Depicts Exploding Capitol To Coincide With Start Of 116th Congress

“An ISIS-allied media group continued threats against the U.S. Capitol in a violent image released as new lawmakers were sworn into office. In the image, a white jihadist wearing military gear and a black ski mask stands outside the front of the Capitol as an explosion detonates in the dome. Both the House and Senate ends are depicted in flames. “And fight them until there is no fitnah,” states the text on the image. Fitnah means a test or trial. Islamic scholars have clarified the term as separating the bad from the good and “burning them with fire” and a word “often used to describe tests in which something disliked is eliminated”: “Fitnah means testing, fitnah means trial, fitnah means wealth, fitnah means children, fitnah means kufr, fitnah means differences of opinion among people, fitnah means burning with fire.” The same group behind the threat also this month released an image of a jihadist attacking President Trump as he's inside a vehicle, with the directive “Fight them for they are polytheists.” Another poster circulated online depicted a gray-sweatshirt-wearing jihadist wielding a long knife, telling lone jihadists to wage jihad where they are in “the land of disbelief.” “The ways to carry out jihad where you live have not been shut down.”

Syria

The Times Of Israel: Report: US To Leave Troops In Southern Syria As Bulwark Against Iran

“A draft paper outlining US plans for withdrawing from Syria includes leaving troops in place at a position near the Iraqi and Jordanian border seen as a key stopgap against Iranian entrenchment in the country. The document, described as a proposal, was presented to Turkish officials as US National Security Adviser John Bolton visited Ankara earlier this week to discuss the planned pullout, according to London-based news website Middle East Eye, citing an unnamed Turkish official. The Thursday report came as an American official told CNN the US had begun moving some equipment out of Syria, marking the start with of the withdrawal from the war-torn state. Most US forces are concentrated in the northeast of Syria, where the last bastions of the Islamic State terror group are located, but soldiers also maintain a base near southern Syria in an area known as al-Tanf, on the Iraqi border.”

The Wall Street Journal: Early Withdrawal Will Lead To More Terrorism

“America has a new counterterrorism policy: retrenchment. Declaring victory over ISIS, the Trump administration seeks to bring home the modest number of U.S. military personnel deployed to Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Sahel region of Africa, and outsource what remains of the fight to others. This is a dangerous move that threatens to wipe out the administration’s hard-won progress on counterterrorism. Proponents of U.S. withdrawal cite the destruction of ISIS’ caliphate and the loss of virtually all the territory it once controlled. Thousands of its fighters have been killed since 2014 by Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and the U.S.-led coalition in Syria and Iraq, and terrorist incidents are on the decline world-wide. The picture in the U.S. is even more sanguine. The last significant ISIS-inspired attack in America—in which an Uzbek man plowed his vehicle into pedestrians in New York City, killing eight and injuring a dozen—occurred more than a year ago. But that doesn’t mean the threat is gone. Surprise and shock are terrorists’ age-old stock in trade. If terrorism were predictable, it would lose the power that makes it the preferred tactic of America’s most intractable enemies. And many indicators point in an ominous direction. Start with ISIS.”

The Washington Post: Don’t Let Islamic State Monsters Get Away With Murder

“It was 2014 when the public executions of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Peter Kassig awakened the American public and the world to the threat of the Islamic State. In January 2018, U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria captured Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two members of the British jihadist group known as “the Beatles” allegedly responsible for these Americans’ kidnappings, torture and murder. Soon after their capture, the families of the U.S. victims and their advocates in Congress worked together to make the case to Trump administration officials that these hateful killers must be brought to justice in the United States where they can be tried in a fair and open legal system. We continue to believe strongly that these men must not become martyrs to their heinous cause. The Islamic State is masterful at propaganda and will undoubtedly exploit any extrajudicial punishment. Throughout this process, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a mostly Kurdish militia, have detained these terrorists, as well as thousands of other Islamic State jihadists in secure detention facilities, aided by the presence of coalition forces and the United States. Despite several obstacles along the path to building a successful legal case against Kotey and Elsheikh, we were hopeful that U.S. officials realized the importance of bringing James’s killers to justice and were similarly devoted to our cause.”

Reuters: U.S.-Led Coalition Says Has Started Syria Withdrawal

“The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, its spokesman said on Friday, affirming the start of a pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from U.S. officials. President Donald Trump announced last month the decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops who have deployed to Syria in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia in the fight against Islamic State. The coalition “has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria. Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements,” Colonel Sean Ryan said.”

CBS News: U.S. Keeps Up Fight In Syria Amid New Threats From Turkey

“The roughly 2,000 U.S. forces in Syria are caught in the middle of mounting diplomatic tension between Turkey and the United States. Turkey said this morning it will launch an offensive against the U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, the YPG, whether or not the Trump administration delays its promised withdrawal of troops. “Our operation against YPG is not dependent on whether U.S. pulls out,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mehmet Cavusoglu said Thursday, adding that Turkey's leader made the decision to launch an offensive against the YPG, which Ankara considers a terror group. Cavusoglu warned that if the fast U.S. pull-out announced by President Trump in December -- the timetable for which the White House has already effectively made indefinite -- was delayed, “then we will put this decision into practice.” But CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata says the diplomatic battle between the U.S. and its NATO ally Turkey over the Kurds' fate has not changed the mission of those protecting American forces on the ground. D'Agata met U.S. service members on board the USS John C. Stennis, which was recently re-deployed to the region, and as he reported from the flight deck on Thursday, they don't do government shutdowns on U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf.”

Channel NewsAsia: Ceasefire Deal Sees Militants Take Over Syria's Idlib

“A militant group dominated by Syria's former Al-Qaeda affiliate on Thursday (Jan 10) sealed its grip on northern Idlib, the last major rebel bastion, in a deal ending days of fighting with rival factions. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) signed a ceasefire with what was left of a rival alliance that sees it confirm its supremacy and unites the region under a militant-led administration. Under an accord reached by rebel backer Turkey and regime ally Russia in September, Ankara was expected to rein in Idlib factions to stave off a threatened government offensive with potentially disastrous humanitarian repercussions. The militants' deal, a copy of which was circulated on local media outlets, brings an immediate end to the fighting between HTS and the rival National Liberation Front (NLF), which was directly backed by Turkey. “This morning, HTS and NLF signed an agreement to put an end to ongoing fighting ... and establish the control of the Salvation Government in all areas,” the group's propaganda channel Ebaa said. The self-proclaimed Salvation Government is an HTS-dominated body which had been administering large parts of the Idlib area, including its eponymous capital.”

Iran

Haaretz: U.S. Will Work To Expel 'Every Last Iranian Boot' From Syria, Pompeo Says In Cairo

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday in a speech to the American University in Cairo, that while Hezbollah is a major presence in Lebanon, the U.S. will not accept this as the status quo. Pompeo also said the U.S. will not let Iran turn Syria into the next Lebanon and will act with diplomacy and partners to "expel every Iranian boot" from Syria. Pompeo delivered a scathing rebuke of the Obama administration's Mideast policies as he denounced the former president for "misguided" and "wishful" thinking that diminished America's role in the region, harmed its longtime friends and emboldened its main foe: Iran. Pompeo unloaded on President Donald Trump's predecessor for being naive and timid when confronted with challenges posed by the revolts that convulsed the Middle East, including Egypt, beginning in 2011. Pompeo laid the blame notably on a vision outlined by President Barack Obama in a speech he gave in Cairo in 2009 in which he spoke of "a new beginning" for U.S. relations with countries in the Arab and Muslim world.”

Foreign Policy: Iran’s Next Supreme Leader Is Dead

“On Christmas Eve (not that it matters in Iran), Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, one of Tehran’s most understated powerbrokers, died after a particularly grueling year combating cancer. Despite his relative anonymity outside Iran compared to his more outspoken and controversial clerical colleagues, Shahroudi was a quintessential establishment figure with unfettered access to the apex of power and, rather unusually, reasonable relations across factional lines. More importantly, he was also touted as a leading candidate to succeed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. His early death not only reshapes but could also greatly polarize the succession politics at play and create more instability for Iran. Shahroudi was born in 1948 in Iraq to Iranian parents, a pedigree (known in Persian as moaved) not unusual among Iran’s political elite, most prominently the Larijani brothers, who currently head the legislature and the judiciary. He studied under the leading clerical authorities in his hometown of Najaf, including the spiritual doyen of Iraq’s Dawa Party, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, and to a lesser extent, Iran’s future Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini. In 1974, Iraq’s Baath regime imprisoned and tortured him and others amid a large-scale crackdown on the Shiite clergy.”

The Express: World War 3: Iran General Vows To Destroy US Army Bases And Threatens Israel Annihilation

“AN IRANIAN military chief has threatened to destroy US army bases in the Middle East in a rant in which he also vowed to “annihilate Israel”. The extraordinary outburst came from Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s deputy commander for cultural and social affairs. Speaking on Iraqi television network Al-Nujaba, the general scoffed at the idea of a US attack on Iran and warned of a swift response if it did. He said: “America will not launch a war against Iran. If it does — a possibility that I rule out — we will destroy all its military bases in the region." He continued: “We currently stand before the gates and barbed wire of their compounds and if they make a wrong move, we will cross those barbed wire fences.” Gen Naqdi also dismissed Saudi military capabilities and described the idea of a Saudi attack on Iran as “very laughable”. He said: “We have a Farsi proverb that goes, ‘You cannot compare an ant to an elephant.”

Bloomberg: Iran’s Tiny Navy Is Trying To Revive The Persian Empire

“On the campaign trail in 2007, Senator John McCain sang a parody to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”: “Bomb, bomb, bomb … bomb, bomb Iran.” That sentiment resonates in the Donald Trump administration, and it’s understandable. The Iranians continue to push their influence throughout the Middle East: using proxies to threaten U.S. allies; supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria; fueling the war in Yemen through support for Houthi rebels; and seeking to destabilize Iraq and gain further influence in Lebanon. Now we face a new twist to Iranian expansionism that demonstrates both Tehran’s ambition and its growing ties to Russia: the Iranian navy announced it will undertake a five-month deployment to the western Atlantic. While it’s unclear how many ships will be involved, Tehran says the flotilla will include a newly built destroyer, the Sahand. Some vessels are expected dock in Venezuela, one of the few countries in the Western Hemisphere that would welcome them. A handful of Iranian combatants in waters close to the U.S. will not send our navy to general quarters, nor should it. Iran’s ships are a couple of generations behind similarly sized U.S. destroyers, and they have nothing remotely like the powerful strike capability of America’s carriers, nuclear submarines and amphibious warships.”

Iraq

Reuters: Car Bomb Blast Kills At Least One In Iraqi Border Town Of Al-Qaim - Military Statement

“A car bomb blast killed at least one person and injured more than a dozen in the Iraqi town of al-Qaim on the Syrian border on Friday, a statement from Iraq’s military said. The military said one person was killed, and 16 people were injured. A local senior police source put the number killed at three, with 23 injured. The military and the police said four members of the security forces were among those injured. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast in al-Qaim, which went off in the middle of a busy market on Friday morning. It was described by the military in its statement as a terrorist attack. Iraq declared victory over Islamic State in December 2017 after two years of fighting. However, Islamic State militants have continued to carry out insurgent-style attacks on security forces across the country. Earlier this week, a car bomb blast killed two people and injured six in Tikrit, a city 150 km (95 miles) northwest of Baghdad. Al-Qaim was recaptured from Islamic State in November 2017 and was the group’s last bastion in Iraq to fall last year.”

Turkey

Xinhua: Hundreds Of Turkey-Backed Rebels To Leave Areas To Al-Qaida-Linked Militants In Northern Syria

“Hundreds of Turkey-backed rebels are expected to leave their positions to the al-Qaida-linked militants in northern Syria within the next 24 hours, a war monitor reported on Thursday. The fighters allied with the National Liberation Front (NLF) are expected to leave their areas to the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in the province of Idlib in northwestern Syria and the countryside of Hama province in central Syria, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Britain-based watchdog group said the withdrawal is part of a deal reached a day earlier between the rival rebel groups in that part of the country. The Turkey-backed rebels will withdraw to areas controlled by the “Olive Branch” and the “Euphrates Shield” operations, as both are Turkey-backed operations through local rebel groups. The areas controlled by the two operations are located in the northern and northwestern countryside of Aleppo province in northern Syria. The deal between both sides comes on the heels of the wide-scale campaign of the HTS, which is the umbrella group of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, against the Nour Al-Din Al-Zenki group, which is allied with the NLF, in the western countryside of Aleppo. The HTS succeeded to capture the entire western countryside of Aleppo and expanded its operation to the countryside of Idlib and Hama last week.”

CNBC: Turkey Will Attack Kurdish Fighters In Syria Regardless Of US Withdrawal, Foreign Minister Says

“Turkey will go ahead with its planned offensive against Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria whether or not the U.S. withdraws its troops from the country, its foreign minister said Thursday. “If the (withdrawal) is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told local news station NTV, without elaborating on a timeline. The warning comes after American officials attempted to condition a U.S. troop pullout on a guarantee of safety for its Kurdish partners and Turkish non-aggression — something Turkish President Recep Erdogan promptly smacked down on Tuesday. Now Ankara, which has amassed thousands of Turkish troops along its border with Syria, says it will act regardless of a U.S. delay. “We are determined on the field and at the table,” Cavusoglu said. “We will decide on its timing and we will not receive permission from anyone.” White House national security advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have spent the week in the Middle East trying to reassure allies of America’s commitment in the wake of President Donald Trump’s shock announcement to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria.”

Afghanistan

The New York Times: Violence Grows In Northern Afghanistan, But Neither Side Is Gaining Much Ground

“Violence in northern Afghanistan has intensified in recent days, with both Afghan security forces and the Taliban suffering heavy casualties, but the heavy fighting has failed to shift the battle lines in the 17-year-old war. While many previous winters brought a relative lull to the war, as low temperatures and snow set in, this year the fighting has continued amid stalled efforts to persuade the Taliban to sit down for talks with the Afghan government. Despite meeting repeatedly with American diplomats to discuss the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and the release of their prisoners, the insurgents have refused to meet Afghan peace negotiators. Instead, the Taliban have carried out deadly attacks in Balkh Province, a commercial hub in the north that had long remained one of the safest parts of the country, and in several neighboring provinces. Some of the attacks have occurred along major highways, restricting movement and in some areas blocking the highway connecting the provinces to one another and to the capital, Kabul. In the past 24 hours, the Taliban have killed more than 30 police officers and soldiers in the north alone. In return, the American and Afghan Air Forces have unleashed deadly airstrikes, often resulting in large numbers of Taliban casualties.”

The Washington Post: Afghan Government, Struggling With War Fronts And Peace Bids, Forms New Team Of Rivals And Loyalists

“Coming from the new top cop in a war-ravaged nation, Amrullah Saleh’s inaugural list of priorities sounded oddly small-bore. They included bans on police officers in Afghanistan posing for selfies in uniform, giving or receiving gifts at ceremonies, expressing their views on potential crises or discussing police operations on social media. But the housecleaning edicts late last month resonated with many Afghans. They have been long disillusioned by corruption and sloppiness in the security forces through 17 years of war and militant violence — and now they may have to face the fight with fewer forces from their powerful partner, the United States. A separate pledge from Saleh, a former intelligence chief, spoke directly to the public anger and the security forces’ battered reputation. He said he wanted to become known as a “brutal minister against criminals and the enemies of the country.” Saleh’s appointment as interior minister two weeks ago was part of a high-level shake-up ordered by President Ashraf Ghani as his government has floundered on all fronts. It had failed to beat back Taliban attacks, has been excluded from international peace talks with the Taliban and been unable to set a date for national polls in which Ghani hoped to win reelection.”

Al Jazeera: Taliban Kills Dozens Of Afghan Forces As Peace Efforts Continue

“A series of Taliban attacks in western and northern Afghanistan has killed 21 members of the country's security forces, Afghan officials say. Jamshed Shahabi, spokesperson for the governor in western Badghis province, said the fighters overran outposts there, killing six policemen on Wednesday. Council member Shamsul Haq Baeakzai in northern Baghlan province said seven members of the local police force were killed there on the same day. In northern Takhar province, council member Ruhollah Raufi said eight policemen were shot. The Taliban also attacked security checkpoints in Kunduz province, killing soldiers and police. The attacks wounded dozens of other members of the security forces. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for these attacks. The Taliban fighters have carried out near-daily attacks on Afghan troops, inflicting heavy losses. In response, the government in Kabul no longer releases official casualty figures. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in November that 28,589 Afghan security personnel, both police and army, had been killed in fighting since 2015. Meanwhile, Pakistani and Afghan officials are meeting in Islamabad to discuss Taliban peace negotiations.”

The National Interest: The Taliban And The Changing Nature Of Pashtun Nationalism

“With American withdrawal from Afghanistan distinctly on the cards, it is imperative that one makes an objective assessment of the future of Afghanistan by factoring in the variable of Pashtun nationalism now primarily represented, even if in distorted fashion, by a resurgent Taliban. What has given the Taliban’s appeal potency is its ability to couch in religious terminology traditional Pashtun aspirations for dominance in Afghanistan as well as the tribes’ aversion to foreign interference in their land. Both these factors have been constants in Afghan politics going back at least to the nineteenth century. They are likely to continue to assert themselves with great vigor following the American withdrawal. Most Pashtuns, who comprise over forty percent of the population of Afghanistan, believe that they are the rightful rulers of the country based on the history of the past three hundred years when Pashtun dynasties ruled Afghanistan most of the time. While the Persian-speaking Tajiks, who form around a quarter of the population, are more urban and educated than the Pashtun tribes and staffed a substantial portion of the Afghan bureaucracy, the ruling dynasties were invariably Pashtun.”

The National: Taliban Execution Of Radio Host Portends Another Bad Year For Afghan Journalists

“Dear Mr President, the land of Farah has no more capacity to build cemeteries for our youth,” Afghan journalist Javid Noori, 27, wrote on his Facebook page in November, frustrated at the rising number of civilian casualties in his home province in western Afghanistan. “We would thank you to provide us land for graveyards to bury 20 people at a time,” he wrote, along with updates on civilian casualties of Afghanistan's long-running insurgency by the Taliban. A few weeks later, the radio show host became a victim himself. Noori was travelling with relatives on Saturday when their vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint set up by Taliban insurgents in Nadarabad district. Upon being identified as a journalist, Noori was taken aside by the militants and executed, becoming the first Afghan media worker to be killed in 2019 after a particularly deadly year for the profession. “The Taliban had a checkpoint on the main road and had stopped our cars. They took about 50 to 60 male passengers and took us far away from the main road. I was walking right behind Mr Noori and his relatives,” a witness told The National. “I noticed that they recognised Noori and his [relatives] and were asking them questions,” he said. The Taliban eventually let some of the passengers go, but took Noori and his family aside.”

Lebanon

The Daily Star: US Won't Accept Hezbollah As 'Major Presence' In Lebanon: Pompeo

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday Hezbollah is a major presence in Lebanon, but the U.S. won’t accept this as the status quo. Pompeo also described the United States was a “force for good” in the Middle East and remained committed to the “complete dismantling” of the Daesh (ISIS) threat despite its decision to withdraw troops from Syria. “When America retreats, chaos follows,” he said in a speech at the American University in Cairo in which he also urged Middle Eastern countries to do more to combat Daesh militants. Iran's foreign minister mocked Pompeo's speech by asserting the opposite was true. “Whenever/wherever US interferes, chaos, repression and resentment follow,” Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter. “The day Iran mimics US clients & @SecPompeo's 'human rights models' - be it the Shah or current butchers - to become a 'normal' country is the day hell freezes over. Best for the US to just get over loss of Iran.”

Egypt

Egypt Today: Two Germans Of Egyptian Origin Arrested In Egypt Over ISIS Connections

“Two German extremists of Egyptian origin; Issa Mohammed Abd-El-Ghany Ibrahim Al-Sabagh and Amr Mohamed Ezzat Abdel Aziz were arrested by the Egyptian authorities, after having received information that the two men are ISIS operatives. Al-Sabagh, born on August 4, 2000, is a student in Germany. He was arrested while trying to enter the country to join the terrorist cells in Sinai, in order to participate inexecuting terrorist operations. Maps of the North Sinai Governorate were found in his possession, as well as a compass to facilitate his infiltration through the desert routes to the hiding places of the terrorist elements. The Supreme State Security Prosecution is leading the investigation; and has decided to hold him in custody for 14 days for further investigation. Twenty-four year-old Abdel Aziz, born on June 20, 1995, is a student in the Islamic University in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested after the Egyptian authorities had obtained information,indicating that Abdel Aziz has established connections with ISIS leaders abroad, in order join terrorist cells and participate in the execution of terrorist operations in Sinai.”

Nigeria

Punch Nigeria: Troops Retake Baga After Boko Haram Attack

“Nigerian troops were back in a strategic town on the shores of Lake Chad, military and civilian sources said on Thursday after Boko Haram attacks forced tens of thousands to flee. Fighters from the self-styled Islamic State West Africa Province overran a naval base and another housing troops from a regional force in and around Baga late last month. The UN has said more than 30,000 people had since sought refuge in the garrison town of Monguno and the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, as the military prepared a fight-back. A military officer in Maiduguri said, “Our soldiers entered Baga yesterday evening (Wednesday). They are in total control of the town and the terrorists had fled. “They entered the town at about 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) after taking control of Kuros-Kauwa, which is 15 kilometres (nearly 10 miles) from the town,” he told AFP. The development was confirmed by a resident, who like the officer asked not to be identified for security reasons. “I left Baga at about 5:30 pm and I met a huge military convoy heading to the town from Kuros-Kauwa,” said the local man. “They entered Baga unchallenged. Boko Haram fighters had not been staying the night in Baga since they learnt soldiers were preparing to launch a massive attack.”

Pulse Nigeria: Troops Launch Successful Assault Against Terrorists,1 Soldier Dies

“In a joint assault with the Nigeria Air Force (NAF), the troops of the Nigerian Army successfully launched an assault killing many terrorists in Operation Lafiya Dole, but one senior army officer died. One soldier was also killed according to a statement released by the army on Thursday, January 10, 2019. The militia fighting in support of an Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), were neutralized in the onslaught carried out to secure Zare, Gudumbali and Kukawa. “In the determined efforts to wipe out remnants of Boko Haram terrorists that now goes by the appellation of Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), the gallant troops of the newly formed Nigerian Army Special Forces Command (NASFC), Operation Lafiya Dole, have given the terrorists that attacked troops location in Baga a bloody nose,” reads a statement by army's representative, Brigadier General Sani Usman. Five other soldiers reportedly sustained injuries in the assault against the militia. Superb air support from NAF pilots ensured strength from the sky. “The Special Forces attained these great strides in close operational synergy with Air Task Force of the Nigerian Air Force who gave Intelligence and close air support by bombarding the ISWAP terrorists.”

Daily Post Nigeria: Boko Haram: Nigeria Announces Deal With China

“The Federal Republic of Nigeria and Peoples Republic of China on Thursday signed a Memorandum of Understanding to offer assistance to the Armed Forces of Nigeria to strengthen its counter-insurgency measures. The Nigerian government had sought assistance of China in tackling Boko Haram. Minister of Defence, Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali and the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, H.E Dr Ziyou Pingjian signed the MOU in Abuja on behalf of their countries. However, details of the deal was not disclosed. Colonel Tukur Fussy, the minister’s spokesman, in a statement, said the signing of the MOU was a follow up to the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to China in September, 2018. During the meeting, Buhari held discussions on infrastructure financing for strategic projects and gratis for the Armed Forces was held with the Chinese President, Mr Xi Jinping.”

Africa

Morocco World News: Morocco’s BNPJ Arrests English-Swiss Suspect For Alleged Ties With ISIS

“Morocco’s National Brigade of Judicial Police (BNPJ) arrested an English-Swiss suspect for alleged ties with ISIS in Temara, a city 15 kilometers south of Rabat, on Thursday, a source told Morocco World News. The suspect has alleged contacts with ISIS fighters, said the source. The suspect is the second foreign dual national Morocco has arrested in the last month. Morocco arrested a Swiss-Spanish suspect in connection to the double murder of two Scandinavian tourists killed near Imlil in the Atlas Mountains. The suspect was arrested on December 28 in Morocco. He faces heavy charges, including teaching the main suspects how to commit crimes. The bodies of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Uland were found on December 17, 2018. Police have arrested 23 suspects in connection with the murders. Suspects convicted of terror-related crimes typically receive 10- to 15-year prison sentences.”

North Korea

The New York Times: U.S.-North Korea Summit Looks Imminent, South Korean Leader Says

“President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said Thursday that the visit to China this week by the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, heralded an imminent second summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Trump to negotiate the terms of denuclearizing the North. Mr. Moon held his New Year’s news conference in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday, hours after Mr. Kim wrapped up a four-day trip to China, which included his fourth summit meeting with President Xi Jinping. China is considered the best buffer North Korea has against American pressure and sanctions as Mr. Kim prepares for a second meeting with Mr. Trump. He also consulted with Mr. Xi before and after his first meeting with Mr. Trump, which took place in Singapore in June. The June meeting produced a vaguely worded agreement to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and “new” relations between North Korea and the United States, which have been adversaries for seven decades.”

United Kingdom

Daily Mail: British ISIS Family Including Grandmother, Her Two Adult Daughters And Their Children 'Are Captured Hiding Among Refugees In Syria'

“A British ISIS family including a grandmother, her two adult daughters and their children have been captured hiding among refugees in Syria, it has been claimed. The two sisters, both in their 20s, and their mother are said to have fled from the town of al-Shafaa in Deir Ezzor, Syria, last week. They were travelling with young children and were among other wives of ISIS fanatics as well as local refugees, according to Kurdish sources. The family has since been sent to a detention camp in the north eastern Syrian town of al-Hawl. Another British woman, Zara Iqbal, from East London, has been at the same camp for a number of months, according to The Telegraph. A Kurdish source told the newspaper: 'They claim, as all the women do, that they were brought here by their husbands and that they have been trying to escape Daesh.' A total of 13 Britons are now being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces over suspected links to ISIS. News of the latest capture comes a day after it emerged that eight foreign jihadists - including a 16-year-old American - had been seized during battles with ISIS in Syria. The eight, detained on Sunday and Monday, also included a German and a Russian, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) said in a statement.”

Europe

DW: Belgium Trial On Jewish Museum Terror Attack Opens

“Two men, including a suspected "Islamic State" militant, are on trial for killing four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels. Prosecutors are calling for life sentences. The trial of the deadly 2014 attack on the Belgian Jewish Museum in Brussels opened on Thursday under a heavy security presence. It began with an introduction of the defendants followed by the prosecution reading out its 184-page statement detailing the investigation, according to Belgian news agency Belga. The attack is considered one of the first on European soil to be claimed by the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group. More than 100 witnesses are expected to testify, including four French journalists who say they were held captive in Syria by one of the perpetrators.”

Voice Of America: Jewish Museum Attack Trial Opens In Brussels

“The long-awaited trial of a Frenchman accused of killing four people at a Jewish museum in the Belgian capital began Thursday in Brussels. The defendant, Mehdi Nemmouche, also is believed to be among the first European jihadist fighters who returned from the Middle East. Mehdi Nemmouche, now 33, appeared in court wearing an orange sweatshirt and flanked by masked police. He is accused of shooting dead four people in under two minutes in 2014, at the Jewish museum in Brussels. He also is believed to be the first jihadist fighter returning from Syria's battlefields to stage a terrorist attack in Europe. Days after the shootings, Nemmouche was arrested in the southern French city of Marseilles as he got off a bus from Brussels. Police reportedly found weapons in a sports bag he was carrying. If found guilty, he faces life in prison. Another Frenchman also is on trial for allegedly supplying Nemmouche's weapons. Evidence is displayed at the trial of Mehdi Nemmouche at the Justice Palace in Brussels, Jan. 10, 2019. Mehdi Nemmouche is accused of shooting dead four people at a Jewish museum in Belgium in 2014. Jewish Museum director Pascale Alhadeff told reporters the page on the killings will never be fully turned but that this trial, at the very least, will allow people to move past it a bit more and shed light on what happened.”

Technology

CBC: Facebook Woes: 2019 Already Shaping Up As A Rough One For Mark Zuckerberg And Co.

“By any measure, Facebook had an awful 2018. Multiple scandals over the sharing and selling of user data contributed to an almost 40 per cent drop in its stock price, shaving more than $250 billion US off its market capitalization. And so far, 2019 isn't shaping up any better for Mark Zuckerberg and company. This week, two new studies are raising questions about whether the value of the world's largest social media platform might be outweighed by its misuse and dangers. One, by neuroscientists from Michigan State University, tested heavy Facebook users. The study found that their decision-making process was similar to that of drug addicts, with people failing to learn from mistakes and persisting in their patterns of behaviour despite clear negative consequences.”
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O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

"IN GOD WE TRUST"
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