Military Situation In Syria On June 29, 2020 (Map Update)

A brief overview of the recent developments in Syria:

  • Clashes between the Syrian Army and militants broke out in the Fatirah area in southern Idlib;
  • The protests to demand the release of detainees from YPG prisons took place in the SDF-held area of Kharaij in the East of the Deir Ezzor district;
  • SAA artillery targeted the militants’ positions in Ankawi area south of Idlib;
  • Turkish-led forces targeted the SDF positions near the town of Ayn Issa in northern Raqqa Governorate;
  • Turkish-led forces’ artillery targeted areas near the Menagh airbase;
  • The Kurdish Afrin Liberation Forces brought mortar fire on the city of Azaz of Aleppo province;
  • A demonstration against the Syrian government passed in the town of Tafas in Daraa Governorate.

UN renews Mali peacekeeping force MINUSMA without personnel cuts

MINUSMA is often dubbed the UN's most 'dangerous mission' [File: Souleymane Ag Anara/AFP]
MINUSMA is often dubbed the UN’s most ‘dangerous mission’ [File: Souleymane Ag Anara/AFP]

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously voted to extend the mandate of its seven-year peacekeeping force in Mali for another 12 months without any cuts in personnel.

Monday’s renewal of the mission, known as MINUSMA, allows for the number of its members to continue to comprise up to 13,289 soldiers and 1,920 police officers.

The expected move signifies a temporary truce between the United States and France, both permanent Security Council members and veto-power holders, according to analysts.

For more than a year, the US – the UN’s biggest financial contributor – has regularly questioned the mission, which costs $1.2bn annually, deeming it ill-suited to the continuing violence in the West African nation.

Meanwhile, France, which has taken the most active military role of any foreign power in its former colony, sees MINUSMA as an essential component of a broad coalition of forces currently attempting to root out armed groups.

Mali is struggling to contain a multilayered and complex conflict that erupted in 2012 and which has killed thousands of military and civilian since.

Despite the presence of thousands of French and UN troops, the violence has engulfed the centre of the country and spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Attacks have grown fivefold between 2016 and 2020, with 4,000 people killed in 2019, up from about 770 killed in 2016, according to the UN.

Meanwhile, the number of people forced to leave their homes due to the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the region has surged from about 600,000 internally displaced people recorded in May 2010 to 1.5 million by April 2020.

Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the mission “remains crucial”.

The renewal does commit to presenting a “possible exit strategy” for the mission by March 2021.

Analysts said MINUSMA, often dubbed the UN’s most “dangerous mission”, faces myriad challenges: a volatile environment that often proves deadly for UN forces, restricts peace-building initiatives and keeps the mission on a defensive footing; an inconsistent Malian ruling class; and a shifting and complicated crisis that has exploded in the centre of the country that lacks an adequate framework for resolution.

Despite such obstacles, Security Council members have not yet been able to deny that the mission is a necessity, according to Paul Melly, a consulting fellow at Chatham House’s Africa Programme.

“However difficult the track record, however troubling the situation, however slow the pace of progress – where there is any, when the Security Council is confronted with the actual reality of the situation on the ground, they come to the conclusion that there is no alternative,” he told Al Jazeera.

“MINUSMA needs to be there.”

Launched in 2013, MINUSMA’s strategic priority first focused on Mali’s north, a flat and unforgiving desert and semi-desert area. Its mandate included protecting civilians, aiding in implementing a 2015 peace agreement between the government and some separatist groups in the north, helping to re-establish the state authority and building the security sector, which was and continues to be largely absent in some regions.

The mission is also charged with monitoring human rights abuses by armed groups and the array of security forces operating in the country, a tenuous role, at times, since MINUSMA works in cooperation with many of those forces.

In 2018, the mission began to shift focus to Mali’s hot, semi-arid centre as the situation there began to devolve drastically. A year later, MINUSMA added a second strategic priority that includes helping the Malian government restore stability in central Mali, while also protecting civilians, helping to restore the presence of the state and promoting political peace initiatives.

The mission has become “life support” for a Malian state teetering on the edge, providing critical infrastructure, in particular air transportation, for a government that has largely retreated from large swaths of the country, said Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“I think that without MINUSMA, for as dire and desperate as the situation in Mali is, it would slide even further down into instability, unrest and un-governability,” he said.

“The most generous thing we can say about MINUSMA is that it slows Mali’s slide … But Mali continues to devolve and worsen despite MINUSMA’s presence.”


Libya: Haftar’s forces mobilise mercenaries for Sirte battle

GNA forces are preparing to launch an attack to seize the key city of Sirte [Mucahit Aydemir/Anadolu]
GNA forces are preparing to launch an attack to seize the key city of Sirte [Mucahit Aydemir/Anadolu]

Eastern-based forces allied with renegade Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar have sent thousands of foreign mercenaries to fight in a looming battle for the strategic city of Sirte.

Local sources from the city of Kufra, in southeastern Libya, told Al Jazeera that numerous convoys of foreign fighters on Sunday passed through the city Ajdabiya, which is located between Benghazi and Sirte.

Haftar-allied forces released a video showing military reinforcements being deployed from Benghazi, where the eastern forces are based, towards Sirte, 570km (354 miles) to the west.

Libya human rights abuses: UN considering a draft resolution

The reinforcements included Sudanese and Chadian fighters, as well as more than 3,000 Russian mercenaries, sources said.

The UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, announced it was determined to end “the occupation” of the cities of Sirte and Jufra by foreign fighters.

Sirte is the home town of former longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi and the last significant settlement before the traditional boundary between Libya’s west and east.

Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) forces captured Sirte without a fight in January after one of Libya’s myriad local militias switched sides.

Beyond Sirte lies the prize of Libya’s main oil export ports – Haftar’s most important strategic asset.

‘Criminal gangs’

Al-Sarraj also reiterated calls for a team from the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged war crimes by Haftar-allied forces, saying impunity had encouraged his fighters to commit “more barbaric crimes”.

A GNA army spokesman said in a statement on Saturday that “Sirte was the most dangerous place in Libya after it became a focal point for mercenaries of the Russian Wagner company“, which he described as “criminal gangs”.

The “liberation” of Sirte and Jufra from Haftar’s soldiers had become “more urgent than ever”, he added.

On Saturday, Libya’s permanent representative to the United Nations called on the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on those supporting armed groups in Libya.

Sirte, Libya
The battle for the key city of Sirte has both the LNA and GNA boosting their troop levels [Ayman al-Sahili/Reuters]

Mass graves

Meanwhile, nine more unidentified bodies were discovered in mass graves in the city of Tarhuna, an official said on Sunday.

Kamal al-Siwi, chairman of the Libyan General Authority for Research and Identification of Missing Persons, announced the total number of bodies discovered buried in the area had risen to 19 since search efforts began on June 5.

Tarhuna, 90km (56 miles) south of the capital Tripoli, was the last stronghold in western Libya controlled by militias loyal to Haftar before being recaptured in early June by GNA forces.

United Nations orders probe into human rights abuses in Libya

Earlier this month, the UN expressed “horror” after at least eight mass graves were discovered in Tarhuna.

In March, the UN said it received reports of hundreds of enforced disappearances, torture, killings and displacement of entire families in Tarhuna by Haftar fighters.

Libyan authorities announced earlier this month that international efforts were under way to establish a fact-finding committee to investigate violations by Haftar-allied groups, including the planting of land mines and digging of mass graves near the capital, Tripoli, and Tarhuna.

Major military gains

Libya, a major global oil producer, has been mired in turmoil since 2011, when Gaddafi was toppled and killed in a NATO-backed uprising.

It is now split between two rival administrations: the GNA in Tripoli and the eastern-based House of Representatives allied with Haftar.

The GNA is backed by Turkey while Haftar’s LNA is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.

In recent weeks, the GNA, with the support of Turkey, has made major military gains, forcing Haftar’s forces to retreat after regaining control over Tripoli and Tarhuna, in addition to other strategic locations, including the al-Watiya airbase.

The GNA has since launched a military operation to take the central coastal city of Sirte and Jufra further south.

The internationally recognised government in Tripoli has been under attack by Haftar’s forces since April 2019, with more than 1,000 people killed in the violence.

INTERACTIVE: Libya Control map - June 9, 2020


The first Muslim Green Beret was also in Iran’s Special Forces | We Are The Mighty

The first time Changiz Lahidji joined a Special Forces unit, his loyalty was to Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. But he found himself guarding lavish parties in the middle of the desert, protecting the opulent ruler of Imperial Iran and his guests. It wasn’t exactly the life of adventure that John Wayne movies led him to believe he could have.

He didn’t stay in service to the Shah for very long. It seemed like a waste. So, he moved to California, working in family-owned gas stations until November, 1978. That’s when he joined the Army and became an instrument of destruction — for the United States.

Master Sergeant Changiz Lahidji in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. He was the first Muslim Green Beret and longest-serving Special Forces soldier in history with 24 years of active service.

(Changiz Lahidji)

The late 1970s were not a good time to be from the Middle East and living in the U.S., even if you’re in the Army. He had to constantly endure racism from his fellow soldiers, even though they couldn’t tell the difference between an Arab and a Persian. It didn’t matter, Lahidji pressed on and finished Special Forces training. Less than a year later, he was wearing the coveted Green Beret and by December 1979, he was on his first mission.

He was on his way back to Iran.

Changiz Lahidji standing guard during the Shah’s celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire.

(Changiz Lahidji)

In November, 1979, students in Tehran seized the U.S. embassy there, taking 52 federal employees and U.S. troops hostage. Lahidji wasn’t about to wait for the military to get around to assigning him to help. He wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter, offering his unique skills, knowledge of Tehran, and native Farsi to the task. He wanted to choose his A-Team and get to Iran as soon as possible.

The U.S. military was happy to oblige. He wasn’t going to lead an A-Team, but he had an Iranian passport and he went into Tehran ahead of Operation Eagle Claw in order to get advance knowledge of the situation on the ground and to rent a bus to drive hostages and operators out after they retook the embassy. After the disaster at Desert One, he was forced to smuggle himself out aboard a fishing boat.

Master Sgt. Changiz Lahidji, U.S. Army.

(Changiz Lahidji)

After Iran, he didn’t have to worry about being accepted by his fellow Green Berets. He was one of them by then.

He writes about all of his worldly adventures in some 33 countries in his memoir, Full Battle Rattle: My Story as the Longest-Serving Special Forces A-Team Soldier in American HistoryIn it, you can read about him helping to bust drug rings in Spain, capture the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, and what it was like on the ground during the “Black Hawk Down” debacle in Mogadishu, Somalia. He was there for all of it.

But it wasn’t the only time his Iranian background would come to the aid of U.S. forces. In 2003, some 24 years after the failure of Eagle Claw, Lahidji was in Tora Bora, dressed as a farmer and working for a U.S. private contractor. There, he would personally identify Osama bin Laden. When he went to the American embassy to report his finding, the U.S. seemed to take no action.

Lahidji does a lot of private contractor work these days. After spending so much time traveling and in service to the United States — he’s done more than 100 missions in Afghanistan alone — he looks back on his time in the service as a privilege. Army Special Forces gave Changiz Lahidji the brotherhood and adventure he always dreamed of as a secular, middle-class child growing up in Iran.


Syrian Army Lost Control Of Kahil-Saida In Daraa Countryside After Clashes With Local Fighters (Video, Photos)

Tensions between the  Syrian Army and local armed fighters (former members of militant groups that reconciled with the government and joined the 5th Assault Corps) remain high in the province of Daraa.

According to photos and videos appearing online, the Syrian Army was forced to withdraw from the village of Kahil Jizah and local fighters seized all the checkpoints surrounding it.

Armed fighters already destroyed pro-government banners in the area and are now seeting up their own checkpoints there. Earlier, at least 2 Syrian soldiers were killed in clashes with the reconciled militants.


The current situation in Daraa province signs the existing difficulties in the ongoing reconciliation process in southern Syria. Some former members of militant groups still remain committed to the radical ideology and hard-core anti-government views. At the same time, they continue to demand protection and resources for their areas in the frramework of the reconciliation. Nonetheless, actions like those in Kahil Jizah undermine the peace process and set conditions for a new round of violence there. If leaders of the local groups do not understand this, they will have to learn a hard lesson when the Syrian military will resume large-scale operations there.