US general in Iraq to focus on final push against Daesh

Iraqi Special Operations Forces carry weapons during clashes with Daesh militants in frontline near the University of Mosul. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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US general in Iraq to focus on final push against Daesh

  • Joseph Votel to discuss with Baghdad post-withdrawal impact on the country

BAGHDAD: The general overseeing US forces in the Middle East flew into Iraq on Sunday for talks with US and Iraqi officials expected to focus on ensuring that Daesh cannot stage a resurgence after US troops withdraw from neighboring Syria.
US Army General Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command, made no remarks to reporters upon landing in Iraq, where he was expected to get battlefield briefings on the final push to retake the remnants of Daesh’s once vast territory in Syria.
Votel was also expected to discuss with officials in Baghdad what impact the US withdrawal might have on Iraq, where Daesh has already shifted to guerrilla hit-and-run tactics after losing all its territory.
Votel has said he does not expect President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of more than 2,000 troops from Syria to significantly alter US troop levels in Iraq, where the US has more than 5,000 forces. Those force numbers would stay “more or less steady,” he said.
“We will want to make sure that we get the right capabilities on the ground to support the Iraqis going forward,” Votel told reporters traveling with him last week. “But I don’t necessarily think that will result in an expanded footprint by the United States or by the coalition forces.”

Threat of resurgence
Trump’s surprise decision in December to withdraw US troops from Syria confounded his national security team and led to the resignation of his defense secretary, Jim Mattis.
It also shocked US allies and sent generals like Votel scrambling to carry out the pullout in a way that best preserves as many gains as possible.
Daesh still poses a threat in Iraq and some US officials believe that the group’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, may be hiding in Iraq. Baghdadi has led the group since 2010, when it was still an underground Al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq.
The Pentagon’s inspector general said in a report Daesh remained an active insurgent group and was regenerating functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than Syria.
“Absent sustained (counter-terrorism) pressure, Daesh could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory,” the report said.
In an interview on Friday, Votel told Reuters he would recommend continued arms and aid to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as needed, provided the Kurdish-led fighters keep the pressure on Daesh and help prevent its resurgence.
Votel has said Daesh may still count tens of thousands of fighters, dispersed throughout Iraq and Syria, with enough leaders and resources to present a menacing insurgency in the months ahead.
Iraq’s military has already shifted how it combats the group, moving away from major combat operations to what Votel calls “wide-area” operations. The US military has also modified the way that it supports Iraqi security forces.
“We’ve adjusted our footprint as well, and where we go and where we are best located to continue to advise and assist them with their operations,” Votel said last week.
“We’ve made some changes in terms of where we are so we can be in the best locations.”


UN presents new plan for Yemen pullback from Hodeidah

Updated 19 March 2019
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UN presents new plan for Yemen pullback from Hodeidah

  • The redeployment of forces was agreed in December under a ceasefire deal reached in Sweden that offered the best hope in years of moving toward an end to the war
  • The UN envoy's statement did not give a date for the start of the pullback, which would mark the first step towards de-escalation

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations will present a new plan for the pullback of forces from Yemen's flashpoint city of Hodeidah following talks with the government and the Houthis, a UN envoy said Tuesday.
The redeployment of forces was agreed in December under a ceasefire deal reached in Sweden that offered the best hope in years of moving toward an end to the war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
"Following constructive discussions with both parties, there is significant progress towards an agreement to implement phase one of the redeployments of the Hodeida agreement," said a statement from Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy for Yemen.
"Operational details will be presented to the parties in the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) for endorsement shortly," he added.
The UN envoy's statement did not give a date for the start of the pullback, which would mark the first step towards de-escalation.
Griffiths said he "looks forward to the swift endorsement of the plan."
The United Nations announced a deal on the two-stage pullback from Hodeidah city and its ports on February 17, but the redeployment failed to materialize on the ground.
UN diplomats said the Houthis were refusing to pull away from the ports as part of the first stage. 
Griffiths and head of the RCC, Danish General Michael Lollesgaard, have been holding talks with all sides to overcome the final hurdles.
The Red Sea port of Hodeidah is the entry point for the bulk of imported goods and relief aid to Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen has unleashed the world's worst humanitarian conflict.