Mosul/Aleppo/Yemen update, October 23


Kurdish forces attacked Bashiqa, another village a short distance east of Mosul. The Kurds claim that they “completely control” Bashiqa now, but it’s not entirely clear what they mean by that and it’s very likely that some ISIS fighters still remain in the town. Nevertheless, it’s being reported that the Peshmerga have advanced to within 5 miles of Mosul from the east. Joining the Kurds in the operation to capture Bashiqa are aircraft from the anti-ISIS coalition and…wait for it…Turkish forces, who have been based nearby for months now, training Turkmen fighters to participate in the Mosul operation, whenever it came to pass. These are the same Turkish forces that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi just said would not be participating in the Mosul offensive, but their support was apparently requested by the Kurds, and Abadi controls the Kurds about as much as I control the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is to say not at all.

Elsewhere, ISIS’s diversionary assault on Kirkuk continued for a third day, and the real concern now seems to be that the remaining ISIS fighters have holed up and begun attempting suicide attacks around the city. ISIS also launched a second diversionary attack, this one in the far western Iraqi town of Rutbah. ISIS controlled Rutbah from mid-2014 through this past May, and it seems that they were able to seize a substantial portion of the town today. Rutbah isn’t large, only about 22,000 people, but as you can see on the map below it sits on the long highway connecting Baghdad to the Jordanian capital, Amman, so it’s strategically valuable:

(Google Maps)

In your daily humanitarian update, there are reports that Iraqi forces are moving so quickly from town to town that they’re leaving places unsecured. ISIS personnel have been able to reenter these unsecured towns and execute civilians who may have been too quick to voice their happiness at being liberated. This is a potentially very dangerous phenomenon, as the Iraqi government seems to be in a hurry not only to liberate these towns but to move former residents back in. People quickly relocating back into their former homes may find themselves in danger from ISIS all over again unless the Iraqis do a better job of securing the territory they’re capturing.

Finally, I know the search for a decent map of what’s happening around Mosul continues, so here’s one attempt from Al Jazeera. It’s basic, but gives you an idea of who controls what, though it will certainly be out of date by tomorrow afternoon.

Aleppo and Yemen are up next.


I haven’t seen any new developments, which of course is bad news:

Clashes and air strikes shook the Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday, leaving three civilians dead as heavy fighting resumed after the end of a three-day ceasefire declared by government ally Russia.

The unilateral ceasefire ended without any evacuations by the UN, which had hoped to bring wounded civilians out of the rebel-held east and deliver aid after weeks of government bombardment and a three-month siege.

An AFP correspondent in the east of the city reported fresh air strikes on rebel-held neighbourhoods and the sound of fighting on Sunday.

Syrian government forces are reportedly tightening the siege via ground advances in the southern part of the city. The UN is warning that eastern Aleppo will be out of food by the end of the month, so starvation is also becoming an immediate concern.

It’s being speculated that Turkey’s sustained assault on the YPG north of Aleppo must have been undertaken with the approval, or at least acquiescence, of both Moscow and Damascus. This makes sense, as Russia and/or Syria could pretty easily make Syrian airspace inhospitable to Ankara if they wanted, but they haven’t. This suggests two things: first, the condominium between Assad and the YPG, which was already looking frayed, is no more; and second, Turkey must have made assurances to both Russia and Syria that its move against the YPG would be limited to the YPG, and that Turkey and its proxies will not attempt to alleviate the Aleppo siege from the north.


Hey, remember how we read yesterday that the UN was pushing for a 72 hour extension of the ceasefire that ended at midnight? Well about that:

Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition attacked targets in Sanaa at dawn on Sunday, hours after a three-day truce in Yemen’s war expired, residents in the capital said.

The ceasefire, agreed to allow for an increased flow of humanitarian aid, ended without renewal after a day of heavy fighting between the Saudi-led Arab coalition and the Iran-allied Houthi movement.

Each side accused the other of repeatedly violating the truce and U.N. attempts to extend it before it lapsed appeared to have failed.

Look, I mean, everybody involved pretended to care about preventing the destruction of Yemen and the starvation of its people for three whole days, more or less. You can’t ask for much more than that. Seriously though, cross-border fire between the rebels and Saudi security forces is the main reason why we’ve seen no renewal of the ceasefire, and was the apparent impetus for the resumption of airstrikes on Sanaa. Talks are reportedly ongoing on establishing another 72 hour ceasefire, but at this point it would probably be back to square one. The idea is that these short-term ceasefires are supposed to follow one after another, in a snowball effect, until the impetus for fighting diminishes enough to make a longer cessation possible. Once the fighting resumes in a sustained way, the snowball effect is pretty much kaput.



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