Conflict update, November 1


Syria’s parent corporation, Russia, decreed today that peace talks are on hold “indefinitely,” citing Moscow’s strong desire to blow a whole bunch more shit up the West’s failure to separate the good rebels from the bad rebels:

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday a Western failure to rein in violent Islamists in Syria had indefinitely delayed the resumption of peace talks.

Shoigu said that rebels backed by Western governments had been attacking civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo, despite a pause in Russian and Syrian air attacks.

“As a result, the prospects for the start of a negotiation process and the return to peaceful life in Syria are postponed for an indefinite period,” Shoigu said.

The Russians also said that, golly, they’re just going to have to stop being so darn nice to the people in eastern Aleppo if this whole fighting business doesn’t stop soon:

Separately, a Kremlin spokesman said that a temporary pause in Russian and Syrian government air strikes on Aleppo was in force for now, but could not be extended if the rebels in the city did not halt their attacks.

This turn of events, so stunning that it could only have been predicted by anybody who’s been paying any attention for the past few weeks, is the culmination of Russia’s PR campaign to lay the blame for their own campaign of destruction at the West’s doorstep. The US and Europeans aren’t going to separate the rebels–they can’t separate the rebels. It would be impossible to do that, and, let’s be honest, even if it were there’s never been a shred of evidence to suggest that the rebels are in to taking orders from Washington or London. But the US/Europe can’t admit any of that, lest they admit that they have no control over the rebels who are supposed to be their proxies and/or that there may not be any “good” rebels in the field anymore, where “good” means “not extremist.” The FSA still exists, but when was the last time the FSA engaged an enemy without either JFS (and the other extremist forces) or Turkey fighting with them?

Elsewhere, remember how the US was so gung-ho on getting at Raqqa, like, right now, but some people, and I’m not thinking of anybody in particular here, said, hey, maybe you shouldn’t start attacking Raqqa until you, I don’t know, actually have an army capable of attacking Raqqa without causing a bunch of other problems? Well, it’s not looking so likely that a Raqqa offensive is going to come together as quickly as Ash Carter has been suggesting it will:

But the officials acknowledged a wealth of problems that could derail the offensive, including the need to gather and train additional Syrian forces. More ominously, they cite the explosive dynamics between two allies: Turkey and Syrian Kurdish fighters, who form the bulk of the existing offensive force.

“This is one of the situations in which we have contacts and influence over all the actors. But we’re not in perfect control,” said one of several officials who discussed the operation on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about its planning and potential pitfalls.

The Pentagon has reportedly put a hold on plans to ramp up direct arming of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the bulk of whose fighters are Kurds from the YPG, due to Turkish objections. Turkey is still promising (threatening?) to march its forces on Raqqa after they drive ISIS out of al-Bab, which could lead to a confrontation between those forces and the YPG, and the ever-present concern is that, even without Turkish interference, the predominantly Kurdish SDF could be very poorly received by the mostly Arab population in and around Raqqa.

This is a big update: Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan up next.


As expected, Iraqi Special Forces pushed all the way past Mosul city limits today, securing a neighborhood in the eastern part of the city and capturing a state TV station in the process. There is now a strong possibility that ISIS will pull the bulk of its forces across the Tigris River to the western side of the city, which may be easier for them to defend due to its denser urban landscape, narrower streets, etc. The Iraqi government is asking civilians still remaining in the city to stay indoors until their part of the city has been secured. As ever, it’s likely that the toughest fighting is still to come.

Vox put together a useful piece today on all the ways ISIS has engaged in environmental warfare in the first weeks of the Mosul campaign. We already know about the sulfur plant they set on fire about a week and half ago, but they’ve also been setting oil wells on fire throughout northern Iraq and dumping oil into the Tigris since June. They’ve also been making DIY smokescreens to shield them from airstrikes, by digging trenches, pouring oil into the trenches, and setting the oil on fire. The result is overhead images like this:

As the Vox piece notes, Iraq has a long and unfortunate history with environmental warfare–Saddam was something of a specialist. But the cleanup from these incidents is only going to add to the complexity of the post-Mosul situation.


Per The Intercept, at the Arab-US Policymakers Conference last week, the Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Abdullah b. Faisal Al Saud, promised that Riyadh will continue bombing Yemen “no matter what it takes.” Well, just so we’re all clear, this is what it has already taken (emphasis mine):

Where the failure of public services is felt perhaps most acutely is the health sector: less than half of the rudimentary health facilities remain functional. Earlier this month, as I said, I visited Hudaydah held by Houthis/Saleh’s forces. Hudaydah Governorate is the poorest in Yemen. I met with children and mothers, a few fathers and the desperately overworked doctors, nurses and carers at the paediatric centre at Al Thawra hospital, where the machines and lights frequently cut out due to shortages of generator fuel, and the medicine cabinets were empty. Easily treatable chronic illnesses are becoming death sentences. Yemenis, old and young, are dying every day because of the deprivation of basic goods and services. Since March 2015, 10,000 children under the age of five have perished from preventable diseases as a result of the sharp decline in the availability of immunizations and remedies for diarrhoea and pneumonia. Also at risk are migrants from the Horn of Africa and the more than 3 million internally displaced, nearly half of whom are children. They are particularly dependent on assistance and supplies getting in by port or air, neither of which is getting in at the moment, and are vulnerable to the spread of disease.

10,000 dead kids? Hey, whatever it takes!

Don’t forget, the United States owns every one of these deaths.


In something of a milestone, though one that probably comes too late (bye, Gambia!) to save its reputation, the International Criminal Court looks set to open a formal investigation into a country that isn’t in Africa:

The prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is ready to initiate a full investigation of a range of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, including some by U.S. personnel, according to several knowledgeable sources. The ICC move would mark the first time that a formal ICC investigation has scrutinized U.S. actions and sets up a possible collision with Washington.

Multiple sources have indicated that the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will seek to initiate an investigation in the coming weeks, likely after the U.S. presidential election but before the end of the year. U.S. officials visited The Hague recently to discuss the potential investigation and to express concerns about its scope.

The US, which, again, is not an ICC member state, is nevertheless quick to criticize nations that criticize or abandon the ICC. But when the court looks like it might possibly investigate Americans, all of a sudden we’re “concerned” about the “scope” of its work. Give me a break. I urge you to go read that whole piece and marvel at the sheer breadth and depth of American hypocrisy on display.

The probable focus of any investigation into American activity will focus on the treatment of detainees in the 2003-2005 period, though as we all know the United States was consistently scrupulous in its treatment of all detainees in all theaters of operation throughout the 2000s. The piece suggests that last October’s US strike on a MSF hospital in Kunduz could also be a focus. The larger point is that most of the effort is going to be directed at investigating Taliban and Afghan government crimes–there are actually concerns that potentially charging Taliban leaders with war crimes could complicate efforts to negotiate an end to their insurrection, but then again the chances negotiating an end to the insurgency are looking smaller than ever these days. Even if the prosecutor were to decide to charge any American personnel, there are numerous points in the process where that effort could be derailed, and if push really comes to shove the US will simply ignore whatever the court decides.



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