I should have mentioned this days ago, but if you’re looking for really nitty gritty information about the Mosul offensive, like which specific villages and neighborhoods Iraqi forces have liberated, Joel Wing’s “Musings on Iraq” blog is the place to go. He gets into those details, whereas I tend to stick to more macro things. For example, if you go there you’ll learn that Iraqi forces in eastern Iraq have been going back through already cleared neighborhoods that have been reinfiltrated by ISIS, which explains why their progress there has been “bogged down,” per The Independent. Optimistic predictions that the city could be liberated in a few weeks now look, well, impossibly optimistic, as Iraqi forces aren’t even close to crossing the Tigris into western Mosul, and that’s where the heaviest fighting is expected to take place.
Which is not to say that the city won’t be liberated. ISIS is making heavy use of tactics (i.e., suicide bombing) that can be devastating in terms of slowing an attacking force but are, to be totally bottom line about it, unsustainable–the downside of relying on suicide bombers is, you know, they can only be used once. The ideal scenario for ISIS is not to militarily defeat the Iraqi army, but rather to achieve something like this:
A threatened military intervention by Turkey will also become more likely if the best Iraqi combat units suffer heavy losses and look for reinforcements from the Shia paramilitary Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga.
Under an American-brokered agreement, these are being kept out of the city of Mosul itself to avoid sectarian and ethnic tensions between them and its Sunni Arab population.
Turkey has sent tanks to the Turkish-Iraqi border and said it may invade if the Hashd or Peshmerga fight inside Mosul.
A large-scale Turkish intervention will come at the expense of the forces trying to liberate Mosul and to the benefit of ISIS, and there’s no question that this is what ISIS is looking to bring about. Stepped up US/coalition airstrikes could liberate the city more quickly, but will destroy it and kill a hell of a lot of civilians in the process. That’s something everybody wants to avoid as well.
On the plus side, Iraqi forces are making progress in circling in toward Mosul from the north, which would open a third front in the city along with the eastern and southern ones. The more fronts they open up the faster ISIS will have to expend its finite manpower and resources. The western front will, I would guess, remain open save for whatever the Popular Mobilization Units are really doing out there. The idea would be to leave any wavering ISIS fighters with what appears to be an open way out of the city so that maybe they won’t fight to the death. Maybe you let them get out of the city and then track their attempted flight into Syria and kill them along the way, I don’t know. This, anyway, is how I would do it. Totally surrounding the city encourages an even more energetic defense and probably spurs ISIS to inflict even greater suffering on those trapped civilians.
So this seems bad:
The Syrian government has sent text messages to residents and rebels in eastern Aleppo telling them to leave the area within 24 hours.
Government forces said that they were preparing a major offensive to push opposition fighters out of the besieged eastern half of the city.
“To the armed people in the neighbourhoods of east Aleppo, we are giving you 24 hours only to decide if you are leaving. Your leadership abroad is incapable of getting you out. Whoever wants to stay alive must drop his weapons and we will secure his safety. After the 24 hours is up we will implement a strategic attack using highly sophisticated weapons,” the messages read.
“The opposition leadership that stays in hotels and castles enjoying a luxurious life doesn’t care about the poor Syrian citizens in east Aleppo. They are using you for their personal benefit. We are giving you, the sick and the wounded, 24 hours to exit if you want.”
Say what you want, but they ain’t wrong about “the opposition leadership.”
Syrian government forces have been rolling back rebel gains in western Aleppo, and with Russian air assets in place for a massive strike on the eastern side, it looks like something big and horrible is imminent. And in case you’re a member of the Syrian opposition who is counting on incoming President Trump to send you more aid, don’t get your hopes up.
At least 52 people were killed on Saturday in a bombing at the Shah Noorani shrine in Balochistan. ISIS claimed credit for the attack, which is certainly in keeping with their Salafi-influenced hatred of Sufis, and this raises an important point. After struggling for several years to gain a real foothold in South Asia, ISIS-Khorasan is actually growing, even as its parent organization (the actual operational ties between the two are not well understood, if they even exist) loses ground in the Middle East and North Africa. They’ve been able to partner with groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to increase their capabilities, they’re recruiting among young Pakistanis, and they’re poaching members from the Pakistani Taliban.
I know Colombia isn’t regionally appropriate for this blog, but goddammit I wanted to end on a positive note for a change:
The Colombian government and the nation’s main rebel group said on Saturday that they had reached a “new final accord” to end their longstanding conflict, potentially reviving a deal that was rejected last month in a referendum.
The changes to the agreement with the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, were announced in Havana and addressed a range of topics — such as where rebels would be confined after disarming and how courts might address drug trafficking offenses — that negotiators said had troubled voters.
The agreement also appeared to withdraw a promise of guaranteed seats for rebels in Congress — one key demand of those who said the rebels would be unfairly rewarded with political positions.
Obviously this has to go back to Colombian voters, who rejected the original deal, but the fact that FARC and the government were able to get right back to talking instead of allowing the failed referendum to reopen their civil war is encouraging.