Conflict update: November 29


Map of the Yemeni Civil War, current as of November 25; green areas in rebel hands, red in government hands, white in al-Qaeda hands (Wikimedia | Ali Zifan)

As our focus was limited yesterday, we missed a few developments in places other than Aleppo. For example, Yemeni rebels decided to go nuts and form themselves a brand new government:

The announcement of the new government, reported by the Houthi-run state television and Saba news agency, said it was formed from “all walks of the political spectrum who are anti-aggression.”

The reference was a swipe at the coalition led by Saudi Arabia that supports Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was driven into Saudi exile in 2014 after the Houthis routed him from Sana, the capital. The Houthis control a large portion of Yemen including Sana.

This is a purely symbolic moves that means little in practice and presents no real obstacle to renewed peace talks…except insofar as it ostensibly hurt Hadi’s feelings and so now he and the Saudis will need time to process their emotional pain or whatever. It was stupid, in that it gains the rebels nothing but a cheap PR win, but the way Hadi and Riyadh are going to purposefully overreact to it, and the way their overreaction will be treated completely credulously by Washington, is what’s really stupid.

It’s been one of the more bizarre and least talked about aspects of Yemen’s civil war that, despite the devastation it’s caused, refugees from the Horn of Africa have continued crossing into Yemen anyway. Over 100,000 Ethiopians and Somalis are estimated to have entered Yemen over the past year, mostly intending to continue on to the wealthier Gulf countries and all (?) of them, presumably, fairly misinformed about what’s happening in Yemen these days. Needless to say, things have not gone well for them upon arrival, and reports of forced labor, abuse, and worse have been collected by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.


With remaining ISIS fighters reportedly contained within a one square km area of downtown Sirte, it seems like finally the operation to eliminate ISIS’s presence there is drawing to a close. But ISIS likely isn’t leaving Libya, particularly not when the underlying problem, the conflict between Libya’s two (or three, depending on the day) competing governments, is nowhere near a resolution. Speaking of which, Muammar Gaddafi wanna-be Khalifa Haftar has apparently had a nice set of meetings in Moscow this week as he seeks more international support for his claim to power. That seems promising.


The humanitarian crisis inherent in the Mosul offensive is beginning to reach a critical mass. Fighting has cut the water supply to an estimated 650,000 civilians still inside the city, putting a new squeeze on people who were already struggling in the absence of adequate food and medical care. And those are the civilians who haven’t been killed in the crossfire. Meanwhile, deprived of heavy air cover precisely because of the presence of all those civilians, Iraqi ground forces are struggling to advance and secure territory. Iraqi forces who have entered the city from the east are being battered in part because advances from the north and south have stalled out, and it seems like it may be time to regroup and change tactics.

Iranian authorities are apparently growing concerned that Iranian Kurds with the Kurdistan Freedom Party and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan are fighting alongside Iraqi Kurds outside of Mosul. They’ve reportedly warned the Kurdistan Regional Government that Tehran will hold the KRG responsible if these Iranian Kurds decide to head back across the border and make trouble in Iran.

Meanwhile, ISIS has begun retaliating for Mosul by launching terrorist attacks in some of the places it used to control, particularly Tikrit and Fallujah.


It should come as a surprise to pretty much nobody that the assault on Aleppo has been timed to take advantage of the post-election period in the US and to ensure that the city is in Bashar al-Assad’s hands by the time Donald Trump takes office in January. This would put Assad in the strongest possible position heading into any new attempt at peace talks (Moscow may be keen to give Trump something on this front to try to get things with his administration off on a favorable foot). There was heavy fighting around the remaining rebel enclave in southeastern Aleppo today but no reports of substantial government advances. At least 16,000 people are known to have fled eastern Aleppo for western Aleppo or Kurdish-held parts of the city, and according to Russia another 80,000 have been provided humanitarian assistance. Nobody even seems to be hazarding a guess as to the death toll at this point.

The loss of Aleppo won’t end the rebellion, but it will largely confine the rebellion to Syria’s rural periphery. Absent a negotiated settlement (and even then, since any settlement will undoubtedly exclude groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham), the rebellion could morph into a guerrilla-type movement based in the countryside, carrying out periodic raids against Syrian urban centers, and under that sort of framework the fighting could continue virtually indefinitely.

Speaking of refugees, people fleeing the fighting around Raqqa and Deir Ezzor are telling stories of having to walk through the desert to get to camps in Kurdish-controlled areas near the Iraqi border, and of the rough conditions they’ve had to survive within those camps. They’re also describing the conditions they fled, with one woman calling Raqqa “a ghost town.”

Say, remember that “Syrian air strike” that killed those Turkish soldiers a few days ago? Funny story: the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that it was an ISIS suicide bombing, not a Syrian airstrike, and not only are American sources backing that version of events, but apparently ISIS actually claimed responsibility for the attack. Now, I am in no position to judge whether somebody could honestly mistake a suicide bombing for an airstrike, but it sure seems like that would be hard to do, and that maybe Turkey decided to recast an ISIS suicide bombing as a Syrian airstrike in service of Ankara’s broader goals in Syria. Maybe. On the other hand, there are also reports that an Iranian drone was spotted above al-Bab right around the time when whatever killed those Turkish soldiers happened. So maybe it was an airstrike–just not a “Syrian” airstrike.


Taliban fighters killed four Afghan policemen in Zabul yesterday, while Afghan forces reportedly killed at least 30 ISIS fighters in Nangarhar between Sunday and Monday.

South Asia

Seven Indian soldiers were killed earlier today when “heavily armed militants” attacked an Indian army base in Nagrota, Jammu, the majority-Hindu southwestern part of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state. Three militants were killed, and three others were killed in fighting near Ramgarh, on the border with Pakistan. Obviously this will increase tensions between India and Pakistan, but it’s too soon to say how much.


Charles Mumbere, the Harrisburg PA nurse’s aide turned king of Rwenzururu, has now been charged with murder by the Ugandan government for his role in fighting between Ugandan authorities and his own royal guard over the weekend. There are conflicting reports as to casualties, but the largest figure I’ve seen says that 126 people were killed altogether, between the initial battle and the firefight that accompanied Mumbere’s arrest.

The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog has a useful primer on the roots of this conflict for those of us, like me, who had never heard of Rwenzururu before a couple of days ago. The Rwenzururu Kingdom was recognized by the Ugandan government in 2009 as a concession to the Bakonzo people, who were unhappy living under the Tooro Kingdom (these “kingdoms” are mostly ceremonial government gifts to large tribes or traditional ethnic groups), but apparently that just opened up a whole can of nationalist worms:

On the one hand, minority tribes in the region — the Bamba and the Basongora — now claimed separate kingdoms of their own: the Rwenzururu kingdom was regarded as a representation of the majority Bakonzo, rather than all ethnic groups of the region. Other tribes therefore sought to establish their own kingdoms. On the other hand, the Bakonzo saw these other kingdoms as a deliberate strategy of the government to limit the influence of the Rwenzururu kingdom. All actions of the government were therefore perceived as an intentional divide-and-rule plan to weaken their power. This led to major tensions.

In June 2014, President Museveni yielded to the demands of the region’s second-largest group, and granted recognition to the Bamba kingdom in Bundibugyo district. Weeks later, Bakonzo youth staged attacks in various localities, triggering reprisal killings and counter-operations by security forces. The government arrested hundreds of suspected attackers, mainly Bakonzo youth and a handful of Rwenzururu kingdom officials, and charged them before military tribunals — but eventually let them go.

A Bakonzo separatist movement, which already existed and wasn’t really pacified at all by the creation of the Rwenzururu kingdom, picked up new steam when the Bamba kingdom was formed, and things snowballed from there. Mumbere has consistently rejected calls for secession among the Bakonzo, but nevertheless the government is now going to try him over the suspicion that he and/or his guards had fallen in with separatists.


Somalia’s presidential election, which was supposed to happen last month, then was supposed to happen this month, is now going to happen at some unknown future date. The Somali president is supposed to be elected by parliament, but there have been allegations of shenanigans in the various regional parliamentary elections that are presumably part of the reason for the delay. Meanwhile, 10 people have been killed in the town of Harardhere after townspeople resisted al-Shabaab’s demand that they pay the group a tax.


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