About half of formerly rebel-held eastern Aleppo is in Syrian government hands after the army announced yesterday that it had seized the Tariq al-Bab neighborhood. Moscow is saying that it’s ready to talk about a withdrawal of the remaining rebel forces from the city, which frankly may be the best possible outcome at this point. The rebels have reportedly countered that they’re prepared to let civilians leave the city (which I guess means they’re not going to open fire on civilian corridors anymore) but that they’re staying to the bitter end (this disagreement has apparently caused those secret talks between the rebels and Russia in Turkey to break down). This of course means they’ll take the city itself with them, which is why it would be a hell of a lot better for everybody, including the rebels themselves, if they just agreed to evacuate. Obviously they have no reason to believe that Assad and Russia will honor any promises about safe passage, but then again they’re all going to definitely be killed as things stand now.
Congress, meanwhile, authorized the provision of MANPADS anti-aircraft weapons to vetted Syrian rebels yesterday. This could be a big boost for the rebels, who could use the weapons to target Syrian helicopters if not high-flying Syrian and Russian jets…and it could also be a big boost for international terrorism, if any of the weapons were to somehow wind up being sent outside of Syria. It may be moot, however, because there’s a pretty good chance that President Trump is going to wash his hands of the Syrian rebellion altogether. It depends on whether he listens to most of his advisors, who are anti-Iran and therefore anti-Assad, or to Vladimir Putin, with whom he claims to want to improve relations.
Two Turkish soldiers have been abducted by ISIS fighters a short distance outside of al-Bab and have reportedly been transferred, along with their Turkmen translator, to Raqqa. This kidnapping points to the degree to which Turkish soldiers accompanying their rebel proxies are now under genuine threat in northern Syria, and it bears watching to see if the Turkish government begins to feel some heat over this domestically.
An overnight attack by ISIS fighters apparently punched through the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) line in the village of Sharea, outside of Tal Afar, west of Mosul. ISIS forces also attacked Iraqi positions south of Mosul, near the villages of al-Qasar and Qabr al-Abd, but that assault appears to have been beaten back. The attack outside of Tal Afar may have been intended to draw a response from the PMU, who have surrounded the mostly-Turkmen city but are waiting for regular Iraqi army forces to enter it in order to forestall a hostile response from Turkey.
Conditions for civilians inside Mosul are grim and getting grimmer. Tens of thousands are now without access to clean water, and the prospect of spending winter either holed up in the city or in a refugee camp outside it, either way struggling for access to food, fuel, and medical care, is not a particularly pleasant one.
Elsewhere, a car bomb in Baghdad earlier today reportedly killed at least seven people.
Government forces are reportedly planning an assault on rebel-held Dhubab, which is uncomfortably close to the government-controlled peninsula that controls the Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea. Ideally government forces would like to push the rebels back much farther north along Yemen’s Red Sea coast.
Ankara says its forces have killed 20 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters who were assaulting army bases in Hakkari province
European counter-terrorism experts are warning that new ISIS attacks may be in the offing. They say that ISIS recruiters are targeting refugee populations in Europe, figuring an attack perpetrated by refugees will not only be devastating in itself but will have lasting repercussions politically (any boost to the European radical right would be good for ISIS’s propaganda). Additionally, they’re warning that Europeans who traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS may begin returning home in droves as they flee the fighting there, which would also drive up the risk of attacks.
Moroccan authorities arrested seven or eight (I’ve seen both figures cited) suspected ISIS operatives yesterday, including a man who allegedly acted as an “intermediary” between ISIS leadership and a terror cell that was broken up in France a couple of weeks ago.
In fighting in northern Somalia’s Puntland region on Saturday, Somali forces reportedly killed seven fighters from an al-Shabaab splinter group that has pledged itself to ISIS.
The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan declared yesterday that South Sudan is “on the brink” of a Rwanda-esque genocide:
Yasmin Sooka, chairperson of the Commission, said: “The stage is being set for a repeat of what happened in Rwanda and the international community is under an obligation to prevent it.
“There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages; everywhere we went across this country we heard villagers saying they are ready to shed blood to get their land back.
“Many told us it’s already reached a point of no return.”
There is an ethnic component to the civil war, with President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s Dinka (South Sudan’s largest ethnic group) fighting ex-VP Riek Machar’s Nuer (the second-largest), but I’m always reluctant to get too wrapped up in that kind of framing because it can very quickly become reductive and the next thing you know you’re in lazy “they haven’t gotten along for thousands of years” territory. But it is a factor. Since the UN commission talks about both sides using the tactics of ethnic cleansing, it’s not clear whether they’re primarily using them against each other, or against any of South Sudan’s smaller ethnic groups, or both.
Earlier today in Baku, state security officers killed a man named Emin Jami who was reportedly wearing a suicide belt. It’s not clear what his target was, but Jami has been arrested before for ties to “international terrorist organizations.”
Taliban fighters attempted to attack a number of police checkpoints in Kandahar province on Thursday and, when that proved unsuccessful–to the tune of 29 dead militants–they opted to slaughter some civilians as Plan B, 23 of them to be exact. Apparently the Taliban tried to hide out in some civilians houses and, when some civilians objected, they were killed for it. The UN says that 2600 Afghan civilians were killed over the first nine months of 2016, along with 2000 Afghan security forces who have been killed.
The Malaysian foreign ministry issued a statement today criticizing the Myanmar government for orchestrating “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is touring Rohingya villages to investigate anti-Rohingya violence and will announce his findings in a few days. Meanwhile, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has identified the real problem, and it’s that people keep calling the Rohingya genocide a genocide, and if we could just all stop being such downers about it then things might not be so bad:
“I would appreciate it so much if the international community would help us to maintain peace and stability, and to make progress in building better relations between the two communities, instead of always drumming up cause for bigger fires of resentment,” Aung San Suu Kyi told Singapore state-owned broadcaster Channel News Asia during a visit to the city-state.
“It doesn’t help if everybody is just concentrating on the negative side of the situation, in spite of the fact that there were attacks against police outposts.”
This is right out of the “people who call me a racist are the real racists” playbook, so kudos to Ms. Suu Kyi for mastering the reactionary playbook so quickly.