Conflict update: December 10


At around 11 PM tonight local time, two bombs hit downtown Istanbul, killing at least 29 people and injuring another 166. First, a car bomb exploded outside the Beşiktaş Vodafone Arena. Shortly after that, a suicide bomber detonated a smaller explosion a short distance away. Suspicion, as it always does in these cases, will fall on either ISIS or some Kurdish group, TAK and/or the PKK. Most of the dead were Turkish police officers, and if the bombing was intended to target police that could suggest a Kurdish angle. On the other hand, there was a football (soccer for us rubes) match played at the stadium earlier this evening that had reportedly let out just before the bomb(s?) went off. If the intention was to target the crowd leaving the stadium, then that strongly suggests ISIS. At this point the feeling in Turkey seems to be that the bombing did target the police and that TAK was probably behind it, though it’s very early to be making any judgments. Whether it was ISIS or Kurds, the bombing may be a response to Operation Euphrates Shield, the Turkish invasion of northern Syria that has alternately targeted ISIS and the Kurdish YPG.


Federal police and interior ministry forces are being deployed to eastern Mosul to help bolster the Iraqi special forces already leading the assault there. This comes after that major ISIS counterattack on the al-Salim Hospital on Wednesday pushed Iraqi forces back substantially.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security agencies are already beginning to divert resources to intelligence gathering in order to prepare for the shift that’s going to accompany ISIS’s defeat in Mosul, when the group largely stops being a military threat and becomes instead mostly a terrorist threat. The shift revolves around building up surveillance capabilities and securing the Syrian border–and might even involve Iraqi participation in the eventual assault on Raqqa. You’ll note in that piece that Iraqi commanders say they wanted a slower advance on Mosul, to allow more time for airstrikes to degrade ISIS and take out as many of its leaders as possible, but they were overruled by Baghdad. Consequently the highest-ranking ISIS leaders in the city, a group that may have included Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were allowed to flee and are now in the wind.

With plans to assault Tal Afar completely up in the air thanks to a lack of manpower, Turkey and the Iraqi Turkmen Front are suggesting that a force of Iraqi Turkmen, presumably with Turkish assistance, should be put together to attack the city, and frankly Baghdad may not have a choice even though it would very much like Turkey to mind its own damn business.

Turkey, which had a busy day bombing other countries (see below), says its airstrikes killed 19 PKK militants in northern Iraq.


Somebody should be minding the back door. With Russia and Bashar al-Assad focusing all their attention on Aleppo, guess who just showed up in Palmyra?

Islamic State group fighters have re-entered Palmyra, nine months after losing the ancient Syrian desert city.

Monitoring groups say militants and pro-government forces fought fiercely in the centre of Palmyra.

An activist there told the BBC that the city was now “more or less” in IS hands.

Reports from Palmyra say about 50 Syrian troops were killed and there was an unconfirmed report that the rest were fleeing.

When Bashar and Moscow say they’re the only ones fighting “the terrorists” in Syria, I’m starting to think they don’t actually mean it and it’s just a line they use.

As far as Aleppo is concerned, the Syrian-Russian onslaught continues and may be reaching an endgame, with as much as 85 percent of the city now in government hands, making American calls for “a little grace” every bit as pointless as they sound. US and Russian officials were supposed to meet in Geneva today to try to negotiate an end to the fighting, but as far as I can tell nothing came of it. Civilians have been pouring out of the city by the thousands and now tens of thousands, but an estimated 100,000 people are still left crammed into the little bit of the city still in rebel hands, and they’re reportedly being bombed relentlessly.

Speaking of Operation Euphrates Shield, Ankara says its planes struck 39 ISIS targets and killed four ISIS fighters on Saturday. Rudaw is citing a Sputnik report that says Turkish and allied forces have already entered al-Bab, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights denied that report and I haven’t seen it picked up anywhere else.

And in the awfully quiet Raqqa operation, the US said today that it’s sending 200 additional troops to join the 300 already serving as trainers and advisers to the Syrian Democratic Forces as they prepare to attack the ISIS “capital.”


An ISIS suicide bomber killed 50 Yemeni soldiers and injured 70 other people in an attack on a military base in Aden. The target was apparently a line of soldiers waiting to receive their paychecks.


With President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi maybe thinking about sending forces to Syria to aid Assad, you might be forgiven for thinking that Cairo is on the outs with its Saudi patron, since the Saudis are very much not interested in doing anything to aid Bashar al-Assad. Not so, says Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukri. Egypt and the Saudis are as close as ever…even though the Saudis have stopped sending aid and Egypt may be conducting an independent foreign policy again as a result.


It might sound like a bad idea considering that the United States is currently killing itself on opioids, but there’s a pretty strong argument to be made that legalizing the opium trade would take the financial stuffing out of the Taliban and strike a serious blow in Kabul’s favor. The US has spent $12 billion on eradicating opium production in Afghanistan, and all it has to show for it is increased opium production in Afghanistan and a Taliban enemy that is reaping the financial benefits. Imagine if that $12 billion were put toward opioid rehab here in the US, or toward bolstering the social safety net. But that wouldn’t feed the military-industrial beast, so instead we’ll continue eating our own tail.

As far as the Taliban are concerned, things are going pretty well. Two of the group’s most senior members, Mullah Abdul Razaq Akhund and Mullah Abdul Sata Akhund, pledged their loyalty to leader Haibatullah Akundzada yesterday, shoring up his support and reducing the possibility, if one exists, of some kind of challenge to his leadership or splintering. Akhundzada seems to have the organization pretty well under control, or else it wouldn’t be having the success it’s had of late.


Gunmen in Peshawar killed a senior counter-terrorism police officer earlier this evening. The officer, Riazul Islam, has apparently been targeted several times.


This is fairly big, if true:

Malaysia’s security forces have dealt a serious blow to the notorious Abu Sayyaf group by killing the leader of a squad that has been snatching tourists, fishermen, and sailors in waters off Sabah and the Philippines’ Sulu archipelago, Philippine officials said on Saturday.

Abraham Hamid, the alleged kingpin, were among the three men killed by police officers from Malaysia’s Tiger Platoon in a shootout on Thursday evening off Sabah’s Semporma town, the officials said.

Hamid was an Abu Sayyaf leader of some kind, but “kingpin” is a pretty nebulous term and I don’t think he was among the groups senior-most leadership. Still, this can’t hurt, and maybe he really was a pretty big cheese.

A separate clash between Abu Sayyaf fighters and Filipino soldiers in Sulu province today killed three soldiers and wounded 17 more. It’s not known how many Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed.


Indonesian police arrested three people they say were planning a bombing attack against the presidential palace. It’s not clear if they had any allegiances to terrorist organizations, but obviously ISIS is a fair bet.


The Libyan National Army declared a six hour ceasefire in the Ganfouda part of Benghazi, where fighting between the LNA and forces aligned with the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council has been particularly intense, earlier today to allow civilians a chance to evacuate the area.

The Gambia

The United Nations and President-elect Adama Barrow are both telling current lame duck president Yahya Jammeh to stop rejecting the results of last week’s elections and accept his defeat. So far no violence has accompanied Jammeh’s concession-retraction routine, but it’s not known if he’s got any part of the Gambian military on his side. It’s also possible that Jammeh, who is a target for investigation by the International Criminal Court despite his decision to pull The Gambia out of the ICC, is trying to play for some kind of deal where he agrees to step aside peacefully in exchange for immunity from prosecution.


An al-Shabaab car bomb struck a police checkpoint near Mogadishu today and killed two police officers.


French authorities arrested another suspect in connection with a wide ranging terrorist plot involving a cell they claim to have broken up last month.

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