Conflict update, December 19 2016


Obviously the Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov’s assassination in Ankara was the big story of the day, but I don’t have anything more to say about it right now so, uh, let’s move on?


I haven’t been able to keep up with this feature the past couple of days, which is probably for the best because I’ve lost track of how many times the Aleppo evacuation has been called off and reinstated. It’s back on now, and even got a boost today as the UN Security Council, in that rarest of moments, actually voted to do something–in this case, to send monitors to Syria to help ensure that things go smoothly. Of course, the monitors don’t actually have any power to enforce compliance with the evacuation plan, but they can watch and maybe even write a sternly-worded letter to anybody who tries to muck things up. Assuming the evacuation holds, I guess, Russia, Iran, and Turkey are slated to hold talks in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss where Syria goes from here. It’s not immediately clear whether the Karlov assassination will affect those plans.

Previous attempts to implement the Aleppo evacuation were stalled mostly over the issue of simultaneously evacuating two predominantly Shiʿa villages in Idlib province, Fua and Kefraya, that have been besieged by rebel forces for a couple of years now. Initially Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), the al-Qaeda affiliate that runs most of Idlib, refused to allow those villages to be evacuated, and then, once the agreement had been reached, the Jund al-Aqsa militia, which has variously had ties to JFS and ISIS over the course of the war, accosted and burned buses sent to evacuate the villages. I know a lot of people hate it when you say this, but the presence and prominence of JFS, Jund al-Aqsa, Ahrar al-Sham, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, and similar forces within the rebellion is a major part of the reason why Bashar al-Assad is still in power and still has support within Syria, and why the rest of the world hasn’t mustered up the requisite level of righteous support for the rebel cause.

Turkey did the lion’s share of the work negotiating the Aleppo evacuation with Russia, and it’s now possible that Ankara will try to reap some reward for its efforts by recruiting evacuated rebel fighters to join its anti-ISIS and anti-YPG Operation Euphrates Shield. The fighters are being evacuated to Idlib, which is still under rebel control but is dominated by JFS, so it’s possible that Turkey will try to recruit less extreme forces who don’t want to live and fight under JFS’s control.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been advancing on Raqqa from the north and west, capturing a number of villages along the way.


This map of Aleppo (ISIS in black/gray, Iraqi forces in red) is only current through December 7, but I just found it and anyway not that much progress has been made since then (Wikimedia | Kpoalvin)

Iraqi forces are battling to take control of the Wahda neighborhood in eastern Mosul, in particular al-Salam Hospital, which has been the scene of some of the Mosul offensive’s heaviest fighting. But overall operations seem to have slowed down as the Iraqis try to reinforce their eastern front and prepare for another hard push toward the Tigris River.

The extended fighting in Mosul is beginning to overwhelm the makeshift medical facilities that have been set up around the city to handle casualties. The decision to advise civilians to stay put and hunker down has meant a constant stream of civilian casualties have been pouring in to these facilities, and on top of that the elite Iraqi counter-terrorism units in eastern Mosul have been suffering casualties at rates considerably higher than were expected, in large part because the other planned fronts of the assault on the city have either bogged down or deliberately been shut down. The situation inside the city isn’t much prettier, as people are running out of food and drinkable water, and aid isn’t getting in fast enough or in large enough quantities.


Yesterday four gunmen killed ten people in the city of Karak before holing up in the Crusader castle there and eventually being killed in a shootout with police. Jordan’s interior minister says that there is evidence the gunmen were planning additional attacks, but so far there’s been no information released about who they were or what (if any) affiliation they had, and no group has claimed responsibility.


This isn’t really related to any conflict apart from the Battle of the Sexes, but you should know that, in a genuine milestone, the new Lebanese government just appointed the country’s first ever Minister of Women’s Affairs.

His name is Jean Ogasapian, and he’s an ex-army colonel.

Way to go, guys!


Settlers in the illegal-even-by-Israeli-standards settlement of Amona have agreed to abandon their settlement, which is good. But they agreed only after the Israeli government offered to resettlement in an adjacent plot of land that is undoubtedly just as illegitimate as the site of their current settlement.


On Sunday an ISIS suicide bomber struck soldiers waiting in line to receive their pay on the Solban military base outside of Yemen, killing 52 people. This was the second time in a little over a week that soldiers waiting in line to be paid at Solban were hit by a suicide bomber–the first, on December 10, killed 48 people. Either the Yemeni army needs to boost security on payday or they need to consider switching to direct deposit. Fool me once, can’t get fooled again or whatever.


An ISIS suicide bomber killed eight Libyan soldiers in the besieged Ganfouda area of Benghazi. Ganfouda is one of the last two parts of eastern Libya held by Islamist forces, and it’s being besieged by the Libyan National Army of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

In other news, the Government of National Accord quietly celebrated its first anniversary a couple of days ago. Gosh, it seems like only yesterday that the GNA was virtually unknown and had almost no real power in any part of Libya outside of maybe its own office building. What? Oh, that was yesterday? Hah, well, um, happy birthday folks!


The African Union is investigating two separate incidents–one a vehicle crash and the other a shooting–in which soldiers in its Somalia mission (AMISOM) killed a total of 11 Somali civilians.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Don’t call him “president for life,” just call him “president until the next election, which will definitely happen sometime in the next, oh, 50 years or so” (Wikimedia)

President Joseph Kabila’s legal term in office expired at midnight Kinshasa time, and the Congolese military has been preparing all week for the public outburst that’s expected to accompany the milestone. Kabila, as you may have heard, isn’t actually going to leave office and refuses to hold elections on account of the fact that he would most likely lose in a massive landslide. Today Moise Katumbi, the opposition leader who is Kabila’s polar opposite in that people in the DRC actually seem to like him, called on Kabila to step down, and Kabila finally saw reason and agreed that it was time for him to go oh man, I think there must be a gas leak in here or something. Anyway Kabila did nothing, and, well, here goes nothing:

Protests erupted in several neighborhoods of the Congolese capital Kinshasa late on Monday and police fired tear gas to disperse them, witnesses said, just before President Joseph Kabila’s mandate expires at midnight.

Demonstrators in the districts of Kalamu, Matete and Lingwala and at Kinshasa University blew whistles to signal to Kabila that it was time to leave, and students at the university burned tires, multiple witnesses said.

Hundreds of anti-Kabila demonstrators earlier defied a ban on marches against the president’s plans to stay in office past the end of his term, and security forces faced off against groups waving red cards saying “Bye, bye Kabila.”

I don’t expect this situation is going to improve any time soon.


The death toll from the truck attack (it hasn’t been confirmed that it was a deliberate attack but there doesn’t seem to be another explanation) in Berlin is now up to 12, and while the (suspected) driver is in custody nothing about his identity has been released. That number may rise, as many of the ~50 who were injured in the incident are still in critical condition. The truck apparently belonged to a Polish company and may have been hijacked. The attack targeted a Christmas market in the city’s Breitscheidplatz square, raising concerns about Christmas markets all over Europe.

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