Conflict update: December 22 2016

Folks, the real conflict here is between me and the concept of a decent night’s sleep. I seriously considered taking the night off, but given that I’d like to take a couple of the next few nights off I figured I needed to get your #content out there tonight. This one might be a little shorter than usual though.

World War III

Oh, OK. Cool. What? There’s more?

In a year-end speech to his top military officers on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin threw down the gauntlet, declaring that the Russian military, emboldened by recent adventures in Syria and Ukraine, is ready to defeat any country that dares challenge it. “We can say with certainty: we are stronger now than any potential aggressor,” he proclaimed. “Anyone.”

He also made a pitch for bigger and badder nuclear weapons. Putin said Moscow must “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems.”

On the plus side, if you were worried about four years of President Trump, maybe you don’t have to worry about that so much.

Syria

rif_aleppo2

Aleppo as of today, presumably the last time we’ll need to see this map (Wikimedia | Kami888)

Aleppo is finally and fully back in Bashar al-Assad’s hands, with the final evacuations, delayed again by bad weather, having been completed today. The focus of the war effort will likely turn to Idlib, but world attention is likely to be on these Turkey-Russia-Iran talks to see if they have any legs in terms of getting some kind of peace process on track. There are plenty of little reasons to be skeptical of this, but one big one: the main rebel groups still fighting–Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa, the extremists–will be excluded from any peace process and wouldn’t participate in one even if they weren’t. The thing to watch now, it seems to me, is what Russia does. Moscow isn’t in the business of propping Assad up indefinitely, and its renewed closeness with Turkey raises the possibility that Ankara could broker a relationship between the Russian government and the rebels with whom Turkey has some sway. If that works, you may see Moscow begin pushing a political settlement to the war that isn’t entirely in Assad’s interests but is entirely in Russia’s–and in that case, you may also see Iran object.

ISIS released a video today that appears to show them burning two Turkish prisoners alive, probably the same Turkish soldiers who were reportedly kidnapped by ISIS late last month.

Iraq

Joel Wing, as usual, has a great roundup of the activity in Mosul, or more accurately the inactivity. Iraqi forces are holding to reinforce and refit, and to turn security in liberated areas over to police, before beginning its push again. Wing highlights this interview in Rudaw with General Fazil Barwari, the commander of the “Golden Division,” the elite counter-terror force that has spearheaded the Mosul operation. He notes that ISIS has used ten times the number of car bombs defending Mosul as it used defending Ramadi, and really seems to suggest that the operation would be going more smoothly if civilians had fled the city in advance of the fighting. Since Iraqi forces told civilians not to flee the city, this seems like a pretty substantial criticism of the operation. Failing that, Barwari says that expectations of a civilian uprising against ISIS failed to materialize because the people in the city have been so terrified over the past couple of years. He also claims that ISIS is still being reinforced from Syria and offers some thoughts as to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts.

Today’s big story, I think, is that three different car bombs in eastern Mosul today killed at least 15 civilians and eight Iraqi troops. ISIS claimed responsibility, as though there were any doubt.

Israel and Palestine

Now that the danger to Israel’s West Bank settlements has passed, indefinitely by the way, it’s worth looking at some of the people, other than the Palestinians, who are being hurt by the Israeli government’s obsession with annexing the West Bank. Specifically, I mean Israelis living in poverty and having to cope with drastic cuts in social services while their government allocates resources toward stealing land and paying people to live on it:

But wait, there’s more. In accordance with a policy that proves that crime pays, the public coffers, meaning the inhabitants of Israel, will lose another 130 million shekels ($34 million). That’s the price tag of getting a few dozen criminals living in the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Amona, on stolen Palestinian lands, to obey a court order to vacate their trailer homes and move to an adjacent hilltop also not under the sovereignty of their state. In northern Tel Aviv, across from the railroad station on Arlozorov Street, dozens of law-abiding citizens live in frayed, rain-drenched tents (forced out of apartments they could no longer afford). No one offers these homeless Israelis an iota of the aid that the government is pouring into the “legal” settlements — as the government calls them, in defiance of international law — in the occupied West Bank and the outposts there. The price of the deal with the settlers of Amona also includes the cost of demolishing dozens, perhaps hundreds of houses built without permits by Arab-Israelis in their communities within Israel’s sovereign borders. According to recent reports, that’s what Netanyahu promised the Jewish lawbreakers from the settlement movement in a compromise outline for the evacuation.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is cutting $60 million out of its budget for local governments, and most of that (the $34 million figure cited above) is going to pay for the resettlement of the 40 families living in Amona. Priorities!

Yemen

The Pentagon says its drone campaign has killed 28 al-Qaeda fighters in Yemen since mid-September. I assume that nobody else was killed in the strikes, because obviously the military would tell us if there had been, right?

Afghanistan

Washington says it “supports” the Afghan government’s decision to investigate charges that the country’s vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, for maybe/possibly/probably abducting and torturing a political rival. Dostum is probably too powerful to actually be brought to justice (he’d probably have much of the country’s Uzbek community, including his own fighters, behind him if he opted to resist) and, not to keep flogging this horse, but in a nutshell that’s why all the president’s horses and all the president’s men probably won’t ever put Afghanistan together again (to be fair, it’s never been all that “together”). Corruption matters.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Six people have been killed and a whopping 150 wounded this week in fighting in the DRC that, go figure, didn’t have anything to do with Joseph Kabila. Pygmies and Bantus in the southeastern part of the country are at war with one another independent of who the country’s president is or how long he might be thinking about staying in office.

In violence that does have to do with Kabila’s decision to postpone the election until he somehow becomes popular again various technical problems can be resolved, his government has now killed 34 protesters and climbing, while arresting more than 300 people. The heavy protesting seems to have peaked for the time being, but until the underlying problem (by which I mean Kabila) is rectified then the potential for flareups will remain high.

Malta

Malta? Sure, why not. Pope Francis has ordered an investigation into the dismissal of the former Grand Chancellor of the Knights of Malta, Albrecht von Boeselager, earlier this month. Von Boeselager’s heinous crime? Apparently the Knights’ charitable arm, Malteser International, has in the past distributed condoms to women who were trafficked into sex slavery in Myanmar in order to help protect them from STDs, and von Boeselager knew they were doing this and didn’t stop it. Because naturally if women are being put at risk of dying and many of them might be saved by the judicious use of a birth control device, the Good Catholic thing to do is let them die.

Francis, to his credit, has taken the view that condom use in preventing the spread of disease may not be the worst thing in the world, and so he’s maybe not so keen on the Knights canning this guy, which they seem to have done without Francis’s knowledge even though the leadership of the order claimed they were acting at his request.

This isn’t really conflict-related, but the Knights of Malta, formerly known as the Knights Hospitaller, are a regular topic around here, so I thought the story was worth a mention.

Australia

Police have arrested seven people accused of plotting to set off explosive devices all over Melbourne on Christmas Day. They’re calling the suspects “self-radicalized” but “inspired” by ISIS.

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