Conflict update: January 4 2017

I’m hoping this will be a short one tonight, but I never know until I actually start writing. It’s like a fun mystery we get to explore together.

Well, not really.

United Nations

Senators Statler and Waldorf John McCain and Lindsey Graham are among the Republicans leading a push to cut much or all US funding for the UN, because the UN Security Council had the temerity to pass a completely toothless resolution that recognizes Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory for what they are. Since the US pays for about a fifth of the UN’s operations, cutting all US funding would be a pretty devastating blow and would also be a tremendously self-defeating move for a bunch of people who claim to care about America’s leadership role in world affairs.

I’d say that Senate Democrats might filibuster such a ridiculous and dangerous move, but Senate Democrats are now led by Chuck Schumer (D-AIPAC), who seems to be just as performatively mad about the UN vote as his Republican colleagues. So it’s anybody’s guess.


Steve Townsend, the US Army Lieutenant General commanding the anti-ISIS coalition’s operation in support of Iraq’s Mosul operation (man, that’s a long description), told reporters today that he’s seeing better coordination among the various Iraqi units participating in the assault in the week since the operation resumed. Unit commanders are meeting more frequently, police are working with the counter-terrorism forces on the city’s eastern front to better secure liberated neighborhoods, and the long-stalled northern and southern axes of attack have actually, albeit slowly, started moving again, which should take some pressure off the forces in the east. The neighborhood-by-neighborhood reports of the offensive are thus looking a lot more active than they have been since long before the operation was paused to allow the Iraqis time to shift troops and materiel around the city.

As the fighting has heated back up, the unfortunate side effect has been an increase in humanitarian concerns. The UN estimates that 13,000 people have fled Mosul just in the past five days, a nearly 3000/day clip that risks overwhelming the systems set up in Nineveh province to deal with displaced persons. With so much of winter still ahead, this is a very bad time to be displaced in northern Iraq.


Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, is putting the blame for the rapidly collapsing Turkey-Russia ceasefire on Iran, calling on Tehran to rein in the Syrian government and Shiʿa militias who have continued to fight to the point that Syrian rebel leaders have suspended any participation in planned peace talks. It’s pretty tempting to see this as a tactic in Turkey’s efforts to open up some daylight between the Russians and Iranians. After all, Moscow could rein in Bashar al-Assad, at least, just as easily as Tehran could (which isn’t to say that they could actually do it), but criticizing Russia gets Turkey nowhere. Blaming Iran, on the other hand, is pretty good for business. It makes Turkey look like it’s the stronger power in Syria and bolsters its support among the rebels.

Speaking of Turkey, its military says that the operation to clear ISIS out of al-Bab will be completed “soon.” The offensive has benefited in recent days from Russian air power, as Moscow has apparently decided to take a break from not really ever attacking ISIS to attack ISIS, which you may recall was its number one stated intention for intervening in Syria in the first place. It’s believed that ISIS’s external operations (i.e., planning for attacks in France, Tunisia, Turkey, Belgium, etc.) have been run out of al-Bab, and while I can’t imagine that’s still the case you can bet Ankara would really like to conclude this offensive soon as a retaliation for the New Year’s Eve attack in Istanbul.

Somebody’s airstrikes in Idlib killed 25 fighters from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham today, per the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The fact that the strikes were in Idlib suggests Russia, but the fact that JFS was targeted leaves open the possibility that it was the US.

The humanitarian fallout from Aleppo is continuing to be felt, obviously, with residents returning to an east Aleppo that’s effectively destroyed. Relief agencies have moved in to provide food and medical care, but people simply don’t have anyplace to live at this point. And those are the people who have actually gotten to return; most former east Aleppo residents, the ones who survived anyway, are now displaced and will probably stay that way for some time to come.


Ahwazi Arab separatists say they bombed two oil pipelines in Iran’s Khuzestan province over the weekend, but Iranian authorities are denying that any attacks took place.


Turkish authorities say they’ve identified the shooter in the Reina Nightclub attack on New Year’s Eve, though they’re not saying more than that publicly and the manhunt for him is still going. The dragnet conducted since the attack has swept up several suspected ISIS operatives.


In a similar vein, Egyptian authorities have arrested four people suspected of involvement in the bombing of the St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Cairo last month, which has now killed 27 people. The Egyptian government has identified the leader of the group that bombed the church as a man named Mohab Mostafa el-Sayed Qassem, and he is apparently still at large.


Yemeni forces near the city of Shuqrah were reportedly ambushed by al-Qaeda fighters on Tuesday, and three of them were killed.


Jaafar Maguid, the leader of a small ISIS-aligned jihadi group called Ansar al-Khilafah (literally “Supporters of the Caliphate”), was killed early Thursday (wow, tomorrow’s news today!) in a shootout with Philippine police.


Today in News of the Inevitable:

Myanmar faces a growing danger of attacks by foreign supporters of Islamic State (IS) recruited from Southeast Asian networks in support of persecuted Muslim Rohingyas, Malaysia’s top counter-terrorism official has said.

Malaysian authorities have detained a suspected IS follower planning to head to Myanmar to carry out attacks, the head of the Malaysian police counter-terrorism division, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, said in an interview.

The suspect, an Indonesian whom he did not identify, was detained in Malaysia last month. The suspect was scheduled to be charged on Wednesday for possession of materials linked to terrorist groups, which carries a seven-year jail term or fine, Ayob Khan said.

More militants are likely to try to follow his lead in support of the Rohingya cause, Ayob Khan said.

The Rohingya are an obvious target for anybody looking for new vistas in jihadi radicalization: persecuted en masse, denied basic rights by a non-Muslim government, offered virtually no help from the international community apart from the occasional benign criticism lobbed at Kuala Lumpur. You could see this coming from a mile away, and the only surprise is that it hasn’t happened faster. But the tragedy is that any evidence of Rohingya radicalization will be used by the Myanmar government as justification for continuing its campaign of ethnic cleansing. Which will, in turn, be used as justification for more radicalization. Once this cycle really starts it’s going to be very difficult to break.


Several soldiers affiliated with the Government of National Accord have been wounded and at least one killed over the past two days, as warplanes belonging to Khalifa Haftar’s air force have been attacking the Jufra air base in the central part of the country. Haftar’s airstrikes were apparently targeting leaders of a militia based in Misrata that has aligned itself against him and with the GNA.

The Gambia

No matter how much support Yahya Jammeh may have lost in the weeks since he accepted, then refused to accept, his electoral defeat, he’s still got the head of the Gambian army, General Ousman Badjie, on his side. This is undoubtedly the only reason he’s still trying to nullify the election results, and it will make things very interesting if ECOWAS, the West African economic bloc, eventually decides to intervene to force Jammeh out.


Three girls acting as would-be suicide bombers for Boko Haram were killed by Nigerian troops today near the northeastern town of Madagali, thankfully before they were able to kill anybody else.


A car bomb, presumably courtesy of al-Shabab though I haven’t seen any news that they’ve claimed it, exploded earlier today outside a UN compound in Mogadishu, wounding four guards.

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