Tonight’s update is going to be condensed again. News is lighter than usual, and anyway I’ve been having some trouble with WordPress that is making it difficult to blog. Your heart is breaking for me, I know.
Syrian opposition negotiators announced just this evening that they will not attend Russia’s upcoming Syrian “congress” in Sochi. This is a blow to Russia’s pretensions to peacemaking but in a way could be a shot in the arm to the United Nations-led peace process.
The Turkish government says it’s lost 14 Turkish and Free Syrian Army soldiers since the start of its operations in Afrin, which is considerably lower than 343 Kurdish (and, uh, “Islamic State”) fighters it claims to have killed. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday said he plans to continue this offensive as far east as the Iraqi border. Maybe he’s just posturing, but if not that’s certainly going to lead to some problems with the US. On the plus side, the rebels and Russia have reportedly agreed to a ceasefire deal in Ghouta. The full terms haven’t been released, and it remains to be seen if Damascus will get on board and how long the ceasefire will hold.
Intensified fighting in Taiz this week has reportedly killed at least 48 people.
A new poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research finds that less than half (46 percent) of the combined Jewish Israeli and West Bank/Gaza Palestinian population (in other words, excluding Arab Israelis) now supports a two-state solution. More Palestinians now see armed conflict as a more viable course than negotiations, a reversal from just last June. Jared Kushner is doing a heck of a job here.
Meanwhile, a group of Holocaust survivors is lobbying Benjamin Netanyahu to reverse his order earlier this month requiring all illegal immigrants in Israel to leave or be arrested. Netanyahu insists that his order will not apply to asylum seekers, people fleeing war zones and repressive governments.
Bruce Reidel writes about the bargain Mohammad bin Salman is making with the Saudi religious establishment–stay off my back about my cosmetic social changes I’ll keep pressuring Iran for you:
After three years on the throne, King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are pursuing the most aggressively sectarian and anti-Iran policy in modern Saudi history. The Wahhabi clerical establishment is an enthusiastic partner, which is good internal politics for the royals.
The US is inviting the ambassadors of every UN Security Council member to Washington for a special lunch with Donald Trump and also so they can look at evidence the Trump administration says implicates Iran in arming Yemen’s Houthi rebels. They’d like to convince the council to impose a hard ban on Iran’s ballistic missile program, but that’s going to be a tough sell with both Russia and China. I can’t imagine the experience of lunch with the former star of The Apprentice is going to change anybody’s mind.
Six children were reportedly killed in fighting near the city of Ghazni on Friday. Afghan officials say they were killed by Taliban mortar fire, but some locals, and the Taliban, say they were killed by an Afghan airstrike.
You might want to sit down for this, because it’s totally unexpected, but it looks like the Pentagon is about to fuck up its Afghan surge:
They are being heralded as a key part of President Trump’s new strategy to resolve the nearly 17-year war in Afghanistan. But their training has been cut short by months, and units are still short-staffed, as some of the estimated 1,000 additional military advisers prepare to arrive in Afghanistan in time for the spring fighting season, officials said.
Researcher Andreas Harsono would like to remind us, and maybe James Mattis too, that while they might do cool stuff like drinking snake blood or whatever, Indonesia’s special forces unit (the Kopassus) has a lot of terrible stuff on its ledger:
There are a whole series of abuses to address. The U.S. government first imposed restrictions on military assistance to the Indonesian military and Kopassus in 1999, after the military committed massive rights abuses during its scorched earth campaign in East Timor. Kopassus members were also implicated in abductions and enforced disappearances of student activists in 1997-98, and the murder of the Papuan activist and leader Theys Eluay in 2001.
But other incidents have also occurred since then as well. In 2003, Human Rights Watch documented how Kopassus soldiers used torture during military operations in Aceh. In a 2009 report, Human Rights Watch documented Kopassus soldiers engaging in arbitrary detention and mistreatment of civilians in Merauke, Papua, suspected of involvement in Papua’s independence movement. More recently, Kopassus has been involved in unlawful spying activities against Papuan civilians.
In an interview with journalists in Jakarta, Mattis suggested that Kopassus had reformed and removed abusive personnel from its ranks. But that is not the appropriate legal test for whether U.S. assistance can be resumed. As Senator Patrick Leahy said on January 23, “The question Secretary Mattis needs to answer is whether the Indonesian government has punished the Kopassus officers who ordered and covered up those horrific crimes, and whether members of Kopassus today are accountable to the rule of law.”
The answer to both those questions is no.
The Ethiopian government announced on Friday that it has released some 2000 mostly Oromian prisoners who were arrested during the 2015-2016 Oromo protests.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
You people are being so unfair to DRC President Joseph Kabila. SO UNFAIR. Sure, his police killed six protesters last weekend, but they were tricked into it! Those people uhhhhh deliberately ran in front of the bullets! Yeah, that’s it! Jerks! And look, sure he was supposed to leave office at the end of 2016, then against at the end of 2017, and now it looks like he probably won’t be leaving office at the end of 2018 either, but it’s not his fault! He’s just waiting for the electoral commission to green light a vote! He’s definitely not trying to stay in office indefinitely–it just looks that way.
Thousands of Turkish Cypriots protested in Nicosia on Friday against…the government of Turkey, of all things. Their complaint is that Erdoğan’s heavy-handed interference on the island has nurtured an unwelcome movement of hardline Turkish nationalists. Those nationalists recently attacked the offices of the Turkish Cypriot newspaper Afrika, after the paper was critical of Turkey’s intervention in Syria and after Erdoğan basically called on his Cypriot fans to exact retribution.
The Treasury Department on Friday imposed new sanctions on 21 Russian people and nine Russian companies over Russian activity in Ukraine. The Trump administration has to decide by Monday whether to impose additional sanctions for alleged Russian cyberattacks and interference in elections–like, say, the one that got Donald Trump elected.
The administration also on Friday criticized Moscow’s new military agreement with South Ossetia, which calls for establishing a joint military force. South Ossetia not actually being a recognized state, it doesn’t really have the capability to sign agreements like this one.
Can we call this Peak Russia Paranoia and move on now?
Britain’s defence minister warned that Russia was looking to damage the British economy by attacking its infrastructure, a move he said could cause “thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths”, The Telegraph newspaper reported.
Russia is nobody’s friend, but running around with your hair on fire shouting about the “thousands and thousands and thousands” of people Vladimir Putin is supposedly trying to kill is not really a compelling way to rally people to the cause.
The Venezuelan government on Thursday expelled the Spanish ambassador, in response to new European Union sanctions levied earlier in the week. On Friday, the EU condemned the move and Madrid announced that it would respond in kind. Everybody’s having a good time here.
The Trump administration is already out with its proposed military budget for 2019, and it is HUGE:
The $716 billion figure for 2019 would cover the Pentagon’s annual budget as well as spending on ongoing wars and the maintenance of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It would increase Pentagon spending by more than 7 percent over the 2018 budget, which still has not passed through Congress.
The proposed budget would be a 13 percent increase over 2017, when the United States spent about $634 billion on defense. In the absence of a budget, spending continues at 2017 levels.
Apart from the inevitable calls to cannibalize the food stamp program in order to make sure that America’s military budget remains larger than those of at least the next eight countries combined, let this be a reminder that the Pentagon is never going to be satisfied, never going to be full, never going to stop demanding more and more slop for its trough. We’ve created a monster and it’s grown beyond our ability to control it.
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