Conflict update: March 16 2017

SYRIA

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The town of al-Jinah, just west of Aleppo (Google Maps)

“Dozens” (somewhere north of 50, but a final count probably won’t be available until at least tomorrow) of people were killed this evening when an airstrike hit a mosque in the town of al-Jinah, in western Aleppo province, at evening prayer. Upwards of 300 people may have been in the mosque when it was struck, so the death toll could be much higher than has already been reported. It’s still an open question who conducted the strike, but there’s a pretty good chance it was the US, as the Pentagon has already acknowledged carrying out an airstrike in the “vicinity” according to reporter Samuel Oakford:

A photo of missile debris reportedly taken from the scene supports this conclusion:

Oakford says that those US officials told him that the airstrike targeted an “al-Qaeda meeting place” near the mosque, but this is one of those cases where your intent doesn’t really matter. Bombing a place of worship is a war crime. There’s not much gray area there. If people are literally shooting at you from inside the building you might be able to justify something like this, but other than that it’s illegal, full stop.

If this does turn out to have been a US strike it would be, at best, Donald Trump’s second war crime in his two months on the job, after the botched special forces raid in Yemen that killed several Yemeni civilians. Its also reflective of the Trump administration’s overall plan to get more deeply involved in Syria, just not on the Assad-rebels front. The Pentagon is preparing to send 1000 more US troops to support the Syrian Democratic Forces in their eventual attack on Raqqa, as well as to serve as a deterrent against Turkey attacking the SDF. This strike would indicate a stepped-up campaign against al-Qaeda in Syria as well.

THAT’S SO GORKA

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Breitbart News editor turned key Trump national security adviser Sebastian Gorka (seen above, wearing his, uh, uniform) is being forced to deny that he’s a member of a Hungarian organization with ties to the Nazis. Several weeks ago, LobeLog’s Eli Clifton noticed that Gorka sometimes likes to wear a medal, which you can see in the photo above, from the Vitezi Rend. According to the State Department, and World War II/Hungarian historians, the Vitezi Rend organization, which was established after World War I to honor war veterans (well, non-Jewish war veterans), collaborated with the Nazis.

Gorka claimed that his father was “awarded” the medal for his time as a political prisoner in Communist Hungary in the 1950s, and that he (Sebastian) sometimes wears the medial to commemorate his father’s sacrifice, but that story doesn’t really check out. For one thing, only a Vitezi Rend member could get the medal, and for another, for Sebastian to wear it now means that he’s a member of the group himself. The Forward then dug into the Gorka story and reported on his ties to far-right antisemitic groups in Hungary, which prompted the Anti-Defamation League, last month, to demand that Gorka “disavow” those ties.

Then today happened. The Forward, building on their previous reporting, got leaders within Vitezi Rend to “confirm” that Gorka is an active member of their organization. This has prompted a number of human rights and Jewish groups to call for his resignation or firing, including the Anne Frank Center. What’s more, if Gorka really is a member of Vitezi Rend, his immigration status could be in question, according to the Forward:

Gorka’s membership in the organization — if these Vitézi Rend leaders are correct, and if Gorka did not disclose this when he entered the United States as an immigrant — could have implications for his immigration status. The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual specifies that members of the Vitézi Rend “are presumed to be inadmissible” to the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Gorka — who Vitézi Rend leaders say took a lifelong oath of loyalty to their group — did not respond to multiple emails sent to his work and personal accounts, asking whether he is a member of the Vitézi Rend and, if so, whether he disclosed this on his immigration application and on his application to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2012. The White House also did not respond to a request for comment.

The fact is that we don’t know whether Gorka disclosed his membership in Vitezi Rend to immigration authorities, but if he did it would be a simple thing to say so and put a big chunk of this story to bed. That he hasn’t done that is…suggestive. And the irony of a national security adviser in this administration playing fast and loose with the immigration process is nothing short of mind-boggling.

IRAQ

A combination of bad weather and stiff ISIS resistance continues to hamper Iraqi advances in western Mosul, but the operation is progressing slowly. Iraqi forces moved closer to the Nuri Mosque in Mosul’s Old City today, and made small gains in other parts of the city as well. While the fighting was going on the AP reported that US and Iraqi commanders seemed to have very different conceptions of how the operation is going, with the Americans estimating that about a third of western Mosul has been liberated and the Iraqis putting the figure at 60 percent. The simple explanation here is that the Iraqis are citing a figure that includes the Mosul airport and Ghazlani military base, places that aren’t really in the city proper but have nonetheless been included in the overall west Mosul offensive. The Americans are talking about the city itself. No scandal, just the Iraqis naturally putting the best possible spin on their progress to date.

Nineqah province’s Yazidi, Turkmen, and Assyrian Christian minorities are looking ahead to post-ISIS Iraq and pushing for an autonomous region for their groups, and other minorities who wish to join the effort. The region would be similar to the Kurdistan Regional Government, though none of these groups appear to have the KRG’s ultimate goal of independence in mind.

TURKEY

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is heading to Turkey on March 30 to try to mend fences with Ankara, but he may want to prime himself for a chilly reception. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems hell bent on doing as much damage to Turkey’s relations with western countries as necessary to win nationalist support in the April 16th referendum, and to that end he’s once again threatening to abrogate the refugee deal he reached with the European Union last year. This is something Erdoğan seemingly two or three times a day at this point, but he never actually follows through on his threats. Much like his repeated promises to unleash economic hell on the Netherlands, on this Erdoğan’s bark is worse than his bite. He knows that Turkey needs Europe economically as much as Europe needs Turkey to act as a migrant bottleneck.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

A short time ago a rocket or rockets appear to have struck near Israeli settlements in the Jordan valley. Militants in Gaza often fire rockets into Israeli territory, but it’s not yet clear what happened in this case as far as I can tell.

Benjamin Netanyahu promised again today that he will build a brand new illegal West Bank settlement to replace the illegal Amona settlement that his government tore down last month. Bibi is nothing but generous with other people’s land.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said today that the Israeli military should send Lebanon “back to the Middle Ages” if and when another Israel-Lebanon war breaks out. Justifying his comments on the basis that Hezbollah is “embedded” in Lebanon’s security apparatus, Bennett said that Lebanon’s “infrastructure, airport, power stations, traffic junctions, Lebanese Army bases…should all be legitimate targets.” I wonder what kind of schools this guy runs.

EGYPT

Writing for the Carnegie Endowment, Maged Mandour looks at the civilian toll Egypt’s Sinai operations have taken:

In addition, the number of casualties during counterterrorism operations far exceeds the estimated number of Wilayat Sinai fighters. Since the start of the large counterterrorism “Operation Martyr’s Right” in September 2015, the Egyptian military has reported that 2,529 militants were killed and 2,481 others arrested as of December 2016. However, foreign intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Israel Defense Forces, estimated in mid-2016 that the size of Wilayat Sinai ranges from several hundred to a thousand militants, far below the numbers of reported killings. This disconnect can be explained by faulty intelligence or by inflating of the number of militants killed to include civilian deaths among militant deaths. The Egyptian government has a history of attacking civilians mistaken for militants. Local sources in Sinai back up the existence of such incidents, including an invented attack on a police station in Sheikh Zuweid that was used to justify the deaths of civilians in September 2013.

The counterinsurgency operation has increasingly been undifferentiated in its targeting of the local population. On January 13, five local youth were assassinated who were accused of being part of an attack on a police checkpoint that claimed the lives of eight policemen. In response, the local Bedouin tribes around the city of al-Arish launched a limited civil disobedience campaign to placate the public, refusing to pay water and electricity bills on February 11. The families claimed that at the time of the attack on the checkpoint, the five youth were already being held by state security forces, specifically the national security agency. This is not the first time that Egyptian security forces have been accused of executing defendants already in custody at the time of their alleged crimes, the most notable example of which is the case of Arab Sharkas. Six men were executed after being accused of killing soldiers during a Wilayat Sinai raid on the village of Arab Sharkas in March 2014, even though there was strong evidence that they were under arrest at the time the raid was committed.

SAUDI ARABIA

King Salman’s visit to China has paid off to the tune of $65 billion in new economic deals between the two nations. The countries reportedly agreed to deepen their ties on fossil fuel and renewable energy, with China possibly purchasing a stake in state-run Saudi oil giant Aramco before it goes public. Riyadh desperately needs new investment to boost its stagnating economy at a time when oil prices are low and look to remain relatively low for the foreseeable future. Salman also said he hopes China will increase its political and diplomatic engagement in the Middle East, but Chinese President Xi Jinping sounded noncommittal on that front.

IRAN

The deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Motahhari, is demanding that Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi explain a recent spate of arrests of prominent reform activists in the lead up to May’s presidential election. Motahhari is furthermore threatening to begin impeachment proceedings against Alavi if he refuses to explain the situation to parliament. Alavi, as intelligence minister, answers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not to President Hassan Rouhani nor, for that matter, to parliament, so if Motahhari were to attempt to follow through on this threat it could precipitate a significant government crisis.

KASHMIR

The Indian government seems to be moving quickly to approve and start work on six hydropower projects in Kashmir. Nice, renewable energy, am I right? Well, hold up a second. While there’s a lot of money to be made in these projects, they all happen to involve tributaries of the Indus River whose waters eventually flow into Pakistan. So in addition to generating electricity, these six dams, once built, could conceivably allow the Indian government to, I don’t know, artificially cause a famine in Pakistan by depriving it of enough water for irrigation. A water war involving two nuclear-armed states sounds like it might not be the best thing for the environment (or, really, anything else), but maybe that’s just me.

I’m no civil engineer or whatever, but it’s likely that these projects could be undertaken in such a way as to alleviate Pakistani concerns over water flow through the Indus valley. It’s also likely that the Indian government is going to use these dams as leverage to try to get Pakistan to do more to tamp down Kashmiri separatists.

MYANMAR

A commission set up by Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, charged with investigating the plight of the Rohingya community, said today that the Myanmar government must allow some 120,000 Rohingya to leave the decrepit internal refugee camps where they’ve been forced to live for the past five years. Annan’s commission further called upon the government to ensure that those Rohingya are guaranteed security and a way to make a living at the sites to which they return once they’ve left the camps.

PHILIPPINES

A Filipino legislator has filed impeachment charges against President Rodrigo Duterte. There’s about as much chance of this going anywhere as there is of me being appointed the next FBI Director, but hey, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

NORTH KOREA

This sounds promising:

The Trump administration made a clear break Thursday with diplomatic efforts to talk North Korea out of a nuclear confrontation, bringing the United States and its Asian allies closer to a military response than at any point in more than a decade.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that 20 years of trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program had failed and that he was visiting Asia “to exchange views on a new approach.”

Soon after Tillerson’s remarks, in a sign of mounting tensions, the North Korean Embassy held an extraordinary news conference in Beijing to blame the potential for nuclear war on the United States while vowing that its homegrown nuclear testing program will continue in self-defense.

We’re fast approaching the point where the only way to keep Donald Trump’s promise that North Korean will never develop an ICBM will be to strike the country’s missile facilities, which is a scenario that probably won’t end well. Absent diplomacy, it’s hard to see where else this situation can go.

SOMALIA

Somali pirates released the oil tanker they’d hijacked a couple of days ago, along with the crew, after a long day that included a gun battle with Somali naval forces and negotiations with tribal elders on shore. They reportedly agreed to release the ship without being paid a ransom after they’d learned that it had been hired by Somali businessmen.

UKRAINE

Kiev imposed sanctions on a number of Russian-owned banks today, preventing their Ukrainian branches from moving money out of the country.

GREECE

A Greek group calling itself “Conspiracy of Fire Cellsclaimed responsibility for sending a letter bomb to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble on Wednesday, thereby also implicating themselves in a letter bombing at the International Monetary Fund’s Paris headquarters today. The German bomb was intercepted, but the Paris bomb did injure the person who opened it. That bomb was apparently sent from Greece, hence suspicion falling on this “Fire Cells” group.

BALKANS

Johannes Hahn, the European Union official in charge of bringing new countries into the bloc, spoke to the prime ministers of Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia in Sarajevo today. His message? Settle your various internal and external beefs so that you can join the EU. The problem with that message? Between Brexit and the rise of anti-expansion right-wing governments in EU states like Poland and Hungary, there’s little reason for any of the six Balkan states to believe they’re ever going to join the EU no matter what they do. The carrot only works if the horse knows it’s eventually going to get to eat the damn thing.

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Conflict update: March 7 2017

WIKILEAKS

WikiLeaks, the organization whose involvement in the Edward Snowden affair, the Chelsea Manning affair, and last summer’s DNC/Podesta hack launched the careers of a thousand self-declared national security experts, has released a whole new batch of classified information, this time from the CIA:

The new documents appear to be from the CIA’s 200-strong Center for Cyber Intelligence and show in detail how the agency’s digital specialists engage in hacking. Monday’s leak of about 9,000 secret files, which WikiLeaks said was only the first tranche of documents it had obtained, were all relatively recent, running from 2013 to 2016.

The revelations in the documents include:

  • CIA hackers targeted smartphones and computers.
  • The Center for Cyber Intelligence, based at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, has a second covert base in the US consulate in Frankfurt which covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
  • A programme called Weeping Angel describes how to attack a Samsung F8000 TV set so that it appears to be off but can still be used for monitoring.

Boy am I glad we bought an LG. Well, maybe I should wait for the next tranche of documents to hit before I say that. Weeping Angel seems problematic, but to me the most troubling revelation is that the US intelligence community has been compiling zero day exploits in mobile device operating systems and then sharing those exploits with foreign intelligence services.

As was the case with the Snowden leaks, I expect the fallout from this leak to reverberate for months (particularly if this is only the first batch of documents) and to impact everything from intelligence gathering to America’s relationships with its allies. It’ll be a huge diplomatic test for an administration that has shown almost zero capacity for diplomacy thus far and a president who goes to DEFCON 2 when somebody contradicts him on “Morning Joe” and really hasn’t faced an actual crisis–at least, not one that wasn’t of his own making–yet.

MUSLIM BAN TAKE TWO

Offered without comment, because it would only be superfluous, here’s Slate’s Joshua Keating: Continue reading

Conflict update: February 12 2017

We’re in the middle of a windstorm and I keep losing power, so I’m going to have to call it a night with a lot of stuff still left to cover. I’ll be back tomorrow though. The storm blew through and I decided to stay up late to cram everything in here. You’re welcome, or I’m sorry, depending on your perspective.

Michael Flynn

I may have something more to say about this story later this week, especially if something else breaks, but let’s at least note that Donald Trump’s favorite and most unhinged general could be out of a job soon. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn spent the month or so before Donald Trump’s inauguration talking with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about potentially easing or lifting US sanctions against Russian individuals and/or institutions. This is…well, I realize that nobody has ever been convicted under the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from conducting their own foreign policy, and Flynn won’t be the first. But this is a pretty blatant violation. It’s one thing for personnel in an incoming administration to take meetings with personnel of other governments in order to exchange pleasantries, get to know one another, and even discuss some major areas of policy. It’s something else for the personnel of an incoming administration to directly undermine the foreign policy of the current, albeit lame duck, administration.

Not that anybody in the Trump administration would care, but this report makes a liar out of Flynn and Vice President Mike Pence, who both denied that any such conversations took place. And of course the administration should be hyper-sensitive to any new stories suggesting an inappropriate relationship between it and Russia. It is possible, then, that Flynn could be jettisoned in some kind of face-saving maneuver. Even before this story broke there were rumblings about Flynn losing influence in Trump’s inner circle, and now that it has broken the White House seems pointedly unwilling to rush to his defense. Trump’s CIA just reportedly refused to issue a security clearance to one of Flynn’s National Security Council appointees, which seems like kind of a bad sign too. Other than Trump, I’m not sure what kind of support network Flynn has within the administration–Defense Secretary James Mattis reportedly isn’t a fan, and apparently neither is new CIA Director Mike Pompeo. So it could just be a matter of convincing Trump that Flynn has really brought shame upon the administration (and, well, he does stand out even among this collection of thieves, sociopaths, and grifters) to usher him out the door.

Syria

The Syrian rebel High Negotiation Committee has chosen a delegation to attend the next round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva on February 20. Interestingly, the HNC, which is based in Saudi Arabia, has opted to include representatives from two other Syrian exile groups–one based in Cairo and the other in Moscow–in its delegation. It does not, of course, plan to include any representatives from the two insurgent groups doing most of the actual fighting against the Syrian government (Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham), which as usual leads one to wonder how useful these talks can possibly be.

In the fight against ISIS, Turkish forces and their rebel clients have apparently entered the city of al-Bab. Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan says that after they take al-Bab, his forces will continue right on to Raqqa–which, of course, isn’t going to sit well with anybody. It’s not going to sit well with the Syrian army, which is advancing on al-Bab from the south and nearly engaged in a full-on battle with those Turkish forces last week only to be talked down by Moscow. Next time Russia may not be able to play mediator. It’s also not going to sit well with the Kurdish YPG, which is expected, per the British government, to have isolated Raqqa by sometime this spring. Turkey’s interest in taking Raqqa is much less about defeating ISIS than about making sure the YPG doesn’t take it.

Speaking of the Kurds, since I highlighted Roy Gutman’s anti-YPG piece last week, I want also to highlight Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi’s response. Tamimi has some of the same issues I had with Gutman’s piece, specifically that he relies on potentially biased sourcing and draws inflammatory conclusions without much evidence to support them, but he goes into more detail and has some things to say about Gutman’s work more generally: Continue reading

Conflict update: January 7 2017

Ivory Coast

I’m going to level with you and say that I wasn’t going to write one of these tonight, but for the fact that something pretty big seems to have flared up in a country that doesn’t get much American attention under any circumstances and that has been more or less pretty quiet for a few years now. Beginning yesterday, Ivorian soldiers in the city of Bouaké began mutinying over low pay and poor living/working conditions, and by the middle of the day today their revolt had spread to cities across the country, including the Ivory Coast’s largest city, Abidjan. There were multiple reports of soldiers seizing control of cities, erecting barricades, and firing weapons, but if there have been any casualty reports I’m not aware of them.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara announced later in the day that he’d reached an agreement with the mutineers to get them to return to their bases, but at some point, and I’m not clear on this but I think it happened after the deal was announced, soldiers surrounded a residence in Bouaké where the country’s defense minister, Alain-Richard Donwahi, was staying, having flown to the city earlier in the day to try to talk to the mutineer leaders. It seems they were unhappy about the agreement, which apparently doesn’t address all their concerns, or maybe they were angry that, while announcing the deal, Ouattara also spent some time chastising the soldiers for their actions. That siege has reportedly now been lifted and the people who were in the house, including Donwahi, have been allowed to go.

I won’t pretend to understand Ivorian politics in the slightest, but Ouattara came to occupy his office after his forces won a civil war in 2011. Well, characterizing it that way is unfair to Ouattara, who was the internationally recognized winner of the 2010 Ivorian presidential election–the civil war was fought because incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who is currently on trial before the International Criminal Court, refused to concede. So he didn’t just seize power by force, he was elected first. But the army as it currently exists is apparently patched together from forces that fought each other during the 2002-2011 period when Ivory Coast was under almost constant internal tension between the northern and southern (and, if you must, Muslim and Christian) segments of the country (the 2011 war was the last manifestation–so far–of that tension). It’s hard to say (well, at least for me it is) whether, or how much, lingering tensions within the army or between the army and Ouattara’s government may have played a role in this uprising, and whether or not this mutiny might be the harbinger of a new round of troubles.

The Gambia

Continue reading

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.

Iraq

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.

Syria

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.

Iran

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.

Turkey

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.

Egypt

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.

Yemen

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

Philippines

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.

Myanmar

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.

Libya

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.

Nigeria

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.

Somalia

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.

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

Conflict update: December 26 2016

Israel

The fallout from Friday’s UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s illegal annexation of occupied Palestinian territory continued all weekend. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government began by summoning the ambassadors of the 12 security council members who voted in favor of the resolution and with which Israel has relations (Venezuela and Malaysia also voted yes but don’t have relations with Israel), plus the US, which abstained but didn’t exercise its veto. It recalled its ambassadors from Senegal and New Zealand, cancelled planned state visits from the Senegalese foreign minister and the Ukrainian prime minister, and announced that it was ceasing foreign aid to Senegal. You may note here that Israel seems to be heaping a lot of abuse on Senegal, but not so much on more powerful members of the council. Funny how that works. Today the Israelis announced that they were going to “suspend all working ties” with the 12 countries that voted “yes” and have diplomatic ties with Israel. What are “working ties,” you ask? Beats me. I’m not even sure Netanyahu knows. It sounds like a response and it’s ambiguous enough to mean anything, so there you have it. All in all, you might say we’ve seen a three-plus day-long Israeli tantrum.

True to form, rather than engage the substance of the resolution–it’s not even clear how he could engage with the substance without demonstrating that he’s been lying about his commitment to a two-state solution all the time–Netanyahu has tried to cast Friday’s vote as an international conspiracy against Israel (and, really, all Jews), masterminded by the Obama administration. And there’s something deeply revealing in that framing.

The resolution was about Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, period. It certainly wasn’t about Jews, and it wasn’t about Israel…unless, of course, you believe that the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are both part of Israel. But international consensus, US policy, and stated Israeli policy since 1967 has been that these territories are not part of Israel–the entire concept of a “two-state solution” relies on the idea that the occupied territories are not part of Israel. Successive Israeli governments have pretended, with deceasing credibility, that they are firmly committed to a two-state peace. Netanyahu keeps insisting on it. But you can’t reconcile the settlements with a two-state peace, which is why any criticism of settlements is immediately conflated with an attack on Israel itself.

What’s happening now, amid Israel’s collective rage over a UN resolution that, at the risk of beating a dead horse, had no practical effect on anything, is that the curtain is being pulled back, the lie is being exposed. Anybody who believed, or pretended to believe for political reasons, that the Israeli government ever had any intention of giving up occupied territory in exchange for peace with the Palestinians must now reckon with proof that the Israeli government’s actual position is that the occupied territories are, were, and will remain part of Israel. Anybody who’s actually watched the settlement process and its slow-moving ethnic cleansing of the West Bank since the 1970s could have told you this, but it was easier for most people, and certainly most governments, to believe the pleasant lie that a negotiated two-state peace was possible. It’s suddenly become much harder to pretend that Israeli lip-service about trading land for peace has been anything more than a stalling tactic, a way to buy more time to build more settlements (with many more on the way) and drive more Palestinians off of more West Bank land.

And now that those cards are finally out on the table for everybody to see, it’s time for the rest of the world to decide how to deal with them. No more pleasant lies.

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Conflict update: December 23 2016

Barring some kind of major happening I’m out for the next couple of days. Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating it and Happy Hanukkah to those who are celebrating it. To those who are celebrating both, stop hoarding all the presents.

Now, one last dose of (mostly) bad news for you all.

Israel-Palestine

I don’t want to make much more out of today’s surprise UN vote than I’ve already made, but I do want to stress that, for any practical purpose, this Security Council resolution changes virtually nothing. Nobody’s going to impose sanctions on Israel now, though Israel is imposing its own sanctions on other countries. Nobody is going to suddenly start blocking settlement construction. Israel will continue annexing the West Bank. When you hear somebody tell you this is going to hurt the peace process, remember that Israel strangled the “peace process” to death years and years ago. When they tell you that the only way there can be peace is for Israel and the Palestinians to talk to each other, understand that there’s literally nothing about this resolution that prevents or impedes that in any way. These things are propaganda. Right-wing Israeli politicians warn of grave threats to the peace process every time somebody coughs the wrong way in the UN General Assembly, but there’s been no greater enemy of an actual peace process, going back at least to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, than the Israeli right.

The only thing that really happened today is that the Israeli government got embarrassed, rightly, and a whole bunch of assholes, both in Israel and here in America, got real mad about it. Oh well.

Syria

Aleppo finally got a break from war yeah right, Aleppo is still being shelled by rebels on its outskirts, who are still being targeted by government airstrikes. And in Damascus, the government says it had to cut the water supply after rebels poured diesel into a spring that supplies the city.

At the risk of repeating myself, the biggest thing to watch now in Syria seems to me to be the tug of war between Iran and Turkey over who can be Moscow’s best pal. The prize is control over the peace process and Syria’s transition out of full-scale war (some level of violence is likely to continue indefinitely). Turkey, which is still getting along with Russia despite the tension caused by the Karlov assassination, would like to sway Moscow toward developing a relationship with Turkey’s rebel proxies, which might lead to Russia pushing for a transition that maybe isn’t entirely what Bashar al-Assad has in mind. Iran would prefer, more or less, to just leave Assad as is; he’s not their ideal client but he’s the best they’re going to do. Iran is operating from the stronger position here because their interests have been in alignment with Russia for some time now while Turkey’s have not, but even so, and with all due respect to Juan Cole who definitely knows his shit, I think talk of a “Russo-Iranian Middle East” might be a little premature.

In al-Bab, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Turkish airstrikes killed 88 civilians over the past day.

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