Obviously I’ve been away for a bit. I’m not going to even begin to cover everything that’s happened in the … Continue reading Asia/Africa update: November 27 2017
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ASIA UZBEKISTAN One of Uzbekistan’s more charming features is the annual enslavement of much of its population to pick cotton, … Continue reading Asia/Australia/Africa update: June 28-29 2017
Happy New Year, everybody! I had some grand vision of leaping right back into blogging today, but some car trouble (a false alarm, luckily) and a little “I need a vacation from my vacation” syndrome combined to stifle most of those plans. It is a new year though, so I assume that all the bad stuff from last year hit the reset button while I was away and we’re back to a clean slate.
Oh, shit. As you might expect, since it’s been a few days, this could get long.
Miraculously, against long odds, the Syrian ceasefire negotiated by Russia and Turkey has held and appears to be leading to a renewed push toward a negotiated peace to end the Syrian civil war. There are just two small technical glitches to overcome: one, the fighting has never actually stopped, and two, because the fighting has never actually stopped the Syrian rebels announced today that they’re suspending their involvement in peace talks. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
There was, believe it or not, a small window where it actually looked like this truce might work. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in support on Saturday and fighting did seem to decrease, except for clashes in Idlib and Hama, places where groups not party to the ceasefire–JFS, in particular–are prominent. But then the fighting just kept escalating, particularly over the springs in the Wadi Barada region outside Damascus. Wadi Barada supplies a significant portion of the capital’s water supply, and as you know that supply has been cut lately, due to rebel sabotage or government bombing or both, and Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been besieging the area in an effort to starve the rebels out and secure the water. They claim JFS is active in Wadi Barada and therefore it’s not covered by the ceasefire, but the rebels clearly disagree, which is why several rebel groups announced today that they will no longer participate in the proposed Kazakhstan-based peace talks unless and until the government decides to fully implement the ceasefire.
I’m not planning on holding my breath.
Playing out on the sidelines of the rapidly collapsing ceasefire and accompanying peace talks is the tug of war between Iran and Turkey over Russia that I wrote about a few days ago. The Turks and Iranians have absolutely nothing in common in Syria apart from their chummy relationship with Moscow, and consequently somebody is going to have to come away the loser if their triumvirate is going to survive. So far that’s been Turkey, which has abandoned its direct pursuit of Assad’s ouster, but you can see the Turks trying to cultivate ties between Moscow and the Syrian rebel groups with which it has sway. There, too, though, Ankara has a pretty weak hand, since it doesn’t have much sway over the strongest (and most extreme) rebel factions–JFS, Ahrar al-Sham, the Zenki Movement–so it can’t really deliver what Moscow wants, which is an end to the rebellion in exchange for a political settlement. Iran is in the stronger position but it’s also clearly keeping an eye on the budding Turkish-Russian bromance to make sure its interests are protected.
Lots to cover today, unfortunately.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told the UN Security Council today that the Syrian government is now fully in control of Aleppo and that military operations in the city have stopped. Now, this is the second or third, or tenth or whatever, time that the Russians have said the fighting in Aleppo is over, and the only common thread in all those previous announcements has been that the fighting wasn’t over. But this time even the rebels are apparently saying that the fighting is over and that they’ve reached a ceasefire agreement with the government that will allow rebel fighters to be evacuated from the city. So maybe the fighting really is over. Prior to the apparent ceasefire, there were plenty of reports coming out of the city about Bashar al-Assad’s troops massacring civilians, women in the city choosing to kill themselves rather than risk being assaulted by the attackers, and other terrible atrocities. And I’m not saying these things didn’t happen. But in the midst of a violent battle, when many of the sources for these reports were active participants in the fighting, parsing this or that particular report of an atrocity is probably a fool’s errand. It’s enough to say that there were undoubtedly atrocities committed in Aleppo. The entire Aleppo battle–hell, the entire war, has been an atrocity.
Many web news outlets are reporting that ISIS has at least made some kind of assault on the T4 airbase, situated to the west of Palmyra (which ISIS captured two days ago). A few places of fairly dubious reliability are saying they’ve taken the base, but the consensus on Twitter seems to be that they have not managed that, at least not yet. The fight may be ongoing. The assault itself shows that ISIS is still on the move, though, which means that between reinforcements coming in from Iraq, the breakdown of plans to attack Raqqa, and Damascus’s decision to ignore everything except Aleppo, they’re back up off the mat.
The Turkish assault on al-Bab is running into trouble as their forces encounter ditches and booby traps set in place by ISIS to slow their advance. There is some speculation that Ankara might ask Washington to authorize airstrikes on al-Bab to help the campaign, but it’s not clear how the US would respond. Ideally, the Turks would be willing to stand down against the YPG in exchange for US strikes, but that seems like a long shot.
War on the Rocks has an interesting new piece by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi on the rise of an ISIS-affiliated militia named Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed in the Deraa area around Damascus. They reportedly had a run-in with Israeli forces on November 27 near the Golan Heights. It’s a revealing look into the rebellion’s constantly shifting militia structure and into the reluctance of even ISIS-affiliated units to engage Israel militarily.
The US announced that a drone strike last week in Raqqa killed two ISIS leaders connected to the November 2015 terror attack in Paris.
A group called Conflict Armament Research said today that ISIS’s weapons manufacturing program in Mosul “indicates a complex, centrally controlled industrial production system” that puts it on par with most nations’ arms making capabilities. Its analysts were apparently able to tour ISIS facilities in parts of eastern Mosul that have been secured by Iraqi forces. Thanks to a robust supply chain via Turkey, they were apparently able to standardize their weapons manufacturing across the “caliphate,” so that ammunition produced in one place was certain to fit weapons produced elsewhere.
Counter-terrorism forces in eastern Mosul reportedly liberated two more neighborhoods.
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