Conflict update, November 15


The only really big conflict news today, and it is big, is that the Russian/Syrian pause in bombing the shit out of eastern Aleppo, and rebel-held Syria in general, has definitely ended:

Warplanes resumed airstrikes on the besieged rebel-held sections of Aleppo, Syria, on Tuesday, as Russia began a major new offensive against insurgents battling Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, said it had started “a big operation to deliver massive strikes” against the Islamic State and the Levant Victory Front, formerly known as the Nusra Front, in Idlib and Homs Provinces.

Jets taking off from Russia’s aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, conducted their first strikes on Syria, the Russian military said, noting that its forces were hitting targets in the two provinces. It was unclear whether the strikes on Aleppo were by Russian or Syrian government warplanes.

The fighting shattered the relative calm that had prevailed in the rebel-held eastern parts of Aleppo for about three weeks.

It would be silly to attribute this new Russian offensive to Donald Trump’s election last week–Moscow couldn’t have moved its naval assets into place that quickly, so this was clearly in the works for some time. But it’s not silly to think that the U.S. election in general motivated Russia to act now. Either possible election outcome–a Clinton administration looking for ways to escalate American involvement in Syria, or a Trump administration looking for ways to make nice with Russia–augured in favor of a move against Aleppo, and apparently against Syrian rebels in Idlib and Homs as well, following the election. Or, to put it more bluntly, the Obama administration’s lame duck status, regardless of who won the election, augured for a new offensive right after the election. At any rate, it’s obviously too soon to talk about casualties from this new round of bombing, but there’s no reason to expect the figures, when they do start coming in, to be low.

Elsewhere in Syria, Turkish jets bombed al-Bab a couple of days ago in support of a Free Syrian Army effort to take the city and then push on to Raqqa. Turkey would like to get its proxies to Raqqa in time to short-circuit any possibility of Kurdish YPG forces (fighting under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces) entering the city, but of course Turkey’s arrival at Raqqa would also raise the possibility of fighting between two groups both ostensibly there to attack ISIS. There’s also the matter of distance; al-Bab is over 150 km from Raqqa, which is no small distance for an army to move, and let’s keep in mind that they, ah, haven’t actually taken al-Bab yet. If Turkey wants to beat the YPG to the punch, its rebel proxies are going to have to hurry.


Progress, and there is still progress, is slow enough that Iraqi commanders are now talking in terms of “months” before the city is fully liberated. This is not surprising in the least but it also increases the possibility of some kind of major complicating event–by which I mean it raises the possibility of Turkey intervening to go after Popular Mobilization Units who appear to be entering sensitive areas like Tal Afar.


John Kerry announced today that the Yemeni rebels and the Saudi-led coalition to kill every last Yemeni defeat them have agreed to a ceasefire, and that the Obama administration was going to attempt to see an end to the Yemeni civil war before Trump takes office in January, with the formation of a national unity government by the end of this year. The current Yemeni government immediately declared that it was not “interested” in any ceasefire, and I suppose whatever happens now will determine whether or not the current Yemeni government is, in any practical sense, actually in control of Yemen. If the fighting continues, then the Yemeni government is still in charge. If Riyadh is able to enforce a ceasefire over Yemeni objections…well, then, I guess we’ll know who’s in charge in that case, right?


A drone strike in the southern Libyan city of Sabha on Monday may have killed Abdulrahman Belhaj Hesnawi, AKA Abu Talha al-Libi, AKA Dr. Nguyen Van Falk, a “key figure” in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and/or one of its many offshoots. Hesnawi is, allegedly, a close associate of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the West African (though he moves around quite a bit and has been spotted in Libya before) al-Qaeda leader who is arguably the most dangerous terrorist leader in the world right now who isn’t in ISIS. Take this with a grain of salt, though; other reports say that the Hesnawi was not killed in the strike, though at least seven other people were.


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