Conflict update: December 12


Aleppo is, for all practical purposes, back in the Syrian government’s hands:

Syrian state media said President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had captured 98% of the eastern areas of Aleppo that have been largely rebel-held since 2012. The rebels and the opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces were in control of 90%.

Rebels were pushed Monday from several more neighborhoods after days of intense ground combat with regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes and militias comprising thousands of Shiite Muslim foreign fighters.

Opposition officials estimated that more than 100,000 civilians remained in the besieged rebel-controlled areas of the city, huddled in homes and basements or seeking shelter. Tens of thousands have recently fled the area.

Other civilians were trying to flee the bombardment by running across dangerous front lines to regime-controlled areas. Residents still in rebel areas said they have received reports of arrests, army conscription and killings of some of those who have fled.

The air and artillery bombardment that accompanied this final push was reportedly the most intense of the whole Aleppo operation. In the end, all the yakking about ceasefires and evacuation plans and corridors and safe passage deals and whatever else John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov like to chat about over IM amounted to absolutely nothing. Aleppo is Assad’s again, its eastern half largely in ruins, the carnage will probably take days or weeks to fully process (and even then it may never be accurately estimated), and the war goes on, though it may be entering a new phase. If you support Assad you’re happy, if you support the rebels you’re angry, and if your biggest concern is how many people had to be sacrificed so that Assad could pretend to have his country back and the rebels could pretend to make a noble fight to the death…well, I’m not convinced anybody like that actually exists. It’s war, you have to pick a team.

Meanwhile, in one of the many parts of Syria about which Assad couldn’t give a shit, there are reports of chemical weapons being used in Palmyra, but it’s unclear which side might have used them. Both the Syrian army and ISIS are known to have some chemical weapons capabilities, and the situation is so fluid that it’s very difficult for any outside observers to really get a handle on what’s going on. Also, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, diplomats discussed the importance of getting humanitarian aid to Syria ASAP and lambasted Russia for refusing to do a deal over Aleppo and for focusing so much on propping up Assad that it allowed ISIS the space for a resurgence. This, as they say, is honestly so important. If Russia doesn’t clean its act up, then these same diplomats are very likely to meet again at some point and talk some more about how frustrated they all are. Nobody wants that.

The Turkish army has started dropping leaflets on ISIS-held al-Bab warning civilians to take shelter, suggesting that their assault on the city is imminent. Ankara says that after al-Bab is taken, Operation Euphrates Shield will target Manbij next, meaning it will lay off ISIS in favor of attacking the Kurds.

The War on Terror

Airwars, a London-based group tracking the coalition war against ISIS, released a new report today criticizing the coalition for drastically undercounting the number of civilian deaths caused by its airstrikes and a lack of transparency in how the coalition investigates civilian casualties. While the US acknowledges 173 civilian deaths (no, really, Washington expects people to believe that), Airwars says the number is over 1500.


Four thousand Iraqi federal police are about to deploy to eastern Mosul to reinforce the special forces units already in the city. Those special forces announced that they captured another neighborhood in eastern Mosul today but apparently the plan calls for them to make additional progress before the police join the fight.

Coalition airstrikes destroyed the final bridge connecting the western and eastern sides of Mosul over the Tigris. The bridge had been hit previously but only to render it unusable, and ISIS was able to repair it well enough to keep using it.


In the aftermath of Saturday’s terrorist attack in Istanbul, Ankara has started rounding up Kurds by the hundreds. Over 235 people have been picked up across the country, because the Turkish government no longer misses an opportunity to make wide ranging arrests of its perceived enemies. Included among the detained are some 118 members of the predominantly Kurdish opposition party HDP, and it really wouldn’t be that farfetched for Ankara to simply make it illegal to govern while Kurdish.


Authorities have arrested four people and think they’ve identified the suicide bomber responsible for yesterday’s attack on St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo. In spite of all that, they don’t seem ready to say who was behind the bombing, and so far nobody has claimed responsibility. Meanwhile Egyptian Copts are still seething at what they see as the government’s–and not just Sisi’s government, but Egyptian governments going back decades–failure to protect them.


A Bahraini court has upheld a nine-year prison sentence for Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the main Shiʿa opposition party, al-Wefaq. Salman was convicted in July 2015 of calling for violent regime change despite the fact that he has repeatedly called for a peaceful transition to a constitutional monarchy. Eh, details.


UNICEF issued a new report today on the state of child welfare in Yemen, and it was about as terrible as you’d expect:

More than 400,000 children are at risk of starvation in Yemen, with nearly 2.2 million in need of urgent care, according to the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

New figures indicate that hunger among children has reached an “all time high,” with at least 462,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition – a drastic increase of about 200 percent since 2014.

In a report published on Monday, UNICEF said at least one child dies every 10 minutes because of malnutrition, diarrhoea and respiratory-tract infections.

This is the kind of thing that should drive people to action when it’s caused by natural factors–drought, disease, that sort of thing–but in this case it’s entirely man-made, and none of the men who have caused it seem the least bit interested in ending it.


Tragically unindicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir is warning people who are preparing for a planned public demonstration on December 19 that they will “have to confront the state.” Bashir isn’t exactly the subtle type.

South Sudan

At that same EU foreign minister meeting I mentioned above, the august ministers declared that they’re prepared to impose new sanctions on anybody found to be contributing to the violence in South Sudan. They didn’t actually impose any sanctions, of course, but they did talk about maybe imposing some at some point. That’s some hardcore shit right there.


Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta says he’s “seriously” thinking about pulling his country out of the International Criminal Court. Kenyatta, for what it’s worth, was once a target of the ICC for his role in the violence that followed Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. The charges were later dropped amid ICC accusations of witness intimidation.

The Gambia

A delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is heading to Banjul to try to convince Yahya Jammeh to do what people who lose elections are supposed to do–leave office peacefully.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The US and EU both imposed sanctions today on a number of top officials in President Joseph Kabila’s government. Kabila keeps postponing the presidential election that was supposed to happen this year, on account of the fact that his approval rating is in the single digits many logistical challenges involved with holding elections. The sanctions are meant to nudge Kabila toward the door.


Two roadside bombs in Zabul province on Sunday killed two civilians and one police officer, while another bomb in Kandahar today wounded four people.


Abu Sayyaf fighters released two Indonesian men whom they’d kidnapped for ransom six months ago. I admit this isn’t much of a story, but I try to look hard for some good news to throw in these things.


Police found a bomb outside the Labor Ministry in Athens earlier today. They disposed of it safely and there’s been no claim of responsibility.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Officials say they’re preparing for the return of a wave of Bosnians who went off to fight with ISIS in the Middle East. An estimated 226 Bosnians joined ISIS, and of those 65 were killed in action and 46 have already returned home. The risk that foreign fighters pose all over Europe is well-documented, and it will be imperative that returning fighters be identified and arrested and/or directed toward some kind of deradicalization effort.


French police have arrested eleven people in connection with the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice. They seem to have provided the attacker with the guns he later used in a shootout with police, and may not have had any direct knowledge about the attack.


Six people were arrested in three different British cities on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks. Also, a man stabbed an Asian man on a suburban London train, while shouting “I want to kill a Muslim,” in an incident that was definitely not terrorism because reasons.


Two men who were found guilty in British court of aiding terrorism were sentenced to eight and three years in prison, respectively. The men, Mohammed Ali Ahmed and Zakaria Boufassil, were convicted of giving money to Mohamed Abrini, a suspect in both the March 2016 Brussels and November 2015 Paris terror attacks.

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