Conflict update: December 27 2016

This may be mercifully (for all of us) short tonight.

World War III

Senator John McCain (R-WEBOMBINGANYONEYET) went to Estonia today and said some words about America’s commitment to NATO and protecting its Baltic members from possible Russian aggression. He was trying to reassure the Baltic states in advance of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Trump having as much as said during the campaign that he wouldn’t participate in military action to defend the Baltics if push came to shove. But of course John McCain isn’t really in a position to make any promises about what the Trump administration might do in matters of war and peace, McCain having managed somehow to alienate Trump while endorsing him anyway.

I am not a huge fan of NATO. I am particularly not a huge fan of NATO expansion, which I lump in with a number of very stupid, shortsighted, chest-thumping decisions made by Western nations in the years after we “won” the Cold War. I do, however, think that treaties need to mean what they say, otherwise the entire global system will start breaking down with potentially massive unintended consequences. So I’m sympathetic to McCain’s argument here, and sympathetic to the argument that Trump’s refusal to commit to upholding America’s international agreements makes conflict more, not less, likely. But again, let’s be clear: what John McCain has to say about stuff like this means next to nothing.


The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is “hoping” that Washington will supply it with MANPADS now that Congress has opened the door for that sort of thing. Russia says any such move would be a “hostile act,” mostly because the only reason the SDF might someday need MANPADS would be to shoot down Syrian (or Russian, or Turkish) aircraft. But the Obama administration is flatly denying that it has any plans to provide MANPADS to anybody in Syria, on the grounds that doing so would be incredibly dangerous. Even the YPG would be a risk to use those weapons at least against Turkey, and that’s without factoring in the possibility that they might lose a handful of them to a group like ISIS or JFS that would certainly use them against Western civilian targets.

In other SDF-related news, their fighters are reportedly a mere five kilometers away from the Tabaqa Dam, about 40 km west of Raqqa, after an offensive that pushed ISIS out of a nearby village and killed somewhere between 25 and 38 of the group’s fighters.

Meanwhile, Turkey wants to bring Saudi Arabia and Qatar with it to the next round of Syrian peace talks with Russia and Iran. Good luck with that.


There’s been some small movement in eastern Mosul, but I’d rather focus today on the developing story in Sinjar. The PKK has been invited to set up shop in Sinjar by the Yazidis, who relied on PKK forces to help defend their people from ISIS back in 2014 after Iraqi peshmerga fled the area. But the PKK’s presence in Sinjar is unacceptable to almost everybody–Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government, obviously, but also the Iraqi government and even the US, which still views the PKK as a terrorist organization (and has to routinely do mental gymnastics to pretend that the YPG is not directly affiliated with the PKK). Everybody, that is, except the PKK and the Yazidis. If the PKK doesn’t leave Sinjar, then the situation could easily spiral into violence–between the PKK and KRG, who have gone to war with each other before, and maybe even between Turkey and Iraq. While the Iraqi government doesn’t like having the PKK in Sinjar, you can imagine that it won’t look kindly on a Turkish invasion–something Ankara has been threatening with respect both to Sinjar and Tal Afar–to dislodge them.


The first major trial involving people–in this case, 29 police officers–accused of participation in July’s failed coup has begun in Istanbul. Meanwhile, President Tayyip Erdoğan, whose Syria policy has included direct support for extreme jihadi groups like Ahrar al-Sham as well as for Jaysh al-Fatah, the joint operations command run by Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (AKA al-Qaeda in Syria), says the US is aiding terrorists in Syria. Pots and kettles everywhere rolled their eyes.


I hope you’re sitting down for this: the Israeli government is planning to build thousands of new homes in occupied East Jerusalem despite Friday’s UN condemnation of that practice. This is for some reason being cast by American media as “defiant” rather than, I don’t know, “illegal” or “a war crime.”


Representatives from Russia, China, and Pakistan met in Moscow today to discuss the security situation in Afghanistan, warning that ISIS’s growing presence in the country is particularly troubling.

What’s that? You’re wondering if there were any Afghan representatives at the conference to discuss Afghanistan?

Ha, funny story. It’s a reasonable question, but no, and Kabul is–understandably, I think–miffed about it. This was a meeting of the Taliban’s #1 patron (Pakistan), a country that has shown some interest in becoming another Taliban patron (Russia), and a country that just wants stability in Afghanistan (China), and they all shockingly concluded that Afghanistan has a big non-Taliban problem and that Kabul should really try being nicer to the Taliban and maybe that might clear things up. Then they promised to invite Afghanistan to come to their next meeting about Afghanistan, which seems big of them.

UPDATE: Shortly after I hit “post” on this, reports started coming in about an explosion in Kabul. This is the most recent news I’ve seen about it:


A new Somali parliament was sworn in today, so good for the–I’m sorry, the UN is trying to say something?

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia called on Tuesday for a redo of the legislative balloting that began in October. It said there were a number of “egregious cases of abuse of the electoral process, including seats reserved for women candidates only that were ultimately taken by male candidates.”

Violence, corruption, intimidation and the unauthorized substitution of electoral college delegates also marred voting, the U.N. Somalia mission said in a statement. It said the decision to not disqualify candidates who allegedly committed election irregularities represented a blanket amnesty.

Huh. Well, that’s probably not good. The country was supposed to elect a new president on Wednesday, but that vote has been postponed and really maybe this one should have been as well.


Warring factions in Mozambique have agreed on a seven-day truce for New Years. Yes, I didn’t actually know there were any warring factions in Mozambique until I read this piece, but I’m glad they’re taking a break from the fighting. The conflict, between the right-wing opposition RENAMO party and the left-wing governing FRELIMO party, goes all the way back to the country’s 1976-1992 civil war but is now being fueled by competition to see who gets to control Mozambique’s apparently considerable offshore energy deposits.


Russian authorities are blaming a faulty wing flap for causing the crash of their military aircraft over the Black Sea on Sunday. Which presumably rules out terrorism.

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