South Asia
Kashmir

Himalayan border conflicts escalate

China has mobilized thousands of troops backed up by armored vehicles to a contested area along the border with India in the Himalayas, where troops last month hurled stones at each other across the unmarked boundary known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The area in question is in the Galwan River valley between Ladakh, in Indian-administered Kashmir, and Chinese-administered Aksai Chin. Top generals from both sides held talks in Moldo, on the Chinese side, but tensions remain high. India charges that Chinese forces are hindering patrols by its troops along the LAC in Ladakh and Sikkim, and refutes Beijing’s claim that Indian forces have crossed to the Chinese side. (Map via Wikipedia)

East Asia
nimitz

US-China brinkmanship over Taiwan

In an alarming tit-for-tat, Taiwan’s defense ministry said that several Chinese fighter jets briefly entered the country’s air defense identification zone, and the US took the unusual move of flying a C-40A military transport plane over Taiwan. The US overflight was assailed by Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office as “an illegal act and a seriously provocative incident.” This comes as the US is deploying three aircraft carrier strike groups to the Pacific—the first such triple deployment in three years, seen as an explicit warning to China. The deployment follows accusations by Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of US forces in Japan, that China is using the COVID-19 crisis as a cover to push territorial claims in the South China Sea. (Photo of USS Nimitz: US Navy via USNI News)

North Africa
haftar

Libya: Haftar’s forces retreat from Tripoli

Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) regained full control of Tripoli with the recapture of the city’s airport—the last pocket held by the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, whose forces had been besieging the capital since April 2019. Haftar’s forces fled east toward Tarhouna and Bani Walid, their last remaining strongholds in the west, with the GNA forces in pursuit. The GNA advance, dubbed Operation Volcano of Rage, follows reports last month that mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group, who had been fighting for Haftar, were being evacuated from Libya. This suggests that Russian support for Haftar may have been sacrificed in Moscow’s new rapprochement with Turkey, the main foreign sponsor of the GNA. (Photo: Libya Observer)

Planet Watch
warplane

Trump tears up arms control treaties

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that the United States is formally withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies, a post-Cold War trust-building measure that allows the US and Russia to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others’ territories. Having last year withdrawn from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, the White House is now threatening to similarly abandon New START, the 2010 agreement that limits the US and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles each. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Syria
syria occupied

Has Assad outlived usefulness to Putin?

The Russian International Affairs Council, an official diplomatic think-tank, issued a report predicting that Russia, Turkey and Iran will soon reach a joint agreement to remove Syrian dictator Bashar Assad from power, replacing him with a transitional government including members of both the regime and opposition, as well as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Russian news agency TASS suggests that Moscow fears a repeat of the “Afghan scenario” in Syria if it continues to back an unpopular regime. (Photo via Syria Call)

Syria
Syrian refugee children

From revolution to genocide: Syria’s grim anniversary

Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II. (Photo of refugee children on Jordanian border: Peter Biro/ECHO via The New Humanitarian)

Syria
Syria oil map

Great powers jockey for control of Syrian oil

In his talks with Vladimir Putin on their carve-up of northern Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed joint Russian-Turkish control of the oil-fields in Deir ez-Zor province, now under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports that the SDF is selling oil from the those fields to the Assad regime. This is certainly an absurd irony, as US forces are backing up the SDF in control of the fields. Further evidence that, rhetoric and even official policy notwithstanding, the US is actually tilting to Assad in the Syrian war. The sales would appear to be another bid by the Kurds to win a separate peace with the Assad regime now that they are caught between foreign powers. The bitter irony is that Assad, ultimately, is also hostile to Kurdish autonomy. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Africa
Jubaland

Somalia clashes escalate regional tensions

Somali troops clashed with forces from the country’s semi-autonomous Jubaland region in a flare-up of violence that is raising tensions with neighboring countries and may play into the hands of the militant group al-Shabab. Tensions have been rising since August, when Jubaland’s incumbent president, Ahmed Madobe, won regional elections that Mogadishu described as “not free and fair.” The central government wanted a loyalist candidate to win, as it seeks greater control over Somalia’s regions ahead of upcoming national elections. Kenya, which has troops deployed as part of an African Union peace enforcement operation, is on the side of Madobe, who it sees as an ally against al-Shabab, while Ethiopia has aligned with Mogadishu. Kenya accused Somali troops of encroaching on its territory and destroying property during the new violence, while the US said that the clashes are a distraction in efforts against al-Shabab. An estimated 56,000 people have been uprooted by the recent fighting. according to the UN. (Map: African Executive)

Europe
Lesbos

Grim milestone for the Mediterranean

Refugees have become political pawns in a power play between the EU, Greece and Turkey. Turkey abrogated its deal with the European Union to contain refugees within its borders, as a means of pressuring the EU to support its military campaign in Syria. Dramatic scenes ensued at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum-seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos. Amid all this came a timely reminder of what can happen when people feel compelled to attempt ever more dangerous journeys. The UN migration agency, IOM, announced that the drowning of 91 people off the coast of Libya last month and other recent fatalities had taken the toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 above 20,000. (Photo: IOM)

Syria
White Helmets

UN: Russia commits ‘war crimes’ in Syria

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report charging that Russia is responsible for war crimes in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The report focuses on indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas from July 2019 through January 2020, and apparently intentional attacks by “pro-government forces” on civilian targets such as hospitals and medical facilities. The report comes as Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a new ceasefire in Idlib province, after a meeting in Moscow. The deal creates another “security corridor,” to be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish forces—but this time several kilometers north of the previous buffer zone the two powers had been recognizing before the recent regime offensive. Areas south of the zone are effectively ceded to the Assad regime, and the line of control is closer to Idlib’s capital, which remains in opposition hands. (Photo: White Helmets)

Syria
Idlib ruins

Syria: endgame or escalation?

Amid all the recent talk about how the war in Syria is approaching an imminent end, it suddenly looks set for international escalation. With Turkish forces resisting the Assadist advance into Idlib province, the last rebel-held territory, there is clear potential for direct combat between a NATO member and the Damascus regime or its Russian backers. The humanitarian catastrophe is worsening in Idlib, with over half a million displaced and pouring into camps along the Turkish border. Regime forces this week recaptured Kafranbel, an important symbolic victory, as the town was among the first to rebel against Assad and was long a symbol of the revolution. Regime and Russian aerial bombardment continues to take a horrific toll, with schools and hospitals intentionally targeted.  (Photo: White Helmets)

North Africa
Sudan rebels

Internationalization of Libya war

A senior UN official charged at a press conference in Munich that numerous countries are violating the Libya arms embargo and must be held accountable. UN Deputy Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams said that “the arms embargo has become a joke.” The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Khalifa Haftar, has been fighting with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) for control of Tripoli since April of last year. Russia, Egypt and the UAE are supporting the LNA, while Turkey supports the GNA. Foreign powers are violating the arms embargo “by land, sea and air,” Williams said. A UN report also accuses Haftar of bringing in Sudanese rebels from Darfur to fight for the LNA, while Turkey is accused of importing Syrian rebels to fight for the GNA. (Photo: Libya Observer)