North Africa
Haftar

Libya: Blackwater CEO trafficked arms to Russia-backed warlord

Erik Prince, former CEO of the notorious private military company Blackwater, violated the UN arms embargo on Libya with a clandestine pipeline to a rebel warlord, according to a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by the New York Times. The report found that in 2019 Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries and weapons to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting to depose the UN-recognized Libyan government—and is also being aggressively backed by Russia. (Photo via ISS Africa)

Iran
Mount Gare

Turkey, Iran in synchronous attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan?

Iraqi Kurdistan saw simultaneous air attacks—from Turkish warplanes on a mountain supposedly harboring PKK guerillas, and (in a far more audacious move) from an Iran-backed militia on the regional capital Erbil. In the latter attack, a barrage of rockets targetted a US airbase outside Erbil’s airport. Awliya al-Dam (Guardians of the Blood) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for the deaths of “the martyred leaders”—an apparent reference to the paramilitary commanders killed in the US drone attack on the Baghdad airport in January 2020. The Turkish strikes targeted Mount Gare, where PKK militants supposedly killed 13 captive Turkish soldiers being held in a cave complex. The PKK, however, said the captives had been killed in earlier Turkish air-strikes on the position. The affair sparked diplomatic tensions between Ankara and the new Biden administration in Washington, which initially refused to accept Turkey’s version of events. (Photo: Kurdistan24)

Iran
Iran-Missiles

Can Iran nuclear deal be salvaged?

President Joe Biden’s pledge to rebuild the Iran nuclear deal is already deteriorating into a deadlock—a testament to the effectiveness of the Trump-era intrigues that sabotaged the agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Biden and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei have each traded “You Go First” statements—the White House demanding Tehran return to compliance with the JCPOA and Khamenei insisting the US lift the sanctions that were re-imposed by Trump. There is indeed a case that the US, having abrogated the pact first, should now be the party to “blink” in the stand-off, and lift the sanctions as a good-faith measure. (Image via Wikipedia)

East Asia
Free Taiwan

Taiwan & Puerto Rico: forbidden symmetry

In Episode 63 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg draws a parallel between the self-determination struggles in Taiwan and Puerto Rico. Each is an island nation in the “backyard” of an imperial power, struggling for independence. Taiwan is de facto independent from China, with a movement to make it official. Puerto Rico is a de facto colony (officially an “unincorporated territory”) of the United States, with a movement for independence. Taiwan is being particularly threatened at this moment by the imperial power that covets it; Puerto Rico is being particularly fucked over at this moment by the imperial power that controls it. Yet the emergence of Taiwan-Puerto Rico solidarity is held back by the fact that their respective imperial metropoles are rivals on the geopolitical chassboard—another illustration of how a global divide-and-rule racket is the essence of the state system. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Image: Wang LeWei, Josh MacPhee, Mac McGill via Art for a Free Taiwan)

Syria
Derik

US forces sent back in to northern Syria?

Two days after President Biden’s inauguration, a large convoy of US military vehicles reportedly entered northern Syria from across the Iraqi border. The convoy, consisting of some 40 trucks and armored vehicles accompanied by helicopters, was reported by Syrian state media, citing sources on the ground. The putative sighting raises speculation that Biden is reversing the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, which had been ordered by Trump in 2019. The report comes as the uneasy peace between Kurdish forces in the region and the Assad dictatorship is breaking down, with new fighting in the town of Qamishli, shattering a de facto power-sharing arrangement. (Photo: North Press Agency)

Iraq
Iraq pipeline

Crisis-hit Iraq mortgages oil to China

Iraq has won an up-front $2 billion infusion from a state-owned Chinese oil company, as it continues to struggle amid the pandemic-triggered collapse in energy prices. After numerous bids to Iraq’s State Organization for Marketing of Oil (SOMO), the deal was clinched by ZhenHua Oil Co, subsidiary of China North Industries Group Corp (Norinco). The deal marks the first in which Iraq has offered a pre-payment for crude, with oil effectively used as security for a loan. According to Bloomberg, SOMO is to supply some 130,000 barrels a day of crude for five years. Norinco is primarily a defense company, with investments in oil and minerals in several countries. (Photo via Iraqi News Agency)

Afghanistan
Badakhshan

Did China plan ‘false flag’ attacks in Afghanistan?

India’s Hindustan Times reports that Afghanistan has busted a conclave of 10 Chinese espionage agents that was supposedly “operating a terror cell” in Kabul. Citing unnamed diplomats and security officials, the account claims the spies were in contact with the Haqqani Network, now the inner core of the Taliban insurgency, and were gathering information on the activities of Uighur militants in Badakhshan province. Badakhshan includes Afghanistan’s eastern “panhandle” that extends to the border with China’s Xinjiang region, and has been named before as a stronghold of Uighur militancy. The account states: “One view within the Afghan security establishment is that the detainees were creating a fake East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) module in Afghanistan to entrap ETIM operatives in Afghanistan.” ETIM is the supposed Uighur network blamed by Chinese authorities for sporadic armed attacks within the People’s Republic over the past generation, although there is skepticism that it actually exists in any organized sense. (Map via Afghan War Blog)

North Africa

Libya: Turkish troop presence threat to ceasefire

Libya’s eastern warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive last year to capture the capital Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), threatened to launch attacks on Turkish forces if Ankara doesn’t withdraw troops and mercenaries sent in to back up the GNA. Haftar’s comments came in response to the Turkish Parliament’s move to extend for 18 months a law that allows the deployment of Turkish troops in Libya. Turkey’s defense minister responded that any attack by Haftar on its personnel would be met with force. “A war criminal, murderer Haftar and his supporters must know that they will be seen as a legitimate target in case of any attack on Turkish forces,” Hulusi Akar said in an address to Turkish units in Tripoli. The ultimatum is a threat to the ceasefire that has largely held since it was signed in October. (Map: CIA)

Oceania
torres strait

Strategic strait at issue in Australia-China rift

Amid trade wars, diplomatic tiffs and propaganda sniping, the ugliness between China and Australia seems set to escalate as Beijing enters an agreement with Papua New Guinea to establish an industrial foothold within the narrow Torres Strait. Radio Australia reports that community leaders in North Queensland, just across the strait from New Guinea, fear that China’s plan to construct the facility will jeopardize border security and threaten the commercial fishing sector. There are also concerns that Beijing will attempt to militarize the outpost, seeking to counterbalance the new US-Australian naval base planned for PNG’s Manus Island. (Map: Torres Strait Regional Authority)

Africa
Jubaland

Breakaway regions at issue in Somalia-Kenya rift

Somalia severed diplomatic ties with neighboring Kenya, accusing it of violating Somali sovereignty and meddling in its internal affairs. Although the statement cited no specific grievances, it came exactly as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was hosting in Nairobi the president of Somaliland, a breakaway region in Somalia’s northwest that declared independence in 1991. Kenyatta and Somaliland’s President Musa Bihi Abdi signed a pact on increased security and economic cooperation—which is clearly viewed by Mogadishu as a step toward formal recognition. Two weeks earlier, Somalia ordered the expulsion of Kenya’s ambassador, accusing Nairobi of interfering in the electoral process in Jubaland, an autonomous region along the Kenyan border. Kenya maintains a military force of some 3,500 troops in Jubaland, where elections last year solidified the rule of the incumbent regional president, Ahmed Madobe, who is harshly at odds with Mogadishu. (Map: African Executive)

Africa
Somaliland

Russia seeks naval base in Sudan —and Somaliland?

Just after Russia finalized plans to establish a naval base on the Red Sea in Sudan, Moscow’s UN ambassador for the first time weighed in diplomatically on the dispute between Somalia and the separatist enclave of Somaliland, urging both sides to find a compromise solution. The move sparked speculation within the region that Russia is seeking a second naval facility at Somaliland’s port of Berbera, on the Gulf of Aden which guards the southern mouth of the Red Sea. This would allow Russia to establish a counter-presence to US, French and Chinese bases in Djibouti, just across the land border to the northwest, as well as Turkish military forces in Somalia proper to the south. (Map: Somalia Country Profile)

Africa
Somalia

Trump announces (pseudo-) withdrawal from Somalia

President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all the approximately 700 US troops in Somalia by mid-January. But the troops are not coming back to the US—they will be stationed just outside Somalia’s borders, in Kenya and Djibouti, ready to go back in as circumstances mandate. Air-strikes and drone warfare are to continue. Also remaining in Somalia will be a team of Pentagon advisors and a significant force of private contractors from the DC-based firm Bancroft Global, working with a US-trained elite commando unit to fight al-Shabaab and ISIS insurgents. (Photo: Nick Kibbey/US Air Force via Military Times)