The Syrian Civil War 

The Syrian conflict started in 2011 as an uprising against the government of Bashar Al Assad but quickly spiraled in a Civil War. The original rebel force, known as the Free Syrian Army, was splintered into several groups, one of which is ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

The conflict is complex, with several groups and nations vying for the control of Syria and northern Iraq. Among others, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon, Russia and the United States are involved in varying degrees.  Some of the major non-state actors are the Free Syrian Army, ISIL, and the Kurds.

Developments:

Turkey and Russia have agreed to a demilitarized zone near the city of Idlib.  The agreement will take effect by October 15 and cover roughly 15 to 20 kilometers of territory. Idlib has a population of roughly 3 million, half of who are displaced Syrians from other parts of the country. The demilitarized zone will seek to avert a further displacement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, during a joint news conference following their meeting in Sochi, Russia, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. The province of Idlib in northwestern Syria is the largest bastion of the opposition, and Turkey has been eager to prevent a potential government offensive there. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

Israel has sent a delegation to Moscow to give additional information about the downing of a Russian plane by the Syrian air defense.  Russia is blaming Israel for putting the IL-20 reconnaissance plane in danger while Syria claims that it was a defensive action taken against four Israeli aircraft foraying into Syrian airspace. Russia has accused Israel of using the IL-20 as a cover for its attack.

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The coming weeks will determine if the demilitarized zone will work. Russia has indicated that if the agreement is successful, it will pull back heavy weaponry such as tanks and artillery.

If the agreement doesn’t hold, there could be another catastrophic refugee crisis. To be sure, Turkey doesn’t want over a million people fleeing in its borders, especially since the currency crisis. Russia, on the other hand, doesn’t want another crisis that would encourage U.N. and U.S. involvement.  Following the recent chemical attacks, another refugee crisis could prove the final stroke and precipitate U.N. and U.S. action against Assad’s regime. Russia has already accused the rebels of wanting to stage a fake chemical attack to force U.S. intervention.

Compounding to this are the occasional Israeli airstrikes, which Israel rarely acknowledges.

 

The war in Donbass, Ukraine

This complex conflict started in March 2014 when pro-Russian rebels in Donbass (Eastern Ukraine) took control of government buildings after the successful Russian annexation of Crimea. Currently, Ukrainian troops and militias are pitted against pro-Russian separatists and Russian forces. Throughout the conflict, the Russian government has used cyber-warfare to interfere in Ukrainian elections and upset the country’s power grids and telecommunications infrastructure.

Developments:

According to the OSCE, there are ongoing cease fire violations in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. There have been 41 explosions in the former and 58 explosions in the latter.

Recently, the Ukrainian President stated that he will soon seek NATO membership.

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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks during his annual state-of-the-nation address in Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (Mykola Lazarenko/Presidential Press Service Pool Photo pool via AP)

Next month, Ukraine will host the Clear Sky exercise. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, “this exercise will foster the achievement of NATO standards, as well as increase regional security.”

The exercise Clear Sky won’t be well received by Russia, nor will Ukraine’s desire to join NATO. Should the exercise be successful, it will show the ability of Ukrainian forces to cooperate with NATO members. Adding to the exercise was a recent visit of two U.S. Navy warships in the Black Sea.

 

Afghanistan

The conflict, which began in 2001, is now the longest in U.S. history. Tens of thousands of troops are still deployed to ensure that the country doesn’t become a terrorist haven once more.

Developments:

September 5: ISIL took responsibility for a suicide attack on a local gym in Kabul. The attack killed 21 people.

September 11: At least 68 people were killed in a suicide bombing in the Eastern province of Nangarhar.

September 14: More than 37 people were killed across the country by the Taliban. Most of the casualties were members of the Afghan security forces.

September 17: Taliban attacks killed 27 members of the Afghan security forces.

Russia is hosting talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Moscow invited 12 countries to participate. The talks were postponed after a request by the Afghan government.

This month’s bombings highlight the different factions and the state of the Afghan situation. The Taliban is clearly active; ISIS is also active. The Afghan government doesn’t have the control of a properly functioning government. The Taliban and the Afghan government now share a common enemy: ISIS. So perhaps, something will come from the Moscow talks.

 

Mexican Drug Wars

The Mexican Drug wars have going on for decades. The modern iteration, however, is unusually bloody. It started in 2006 when Mexican President Felipe Calderon sent over 6,000 Mexican troops to his native state of Michoacán. In response, the cartels counterattacked murdering tens of thousands of people since then (beheadings and torture have become commonplace in Mexico).

Developments:  Last weekend the bodies of five men were found in an abandoned truck in the town of Uruapan. Most likely they were involved in the turf war between two competing cartels in the area the Viagra Gang and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The area is among the most violent in Mexico.

During the same weekend, gunmen in Mexico City dressed as mariachi players killed five people in the city’s Plaza Garibaldi.  The gunmen opened fire on a restaurant and then fled on motorcycles.  Police have two men in custody for the shooting.

 

Forensic investigators examine the crime scene where authorities say at least four people have been killed and nine wounded in a shooting at Garibaldi Plaza, in Mexico City, Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. Gunmen dressed as mariachis opened fired on an establishment in the capital’s emblematic plaza, a spot popular for tourists. (AP Photo/Stringer).