The Syrian War started in 2011 as an uprising and protests against the government of Syria led by Bashar Al Assad. Originally, the rebel forces were known as the Free Syrian Army but later splintered into several different groups, one of which is ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). The conflict is complex, with several internal and external groups and nations fighting for control of Syria and Northern Iraq.
This conflict has grown in complexity with more groups and nations being pulled into the conflict since the beginning in 2011 to include to varying degrees: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon, Russia and The United States. Some of the major nonstate groups to be involved are: The Free Syrian Army, ISIL, the Kurds, and various other rebel groups.
Developments: Russia has sent at least a dozen ships, including two frigates off the coast of Syria and possibly as many as 17 according to Syrian sources. Both the Russian and Syrian forces are preparing for the siege and recapture of the last major rebel stronghold in Idlib province. The United States and the U.K. have warned Russia and Syria that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated and will be responded by with more airstrikes against various targets within Syria.
Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami visited with Bashar Al Assad this past week signing an agreement which would solidify an existing agreement meant at keeping Iranian troops within Syria. The United States and Isreal are greatly opposed to this deal for security reasons.
What to watch: The coming siege of the Idlib province is closer with the Russian ships in the area most likely the time is close for the retaking of the province from the rebel forces. Many rebel fighters from other parts have resettled here, so this may be seen as their last chance to either give up or face almost certain death.
Analysis: This will be a major event should this go wrong for all sides of this engagement. This is a very populated area with over 2 million residents and even more most likely as many of the separatists/rebels have relocated here. You have a high civilian population, but yet Turkey is already having to harbor millions of refugees from Syria and there is no indication that they are willing or can accept the displacement of so many people in this area should the situation continue to deteriorate.
The worst case scenario for this coming siege is a high number of refugees along with all the dead an wounded civilians, possibly the most since the war began along with Russia and the United States already at war with words on who is to blame for chemical attacks that have not even happened. Russia has already accused the White Helmets of carrying fake chemicals to stage fake chemical attacks. Should there be a confirmed chemical attack the United States along with possibly the U.K. will most likely strike targets in Syria, but how will that all play out with so many Russian warships in the area?
War in Donbass, Ukraine, Ukrainian/Russian conflict
This conflict started in March of 2014 when pro-Russian rebels in the Donbass (Eastern Ukraine) took control of government buildings after the successful annexation of the Crimea near the Black Sea by Russia. This conflict is complex with both Russian and Ukrainian forces involved as well as pro-Russian rebel groups and separatists as well as Ukrainian militia groups involved. The Russian government is also thought to have played a major role in large-scale election medaling and cyber attacks on Ukrainian power grids and infrastructure during this conflict.
Developments: According to the OSCE there were over one hundred ceasefire violations recorded this past week:
From the OSCE website: “In Donetsk region, the SMM recorded more ceasefire violations, including, however, fewer explosions (about 110 explosions), compared with the previous reporting period (about 120 explosions).”
What to watch: Watch for whatever proposals have supposedly been made with regards to the meeting that Putin has had with President Trump and Angela Merkel on his visit recently to Germany. Expect something in the near future as Trump has been said to have wanted to think over any proposals Putin made in regards to Ukraine.
Analysis: One issue that was brought up recently at the summit between Merkel and Putin in regards to Germany, Russia, and Ukraine has been the construction of the Nordsteam 2 pipeline that runs will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine in delivering their natural gas to Europe. With most hurdles out of the way, it seems like it is up to Germany to give the final yes for the project to proceed which would be completed in 2019.
For the United States, major operations started after the September 11, 2001 attacks from the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Following the September 11 attacks which were planned and coordinated by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the United States attacked on October 7, 2001, in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks and has since been involved with the long conflict in Afghanistan. The conflict is now the longest in U.S. history and with thousands of troops still deployed it will take more time to ensure that it will not degrade back to a pre 9/11 condition which was a hotbed of terrorist and extremist ideology.
Developments: According to Afghan sources the leader of ISIS in Afghanistan Abu Sayeed Orakzai has been killed in an airstrike near the Pakistani border in Nangarhar province.
Russia is hoping to host a gathering of countries invested in the peace of Afghanistan to include the Taliban and the United States, however, the United States and Afghanistan have turned it down citing that any talks should be led by Afghanistan.
There is a report that China is building a base near the China/Afghan border to combat any possible spillover from the conflict into its own borders. The troops stationed there are thought to pursue a counter-terrorism training mission, but the Chinese government has denied this report.
Analysis: All of this news this past week comes together when looked at more strategically from the viewpoint of both China and Russia. Russia has a big interest in combating ISIS in Afghanistan as many of its fighters come from states that border Russia. China has been cracking down on any signs of Islamic militancy within its own borders and both countries want to play much bigger roles in the world than they have in the past few years so these moves to be more involved not only serve to deter terrorism, but fit within an overall strategy both politically and militarily to be more involved in world affairs.
China already has an overseas base in the Horn of Africa and having a forward operating base in Afghanistan would give them a second military base outside of their own country. China is planning a naval base in Pakistan which would really start to give China the ability to forward project their naval strength throughout the Indian Ocean and well into the Middle East.
Russia, China, and the United States have a vested interest in combating terrorism, however, what has changed in recent years is both the ability and the willingness of Russia and China to not only meddle in areas that were dominated by both NATO and the United States but the ability to start forward project their influence as they have with both the Syrian conflict and now Afghanistan based on a report which China denies.
Mexican Drug Wars
The Mexican Drug wars have been bloody for decades but the modern drug war as referred to in the media was generally thought to have started in 2006 when Mexican President Felipe Calderon sent over 6,000 Mexican troops to his native state of Michoacan. As a result, the drug wars have increased greatly and tens of thousands of murders have occurred since then, which was a dramatic increase from before 2006. Mexico’s drug wars have claimed sometimes tens of thousands of lives a year, with many reports of escalating brutality such as beheadings and torture.
Developments: There is a new cooperative effort between U.S. and Mexican drug enforcement officials to go after the finances of top drug kingpins and extradite them to the United States for prosecution. The new alliance has offered few details, but some reports seem to suggest that there is an awareness that the drugs go through the Midwest through cities like St Louis and Detroit. Officials from these cities along with Mexican and Chicago officials held the press conference in Chicago where they have had an unusually high rate of shootings and killings related to either drugs or gang violence.
The incoming Mexican President Manuel Lopez Obrador has also stated that he will keep the military in a crime-fighting role in regards to the drug cartels. He previously wanted more federal law enforcement officers to fill that role, however, the numbers he wanted for that to happen will take more time than what would allow a smoother transition from using the military in its law enforcement role.
What to watch: September 30, 2018, is the deadline for the funding, which would be the deadline to watch this play out in the next coming months.
Mexico has elected Andreas Manuel Lopez Obrador as new incoming President of Mexico and is expected to take over December 1st, 2018 is reportedly considering a big change in how Mexico deals with its drug cartels and the war on drugs which have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives since major developments in 2006. He is considering a number of new strategies such as more opportunities for the youth such as scholarships to divert them away from the drug cartels, more security at the ports, having the military move away from doing law enforcement and more emphasis on police taking over more law enforcement duties. This is according to Olga Sanchez, who is Obrador’s proposed interior minister.
Analysis: The news over the new trade agreements between the United States and Mexico is the big news coming from the news in Mexico at the moment, however, the increased cooperation between the US and Mexican drug enforcement officials is good news, but with few details as to what they are going to do differently there is no way to assess how that will work or whether it is just talk. This is undoubtedly an international problem with drugs affecting both users and crime rates in the cities of America. Cartels move the drugs across the border and have networked with various gangs across America fueling violence and crime so anything to cut the cartels is good, but on the other hand with a constant demand from the United States putting one kingpin in jail may mean more infighting and violence as the power vacuum creates just more of the same as in the case of the Sinaloa cartel after the capture of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.