World roundup: August 27-28 2022
Stories from Libya, Kosovo, Colombia, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
August 26, 1071: The Battle of Manzikert
August 26, 1922: The Turkish army begins what’s known as its “Great Offensive,” the final push to oust an occupying Greek army from Anatolia. The offensive was successful and brought the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish War, itself a theater of the larger Turkish War of Independence, to a victorious (from Turkey’s perspective) conclusion.
August 27, 1896: Shortly after 9 AM local time, British forces invade the Zanzibar Sultanate over a succession dispute. Around 40 minutes later the Anglo-Zanzibar War was over and Britain’s man was on the throne. This conflict, the shortest war in recorded history, marks the point at which Britain’s protectorate over Zanzibar really took hold and the sultanate—founded when Zanzibar and Oman split into separate kingdoms in 1856—ceased to be an independent political entity in any meaningful sense.
August 28, 1189: In an effort to find himself a new capital city, titular King of Jerusalem Guy of Lusignan begins a siege of Acre. It took the armies of the Third Crusade, under Richard the Lionheart and Philip II of France, to finally conclude the siege and capture the city in July 1191.
August 28, 1521: Ottoman forces under Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent capture the then-Hungarian city of Belgrade (Nándorfehérvár to the Hungarians) and destroy most of it. The Ottomans rebuilt the city and made it the capital of the Sanjak of Smederevo, and within a short time it became the largest Ottoman city in Europe other than Constantinople.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The Syrian Democratic Forces militia says it’s undertaking a “campaign” to find and eliminate Islamic State cells operating inside its al-Hol displaced persons camp. This helps explain why the SDF arrested several people within the camp on Friday over their alleged IS connections. According to the SDF at least 44 people have been killed in the camp so far this year, many showing signs of “brutal torture,” and there are indications that IS elements within al-Hol are in contact with IS elements outside the camp. The violence has made it harder to maintain even basic humanitarian assistance for al-Hol’s residents, already challenging because of camp overcrowding and insufficient SDF resources.
Israel’s most recent attack on facilities in Syria apparently caused substantial damage to an arms depot and military research center near the town of Masyaf in Tartus province. Satellite imagery shows widespread devastation at the center, the result of a chain reaction of explosions that is I suppose an unsurprising outcome of bombing a site where missiles are being stored.
The Turkish military reported on Saturday that its forces had killed—excuse me, “neutralized”—nine Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) personnel in airstrikes in northern Iraq. Separately, Turkish state media reported that the National Intelligence Organization recently killed two PKK members in Iraq’s Sulaymaniyah province.
According to state media, Kuwaiti Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah has scheduled the country’s forthcoming parliamentary election for September 29. Meshal dissolved parliament earlier this month, though he announced his decision to do so back in June over ongoing disagreements between the current parliament and the Kuwaiti cabinet. Those disagreements have, among other things, blocked the approval of next year’s budget.
A US federal magistrate advised on Friday that the Biden administration cannot arbitrarily seize money from Afghanistan’s central bank to compensate victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The administration froze some $7 billion in Afghan foreign reserves held in US institutions after the Taliban regained control of the country last year. It’s since decided to divvy that up into two roughly equal chunks, one to finance humanitarian projects in Afghanistan and possibly recapitalize the bank (provided the Taliban meet certain US prerequisites) and the other to pay 9/11 victims who have won legal judgments against the Taliban.
Friday’s opinion makes the obvious point that the central bank’s funds are not property of the Taliban so they can’t be linked to those lawsuits. According to the judge, the administration could theoretically attach the bank’s reserves to the Taliban and thereby allow them to be used to pay out those judgments, but to do so it would have to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate Afghan government. Which it doesn’t want to do. The opinion will be reviewed at the district court level.
The Malaysian government on Friday announced that it intends to unveil next year’s budget on October 7, three weeks ahead of its deadline to do so. That’s raised speculation that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is planning to dissolve parliament and call a snap election, roughly a year ahead of schedule. Ismail Sabri is playing down that speculation but there are indications that his United Malays National Organization party is preparing for an early election.
The US Navy sailed two cruisers, the Chancellorsville and the Antietam, through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday in its first “freedom of navigation” mission in that waterway since Nancy Pelosi’s jaunt to Taiwan earlier this month caused a major spike in Chinese naval activity in the vicinity. The Chinese military said it tracked the two vessels but otherwise the transit appears to have gone without incident.
Tripoli on Saturday became the scene of the worst factional violence Libya has suffered in almost two years, as fighters aligned with Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh battled fighters aligned with other Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha. According to Libyan health authorities at least 32 people were killed in the fighting, at least 17 of them civilians, and another 159 wounded. There are few confirmed details as to what happened but it’s likely that Bashagha and his supporters were attempting to fight their way into the capital, something they’ve tried before but not with this level of violence. The situation appeared to have calmed down by Sunday with Dbeibeh’s forces still in control of the city, but tensions remain high and the underlying political drama is of course unresolved.
The Tunisian government on Saturday recalled its ambassador from Morocco, retaliating for the Moroccan government’s decision to recall its Tunisian ambassador the previous day. In doing so, the Tunisian Foreign Ministry stressed its “total neutrality on the Western Sahara issue in line with international law.” It was a decision by President Kais Saied to invite the pro-independence Polisario Front to a conference in Tunis this weekend that prompted Morocco’s outburst. Tunisian officials say the invitation was only in keeping with the policies of the African Union, in which the Polisario-led “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” is a member and therefore gets regular invitations to AU events.
Guinea’s largest opposition group, the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC), announced on Saturday that it’s canceling anti-junta protests scheduled for September 4 but is still planning to hold demonstrations on September 5. The FNDC claims it’s canceling the earlier demonstration at the request of leaders of the Economic Community of West African States, who have been trying to negotiate with the Guinean junta to adopt a sped-up political transition timetable. They undoubtedly view FNDC’s protests as counterproductive.
At least six people were killed in Burkina Faso’s Est region earlier this month when militants, presumably Islamist, attacked a convoy of vehicles from the Boungou gold mine. There are no details as to the identity of the attackers and as far as I know no group has claimed responsibility.
The Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR), one of a handful of Chadian rebel groups not to join the recent peace accord with the country’s ruling junta, claimed on Saturday that its fighters killed at least ten Chadian soldiers in a clash in the Tibesti region. Chadian authorities are denying that any such incident has taken place.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Some 14 people were killed across several incidents in the eastern DRC over the weekend. A local Mai-Mai militia reportedly attacked a Congolese military outpost outside of Butembo, in North Kivu province, on Friday, killing one soldier and losing two of its own fighters. Another soldier was killed along with one protester in new demonstrations against the United Nations DRC peacekeeping mission. At least three civilians were killed in what local officials are saying was an Allied Democratic Forces militia attack in North Kivu late Saturday. Finally, on Sunday, fighters from the ethnic Lendu CODECO militia killed at least six people in Ituri province.
According to AFP at least 18 people were killed in inter-communal fighting in the western DRC’s Mai-Ndombe province earlier this month. The fighting involved the Teke and Yaka communities and may have begun over a land dispute in the town of Kwamouth—specifically, over demands by the Teke that Yaka residents pay a tax for living on land the Teke regard as theirs. Congolese security forces deployed to the area and things appear to be calm now.
The Russian delegation reportedly blocked the adoption of the UN’s latest nuclear disarmament declaration on Friday because language in the declaration was critical of Russia’s seizure of, and its ongoing military operations around, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The declaration was supposed to cap the UN’s routine five year review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, an event that should have taken place in 2020 but was postponed due to COVID. The lack of a declaration carries no substantive impact (the Gang made the NPT permanent in 1995 so these reviews have no bearing on its status) but the reviews, and their final statements, are supposed to force a renewed focus on global denuclearization so this is something of a symbolic disappointment.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced via Twitter on Saturday that the Kosovan and Serbian governments had reached an agreement on personal documentation that should forestall another round of unrest in northern Kosovo. According to Borrell, the Serbian government “agreed to abolish entry/exit documents for Kosovo ID holders and Kosovo agreed to not introduce them for Serbian ID holders.” Pristina had been planning to stop recognizing Serbian ID documents on August 1 but postponed the implementation of that policy to September 1 following a violent outburst by Kosovan Serbs in late July.
The Slovak government agreed over the weekend to allow fellow NATO members Czechia and Poland to patrol Slovak airspace. This will allow the Slovak military to pull its 11 MiG-29 aircraft from service and could free those planes up to, say, be donated to Ukraine. There is as yet no deal to do that nor is there any plan to transfer those aircraft without drawing a Russian response. Slovakia is awaiting the delivery of 14 F-16 aircraft from the US so this Czech-Polish agreement is just a temporary measure until those planes arrive in 2024.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Buenos Aires on Saturday to express support for legally embattled Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Prosecutors announced on Monday that they’re seeking a 12 year prison sentence for Fernández de Kirchner over alleged corruption during her 2007-2015 presidential administration. She maintains the charges are fabricated and politically motivated. There were reports of isolated violence during Saturday’s demonstration and authorities say that seven police officers were injured.
A new Colombian ambassador, Armando Benedetti, arrived in Caracas on Sunday, restoring full relations between Colombia and Venezuela for the first time since 2019. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro broke off relations with Bogotá back then over former Colombian President Iván Duque’s support for Venezuelan presidential claimant Juan Guaidó, though relations between the two countries had been sour for several years prior to that. Maduro and new Colombian President Gustavo Petro agreed during Petro’s transition period to restore full bilateral relations.
Petro on Saturday offered a broad ceasefire to all of Colombia’s various armed groups, including leftist rebels, right-wing militias, and drug cartels. This is the most concrete step Petro has taken to date in his effort to reduce violence in Colombia. Several of these armed groups, including the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN), have expressed some level of interest in negotiating with Petro’s administration and Saturday’s ceasefire offer could be a “put up or shut up” moment for some of them.
Finally, the Pentagon announced on Thursday a series of measures meant to reduce civilian casualties in US military operations, featuring the creation of something called the “Civilian Protection Center of Excellence.” The plan calls for more deliberation and analysis ahead of drone strikes and other military actions as well as more thorough and frequent civilian casualty assessments after such actions. At this point it remains to be seen whether any of these reforms will actually work, and it very much remains to be seen whether any of them will survive the Biden administration. Nevertheless, as The Intercept’s Nick Turse writes, this focus on reducing civilian casualties is long overdue:
After more than two decades of wars and interventions that have killed an estimated 387,000 noncombatants, the Department of Defense has finally unveiled a comprehensive plan for preventing, mitigating, and responding to civilian casualties.
The 36-page Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan, or CHMR-AP — written at the direction of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — provides a blueprint for improving how the Pentagon addresses civilian harm. The plan requires military personnel to consider potential harm to civilians in any airstrike, ground raid, or other type of combat. It also signals a more nuanced understanding that civilian harm extends beyond the deaths of innocents and may be far more connected with two decades of U.S. military defeats and stalemates than the Pentagon has previously admitted.