World roundup: June 3 2021
Stories from Yemen, Indonesia, Venezuela, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
June 2, 1098: The army of the First Crusade captures Antioch after an extended siege. They were subsequently besieged themselves by a Muslim relief army.
June 2, 1896: Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi files a British patent application for his radio telegraphy device, titled “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus therefor.” When it was awarded the following year it became the first patent awarded for a communications system utilizing radio waves.
June 2, 1946: In a national referendum following World War II, the Italian people vote by roughly 54 percent to 46 percent to abolish their monarchy and adopt a republican form of government. This date is annually commemorated as “Festa della Repubblica,” Italy’s national day.
June 3, 1940: World War II’s Battle of Dunkirk ends with the last British soldiers evacuating that city and leaving the Nazis victorious. At Winston Churchill’s order, the Royal Navy returned to Dunkirk the following day to evacuate roughly 26,000 French soldiers, so the full evacuation wasn’t completed until June 4. In all the British military (aided by dozens of small civilian vessels) evacuated 338,226 soldiers from Dunkirk, along with another roughly 192,000 evacuated from other parts of France over the ensuing three weeks. The Nazis rolled into Paris on June 14, completing their conquest of France. Britain left a considerable quantity of materiel behind but the successful rescue of most of the personnel who were trapped at Dunkirk prevented a major defeat from reaching catastrophic levels.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for June 3, 2021:
172,888,772 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (+470,036 since yesterday)
3,716,383 reported fatalities (+10,281 since yesterday)
According to the New York Times vaccine tracker, over 2.01 billion vaccines have been administered worldwide, or roughly 26 per every 100 people
The Biden administration has finally gone public with some details on its vaccine distribution plan:
Of the first 25m tranche of doses to be sent overseas, Biden said 19m will be shared through Covax, the global vaccine-sharing initiative, with about 7m doses going to Latin America and the Caribbean, some 7m going to south and south-east Asia, and approximately 5m to Africa.
The doses would mark a substantial – and immediate – boost to the lagging Covax effort, which to date has shared just 76m doses with countries in need.
The remaining 6m will be directed by the White House to US allies and partners, including Mexico, Canada, South Korea, West Bank and Gaza, India, Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen, as well as for United Nations frontline workers.
Writing at Foreign Policy, the Quincy Institute’s Annelle Sheline argues that the Biden administration’s inability to broker new Yemeni peace talks is largely attributable to its unwillingness to acknowledge what’s happening inside Yemen:
In a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria discussing the war in Yemen, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted that “the Saudis have been engaged productively in trying to bring this war to an end.” He criticized the Houthi rebels, known formally as Ansar Allah, who “continue to hold out” by not agreeing to negotiate. His statements reflect the official U.S. stance, yet they betray either a lack of information or a refusal to accept the reality on the ground: The Houthis have defeated the Saudis.
As Sheline writes, the framework for Yemeni talks is rooted in a 2015 United Nations Security Council resolution that lays full responsibility for the war on the Houthis and implicitly assumes that they’ll be defeated. It is clearly not a suitable framework for talks in 2021, when its basic assumptions no longer apply.
The Wall Street Journal reports that recent demonstrations of the battlefield effectiveness of relatively cheap drones, most prominently Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2, may be changing the nature of the arms industry:
A soldier idles by a Russian-made T-72 tank. A moment later, a missile fired from a drone slams into the vehicle, exploding in an orange flash, blowing the man off his feet and leaving the tank a smoldering wreck.
The scene is one of dozens of aerial videos that were posted online in Azerbaijan last year showing off a new weapon. Over six weeks, it helped the nation regain territory in the Nagorno-Karabakh region that had been held by Russian-backed Armenian forces for more than two decades. The videos show attacks on tanks, trucks, command posts, mortar positions and radar installations.
Smaller militaries around the world are deploying inexpensive missile-equipped drones against armored enemies, a new battlefield tactic that proved successful last year in regional conflicts, shifting the strategic balance around Turkey and Russia. Drones built in Turkey with affordable digital technology wrecked tanks and other armored vehicles, as well as air-defense systems, of Russian protégés in battles waged in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan.
These drones point to future warfare being shaped as much by cheap but effective fighting vehicles as expensive ones with the most advanced technology.
Those high-end drones are still in demand, but their cost—and the unwillingness of the countries that manufacture them (the US, Israel, etc.) to sell to just anybody—has created a market for alternatives. And it would seem those alternatives are just as effective as the more expensive/harder to obtain models, or at least the difference is so negligible that it doesn’t matter.
There’s nothing new to report on the Israeli political front. But with the new “Change” coalition still days away from being ratified in the Knesset, Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies are putting on a full court press to try to peel individual legislators away from it. Even a single defector could collapse the whole effort. The coalition’s first order of business appears to be replacing the current Knesset speaker, Yariv Levin, who is a Netanyahu ally and could use procedural tricks to delay a vote on installing the new, Bibi-free cabinet. If the coalition manages to oust Levin it could schedule its ratification vote relatively quickly.
At least eight people were killed Thursday in two bombings in western Kabul. Both attacks targeted minibuses in predominantly Hazara neighborhoods, and given that the Islamic State claimed responsibility for two nearly identical attacks in Hazara neighborhoods in Kabul earlier this week, I don’t think there’s much mystery as to the culprit in this case.
Unknown attackers, presumably Kashmiri militants of some sort, gunned down Kashmiri politician Rakesh Pandita, a member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, in the town of Tral late Wednesday. In a separate incident, Indian police shot and killed a Kashmiri man who was being detained at a “counterinsurgency police camp” in Tral early Thursday morning, after he allegedly grabbed a weapon from a guard and wounded at least one police officer.
For the second year in a row the Indonesian government has decided not to allow its citizens to participate in the Hajj due to concerns about COVID. The Saudi government has yet to announce whether it will conduct a full Hajj this year after holding a very limited one last year, but if I had to guess I’d say they will not. This year’s pilgrimage may not be quite as restricted as last year’s but I can’t imagine it will be completely back to normal. Indonesia led the way in terms of canceling the pilgrimage last year, and now that it’s made this announcement that could clear the way for the Saudis to reveal their intentions. The challenge that arises from this is what happens to people whose Hajj plans have been derailed for the past two years once the Saudis do return things to normal. The kingdom probably cannot manage a pilgrimage that’s two or three times the normal size, but would-be pilgrims are intent on fulfilling a religious obligation and, if you prefer a less spiritual concern, in many cases they’ve already paid for their pilgrimages. They will insist on some kind of accommodation.
On a similar note, two new studies suggest that the Indonesian government is drastically undercounting the number of Indonesians who have contracted COVID. Certainly Indonesia isn’t the only country undercounting its COVID stats due to insufficient testing, but the divergence between official figures and reality may be especially stark in this case—at least one of the studies suggests that around 15 percent of the population has been infected, while the official stats put that number at somewhere around 0.7 percent.
The Biden administration on Thursday issued an executive order barring, as of August 2, any US investment in 59 Chinese companies with links to China’s military and/or its intelligence community. Biden’s order amends an EO issued by Donald Trump back in November, expanding its blacklist from 31 entities to 59.
Thousands of people demonstrated in Khartoum on Thursday to mark the two year anniversary of a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters in which Sudanese security forces killed at least 128 people. Sudan’s interim government has done essentially nothing to bring anyone responsible for that massacre to justice, mostly because some of the people who were responsible are currently running said government. Thursday’s protest appears to have gone relatively peacefully—a similar protest last month, on the two year anniversary of the crackdown according to the Islamic calendar, saw security forces kill two people.
Libya’s Buraq Air carrier flew a passenger flight from Tripoli to Tobruk on Wednesday, which may not sound like a big deal but is the first time a passenger airliner has flown between those two cities—capitals of Libya’s warring would-be governments—in several years. It may be a small sign that maybe the country is stitching itself back together again, but it is a sign nonetheless.
The French government added to the slowly mounting international pressure on Mali’s ruling junta on Thursday, announcing that it is suspending joint operations with the Malian military. France’s “Operation Barkhane” anti-jihadist mission will continue but without overt collaboration. The Malian junta carried out a coup against its own interim government late last month, installing leader Assimi Goïta as interim president and removing any pretense of civilian authority. So far the international response has been fairly muted—the regional ECOWAS bloc and the African Union have suspended Mali’s membership but have not imposed any sanctions beyond that.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Fighters from a local militia called the FPIC reportedly killed at least 11 miners in an attack in the DRC’s Ituri province early Wednesday. The group has reportedly seized effective control of the Djugu region, which is an area replete with small artisanal mining operations. Dozens of people have been killed in attacks in the eastern DRC this week, including at least 53 in a raid on two villages along the border between Ituri and North Kivu province that took place late Sunday and into Monday morning. That attack was almost certainly carried out by the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces militia. A number of other, smaller attacks have also taken place.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and his cabinet won a no confidence motion in parliament on Thursday when the Czech Communist Party and its 15 votes opted to boycott the process. The party withdrew its support for Babiš’s government in April but clearly wasn’t interested in joining the opposition’s effort to oust it. The Czech Republic is heading into a general election in October anyway, so even if Babiš had lost the vote it probably wouldn’t have mattered that much.
The Pentagon is warning that it could take action to “deter” any weapons shipments from Iran to Venezuela. This warning comes, of course, in response to claims that two Iranian warships are allegedly on their way to Venezuela for some unidentified reason. It is as yet unclear whether they are actually bound for Venezuela, nor is it clear what they’re carrying though weapons wouldn’t be out of the question. What is clear is that there’s no justification for the United States to intervene in a Venezuelan-Iranian arms deal apart from the “who’s going to stop us?” principle, which in fairness is what justifies most of US foreign policy these days. There’s no indication what sort of action the Pentagon is contemplating, but given that the United States has already shown it will engage in acts of piracy where Iranian oil is concerned, I would assume it’s prepared to do the same thing with other types of cargo.
Foreign Policy is reporting that Joe Biden will nominate career diplomat Julieta Valls Noyes to be his assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration. She’ll be the Biden administration’s point person in terms of implementing its proposal to let 62,500 refugees into the US this year. So far the administration has talked about breaking with the Trump administration’s anti-refugee policies, but it hasn’t done very much to turn talk into action.
Finally, the Pentagon has issued its annual report on civilian casualties, finding that it was virtuously responsible for a mere 23 civilian deaths (all of them purely accidental, of course) in 2020. This is, in a word, bullshit:
“The failure to accurately account and make amends for civilian harm does a disservice to civilians already suffering unimaginable loss, as well as to the Americans who deserve fuller transparency into the ways that U.S. operations have harmed civilians,” Annie Shiel, the senior adviser for U.S. policy and advocacy at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, told The Intercept. She also noted an “enormous discrepancy between DoD’s civilian casualty numbers and those published by civilian harm tracking organizations, human rights groups, the United Nations, and the media.”
A conservative accounting of civilians killed by the U.S. military in 2020, according to Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group, is almost five times higher: 102 noncombatant deaths resulting from U.S. attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. And as Chris Woods, the director of Airwars, pointed out, “The Pentagon’s failure to pay out any compensation to affected civilians during 2020 – despite several million dollars being available for that purpose — suggests a lack of interest in the devastating aftermath of those U.S. actions which go wrong.”
The Pentagon’s dramatic undercount does not include any of the secret attacks carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency, which the U.S. government does not acknowledge. Nor does it take into account the civilian toll resulting from assistance to allies, such as Saudi Arabia, whose bombing campaign has killed thousands of civilians in Yemen.
Undercounting its civilian kills is an annual tradition at the Pentagon, so consider this another way in which the administration that’s “Putting Human Rights at the Center of US Foreign Policy” is pretty much just maintaining business as usual.