Afghanistan Update: 18 August, 2021

As the Afghan debacle continued to unfold, the incompetence demonstrated by the Biden administration continues to defy logic. Politics aside, there were opportunities to change the script in the previous weeks, so to speak, and make certain the forces and capabilities were on hand to conduct a major evacuation from a rapidly crumbling Afghanistan. The White House simply couldn’t be bothered. Now, instead of admitting its mistakes, the Biden administration continues to point the finger and lay blame on a myriad of people and organizations while being careful not to accept a shred of responsibility. Even the excuses are becoming more desperate and asinine. In his first interview since Kabul fell over the weekend, Biden even claimed that he believed there was no way the departure of US troops could’ve been handled better. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has admitted that US forces do not have the numbers or capability to go out into the countryside and gather large numbers of civilians who are eligible for the government flights out of Kabul. He also said that Taliban checkpoints were permitting U.S. citizens through to reach the airport. The fate of eligible Afghan citizens, on the other hand, is unknown.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s exiled leader Ashraf Ghani and his family have arrived in the UAE. That nation’s government is welcoming them on humanitarian grounds. Ghani continues to claim that he left Afghanistan to avoid bloodshed and chaos. He claims that he is currently in talks to return to the country but did not reveal any details. Even if he is permitted to return, it is not likely that Ghani will be welcomed back with open arms. Many Afghan politicians are bitter about him leaving the country. Even US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told journalists today that Ghani is “no longer a figure in Afghanistan.”

This will be a wrap for the daily Afghan updates, at least for the time being. Tomorrow’s post will look at Taiwan and China’s increasingly aggressive moves in the waters and air around that island nation in the aftermath of events in Afghanistan. Then this weekend I’ll catch up with the August DIRT project and discuss how some of the lessons and warnings from the Afghan situation might also apply to North Korea.

Sunday 16 August, 2020 Iran Update: Israel-UAE Deal The Latest Headache For Iran This Month

Thursday’s agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations is attracting its fair share of backlash in the Middle East. Predictably, Iran is not too thrilled with the deal. On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered a speech in which he called the move an act of betrayal by the UAE. “They [the UAE] better be mindful. They have committed a huge mistake, a treacherous act,” he said. The remarks caused the UAE government to summon the Iran’s charge d’affaires in Abu Dhabi. The UAE foreign ministry called Rouhani’s speech “unacceptable and inflammatory and had serious implications for security and stability in the Gulf region”. Iran was also reminded of its obligation to protect the UAE diplomatic mission in Tehran. Considering Iran’s history of encouraging protests in front of the embassies and missions of its neighbors in Tehran when their policies go against Iranian interests, the move was smart.

Iran has had a difficult August. The Israel-UAE deal is only the latest heartburn for the regime. Tehran was already dealing with an uncertain future for Hezbollah in Lebanon following the Beirut explosion, a still unsolved string of fires and explosions at energy  and nuclear sites inside of Iran, the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country, and the prospect of deeper economic sanctions looming in the future. After a US resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran was defeated at the UN on Friday President Trump has vowed there will be snapback sanctions. The exact mechanism for bringing the snapback into play is being contested. The European Union claims since the US unilaterally removed itself from the JCPOA it does not have the power to bring about snapback sanctions. Washington claims otherwise. Either way, the Trump administration does have the power to levy even stricter sanctions on Iran, and pressure friendly nations to do the same.

Iran will be on the radar for the next couple of weeks at least so I suggest keeping an eye on news coming out of the Persian Gulf region.

Iran Promises ‘All Out War’ If Attacked

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Less than twenty-four hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeled the Iranian attack against Saudi oil facilities to be an act of war, his Iranian counterpart warned the world that any US or Saudi military action against Iran will lead to an ‘all out war.’ Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went on to explain that while Iran does not wish for war, it is prepared to defend itself should war come. His comments today have escalated the war of words presently underway between the Iranian regime and the Trump administration.

Zarif’s verbal barrage comes on the heels of not only Pompeo’s words, but also Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it believes Iran ‘unquestionably sponsored’ the attacks. Riyadh stopped short of openly blaming Iran, however. In yesterday’s statements, the Saudi government did explain its intention to gather more information on the attack. Specifically, determining the launch points of the cruise missiles. As I hinted at in a post the other day, this explanation could be little more than a screen to hide what is taking place behind the scenes. The US has incontrovertible proof that Iran is entirely responsible for the attack and the intelligence has been shared with the Saudi leadership and its military.

The other Gulf States appear to be aligning themselves with the United States as the crisis escalates. Today the United Arab Emirates announced it would be joining the US-led maritime coalition now being put together. Bahrain has previously said it too would be a part of the effort. Kuwait has raised the alert level of its military and security services as a precautionary measure. The Kuwaitis are also investigating the detection of unidentified UAVs over its territory earlier in the week, in an attempt to determine if there is a link to Iranian actions and future intentions.

 

Another Tanker War on the Horizon?

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In late spring of 1987, as the Iran-Iraq conflict raged, tensions were on the rise between Iran and the United States. In December of 1986, as the conflict continued through its Tanker War phase, the Kuwaiti government formally requested that the United States protect Kuwaiti oil tankers against Iranian attacks. By US law, US warships could not escort civilian vessels registered under a foreign flag. The solution to this dilemma was both simple, and ingenious. The Kuwaiti ships were re-registered, and reflagged, legally becoming US vessels. A military operation to protect Kuwaiti tankers was planned, and formally named Operation Earnest Will. It ended up being the largest naval convoy operation since World War II, officially running from 24 July, 1987 until 26 September, 1988.

During the time period, Iranian forces attempted to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf using mines, and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) naval forces. The US Navy launched a number of attacks against Iranian oil platforms, and naval units in retaliation for actual, or planned attacks against oil tankers. On 15 October, 1987 a Kuwaiti tanker was struck by a Iranian Silkworm missile while at anchor off the coast of Kuwait. Three days later, US forces launched Operation Nimble Archer, attacking Iranian oil platforms that were actually serving as bases for attacks against shipping. In April, 1988 the frigate USS Samuel B Roberts struck an Iranian mine in the Persian Gulf. The ship was saved, and four days later the US Navy launched Operation Preying Mantis in retaliation for Iran’s mining of the Persian Gulf. By the end of the operation, half of Iran’s operational naval fleet had been either sunk, or severely damaged.

Considering the events of the past few days, specifically the attempted sabotage of four oil tankers off of the UAE, a look back at Earnest Will, and the Tanker War is useful. If Iran is going to resist US pressure, the world needs to be prepared for more attacks on oil tankers by Iran and its proxies in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and Red Sea. Further attacks will prompt US retaliation, and perhaps a convoy operation similar to Earnest Will.

Quite frankly, the situation in the Persian Gulf at present bears a bit more than a striking resemblance to July, 1987. Iran’s military is no more capable now than it was thirty-two years ago. If anything, it is in worse material condition today. If hostilities break out in the Gulf, Iran will be forced to rely on IRGC naval units, mines, and perhaps a handful of anti-ship missiles as its primary offensive weapons.

As the saying goes, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. We could very well be seeing a rhyme of sorts taking shape in the Persian Gulf right now. The present crisis may not transform into a repeat of the US-Iran naval standoffs and conflicts of the late 1980s, however, it will at least bear a striking resemblance to them.

Libyan Chaos

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Libya is on the verge of descending into chaos…..again. Fighting between government forces and  Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has intensified as LNA troops approach the capital city of Tripoli. As the fighting edges closer to the city, the United Nations has requested a temporary ceasefire in order for wounded civilians to be evacuated. The UN attempt failed. The international community has called for both sides to end hostilities. Those calls were soundly ignored by the government and LNA forces. If anything, the fighting appears to be intensifying, with both sides having launched airstrikes at positions in the Tripoli suburbs. Artillery fire has also been reported to have hit civilian homes and businesses across the capital city.

As the fighting escalates, the United States has announced it is withdrawing some of its forces from Libya due to the deteriorating security situation on the ground there. News of the evacuation was the first public confirmation that US forces are in Libya. India is also withdrawing its peacekeeper troops from the country.

Haftar’s stated goal is to overthrow the Government of National Accord (GNA) which is backed by the UN and many Western nations. Haftar’s forces are receiving material support from the UAE, and there are reports of up to 300 Russian mercenaries in Eastern Libya supporting Haftar.

GNA forces have launched a major offensive dubbed Operation Volcano of Anger to prevent Haftar’s LNA from entering the capital city.Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj appears to have chosen to defend Tripoli as he waits to see if international pressure can either force Haftar to retreat, or bring about a truce. Western pressure placed on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE is the clearest path to achieving either of these goals, however, it is not clear if the West can project a united front in order to bring it about.

As the drama plays out, Libya remains on the edge of a major disaster this evening.