Libyan Sides Agree to New Ceasefire Talks

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The warring factions in Libya have agreed to restart ceasefire discussions, according to the United Nations. This news comes after days of intense fighting between the Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and the internationally recognized Libyan Government of National Accord. Over the past six weeks GNA forces, with Turkish support, has driven LNA forces almost entirely out of Tripoli and erased most of the gains Haftar’s forces had made there since the LNA offensive began last April. LNA forces claim to have retaken some ground on Monday.

The reason for both sides so readily agreeing to a ceasefire could be that they need additional time to prepare for the next round of fighting. According to the US military Russia sent fourteen MiG-29 Fulcrum, and Su-24 Fencer warplanes to an LNA-controlled airbase in central Libya last month, minus national markings. The Turks have been transporting a considerable amount of military equipment to the GNA. After a period of dormancy, due in part to the COVID-19 crisis, it appears a major escalation is on the horizon.

If these talks produce results, it will not be the first ceasefire in between the LNA and GNO this year. There have been two already but each was temporary, and the fighting never entirely ended during the ceasefire periods. The UN Mission in Libya has said it hopes the coming round of talks can help produce ‘calm on the ground’ and allow Libya’s health system to deal with a recent outbreak of the coronavirus. Because of the pandemic, and new outbreak in Libya, the coming round of talks will be conducted via video phone.

EU Naval Force to Enforce Libyan Arms Embargo

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The European Union is preparing a new naval and air mission off the Libyan coast to support the enforcement of a UN arms embargo. An agreement in principle was reached by member governments in Brussels on Monday. There was initial objections voiced by Austria, Italy and Hungary over the possibility that the operation could end up attracting migrants and enabling a greater number of them to reach Europe. The EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell compromised with the promise that the ships would be withdrawn if they start to encourage migrants to make the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Europe.

Weapons have been pouring into Libya despite a UN arms embargo being in place. With no methods of enforcement supporting it, the embargo has been ridiculed, and disregard. Even UN deputy special envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams described the arms embargo as a joke over the weekend. With the EU stepping in, there is a chance of enforcing the embargo more stringently in the coming months.

The new mission will be known as Operation EU Active Surveillance. It will replace Operation Sophia which was set up in 2015 to combat human-trafficking, and prevent heavy losses of life at sea during the height of the European Migration Crisis. Sophia was suspended in March of 2019 when the Italian government threatened to veto the entire operation. The new mission will take place mostly in the Eastern Mediterranean where the arms smuggling routes are located. This is a considerable distance away from the routes most migrants have taken on their journeys north to Europe.

Syria Update 9 October, 2019: Operation Peace Spring Begins

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Operation Peace Spring, Turkey’s long-anticipated military operation to establish a buffer zone free of Kurdish militias in northeast Syria is now underway. The offensive commenced with airstrikes against suspected Kurdish militia, and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the region. Turkish President  Recep Tayyip Erdogan has officially claimed the purpose of the operation is to establish a safe zone that will house Syrian refugees. Erdogan has also promised to respect Syrian sovereignty.

So far Syrian ground forces do not appear to have crossed the border but that will happen eventually. For now, the first phase of the operation is underway and focused on preparing the battlefield with air and artillery. When the enemy positions (real and suspected) have been sufficiently weakened, only then will Turkish ground forces cross over. That moment could come in a matter of hours or days, depending on a number of factors both political and military.

Reaction from around the world has been swift, and guarded for the most part. The UN Security Council will hold a private meeting on Thursday to discuss the Turkish action. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has urged Turkey to ‘act with restraint.’ In Washington, President Trump stated the US does not endorse the operation, and has made clear to Turkey that he believes it is a ‘bad idea.’ The president’s full statement, released by the White House is as follows:

“The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea. Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.”

There will be additional updates posted on this blog later in the evening, or as events unfold.

Unrest in Iraq Continues

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After six days of bloody street protests, Iraq continues its descent into chaos and violence. Government officials today have confirmed that 104 citizens have been killed, and over 6,000 wounded. The wave of protests across Iraq have challenged the already vulnerable government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. The government has cracked down on the protests, ordering police, security forces, and soldiers to use lethal force on the protesters. The internet remains suspended in in many urban, and heavily populated areas of the country. The government has taken advantage of the digital shut down it imposed to  portray scenes of normalcy through state media. Opposition-supported media outlets broadcast scenes of angry crowds being fired upon by government forces, negating the government’s attempts to control the flow of information. Police have raided a number of TV news stations that have broadcast video of the protests.

Mahdi understands the precarious position his government is in. On Saturday, he announced a 17-point recovery plan, wagering it could calm his people. However, today the crowds appeared again and security forces continue to use tear gas and live ammunition against them. Living conditions, and a high unemployment rate are two primary factors motivating the demonstrators to remain in the streets in defiance of their government. International attention on the situation is growing, despite the government’s best efforts to control the flow of information. There are rumors circulating around Baghdad that Iranian militias are supporting security forces. Claims that some of the government troops have been seen and heard speaking Farsi have been reported by some media outlets. There has been no evidence offered to support the claims though. That does not necessarily mean they’re false, but for the moment Iran’s alleged involvement in the crackdown is unconfirmed.

Pakistan’s Leader Adding Fuel to the Kashmir Fire

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Last week at the UN General Assembly Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan placed Kashmir back on the global stage with a thinly veiled warning. If the world does not pay attention to events in Kashmir, a nuclear war that engulfs the entire world will be the result:

“If a conventional war starts between the two countries … anything could happen. But supposing a country seven times smaller than its neighbor is faced with the choice either you surrender, or you fight for your freedom till death? What will we do? I ask myself this question … and we will fight. … and when a nuclear-armed country fights to the end, it will have consequences far beyond the borders.”

Khan’s contentious address to diplomats and world leaders in the general assembly hall was generally viewed as a threat wrapped in a warning about Kashmir following India’s move to integrate the territory with the rest of the nation. In spite of Khan, and many other Pakistani politicians’ efforts, India continues to charge ahead with its plans.

For its part, India responded to Khan’s rhetoric with calm and poise. Indian diplomat Vidisha Maitra called the Pakistani leader’s speech “brinkmanship, not statesmanship.” She also addressed Khan encouraging Muslims in Kashmir to rise up against the Indian occupiers, reminding him of Pakistan’s reputation as the home base for most terrorist groups in the region.

Pakistan has failed to muster collective outrage from fellow Muslim nations in Asia and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has informed India that it understands New Delhi’s actions in Jammu & Kashmir. This position was personally conveyed by the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to India’s senior security adviser Ajit Doval during a meeting in Riyadh Wednesday.

The real concern for the time being is not Pakistan and India turning the region into a pane of glass via nuclear weapons. The true danger is that Khan and Pakistan will encourage Muslim groups in Kashmir to launch attacks against Indian security troops and other government targets in the state. Action such as that could prove to be a catalyst which eventually makes Khan’s words last Friday prophetic in nature.