THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
September 11, 1565: The Great Siege of Malta ends
September 11, 1697: A Habsburg army decisively defeats the Ottomans at the Battle of Zenta, in modern Serbia. The Ottomans lost thousands of soldiers in one of the most lopsided defeats in their history. The result left the Habsburgs in control of a substantial portion of the Balkans and contributed to the overall Habsburg victory in the 1683-1699 “Great Turkish War.”
September 11, 2001: Al-Qaeda operatives kill nearly 3000 people by flying airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. A fourth plane, probably intended for the US Capitol, was brought down over Pennsylvania.
September 12, 1309: Castilian King Ferdinand IV captures Gibraltar from the Emirate of Granada. The victory was maybe the sole bright spot in a campaign that saw Ferdinand overextend himself by unsuccessfully besieging Algeciras, and it was reversed when the Granadans retook Gibraltar in 1333.
September 12, 1683: The Battle of Vienna
September 12, 1974: A committee of Ethiopian military officers, called the “Derg,” overthrows Emperor Haile Selassie in a coup amid mass unrest caused in part by a serious famine. The Derg, which refashioned itself as the “Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia,” ruled the country until 1987 when it further transformed itself into the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Airstrikes hit southern Idlib province on Thursday for the first time since a Russian-Syrian ceasefire in the province went into effect on August 31. They followed a couple of isolated airstrikes on the western Idlib/eastern Latakia provincial border over the past couple of days. There’s really no question at this point that these have been Russian and Syrian government operations, though they’re not acknowledging the strikes, probably because they’re violating their own ceasefire. Artillery fire has been relatively frequent in southern Idlib since the ceasefire, but the region had seen a pause in airstrikes. On Wednesday, rebels in the region claimed that pro-government ground forces are “massing” in the southern Idlib area, presumably with the intent of restarting their offensive soon.
At least four people were killed and 13 wounded on Thursday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Diyarbakır province. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party is believed to have been responsible though no group has claimed the bombing.
The US is preparing to deploy 150 soldiers to northeastern Syria to participate in joint patrols along the Syria-Turkey border with the Turkish military. This is another step toward implementing the “safe zone” that the two countries have agreed to set up, though they have yet to agree on its particulars. There’s been an ongoing disagreement as to how wide the safe zone should be, and now it seems the US is balking at Turkey’s plan to relocate upwards of one million Syrian refugees into the zone. On top of the ugliness of a forced relocation and what that means for the refugees, a step like that will likely displace the predominantly Kurdish residents of the region and cause a shift, maybe permanent, in its demographics. For Turkey that’s the point, but the US views this plan as a shift from the safe zone’s original purpose, which was to give Ankara assurances about the security of its border by moving Kurdish fighters further south.
The Turkish government has threatened to release potentially hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into Europe unless it gets both the safe zone it wants and increased European aid. That this is even considered a threat is appalling, but European xenophobia being what it is, the sudden influx of that many Syrian refugees would undoubtedly be destabilizing.
Iraqi cleric and power broker Muqtada al-Sadr is on a rare visit to Iran, which we know because he was observed on video earlier this week at an event sitting between Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani. Sadr has increasingly portrayed himself as a nationalist and has criticized Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, so the video naturally raised some eyebrows. Al-Monitor is reporting that he’s in Iran to convince the Iranians to drop their support for the Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, whose government has largely failed to get off the ground (he still doesn’t have a defense minister or an interior minister) and may be losing support, and allow the appointment of someone stronger (i.e., less dependent on Iran) as PM.
As the leader of the largest party in Iraq’s ruling coalition, Sadr has lost the outsider critic status that made him so popular, so he may be trying to regain that popularity by portraying himself as the guy on the inside fighting for the Iraqi people. He may also be positioning himself as the heir to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani as the Iraqi religious figure who can guide Iraq through political upheaval and stand up to Iranian leaders to protect Iraqi interests.
According to POLITICO, senior officials in the US government believe that Israel is responsible for placing several “cellphone surveillance devices” around Washington DC, including near the White House. When it was informed of this situation, the Trump administration naturally did nothing about it. Israel is our friend, don’t you know. Trump doesn’t believe they’re doing it, so I guess that’s that.
Buddies don’t spy on buddies, OK? They just don’t.
The Israeli government is denying the charge with Benjamin Netanyahu calling it a “complete fabrication” and insisting that Israel doesn’t spy on the United States (…anymore, presumably). The richest targets of espionage in this administration are probably people who know the people who are in frequent contact with Trump personally. So if you know Sean Hannity and you keep seeing the same car in your rearview mirror or hearing strange clicking sounds on the telephone, that’s probably not a coincidence.
Some Israeli officials apparently believe that the most recent incidents of rocket fire out of Gaza indicate that Hamas’s political leadership is no longer controlling the rockets and that its military wing, along with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, is calling the (literal) shots. More radical Islamist elements seem to be gaining strength in Gaza since Hamas’s decision to pursue negotiations with the Israeli government, but only Hamas and PIJ have long-range rockets and PIJ probably can’t fire its weapon without somebody in Hamas at least knowing about it. Whether this is an honest assessment or laying the groundwork for another Gaza war remains to be seen.
Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah has reportedly checked out of George Washington Medical Center in Washington, DC. The 90 year old Sabah was supposed to meet with Donald Trump this week but had to be admitted to the hospital for tests (the Kuwaitis have unsurprisingly been stingy with details) and thus had to postpone that meeting. It’s not clear whether he’s sticking around to reschedule or heading back to Kuwait.
The Daily Beast reports that Trump is “toying with” the idea of allowing France and other European countries to go ahead with a plan to extend Iran a $15 billion line of credit, secured by Iranian oil, to help temper the damage US sanctions have done to the Iranian economy. The plan would require Iran to return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, the one Trump tore apart last year, to access the funds. Basically Trump, who was highly critical of the original deal because he claimed it gave money to Iran (in reality it returned Iranian money that was frozen in the US), may green light a plan to pay Iran to return to that same deal. He’s previously expressed an openness to the idea so this isn’t exactly breaking news, and he still seems keen to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations General Assembly this month, which this could help facilitate. Trump wouldn’t really have to do much here other than allowing the Europeans to float the credit line without sanctioning any of the parties involved.
Despite his apparent willingness to ease up on Tehran if it gets him a splashy photo op with Rouhani, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin insists that Trump is still committed to his “maximum pressure” program. Sure, why not.
The Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments are finalizing a land swap in an effort to tamp down on periodic clashes between their citizens and border guards. Earlier this week a group of Kyrgyz civilians clashed with Uzbek border guards near the Kyrgyz village of Kerkidan over a border demarcation issue. That area will go over to Kyrgyzstan in return for another small area at another part of the border going to Uzbekistan. The issue of weak/undefined Soviet-era borders is one that the Central Asian states (particularly Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) continue to face, and more swaps like this may be necessary down the road.
A Taliban car bomb targeting a military base in Kabul on Thursday killed at least four Afghan special forces soldiers.
While most of the blame for the botched Camp David peace conference over the weekend lies with Donald Trump and his administration, the AP is reporting that internal Taliban disagreements played a role as well. The Taliban’s negotiating team in Doha apparently accepted the US invitation to Camp David, but balked when the group’s ruling council objected. They came back with a demand that a signing ceremony be held in Doha before the Camp David meeting, which would have undermined Trump’s intention to portray himself as a great peacemaker.
At LobeLog, South Asia analyst Fatemeh Aman argues that the Camp David fiasco revealed something about the relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan:
Among all of Afghanistan’s neighbors, Pakistan was the most active and supportive of the peace talks. Pakistan saw them as an opportunity to prove that it wants stability for Afghanistan, though Pakistani involvement also made Afghans more suspicious of the entire process. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan put his credibility on the line and apparently was personally involved.
If there is a lesson from all this, it is that, contrary to common belief, the Taliban is not entirely Pakistan’s puppet. The assumption that, if Pakistan pressures the Taliban to make peace, it will happen overnight, is based on the theory that the Taliban is a homogeneous and a well-organized group. In fact, based on the recent regroupings and changes in the Taliban’s leadership, there are major differences within the group. This means that these peace talks, initiated by the United States, even if successful, may not have translated into peace and an end of violence.
Jacobin has published a first-hand account of life in Kashmir in the early days of the Indian government’s crackdown last month:
I arrived in Kashmir on Thursday, August 1, delighted to be home after eleven months away. I planned on celebrating Eid with family and friends, and going hiking, fishing, and boating. Most of all, I wanted to spend time by the Dal Lake. The scorching heat of Delhi had zapped my energy. Only the wondrous climate, mountains, and lakes of Kashmir could restore me.
But after just two days, everything changed. Kashmir turned into an open-air prison, and its inhabitants became inmates.
According to Al Jazeera, the Myanmar government has been widening an unpaved road through Karen (or Kayin) state for military uses, which is a violation of the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement that it signed with multiple rebel groups—including, as it happens, the Karen National Union. Not only has the military used the road to move assets into the province without the KNU’s permission (as the NCA requires), it’s also likely that the budget for the road project came out of the government’s rural development budget, which is supposed to go to projects that improve living conditions in places like Karen state.
Donald Trump has decided to postpone by at least two weeks a plan to increase tariffs on Chinese imports that was scheduled to go into effect on October 1. Trump says that Beijing requested the delay so that the tariffs wouldn’t kick in on China’s National Day, but with US-China talks also scheduled to resume early next month the delay raises the possibility that they could be postponed again if those talks make progress.
Thousands of people protested in Khartoum on Thursday seeking justice for the over 100 people killed in June when Sudan’s then-military government (allegedly) ordered security forces to attack demonstrators. The lingering feelings about June’s massacre could be one of the biggest stumbling blocks that Sudan’s new interim government faces. Public sentiment is clearly in favor of an investigation and prosecutions of those responsible, but it can probably be assumed that the leading members of the junta negotiated some assurances that they wouldn’t face legal jeopardy as part of the process of forming the transitional government.
The New Arab, which can be hit or miss so take that into account, is reporting that the Libyan Government of National Accord is driving Khalifa Haftar’s “Libyan National Army” away from Tripoli. According to its sources, pro-GNA armed forces are advancing on the town of Tarhuna, which is located southeast of Tripoli and has been one of the LNA’s command centers for its ongoing Tripoli offensive.
Jailed Tunisian presidential candidate and media big shot Nabil Karoui is reportedly on a hunger strike. Karoui, one of the leaders in early polling, was arrested on corruption allegations three weeks ago in what looks like—even if it’s completely legitimate—a politically motivated move to undermine his campaign, though he does remain on the ballot. He began the hunger strike on Wednesday to demand that he be allowed to vote in Sunday’s election.
Militants attacked a Nigerian military base near the northeastern town of Gudumbali on Tuesday, killing at least nine soldiers and leaving another 27 missing according to sources who spoke with Reuters. The Nigerian military is denying the report. It’s unclear whether Islamic State-West Africa or Boko Haram was responsible, but Gudumbali is fairly close to the Lake Chad region that is ISWA’s base of operations so chances are it was them.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Thursday to relax the international arms embargo on the CAR. The council is apparently satisfied with the implementation of the peace deal that the CAR government signed with some 14 insurgent groups back in February, because a month before that it voted to extend the embargo for another year under a promise to revisit the issue in September. The relaxation allows the CAR to purchase weapons and ammunition whose caliber is 14.5 mm or lower and will in theory help it arm its police and military forces to deal with threats both from insurgents who didn’t sign the February agreement and from transnational arms traffickers and other smugglers that have exploited the country’s civil war and the chaos it has created.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has unveiled a new program, called Countering Malign Kremlin Influence, that are deemed to be under pressure from Russian “soft power aggression.” This would include countries like Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and some Balkan states, and would, according to the AP, support “independent journalism and fact-checking in Moldova and the Balkans, as well as helping countries diversify their energy supplies so that Russian energy doesn’t remain a tool of political control.”
The Trump administration on Thursday released $250 million in hitherto frozen military aid to Ukraine. It has not said why the aid was held up in the first place, but Democrats in Congress have suggested that Trump might have been leaning on Kyiv to assist an investigation into potential 2020 election opponent Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and his business dealings there.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, meanwhile, says his government is developing a “roadmap” for negotiating a peace deal with rebels in eastern Ukraine. He’s hoping to discuss the framework at a meeting later this month of the “Normandy” negotiating group (France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine).
Czech President Miloš Zeman visited Serbia on Wednesday and told his hosts that he wants the Czech government to withdraw diplomatic recognition of Kosovo. Zeman suggested that the war crimes charges that a Kosovo war crimes tribunal at The Hague have leveled at Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj have tainted the whole country to the point where it should no longer exist. Which seems a little extreme, but what do I know? Zeman has no authority to change Czech foreign policy. He can try to influence Czech PM Andrej Babiš to change the policy, but he and Babiš aren’t always on the same page these days and it’s unlikely that Babiš would take this step and risk his relationship with the European Union. In response to Zeman’s comments, Haradinaj withdrew from a Visegrád Group summit in Prague on Thursday that was supposed to give Balkan leaders and V4 leaders a chance to interact with one another.
During that Visegrád Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is hoping to start fresh with the new European Commission, after his xenophobia and budding authoritarianism spoiled his relationship with the previous EC under Jean-Claude Juncker. Lucky for him, he and incoming EC President Ursula von der Leyen appear to have a lot in common:
When Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming chief of the European Union’s powerful administrative branch, unveiled her top team at a news conference on Tuesday, one new job title provoked a sea of puzzled faces: “vice president for protecting our European way of life.”
But when she then tried to explain what the role would involve — responsibility for migration policy, among other things — the puzzlement turned to outrage. Critics denounced the phrasing as an echo of far-right rhetoric that identifies Europe as white and Christian, and migration from the Middle East and Africa as a threat to that identity.
“Vice President for Protecting Our European Way of Life” sure sounds bad. So bad, in fact, that the guy von der Leyen appointed to that job, Greek politician Margaritis Schinas, isn’t using it as his job title. Von derk Leyen says that the “European way of life” is “holding up our values and the beauty and the dignity of every single human being … The rule of law — in other words, everybody has the same rights — is one of our founding principles.” One assumes she could have found a different way of expressing that, especially since those things do, you know, exist in other places besides Europe. The European Parliament may force her to change the name of the office, assuming she doesn’t do it herself.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has rejected the leftist Podemos Party’s latest coalition offer. Which is the same coalition offer he made to Podemos back in July. Podemos Party boss Pablo Iglesias even offered to establish the coalition on a trial basis—if Sánchez was dissatisfied with the arrangement in a year, Iglesias said that the party would withdraw from the coalition and support a Socialist-only government. Sánchez contends that he doesn’t trust Podemos enough to enter into a coalition arrangement with the party. He says he still wants to negotiate to find a way to avoid a new election, but there are only ten days left before a September 23 deadline to form a government and at this point it seems like Sánchez may want to negotiate but isn’t terribly interested in making a deal.
Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez announced on Thursday that he’s going to try to amend Paraguay’s constitution to allow the military to assume responsibilities in the country’s war against drug gangs. This came a day after a group of Red Command cartel members broke their (alleged) leader out of government custody, killing at least one person in the process. Paraguay spent the period from 1954 until 1989 under a military dictatorship, so proposals like this can be controversial.
On his Instagram on Wednesday, Brazilian Senator Flavio Bolsonaro, son of President Jair Bolsonaro, compared his father’s stabbing at a campaign event last September to 9/11. Sure, that seems very normal. Meanwhile, Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo was at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on Wednesday and thrilled the crowd by denying climate change. Which, if anything, is even wackier than comparing the Bolsonaro stabbing to 9/11.
Nicolás Maduro says he’s not going to attend the UN General Assembly in New York, but he will send his vice president and foreign minister along with a petition signed by 12 million people denouncing US sanctions. At the same time, according to Reuters Maduro’s government is still engaging in relatively frequent informal talks with the Venezuelan opposition even though Maduro withdrew from formal Norway-brokered talks last month. These don’t seem to be heavily substantive discussions but more of a way to keep lines of dialogue open.
Two bombings damaged Colombias Cano Limon oil pipeline in Norte de Santander province overnight, one of them causing an oil spill in the Cubugon River. ELN rebels were probably responsible.
Meanwhile, the Colombian military says it’s “on a special alert” because the Venezuelan military has been conducting drills on its side of their shared border. The Venezuelan government says it’s drilling in preparation for an invasion from Colombia, though there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Colombia is preparing anything like that.
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele says he will deploy 800 additional police officers to his country’s borders with Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to prevent migrants from leaving to head north toward the US-Mexico border. Elsewhere, the United Nations agreed on Thursday to support Bukele’s new anti-corruption commission, the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador.
The Honduran government is being pressured by the Trump administration to sign a “safe third country” agreement that would let the US send asylum seekers there to await the results of their legal processing. Between gang violence, ordinary crime, and frequent political protests, there is no definition of “safe” that could possibly include Honduras—that’s why so many Hondurans keep trying to claim asylum in the US. The Honduran murder rate, for example, is eight times what it is in the US, and two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. The Trump administration doesn’t care about any of this stuff, of course, it just wants to dump asylum seekers in a proverbial hole somewhere and then forget about them.
US pressure has also fundamentally changed Mexico’s approach to immigration. When President Andrés Manuel López Obrador came into office last year it was with big plans to treat Central American migrants with respect and dignity, and to combat migration by offering aid to the region and jobs for those who did cross the border into Mexico. Now his migration policy consists of putting thousands of soldiers on Mexico’s southern border to keep migrants from entering and making it as difficult as possible for those who do enter to make their way north to the border.
The Trump administration has begun enforcing new rules about asylum seeking that will basically disqualify anybody at the southern border from seeking asylum in the US. The policy bars anybody who has passed through another country along the way from applying for asylum in the US, so unless they’re from Mexico and came directly to the border none of those migrants will meet that requirement. The policy has been challenged in court but the Supreme Court ruled earlier in the week that the administration can go ahead with implementation while it’s working through the legal system.
A new name has apparently been added to the list of potential John Bolton replacements: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Not that Pompeo would change jobs, mind you, he would just do both. Or, to be more accurate, he would just continue to do what he does now, being a sycophant, and not really do either job. Trump’s chief hostage negotiator, Robert O’Brien, is also being considered.
Bolton’s acting replacement, Charles Kupperman, who is also under consideration for the permanent gig, turns out to be a really nice guy:
Kupperman served on the board of directors for the Center for Security Policy from 2001 through 2010, according to the group’s tax records obtained by ProPublica. Frank Gaffney Jr., an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist, founded the center in 1988 and serves as its executive chairman.
The Southern Poverty Law Center first designated the center a hate group in 2015, five years after Kupperman left the board. But while Kupperman was on the board, Gaffney and the center trafficked in anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and rhetoric, including questioning whether President Barack Obama was a Muslim.
He and Trump should have a lot in common, at least.