On a visit to Baghdad this week, Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of the Pentagon's Central Command, announced that US forces in Iraq will be reduced in the coming weeks from some 5,200 troops to about 3,000. McKenzie later told reporters that troop levels in Afghanistan will drop from the current 8,600 to 4,500. All of this is to happen by "late October," he said. How convenient. (AP, Politico) This all smells more of politics that strategy. There are still more than 10,000 ISIS fighters remaining across Iraq and Syria, according to a UN estimate from August. So, as Defense One comments, "any 'mission accomplished' moment remains elusive to clear-eyed observers of ISIS and the Middle East."
Thousands of migrant workers from Uzbekistan have been stranded for weeks at the Russia-Kazakhstan border. Left without work in Russia amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they sought to make their way home by land through Kazakhstan—only to find the border closed by Kazakh authorities. The migrants have set up a makeshift camp in an open field, where they are struggling without adequate food, water or supplies in severe summer heat.
At least eight people were killed, dozens injured and nearly 50 homes and shops set on fire in ethnic clashes that broke out in a border region of Kazakhstan Feb. 8. The fighting was centered in Masanchi village in Kordai district of southern Zhambyl province (also rendered Jambyl), near the border with Kyrgyzstan. Ethnic Kazakhs reportedly set upon members of the Dungan minority group and Hui Muslims, related groups that migrated from China in the 19th century and are more numerous across the border in Kyrgyzstan. Rioters also fought with police when they tried to intervene. While it is unclear what sparked the violence, rumors and incitement on social media appear to have played a role. Interior Minister Yerlan Turgumbayev said: "Provocateurs...called for violence through social networks. Hooligans used rebar, stones and other implements. Police officers sustained numerous injuries, two received gunshot wounds. Seven people have been detained and two hunting rifles have been confiscated." (BBC News, Al Jazeera, Reuters, EurasiaNet)
Before Donald Trump left the London NATO summit in a huff, he made the startling claim at a press conference that the United States can do "what we want" with the oil-fields now under its control in northeast Syria. The Dec. 2 remarks are provided via White House transcript: "And I wanted to say that, in keeping the oil, ISIS was trying to, as you know, regain control of the oil. And we have total control of the oil. And, frankly, we had a lot of support from a lot of different people. But, right now, the only soldiers we have, essentially, in that area, are the soldiers keeping the oil. So we have the oil, and we can do with the oil what we want." This faux pas, jumped on by the British tabloid press, recalls Trump's 2016 campaign trail boast of his plans for Syria: "I'll take the oil"—and turn the seized fields over to Exxon!
Just after Chinese officials announced that the detention camps for Muslim Uighurs in Xinjing region had been mostly emptied, reports emerge that women in the camps are facing forced sterilization. Dubious claims of the camps' closure were made by Alken Tuniaz, vice chairman for Xinjiang, who told reporters July 30 that "the majority of people who have undergone education and training have returned to society and returned to their families." He used the official characterization of the camps as "education and training" centers, and of their inmates as "students." He added: "Most have already successfully achieved employment. Over 90 percent of the students have returned to society and returned to their families and are living happily." Both he and Shohrat Zakir, party chairman for Xinjiang, refused to say how many people have been held in the camps.
Chinese official media (Global Times, Xinhua, China Daily) are making much of a "white paper" issued by the State Council Information Office entitled "Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang," which seeks to deny the national aspirations and even very identity of the Uighur people of China's far western Xinjiang region. It especially takes aim at the "separatism" of the emerging "East Turkistan" movement, asserting that never in history "has Xinjiang been referred to as 'East Turkistan' and there has never been any state known as 'East Turkistan.'" It denies that there has ever been an independent state in what is now the territory of Xinjiang (a name not in use until the 18th century): "Xinjiang was formally included into Chinese territory during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and the central government of all dynasties maintained jurisdiction over the region. The region has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory. Never has it been 'East Turkistan.'" The Turkic roots and identity of the Uigurs are even challenged: "The main ancestors of the Uygurs were the Ouigour people who lived on the Mongolian Plateau during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (581-907) dynasties, and they joined other ethnic groups to resist the oppression and slavery of the Turks."
With China accused of detaining hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims without trial in its western province of Xinjiang, a BBC investigation analyzed satellite data to determine that the detention camp system in the region is rapidly expanding. Reviewing images from the European Space Agency's Sentinel satellite service, the BBC finds at least 40 such facilities across Xinjiang, half built within last two years—with a big thrust of construction just in the past six months. Among the largest is a "massive, highly secure compound" still being built at Dabancheng, about an hour's drive from the provincial capital, Urumqi. It is enclosed within a two kilometer-long exterior wall punctuated by 16 guard towers.
In Episode 18 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg looks back at the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement of the closing years of the Cold War, when the Western Shoshone people, whose traditional lands were being contaminated by the nuclear blasts at the US government's Nevada Test Site, made common cause with the Kazakh people of Central Asia who opposed Soviet nuclear testing at the Semipalatinsk site. Kazakh activists travelled to Nevada to join protests at the Test Site, while Western Shoshone leaders travelled to Kazakhstan to join protests at Semipalatinsk. This initiative eventually evolved into the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which as recently as 2016 held an International Conference on Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World in Astana, Kazakhstan, again attended by Western Shoshone leaders. The story of indigenous peoples impacted by nuclear testing on their usurped lands has come to us from several places around the world, including the French test site at Gerboise Bleue in Algeria—known to the local Tuareg nomads as Tanezrouft. Other examples are the Chinese test site at Lop Nur, on lands of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, and British testing on Aboriginal lands at Maralinga, in the Australian outback. The Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement provides an inspiring example of indigenous peoples and their supporters building solidarity across hostile international borders and superpower influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.