During last week's wave of coordinated ISIS attacks that left 250 dead in Syria's regime-held southern governorate of Suweida, the militants also went door-to-door in Druze villages, abducting several women and children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the number at 20 women and 16 children. The militants are believed to have escaped with them into their remaining strongholds in Syria's eastern desert. The attack wave—dubbed "Black Wednesday," for July 25, the bloodiest day—followed visits by Russian military delegations to Suweida, during which Druze elders and community leaders were urged to cooperate in the disarming of the populace. This was apparently aimed at suppressing the Rijal al-Karama (Men of Dignity), a Druze self-defense militia that had emerged over the past years of violence in Syria—independent from the regime, but neither explicitly aligned with the rebels. The ISIS assault came immediately after regime weapons seizures in Druze villages, leading to theories of regime complicity in the attacks. (YNet, Enab Baladi, Syria Call)
With the fall of Syria's southern province of Daraa to Assad regime forces earlier this month, only Idlib in the north remains as a last pocket of opposition control. The besieged rebel forces there are anticipating a final offensive by Assad and his Russian backers. The pro-Moscow Al Masdar News headlines that Damascus is preparing for the "mother of all battles in Idlib," with the Syrian Arab Army's elite Tiger Forces to lead the offensive. But a complicating factor is that Turkey is occupying areas of Idlib, which means an offensive there threatens international escalation. Speaking to reporters in Ankara before heading for a summit of emerging market countries in South Africa, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would speak there with Vladimir Putin about how to resolve "the issue of Idlib." (YNet)
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan have reached a new high at the mid-year point, according to a report (PDF) from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued July 16. Although there was a slight decrease in casualties (deaths and injuries) overall, there have been more fatalities than in previous years, with nearly 1,700 killed so far in 2018. Since UNAMA started documentation in 2009, almost 15,000 civilians have lost their lives to the armed conflict in Afghanistan. UNAMA also reports that deliberate attacks on civilians from anti-government elements are increasing at concerning rates.
A suicide bomber killed at least 130 people at a campaign rally in southwestern Pakistan July 13— the deadliest attack in the country since 2014. A local candidate was among the dead in Mastung town, Balochistan province. The local franchise of the Islamic State took credit for the attack. That same day, a bomb attack on a rally in the northern town of Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killed four. Three days earlier, a suicide attack on a rally in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killed 20. The attacks come ahead of this month's general elections. Among those killed in Mastung was Balochistan provincial assembly candidate Siraj Raisani, of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). (BBC News, Dawn, EWN)
As the Assad regime, backed by Russian air-strikes, opens its offensive on the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front in Daraa governorate—and towns start to fall to pro-regime forces, with thousands fleeing their homes in fear of reprisals—the Trump White House has issued a statement to the rebels, warning, "[Y]ou should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us." This despite Washington's earlier warning to Assad and Putin that any violation of the so-called "de-escalation zones" would have "serious repercussions," including "firm and appropriate measures." (Reuters, Reuters, DW) Not surprisingly, this betrayal comes just as Trump reportedly told King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House that he is seeking a deal with Putin on terms for a withdrawal of remaining US forces from Syria. Reports indicate the deal will be on the agenda when Trump meets with Putin in Helsinki next month. (CNN)
Afghan peace activists arrived in Kabul June 18 after trekking some 700 kilometers on foot to call for an end to Afghanistan's long internal war. The Helmand Peace Convoy reached the national capital after traveling for almost 40 days from Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold. It began with a group of nine men and picked up around 40 supporters during the journey. The arrival in Kabul followed a three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and government forces coinciding with the Eid al-Fitr holiday that ends the holy month of Ramadan. The Kabul government extended its ceasefire by 10 days, but the Taliban said that they would resume their attacks. (RFE/RL, TOLO News)
A new Amnesty International report accuses the US of "war crimes" in the bombardment of Raqqa, and the virtual "annihilation" of the city. The fact that the US-led bombardment was in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their campaign to take the city from ISIS has contributed to pitting Kurd against Arab and brought northern Syria closer to ethnic war. Ironically (if predictably), now that the Syrian Kurds have served their purpose in defeating ISIS, Washington is about to kick them overboard—just as Assad and Erdogan alike are preparing offensives against them.
The Indonesian Parliament unanimously approved a new anti-terrorism law on May 25 that will allow the military to directly participate in operations against militant groups. The legislation comes following a slew of suicide bombings in Surabaya by individuals supposedly tied to the Islamic State. President Joko Widodo stated that involvement of the Indonesian National Army in counter-terrorism is necessary in addressing the crisis faced by the nation. A related measure also gives police the power to detain suspects for 21 days without charge. The bills now go to the president for final approval.