In his talks with Vladimir Putin on their carve-up of northern Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that he has proposed joint Russian-Turkish control of the oil-fields in Deir ez-Zor province, now under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). "I made the offer to Mr. Putin that if he gives financial support, we can do the construction, and through the oil obtained here, we can help the destroyed Syria get on its feet," Erdogan told reporters March 10. (Al Monitor) The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports that the SDF has been selling oil from the Deir ez-Zor fields to the Assad regime. A regime-aligned entity called the Qatirji Group is reportedly brokering the deal. (VOA)
Gunmen stormed a memorial ceremony honoring a martyred leader of the Hazara Shi'ite minority in Afghanistan's capital March 6. Key politicians including chief executive Abdullah Abdullah were on hand for the commemoration of the Hazara Mujahedeen commander Abdul Ali Mazari, who was assassinated by the Taliban in 1995. At least 27 people were killed in the attack, and some 30 more wounded. Soon after the massacre, the Taliban issued a statement denying responsibility. Shortly after that, the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed the attack in a communique, and also asserted that the actual death toll was 150. An ISIS-claimed attack on the same ceremony last year saw a barrage of mortar fire that killed at least 11 people. The new attack comes just as a tentative "peace deal" with the Taliban is raising concerns for the fate of Afghanistan's ethnic and religious minorities. (Khaama Press, Defense Post, NYT, The Fortress)
More than a year of US-Taliban negotiations bore formal fruit Feb. 29 with the signing in Doha of what is being called a "peace deal" by Washington's envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, named as leader of the Islamist group. The pact calls for the US to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan in 14 months if the Taliban fulfills its commitments under the agreement. Afghanistan's government must release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before March 10, after which the "intra-Afghan" talks are to start, with the aim of negotiating a permanent ceasefire. The signing of the pact follows a one-week "Reduction in Violence" by the Taliban. (Khaama Press, NPR, Al Jazeera)
Five months after Afghanistan's September presidential elections, a winner has finally been declared—the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani. But hours after the announcement, rival Abdullah Abdullah declared himself the victor, claiming irregularities in the vote and calling the results "national treason." Abdullah, who still serves as chief executive (a separate post from president) has issued a decree barring all election commission workers from leaving the country. The showdown portends a divided government just as US is attempting to broker a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, ostensibly to be followed by "intra-Afghan talks" between the Taliban and the government in Kabul. (The Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN)
Traditional rulers in Nigeria's strife-torn north are warning that vigilante militias now forming to fight Boko Haram are a sign of a generalized social breakdown in the region. The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar, told a public meeting in Kaduna that the new paramilitaries could themselves metamorphose into terror groups. "Governors must see that they do more to address insecurity, just imagine that there are over 50,000 orphans. They will be worse than Boko Haram if allowed to grow without proper care," he said. Abubakar is chair of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council, but a youth-led Coalition of Northern Groups has emerged outside control of the traditional rulers, and launched a paramilitary network called Shege Ka Fasa to defend against the Islamist militias. (Sahara Reporters, Feb. 8)
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, is boosting its response in Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado province, where a recent escalation of violence has forced thousands to flee for their lives. At least 100,000 people are now displaced throughout the province. There has been a dramatic increase of brutal attacks by armed groups, with recent weeks being the most volatile period since the outbreak began in October 2017. Bands of gunmen have been targeting local villages and terrorizing the populace. Those fleeing report random killings, maiming and torture, torched homes and shops, and crops burned in the fields. There have been reports of beheadings, kidnappings and disappearances of women and children.
The Turkish air force on Jan. 15 again carried out raids targeting the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a Yazidi militia, in the autonomous Sinjar area of Iraq's Ninevah province. Reports said at least four people were killed, including militia commander Zardasht Shingali. The YBS, aligned with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), played a key role in liberating the Sinjar area from ISIS after the Islamic State's genocide against the Yazidis in 2014. After the new air-strikes, the Kurdish Freedom Movement umbrella group called for protests against the Turkish aggression in cities across Europe. Demonstrations were reported from Athens, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Marseille, Stockholm and Utrecht. (Al Monitor, The Canary)
At a meeting with leaders of five West African nations Jan. 13, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to send 220 more troops to fight growing militancy in the Sahel. The increase is unlikely to be welcomed by aid groups, which have called for civilians to be prioritized in responses, and criticized the region's growing militarization. Sahel analysts also questioned the lack of engagement with non-military solutions and the political conflicts underlying the violence. Meeting in the southern French city of Pau, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger agreed to step up military cooperation, combining their respective forces under a single command structure, to be called the Coalition for the Sahel.