China has mobilized thousands of troops backed up by armored vehicles to a contested area along the border with India in the Himalayas, where troops last month hurled stones at each other across the unmarked boundary known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The area in question is in the Galwan River valley between Ladakh, in Indian-administered Kashmir, and Chinese-administered Aksai Chin. Top generals from both sides held talks in Moldo, on the Chinese side, on June 6, but tensions remain high. India charges that Chinese forces are hindering patrols by its troops along the LAC in Ladakh and Sikkim, and refutes Beijing's claim that Indian forces have crossed to the Chinese side. (SCMP, NDTV, NDTV)
In an alarming tit-for-tat June 9, Taiwan's defense ministry said that several Chinese fighter jets briefly entered the country's air defense identification zone, and the US took the unusual move of flying a C-40A military transport plane over Taiwan. The US overflight was assailed by Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office as "an illegal act and a seriously provocative incident." This comes as the US is deploying two aircraft carrier strike groups to the Pacific—the San Diego-based USS Nimitz and the Yokosuka-based USS Ronald Reagan. These join the USS Theodore Roosevelt, also based in San Diego but now patrolling the Philippine Sea near Guam. This marks the first time in three years that three US strike gorups have been simultaneously deployed to the Pacific, in what is being seen as an explicit warning to China. The triple deployment follows accusations by Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of US forces in Japan, that China is using the coronavirus crisis as a cover to push territorial claims in the South China Sea. "Through the course of the COVID crisis we saw a surge of maritime activity," Schneider told Reuters. (The Hill, The Hill, USNI News, Reuters, AP)
Libya's UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) regained full control of Tripoli with the recapture of the city's airport on June 4—the last pocket held by the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, whose forces had been besieging the capital since April 2019. Haftar's forces fled east toward Tarhouna and Bani Walid, their last remaining strongholds in the west, with the GNA forces in pursuit. The GNA advance, dubbed Operation Volcano of Rage, follows reports last month that mercenaries from Russia's Wagner Group, who had been fighting for Haftar, were being evacuated from Libya. This suggests that Russian support for Haftar may have been sacrificed in Moscow's new rapprochement with Turkey, the main foreign sponsor of the GNA. (BBC News, Libya Observer, Al Jazeera)
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced on May 21 that the United States would formally submit notice the following day of its intent to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, a post-Cold War trust-building measure signed in 1992 by the US, Russia and 33 other countries. The treaty, which took effect in 2002, allows each state-party to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each others' entire territories to collect intelligence on military forces and activities. In accordance with Article XV, the US withdrawal will take effect six months after formally submitting notice. In a letter addressed to Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Trump, Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Adam Smith (D-WA) protest that the withdrawal is in violation of Section 1234 of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the president to notify Congress at least 120 days before giving formal notice of intent to withdraw from the treaty. (Jurist)
The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a diplomatic think-tank established by presidential decree, has issued a report predicting that Russia, Turkey and Iran will soon reach a joint agreement to remove Syrian dictator Bashar Assad from power, replacing him with a transitional government including members of both the regime and opposition, as well as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In its coverage of the report, Russian news agency TASS suggested that Moscow fears a repeat of the "Afghan scenario" in Syria if it continues to back an unpopular regime. It also suggested that Assad is perceived by Moscow as too beholden to Tehran.
Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
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)
Somali troops clashed with forces from the country's semi-autonomous Jubaland region last week in a flare-up of violence that is raising tensions with neighboring countries and may play into the hands of the militant group al-Shabab. Tensions have been rising since August, when Jubaland's incumbent president, Ahmed Madobe, won regional elections that Mogadishu described as "not free and fair." The central government wanted a loyalist candidate to win, as it seeks greater control over Somalia's regions ahead of upcoming national elections. Kenya, which has troops deployed as part of an African Union peace enforcement operation, is on the side of Madobe, who it sees as an ally against al-Shabab, while Ethiopia has aligned with Mogadishu. Kenya accused Somali troops of encroaching on its territory and destroying property during last week's violence, while the US said that the clashes are a distraction in efforts against al-Shabab. An estimated 56,000 people have been uprooted by the recent fighting. according to the UN.