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Blackwater USA – Daily Brief

Afghanistan

  • The U.S. cut over $160 million in direct funding to Afghanistan—including $100 million for a major energy project—because of concerns over government corruption. SecState Pompeo specifically called out the Afghan corruption-monitoring agency as “incapable of being a partner.” That’s bound to irk Pres. Ghani, who’s doing his best to fake competence ahead of next week’s election.
  • A U.S. drone strike in Nangarhar reportedly killed at least nine civilians gathering pine nuts—but there’s probably more to the story: IS often uses civilians as human shields, and has been known to spread fake news about civilian casualties to rile Afghans up against the U.S.
  • A Taliban bombing in Qalat, Zabul targeted an NDS office, but blew up a hospital instead, killing at least 30 people. Because that was the primary government hospital in the province, injured victims had to be evacuated to private hospitals and hospitals in Kandahar.
  • A separate Taliban suicide bombing in Logar targeted a U.S. military convoy—but may have missed, since I haven’t seen any reports about casualties.

RSS

  • The Sentry—a watchdog group funded by George Clooney—published a bombshell report accusing the Dar Petroleum Operating Company of financing South Sudan’s civil war, and facilitating government corruption. That’s a big deal because Dar has strong ties to Pres. Kiir, as well as to China and Malaysia’s state-owned oil companies (who own 41% and 40% of the company, respectively). A NYT article on the report is pasted below.

Syria

  • The UNSC will soon vote on two competing proposals for a truce in northwest Syria: one draft by Kuwait, Germany, and Belgium emphasizes compliance with international law; the other by China and Russia wants operations to make an exception to allow operations against terrorists to continue during a cease fire.

Iran

  • Iran’s Foreign Minister responded to rumors that the U.S. or Saudi Arabia may consider a military strike on Iran by threatening that such a strike would lead to “an all-out war.” Zarif also reiterated Iran’s dubious claim that it had nothing to do with the attacks on Saudi oil assets.
  • SecState Pompeo tried to calm him down by saying the U.S. wants a “peaceful resolution.”

Guyana

  • U.S. and EU diplomats criticized Guyana’s Pres. Granger for failing to hold new elections as his constitution requires, and threatened to revoke aid funding unless he sets an election date “immediately.”

Nigeria

  • A Nigerian government committee reported that the country has lost around 6% of its production (worth $1.35 billion) to oil theft in 2019 to date, and called for a task force to address the issue. Professional oil theft has always been a big issue in the Niger Delta: when I was there in 2012, and American oil exec told us the thieves hacking into the company’s pipelines were the very engineers who built them.

Israel

  • Benny Gantz claimed victory in Israel’s Knesset election, and rejected PM Netanyahu’s calls for a unity government.
  • Some press reports worry that Netanyahu could try to force a third election to get his way.

U.S.

  • I keep seeing headlines about a “whistleblower” case in which an unspecified intelligence official reported Pres. Trump for allegedly making an inappropriate “promise” to a foreign leader on a phone call. The facts are still sealed, so it’s not clear what’s actually going on.

Migration

  • French and Italian leaders called on the EU to build a new system that automatically redistributes newly-arrived migrants throughout all EU countries.

Climate Change

  • This wasn’t on my radar until it came up in some front page stories today: climate change activists are organizing protests in thousands of cities today.

South Sudan Oil Consortium Funded Militias Accused of Atrocities, Report Says (NYT)

A South Sudanese oil consortium directly financed militias accused of committing atrocities in the country’s civil war, according to an investigative report released on Thursday amid growing calls for accountability for the conflict’s human rights abuses.

The report by a watchdog group linked the consortium, Dar Petroleum Operating Company, in which Chinese- and Malaysian state-owned oil companies have large stakes, to episodes of violence, corruption and environmental degradation. It also outlined ties between forces loyal to the government of President Salva Kiir and the company, a relationship apparently forged in an effort to protect the oil fields and keep revenues flowing.

South Sudan’s oil fields, the primary source of the government’s wealth, have long been one of the pathways to finance the civil war. But the detailed report by the watchdog group the Sentry, released at a news conference in London on Thursday, attempts to further shore up the evidence of the international players believed to be complicit in the civil war, which has lasted six years, almost as long as the country has existed. The Sentry was founded by the actor George Clooney and John Prendergast, a rights activist.

While experts say there are few accountability mechanisms in place in South Sudan, the naming and shaming of major international organizations and individuals could prove financially damaging. The authors also hope the report would spur action from banks and governments, such as seizing assets and imposing sanctions on those named.

“Without their support, these atrocities could never have happened at this scale,” Mr. Clooney said. “Facts are stubborn things.”

The report comes amid a cease-fire and a stalled peace process to end the war, which has left South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, in a fragile state. Hunger is widespread. More than 1.75 million people have been displaced, hundreds of thousands have become refugees, and nearly 400,000 were believed killed in the civil war. In 2018, United Nations officials outlined a campaign of killings and rapes by government forces and their allies in the spring.

South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011 from an international push to end decades of conflict between the north and south of what was then Sudan. But by December 2013, a feud between forces loyal to Mr. Kiir and those beholden to his former vice president, Riek Machar, drew the new country into its own civil war.

The peace process formally began last year, when Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar signed an accord. The men, who met in the capital, Juba, last week, have agreed to form an interim government by Nov. 12. Many aspects of the peace deal have yet to be put in place, including the integration of former rebels into the army.

David Shearer, the head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, said in a briefing in New York on Wednesday that “tangible results” of the peace deal had remained elusive and that political consensus on several major issues had yet to be reached.

The cease-fire has largely continued to hold in most regions in the country, however, inspiring “cautious optimism” among citizens that an end to the conflict may be near. But calls for accountability for abuses are just beginning.

Mr. Clooney, who has been a powerful voice demanding an end to the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, says his role is to shine the spotlight on the overlooked involvement of international players that has sustained the war.

“These people have every right to live and not be raped and not be kicked off of their land and not be murdered,” he said of South Sudanese civilians.

Militias, often divided along ethnic lines, were major participants in the conflict, including in the area in the north where Dar Petroleum has its oil fields. The report says that email correspondence from 2014 and 2015 shows coordination between Dar Petroleum and one of those militias — a Padang group that is a subset of the ethnic Dinkas loyal to Mr. Kiir — and the delivery of significant amounts of diesel fuel to the group.

“In several instances, diesel shipments were sent just days before military operations were carried out in the exact same locations,” said Mr. Prendergast, the rights advocate. The militias were initially recruited to protect the oil facilities, he said, but “they went on to become central actors in the destruction of Upper Nile State.”

The report also includes accusations of environmental damage against Dar Petroleum, evidence it paid off the debt of a government official and allegations of the misuse of funds earmarked for development.

The Dar Petroleum Operating Company is a consortium of several international oil companies, including the China National Petroleum Corporation, a state-owned entity that has a 41 percent stake in the group; and Petronas, a company owned by the Malaysian government that has a 40 percent stake, according to Africa Oil and Power, which tracks investment in the energy sector across the African continent.

Both Petronas and the China National Petroleum Corporation have appointees serving in senior management roles in Dar Petroleum. The consortium’s links to the government and to the conflict have long been known. In March 2018, the United States slapped sanctions on Dar Petroleum, along with 14 other oil operators that it said were important sources of cash for the government. The government of South Sudan later denounced the decision.

A spokesman for China National Petroleum Corporation declined to comment on the Sentry report. Petronas did not respond to requests for comment, and attempts to reach Dar Petroleum and the government of South Sudan were unsuccessful.

Every episode explored in the report — which also detailed profiteering from the conflict by an American arms dealer, among others — highlighted international links to corruption and violence in South Sudan. The report also tied several members of Mr. Kiir’s family to international companies that act with impunity in their business dealings in the country.

Crucially, only one person mentioned in the report, the American arms dealer Ara Dolarian, has ever been charged over alleged involvement  in the conflict. While the peace accord provides for the establishment of a special court dealing with human rights violations in partnership with the African Union, the government has yet to create it.

The United Nations has implicated forces of Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar in human rights abuses, and the Sentry previously detailed how both officials have profited from the conflict.

“The reality is this government does not want to be held accountable,” Mr. Prendergast said.

He said that financial pressure — particularly seizing criminally obtained assets and increasing sanctions — could halt abuses in the short term.

“You can hit these people where sometimes it matters the most,” he said, “their wallets and their bank accounts and their luxury housing internationally.”