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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Brexit

  • The President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, hinted that the Commission would consider granting a delay for Brexit if the UK asked for one.
  • PM Johnson still hopes to force a deal before the Oct. 31st deadline, and seems more willing to make concessions ahead of his Thursday meeting with the EU Council than he’s been in the past.
  • That meeting will be followed by a vote in the House of Commons next Saturday.
  • Labour leaders are calling for whatever deal Johnson and the EU hash out—if they’re even able to reach a deal—to be put to referendum.

China

  • Pres. Trump described this week’s talks with China as “a love fest,” so that’s cute.
  • I’m still not sure what was actually agreed this week, except that the U.S. said it would postpone the new tariffs that were supposed to go into effect on Oct. 15th, and China promised to import more agricultural products from the U.S. But Chinese state media isn’t even calling the agreement a deal yet. 

Hong Kong

  • Protesters in Hong Kong flouted the new ban on face masks by wearing masks with the image of Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping.
  • Demonstrators clashed with police in several parts of the city, but things were overall calmer than last week.
  • The Telegraph reported that students from Hong Kong and China are clashing at the UK universities where they’re studying, and implied that Beijing was egging on Chinese students to confront pro-Hong Kong classmates.

Migration

  • Mexican military police in Chiapas halted and turned around a caravan of 2,000 migrants heading north towards the U.S. The motley bunch—which included migrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America—was returned about 20 miles to Tapachula, where they’d started off earlier in the day. That’s a sign that Mexican police are taking the caravans more seriously than when the mega-caravans were passing through earlier this year.

Afghanistan

  • A good WSJ report claims that the U.S. and Taliban are discreetly talking again, and searching for opportunities to fully revive the peace process by building trust through prisoner swaps or ceasefires. Article pasted below.
  • The Taliban assassinated the governor of Jaghatu district (Wardak province) in his car in Kabul.

Syria

  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said that Pres. Trump has approved sanctions on Turkish leaders for attacking Kurdish forces in Syria—though “we hope we don’t have to use them.” Of course, Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds shouldn’t come as much of a surprise—it was pretty clear that was Turkey’s plan all along.
  • Kurdish leaders reported that 785 IS brides escaped from a camp in Ain Issa (near Raqqa), after Turkish “mercenaries” attacked the camp and threw its Kurdish administrators into confusion. That’s exactly the kind of thing that analysts were worried would happen when the Kurdish troops guarding IS prisons were forced to leave their posts to defend against Turkey.
  • In other scary news, U.S. forces in Syria accused Turkish troops of deliberately firing multiple 155 mm artillery rounds on both sides of their outpost near Kobani.

Libya

  • The Berlin conference on Libya—which was supposed to take place this month—has been postponed. Some analysts say it was delayed because PM Serraj is hesitant to accept help from Turkey, given Turkey’s ongoing incursion into Syria and the shadow it’s casting on Pres. Erdogan; however, it doesn’t seem like either Libyan side was ready to talk in Berlin, anyway.

Ecuador

  • Pres. Moreno announced a military-enforced curfew in Quito to quell protests, and said the curfew could later be extended to other cities (if it works).
  • That may not be necessary: indigenous protest leaders accepted Moreno’s invitation to talks that start tomorrow, so we may see a resolution soon.

Burkina Faso

  • Gunmen attacked a mosque in Salmossi, Burkina Faso, killing over a dozen worshippers.
  • The following day, more than 1,000 Burkinabe demonstrators protested against foreign military bases in the country. The organizers believe that French, American, Canadian, and German bases there instigate terrorists.

U.S. Moves to Restart Taliban Peace Process (WSJ)

Top U.S. envoy meets with Taliban in bid to revive deal; measures could include prisoner swap or reduction in violence

U.S. officials and representatives of the Afghan Taliban have begun discussing ways to revive a peace process after talks fell apart last month, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The top U.S. envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, met international diplomatic counterparts in New York in late September and met with the Taliban in Pakistan earlier this month. The meetings touched on confidence-building measures that could include a possible prisoner swap or a reduction in violence, according to the people familiar with the discussions.

President Trump last month declared that talks with the Taliban were dead, and abruptly canceled plans to meet Taliban officials at the Camp David presidential retreat to complete an agreement hashed out during a year of bilateral talks, amid opposition from top aides and cabinet members.

At a rally in Minnesota last week, Mr. Trump appeared to signal openness to return to the table to end the 18-year-old war.

“The single greatest mistake our country made, in its history, was going into the quicksand,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re pulling people out and we’re trying to make good deals and we’re going to bring our soldiers back home.”

A reduction in violence could be modeled on the cease-fire that took place in June 2018, during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. The Taliban then announced a three-day cease-fire, leading to extraordinary scenes in which both sides hugged in the streets, ate ice cream and wept.

Since then, the Taliban have refused to agree to any further cease-fires offered by the Afghan government.

An alternative option, a prisoner swap, could entail the release of Anas Haqqani, a high-ranking member of the Haqqani network, an affiliate of the Taliban, according to the people familiar with the discussions. In exchange, the Taliban would give up two professors, an American and an Australian, who were kidnapped on their way home from teaching at the American University of Afghanistan in 2016, these people said.

Mr. Haqqani is the son of the movement’s late founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who worked with the Central Intelligence Agency asset in the war against the Soviets. The Haqqani network is now a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

Mr. Haqqani was sentenced to death after the Afghan intelligence agency captured him in 2014, but remains in custody at a maximum-security prison run by the Afghan government. The Taliban’s current second in command, Siraj Haqqani, is his older brother.

The State Department declined to comment on any aspect of Mr. Khalilzad’s engagement with the Taliban in Pakistan, and wouldn’t confirm whether a meeting took place, but said the trip didn’t represent the start of an Afghan peace process. The Taliban said that no further changes were being made to the previous deal during the talks, and that the group stands ready to sign it.

“The agreement along with its annexes were finalized after long discussions, now they are ready to be signed,” the spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said. “Now it is up to the U.S., whether they want the issue resolved through peaceful means or military means.”

The most recent prisoner swap between the U.S. and the Taliban took place when Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was exchanged for five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2014. Republican lawmakers criticized the Obama administration at the time for failing to notify Congress of the plan. U.S. officials hoped the swap would open the door to a fully-fledged peace process, but it didn’t materialize.

Under the terms of the earlier proposed deal between the U.S. and Taliban, the U.S. would withdraw about 5,000 troops within 135 days after it is signed. The remaining U.S. troops would be pulled out about another year after that. In return, the Taliban would renounce all ties to al Qaeda, a process the U.S. is entitled to verify. There currently are about 14,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Mr. Khalilzad’s meeting last week with the Taliban’s Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the top representative for the group in the talks, was the first meeting in close to a month since Mr. Trump called off the deal in September. During the hiatus, voters in Afghanistan went to the polls to decide on the country’s future president.

President Ashraf Ghani, the incumbent, is seeking a second term. Slightly more than two million Afghans voted in presidential elections last month, a historic low. The election results aren’t expected for weeks.

Mr. Ghani’s credentials as a corruption-fighter were dealt a blow last month after the U.S. said it was cutting $60 million in aid due to the Afghan government’s failure to meet transparency and accountability benchmarks. The U.S. also said it was returning $100 million to the U.S. treasury for an energy project because of the Afghan government’s inability to transparently manage resources.

Mr. Ghani’s supporters say the government has made significant progress in the fight against corruption during his term.

Rick Olson, a former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Mr. Trump’s declaration that the talks were dead was “rhetorical overkill.”

“The structural conditions—a deteriorating stalemate—have not changed, so both sides need to talk,” Mr. Olson said.