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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Syria

  • U.S. military officials reportedly watched—and recorded—live drone video feeds that appeared to show Turkish troops targeting civilians during the early stages of Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, and are treating the video as evidence of possible war crimes. That’s bound to make Pres. Erdogan’s visit to the White House today awkward.
  • Turkey’s Demiroren News Agency says that a U.S. citizen of Jordanian descent—who fought for IS in Syria—is now stranded between Turkey and Greece, after being deported by Turkey—and refused entry into Greece. Turkey also deported an IS-affiliated Dutch national the same day, but it’s not clear what happened to him.
  • Pres. Erdogan didn’t seem too concerned about their fate: “Whether they are stuck there at the border it doesn’t concern us. We will continue to send them. Whether [other countries] take them or not, it is not our concern.” Erdogan previously estimated that around 2,500 IS fighters are imprisoned in Turkey, and has vowed to deport all of them.
  • Turkey also plans to deport an Irish citizen (and former military private) who appears to have joined IS and married an IS fighter. Ireland has said it will recognize Smith’s right to return; although PM Leo Varadkar says she’ll be closely scrutinized to make sure she doesn’t pose a threat at home.

Hong Kong

  • Police warned that Hong Kong’s rule of law had been pushed “to the brink of total collapse.”
  • The WSJ said that Hong Kong’s universities have “become battle zones,” causing hundreds of mainland Chinese students of the Chinese University of Hong Kong to flee so they wouldn’t be caught between Hong Kong police and the pro-democracy students rioting at the university. The school cancelled classes for the rest of the term—which seems pretty drastic.
  • Hong Kong’s Education Bureau went further, and said it would close all schools—even including kindergartens—for safety reasons, starting tomorrow.

Bolivia

  • Opposition representative Jeanine Añez failed to get official approval to assume the interim presidency of Bolivia (because ex-Pres. Morales’s allies boycotted the vote), but she declared herself Interim President anyway, and presented herself on a balcony in the old presidential palace wearing the presidential sash and holding a bible—though nobody ever actually swore her in.

Afghanistan

  • Afghanistan’s IEC again postponed preliminary presidential election results—which were supposed to be released tomorrow. An IEC commissioner said: “We are striving to announce a transparent result that should be acceptable to the people of Afghanistan”—but we can probably read that as a sign that the IEC isn’t sure what to do with results that will enrage some of the warlords who ran for president and have threatened to violently resist unfavorable outcomes.
  • A car bombing during rush hour near the international airport and Interior Ministry headquarters in Kabul today killed at least seven people, and wounded ten more—including four foreign nationals (perhaps Indian or Nepalese) working for a Canadian security company called GardaWorld.
  • A U.S. airstrike in Logar reportedly killed at least four of the contingent of Afghan soldiers that had ordered it after it came under Taliban attack.
  • In a separate event, a suicide bomber targeted a U.S. envoy in Logar, but killed only himself.
  • Turkish police detained 82 migrants—reportedly from Afghanistan, and bound for Europe—in Ayvacik, and said it would deport them.

Pakistan

  • The Economist had the best explainer of the current protests in Islamabad that I’ve seen yet, concluding that it’s better characterized as an Islamic politician’s effort regain political significance than a pro-democracy movement like in Hong Kong or Chile—or an Iran-backed belligerence like in Iraq. However, the article (pasted below) also concludes that it’d be dangerous for PM Khan to ignore the movement.

Migration

  • The U.S. Supreme Court seems split on how they’ll rule on Pres. Trump’s effort to end DACA, which protects 700,000 young immigrants from deportation. Media analysts say the justices’ questions seemed slanted in favor of Trump’s position, but we won’t hear a final verdict for months.

Venezuela

  • Venezuela’s former head of military intel, Maj. Gen. Hugo Carvajal, apparently disappeared from his home in Madrid to avoid re-arrest and extradition to the U.S. on drug trafficking charges last week. (Although some Spanish papers reported that he’d been arrested smoothly, until he started posting social media messages showing otherwise).

Guyana

  • Tullow and Eco Atlantic announced disappointing results from the Jethro-1 and Joe-1 wells in the Orinduik block offshore Guyana: it turns out Jethro and Joe contain less profitable heavy crudes with a lot of sulphur, rather than the light oils Exxon found in the Stabroek block. Tullow’s stock sunk over 25% on the news, but management says it’s still evaluating the project.

Mexico

  • Mexican authorities made vague claims that they’d arrested numerous suspects in the cartel murder of nine American-Mexicans in Chihuahua/Sonora, and were thus definitely capable of handling the investigation.
  • However, the head of Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Security even seemed unsure of which cartel was responsible—though he’d at least narrowed it down to two: “La Linea” and “Los Jaguares.”And at least one suspect that Mexican police arrested near the U.S. border turned out to have no connection to the murders at all (or rather, no connection to these murders—he was caught with two bound hostages and assault rifles in his armored car…hmmm).

Strategic Minerals

  • First Cobalt’s President and CEO said his company was in advanced talks with the government of Ontario to “get some kind of support under the umbrella of the Ontario and North American automotive supply chain.” First Cobalt is looking for $37.5 million to restart its stalled cobalt refinery in Ontario, but isn’t getting a great response from private investors because of the significant debt hole it dug with its main backer, Glencore.
  • Any government backing for First Cobalt would likely come in the form of loan guarantees—rather than equity investment or loans. First Cobalt would still have to find a lender.
  • First Cobalt has said it won’t decide whether or not to restart the plant until the first quarter of 2020. The plant would target an initial output of 12 tons per day by the end of the year (vs. 63 tons per day at Mutanda, which Glencore shut down).

Other News

  • The IEA released its annual World Energy Outlook, which showed greater-than-expected growth in renewable energy in 2018—and estimated that renewables will surpass coal as the world’s most prevalent source of electricity by 2030. However, the IEA still expects greenhouse gas emissions to keep rising until 2030.
  • The Gambia filed a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice accusing Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya Muslims.
  • New People’s Army (NPA) rebels appear to have lured Philippine Army soldiers into a clash in Borongan, Eastern Samar, by harassing communities who then called for military help. Six soldiers were killed by IEDs that met them as they responded to those calls. The NPA is only one of several communist insurgencies stirring trouble in the Philippines; the government hasn’t been able to resolve the conflict at the national level, so Pres. Duterte has sought to push peace talks down to the local level instead.

Religious protesters have put Pakistan’s government on the defensive (Economist)

The army seems to be standing by the prime minister, however

Rizwan ahmad says he has everything he needs for the long haul. The 20-year-old has swapped his austere madrasa in Sukkur, a city in Sindh province, for a makeshift camp beside a motorway outside Islamabad, the capital, nearly 1,000km (620 miles) to the north. He has bedding, warm clothes, food and shelter. Anything else, God will provide. Tents, tarpaulins, food stalls and solar panels to charge mobile phones are laid out among rows of men bent in prayer.

Mr Ahmad is one of around 50,000 protesters who, led by a veteran Islamist called Maulana Fazlur Rehman, descended on Islamabad late last month. The orange-turbaned leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (jui-f) party stirred up religious students to demand the resignation of the prime minister, Imran Khan. “If the maulana says ‘Go home tomorrow’, we will go home tomorrow,” explains Mr Ahmad. “If he says ‘Stay a year’, we will stay a year.”

The maulana’s “freedom march” is not an uprising like the mass tumults shaking Iraq and Lebanon, but a disciplined display of partisan street power. As the event reached the end of its first week, it had become the first concerted opposition challenge to Mr Khan since he won a general election in July last year. It has also become a test for the broader opposition, as bigger parties ponder how far to push Mr Khan and how strongly to back the jui-f.

Every evening the maulana has railed against the former cricketer from the top of a shipping container, complaining that his election victory was rigged and that he was “selected” as prime minister by the army. The maulana also says Mr Khan is ruining the economy. On the night the protesters arrived in Islamabad, he told the crowd that he was giving Mr Khan 48 hours to quit. The protesters then threatened to occupy a bigger crossroads in striking distance of parliament. Mr Khan is still in office and the crowd has not closed in. But it has refused to disperse and the sit-in has been dominating the life of the capital. Thousands of police and soldiers have been drafted in to keep watch on the crowd and guard against further incursions.

Every day the maulana holds talks with both the government and the opposition. His supporters, who hail mainly from rural backwaters in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh, spend the day sightseeing before returning to hear his nightly speeches. Uniformed volunteers in khaki tunics keep order.

Mr Khan has mocked the protest, saying that the maulana is bitter because he lost his seat in the election. The cleric once supported the Afghan Taliban and called for the imposition of Islamic law, but has recently tried to look more moderate. However, he still complains that Mr Khan is too friendly with Ahmadis, a Muslim sect he considers heretical, and has not allowed women to take part in the march.

Despite belittling the protesters, Mr Khan has felt obliged to negotiate with them. He has offered an inquiry into the fairness of last year’s election, and even sent officials to find ways to shelter the crowds from driving rain. He knows the pressure that “container politics” can exert. His own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf conducted a four-month sit-in in 2014, calling for the prime minister of the day, Nawaz Sharif, to resign. That protest and other recent displays of street power by religious parties were widely thought to have had military backing. This week’s appears not to. At any rate, the top brass have issued a statement saying they will “continue to support national institutions as and when asked, as per the constitution.”

The army’s support for Mr Khan seems to have deterred the bigger opposition parties from giving wholehearted backing to the jui-f. Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan Peoples Party have lent moral support, but little else. Many voters, although dismayed by rising prices and a slumping economy, think Mr Khan deserves more time to put things right. But even if the maulana’s protest is unlikely to bring down the government, it has invigorated the opposition. It is Mr Khan who is on the back foot these days.

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