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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Global Conflict

  • ACLED published its annual report on the global conflicts that its analysts think will make headlines in 2020. It provocatively included the U.S. on the list because of the risk of political protests turning violent this election year. An introduction to the ACLED report is pasted below; you can read the whole thing here, or a briefer summary of each of the ten potential conflicts here.

China

  • There are now 1,975 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 56 people have died from virus-related pneumonia.
  • It’s encouraging that China is responding so quickly to contain the outbreak. The city of Wuhan—which is the epicenter of the outbreak—is speedily building a 1,000-bed hospital to treat infected patients. [China has an impressive record on rapid hospital construction projects like this: at the peak of the SARS outbreak, it built a 1,000-bed hospital near Beijing in just a week, using the same modular construction practices planned in Wuhan.] The Wuhan hospital expects to open in just over a week, on Feb. 3rd.
  • Companies and other countries are taking the outbreak seriously, too. For example, the U.S. is preparing to evacuate its diplomats and citizens out of Wuhan on charter flights, and will temporarily close its consulate there.
  • These containment and evacuation measures seem like an overabundance of caution, but that’s better than covering up the outbreak—which is what happened with SARS. Early indications suggest this coronavirus isn’t as dangerous or deadly as SARS.

Iran

  • Iran’s Foreign Minister gave an interview with Der Spiegel, in which he said Iran is still willing and ready to negotiate with the U.S.—but only if sanctions are lifted…Pres. Trump tweeted back “No Thanks!”
  • An Iranian plane traveling from Tehran to Istanbul made an emergency landing at Tehran airport—reportedly due to a technical problem. There are no indications of foul play.

Iraq

  • Influential Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr withdrew his support for the four-month-old protest movement in Iraq, and—no longer afraid of confronting Sadr—Iraqi security forces immediately stormed into key public squares to break up protest camps.
  • Analysts think this is a major turning point, and many believe the security forces will finally be able to force an end to the movement now.

Libya

  • Even though foreign powers just signed an agreement to support a ceasefire in Libya a week ago, the UN says some of them are still flying weapons and fighters into the country, in clear violation of the deal. The UN statement didn’t name names, but the UAE, Egypt, Turkey, and Russia are likely suspects.
  • Libya’s NOC says its oil output is down 75% due to Khalifa Haftar’s oilfield and port blockade, leading to losses of $256 million in the past week alone.

Venezuela

  • Pres. Guaido led thousands of supporters in a rally in Madrid yesterday. He also met the Spanish Foreign Minister, but not PM Sanchez. Spain is the last leg of his European tour: he’ll next head back to Venezuela—if Pres. Maduro lets him in.

Mexico

  • U.S. federal agents charged Ivan Reyes Arzate—the former head of Mexico’s Federal Police’s Sensitive Investigation Unit—with taking bribes to protect El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel. Reyes Arzate is the second former senior Mexican official to be charged this month with protecting the very cartels he was supposed to be destroying: former federal security chief Genaro Garcia Luna was charged with similar offenses in the same Brooklyn court in early Jan.
  • Separately, José Sánchez Villalobos, who designed tunnels for El Chapo, was finally extradited to the U.S., where he’ll face trial for drug crimes.

South Africa

  • The ANC proposed an amendment that would shift responsibility for decisions about expropriating land without compensation to the Minister of Land Reform—rather than the courts. The official rationale was that the Minister can make faster decisions than the courts, but critics accuse the ANC of trying to sneakily steal power from the judiciary. It was also shady of the ANC to introduce a controversial change right before a holiday break.

TEN CONFLICTS TO WORRY ABOUT IN 2020 (ACLED)

In 2019, the world witnessed a drastic increase in violent disorder that assumed many forms: protests from Lebanon to Hong Kong and Iraq to Chile; geopolitical competition in Yemen and Syria; dominant insurgencies in Somalia and Afghanistan; a cartel-insurgency in Mexico; and a diffuse, adaptable militant threat across the Sahel. Two problems immediately stand out: the world is significantly more violent now than a decade ago, and today’s conflict forms are strongly localized — types of violence, agents, targets, and solutions are unique to their local context. This is partially because governments in the world’s most violent places are no longer in control of their territories, nor show any interest or ability to resume control through direct or indirect authority. Governments are also much more likely to use violence against their citizens without international reproach. The rise of authoritarianism — and impunity — has generated significant public reaction in the form of mass protest movements, but it has also increased the level of violence imposed upon civilians and political competition.

In this report, ACLED has chosen 10 conflicts that demonstrate how violent political disorder is evolving in places it has festered for decades — such as Afghanistan — as well as in relatively new spaces — such as the United States. Across these 10 cases, observers have often concentrated on active threats and acts of violence, and less so on the latent risks that may produce new agents, modalities, targets, and opportunities for violence. If the past decade offers any lessons, it is that conflict can take many forms, and can arise from a range of local vulnerabilities if stoked. Here, we review 10 situations in which conflict is likely to change and worsen in the coming year, creating new dilemmas for governments and citizens.

To access a full copy of the report, click here.

Ten Conflicts to Worry About in 2020

  • The Sahel: High risk of conflicts diffusing and infecting neighbors.
  • Mexico: High risk of cartel ‘criminal market’ developing into insurgency.
  • Yemen: High risk of persistent conflict amid shifting frontlines and alliances.
  • India: At risk of Modi’s plans derailing with uncontrollable effects.
  • Somalia: High risk of Al Shabaab adapting to dominate and isolate a weak government.
  • Iran: High risk of center deteriorating amid regime escalation at home and abroad.
  • Afghanistan: High risk of rising violence targeting civilians.
  • Ethiopia: At risk of increased fragmentation despite a popular leader.
  • Lebanon: High risk of protests devolving into organized violence.
  • United States: Developed, democratic political system at risk of turning violent.

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