Situation Report: U.N. pointing fingers in South Sudan; Syria peace talks delayed again; female jihadist calls out keyboard warriors; Petraeus backstory; Aussies weighing anchor; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley U.N. lays blame. An unpublished United Nations report finds “clear and convincing evidence” that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar are responsible for widespread atrocities. The report, obtained by FP’s Colum Lynch, says that over the course of the country’s two-year civil war, the two ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
U.N. lays blame. An unpublished United Nations report finds “clear and convincing evidence” that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar are responsible for widespread atrocities. The report, obtained by FP’s Colum Lynch, says that over the course of the country’s two-year civil war, the two have been responsible for massive human rights abuses and should have their financial assets frozen and be barred from traveling outside the country.
The five-member panel wrote “there is clear and convincing evidence that the majority of acts committed in the course of the war, including the targeting of civilians and violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, have been directed by or undertaken with the knowledge of senior individuals in the highest level of government and within the opposition.” The findings were included in a report to the U.N. Security Council that is expected to be made public later this month, but FP’s Lynch reviewed the report in advance of publication.
Syria talks wait. Attempts to kick off peace talks between the Syrian government and a coalition of rebel groups have been delayed until Friday over a “stalemate” over who will represent the country’s divided opposition, FP’s John Hudson writes. The talks were initially were slated to start Monday but a flurry of last-minute diplomacy — from Istanbul to Riyadh to New York — still seeks to unify the fractured opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While the diplomats shuttle around the globe, prominent Syrian opposition groups such as Alwiyat Seif al-Sham have warned anew they’ll boycott the talks if Damascus balks on new concessions, including the lifting of blockades, ending aerial bombing raids, and releasing prisoners.
Keyboard warriors. Over the weekend, a woman posting on a channel called Umm Isa Amrikiah on the Telegram messenger app called out male Islamic State sympathizers as hypocrites and urged them to “get off their couches” and kill Westerners. “Get off your couches and do something instead of spending 24/7 on social media,” she wrote, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorist activity online. FP’s Siobhan O’Grady tells us that of the 4,500 foreign fighters believed to have joined the extremist group in recent years, at least 550 of them are women.
Not a lot is known about what kind of lives the women of ISIS lead, though reports of abuse and sexual slavery have leaked out of Syria. Late last year, Sabra Kesinovic, 17, an Austrian teen who traveled to Syria to join the group was beaten to death after she was caught attempting to escape from Raqqa. Not much is known about Umm Isa Amrikiah, but she claims to be American and has previously been identified as a point of contact for women interested in traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State.
As the East Coast of the U.S. continues to dig out of a major blizzard, there’s plenty to keep us busy. As you know, we can never get enough information, so if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ! Best way is to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
The continuing story of David Petraeus
On April 23, 2015, retired general David Petraeus pleaded guilty in a Charlotte, N.C. court to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials, putting a surprising end to a long public career as the leading U.S. commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as head of the CIA. But how the decision was reached to spare Petraeus jail time is a saga unto itself, and one that left few at the Justice Department happy, according to a new story in the Washington Post.
Russia is pushing back hard against reports that it has sent soldiers to expand an airbase by Syria’s border with Turkey, near the town of Qamishli. Defense News reports that the Russian defense ministry said only “absolute morons” believe the reports, which have been backed by the Turkish President, that claim Russian troops are performing maintenance on the runway at Qamishli to prepare the facility for use.
Iraq has demanded that Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Baghdad Thamer al-Sabhan explain his recent comments alleging that Iraq’s Shia militias are contributing to sectarian tensions, Al Jazeera reports. Al-Sabhan told an Iraqi news outlet that the militias, many of which receive support from Iran, are essentially sectarian actors participating in Iraq’s war against the Islamic State. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has tried to perform a delicate balancing act between Saudi Arabia and Iran since Saudi officials executed Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr and Iranian protesters sacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Abadi is facing pressure at home by Shia militias to retaliate against Saudi Arabia for its execution of al-Nimr.
Europol director Rob Wainwright warned that the Islamic State will target Europe once again following the November 2015 attacks in Paris which killed 130. Wainwright said that the group has created an “external action command” to carry out terrorist attacks outside the self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria. He singled out France as a particular target of the group, claiming that ISIS planned to use more “Mumbai-style” tactics in which multiple active shooters target civilians with small arms.
Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine are standing up a joint brigade which should be operational by 2017, the AP reports. Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said the unit is intended to provide deterrence against regional threats, in a thinly-veiled reference to Russia, which has invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and become increasingly aggressive towards its Western-aligned neighbors in eastern Europe.
The world’s most powerful hyperspectral satellite will be coming to a near earth orbit near you courtesy of China. PopSci reports that China will launch its China Commercial Remote-sensing Satellite System (CCRSS) sometime in 2016. The hyperspectral satellite can view hundreds of different wavelengths along the electromagnetic spectrum, giving analysts the ability to detect more activities and objects than simple visible light or infrared objects. The future CCRSS launch will give China’s military the ability to spot submarines at sea and distinguish between real and decoy missiles on land.
Australia may follow the U.S. Navy’s lead and challenge China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea by carrying out a freedom of navigation exercise near man-made islands built by China. Australia’s National Security Council is considering the plan, according to The Australian, which would involved sailing through or flying within the 12 nautical mile area surrounding the artificial islands where China claims sovereignty. The U.S. reportedly nixed a scenario which would involve Japanese ships participating in the freedom of navigation exercise, judging proximity between the two historic rivals’ navies potentially too provocative.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter insists that he isn’t slow rolling shipping prisoners out of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, as some critics charge. “I’ve said from the day I was nominated to be secretary of defense, I think on balance it would be a good thing to close Gitmo.” Carter said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” But, he continued, “there are people in Gitmo who are so dangerous that we cannot transfer them to the custody of another government no matter how much we trust that government. I can’t assure the president that it would be safe to do that.” There have been 16 transfers out of Gitmo so far in 2016, bringing the population to under 100 for the first time in over a decade. There’s still a major fight over what to do with the several dozen prisoners deemed too dangerous to move to a third country, causing a fight on Capitol Hill that has seen one Republican senator promise to block the confirmation of Eric Fanning as the next secretary of the Army.
Tweet of the day
Surrey with the fringe on top.
RT @oryxspioenkop Where’s that tent going? Two T-55s of the Islamic State in action against the YPG, early 2015.
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