SitRep: Washington and Moscow’s War of Words; Four Bombs in New York and New Jersey
Obama’s Last Speech; And Lots More
Bombs, charges, and a frayed ceasefire. One week into the fragile ceasefire agreement in Syria hatched by American and Russian diplomats, and relations between the two countries have hit a new low.
The biggest crisis between the two countries since Russia began bombing in Syria last fall erupted Saturday when U.S. (and Australian) planes bombed a Syrian army garrison, killing at least 60 soldiers. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has put the number as high as 90. American and Australian officials have said the hit was a mistake, but that hasn’t stopped Russian officials from accusing Washington of supporting the Islamic State, being shortsighted in refusing to coordinate airstrikes with Russian forces, and suggesting the Pentagon is sabotaging White House policy.
Russian response. Moscow shifted immediately into attack mode, calling the viability of the already shaky week-old ceasefire in Syria into question. “The White House is defending Islamic State. Now there can be no doubts about that,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on state TV.
“If these strikes were undertaken as a result of a coordination error, it will be because the Americans continue to refuse to coordinate with Russia regarding their actions against terrorist groups in Syria,” charged Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov.
On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin jumped into the fray, adding that Washington “still cannot separate the so-called healthy part of the opposition from the half-criminal and terrorist elements…this is a very dangerous route.” The Russians are also angry that Washington refuses to share the ceasefire document with the United Nations.
“The actions of coalition pilots — if they, as we hope, were not taken on an order from Washington — are on the boundary between criminal negligence and connivance with Islamic State terrorists,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
U.S. responds. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responded on CNN that Russia should do more to support the ceasefire and “stop the grandstanding, stop the showboating and get the humanitarian assistance going.” Damascus refuses to allow humanitarian assistance to enter the country to aid civilians under siege by government troops, a violation of the ceasefire pact.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, shot back at Russia for requesting an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting Saturday night, labeling the move a “stunt.” Russian planes have been hitting civilian targets in support of the regime in Damascus for the past year, she said. “They’re calling this emergency meeting? Really?”
Farewell address. All of this should make for an interesting week, as the annual United Nations gathering of global leaders kicks off Monday in New York. The meeting will mark the last time President Barack Obama addresses the international body, signaling the end of “an era that began with high hopes for multilateralism but is ending in frustration over the world’s inability to solve some of the most intractable problems from Syria’s civil war to the most acute refugee crisis since World War II,” FP’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson write.
Worth the paper it is written on? The ceasefire in Syria appeared to be falling apart by Sunday, with Syrian jets firing at least four missiles at opposition-controlled neighborhoods in Aleppo, as government helicopters dropped deadly — and unguided — barrel bombs on a village in the country’s south, killing at least nine people, local activists said.
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48 hours. Four bombs. One knife attack. With the FBI already chasing down leads on two explosions in New York City and New Jersey on Saturday, two men leaving a restaurant in Elizabeth, N.J. came across a backpack sitting atop of trash can on Sunday night, finding that it contained five small explosives. Local police later detonated the backpack, and the FBI added another investigation to a weekend of near misses in the New York City area.
New Jersey. It began early Saturday morning, when a pipe bomb placed in a trash can at the Semper Five 5K race, a charity event run by the MARSOC Foundation, exploded in Seaside Park, New Jersey. The bomb detonated five minutes after the scheduled start of the race in an apparent attempt to inflict casualties on runners in the race. The event, however, was delayed and the explosion fortunately caused no injuries.
New York. On Saturday evening, another bomb exploded in a dumpster in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, injuring 29 people. Police found a second, unexploded device just a few blocks away on W. 27th Street. Police sources tell the New York Daily News that video footage appears to show an individual placing something near the dumpster on W. 23rd Street before the bomb went off. Footage from the second site shows a man leaving luggage near the scene where the unexploded bomb was found.
Five people were taken in for questioning on Sunday night in relation to the New York bombing, but there’s no word on who they are or if they’re suspects.
Minnesota. A Minnesota man, Dahir A. Adan — who the Islamic State has claimed as one of its own, the only claim from the string of weekend attacks — went on a stabbing spree while dressed as a security guard at a mall in St. Cloud on Saturday before an off duty police officer shot and killed him. FBI officials say they’re treating the attacks, which injured nine people, as an act of terrorism, although they’ve declined to specify a particular group or ideology for which Adan may have acted.
Similarities and differences. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the devices used in the two states on Saturday were “similar in design.” Both bombs employed cellphones but the device in New York was housed in a pressure cooker and used Tannerite while the Seaside Park bomb was comprised of black powder in a pipe. No word yet on the bombs found Sunday night.
Another mistake? Another American strike in Afghanistan might have killed seven Afghan police officers in the embattled southern province of Oruzgan, Afghan officials said Monday. Government forces have been battling a resurgent Taliban who have been besieging its capital, Tirin Kot, for weeks. Officials say that on Sunday, a police post under assault by the Taliban was wiped out by U.S. jets in a mistake “due to wrong directions or coordinates being given.” The U.S. military command in Kabul says while there were U.S strikes in the area, they have no information about police casualties.
Unprepared. Gen Sir Richard Barrons, retired commander of the U.K.’s joint forces command, tore into the country’s military preparedness in a memo to Defense Minister Sir Michael Fallon. In the event of an all-out throwdown with Russia, Barrons says his country’s armed forces would couldn’t defend the country.
Getting the band back together. Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reports on a new plan to merge Russia’s various security agencies into a single agency along the lines of the Soviet-era KGB. Under the proposal, Russia’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies would be housed within the Federal Security Service (FSB).
Arms. Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Abdallah Al-Mouallimi has accused Iran of covertly arming the Houthi movement in Yemen, which a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf countries is currently fighting. Iran “categorically” denied the allegations.
Kashmir. Militants attacked an Indian army outpost in Kashmir, killing 17 soldiers and raising fears of a clash between Indian and Pakistani forces in the disputed territory.
Photo Credit: ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2015-2018.
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