Middle East – North Africa (MENA) Update: SITREP of the week’s news from Yemen, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, and Afghanistan.
Mosul Offensive: U.S.-backed coalition forces are making gradual progress in pushing back Islamic State control of the villages surrounding Mosul as part of the offensive. Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi Special Forces from the Iraqi “Golden Division” counterterrorism units have maintained a steady tempo. The Peshmerga are not directly reporting casualties, but observers report arduous battles with heavy casualties. In part, these casualties are blamed on insufficient access to close air support.
U.S. military officials have on numerous occasions stressed that demand for air assets and support far exceeds what is available, but that the U.S. will support coalition forces as extensively as possible.
– On OCT20 Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi stated that the offensive to liberate Mosul is “going quicker than expected.”
– On OCT21 IS launched a guerrilla counterattack against targets in Kirkuk. The targets included schools, hotels, power stations, and a prison. The familiar guerrilla tactics signal IS’s growing focus on hit-and-run operations and terrorist attacks as it loses both territory and conventional strike capability.
On the same day as the Kirkuk counterattack, IS executed several Kurdish Peshmerga fighters that had been captured during the offensive.
– The United Nations is warning that refugees fleeing the battle for Mosul might number as many as 700,000. The Turkish Red Crescent has announced plans to send enough supplies to aid 10,000 civilians.
– Chief Petty Officer Jason Finan, 34, an American adviser sent to Iraq from the U.S. Department of Defense was killed outside of Mosul by an IED explosion on OCT20. He was from Anaheim, California, and had joined the U.S. Navy in 2003. Chief Finan became an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician in 2006.
– Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are engaged in heavy fighting alongside U.S. and Iraqi forces; meanwhile, on OCT20, Turkey launched a series of ongoing airstrikes against Kurdish forces in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. The targeted forces included Peshmerga fighters running logistics for the Mosul offensive, and fighters returning from the front line for medical assistance. Among those targeted were members of the U.S. backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia. Turkey claimed all the groups it has targeted—implicitly including those that the United States sponsors—are terrorist organizations.
According to statements made on OCT21 by the Turkish military, the attacks resulted in the deaths of 18 Kurdish fighters.
– Kurdish Peshmerga forces requested artillery support from Turkish forces stationed in positions north of Mosul near the city of Bashiqa. “They (Peshmerga) asked for help from our soldiers at Bashiqa base.”
– Masoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdish Region, informed U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the Kurds had succeeded in liberating Bashiqa from IS.
– Defense Secretary Carter made a brief trip to Baghdad and Ankara on OCT21 in an attempt to perform shuttle diplomacy–acting as a moderator between disputing parties that refuse to meet–in order to appease both parties over the presence of Turkish troops in Iraq.
– While the battle for Mosul rages, Shiite lawmakers in Baghdad pushed new legislation through parliament banning the sale, consumption, and production of alcohol in Iraq. Anyone caught violating the ban is subject to a fine of up to $21,000 US Dollars.
Observers were quick to point out that the law will be particularly difficult to enforce in the Kurdish region of Iraq, where many Christians and their representatives have vowed to oppose the law as unconstitutional. The law is set to go into full effect in November.
– Russia has dispatched a flotilla of 8 naval ships to Syria lead by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, to enhance its presence in the region and join in the renewed assault on Aleppo. Kuznetsov was built during the Soviet era, and has since been beset with numerous technical problems. It has been deployed to the Mediterranean a total of 5 times during its 26 years of service.
– The 3-day humanitarian ceasefire in the contested city of Aleppo expired on Sunday with an almost immediate air assault and heavy ground clashes breaking out.
The ceasefire was carried out with the explicit intent of allowing civilians to evacuate the area, but was not accepted by the rebels and religious militants who control the majority of Aleppo, making escape from the area by civilians virtually impossible.
– Fighting through the night of OCT18 and into the next day, Syrian Army troops secured Daraya, a suburb of Damascus.
– Turkish police fatally shot a suspected ISIL militant on OCT12. The individual was believed to be planning a suicide bomb attack against a target in Ankara, Turkey’s capitol. Ankara Governor, Ercan Topaca reported that police discovered a cache of dynamite and ammonium nitrate at the scene.
– Turkey has announced it will provide the United States with additional evidence to facilitate the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, an individual currently residing in the U.S. as a political refuge from Turkey. Turkey accuses Gulen of having orchestrated the attempted JUL15 coup d’état in Turkey.
– On OCT23 the U.S. State Department updated its travel advisory regarding travels to Turkey. The update warned of heightened risks of terrorist threats against tourists and travelers in the region.
– Russia will operate reconnaissance and electronic intelligence gathering flights over Turkish territory under the Open Skies Treaty (which the U.S. has also signed), a senior Russian defense official stated on OCT24. The Russian Air Force will use an An-30B aircraft with Turkish specialists on board according to the statement. The Open Skies Treaty was signed between Russia and Turkey in March 1992, and took effect in 2002.
According to the U.S. State Department, the Treaty’s primary value is its role in building transparency and confidence, not intelligence gathering. Observation flights allow state parties to avoid surprises in a cooperative way. The bilateral and multilateral engagement of military personnel in planning and executing weeklong missions is important to building military-military confidence.
– According to reports made by the Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency, 2 police officers were killed and 9 others wounded in an attack in the eastern province of Bingöl by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on the evening of OCT22.
– On OCT23 Egypt arrested 14 policemen over their alleged role in a jailbreak. The jailbreak took place last week in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia. Six inmates, including Islamic militants, escaped from the prison after they overpowered and killed one of the guards. A local resident was also killed during the escape. Both the warden and chief inspector are being detained pending an investigation into their “extreme negligence” as accused by the prosecution.
– General Adel Ragaei was assassinated outside of his home in Obour City, a suburb of Cairo, on the morning of OCT23. The assassination has been claimed by Liwa al-Thawra. Ragaei’s wife reported to Reuters news agency how the attack unfolded: “Minutes after he left the house I heard gunfire, I went out to find him covered in blood … he received a lot of bullets … He died instantly.”
– In two different raids taking place on OCT20 and OCT22, Egyptian authorities confiscated thousands of tons of sugar from confectionery maker Edita Food Industries S.A.E. and PepsiCo. A national sugar shortage in Egypt has led to the price of sugar almost doubling in recent weeks. Amidst the shortage, the government has declared hoarding of sugar products to be illegal, even for industries that rely on a steady sugar supply. The crisis comes at a time when Egypt is looking to finalize a $12 billion International Monetary Fund loan officials see as key to reviving an economy that has been struggling since the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak.
– On OCT7 the World Health Organization and UNICEF both stated that at least 9 people have died from the ongoing cholera outbreak in Aden, Yemen. The agencies also reported that due to the civil war, the scarcity of drinkable water, and poor hygiene has made the situation nearly unmanageable. The UN has stated that nearly 3 million people in Yemen are in need of immediate food supplies, and 1.5 million children are suffering from severe malnutrition.
– The 3-day humanitarian ceasefire ended at dawn on OCT23 with a resumption of air attacks against targets in Sana’a by the Saudi led coalition. Each side accused the other of repeatedly violating the truce, and UN attempts to extend it before it lapsed appeared to have failed.
The air strikes occurred hours before the arrival of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, UN Special Envoy for Yemen. Ahmed told reporters on Sunday from Sana’a airport that he would discuss options for a political solution with Houthi representatives and try to secure another ceasefire.
– On OCT23, under the U.S. 2016 economic assistance package, Jordan and the United States signed four grant agreements worth $786.8 million. In addition to the economic aid package, the U.S. is to provide an additional $463 million in military aid to Jordan this year, bringing the total economic and military aid to $1.275 billion.
– On OCT22 the Jordan Food and Drug Administration (JFDA) seized 250 cans of diluted olive oil that were falsely sold as “extra virgin” in Amman over the past two weeks.
– A new mineral water well described as “the hottest mineral water well in Jordan” has been discovered in Qastal, 30km south of Amman and is attracting major investors. The water was found 1,200 meters underground, features a salinity level of 3,000mg and a median temperature of 77 °C (170 °F).
– On OCT22 Israeli police arrested 19 residents in East Jerusalem who were “suspected of taking part in riots that were carried out during the holidays, with an emphasis on the riots during Yom Kippur,” the police said. The alleged criminals included five minors.
– Israel is reportedly refusing to sign a one page U.S. document titled “Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enable Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).” The U.S. State Department paper aims to establish international standards in the production and selling of UAVs. Israel has stated that compliance with the agreement would hurt its emerging defense industry. The document has been presented to allied countries, and has already been signed by Austria, Germany, Italy, and nearly 40 other countries.
– The President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, is currently visiting Saudi Arabia to meet with the Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Nayef, and the Saudi Oil Minister, Khalid al-Falih, to discuss oil production rates with the potential for agreement to raise oil prices.
– On OCT22, the Saudi Justice Ministry released a statement with accompanying documents stating that a Labor Court will open in Saudi Arabia by the end of 2016. The purpose of the court is to protect, among others, foreign workers. Some sources estimate that the number of cases expected to be referred to these labor courts to be around 20,000.
– On OCT24 the UAE Ministry for Education announced the establishment of the first design university in the region. The university will be operating with assistance from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and New York’s Parson School of Design. Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI) is estimated to have a capacity of 550 students, and will be a private educational institution located in a 100,000-square-foot facility within the creative community at Dubai Design District (d3). It is expected to open by September 2018.
– Reem Ebrahim Al-Hashemi, UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, reported on OCT18 at Leaders Summit on Refugees, that the UAE would accept 15,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5 years.
– Arab Fashion Week and Dubai Design Week is ongoing in Dubai with over 120 events and exhibits.
– Dubai Future Foundation has partnered with U.S. software firm Autodesk to set up a $100m investment fund that will provide financing for entrepreneurs and start-ups in the 3D printing space in the region.
– Dubai property developer Deyaar has announced a 22.5 percent increase in net profits in 2016 Q3. Net profits for the 3-month period totaled Dhs56.4m. This compared to a Dhs 46.1m profit for the third quarter of 2015.
– U.S. Army Sgt. Douglas Riney, 26, and Contractor Michael Sauro, 40, were killed and 2 more wounded in what appeared to be a “green-on-blue” attack (Afghan ally fires on coalition forces) in Afghanistan. NATO and Afghan officials have reported that the attacker was wearing an Afghan army uniform, but have not confirmed whether he was actually a member of the army. The attack was carried out on OCT19 at a military ammunition supply point near Camp Morehead that is used for training Afghan commandos. The attacker was killed in a fire exchange with base security.
– Compared to 2015 levels, opium production in Afghanistan has risen by an estimated 43 percent to 4,800 metric tons, according to the latest Afghanistan Opium Survey figures released by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The survey also points out that western and southern regions cultivate 84% of the total opium poppy in Afghanistan, and that eradication of the poppy plant has decreased 91% this year.
– An attack near Dalsan Radio in Mogadishu, Somalia, left at least 3 dead and 4 wounded. Dalsan Radio is described as an independent radio station.
– On OCT12, a suicide car bomb and gun attack in the town of Afgooye, Somalia, killed 11 people, including several government employees.
John Sjoholm is the Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief, and the founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Jordan.
Follow John on Twitter: @JohnSjoholmLC
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