How the U.S. Withdrawal Decision Will Affect the Afghan Conflict

Washington’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 11 September spells an end to the U.S. military deployment but not peace. Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins anticipates that negotiations will likely stall and Afghans will fear an intensified civil war as the U.S. role evolves.

What’s new in the Biden announcement that the U.S. will withdraw all troops by 11 September? Why was the announcement made now?

Afghanistan’s Next Chapter: What Happens as U.S. Troops Leave?

President Biden has announced that the United States will withdraw all remaining military forces from Afghanistan before September 11, 2021 — likely marking a definitive end to America’s longest war just months before its two-decade anniversary. The decision fundamentally changes the dynamics of the Afghan peace process, as the Taliban have defined their insurgency by opposition to perceived occupation by foreign troops. With those troops leaving, will the Taliban negotiate with fellow Afghans or seek an outright military victory? And will U.S. troop withdrawal push Afghans to unify around preserving the current democratic constitution, or to seek deals that give the Taliban more power in a political settlement to the conflict?

Car bomb kills four in Baghdad

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which police say also destroyed five cars and wounded 17 people.

At least four people are dead and another 17 injured from a car bomb in Baghdad’s Sadr City on Thursday, Iraqi police said.

Citing police sources, Reuters reports the car was parked at a bustling used equipment market in a mostly Shiite neighborhood. The blast destroyed five cars and witnesses described ambulances rushing to the scene.

US, Turkish forces in Iraq targeted in separate attacks

A Turkish soldier was killed northeast of Mosul shortly after NATO and US officials announced they will withdraw from Afghanistan this year.

Erbil International Airport in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region was hit by at least one explosion Wednesday night, Iraqi and US officials said.

Ankara in risky geopolitical gamble in Black Sea

Fiddling with the delicate balance of power in the Black Sea might leave Turkey in a worse squeeze between Russia and the United States.

Is Turkey on course to abandon its traditional balancing act between Russia and NATO in the Black Sea region? Ankara’s posture in the Ukraine-Russia standoff, coupled with its newfound ambivalence on a decadesold regime governing maritime traffic to the Black Sea, throws into question the balanced policy that Turkey has long pursued in the region.

In a rare alignment with Washington amid ongoing frost in bilateral ties, Ankara last week lent unequivocal support to Kiev in the face of mounting tensions on the Ukrainian-Russian border. The show of support for Ukraine coincides with an unprecedented controversy over Ankara’s commitment to the 1936 Montreux Convention, which regulates traffic through Turkey’s Bosporus and Dardanelles straits — the maritime link between the Black and Mediterranean seas. The convention gives Turkey full control of the straits, while imposing strict limitations for the military ships of non-littoral states, effectively restricting the access of US and NATO naval forces to the Black Sea.

The decades-long geopolitical equilibrium set by the convention in the Black Sea has come under increasing strain since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and the ensuing conflict between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. A fresh flareup in the past several weeks has seen a big Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine, sparking a flurry of diplomacy to defuse the tensions. The United States and NATO have thrown their weight behind Ukraine and are gearing up for massive military drills in the region as part of the Europe Defender-2021 exercises.

After talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in Istanbul April 10, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the continuation of the cease-fire and a peaceful solution of the conflict, while asserting Turkey’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. In a 20-point joint statement, the two sides pledged “to coordinate steps aimed at restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, in particular the de-occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea … as well as the territories in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.” Turkey also reaffirmed its support for Ukraine’s bid to join NATO.

Ankara’s posture in the Ukraine-Russia tensions will put to a serious test the main geopolitical parameters that it has thus far observed in the Black Sea, namely:

Supporting Georgia and Ukraine to boost their defense capabilities in the face of Russia’s military buildup in Crimea, including its deployment of S-400 air defense systems.
While doing so, refraining from moves that could provoke Russia.
Abiding strictly by the Montreux Convention, which has a direct impact on Black Sea security.

Turkish-Ukrainian cooperation in the military sector has dramatically increased in the past several years, making Ukraine Turkey’s chief partner in a series of crucial military technologies, including turboprop engines and drones.

Despite its deepening ties with Kiev, Ankara has maintained a close partnership with Moscow. Yet the controversy over the Montreux Convention, fueled by Ankara’s plan to build an artificial waterway — Canal Istanbul — as an alternative to the Bosporus, raise questions as to whether Ankara is still committed to its balancing act in the Black Sea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin must have had similar misgivings, for he called Erdogan on the eve of Zelensky’s visit to emphasize the importance of preserving the Montreux Convention.

So, what is driving Ankara into a position that opens the convention to debate and seems to challenge the geopolitical balance in the Black Sea at the expense of annoying Putin at a critical time?

Three main factors appear to motivate Ankara.

The first has to do with domestic politics. Wary of its sagging support in the polls amid a bruising economic crisis, the government sees the Montreux and Canal Istanbul controversies as a fresh ground to play its hallmark policy of polarization and consolidate its conservative-nationalist base. This became evident earlier this month when it raised a ruckus over an open letter by 104 retired admirals calling for strict adherence to the Montreux Convention. Ankara lambasted the open letter as a tacit coup threat and launched legal proceedings against the retired admirals.

The second reason has to do with the Canal Istanbul project, which is not limited to digging a waterway with the stated aim of easing traffic through the congested Bosporus. The project involves also sprawling development on the banks of the canal, including residential areas for at least half a million people, business plazas, touristic venues, marinas and ports. With groundbreaking expected in the summer, preliminary estimates suggest the project could generate up to $60 billion in revenues for developers. To market the development plan to foreign investors, Ankara needs to call the existing Straits regime into question so as to provide a political cover to what many experts see as an economically unviable venture.

Atilla Yesilada, a well-known Turkish economist, argues that even if the entire Bosporus traffic is rerouted to Canal Istanbul, annual gross revenues from transit fees would total an estimated $1 billion, “meaning that inclusive of interest expenses and a fair return to undertakers of the project, the pay-back period is no less than 30 years.” Such a period, he said, is “extremely long” and makes the project “very risky” for foreign investors. Moreover, Yesilada believes the canal might never be completed as its “only sponsor” Erdogan could lose office before he oversees the completion of the construction, expected to take at least seven years.

Finally, Ankara seems to believe that the US quest for lasting military presence in the Black Sea region gives it leverage to use the Montreux Convention as a bargaining chip in the transactional relationship it seeks with the Joe Biden administration. The restrictive rules of the convention barred the US Navy from the Black Sea during the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. Russia’s annexation of Crimea further spurred US efforts for access to the Black Sea, including possibly through a naval base as part of NATO missions in Romania or Turkey. Similarly, the United States has backed Ukrainian plans to build new naval bases in the Black Sea region, while enhancing military cooperation with both Ukraine and Georgia as well as Romania and Bulgaria, the two NATO members other than Turkey that border the Black Sea.

Yet Ankara has come under harsh criticism at home for allowing any questioning of Turkey’s commitment to the Montreux Convention. In a succinct outline of the objections, Cem Gurdeniz, one of the retired admirals who signed the open letter, makes the following points, “Thanks to Montreux, the six littoral states of the Black Sea … have attained the opportunity to live in peace and tranquility. This balanced situation has continued from 1936 to date. Turkey has nothing to gain from a continuous operational NATO presence in the Black Sea or from pushing the limits of the Montreux Convention, including occasional attempts to breach some of its rules, or bringing about an imbalance … in the Black Sea. The Turkish Straits are the gateway of six nations, including Turkey itself. The greater the instability in the Black Sea, the greater the troubles for the Turkish straits and Turkey’s geopolitics. Therefore, littoral states should not fall for the prodding of NATO, the European Union and the United States in the Black Sea.”

How the Biden administration responds to Erdogan’s calculus remains to be seen. Will it go for a bargain and give Erdogan some concessions in return? Putin must be the most eager to know.

How Palestinian Leaders Treat Their Refugees

These Palestinian officials, in other words, would rather see their people continue living in devastating poverty as refugees rather than improve their living conditions and search for new opportunities in Western countries. They want millions of Palestinians to remain stuck in refugee camps so that the Palestinian leadership can continue milking the world for money.

The assault on the woman triggered a wave of condemnations by Palestinian activists, who took to social media to express outrage over the Palestinian leadership’s decision to use force against Palestinian refugees.

NATO Allies Decide To Start Withdrawal Of Forces From Afghanistan

NATO Allies decided on Wednesday (14 April 2021) to start withdrawing forces from the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan by May 1, with plans to complete the drawdown of all troops within a few months.

In a joint press conference with the US Secretaries of State and Defense following a virtual meeting of Allied foreign and defence ministers, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said “our drawdown will be orderly, coordinated, and deliberate”. He added: “we went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together, and we are united in leaving together”.

President Biden On The Way Forward In Afghanistan – Transcript

Good afternoon. I’m speaking to you today from the Roosevelt — the Treaty Room in the White House. The same spot where, on October of 2001, President George W. Bush informed our nation that the United States military had begun strikes on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. It was just weeks — just weeks after the terrorist attack on our nation that killed 2,977 innocent souls; that turned Lower Manhattan into a disaster area, destroyed parts of the Pentagon, and made hallowed ground of a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and sparked an American promise that we would “never forget.”

North Atlantic Council Ministerial Statement On Afghanistan

In 2001, Allies invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty for the only time in NATO’s history and went to Afghanistan together with clear objectives: to confront al-Qaeda and those who attacked the United States on September 11, and to prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan as a safe haven to attack us. In the ensuing decades through the investment of blood and treasure, and in partnership with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its security forces, we have worked together to achieve these goals.

CNN’s Blatant Disinformation About Russia-Ukraine Activity – OpEd

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough’s belittling comments against fair and balanced Russia related journalism relate to an April 12-13 CNN airing on recent matters concerning Russia and Ukraine. The segment at issue begins with CNN reporter Matthew Chance joining Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the frontline of the demarcation area between the forces of the Ukrainian government and Donbass rebels. Thereafter, CNN news anchor John Vause follows up with longtime US academic/mass media journalist Jill Dougherty.

The false spin is given that Russia increased tension by amassing troops along its border with Ukraine. In actuality, the Kiev regime’s dramatic military buildup near the Donbass rebels occurred beforehand. This oversight is in line with the aforementioned CNN segment misidentifying Ukrainian forces as being Russian.

The CNN bit gives an inaccurate psychoanalysis of what’s motivating the recent Russian military activity. Omitted, is some otherwise valid insight of what could very well be influencing Zelensky and the Russian response to him. Zelensky’s low poll numbers are in part due to the miserable socioeconomic conditions in Ukraine and some faulty decision-making on the part of his government. Unable to get a prompt delivery of Western Covid-19 vaccinations, the Ukrainian government shot down the possibility of acquiring the Russian Sputnik vaccine. That stance can be reasonably seen as a shortsighted nationalist stance. It’s not as if Russia and Ukraine don’t commercially interact. Despite the differences between their governments, Russia remains a key trading partner of Ukraine.

Zelensky won the last Ukrainian presidential election on a platform that wasn’t as confrontational towards Russia as his opponent Petro Poroshenko. The former has since done an about face with brazen comments towards Russia and the Donbass rebels. The same can be said of his statement about Ukraine taking back Crimea (something that the majority of Crimean residents don’t support) and presiding over the closure of some Ukrainian (not Russian) media venues which aren’t so critical of Russia when compared to the Kiev regime’s preferred imagery. (Instead of condemning that move as a violation of press freedom, the Biden administration and some others have hailed that undertaking as a positive act against “Russian disinformation”.)

The Ukrainian government hasn’t made much, if any effort to interact with the Donbass rebels as stated in the Minsk Protocol of 2014. This aspect was casually downplayed by Dougherty in the Q & A with Vause.

In 1982, an unpopular Argentine junta attempted to militarily takeover the Falkland Islands from the United Kingdom. Initially, that move won (albeit temporarily) the Argentine regime large scale political support across the left-right political spectrum in Argentina and much of Latin America. The Kiev regime’s increased military move towards the Donbass rebels, serves as both a diversion to Ukraine’s socioeconomic problems and a testing of key particulars.

Perhaps the Argentine military were hoping that Britain’s resolve wouldn’t be so great, in conjunction with the junta getting a break from its opposition. In comparison, the overall Ukrainian enthusiasm for forcefully taking over the rebel held Donbass territory isn’t as great as the 1982 Argentine support for its government move on the Falklands.

Some Ukrainian nationalists see the Donbass area as a pro-Russian burden to the effort of a Ukraine opposed to Russia. Others see the humanitarian dilemma involved with military action relative to the civilian population in Donbass.

This last point is a concern for Russia as well. Many of the Donbass residents have Russian citizenship and/or familial links to Russia. The Russian government is well aware of a hypothetical Croatian Operation Storm scenario, which will be problematical for Russia, in terms of taking in a considerable number of Donbass residents and having nationalist anti-Russian elements in a stronger position.

In response to the increased Ukrainian government military presence near the rebels, Russia’s armed buildup along a portion of Ukraine’s northeastern border and stern statements, have sent a clear message that Moscow will not stand idly by in the event of a Croatian Operation Storm like move. The Ukrainian government could very well lose additional territory in a military confrontation with Russia.

Russia’s response seems to have paved the way for a possible de-escalation of tension – something that the CNN segment didn’t bring up. Confrontation with Russia is in line with a sensationalist media, influenced by neocons, neolibs and flat out Russia haters.

Put mildly, it’s wishful thinking for pro-Kiev regime supporters to hope for a robust NATO backing, in the event of an armed Russian-Ukrainian confrontation. Rhetorically bashing Russia shouldn’t be confused with seeking a foolish war with that nation. Likewise, it’s quite doubtful that the Russo-German Nord Stream 2 Pipeline will get quashed at this very late stage of its development.