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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF

Today is the 76th anniversary of D-Day.


U.S.

  • There are new protests against police brutality happening across the U.S. today. Most should be peaceful.

  • Joe Biden has now won a projected 2,000 delegates, securing the Democratic presidential nomination. Those delegates will formally select him at the DNC in Milwaukee August 17th to 20th.

  • Yesterday’s U.S. jobs report showed 2.5 million Americans are back to work—a pleasant surprise after months of worse-than-expected jobs numbers. U.S. stock markets jumped on the news.

Afghanistan

  • Three Afghans were killed and another four were injured when Iranian police in Iran’s central Yazd province shot up their car (which then apparently caught fire upon crashing). Afghans are protesting the incident and calling for an inquiry. It’s an especially sensitive subject now—a month after IRGC guards allegedly forced dozens of would-be Afghan migrants to drown as they crossed from Herat into Iran.

  • Eleven Afghan Local Police were killed by an unclaimed (but likely Taliban) roadside bomb in Badakhshan, and another 10 ANSF were killed in a Taliban attack in Zabul.

DRC

  • The UN estimates that 1,300 Congolese civilians have been killed in DRC in the last eight months, and a further 500,000 have fled their homes. The violence has gotten particularly bad in recent weeks after the main armed group in Ituri, CODECO, split and both factions went after local natural resources (largely gold mines).

Sahel

  • Nigeria’s military says it has been making great progress against Boko Haram—and it has even moved its headquarters for the fight from Abuja to Borno—but many fear it will lose ground again once the rainy season starts, as it has in past years (rains make it easier for insurgents to hide and harder to conduct airstrikes). The Economist had a good article on the annual cycle—it’s pasted below.

Venezuela

  • The U.S. is considering sanctioning 40+ additional foreign oil tankers for trading with Venezuela. That’s enough of the tanker market that analysts worry the move could significantly raise global tanker rates and disrupt seaborne trade. But it would also send a strong warning against helping Venezuela.

  • Chevron confirmed that it was renting one of the tankers the U.S. sanctioned for trading with Venezuela. Chevron said it was complying with U.S. authorities on the matter.

  • Venezuela jailed three local DirecTV executives on charges relating to DirectTV’s abrupt exit of the Venezuelan market. DirecTV had been caught between U.S. sanctions, which prohibited it from carrying Pres. Maduro’s propaganda, and the Maduro regime, which required it to carry that propaganda.

  • Maduro’s puppet Supreme Court ruled against the opposition-led National Assembly for not naming rectors to the electoral authority before a deadline. New legislative elections are due by the end of the year. The Court’s move now implies what we already knew: that Maduro will probably rig them in one way or another.

Strategic Minerals

  • Russia has plans to significantly increase domestic cobalt production. I didn’t even know Russia had major cobalt reserves: while its reserves are classified, estimates range from 630k to 650k tons of contained cobalt (some of which is under the sea).

Other News

  • Pres. Trump ordered the Pentagon to permanently withdraw 9,500 U.S. troops in Germany—almost a third of the number currently there—over his peeve that America’s NATO allies aren’t contributing enough funding to the Alliance.

  • Mexico City and Guadalajara are seeing protests against police brutality that mirror those in the U.S. Mexican protesters want their country’s police to be held accountable for the death of Giovanni Lopez in police custody in early May. (The mayor of Jalisco, where Lopez died and Guadalajara is located, accused Pres. AMLO of dividing the country and inciting the protests.)

In the dry season, Nigeria’s army puts Boko Haram on the back foot (Economist)

But the coming rains could bog it down and let the jihadists regroup

The chief of staff of Nigeria’s army, General Tukur Buratai, has often declared victory over Boko Haram, a jihadist group known for kidnapping girls and strapping bombs to children. But it was only in April, after soldiers from neighbouring Chad attacked the rebels’ bases, that he felt confident enough to move his headquarters from Abuja, the sleepy federal capital, to Borno state, the heart of the insurgency. It was intended as a signal that Nigeria was entering the final stages of a bloody war that has raged for more than ten years and cost perhaps 40,000 lives, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (acled), a non-profit organisation based in America.

Nigerian forces claim to have made big advances and to have killed more than 1,000 insurgents in recent weeks. Few Nigerians believe the government’s numbers or that it is winning the war, since it has been saying so since late 2015. But audio messages released by Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram’s main faction, since April suggest the group is indeed hard-pressed. In one of them he wept and prayed for protection from the “devilish” army as he urged his men to stand firm.

But some Nigerian soldiers, casting a weather eye at the horizon, are less confident that the army can keep up its advance in the months ahead. In the dry season, which runs roughly from October to April, the cloudless sky is ideal for air strikes. The ground is baked hard enough for armoured vehicles to move around. Leaves and grass shrivel up, enabling government troops to spot insurgents far away.


The coming rains, though, will turn the earth to knee-deep mud, says a staff sergeant in the army. Soldiers in bogged-down trucks will become sitting ducks. The insurgents, who often zip around on motorbikes, may regain the initiative. “The only thing we do in the rainy season is ambush,” says the sergeant. Artillery shells often fail to detonate when hitting the damp soil, leaving a trove of explosives that the rebels turn into roadside bombs, says Ahmad Salkida, the editor of HumAngle, a digital news site.

The seasonal ebb and flow of the war is becoming wearingly familiar. acled data suggest that government attacks on Boko Haram pick up in the dry season. At this time the group lies low, leaving most of the attacking to Islamic State West Africa Province, a splinter group with links to jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

In the rainy season the army usually retreats into its base camps dotted across Borno. But last year several of them were overrun. Some reckon that 750 soldiers and police were killed in 2019, almost twice as many as have been killed in any other year of the war (the government withholds figures). As a result, the army retreated even farther, into a handful of “super camps”. The lull let Boko Haram recruit men and raise funds.

Yet there is some hope that this time the seasonal cycle may be broken. After Mr Shekau’s faction killed 92 Chadian troops in March, Chad retaliated fiercely with an offensive that killed 1,000 rebels and led to the capture of huge weapon caches. Nigerian forces are also adapting their tactics to the weather, swapping their heavy trucks for lighter Toyota pickups, says Murtala Abdullah, a security analyst. These may have lighter armour and firepower but are less likely to get bogged down. Much will depend on whether the army keeps up the pressure or takes another rain-check.

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