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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF


COVID-19

  • Yesterday saw another record number of new global coronavirus cases, with 183k. U.S. cases are only slightly trending up as cases reopen, but they aren’t hitting new records like Brazil’s case counts are.

Russia

  • Ahead of an August 9th election, Belarussian president Aleksandr Lukashenko is making a surprising pivot and accusing Russia of meddling. Belarus has generally been a compliant friend of Russia, but Lukashenko has been polling poorly—despite having a tight grip on the media—so he’s taking a different tack.

Venezuela

  • Pres. Trump gave an interview with Axios in which he said he’d be willing to meet Pres. Maduro: “I always say, you lose very little with meetings. But at this moment, I've turned them down.”

  • Trump also downplayed the U.S. recognition of rival president Guaido: “I was okay with it…I don't think it was very meaningful one way or the other.” Trump didn’t have glowing things to say about Guaido, who appears to have lost support both in Venezuela and abroad.

  • An Iranian cargo ship is about to dock in Venezuela with food supplies to start South America’s first Iranian supermarket. Analysts suspect the ship may be carrying more than just food—including perhaps equipment to help Venezuela restart its shuttered refineries. (The ship’s 23,000-ton capacity is so big it could carry “enough food for a whole chain of Iranian supermarkets across the country, not just one.”)

Iran

  • A fugitive Iranian judge was found dead by apparent suicide at a hotel in Romania, where he was awaiting a decision on his extradition back to Iran. Iran wanted to try him for corruption (he allegedly took bribes worth around $500k), and human rights groups accused him of having a role in the torture of journalists. Radio Free Europe wondered whether he might have been pushed to his death.

Libya

  • Libya’s GNA says potential Egyptian military action in Libya would be “a hostile act and direct interference, and amounts to a declaration of war.” Egypt probably wouldn’t intervene unless GNA forces capture Sirte, which would threaten the LNA’s (Egypt-backed) hold on the east.

  • British police are calling Saturday’s stabbing attack in Reading (UK) a terrorist incident. The attacker was a Libyan refugee, and was known to MI5. Though he boasted of fighting in Libya’s civil war, he also reportedly had mental health issues.

DRC

  • Unless new cases are confirmed, this Wednesday or Thursday will mark the end of eastern DRC’s 23-month Ebola outbreak. It was the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak on record, with 2,280 killed. (That number could still rise without new confirmed cases, since the WHO is still investigating 490 additional possible past cases). The newer Ebola outbreak in western DRC is counted as separate since it appears to have originated with a different human-to-animal transmission.

Sahel

  • The Economist likened the current situation in the Sahel—with a great power vacuum and myriad belligerent ethnic groups—to that of Afghanistan in an article pasted below. (It also has a good graphical overview of the region’s simmering conflicts).

North Korea

  • North Korea promised some Hammurabi justice for South Korea: it plans to drop millions of leaflets in the South, in a delayed response to the leaflets that defectors in the South dropped in the North (which started the latest round of anti-South bellicosity).

Fighting in the Sahel has forced 1.7m people from their homes (Economist)

Jihadists are only partly to blame


Western governments have long debated whether the costs of intervening in dangerous parts of the world exceed the risks. In February the United States signed a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. But just as America extricates itself from one conflict, a power vacuum in Africa’s Sahel may drag it into another.

The Sahel, a semi-arid strip south of the Sahara desert spanning 4,000 miles (6,400km), is unusually troubled. Its hinterlands are far from any city and mainly populated by nomads. The state’s writ does not hold; public services barely exist. The Sahel’s borderlands have long been dangerous: just 3.5% of the population of north and west Africa lives within 10km of an international frontier, but 10% of deaths from armed violence occurred in these areas between 1997 and 2019.

Jihadists are now entrenching themselves in ungoverned spaces. After Islamic State was ousted from the Middle East, it began to regroup in the Sahel. At times it has co-operated with al-Qaeda; at others, the two groups have clashed. To sow terror and conquer territory, the jihadists have committed atrocities, such as murdering a mentally disabled man, hiding a bomb on his corpse and blowing up 17 mourners at his funeral. Some 4,800 people died in battles or acts of terror in 2019, a six-fold increase on 2016. Another 3,900 have died so far this year.

The recent surge in conflict cannot be attributed to Islamists alone. Ethnic militias, such as Dan Na Ambassagou (“hunters who trust in God”) and Koglweogo (“guardians of the bush”), have been involved in 17% of deaths since January 2019. The governments of Mali and Burkina Faso have allegedly helped arm the groups so that they can protect civilians. In practice, the groups are mostly killing Fulanis, a largely Muslim minority. That has led some Fulanis to join the jihadists or to form their own militias. The killing has displaced 1.7m people across the central Sahel. In 2020 an average of 3,000 people a day have fled.



Armies of all stripes are trying to regain control, sometimes brutally. Soldiers from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have murdered hundreds of civilians this year. Meanwhile, the un has 15,000 peacekeepers in Mali. France has 5,100 troops in the Sahel to fight jihadists. America has 1,200, mainly for intelligence and logistics—though Donald Trump is considering withdrawing some of them. That would be a boon for jihadists, who on June 3rd lost Abdelmalek Droukdel, the head of al-Qaeda’s network in the region, to a French raid helped by American intelligence.

These various troop deployments are not large enough to police the area, which is as large as India. To dislodge the jihadists, governments will have to govern. Besides security, locals crave jobs and health care. However, given the West’s fatigue after its failures in Afghanistan and elsewhere, countries in the Sahel can expect only modest help from abroad for their own nation-building efforts.

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