Why there’s talk about China starting a war with Taiwan

“No American president has had to choose whether to go to war to defend Taiwan against a Chinese military invasion. President Joe Biden might have the decision thrust upon him.

The outgoing commander of US forces in the Indo-Pacific region, Navy Adm. Philip Davidson, told US lawmakers in March that he believes Beijing will attempt a takeover of the neighboring democratic island — which it considers part of mainland China — within the next six years. Davidson’s successor, Navy Adm. John Aquilino, expressed a similar concern days later.”

“The four-stars’ predictions aren’t wholly shared by everyone in the administration. “I’m not aware of any specific timeline that the Chinese have for being able to try and seize Taiwan,” said one senior US defense official, who, like others in the administration, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive foreign policy issue.”

“Experts I spoke to also felt Davidson and Aquilino’s claims are too alarmist and may be in service of trying to boost defense spending for operations in Asia.

But all agree that China is a more credible threat to Taiwan today than in the past. Beijing flaunts it, too. In recent weeks, China sent 25 warplanes through the island’s airspace, the largest reported incursion to date, and had an aircraft carrier lead a large naval exercise near Taiwan.”

We Got Afghanistan Wrong, but There’s Still Time to Learn Something

“We have already heard a lot about “conditions-based” approaches and all that Afghanistan might lose with our withdrawal. Notably missing from those arguments is any acknowledgment of how inefficient and ineffective our nearly 20-year-long military-led endeavor has been, how our efforts thus far have fed into Afghanistan’s dysfunction, and why we should not expect “more of the same” to lead to better outcomes now.”

“Instead of building a force that fit Afghanistan, we built an Army of mini-me’s. A force that, like our military, requires massive logistical support and technical capabilities to manage. A force that relies heavily on airpower and armored vehicles to fight an enemy who relies on his feet, IEDs and an AK-47. This is not a new revelation, but with the constant turnover of American commanders and a perennially optimistic (or delusional) view that the potential for victory over the Taliban was just around the corner, the instinct was always to double-down, or keep propping up the Afghan forces just long enough to get them over the finish line.
Unfortunately, there was always a fatal flaw to this approach. Pushing western technology and firepower into the Afghan military was never going to be sufficient to beat the Taliban, not when pouring billions of dollars into a government ill-equipped to handle it also contributed to the corruption and illegitimacy that opened additional political space for the Taliban to operate.”

“With President Biden’s decision to withdraw there undoubtedly will be consequences for the Afghan military. The absence of sustained American airpower will enable the Taliban to move even more freely, while the Afghan government will be challenged to move its best fighters around the country via helicopters to counter Taliban gains. Unfortunately, American military leaders have placed so much emphasis on building a force reliant on these assets that it will take some time for security forces more organic to Afghanistan to emerge, and it is far from certain whether an effective force can form in the face of increased Taliban attacks.”

“We must, at long last, acknowledge that building a national army requiring the kind of technological and logistical support to which western militaries are accustomed was not only a massive waste of American blood and treasure, but actually counterproductive to the fight. Jettisoning our delusional vision for the Afghan military will be painful in the short run, but necessary for Afghan stability in the long run. It is well-past time to shift our thinking from how many millions of dollars we need to keep airframes operational, to making sure that those assets that are actually sustainable and useful for Afghan forces are in place as foreign forces withdraw.”

The 185-year-old Battle That Still Dominates Texas Politics

“After pledging to become loyal Mexicans and devout Catholics, the American immigrants to Texas realized it was a hardscrabble place where the only cash crops were sugarcane and cotton; they wanted slaves for those fields. “Texas,” wrote Stephen F. Austin, the father of Texas, “shall be a slave nation!”

Yet slavery was illegal in Mexico. The American immigrants rebelled, driving the Mexican Army out of San Antonio in the fall of 1835. Mexico City faced multiple revolts and couldn’t afford for the nation to simply break apart so soon after independence. Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, nicknamed the “Napoleon of the West” in the English-speaking world and “the Eagle” in Mexico, marched north to put down the rebellion.

Even at the time, the Alamo’s military importance was dubious. Sam Houston, the other father of Texas, wanted it destroyed and the position abandoned altogether. But in a foolhardy bit of gallantry, he was ignored, and the siege began. A young commander inside the Alamo tried to surrender, but with conditions; Santa Anna rejected the offer. Thirteen days of siege and bombardment later, and after a relatively brief three hours of hand-to-hand combat, the 1,500-man Mexican force had wiped out the remnant of about 200 Texas rebels. The seven survivors were executed on Santa Anna’s orders.”

“Chris Tomlinson, co-author of a forthcoming book on the subject. Entitled Forget the Alamo, it will be the 600th book on the subject, according to the Library of Congress. He is withering in his recasting of the narrative. “Everything about the Alamo is a lie.”

Among Tomlinson’s rebuttals: Slavery fueled not a revolution but a land grab. The Alamo was a blunder; it was supposed to be destroyed and abandoned. Travis was an amateur. Davy Crockett’s legendary toughness crumbled like a facade; he begged for his life when he was captured. The battle didn’t slow the Mexican march east. And ultimately, it was U.S. Army artillery, secretly deployed from Louisiana, that finally won Texas its independence at the battle of San Jacinto.”

“Dying by blood or by hunger”: The war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, explained

“More than 60,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Sudan since the fighting began in November, and humanitarian groups — many of which remain cut off from parts of Tigray — say the security situation has likely displaced thousands of people internally.

The United Nations estimates that of Tigray’s 6 million people, 4.5 million are in need of food aid. A recent report from the World Peace Foundation warns of the risk of famine and mass starvation as people are displaced and crops, livestock, and the tools needed to make and collect food are destroyed.

One witness in Tigray, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears for his safety, told me that Eritrean soldiers will kill an ox and eat just one leg, leaving the rest of the carcass to rot. “The people are either dying by blood or by hunger,” he said by phone from Mekele, Tigray’s capital, earlier this month.

Prime Minister Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who was once seen as the country’s peacemaker and a democratic liberalizer, is now leading a country that is beginning to turn on itself.

Violence and ethnic tensions are flaring up in other parts of Ethiopia. Sudanese and Ethiopian troops have clashed in a disputed border territory, a sign of how Tigray’s unrest is spilling over into an already volatile neighborhood where Ethiopia had been viewed, at least by some international partners, as a stabilizing force.

The war in Tigray has no clear end, and the reports of killing and rape and looting are still happening. “Everybody is just waiting, just waiting — not to live, but waiting for what will happen tomorrow, or in the night,” the man in Mekele said.”

The US military is finally withdrawing from Afghanistan

“The US has formally begun its withdrawal from Afghanistan after almost 20 years in the country, Army Gen. Austin Miller confirmed on Sunday. The news comes less than two weeks after President Joe Biden announced that all US troops would be out of the country by September 11, 2021 — a significant achievement that eluded his predecessors.

According to the New York Times, Miller, the top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told reporters at a press conference in Kabul on Sunday that he had received his orders, and the US would begin “transitioning bases and equipment to the Afghan security forces.”

“All of our forces are now preparing to retrograde,” Miller said, according to a CNN report of the same press conference. “Officially, the notification date will be the first of May, but at the same time, as we start taking local actions, we have already begun that.”

Previously, the Trump administration had set May 1 as the deadline for withdrawing all US troops from the country as part of a deal struck with the Taliban in February 2020, but as of this month, the US had about 3,500 troops still in Afghanistan.

As Vox’s Alex Ward reported earlier this month, Biden inherited that promise, and essentially chose to extend the timeline for removal, but without the Taliban’s explicit approval.”

““War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking,” Biden said. “We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead, and al Qaeda is degraded … in Afghanistan. And it’s time to end the forever war.””

The US may still be helping Saudi Arabia in the Yemen war after all

“In February, President Joe Biden announced that he was ending America’s “offensive” support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, six years into the conflict that has killed around 230,000 people and triggered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Instead, the US role would be limited to “defensive” operations “to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.”

There’s just one problem: The line between “offensive” and “defensive” support is murky, and critics argue even the limited support the US is providing still helps Riyadh carry out its offensive bombing campaign in Yemen.”

“Biden’s policy sounds straightforward enough. For the past few months, the US made a clean break and no longer provides assistance to Riyadh’s ongoing strikes inside Yemen, right?

Not quite. That’s because the “defensive” support the US is still providing includes greenlighting the servicing of Saudi aircraft.

Multiple US defense officials and experts acknowledged that, through a US government process, the Saudi government pays commercial contractors to maintain and service their aircraft, and those contractors keep Saudi warplanes in the air. What the Saudis do with those fighter jets, however, is up to them.

The US could cancel those contracts at any time, thus effectively grounding the Saudi Air Force, but doing so would risk losing Riyadh as a key regional partner.”

“Riyadh, with its own money and at no cost to the US taxpayer, uses a US government program to procure maintenance for its warplanes. (That service likely was included when the Saudis bought the American-made warplanes.) It may not be the US military providing direct support, then, but the service was still greenlit by the US.”

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t have an Offensive Air Force and a Defensive Air Force. It just has the one aerial service that the US supports.

Still, the offensive part is relatively straightforward: The Saudis find a Houthi target inside Yemen they want to hit, and they bomb it.

But it gets more complicated when you consider what “defensive” might mean. As the Houthis continue to launch missile and drone attacks inside Saudi Arabia, Riyadh might decide to strike a few of the Houthis’ launch points to dissuade further assaults.

Would such a move be defensive or offensive? It’s unclear.

What is clear is that without the US-approved maintenance of Saudi fighters, Riyadh wouldn’t really have the option of launching such retaliatory responses. “They’d be able to fly two out of every 10 aircraft,” said Des Roches. That would give the Houthis an edge in the ongoing fight.”

“it seems likely that US-authorized contractors maintaining Saudi warplanes are indirectly involved in helping the Saudis carry out “offensive” operations, however one defines them. “If we’re servicing the planes that are fighting the war, we’re still supporting the war,” said the Democratic congressional aide. That the contract remains in place, after all, is a policy decision. The US could also decide to maintain other equipment and provide training instead of keeping Saudi aircraft in the sky.

But it’s also true that without the maintenance support, Saudi Arabia would be further exposed to all kinds of attacks from the Houthis (and others). And after nixing the contract, the decades-old ties between Washington and Riyadh might not just spiral downward but sever entirely.”

A deadly fight 33 years ago shows just how destructive a war between the US and Iran could get

“a future conflict is unlikely to go as smoothly for the US as Operation Praying Mantis did, mainly due to Iran’s military modernization and expansion.

Iran’s Navy has gotten larger and more capable, with more vessels able to launch anti-ship missiles and at least three Russian-built Kilo-class attack submarines in service.

Last year, an Iranian Navy exercise included an attack on a barge designed to look like a US aircraft carrier. In January, Iran unveiled the Makran, a “forward base ship” capable of carrying drones and helicopters.

The IRGCN has also been expanding its numbers and capabilities, including recent reports that it is building large missile-laden catamarans.

Iran’s sea mines remain potent, but the biggest threat comes from Iran’s missile arsenal, which is considerably larger and more advanced than it was in the 1980s.

In recent years, Iranian missiles have been used to attack Saudi oil facilities and civilian sites, as well as ships. In January 2020, Iranian cruise missiles hit US bases in Iraq, injuring over 100 service members.

Iran’s missiles failed to hit their targets during Operation Praying Mantis, but things could be very different in the future.”

The fighting in Gaza is over. The humanitarian crisis isn’t.

“Gaza is no longer an active war zone, but the emergency hasn’t fully abated. Israeli airstrikes have toppled high-rise buildings and turned homes and apartments to rubble. Israel said it was targeting Hamas and its networks, including rocket launchers and tunnels, but those targets are often intertwined with schools, clinics, and residential buildings.”

The Israel-Hamas ceasefire stopped the fighting — but changed nothing

“The ceasefire announced Thursday between Israel and Hamas will hopefully end the worst of the violence that in the course of 11 days killed well over 200 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

In the narrowest sense, Hamas and Israel have both accomplished their immediate goals. Hamas got to portray itself as the defender of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, where much of the unrest began in recent weeks, and prove its capacity to hit most of Israel with its rockets. Israel, meanwhile, can say it has degraded Hamas’s military capabilities, in particular the underground network of tunnels from which it operates.

Yet the ceasefire does nothing to address the underlying conditions that have fueled the decade-and-a-half standoff between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, nor the issues that sparked this latest round of fighting.”

“Sheikh Jarrah is an East Jerusalem neighborhood located just outside the old city that for weeks has been the site of mass demonstrations by Palestinians protesting the imminent evictions of six Arab families from their homes by Israeli courts, to make way for Jewish activists who claim ownership of the land.

The homes in question were built by the Jordanian government in the 1950s for Palestinian refugees from Israel, after Jewish residents fled the neighborhood during the 1948 war and found refuge in Israel.

Israeli law provides Jewish Israelis the chance to reclaim property lost during that conflict — including in Sheikh Jarrah. But it offers no reciprocal right to Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, who lost their homes. In general, Israeli authorities and right-wing NGOs have been working for years to change the demographic balance of the city in favor of Jewish Israelis.

Aryeh King, a far-right activist who is currently deputy mayor of Jerusalem, told the New York Times last week that installing “layers of Jews” throughout East Jerusalem is specifically aimed at making its division impossible. “If we will not be in big numbers and if we will not be at the right places in strategic areas in East Jerusalem,” he said, then future peace negotiators “will try to divide Jerusalem and to give part of Jerusalem to our enemy.”

Naturally, the Palestinians who have lived there since the 1950s strongly oppose these attempts to evict them. The Sheikh Jarrah case has gone all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court, which was originally scheduled to announce its ruling on May 10.

“To avoid further inflaming the situation, the Supreme Court delayed its ruling the day before it was scheduled, but by that point it was too late. Demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah already included violent clashes with police and extreme right-wing Israeli activists had come to provoke the clashes further.”

“Combined with the simmering tensions fueled by the Damascus Gate crackdowns and then images of a violent police raid on al-Aqsa, a central religious and national symbol, Palestinians across the West Bank, Jerusalem, Israel, and Gaza shared a sense of national and religious outrage.
And then Hamas got involved.”

“This is the fourth major conflict between Israel and Hamas since 2006”