Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to end fight in Nagorno-Karabakh

“Armenia and Azerbaijan announced an agreement early Tuesday to halt fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan under a pact signed with Russia that calls for deployment of nearly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers and territorial concessions.

Nagorno-Karabakh has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a 1994 truce ended a separatist war in which an estimated 30,000 people died. Sporadic clashes occurred since then, and full-scale fighting began on Sept. 27.”

“The agreement calls for Armenian forces to turn over control of some areas it held outside the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh, including the eastern district of Agdam.”

“Armenians will also turn over the Lachin region, which holds the main road leading from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. The agreement calls for the road, the so-called Lachin Corridor, to remain open and be protected by Russian peacekeepers.

In all, 1,960 Russian peacekeepers are to be deployed in the region under a five-year mandate.

The agreement also calls for transport links to be established through Armenia linking Azerbaijan and its western exclave of Nakhcivan, which is surrounded by Armenia, Iran and Turkey.”

“The seizure of Shushi, which Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed Sunday and was confirmed by Nagorno-Karabakh’s presidential spokesman Monday, gave Azerbaijan a significant strategic advantage. The city is positioned on heights overlooking the regional capital of Stepanakert, 10 kilometers (six miles) to the north.”

US strikes Taliban in Afghanistan’s Helmand province without breaking the peace agreement

“The announcement of the targeted airstrikes followed heavy clashes during the weekend that brought the Taliban to the outskirts of the Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah. The Taliban also have been blamed for a rash of fighting around the country.

Despite the escalating violence, the U.S. is on course to fulfill a key commitment it made under the deal with the Taliban — to withdraw all foreign forces by May next year.”

“Military officials have said the Taliban have not held to verbal agreements with the U.S. to reduce violence against Afghan forces.

The Taliban also have fallen short of meeting conditions in the February deal, including that they would sever ties with terrorist groups like al-Qaida — the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. — and would start talks in March with the Afghan government.

The intra-Afghan talks only got underway in September and are expected to take months, if not years.”

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, explained

“One of the world’s longest-standing frozen conflicts has thawed into a hot war, leading to over 350 deaths and potentially encouraging world powers to enter the fray — which could make a lethal situation even worse.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have reignited their 32-year struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous territory of 150,000 people about the size of Delaware. The territory is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but it’s claimed and governed by ethnic Armenians. The two sides haven’t reached a lasting diplomatic resolution to the dispute since a war that killed 30,000 people or more ended in a 1994 ceasefire, leaving open the possibility of renewed deadly fighting.

That worst-case scenario proved a reality last week after the former Soviet territories accused each other of unprovoked attacks. On September 27, Armenia said Azerbaijan’s military bombed civilian settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, including the regional capital of Stepanakert. In response, Armenia’s defense ministry claimed it downed two Azerbaijani helicopters and three drones. Azerbaijan didn’t take that lightly, with its defense ministry saying it launched a “counteroffensive” with tanks, war planes, artillery missiles, and drones.

Past skirmishes typically lasted no more than a few days, but this one has only continued and intensified. Stepanakert, a city of over 50,000 people, has experienced heavy artillery fire from Azerbaijan since October 2, while Azerbaijan says Armenia has shelled the country’s second-largest city, Ganja, and other missiles elsewhere — each assault putting civilians in grave danger.”

“Turkey, a NATO member, is only making matters worse. It has fully backed Azerbaijan, with observers alleging it has sent at least 1,000 Syrian fighters to help and providing the country’s forces with weapons and training. That’s provocative, experts say, as it not only fans the flames of war, but also threatens the control and calming influence Russia has had over the conflict.”

“so far Russia, which oversees the sputtering diplomatic process over the area along with France and the United States, has called for restraint alongside its counterparts.”

“Most experts I spoke to fear the fighting won’t end until either Armenia deals Azerbaijan a militarily decisive blow, or Azerbaijan reclaims much or all of Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding regions. When I mentioned that concern to Zareh Sinanyan, Armenia’s high commissioner for diaspora affairs, he said bluntly: “That is true.””

“The first person to blame for the current conflict is former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. In 1921, he gave Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, only to turn it into an autonomous region two years later. That change would inevitably prove problematic, as Nagorno-Karabakh’s population was over 90 percent Armenian. On top of this, most Armenians are Christian, while Azerbaijan is majority Muslim; thus, Stalin’s decision effectively turned the territory into a Christian-majority enclave in a Muslim-majority nation.”

“The conflict that erupted last week actually began back in mid-July. During days of border fighting, Armenia killed seven Azerbaijani service members, including a top, popular Army general. “Armenia’s political and military leadership will bear the entire responsibility for the provocation,” Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, vowed at the time.

Later that month, Turkey joined Azerbaijan for two weeks of military drills featuring armored vehicles, artillery, and mortars. It was billed as an annual exercise, but the message was clear: Azerbaijan was preparing for a real fight and Turkey had its back. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made that point explicitly last Friday.”

“experts note Azerbaijan has been careful not to attack civilian areas in Armenia proper. Doing so might trigger a defense treaty Russia has with Armenia requiring Moscow to come to Yerevan’s defense militarily.”

Trump, Self-Proclaimed Ender of Endless Wars, Is Reducing the U.S. Troop Presence in Iraq to Where It Was in 2015

“The Journal reports that the departure of some 1,700 troops from Iraq will occur over the next few months. Once gone, America’s military presence in that country will be where it was in 2015.

Under Trump, America’s troop commitment to our various foreign wars has oscillated; first surging then tapering off.

PolitiFact notes that when Trump came into office there were around 8,500 troops in Afghanistan. The president increased our military presence up to 14,000 personnel but has since drawn it back down to where it was at the beginning of Trump’s term. That number is supposed to fall to 4,000 in November.

Under Trump, the Defense Department has stopped publishing troop numbers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, making it difficult to get an accurate count of how much military personnel is in those countries. The Washington Post reported in July that the number of U.S. troops stationed abroad has slightly increased under Trump.

Outside of troop levels, Trump has amped up the drone war and vetoed a resolution to end U.S. participation in the war in Yemen. He has also escalated tensions with Iran by tearing up the 2015 nuclear deal signed under the Obama administration, reapplying sanctions, and deploying additional aircraft and ships to the region in response to alleged Iranian drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

In January, the Trump administration assassinated Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, provoking an Iranian missile counterattack on U.S. military bases in the country.”

China and India are in a dangerous standoff over a hotly contested border

“For about 80 years, India and China have quarreled over a roughly 2,200-mile frontier spanning the Himalayas, occasionally going to war over their competing claims. Despite 20-plus rounds of negotiations, the world’s two most populous countries haven’t come close to agreeing on most of the boundaries, providing a continuous source of tension between Beijing and New Delhi.

It’s unclear what, exactly, started this latest flare-up. India’s government says that earlier this month, unprovoked Chinese troops threw rocks at Indian soldiers in the western Himalayas. Beijing counters that claim, instead blaming Indian forces for illegally walking into Chinese territory. Whatever the reason, a combined 100-plus soldiers from both sides sustained injuries during two skirmishes on May 5 and May 9.

No shots were fired and no one was killed, but that hasn’t stopped both nuclear-armed nations from escalating the standoff since the initial squabbles.

Thousands of troops are now camped on either side of the Galwan Valley, a contentious territory in the high-altitude Ladakh region. Chinese and Indian soldiers have dug new defenses and shipped more military equipment to their outposts.”

“Experts note there’s still a long way to go before a shooting war begins. They point to ongoing diplomatic efforts to solve the scuffle and say neither side actually wants a war with the coronavirus raging.

The problem is that it could be a long time before either China or India decides to settle the matter peacefully — which means an already bad situation might get much worse.”

Turkey used a new weapon in Syria that was so effective it looks like Russia won’t dare confront Turkey directly

“The Turkish military’s devastating display of power against the Syrian army last week — which saw the destruction of hundreds of regime tanks, artillery pieces and armored vehicles — came from a cheap but effective domestic drone program that NATO officials say has changed the military equation against Russia in Syria’s Idlib Province.

The confrontation began in late February. Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian air support and “special forces advisors”, began to push into Idlib, the last major area held by rebels against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s regime. Syria’s civil war has lasted nearly a decade.”

“Turkey’s response was to send thousands of regular army units into Idlib to prevent the pocket’s collapse.”

“Turkey has a new ace up its sleeve, one that forced Russia to think twice about escalating against President Recep Erdogan’s government, military sources told Insider.

Turkey’s offensive was conducted with about 100 domestically produced drones launching cheap guided munitions with deadly efficiency.”

“US policies restricting sales of armed drone technology to Turkey out of concerns the technology would be used on Kurdish targets as critical to the development of a domestic program. By 2007 the Turkish military had tired of limitations on what it could buy from the Americans. Disappointed by the poor performance of Israeli drones on the market, it then began to develop their own program.”

“While Turkey guards the exact cost of producing the Bayraktar TB2 as a state secret, it sold 12 drones and three ground command centers to Ukraine last year for $69 million. At less than $6 million per drone, the TB2 is about a third of the cost of the similarly capable US produced Reaper MQ-9, which retails for US allies at about $16 million a piece.”

The US and Taliban sign agreement meant to end America’s longest war

“Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, the US government has spent $2 trillion on the conflict, in which 3,500 American and NATO coalition troops have been killed and tens of thousands of Afghans have died.

The new agreement would put an end to that conflict, and includes a requirement that the Taliban find lasting peace with the Afghan government in exchange for the full withdrawal of troops — a requirement not present in all past versions of the deal.”

Turkey sends more troops, tanks to Syria amid Idlib assault

“For weeks, Syrian troops, backed by Russian air force, have been advancing in rebel territory as the cease-fire deal reached in 2018 unraveled. The offensive has displaced over half a million people, many of them arriving in open air and temporary shelters, often near the borders with Turkey. Idlib and nearby rural Aleppo are the last rebel-held areas in Syria and are home to more than 3 million people, most of them already displaced by previous rounds of violence.”