Russian President Vladimir Putin this week announced a surprise withdrawal of the “main force” of his troops in Syria. Mr Putin says the intervention has “achieved its goals” but will retain forces at airbases and a naval base in Latakia province as the five-month withdrawal takes place.
The objectives of Russia in Syria were twofold: stabilise legitimate authority and create conditions for political compromise. Both of these have largely been accomplished. And peace talks in Geneva this week may result in a path towards a power transition in Damascus. Russia retains the option to return to Syria, but its wider concerns in Ukraine and Europe may also have changed positively.
Western forces are also preparing for a return to a broken Libya. The reason? To drive Islamic State affiliates from the coastal town of Sirte, a city of 80,000. IS forces are not as strong in Libya as its parent group is in Syria, but the potential remains for the group to use the anarchy in Libya to launch transnational attacks – Rome is, after all, only a few hundred kilometres away.
Italy, France, the US and UK are all pre-positioning Special Forces in the country in preparation for thousands of ground troops. It is unclear when or if those troops will arrive, but the seriousness of the outside powers concerning the country is notable. A unity government has struggled to take root and gangs still rule the country. Western troops will help consolidate a new government.
The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen have moved to within 10 kilometres of the international airport in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Forces loyal to President Mansur Hadi, with support from Riyadh, are mustering troops in preparation for a strike on the capital. Fighting in the city will be bloody as rebel forces have had a long time to defend.
Some indications of backroom deals are emerging for a post-conflict reality. Talks between Houthi rebels (supporters of the ousted president) and Saudi Arabia for a ceasefire along Yemen’s northern border is underway. The Houthis are in a good strategic position to negotiate for robust political influence. Meanwhile, al qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continues to hold significant territory in the south.