Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Sitrep - 14 September, 2016

An unusual calm settles over the yearslong civil war in Syria as a ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia comes into effect this week. The deal took 10 months to negotiate, and violations from both regime and rebel groups have already been recorded, but the plan is for it to hold for at least seven days.

At that point, the US and Russia hope to jointly begin targeting Islamic State and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly the al qaeda-affiliated group in Syria) groups as moderate rebels split away. The ex-AQ and ISIS groups have been the most effective rebel forces in the war, so the other rebels aren’t too pleased with being separated from them.

But the loyalists certainly retain the upper hand in the ceasefire, as does Russia and Iran which both support the deal. Splitting the moderate rebels from jihadists will make the regime’s job of crushing the opposition far easier. Although if the ceasefire holds, the next stage for peace and power-sharing negotiations could begin, and move one step closer to ending the conflict.

North Korea tested its fifth nuclear device, the second this year, and South Korean intelligence warn it could be in the midst of preparing a sixth test shortly. The isolated regime has been busy testing ballistic missile systems all year, many of which could house a miniaturised nuclear device to deliver to targets as far away as Japan and US bases in the Western Pacific.

However, it is unclear whether the devices tested are thermonuclear (fusion) or simpler nuclear (fission) weapons. It is also unclear how far along the North Koreans are in weaponising, hardening and miniaturising these devices for use in combat.

Nevertheless, the regime has rapidly accelerated its nuclear programme this year in what is looking more like a race to the finish than ever before. It is timing the push during both the US and South Korean election cycle, knowing the two powers are distracted. Yet if the North Koreans are closer to a demonstrable and deliverable nuclear device, the US is running out of time to act militarily.

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