It hasn’t been a great week for the US in the Middle East. Russia began a controversial campaign of airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, aiming to target ISIS forces but not quite getting there. The first Russian bombs to fall, which coincided with the final day of the UN General Assembly session, led to concerns about who exactly Russia is targeting—with claims that the strikes hit a CIA-vetted rebel group.
There’s been no shortage of analysis of the event: the BBC has covered the US and its allies’ concerns that Russia’s actions are targeting the non-ISIS opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Asaad, while Foreign Policy has looked at the aftershock in the UN. For a look at how the US’ timidity in the Middle East has led to Russia taking liberties, check out this piece at The Economist, and the New York Times has put together an interesting series of maps pinpointing where strikes have occurred, and which groups control which areas of Syria. Finally, Neil Quilliam has a great Chatham House piece on why Russia’s actions will draw conflict with ISIS out longer, and increase the group’s appeal for Syrian opposition groups.
The Taliban’s biggest military victory in 14 years—the seizure of Kunduz, a city in northern Afghanistan—earlier this week has also made headlines. Mark Thompson at Time discusses what has become the US Special Forces’ second ground war in Afghanistan, arguing that Obama’s placement of 30,000 troops to the country in 2010 did little to disintegrate the terrorist organisation. Over at Afghanistan Analysts Network, Borhan Osman asks what the triumph in Kunduz tells us about the Taliban’s strength today.
However, Thursday saw the fulfilment of the Pentagon’s promise of a ‘sizable force to retake the city’, when US-backed Afghan troops recaptured much of the Afghan city. In what seems to be its theme for the week, the New York Times has put together some interactive maps showing how the Taliban are advancing in Afghanistan.
A little closer to home, New Mandala has two interesting pieces on Indonesia’s 1965 coup, which had its 50th anniversary earlier this week. The first, by Hamish McDonald, looks at the mystery that still shrouds the coup, and the unwillingness of post-Suharto governments to invest in an official enquiry. The second, by Michael Vatikiotis, looks at the coup from a human rights perspective, focusing on the veritable genocide of Indonesians suspected of being communist sympathisers.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s government-owned arms manufacturer PT Pindad signed a defence partnership with the UAE last month, a move that analysts argue could see Indonesia’s relationship with Gulf nations move in a more strategic direction. The Diplomat also has an interesting read for Indonesia defence wonks on new proposals to boost the country’s defence budget, an important step forward for the Widodo administration, which seeks to increase the country’s defence spending to 1.5% of GDP.
Ray Bauer, the tech leader of the US’ National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), was interviewed by Nextgov earlier this week in a piece for DefenseOne on GeoQ–NGA’s open-source disaster mapping system-cum-computer game. GeoQ is ‘gamifying’ disaster response, where users receive badges and points for documenting post-environmental disaster damage, which ensures that first responders don’t duplicate their efforts.
With the visits of Pope Francis and Xi Jinping to Washington DC last week, there’s been plenty of good analysis of both visits’ outcomes. For a look at a noticeably underreported aspect of the Chinese visit, check out Jane Perlez’s overview of President Xi’s announcement of 8,000 UN peacekeeping troops and US$100 million to be put towards the African Union’s crisis response units. Or if you need the Pope and Xi’s visits tied neatly into one little package, much like this paragraph is trying to do, read The Atlantic’s piece on the common challenges faced by the two leaders.
The GroundTruth Project, a not-for-profit dedicated to training the next generation of foreign correspondents, began an interest podcast series last month. Their second episode, released on Monday, assesses the future of Afghanistan after the fall of Kunduz. Listen here (20 mins).
Pope Francis’ visit to Washington DC had a heavy focus on environmentalism—a fact that hasn’t been lost on atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, and activist Bill McKibben. The duo team up for this week’s Foreign Policy Global Thinkers podcast, which checks out the rise of faith-based environmentalism, and what effects it may have on the Paris conference (48 mins).
Over at VICE News, correspondent Simon Otrovsky has travelled around Eastern Ukraine to speak with soldiers, government officials and residents about their experiences in his first of two short films (7 mins). In the second video (9 mins), Otrovsky travels to roadblocks established by the Crimean Tatars and the radical right-wing Right Sector, and asks the organisers about their controversial decision, which has potential humanitarian impacts, to cease food supplies from entering Russia-occupied Ukraine.
Canberra: Indonesia watchers, the AIIA ACT will host Indonesian Ambassador to Australia HE Nadjib Riphat Kesoema next Thursday, 8 October at 6pm, Stephen House in Deakin. Pak Nadjib will speak on the Australia–Indonesia relationship in the changing regional environment, and how a strong partnership between the two countries is a force for good in the Asia–Pacific. Register here.
A little further down the track, anyone who is interested in the future of the US should head to the United States Studies Centre’s event on US foreign policy and the 2016 presidential election. Mark your calendars for 28 October.
Sydney: It’s been making global headlines recently, but what exactly is China’s One Belt, One Road initiative? Kerry Brown of the University of Sydney and Wang Yuzhu of the China Academy of Social Sciences will sit down on 14 October and discuss the policy, and what its benefits might be for Australia.
The following night, USSC’s Linda Jakobson and Kerry Brown (again) will discuss Australian perspectives on the US and China’s ability to manage their differences amicably, and what uncertainty about the outcome of this means for the region. For more details on the speakers and the event, have a look here.