Afghanistan/Taliban – At least 24 people have been killed and more than 40 wounded after a suicide car bomb targeted a bus carrying ministry staff in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, officials said on the 24 Jul 17. Intelligence officials said that the bus was carrying staff of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum when it came under attack on the 24 Jul 17. The attack happened just before 0700 hrs local (0230 hrs GMT) and took place close to the house of the deputy government Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqi. Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to Al Jazeera. The bus was completely destroyed, along with three other cars and several shops in the area, said Kabul's police chief spokesman, Basir Mujahed, adding children were among the wounded. Najib Danish, an acting Interior Ministry spokesman added that the casualty toll could rise. Spokesman Mujahed said the "bomber struck at one of the busiest times of the day". "There were traffic jams with people going to work and to the university and schools. Many of the shops had just opened," said Mujahed.
Afghanistan/Taliban/Russia/Iran – Taliban fighters have claimed that Russia is supplying them with weapons including snipers and heavy machine guns it was reported in a UK newspaper on the 25 Jul 17. America's top general in Afghanistan said earlier this year that he was 'not refuting' reports Moscow was providing support, including weapons, to the militant group. Kremlin chiefs have previously denied trading with the Taliban. But new footage, obtained by CNN, appears to show fighters in possession of improved weaponry which the militants claim was supplied by Russian government sources. Moscow has been critical of the United States over its handling of the war in Afghanistan, where the Soviet Union fought a bloody and disastrous war of its own in the 1980s. America in the 1980s supplied the Mujahideen, parts of which ultimately became the Taliban, with high-tech weapons as they battled the Soviet Union. According to CNN, one Taliban faction says it received free weapons over the border from Tajikistan after they were supplied by 'the Russians'. Another Taliban offshoot said it had seized guns from the mainstream group and that those weapons had originally come from the Russians via Iran. The group's deputy leader Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi told CNN: 'The Russians are giving them these weapons to fight ISIS in Afghanistan, but they are using them against us too.' Russia did not comment on the CNN reports but it has previously denied claims they are involved in trading with the Taliban. In Apr 17, General John Nicholson, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, asserted that Russia might be supplying the Taliban with weapons. He was asked by a reporter: 'So you are not refuting that [Russia is] sending weapons?' And Nicholson replied: 'Oh, no, I am not refuting that.' At the same time a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that intelligence showed that Russia was providing monetary and weapons support to the Taliban, specifically weapons such as machine guns. Just weeks earlier, General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander who also heads the US military's European Command, said Russia is 'perhaps' supplying the Taliban as they fight US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. He told lawmakers he had seen Russian influence expand in multiple regions, including in Afghanistan. 'I have seen the influence of Russia of late - an increased influence - in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,' Scaparrotti told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He did not elaborate on what kinds of supplies might be headed to the Taliban or how direct Russia's role might be. Russian officials dismissed the allegation that it may be supplying Taliban insurgents as 'a lie' saying the charge was an attempt by Washington to try to cover up for the failure of its own policies there. Officials said their limited contacts are aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. NATO troops have been fighting in Afghanistan since a US-led invasion in late 2001, following the September 11 attacks. About 13,000 NATO service members are in Afghanistan - the bulk of them American - under its Resolute Support training mission.According to US estimates, government forces control less than 60 per cent of Afghanistan, with almost half the country either contested or under control of the insurgents, who are seeking to reimpose Islamic law after their 2001 ouster. Underlying the insurgents' growing strength, Taliban fighters have captured the strategic district of Sangin in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, officials said. The district was captured after an Afghan officer turned his rifle on sleeping colleagues, killing nine policemen. The taking of Sangin district, once considered the deadliest battlefield for British and US troops in Afghanistan, marks the culmination of the insurgents' year-long push to expand their footprint in the Taliban heartland of Helmand. The Pentagon said it would deploy some 300 US Marines earlier this year to Helmand, where American forces engaged in heated combat until they pulled out in 2014. Taliban officials have told Reuters that the group has had significant contacts with Moscow since at least 2007, adding that Russian involvement did not extend beyond 'moral and political support'. After more than 15 years of war, US generals say the Afghanistan conflict is stuck in a 'stalemate,' with the Taliban continuing to carry broad regional influence and NATO-backed Afghan security forces struggling to make progress. 361 COMMENT: Although this has been mentioned before regarding the supplying of weapons to the Taliban, if the allegations are true then Afghanistan is turning out to be a proxy war between the United States, Russia and Iran. This maybe one reason that the Trump administration is considering arming factions in the Ukraine in retaliation. And so it goes on, tit for tat. COMMENT ENDS
Afghanistan/Taliban – At least 26 Afghan soldiers have been killed and 13 wounded in a Taliban attack on a military base in Kandahar province, according to the defence ministry, in the latest blow to struggling security forces. The attack happened late on the 25 Jul 17 in the Karzali area of Khakrez district. At least 21 other people went missing and seven were kidnapped, General Dawlat Waziri, Afghan defence ministry spokesman said. "Afghan soldiers resisted the attack and the fight is now over, they [Taliban fighters] were unable to take over the base," he said. He said more than 80 fighters were killed in the counterattack. However, the Taliban claimed to have killed at least 70 soldiers and to have seized a number of army vehicles, equipment, machinery and weapons. The Taliban has carried out increasingly complex attacks against security forces so far in 2017. In Apr 17, more than 140 soldiers were believed to have been killed on a base outside the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the deadliest ever Taliban attacks on a military installation. A month earlier, armed men disguised as doctors stormed Kabul's Sardar Daud Khan hospital - the country's largest military hospital - and killed dozens. According to US watchdog SIGAR, casualties among Afghan security forces soared by 35 percent in 2016, with 6,800 soldiers and police killed. Over the weekend, the Taliban overran two district centres - Taywara and Kohistan - in northern and central Afghanistan. There has been a surge in fighting in several northern and southern Afghan provinces in recent days, including in Helmand in the south.
Afghanistan/Da’esh – The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack on the Iraqi embassy in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. For several hours, fighters were holed up in a building close to the embassy in the city's Shar-e-Naw district where a gun battle was under way. Two fighters "attacked the Iraqi embassy building in the Afghan city of Kabul", ISIL, also known as ISIS, group, said on the 30 Jul 17 in a statement released on their website "Amaq News Agency", without providing further details. Police confirmed the reports of the explosions but said they did not have further information. "We heard two explosions near the Iraqi embassy and part of the building has been damaged," Mohsen Negaresh, a witness said. The Iraq embassy is located in a part of the city known as Shahr-e-Naw, which lies outside the so-called Green Zone where most foreign embassies and diplomatic missions are located and which is heavily fortified with a phalanx of guards and giant cement blast walls. By comparison, the Iraqi embassy is located on a small street in a neighbourhood dominated by markets and businesses.
Australia – Security remained heightened in airports around Australia with more intense screening of luggage after law enforcement officials thwarted what a police chief described on the 31 Jul 17 as a "credible attempt to attack an aircraft." Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton declined to comment on newspaper reports that Islamist extremists planned to kill the occupants of a plane with poison gas and that a homemade bomb was to be disguised as a kitchen mincer. "Police will allege they had the intent and were developing the capability," Turnbull told Australian Broadcasting Corp. Turnbull announced on Sunday that "a terrorist plot to bring down an airplane" had been disrupted, but revealed few details. Four men arrested in raids in Sydney late on the 29 Jul 17 — two Lebanese-Australian fathers and their sons — had yet to be charged. Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin said a court ruled on the 31 Jul 17 that the four could be detained without charge for seven days from their arrest under counterterrorism laws. "We believe we have disrupted a legitimate and credible attempt to attack an aircraft," Colvin told reporters without elaborating. "The plot that we are investigating we believe was an attempt to put a device onto an aircraft, but beyond that the speculation is just that — speculation," he said, adding that police had "many working theories." Colvin and the government will not comment on media reports that the suspects were not previously known to Australian security officials and that their arrests followed a tip from a foreign intelligence agency. Australian newspapers cited multiple anonymous sources saying that the plotters were constructing a "non-traditional" explosive device that could have emitted a toxic, sulfur-based gas to kill or immobilize everyone on the aircraft. Sydney's The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that the plotters planned to make a bomb from wood shavings and explosive material inside a piece of kitchen equipment such as a mincing machine. Police raided five homes on the 29 Jul 17 and removed a domestic grinder and a mincer used to make sausage, the newspaper said. The plot involved smuggling the device onto a flight from Sydney to the Middle East, as carry-on luggage, the newspaper said. Fairfax Media reported that the bomb was found in a home in the inner-city suburb of Surry Hills, a few doors from the local mosque. Security has been increased at Sydney Airport since the 27 Jul 17 because of the plot and has since been increased in all major Australian international and domestic terminals.
India/China (BBC 20 Jul 17) – If you browse through the latest headlines about the now month-long border stand-off between India and China, you might think the Asian rivals are teetering on the brink of an armed conflict. The rhetoric is full of foreboding and menace. A Delhi newspaper says China is warning that the stand-off "could escalate into full-scale conflict". Another echoes a similar sentiment, saying "China stiffens face-off posture". In Beijing, the state-run media has begun reminding India of its defeat in the 1962 war over the border, digging out old reports and pictures of the conflict. Global Times has been particularly bellicose, first accusing India of undermining Bhutan's sovereignty by interfering in the road project, and then declaring that if India "stirs up conflicts in several spots, it must face the consequences of all-out confrontation with China".
What's behind the India-China border stand-off?
India opens longest bridge on China border
The latest row erupted in mid-June when India opposed China's attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China. The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Bhutan. India supports Bhutan's claim over it. India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India's strategically vulnerable "chicken's neck", a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland. And since this stand-off began, each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down. There is a dreadful sense of deja vu about the way the stand-off appears to be escalating. This is not the first time the two neighbours who share a rocky relationship have faced off on the ill-defined border, where minor incursions by troops have been common. The region saw armed clashes between China and India in 1967, and a prolonged stand-off and build-up of troops along the border in Arunachal Pradesh in 1986-87. Delhi believes that Beijing is testing India's commitment to Bhutan in the latest stand-off, writes analyst Ajai Shukla. "China has always been galled by this close relationship, which has withstood sustained Chinese pressure to divide it," he says. This time China has upped the ante against India. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday that Indian forces should leave the area to avoid an "escalation of the situation".
'Not a bluff'
Indian analysts believe China's warnings cannot be ignored. "In general, the Chinese pattern of use of force has been to prepare the ground with adequate statements and warnings. Hence, I think we should not take them lightly or see it as a bluff," a China expert told me. In 1962, the state-run news agency Xinhua warned well in advance that India should "pull back from the brink of war". During the Korean War in 1950 which pitted the US and its allies against the USSR, North Korea and communist China, the Chinese warned the US through India that if they crossed the Yalu River the Chinese would be forced to enter the war. To be true, this doesn't mean that China is girding up for war. As things stand, both sides can share some blame for the stand-off in what is a strategically important area. In 2012, India and China agreed that the tri-junction boundaries with Bhutan and Myanmar (also called Burma) would be finally decided in consultation with these countries. Until then, the status quo would prevail. India believes China violated the status quo by building the road. Indian troops were sent to resist their Chinese counterparts in the area only after Bhutan, which has close ties with India, requested India to help. China insists Indian troops invaded Doklam/Donglang to help Bhutan, and it was a violation of international law. Mr Lu says India should not "take trespass as a policy tool to reach or realise their political targets". Some analysts say India possibly made a mistake by openly conflating the building of the road with talk of potential "serious security implications for India". "I agree that there were security concerns, but it was wrong for India to voice them strongly. We could have just said that China had breached the status quo. By overplaying the security angle, we may have scored an own goal, and the Chinese are exploiting it," an analyst told me.
He has a point. Long Xingchun, an analyst at a Chinese think-tank, says "a third country's" army could enter the disputed region of Kashmir at Pakistan's request, using the "same logic" the Indian army has used to stop the Chinese troops from building the road in Doklam/Donglang. "Even if India were requested to defend Bhutan's territory, this could only be limited to its established territory, not the disputed area." Clearly, for the stand-off to end, all three sides need an agreeable solution without losing face. As China hardens its position, many believe that finding a "three-way, face saving solution" would be tricky and time consuming. Relations between the two countries are also at their lowest ebb in many years. Both sides possibly passed up an opportunity to resolve the crisis earlier this month when a potential meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg did not happen. India said a meeting with Mr Xi had never been on Mr Modi's agenda; and China's foreign ministry had said the atmosphere was not right for a meeting. There's another window of opportunity coming up. India's influential National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is to visit Beijing for a meeting of Brics nations later this month. Mr Doval, who is also the special representative for the India-China border, is likely to meet his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi. "Both sides have made it a prestige issue. But diplomacy is all about keeping things going in difficult circumstances," a former diplomat says. Despite the deteriorating relationship, a war is unlikely to break out. "I don't think either side wants an armed conflict. Nobody is interested in a war. Nothing in the [stand-off] area is worth a conflict. But both sides see their reputations at stake and that could lead to a prolonged stand-off," Srinath Raghavan, a senior fellow at the leading Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research think-tank told me.
China/India – China has demanded that India pull back its troops from a contested region high in the Himalayas, warning New Delhi not "to push your luck" amid a festering border dispute. According to Indian officials, about 300 soldiers from either side face each other about 150 metres apart on the Doklam plateau, an area also claimed by India's ally Bhutan. The stand-off began in Jun 17 when Chinese troops started building a road onto the plateau towards India's border. Bhutan sought help from India, which sent troops across the border from the north-eastern state of Sikkim. On the 24 Jun 17 Colonel Wu Qian, a defence ministry spokesman, said India must not underestimate Beijing's determination to safeguard what it considers sovereign Chinese territory in the Doklam plateau. "China's determination and resolve to safeguard national security and sovereignty is unshakable," Wu told reporters. "Here is a wish to remind India, do not push your luck and cling to any fantasies," he added. India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said the border road has serious security implications. "If China unilaterally changes the status quo of the tri-junction, it becomes a matter of security concern for India," Swaraj said in parliament last week. Although the Doklam plateau is not part of Indian territory, India is sensitive to Chinese building activity in the region as it would give Beijing access to the so-called "chicken neck", a thin strip of land that connects India and its remote north -eastern states. India has called for withdrawal of forces and a negotiated settlement to the standoff. Wu, however, reiterated that the withdrawal of Indian border guards was a precondition to resolving the situation. "Shaking a mountain is easy but shaking the People's Liberation Army is hard," he said. "We strongly urge India to take practical steps to correct its mistake, cease provocations, and meet China halfway in jointly safeguarding the border region's peace and tranquillity," he said. He added that the military had taken emergency measures in the region and would continue to increase focused deployments and drills. The crisis is expected to be discussed when India's National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visits Beijing this week for a security forum under the BRICS group of large developing nations that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. China and India share a 3,500km frontier, large parts of which are disputed.
Indonesia/Hizb ut-Tahrir – Indonesia has banned the Hizb ut-Tahrir group under a controversial presidential decree that gives officials the authority to disband organisations deemed to threaten national unity. The legal status of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which campaigns for the country to adopt Islamic law and become a caliphate, was revoked on the 19 Jul 17 to protect Indonesia's unity, according to Freddy Hari, the director-general of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The group condemned the ban and said it "will not remain silent", vowing to challenge the decision in court. The government's move comes a week after President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo signed a presidential decree that gives the government almost unfettered power to ban groups that go against "national unity and the existence of the Indonesian nation". Legal expert Refly Harun said it was the first time in the reform era that the government had disbanded an organisation without due process of law. "The presidential decree is a blank cheque for the government to disband any group without due process of law," he said. The decree followed months of sectarian tensions and protests, partially organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir, which saw Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy against Islam. The move is seen as targeting hard-line Islamic organisations and has been criticised by human rights groups as a threat to freedom of association. About 2,000 people from Islamic groups protested against the order in Jakarta on the 18 Jul 17 denouncing the government as repressive and tyrannical. Another protest was planned for the 19 Jul 17. In May 17 the government had said it planned to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir because its activities were not in line with the state's secular ideology and were "causing friction in society". Following last week's decree, Hizb ut-Tahrir members vowed to seek a judicial review in constitutional court. "This is tyranny," said Ismail Yusanto, a spokesman for the group in Indonesia. "The move just shows an arbitrary action aimed at disbanding Hizb ut-Tahrir. "[Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia] is a legal religious organisation and has been spreading its messages peacefully, in an orderly manner, in accordance with the law." Hizb ut-Tahrir, which says it uses non-violent means to achieve its goal of a caliphate, is active in Australia and the UK but is banned in several Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. The group is estimated to have tens of thousands of members in Indonesia.
Pakistan/Pakistan Taliban – An explosion claimed by the Pakistani Taliban killed at least 25 people and injured dozens in a busy vegetable market in the Pakistani city of Lahore on the 24 Jul 17 officials said, but the cause of the blast at the time was not immediately clear. The powerful explosion hit a bustling main road in the south of Lahore and blew out windows in nearby buildings. "A suicide bomber of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) used a motorcycle bomb to kill dozens of policemen," TTP spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said in a statement e-mailed to local media. "Our message to frontline allies of enemies of Islam is to get out of our way or be ready to suffer this fate," Khurasani added. Initial police investigations suggested it might be a suicide bomb attack. "Apparently, according to our initial findings, he was a suicide bomber, who used a motorcycle," deputy chief of police operations branch, Haider Ashraf told reporters in Lahore. The city's commissioner Abdullah Khan Sumbul said the blast targeted police. Lahore police spokesman Syed Hammad Shah put the toll at 25 dead with 40 injured. Senior local administration official Sumair Ahmad Syed confirmed the death toll, though he put the number of injured at 35. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a press conference held minutes after the blast that most of the casualties were police officers, but was unable to confirm the nature of the explosion. The area was busy with police at the time because officers had been sent to the market to clear stalls that had illegally spilt onto the road. Provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah said the blast had appeared to target the vegetable market, which was crowded with shoppers. Lahore has been hit by significant militant attacks in Pakistan's more than decade-long war on extremism, but they have been less frequent in recent years.
Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress to extend martial law in the southern Mindanao region until the end of the year, to allow armed forces to quell the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group it was reported on the 18 Jul 17. Duterte declared military rule over Mindanao, an island of 22 million people, for 60 days on the 23 May 17 when hundreds of ISIL-linked fighters occupied parts of Marawi city. ISIL's presence led to clashes that killed more than 500 people. But with scores of armed fighters holding out against government forces, Duterte met politicians late on the 17 Jul 17 and asked them to extend the law when it lapses on the 22 Jul 17 his spokesman Ernesto Abella said. "He will have to deal with local terrorist groups and anything that threatens public safety in Mindanao," Abella said on the 18 Jul 17. The country's constitution allows the president to impose martial law for up to 60 days. Beyond two months, the president can extend the rule for a period to be determined by Congress, Abella said. With Duterte's allies dominating Congress, House of Representatives speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he saw no obstacle to approving the president's request. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who attended the 17 Jul 17 meeting with Duterte, said: "He also explained clearly his fear that terrorism might slowly spread throughout Mindanao and eventually the country." Duterte told the politicians that 600 buildings had yet to be cleared of bombs or armed men, Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito said. Security forces have been conducting a US-backed offensive to root out the gunmen, using air strikes and artillery fire. Also on the 17 Jul 17 government and rebel representatives submitted to Duterte a new draft law, which aims to establish a more powerful Muslim autonomous region in the country's south under a 2014 peace deal that stalled in Congress under his predecessor.
Philippines – The Philippine Congress voted to extend martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until the end of the year, giving President Rodrigo Duterte extra time to quell fighters allied with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group. In a special joint session of the House and the Senate on the 22 Jul 17 the overwhelming number of 261 legislators, accounting for more than two-thirds of Congress membership of more than 300, agreed to extend military rule in Mindanao region until the 31 Dec 17. Just 18 voted against the motion. Ahead of the voting, security officials told members of parliament that martial law was needed to stabilise a region where ISIL group fighters was gaining influence, and supporters could be inspired to stage uprisings in areas on Mindanao, joined by foreign fighters. Duterte imposed 60-day martial rule - the maximum period allowed by the constitution - over the Mindanao region on the 23 May 17 within hours of the gunmen beginning their rampage. On the 16 Jul 17 he asked Congress to extend it until the end of the year, along with the continued suspension of a constitutional safeguard against warrantless arrests. Opposition dragged out the debate, questioning why martial law was needed for the whole of Mindanao when the fighting was limited to only one city. "I fear that the plan to extend the martial law in Mindanao will pave the way for a Philippines-wide martial law," Senator Risa Hontiveros said ahead of the vote. At the hearing, defence and security officials justified the extended martial law, saying that aside from Marawi, fighters were planning attacks in other parts of Mindanao. They said almost 1,000 pro-ISIL fighters, holding 23 hostages, were still active elsewhere in the south. The military said only about 60 gunmen were left in a 49-hectare (121-acre) area of Marawi, but Duterte said he needed martial law powers to rebuild the city and ensure the war did not spread elsewhere. "I cannot afford to be complacent," Duterte told reporters on the 21 Jul 17 adding the military would be conducting further "mopping up operations" even after they recapture Marawi. "If there is a spillage it will not be as bad if you have this stopgap," he added. Martial law allows the military to establish control with measures such as curfews, checkpoints and gun controls in a country where civilians are authorised to keep licensed firearms in their homes. The subject remains sensitive in the Philippines, decades after the late leader Ferdinand Marcos put the country under military rule for part of his 20-year term. About a dozen protesters in the gallery interrupted the hearing, chanting "never again, never again to martial law" before being escorted out. Duterte had already beaten back a Supreme Court petition to declare martial law in Mindanao illegal. The conflict in Marawi City has left more than 600 people dead, including 105 government soldiers and 428 fighters. Forty-five civilians have been executed by the terrorists while 40 displaced residents have died from illness. More than half a million people have been forced to flee their homes in Marawi City and surrounding towns due to the crisis.
Philippines/the New People's Army – Troops in the Philippines have killed four communist rebels during clashes in the eastern part of the country, a regional police spokesperson said on the 28 Jul 17. The slain guerrillas included a regional commander of the New People's Army, the armed wing of the rebel group known as the Communist Party of the Philippines, police superintendent Nonito Marquez said on Friday. No casualties were reported on the military side, Marquez said. The soldiers were on patrol when they encountered about 30 rebels in a village in the province of Sorsogon, 383 kilometres southeast of Manila, he said. The firefight marked the latest clash between communist rebels and government forces since President Rodrigo Duterte scrapped peace talks after a series of attacks by the guerrillas. Government troops are also fighting in the southern Philippines against hundreds of fighters allied with the Islamic State who have laid siege to Marawi City since the 23 May 17. "No more talks," he declared on the 24 Jul 17 at a press conference after his state of the nation address in Congress, vowing to prepare the armed forces for war by recruiting at least 20,000 more soldiers and purchasing new equipment.Last week, soldiers and communist rebels engaged in tit-for-tat attacks that left several dead, prompting Duterte to threaten to launch a new offensive against communist fighters. "After we finish off those [ISIL] fools there, we will re-orient our offensive against the New People's Army," he said, referring to the armed wing of the rebel group the Communist Party of the Philippines. Documents recently obtained by the army allegedly showed Maoist rebel leaders had ordered fighters to step up attacks after martial law was imposed in Mindanao on May 23, Ano said. Peace talks between the government and Netherlands-based communist rebel leaders have been suspended since May. In April, government and communist rebel negotiators agreed to an interim ceasefire, but they have not yet finalised the guidelines and rules that would make the truce effective. Communist rebels have been fighting the Philippine government since the late 1960s, making the movement one of the longest-running leftist armed uprisings in Asia. Communists reportedly shot dead two soldiers who were buying supplies at a public market in the town of Roxas in Palawan province, 510 kilometres south-west of Manila, on the 19 Jul 17. That same day, Maoist fighters attacked a checkpoint on the Mindanao Island, killing a paramilitary guard officer and injuring five soldiers from the presidential guard.
Russia/Turkey/Syria (BBC 20 Jul 17) – The ship spotters of Istanbul have become a key resource for diplomats and intelligence experts, alerting the world to the scale of Russia's campaign in Syria. It's almost midnight. I've just got to sleep at the end of a long day travelling to Istanbul, when my phone beeps with a message.
"Slightly bad news," it says.
"Alexander Tkachenko will enter Bosphorus at 04:20.
"Very inconvenient. There is absolutely no guarantee we will see anything at all."
The Alexander Tkachenko is a massive Russian roll-on roll-off passenger ferry that has passed through the Bosphorus several times before, carrying military trucks and other equipment bound for Syria on an open deck. The boat may not have visible cargo this time. And in any case, 4.20am is well before dawn at this time of year in Turkey. It will still be dark. But that won't stop Yoruk Isik, who sent the message, from getting up to position himself at a good vantage point on the banks of the Bosphorus Straits in the heart of Istanbul with his binoculars and zoom lens camera. He'll be ready to tweet the news of the ship's passage to his many avid followers, who now include diplomats and intelligence analysts worldwide. And he's inviting me to come with him, though he adds: "I will feel very guilty if there is nothing on board." Of course, I get up too. That's what I've come for. Welcome to the wacky - but politically, increasingly important - world of ship-spotting. It's an international, highly collaborative, fraternity - yes, they're mainly (though not all) men - and Isik is one of its most passionate, energetic members. He's a big man in every sense of the word - bear-like, generous and funny. And he keeps himself going on strong coffee - the third love of his life, after his wife and ships - because he doesn't get much sleep. "Many times I get up at two, three or four o'clock in the morning to see things," he says. "Yes, it's very painful. I destroy many days like this." And he laughs. It's easy to understand how his addiction started. Partly it comes from living in Istanbul. The Bosphorus - the gateway to the Black Sea for ships coming from the Mediterranean - isn't the only waterway in the world that's crowded with international shipping, but no other shipping lane as busy as this runs through the heart of a huge city. So Istanbul's 15 million residents can watch massive warships and cruise ships, container vessels and tankers passing before their eyes. Only 700mts wide at its narrowest point, the Bosphorus is so busy that to avoid accidents, the Turkish authorities operate a one-way system, regularly changing the direction of travel according to demand. Ships going the other way must wait at the northern or southern entrance. Isik has his favourite vantage points for spotting - most of them at one of the Strait's many bends. But often he just watches from his own balcony. "This ship spotting is a mirror of international relations, politics, what is happening now," he says. "The trade wars between Russia and Turkey, the US presence in the Black Sea supporting its NATO allies, or Russia trying to reinsert itself in the Middle East - it is all happening in the middle of this town!" Isik - who earns a living as an international affairs consultant - logs the passage of boats of all kinds. One he lay in wait for recently at a waterside cafe was the largest construction vessel in the world, the Pioneering Spirit, the length of six jumbo jets, passing through the Bosphorus on its way to lay the TurkStream gas pipeline off the Russian coast. It's so big that the strait had to be closed to other shipping as it went through. But it's warships that most fascinate Isik and his ship-spotting friend Devrim Yaylali, who edits the Bosphorus Naval News website. Yaylali, an economist, has been watching ships for even longer than Isik - since he commuted across the Bosphorus to school in his early teens, during the Cold War. He was so curious about Soviet ships that one day he even skipped a school exam to photograph the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, now the flagship of the Russian navy, on its inaugural passage through Istanbul. Today Isik and Yaylali are kept busier and busier - naval traffic through the Bosphorus has increased since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, on the northern side of the Black Sea, in 2014. The Kremlin has been strengthening its military defences in Crimea - and modernising its Black Sea fleet based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. "Russia has already bought three brand new Kilo Class nuclear-engine submarines - and a fourth is about to come," Isik says. "That shows their interest in asserting influence over the Black Sea." But NATO has said it will bolster its naval presence in the region in response. In April, Isik spotted the UK destroyer HMS Daring passing through Istanbul - a rare Royal Navy operational deployment to the Black Sea. "The current situation is more scary than the Cold War to me," he says. "There is the possibility, if not of more hot military action, certainly of more military face-offs." But for now the greatest danger of a face-off is over Syria - and since the start of Russia's involvement in the war there nearly two years ago, Isik and his fellow Istanbul ship-spotters have played a key role in alerting the world to the scale of the Kremlin's military commitment. All Russian ships travelling to Syria from Sevastopol or Russia's other Black Sea base at Novorossiysk must pass through the Bosphorus. And sometimes, Isik says, Russia seems keen to flaunt its controversial campaign. His most famous shot, taken in December 2015 - and retweeted around the world - was of a Russian soldier standing on the deck of a landing ship holding a shoulder-launched missile, an Igla rocket, as the vessel passed through the centre of Istanbul. Russian warships, like those of other Black Sea nations, have full rights of passage through the Bosphorus in peacetime. Non-Black Sea states have more limited naval rights. But that image - taken shortly after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane for allegedly violating its airspace - was judged so provocative by Ankara that it sent a diplomatic note to Moscow in protest. "I didn't even see (the rocket) with my naked eye - only when I downloaded the picture," Isik says. "In the end, I couldn't decide whether it was done on the order of Moscow - or just the initiative of the soldier or captain." As for the Aleksandr Tkachenko - the ship we've both given up our sleep for - it eventually emerges as predicted out of the early morning mist round a bend in the Bosphorus - loaded with row upon row of olive-green Kamaz military trucks. Isik throws himself into a photographic frenzy. "I'm quite excited," he says, "because when the Russian government made a contract with this ship one-and-a-half years ago, it was secret, they didn't announce it - and this shows their approach to the war. NATO ships are stronger than Russia's navy - but with what they have, Russia successfully launched a campaign 1,000 miles from Sevastopol." "I was the first to notice that Russia was carrying military vehicles on civilian vessels and it showed even more that they were deepening their commitment." "So, Tim, do you feel the excitement of the ship spotter right now?" Isik asks. "I love mystery, and it's like a puzzle when we see ships carrying things from point A to point B - and with the help of other ship spotters you can solve this puzzle."
Ukraine/United States/Russia – The new US special representative for Ukraine says Washington is actively reviewing whether to send weapons to help those fighting against Russian-backed rebels. Kurt Volker said that arming Ukrainian government forces could change Moscow's approach. He said he did not think the move would be provocative. Russia warned that anything that heightened tension could jeopardise a solution to the conflict. Mr Volker, a former US permanent representative to NATO was given the role in Kiev earlier this month. "Defensive weapons, ones that would allow Ukraine to defend itself, and to take out tanks for example, would actually help" stop Russia threatening Ukraine, he said in an interview. "I'm not again predicting where we go on this. That's a matter for further discussion and decision. But I think that argument that it would be provocative to Russia or emboldening of Ukraine is just getting it backwards," he added. He said success in establishing peace in eastern Ukraine would require what he called a new strategic dialogue with Russia. On a visit to the front line on the 23 Jul 17 Mr Volker had described the situation as a "hot war" that had to be addressed as quickly as possible. Responding to Mr Volker's latest remarks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "We have said more than once that any actions that provoke tension on the line of separation, that provoke a situation which is already complex, will only take us further away from the moment when this internal Ukrainian issue is resolved." The UN says more than 10,000 people have died since the eastern Ukraine conflict erupted in Apr 14, soon after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. The fighting has displaced more than 1.6 million people. A ceasefire was agreed in Minsk in Feb 15, but its terms are far from being fulfilled. The leaders of France and Germany discussed the conflict over the phone with the presidents of Ukraine and Russia late on the 24 Jul 17. There has been a sharp rise in violence in which eight Ukrainian soldiers were killed over 24 hours. The US Department of State called it "the deadliest one-day period in 2017" in the eastern Ukraine conflict. In a video statement, the department blamed the "Russian-led" rebels for the flare-up.