Philippines counterinsurgency campaign: Shortly after the Southeast Asian country’s military killed the reputed top brass of Islamic State (IS)-affiliated militants this week, President Rodrigo Duterte declared: “I hereby declare Marawi city liberated from the terrorist influence.” Almost five months into the siege of Marawi, security officials this week verified the death of Isnilon Hapilon, the designated “emir” of the IS movement in Southeast Asia, and Omar Maute, the top military commander of the IS-linked Maute Group in the Philippines, Richard Javad Heydarian writes. Omar’s brother, Abdullah, was killed in September, decapitating the eponymous group’s twin leadership. Intermittent firefights have continued across the city, with several foreign fighters still holding hostages and refusing to surrender to the authorities. Officials are now cautiously assessing the situation on the ground before giving the green light for the return of hundreds of thousands of displaced Marawi residents. READ THE STORY HERE
How Somalia's Deadliest Attack Ever Tore Open the Heart of a Nation // Abdi Latif Dahir The collective rage over the Mogadishu bombing ignited a renewed sense of unity among Somalis, leading to protests in major cities and the staging of solidarity events.
India security panic: Asia Times has learned that Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju lost his phone for a number of hours on October 7 while attending a concert in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, a state that has been riven by insurgency for almost three decades, Majid Hyderiwrites. The minister uses his smartphone to access social media as well as email. Other “sensitive information” stored on it includes contact details for key party colleagues from the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party, and for top security officials. Luckily for Rijiju, a party colleague happened to pick up his phone after he had left the venue. Rijiju was in Kashmir to review the security situation. READ THE STORY HERE
Syrian conflict endgame: Three cities – Deir ez-Zour, al-Raqqa, and Idlib – will define how the country shapes up post-Islamic State, Sami Moubayed writes. Contrary to what many presume, very little fighting is now taking place on the streets of Syria, as key players edge towards under-the-table agreements. Over the weekend, Moscow hosted Sipan Hamo, commander of the powerful all-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, the last standing US-backed militia on the Syrian battlefield. It was the most senior visit by a Kurdish military official to Moscow since the Russian army joined the Syrian War in 2015. Hamo met with officials to discuss the future of Deir ez-Zour and al-Raqqa, two cities along the Euphrates River which – at time of writing – appear to be in their final hours of control by Islamic State. READ THE STORY HERE
Russian arms transfers: Moscow’s sale of a better defense system to the Saudis than to its “ally” Iran is consistent with the pattern of its attempts to influence outcomes in the region, David P Goldman writes. Iran, habitually characterized as Russia’s “ally” in Western media, was permitted to purchase a much older and inferior Russian system, the S-300. But Saudi Arabia, as well as Russia’s Cold War adversary Turkey, will buy the far more advanced S-400, which is considered a “game-changer” and is highly effective against the sort of cruise and ballistic missiles that Iran will be able to field over the next several years. Russia does not have the wherewithal to replace the United States as a regional hegemon, but it does have considerable means to affect the balance of power through carefully calibrated weapons sales to the opposing Persian Gulf powers. READ THE STORY HERE
Iran nuclear deal: While everyone was focused on what US President Donald Trump had to say on Friday regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, what got overlooked is that he also unveiled a brave new Iran strategy for the post-Islamic State era, MK Bhadrakumar writes. Trump’s Iran strategy is a dream project for Saudi Arabia and the UAE – and for Israel. It may seem like a relaunch of the old enterprise to contain Iran, built around an alliance system involving the US and its regional allies. But the circumstances today are different. The US and its allies stare at defeat in the Syrian conflict and are circling their wagons to stave off an ignominious rout with long-term consequences. Faced with Iran’s surge, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are willing to proclaim a convergence of interests with Israel. READ THE STORY HERE
China Down Under: In Australia, Beijing’s power is exercised through a complex mix of influence-peddling, political donations, infrastructure development, agricultural purchases, media influence (both in Mandarin and English), oversight of Chinese students and plain espionage, Helen Clark writes. China is increasingly important to the Australian economy, but the terms of exchange are under growing scrutiny, including the largely misunderstood notion of China’s exercise of so-called “soft power.” As China’s influence grows, there is little that resembles traditional concepts of soft power, or overtures that entice others to voluntarily adopt a common viewpoint. That was witnessed in Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s warning this week to Chinese students enrolled at Australian universities to respect others’ freedom of speech after a series of incidents pitting students versus professors on touchy territorial issues related to China. READ THE STORY HERE
Southeast Asia diplomacy: A long-running territorial dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste is a step closer to resolution with last month’s announcement that talks at The Hague arrived at a new maritime border treaty for the Timor Sea, Erin Cook writes. The contested sea is home to the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, with estimated reserves worth over US$31 billion, sitting between one of the world’s most affluent and one of its poorest nations. Oil revenue makes up around 80% of Timor-Leste’s national revenue and with concerns current fields will be depleted within the next decade, Dili needs new exploration and production to prevent fiscal collapse while the government rolls out plans to lessen reliance on natural resources. Full details of the agreement are expected to be announced in late October, after a finalization process of the treaty is completed by The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration. READ THE STORY HERE
Australia-Philippines security cooperation: The two countries have drawn closer to fight Islamic State, a strategic shift that aims to rebuild broken strategic bridges between Manila and the West, Richard Javad Heydarian writes. Australia was among the first regional powers to ring alarm bells over the threat posed by Islamic State to the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The warning came weeks before local and foreign militants first laid siege to the city of Marawi on May 22, a four-month-old urban warfare battle Manila is still struggling to finish. “We’re coping … we also hope [the Marawi battle] will be finished in about one week,” declared Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte aboard Australia’s largest warship, the HMAS Adelaide, during a goodwill mission to Manila on October 10. Since September, a fleet of six Australian Navy ships carrying as many as 1,200 Australian Defense Force personnel has toured the region under the Indo-Pacific Endeavor 2017 – a muscular expression of Australia’s growing naval presence in adjacent waterways. READ THE STORY HERE
Sino-Japanese maritime dispute: Since the friction over the southern Senkaku islands (Diaoyu to the Chinese) began to intensify around 2010, China has steadily expanded its fishing fleet, coast guard, and naval activities around them, Grant Newsham writes. Chinese ships are in more places, more often, and in greater numbers than the Japanese Coast Guard can handle. China’s air force also routinely intrudes into Japan’s airspace, while harried Japanese jets dutifully scramble to intercept. In one brazen case of letting Japan know what’s in store, Beijing in August 2016 sent well over 200 fishing boats and 15 coast guard ships to the Senkakus – with China’s navy over the horizon. There was little the outmanned Japanese could do. Not surprisingly, China reckons it can take the Senkakus whenever it wishes. It’s only a question of time before Chinese “fishermen” land on the Senkakus, and the Chinese Coast Guard dares the Japanese to respond. And there’s more to it than just the Senkakus. Beijing has quietly stated that the entire island chain, which is known in Japan as the Nansei Shoto and includes Okinawa, is properly Chinese territory. READ THE STORY HERE
China party congress: The twice-a-decade event is billed as a bottom-up election, with constitutional authority bestowed on several thousand congressional delegates to vote on a 200-member committee, which in turn elects around 25 Politburo members, five to ten standing committee members and the party’s general secretary – China’s top leader, Christopher Scott writes. The legacy of President Xi Jinping will be measured by appointments to key positions and the possible enshrining of his political philosophies into the party’s constitution. Political observers, as well as the markets, will anxiously await revelations on these two fronts. The composition of the 19th Party Congress Politburo and Standing Committee will likely not be revealed until the last day (October 25), but Xi’s work report was revealed today. As actually implemented, the positions are decided in advance of the meetings through a process of jostling and closed-door deliberations among the country’s top leaders. What we know: Xi Jinping will be reelected to a second term as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. READ THE STORY HERE
The Clock is Ticking in China: The Decade of Concern Has Begun
By Jim Fanell, Proceedings Magazine: “On 30 July 2017, as part of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Chinese President Xi Jinping reviewed more than 12,000 soldiers, airmen, sailors, rocket, and strategic support troops at the Zhurihe military training base 250 miles northwest of Beijing. While most China “experts” focused on the unprecedented holding of a parade at a remote military base in Inner Mongolia or on the different kinds of military forces on display, this community once again missed the forest for the trees. From my vantage, the most important thing to happen at this event was Chinese President Xi Jinping’s declaration that the “PLA has the confidence and capability to defeat all invading enemies and safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security, and developmental interests” (emphasis mine).”
Trump’s Threat to Nuclear Order
By Kingston Reif & Kelsey Davenport, War on the Rocks: “The Trump administration and Congress face critical decisions over the next several months that could have bigly consequences for the international nuclear order.”
CHINA SEEKS TO COMPEL SAUDI ARABIA TO DENOMINATE OIL IN YUAN; KILLING U.S. DOLLAR AS RESERVE CURRENCY AND OUR PROSPERITY
Russia strikes energy deals with MoroccoRussian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met Wednesday with his Moroccan counterpart, President Saadeddine El Othmani, as part of a swing through North Africa that took him to Algeria earlier this week. The two signed 11 agreements covering cooperation on customs, the military, agriculture and culture as well as energy efficiency and nuclear energy. Medvedev, traveling with a large delegation of Russian government officials and business executives, highlighted the “huge” prospects for cooperation in the energy sector and spoke of a “very promising project” to supply Morocco with liquefied natural gas “to meet the needs of the Moroccan economy.”
The Storm Gathers and America Is Unready
By Dakota L. Wood, War on the Rocks: “Unable to pay for the large force needed to sustain operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a variety of commitments around the world, the military shrank in size but saw little reduction in its workload. In fact, it started consuming itself, deferring maintenance and modernization to pay for current readiness and the immediate expenses of fuel, ammunition, and replacement of equipment lost in combat operations.”
Malaysia’s sectarian divide: A string of racial and religious incidents in the Southeast Asian country has brought concerns of rising Islamic conservatism to the fore, intensifying friction between Muslims and non-Muslims as the government plays on identity issues ahead of what is expected to be a jarring and contentious election season, Nile Bowie writes. Religion has become increasingly central to Malaysian public life in the past decade, as religious institutions steadily expand their jurisdictions in favor of a narrow interpretation of Islam and Muslim identity. Though long part of the political landscape, the politicization of Islam has increased in recent years. Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Najib Razak has been accused of coddling religious hardliners, and while he tries to cultivate a global reputation as a moderate Muslim leader in the fight against extremism, Malaysia’s reputation as a tolerant Islamic country has ebbed under his leadership. READ THE STORY HERE
U.S., NIGER: U.S. Special Forces Troops Killed During Joint Patrol in Niger
By Caleb Weiss, FDD's The Long War Journal: “A joint U.S.-Nigerien patrol near the Malian border came under fire by suspected jihadists emanating from Mali. According to reports, at least three U.S. Special Forces soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in the ambush.”
Philippines Faces Long Slog Against ISIS | Bennett Seftel, The Cipher Brief
Now into its fourth month, fighting between Philippine forces and pro-ISIS militants in the Philippine island of Mindanao has nearly subsided, with only a handful of terrorists continuing to hold pockets in the city of Marawi. But despite this apparent victory, questions linger over the broader extremist threat facing the Philippines as well as southeast Asia in its entirety.
Filipino ISIS ‘Not a Rag-Tag Group of Rebels’ | Michael Kugelman, Senior Associate for South Asia, Wilson Center
"This was not a rag-tag group of local rebels rising up against the state; these are well-armed and well-trained militants aligned with ISIS and well-versed in its tactics.
Manila Scores a Victory Against ISIS but More Battles Loom | Rohan Gunaratna, Head, International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Nanyang Technical University
The very presence of ISIS in Mindanao threatens not only the Philippines but its neighbors. ISIS created its East Asia division with the intention of expanding from the Philippines to parts of Northeast and Southeast Asia. If ISIS spreads to Sabah in Malaysia and Eastern Indonesia, it will pose a significant challenge to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the entire region.