Strategic SitRep 7/3-7/9

US provides Cluster Bombs to Ukraine, Isis Leader eliminated, Surprising news from Uzbekistan

Issue # 8

Contentious Aid: The US’s Controversial Decision to Provide Ukraine with Cluster Munitions amidst Ongoing Conflict

In an unexpected policy shift, the White House has disclosed that it will be dispatching cluster munitions to Ukraine. This decision comes as a part of a novel military aid package aimed to bolster Ukraine's defense in its ongoing conflict with Russia. The decision ends months of internal discussions within the Biden administration concerning the provision of these controversial armaments to Kyiv.

Cluster munitions are internationally contentious. Over 100 nations, including many US allies, have prohibited their use due to the potential for extensive collateral damage and long-term harm to civilian populations. Nevertheless, the US national security team, after extensive deliberation and in consultation with allies, partners, and Congressional members, recommended the adoption of this strategy, which was subsequently approved by President Biden.

So, what does this mean?

This is a critical shift in US policy, indicating the magnitude of concern the US has regarding Ukraine's ability to counter Russian aggression. It shows the lengths to which the Biden administration is willing to go to support Ukraine, even if it means walking a controversial path. However, it also has potential ramifications regarding the US's international standing, particularly with those allies that have banned such weaponry.

President Biden has described the decision as difficult but necessary, citing Ukraine's diminishing ammunition reserves. The cluster munitions are compatible with the 155mm howitzers that the US is also supplying to Ukraine. According to Biden, these munitions are intended as a "transition period" while the US is ramping up production of more 155mm artillery.

Cluster munitions, also known as cluster bombs, are shells that contain numerous smaller submunitions, or "bomblets". These canisters can be launched from various platforms, including aircraft, missiles, or artillery. However, their widespread dispersal and high dud rate - with up to 40% failing to detonate on impact - lead to lingering dangers in post-conflict areas, posing risks to civilians even decades after their deployment.

Considering this inherent risk, the decision to deploy cluster munitions is indeed a contentious one. Gilles Carbonnier, Vice President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has previously described these weapons as one of the most treacherous in the world due to their indiscriminate nature and cause of widespread human suffering.

Moving forward, the international community will be closely monitoring the unfolding situation and the implications of this recent US policy shift. This decision opens a new chapter in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, where the scales of warfare and the international response remain unpredictable.

MQ-9 Reaper Drones Overcome Russian Harassment to Eliminate ISIS Leader in Syria

The U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed the execution of a drone strike in Syria that successfully neutralized Usamah al-Muhajir, a prominent leader of the Islamic State (IS) group. The strike was orchestrated by MQ-9 Reaper drones, which had earlier encountered hostile behavior from Russian military jets in the western part of Syria.

On Friday, three Reapers were reportedly on a mission to locate the IS leader when they experienced approximately two hours of harassment from Russian aircraft. Notwithstanding this provocation, the U.S. drones managed to strike their target, who was riding a motorcycle in the Aleppo region of Syria at the time. Typically, al-Muhajir operated in eastern Syria, but he was in the northwest region when the strike occurred.

So, what does this mean?

This event demonstrates a significant escalation in the tensions between Russian and U.S. military operations in Syria. The recurring incidents of Russian military jets exhibiting "unsafe and unprofessional behavior" towards U.S. drones raise serious concerns over international military protocols and regional stability.

The MQ-9 Reaper drones were unarmed during the initial incidents, but they were equipped with weapons during Friday's operation to target al-Muhajir. The successful strike, despite Russian interference, underlines the U.S. commitment to combating ISIS in the region, as reiterated by Gen. Erik Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command.

The U.S. military's identification and elimination of the target amidst these tensions are not yet fully detailed. However, U.S. Central Command has affirmed that there are no signs of civilian casualties, although it is evaluating reports of potential civilian injury.

These developments unfold amidst a six-day joint training operation between Russian and Syrian militaries, led by Rear Adm. Oleg Gurinov, head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria. Gurinov voiced concerns over the U.S.-led coalition's drone flights over northern Syria, labeling them as "systematic violations of protocols" meant to prevent military clashes.

Moving forward, it remains to be seen how these increasing tensions between U.S. and Russian forces in Syria may impact future operations and the broader regional dynamic. The ongoing use of drones, their importance in modern warfare, and the associated risks and challenges they pose in relation to international military conduct will continue to be a subject of scrutiny.

Uzbekistan Presidential Election: Shavkat Mirziyoyev Poised for Third Term Amid Unchallenged Run

In a widely anticipated move, Uzbekistan's incumbent President Shavkat Mirziyoyev appears poised to secure a third term following the nation's presidential election on Sunday, July 9. Mirziyoyev, who has been instrumental in opening up the gas-rich Central Asian state to foreign investment and tourism, was running against three largely unknown candidates.

Since ascending to the presidency in 2016 after serving as prime minister under his hardline predecessor, Islam Karimov, Mirziyoyev has been re-elected once in 2021. A constitutional referendum held earlier this year extended the presidential term from five to seven years and permitted him to serve two additional terms, potentially keeping him in power until 2037.

So, what does this mean?

The anticipated victory of Mirziyoyev signals the continuity of his reform agenda for Uzbekistan, which has included ending forced labor in the country's cotton fields and releasing political prisoners from Karimov's reign. However, despite these improvements, non-governmental organizations indicate that there is significant room for human rights advancements, and a genuine political opposition remains absent in the country.

The "New Uzbekistan" envisioned by Mirziyoyev has resonated with many Uzbeks who hope for more anti-corruption efforts, ecological problem-solving, and increased opportunities for young people. Nevertheless, some citizens like Abduali Nurmatov, 64, express concerns about practical issues such as frequent gas and electricity cuts experienced during the previous winter.

Despite the reforms and domestic popularity, the election process has drawn criticism for its lack of real opposition. Farkhod Talipov, an Uzbek political expert, characterized the other candidates as "completely unknown and unpopular," serving only to simulate a non-existent political struggle. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) also echoed this sentiment, noting the "low-key" nature of the campaign, reflecting the lack of opposition to the incumbent.

Mirziyoyev's re-election campaign primarily emphasized economic and educational advancement, with an ambitious target to double the country's gross domestic product to US$160 billion in the near future. As the political trajectory of Uzbekistan seems set for the next few years, the world will watch to see if these economic goals are realized and if human rights and democratic principles make significant strides.