Bulletin From The Borderlands
15 May 2023
Note from Lethal Minds:
Bulletin From The Borderlands is a joint project between Lethal Minds and some of the most talented OSINT analysts and independent journalists working today. Our goal is to provide you with a clear, accurate, and informative view of the world, free from censorship or bias. The Bulletin will bring you the facts, our analysis, and our evidence. We hope you find our work helps you better understand the complicated and increasingly volatile world in which we live.
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The Bulletin Team:
Kitbag Conversations : A team of retired Marine and Army Intelligence analysts and the founders of the Croatoan Report and Kitbag Conversations, foreign policy and security affairs podcasts. The Team Leader for Bulletin From The Borderlands.
Analyze Educate : Brodie Kirkpatrick (Analyze & Educate) is a Marine Corps infantry veteran. He attends San Jose State University and is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. He runs Analyze & Educate, a podcast and associated social media pages discussing geopolitics, armed conflicts, news, and history. In his capacity with Lethal Minds he is the assistant lead for the Bulletin From the Borderlands, Americas Desk chief, and an editor.
Meridian News : Meridian News is a project dedicated to sharing and aggregating open source intelligence, stories from individuals experiencing history, and amplifying underreported global news.
Sino Talk : Sino Talk is China watcher with extensive experience living and studying in China. In another life, he was a Marine intelligence analyst.
The Expeditionary Intelligence Group : The Expeditionary Intelligence Group Instagram page is a project delivering flash news utilizing open-source intelligence combined with human asset contributions and geographic intelligence to provide the general public with objective bias-free global news that tells the whole story based on the facts and on-the-ground insights they feel are missing from a lot of mainstream news reporting.
S2 Forward : A serving US Marine and Intelligence analyst, S2 Forward is focused primarily on the Mid East and Central Asia.
Callisto Report: The Callisto Report is an OSINT project dedicated to delivering timely open source analysis and conflict reporting, and chronicling global events.
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In This Issue:
The Americas :
As near peer adversaries step up to the plate, the United States feels pressure in its usual stomping grounds. Throughout the 20th century, the US ran rampant in South America, but has largely neglected the Monroe Doctrine and its allies in the south as the 21st century moved foreign conflicts to the Middle East. However, after fatigue from decades of war in the desert, the United States was exiting the region to focus more on East Asia and the Homefront. This gap has left large holes for China, Russia, and Iran to fill, causing the United States to return to both South America and the Middle East to defend old allies and threaten old enemies.
The past two weeks in Europe have been eventful with a new candidate backed by six different opposition parties threatening Turkish President Erdogan’s two-decade rule. With the May 14th election coming to a close where neither candidate reached the required 50% majority, a run-off is set to ensue later this month. As for Eastern Europe, Russia is resisting the renewal of the Black Sea Grain Deal, set to occur in just a few days, that has enabled the export of nearly 30 million tons of food from Ukraine since the start of the war. Ukraine claims the end of the deal would not be disastrous, which may be true for Ukraine’s economy, but could cause famine across the Middle East and African Nations who are the primary recipients of the exports.
East Asia and Oceania:
Increased tensions and increased cooperation were trends for the region. A People’s Liberation Army Navy flotilla continues its 12-day circumnavigation of Japan as the country prepares to host the G-7 summit in the city of Hiroshima. The flotilla is a response to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s comments about Taiwan and the recent news that Japan is talks with NATO to open a regional office in the country. A Taiwanese drone company recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with an U.S. radar company to develop drones. The signing of the MOU comes as several U.S. defense contractors visited Taiwan to explore ways to produce various defense components on the island. South Korea and Japan will agree to link their radar systems to track North Korean missile launches. China recently conducted aircraft carrier training off the coast of Guam that also included the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) in the exercise.
Within Southeast Asia, elections and sovereignty disputes were significant issues. A Chinese research vessel was flanked by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel along with several fishing vessels as it monitored and sailed through a joint Russian-Vietnamese gas block. The move was China’s attempt to push their sovereignty claims over the South China Sea (SCS) while disrupting other countries’ operations. Thailand recently held its first election in approximately four years and vote counting is underway to determine the winners. Preliminary results indicate opposition parties Pheu Thai and Move Forward Party won the most votes and will likely form a coalition government. The Pheu Thai party is led by Paethongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Cyclone Mocha made landfall on the coasts of Bangladesh and Myanmar, causing significant damage as it moved inland.
International agreements were also a huge agenda in the Oceania region, with the United States and Papua New Guinea (PNG) potentially signing a new defense pact, allowing the United States access to military bases throughout the country. Papua New Guinea would receive double of the development assistance from the United States if the pact is signed.
Central Asia and the Mid East:
Over the past two weeks, Israeli Defense Forces and the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad have exchanged hundreds of rockets and airstrikes, which culminated on Saturday after both parties agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt – the overall fighting resulted in the deaths of 35 civilians. While both parties have honored the ceasefire over the past 48 hours, it is very likely that fighting will continue and has the possibility to expand outside of Israel and the Gaza Strip if outside militant entities become more involved. Several aspects can greatly change the outcome of renewed fighting between the PIJ and the IDF – the involvement of Hamas or the Lebanese Hezbollah. It is possible that if Iran seeks to put pressure on Israel, it will almost certainly use the more extreme group like the PIJ; however, if Iran seeks to widen the conflict between Palestinian / anti-Israeli groups, it will employ Hamas or Lebanese Hezbollah. Iran may seek to use Hamas or Lebanese Hezbollah in the event of a conflict with Israel, which may occur if Israel conducts strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.
This week the Bulletin Africa team got on the ground with Nigeran SOF to bring you all an interview of the current security situation and a forecast of what is to come with the new presidency. We discussed extremist groups, banditry, and some geopolitics to hopefully paint a broader picture for those who are unaware of what is going on in the Lake Chad region.
The Big Points:
The Highlight: The Counter Attack
Ukrainian forces have begun localized counterattacks in and around Bakhmut, retaking much of the ground lost over the past three months in a 24-48 hour period. Wagner chief Yevgyenhi Prigrozhin has repeatedly warned of mass retreats by Russian army units, and has publicly announced that his own troops are without ammunition. In Moscow, a drone attack on the Kremlin prompted accusations of an assassination attempt on Vladimir Putin by Ukraine and the U.S.
An American-Chinese citizen was arrested for espionage in Hong Kong. He has been sentenced by a CCP military court to life in prison.
Iranian Republican Guard units seized another two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
Tayyip Erdogan has not decisively won his bid for re-election. The Turkish presidential election goes to a runoff.
Israeli SOF units are engaged in battles with Palestinian militant groups across Gaza and the other occupied territories.
U.S. Seeks to Re-exert Control in South America
China has been increasing their efforts to hold power in South America as they have invested heavily in building the infrastructure necessary to tap the economic potential of the region. This is to include lithium mining operations, ports, and a space monitoring station. Many US officials have been outspoken on the issue, finding the investments "unacceptable" and predatory.
US Army Gen. Laura Richardson testified to the House Armed Services Committee about the dangers of allowing China a foothold in the region. She is quoted as saying "This is a risk we absolutely cannot ignore".
Out of the 21 nations that Richardson is responsible for, many of them have elected to participate in China’s Belt and Road initiative. This initiative includes the use of Chinese firms
like Huawei for 3G and 4G networks. Richardson and many of her personnel have repeatedly warned against using Chinese firms for telecommunications due to the many potential privacy concerns, especially regarding government communications.
Brazil is one of the major points of interest for nations across the world, and it is a critical asset to the American military's defense in the region. Recently, Iran, Russia, and China have all made strides to secure closer relations with Brazil in order to undermine the US in South America. The Iranians sent warships; Russia offers military assistance to several nations in the region; and the Chinese have increased trade to almost reach the value of American trade in the region.
However, a major point that none of the United States' adversaries have been able to achieve is to hold joint strategic defense exercises with their South American allies. Beijing has not yet been able to secure any military access points in the region, while the US regularly holds joint partner training with allies in Central and South America, with one recent drill revolving around the defense of the Panama Canal.
Not all countries in South America trust the Chinese government's willingness to provide loans and military equipment, as many fear a "debt trap," which generally forces the country to default on their loans, essentially making them puppets of China. This happened most recently in Venezuela, causing massive economic crises throughout the nation and leading to civil unrest.
The US has taken notice of these advancements made by its adversaries and has begun steps to reverse the Chinese foothold. First, the Trump Presidency took the approach of reducing or canceling aid to countries that were receiving any sort of aid or strategic partnerships with China. During the Biden presidency, he has repeated the need for a stronger American influence in South America and has made advanced efforts to increase trade and military cooperation to outpace China. These efforts have been largely more effective thanks to the stagnating Chinese economy, coming off the COVID-19 pandemic. The strategy has thus far succeeded in slowing the growth of Chinese influence, but the threat remains high.
The interesting view of these relationships comes less from Washington and more from the South American countries themselves. Countries like Columbia wish to deepen ties with China while maintaining decent relations with Washington. Some countries believe that it would be best to remain neutral between America and China so as to work out "what the best deal is". Many South Americans have a deep mistrust for the United States following a century of economic, political, and military incursions into the Southern Hemisphere; however, China is not shaping up to be an adequate replacement for the United States' economic and military security in the region.
Most experts agree the United States has not been overthrown in the power balance of the region, but the competition, especially from China, remains a growing and ever-present threat. As tensions grow throughout East Asia and Chinese, Russian, and Iranian influence booms throughout the Middle East and Africa, the United States views South America as a vital region, necessary to the safety and security of the homeland and it's economic might. Therefore, as the threat continues to grow in the south, so too will the United States presence as it attempts to exert control over several continents at once1.
United States Fears Losing the Middle East
Retired Rear Admiral and current NSC Coordinator of Strategic Communications John Kirby announced on Friday, May 12, that the United States is working towards bolstering its defensive posture in the Persian Gulf. This announcement came in response to Iran’s seizure of two oil tankers in the last three weeks. The first incident occurred on April 27, when Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) seized the Advantage Sweet after claiming it had collided with an Iranian ship. The second incident occurred on May 3, when the oil tanker Niovi was captured on a judicial order following a plaintiff’s complaint. Iran’s Mizan Online News Agency failed to provide any further details about the nature of the complaint.
Some speculation has occurred as to what specifically caused Iran to seize two oil tankers within a week. Reuters reported that United States forces confiscated Iranian oil from an oil tanker named the Suez Rajan days before Iran captured the Advantage Sweet. No confirmation of this oil seizure has come from the U.S. besides an unnamed source; however, the last known position of the oil tanker was near the southern coast of Africa on April 22. An Iranian naval
commander claimed they had located a U.S. nuclear submarine cruising under escort through the Strait of Hormuz. The United States, specifically the U.S. 5th Fleet, denied this claim. The 5th Fleet directly reports to USCENTCOM and operates in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and a section of the Indian Ocean.
Following Kirby’s statement, an article from USCENTCOM shed some light on what U.S. forces in the region will be doing. USCENTCOM stated that the "U.S. 5th Fleet is working with regional allies and partners to increase the rotation of ships and aircraft patrolling in and around the Strait of Hormuz following Iran’s recent unlawful merchant vessel seizures." In two previous articles by USCENTCOM, the 5th Fleet conducted separate naval exercises with Israeli and Omani forces. In both training exercises, the focus was to increase the effectiveness of each fleet involved to enhance regional security and their ability to counter potential threats. In early April, the USS George H. W. Bush carrier strike group and a squadron of A-10 warplanes were deployed to the eastern Mediterranean to counter Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. service members in Syria. On April 23, the carrier strike group returned from its deployment. Iran may have wanted payback of some kind since they were unable to harass U.S. service members in Syria. Regardless, it is interesting that the Iranians seized an oil tanker days after the carrier strike group had cleared out of the Mediterranean before another carrier strike group could replace it.
The Strait of Hormuz, however, is the area of most concern to the U.S. and its allies. Its strategic value cannot be understated, as roughly 30% of the world’s seaborne crude oil passes through it. According to a report in 2018 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, around 1.4 million barrels per day that went through the Strait of Hormuz were imported to the United States. In 2018, the U.S. imported roughly 9.93 barrels per day, which is 14% of all oil the U.S. imported through the Strait of Hormuz, and the Department of Energy claims that 71% of the oil imported came from non-OPEC countries. These percentages illustrate the importance of the Strait of Hormuz and why the U.S. wishes to increase its presence.
There has been little news concerning the ships seized by Iran. The United States has criticized Iran’s actions, and Kirby’s announcement shows that the country is serious about potentially countering Iran in the region. No other ships have been seized yet. With a greater interest in boosting the defense capacities of its forces, the United States is better poised to counter any future seizures2.
Title 42 Officially Ends, US Braces for an Immigration Wave
The United States has officially ended the Title 42 regulations, put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to curb immigration amid the crisis. Preparing for this, tens of thousands of migrants rallied near the border, awaiting their opportunity to go into the United States. The US readied 1,500 troops for deployment to the border to boost security amid the expected influx. They will be joining the already deployed 2,500 National Guardsmen to supplement the understaffed Customs and Border Patrol agents tasked with monitoring and dealing with the border crossings.
Since its initial implementation by the Trump administration in March 2020, Title 42 has been used nearly 3 million times at the southern border, amid a significant surge in migration.
Acting Commissioner for US Customs and Border Protection, Troy Miller,explained to Congress in April that CBP is expecting more than 10,000 migrants to cross the border every day after the expiration of Title 42. That is more than double the daily average number of migrants in March.
Many fear a mass border rush is imminent, prompted by reports of a rush of more than 1,000 Venezuelans taking a major crossing point in El Paso by storm in April. Riots have already sprung up at many crossing points as soldiers prepare barbed wire to corral the thousands of potential migrants.
Despite this, the Biden administration is seemingly unworried, with the President telling reporters he has no plan to visit the border, saying the situation is, “Much better than you all expected.” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandor Mayorkas told CNN, “"The numbers we have experienced in the past two days are markedly down over what they were prior to the end of Title 42."
The administration has unveiled a plan that would make asylum seeking more difficult by requiring migrants to use an app to book an appointment with US officials or first claim asylum in another country before reaching the United States. Failure to meet these steps before crossing the border would immediately disqualify potential asylum seekers and see them deported, in theory.
CBP reported 6,300 border encounters on Friday and 4,200 on Saturday but many border officials remain skeptical3.
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