Daily Memo: Attacks on Aramco, Developments in Afghanistan, the US in the South China Sea

What's geopolitically important today.

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Attacks on Aramco. Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for drone attacks on two Saudi Aramco facilities today. Though Saudi Arabia has not yet identified a culprit, the Houthis announced that they’d carried out the attack using 10 drones. If true, it makes this one of the largest drone attacks the Houthis have conducted on Saudi soil. A Houthi spokesperson also said the attack was carried out with insider help. The Saudi Interior Ministry claimed that the fires caused by the attacks were under control as of Saturday afternoon. Notably, the two plants that were targeted, Abqaiq and Khurais, are not near the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border, unlike Abha Airport, the site of another recent Houthi attack. Rather, the locations are in eastern Saudi Arabia, near the Persian Gulf – an indication that Houthi drone strike capabilities and the group’s ability to penetrate Saudi air defenses are growing.

Developments in the Afghan peace deal. A Taliban delegation has arrived in Moscow, a week after U.S. President Donald Trump canceled a secret meeting with the Taliban at Camp David. In Russia, a Taliban spokesperson said the group had already agreed to a cease-fire that would have gone into effect if the U.S. had signed the deal. The spokesperson said the trip’s purpose was to inform regional leaders that the U.S. called off the peace deal after the two sides had “resolved all outstanding issues and were about to sign a peace agreement.” But an anonymous source speaking to Reuters added that the trip was also intended to get a reading on how much regional support the U.S. has to force the Taliban out of Afghanistan.

U.S. destroyer expelled? China’s Defense Ministry said it expelled on Friday a U.S. destroyer that was conducting a freedom of navigation operation near the Paracel Islands. It’s not entirely clear yet what exactly “expel” means. The U.S. routinely conducts such operations to challenge China’s claim of territorial sovereignty over these waters, and it’s become more common for People’s Liberation Army Navy ships to shadow such operations. A spokesperson for the PLA’s Southern Theater Command, Sr. Col. Li Huamin, said the PLA Navy and air force “shadowed, identified, monitored, warned, and expelled the destroyer,” without specifying what actions were taken to expel the ship. Most likely, the PLA Navy is simply continuing to shadow U.S. ships conducting freedom of navigation operations and taking credit for the vessels’ departures once the operations are completed. However, if Beijing did in fact take kinetic action to force U.S. ships out of these waters, expect a response from the U.S. to be forthcoming.

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