Hold Your Fire! (Season 3)
Hold Your Fire! (Season 3)

Hold Your Fire! (Season 3)

Join Crisis Group Executive Vice President Richard Atwood as he dives deep into the conflicts that rage around the globe. He speaks with Crisis Group field analysts and special guests to get their unique, on-the-ground perspective. Episodes from past seasons of Hold Your Fire! can be found here: Season 1 and Season 2.

Season 3

Episode 4: The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

On 31 July, a U.S. drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul. Zawahiri appears to have been living in a house maintained by the family of powerful Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. His death came almost a year after U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban routed the former Afghan security forces and seized power. The Taliban’s uncompromising rule over the past year has seen girls denied their right to education, many other rights and freedoms curtailed and power tightly guarded within the Taliban movement. The Afghan economy has collapsed, owing in large part to the U.S. and other countries’ freezing Afghan Central Bank assets, keeping sanctions against the Taliban in place and denying the country non-humanitarian aid. Levels of violence across the country are mostly down, but Afghans’ plight is desperate, with a grave humanitarian crisis set to worsen over the winter. The Taliban’s apparent harbouring of Zawahiri seems unlikely to smooth relations between the new authorities in Kabul and the outside world. 

This week on Hold your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s broader foreign relations after Zawahiri’s killing. They discuss what his presence and death in Kabul mean for U.S. policy and what they say about the threat posed by transnational militants sheltering in Afghanistan. They look into how countries in the region are seeking to protect their interests in Afghanistan, including by engaging with the de facto Taliban authorities, and how those countries – particularly Pakistan, which has faced an uptick of violence in the past year – view the danger from foreign militants in Afghanistan. They also look in depth at Washington’s goals in Afghanistan a year after the withdrawal and what balance it should strike between engaging the Taliban or seeking to isolate them. Just over a year after the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover, they reflect back on Washington’s decision to pull out troops. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Afghanistan, check out Crisis Group’s recent report Afghanistan’s Security Challenges under the Taliban.

Episode 3: Back to War in Ethiopia

Just a few months back, a humanitarian truce in Ethiopia offered a glimmer of hope that an end might be in sight to the war in and around the country’s northern Tigray region. Fighting pitted the federal government, forces from the Amhara region, bordering Tigray, and Eritrean troops on one hand, against Tigrayan forces on the other. In March, the federal government and Tigrayan leaders announced a cessation of hostilities. Formal peace talks were supposed to follow. But the last few weeks have seen the truce collapse and conflict resume across several front lines, with Tigrayan leaders accusing Eritrean forces of advancing en masse. The return to the battlefield marks another nasty turn in a war that has had a catastrophic human toll – a UN report this week points to war crimes by all sides – but garners relatively little international attention. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood catches up with Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Ethiopia William Davison to make sense of what’s happening. They discuss why the truce failed to hold over the summer, and notably why Tigrayan leaders chafe at the federal government’s refusal to restore basic services – electricity, telecommunications and banking – in Tigray. They talk about the war’s human toll and this past week’s UN human rights experts’ report. They examine the thorny challenges to peace talks, especially the disputed territory of Western Tigray, part of the region since the 1990s but captured by Amhara forces in the war’s early days. They talk about Eritrea’s role and whether the Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki would accept any deal that left the Tigrayan leadership in place. They also talk about both sides’ apparent goals – for the Ethiopian government and allied forces, subduing the Tigrayan leadership; for Tigrayan forces, breaking the siege – and why neither is likely to prevail militarily any time soon. Finally, they discuss the prospects for bringing the parties back to the table, and what foreign diplomats involved can do.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Tigray, check out Crisis Group’s recent statement: Avoiding the Abyss as War Resumes in Northern Ethiopia.

Episode 2: What to Watch at the UN General Assembly, plus Ukraine’s Kharkiv Offensive and the Armenia-Azerbaijan Border Clashes

World leaders are gathering this week in New York for UN General Assembly week, in an event that looks set to be overshadowed by Russia’s war in Ukraine and skyrocketing food and fuel prices. In a two-part episode, Richard talks first to Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director Olga Oliker to get the latest on Russia’s war in Ukraine, particularly how Ukrainian forces recaptured large chunks of Russian-held territory in the Kharkiv region in a matter of days, and what their advance might mean for the war. They also catch up on the recent clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and whether the fallout from the Ukraine war might have emboldened Baku.

Richard then talks to Crisis Group’s UN Director Richard Gowan about what we should be watching during UN General Assembly week. They talk about UN Security Council politics over Ukraine and how the world body, including the Secretary-General, has responded to the crisis more broadly. They also discuss other crises the UN is dealing with, from peacekeepers struggling in parts of Africa to UN envoys’ efforts in the Middle East and the UN’s role in Afghanistan. Lastly, they look at prospects for UN reform, what appetite there is on the UN Security Council, particularly among its permanent five members, for change and – more broadly – what we can expect of the world body in an era of fraught geopolitics and resurgent nationalism.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more analysis ahead of the UN General Assembly’s 77th session, check out Crisis Group’s special briefing: Ten Challenges for the UN in 2022-2023.

Episode 1: Iraq’s Political Crisis, Moqtada al-Sadr and a Divided Shia House

Almost a year since Iraq’s parliamentary elections in October 2021, the country’s political parties have struggled to form a new government. Despite doing well in the vote, the Sadrist Movement, led by powerful Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, has been thwarted in its attempts to build a governing coalition, thanks to a decision by Iraq’s Supreme Court. The court required a two-thirds quorum to convene parliament to select a president, who in turn would nominate the prime minister. In protest, al-Sadr threatened to quit politics and withdrew his deputies from parliament. Days later, his supporters, who had occupied parliament and entered the presidential palace, clashed with paramilitary groups loyal to al-Sadr’s Shia rivals. The fighting was the worst the capital Baghdad had seen in years. Violence has abated for now, but it is far from clear whether Sadr and his rivals can reach agreement on a way forward.

In our first episode of Season 3 of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Crisis Group’s Senior Iraq Analyst Lahib Higel to make sense of the political turmoil engulfing the country. They talk about how the crisis came about and why Sadr’s attempts to form a government have failed. They discuss the opposition he faces from his main political rivals, the coalition of Shia parties known as the “Coordination Framework”, which is backed by Iran, and look at Tehran’s hand in the crisis and Washington’s influence on Iraqi politics more broadly. They talk about the prospects for rapprochement between al-Sadr and his Shia rivals, as negotiations on a new government look set to resume amid calls for early elections. They also assess risks of another bout of fighting. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Iraq, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Iraq country page.