International cooperation

  • YemenYemen upheaval hobbles U.S. counterterrorism efforts there

    Following the abrupt resignation of Yemen’s president, prime minister, and cabinet after Iran-backed Shi’a Houthi rebels took over the presidential palace, the United States has halted some counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda militants operating inside the country. The move has dealt a blow to what President Barack Obama recently called a successful counterterrorism partnership between Yemen’s president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the United States. “The [Yemeni government’s] agencies we worked with . . . are really under the thumb of the Houthis. Our ability to work with them is not there,” said a senior U.S. official closely involved in monitoring the situation.

  • European securityBelgium terror raids and Paris attacks reveal urgent need for pan-European security

    By Alistair Shepherd

    In the immediate aftermath of major attacks in Paris, counter-terrorism raids in Belgium saw two suspected terrorists killed and another arrested. These incidents have dramatically raised the sense of insecurity across Europe — and they’ve done so at a time when Europe’s security infrastructure is struggling to cope with the threats it faces. European security agencies, both internal and external, must urgently improve their co-operation and co-ordination. After all, Europe’s security challenges know no borders, and they must be dealt with as such. The recent counter-terrorism operations and arrests across Europe show that security agencies are moving toward quicker and sharper preventative action. What they do not demonstrate is that there is yet any seriously coordinated approach to European security. Achieving that is central to reducing the sense of insecurity across Europe at a frightening and dangerous time. But there is little sign Europe is confident about how to do it without undermining the very freedoms it is trying to protect.

  • EUEU launches a series of counterterrorism initiatives

    Using Europol, which has new authority to collect information on people who have never been convicted of a criminal offense, the EU is planning to create a more centralized intelligence sharing system which will allow security services to monitor and track suspects throughout the union. EU officials are also looking to improve information sharing with Arab countries.

  • Middle East mapsHarperCollins: Israel yok!

    HarperCollins, which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, has just published the glossy Collins Middle East Atlas, which, the publisher says, was designed for use in Middle Eastern schools. The publisher describes the book as “an ideal school atlas for young primary school geographers,” which “enables students to learn about the world today by exploring clear and engaging maps.” There was only one problem: Israel was omitted from the map of the Middle East: A map of the area shows Jordan and Syria extending all the way to the Mediterranean, with Gaza and the West Bank both labeled, but Israel does not appear. “Way to go Collins!” wrote one reviewer. “While we’re at it, let’s delete Sweden from the map of Europe, Venezuela from the map of South America, and Russia entirely. In fact, let’s all design our own maps of the world and leave out all the countries we don’t particularly care for.” Retreating in the face of a wave scathing criticism, HarperCollins said it would withdraw the book from the market and pulp it.

  • LibyaFrance set to intervene in Libya “within three months”: Diplomats

    Since the November 2011 toppling of Col. Qaddafi, Libya has ceased to exist as a unitary, cohesive state. Different armed militias control different parts of the country, and two governments and two parliaments claim to be the country’s legitimate rulers: The internationally recognized government operates out of Tobruk in northeast Libya, while the Islamist-led Libya Dawn government – backed by Turkey and Qatar – operates out of the capital Tripoli, which Dawn occupied in August. Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s defense minister, said on Saturday that “the moment has come” to address the growing unrest in Libya, adding that France could launch a military intervention in Libya within three months. The French defense minister added that the question currently under discussion in Paris is not whether France will launch military strikes against the Islamist militias in Libya, but when.

  • African securityWho killed Dag Hammarskjold? Sweden calls for new inquiry into 1961 death of UN chief

    One of the most intriguing, and unresolved, questions in contemporary African history – and in the history of the cold war – is: How and why did UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold die on 18 September 1961? More often than not, people more directly ask: Who killed Hammarskjold? On 18 September 1961, Hammarskjold boarded a DC-6 airplane to fly to Ndola, a mining town in Zambia, which at the time was called Northern Rhodesia, for a meeting with Mois Tshombe, the leader of mineral-rich Congolese province of Katanga. A year earlier, Tshombe announced that Katanga was seceding from the newly independent Congo. Hammarskjold was flying to meet Tshombe in an effort to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Congo and Katanga – but he never made it. The plane crashed in a heavily forested terrain a few miles from the Ndola airport. Different inquiries conducted in the following fifty years into the reasons for and circumstances of the crash were inconclusive. Last year a United Nations panel concluded that there was “persuasive evidence that the aircraft was subjected to some form of attack or threat as it circled to land at Ndola.” Last Monday, Sweden – Hammarskjold was a Swede — formally asked the UN General Assembly to reopen the investigation into his death.

  • National labsSandia’s Cooperative Monitoring Center: 20 years of work supporting international security agreements

    Sandia National Laboratories’ Cooperative Monitoring Center (CMC) is celebrating its twentieth anniversary of promoting the principles of cooperation and the value of technology in support of international security agreements. Since it was established in 1994, the CMC has worked to address security issues by bringing together policy and technical experts from different nations; showing participants how to use technology and confidence-building measures to solve regional and global security concerns; and creating institutions to promote security in regions around the world.

  • TurkeyTurkey has its own good reasons for not intervening in Kobane

    By Tristan Dunning

    As the Kurdish town of Kobane, just inside Syria on the Syria-Turkey border, continues to defy Islamic State (IS) forces, many pundits have condemned Turkey’s unwillingness to help the People’s Protection Units (YPG) keep the forces of “evil” at bay. The Turkish government, however, has valid reasons not to become embroiled in the defense of Kobane against IS. The defenders of Kobane are members of the YPG, which is the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – a Kurdish group linked to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The PKK is a movement that waged a decades-long guerrilla war, at a cost of more than 40,000 lives, in pursuit of independent state at the expense of Turkish territorial integrity. The PKK, and the PYD by association, are still listed as a proscribed terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the West, including Australia and the United States. It thus suits Turkey that IS and the YPG/PKK are slugging it out: not only are two of its primary enemies otherwise occupied, but they are weakening each other. The PYD has been accused of collaborating with the Assad regime, and Turkey has no intention of allowing another PKK haven to be set up along its borders. The PYD-YPG resistance is testimony to their courage, but the Western public’s fleeting emotional investment in Kobane isn’t going to flick a magic switch in the Turkish majority’s collective consciousness after decades of separatist conflict.

  • Middle EastU.S. new Syria strategy to seek removal of Assad in parallel with defeat of ISIS

    President Barack Obama’s national security team has been reviewing U.S. policy in Syria after concluding that any meaningful progress in the campaign against ISIS, let alone the defeat of the Islamist organization, may not be achievable without being accompanied by a plan to remove President Bashar al Assad from power. The United States began its air attacks on ISIS in early August as part of an “Iraq first” strategy, the thrust of which has been to emphasize the degradation of ISIS military capabilities in Iraq first, while regarding any operations against ISIS in Syria merely as an effort to influence and shape conditions in Iraq. The administration was hoping that this approach would give the United States time and space to vet, train, and equip an effective moderate Syrian rebel fighting force to take ISIS on. Administration sources now admit that the initial strategy of trying to confront ISIS first in Iraq and then take it on in Syria, without at the same time also focusing on the removal of the Assad clan from power, was a miscalculation which has backfired. The fundamental problem the United States and its Western allies face is that they appear to be willing to use their military might to defend Iran’s allies — the Shi’a regime in Iraq and the Alawite regime in Syria – at the expense of the Sunni majority in Syria and the substantial Sunni minority in Iraq. That perception prompted thousands of Sunni volunteers from around the world to rush to join ISIS ranks, and has led major regional Sunni countries such as Turkey tacitly to support ISIS campaign (the Qatari government, and wealthy individuals in the Gulf States, have been supporting ISIS not so tacitly). Sunnis in the region also note the U.S. apparent acquiescence to three more developments which have enhanced Iran’s sway and influence in the region: the de facto creation of a Shi’a state-within-state in Lebanon under Hezbollah, the takeover last month of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, by the pro-Iranian Zaydi Shiites from the Houthi clan, and the apparent willingness of the United States to allow Iran to retain a residual nuclear weapons-related capability. The cumulative effect of these developments and perceptions has been to cause the regional Arab anti-ISIS coalition to begin to fray, and calls for formulating a realistic strategy to remove Assad from power to grow louder.

  • African securityStudy ties conflict risk in sub-Saharan Africa to climate change, socioeconomics, geography

    A massive new study indicates there is a statistical link between hotter temperatures generated by climate change and the risk of armed conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa. A research team assessed more than 78,000 armed conflicts between 1980 and 2012 in the Sahel region of Africa — a semi-arid belt just south of the Saharan Desert that spans about 3,000 miles and more than a dozen countries from the Atlantic to the Indian oceans. The team was looking for links between armed conflicts and temperature and rainfall anomalies, as well as assessing other causes of violence in the Sahel.

  • Middle EastA framework for destroying ISIS and creating stability in the Middle East

    By Grant Lally

    In responding to the barbarism of ISIS, the United States must develop and articulate a political strategy that keeps America out of an inter-ethnic civil war, relies on local Arab armies to defeat ISIS, reduces Iran’s influence in the region, strengthens Israeli security, and prevents terrorist groups like ISIS from ever again establishing a political or geographic foothold in Syria and Iraq. The current U.S. policy of arming the overwhelmingly Shiite Arab Iraqi government army, the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and the hodgepodge Free Syrian Army is not going to achieve these goals. Instead, the United States should pursue a strategy based on diplomatically recognizing the already-existing partition of the region into its natural divisions — the “Five State” partition. The Five State approach aims to re-partition the two failed states of Syria and Iraq into more stable and cohesive states which will exclude Iranian influence, provide a stable and potentially powerful Sunni Arab state that can ally with the pro-Western Sunni Arab states, and accommodate the security concerns of the major regional non-Arab powers, Israel, Turkey, and the concerns of neighboring Russia.

  • TurkeyAbrupt shift: Turkey allows Kurdish peshmerga to cross Turkish territory to help in Kobani’s defense

    Bowing to intensifying U.S. pressure and growing domestic anger, the Turkish government, in an abrupt shift, announced yesterday (Monday) that it would allow Kurdish peshmerga forces from northern Iraq to cross Turkish territory on their way to defend Kurds in the besieged Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani. In another development, the United States has decided to ignore objections by the new Iraqi government to the United States directly providing military aid to the Kurds, and yesterday air-dropped twenty-four tons of weapons and ammunition for the Kurdish defenders of the town in the first supply run the United States had made to the besieged town in nearly five weeks of fighting. Military analysts said the two moves could tip the military balance in favor of the defenders of the Kurdish town in their month-long battle against Islamic State (ISIS) fighters.

  • TurkeyTurkey will not agree to U.S. support for Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria: Erdogan

    Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday (Sunday) that Turkey would not agree to any U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters who are fighting Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Syria. ISIS increased its pressure on the Kurdish city of Kobani, just inside Syria across the Turkish border, but Turkey views the PYD, the main Syrian Kurdish group defending Kobani, as an extension of the PKK, a pro-Kurdish independence group which, in 1984, had launched an insurgency campaign against the Turkish state – a campaign which, until it officially ended in 2012, had cost the lives of about 42,000 Turks

  • African securityEgypt’s military involvement in the anti-Islamist campaign in Libya deepens

    Two days ago, on Wednesday, Egypt has escalated its involvement in the battle against Libyan Islamists, as Egyptian warplanes conducted a series of attacks on Islamist militias’ positions in the eastern city of Benghazi. In late August, Egyptian and UAE warplanes attacked Islamist positions in and around Tripoli. Egypt’s growing direct military involvement in Libya has turned that country into yet another theater of a proxy war for broader regional battles, with Qatar and Turkey supporting the extremist Islamist militias while Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates backing the militias’ opponents. The growing Egyptian involvement is an indication that after two years of introspection and confusion, the moderate forces in the Arab world have begun to assert themselves in an effort to gain a measure of control over post-Arab Spring developments in the region.

  • TurkeyTurkish jets bomb Kurdish positions

    The tensions and acrimony between Turkey and the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS have risen to new heights in the last two days. No other country in the region bears as much responsibility as Turkey does for the rise and continuous success of ISIS, and on Monday, Turkey went a step farther in its effort to protect ISIS: Its air force conducted heavy bombing raids against targets of the Kurdish group PKK, one of the more capable Kurdish forces fighting to hold off ISIS and its advances. We should not assume that Turkey’s leaders, pious Muslims though they are, actually espouse or support the extremist version of Islam for which ISIS stands. Rather, Turkey sees ISIS as a tool which, if properly protected, and provided it does not get out of hand, can be used to harass, weaken, or even defeat Turkey’s main adversaries in the region. Turkey’s refusal to contribute to the weakening of ISIS is now running the risk of creating a humanitarian crisis of historical proportions: ISIS forces are closing in on the Kurdish town of Kobani, just inside Syria across from the Turkish border. ISIS has publicly announced that it will kill the 200,000-300,000 Kurdish citizens in the besieged city unless they converted to ISIS version of Islam.