Africa and MENA Week in Review - May 23, 2014

Middle East and North Africa

For this week only, we are combining the Middle East-North Africa and Africa weeks in review. This post examines the United States’ efforts to located the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, the U.S. response to militia violence in Libya, and much more:

Sub-Saharan Africa

United States peace and security policy in Africa

  • U.S. Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki condemned the outbreak of violence in Kidal, Mali that resulted in the death of one government security official, the taking of hostages and injuries to civilians and UN peacekeepers. The U.S. called for the immediate release of the hostages and advised all parties involved to refrain from violence.
  • The U.S. sent 80 military troops to Chad this week to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in search of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram over a month ago. American troops have operated drones and manned aircraft in attempts to find the missing girls.
  • Further U.S. efforts to assist Nigerian forces to locate the girls, however, are complicated by the Nigerian military’s troubling human rights record, according to experts on the issue. German newspaper Deutsche Welle noted, for instance, that due to the Leahy Amendment, which precludes the U.S. from training foreign forces involved in human rights abuses, the U.S. may not be able to assist or share intelligence with Nigerian forces. USA Today’s Oren Dorrel likewise wrote that by sending American troops to Chad, the Obama administration was able to “skirt” Leahy Law issues in Nigeria.
  • The Washington Post featured a useful map of U.S. military deployments across Sub-Saharan Africa.        


Security related news across Africa

  • Thirteen Ivoirians were killed after 40 men attacked and pillaged the village of Fetai, located at the border between the Ivory Coast and Liberia. Ivory Coast Defense Minister Paul Koffi Koffi dismissed rumors that the attack, which displaced 500 people, was politically motivated, claiming young Ivoirian bandits were responsible.
  • “Operation Eagle,” a joint effort between Somalia and the African Union to drive out al Shabaab militants, has shown early success. Though African Union troops have made progress, Somalia’s security forces remain untrained and unprepared to fully assume security responsibilities once African Union forces depart, according to France 24.
  • An African Union air strike targeted and killed 50 al Shabaab insurgents in Southern Somalia on Tuesday. The air strike on Tuesday was one of two strikes conducted by African Union forces against al Shabaab this week.
  • Two car bombs exploded in the City of Jos, Nigeria, killing over 118 people on Tuesday. The suspected Boko Haram bombings showed the increasingly sophisticated nature of the Nigerian terrorist group and have intensified public fear throughout the country. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan assured the Nigerian population that “the government remains fully committed to winning the war against terror”.
  • After the recent violence outbreaks in Kidal, Mali, an estimated 40 Malian soldiers were killed, 50 were injured and 70 were imprisoned. France called for a cessation of violence and lent its support to the UN missions in order to maintain safety.


Middle East and North Africa

  • Chaos spread throughout Libya this week after an armed militia led by Khalifa Hiftar attacked an Islamist rebel stronghold in Benghazi on Friday and then stormed and dismissed the Islamist-led General National Congress in Tripoli on Sunday. Since then, Libya’s small standing army and various militia groups have taken sides in Hiftar’s conflict with the Islamist-led parliament, creating an uncertain political situation in the country. Hiftar, who lived in the U.S. after defecting from Ghadafi’s army and who may have received CIA funding to try to overthrow Ghadafi, called for a presidential council to govern the country until parliamentary elections can be held.
  • While the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that it does not “condone or support” Hiftar’s actions, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones acknowledged on Wednesday that “‘it’s very difficult to step up and condemn’ Hifter given that his forces are ‘going after very specific groups … on our list of terrorists.’” On Friday, the United States and various European countries released a joint statement calling on “all sides to refrain from the use of force and to address differences by political means.”
  • The U.S. military, meanwhile, has positioned additional aircraft at its airbase in Italy to assist with a possible evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Libya. U.S. efforts to train 5,000 to 8,000 Libyan troops are being reviewed and scaled back, according to Al Monitor. NATO has also admitted this week that it delayed its security sector reform initiatives in Libya due to instability in the country.
  • The U.S. Defense Department announced that 6,000 U.S. troops would participate in the annual Eager Lion military exercises in Jordan, which are set to begin on Sunday and run through June 8.
  • Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) withdrew a U.S.-Israel cooperation bill from the Committee on Foreign Relations’ agenda because Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) planned to introduce an amendment permitting Congress to disapprove a final nuclear deal with Iran. A similarly-worded Iran amendment was introduced in the House of Representatives’ 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but was ruled out of order and will likely get introduced as a stand-alone bill, according to Al Monitor. Nonetheless, the NDAA, which passed the House on Thursday, included other provisions that reflect Congress’ skepticism of negotiations with Iran.   
  • The House of Representatives’ 2015 NDAA also boosted funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system, promoted stronger security ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council, and blocked efforts to close down the Guantanamo Bay prison.
  • Syrian National Coalition President Ahmed Al-Jarba, who recently visited Washington D.C. to meet with administration and Congressional officials, told Asharq Al-Awsat that he expects Syrian rebels would receive military equipment from Western countries within weeks.
  • The Wall Street Journal detailed an elaborate plan by a U.S. arms dealer to procure Eastern European weapons for the Free Syrian Army rebel group using Saudi Arabian funding. The arms dealer, Joseph Schmitz, discussed his idea with Saudi officials and former Free Syrian Army commander General Salim Idris, but the CIA squashed the plan before it went through.