MENA and Eurasia Week in Review - May 16, 2014

Middle East and North Africa
Central Eurasia

For this week only, Security Assistance Monitor is combining the MENA and Eurasia weeks in review. This post covers Secretary Hagel’s trip to the Middle East, the 20th anniversary of the ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and several other top security stories from both regions. 

Middle East and North Africa

  • United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made a multi-stop trip to the region this week:
    • Hagel first visited Saudi Arabia to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) Defense Ministerial meeting. Hagel addressed the ongoing negotiations with Iran, assuring that the “negotiations will under no circumstances trade away regional security for concessions on Iran’s nuclear program.” Hagel also encouraged greater security cooperation both within the GCC and between the GCC and the United States. He urged the Council to develop a Foreign Military Sales application and proposing additional exercises with regional militaries.
    • Hagel then visited Jordan, where he pledged U.S. help to improve security along Jordan’s border with Syria.
    • Hagel concluded his trip with a visit to Israel, where he discussed regional security issues with the country’s defense minister and attended the U.S.-Israel missile defense exercise Juniper Cobra, the largest European Command exercise this year.  
  • The U.S. and Jordanian Air Forces launched their annual Eager Tiger exercises in Jordan. The exercises are conducted in the form of a friendly competition meant to enhance the skills of the fighter pilots and aircraft maintainers.
  • The head of the Syrian Opposition Council, Ahmad al-Jarba, concluded his visit to Washington D.C. with a meeting with President Barack Obama. While the U.S. administration reportedly rebuffed al-Jarba’s request for antiaircraft missiles for the Syrian rebels, an opposition official stated that “we’ve made significant headway and laid the pillars for much more significant discussions [regarding U.S. assistance].”
  • Representatives from 11 countries supporting the Syrian opposition, including the United States, met Thursday in London to discuss further measures to bolster the opposition, though U.S. and European officials remain cautious about further arms deliveries to the rebels. Ahead of the meeting, the United Nations mediator to the Syrian conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, resigned his position and France’s foreign minister said that the Syrian government conducted 14 chemical attacks since agreeing to destroy its chemical arsenal over the summer.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported this week that the CIA and Department of Defense (DoD) disagree about whether a DoD drone strike in Yemen in December killed innocent civilians or not: the CIA says some of those killed may have been villagers, while the DoD claims only Al Qaeda militants died in the strike. The agencies’ conflicting intelligence reports are slowing the Obama administration’s pledge to move drone strikes from the responsibility of the CIA to the DoD. In addition, new details emerged this week about a deadly confrontation between two U.S. embassy security officers in Yemen and suspected Al Qaeda members who intended to assassinate the Americans. The April incident, in which the American officers killed the Al Qaeda suspects in a barbershop, raised new questions about the presence and movement of U.S. security officers in the country.
  • The United States moved 200 Marines in its crisis response unit from Spain to the Sicily due to the deteriorating security situation in North Africa. U.S. officials quoted in Reuters pointed to Libya as the specific country of concern.
  • General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the favorite in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections, asked the United States to resume its full $1.3 billion security assistance package to the country. Sisi stated, “We need American support to fight terrorism, we need American equipment to use to combat terrorism." Meanwhile, during his Saudi Arabia visit, Secretary Hagel said that the Egyptian government “had done ‘enough’ to keep its certification for continued American aid.”
  • The Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced nearly one billion dollars worth of weapons sales to Iraq. While the bulk of the sale is for light attack training aircraft, Iraq will also be purchasing 200 armored vehicles.
  • The latest round of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program took place this week. U.S. officials have expressed frustration over the talks’ slow progress. Earlier this week the International Atomic Energy Agency also reported a number of stumbling blocks in its efforts to increase the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities.


Central Eurasia

  • Forty United States National Guardsmen and 285 members of Kyrgyzstan’s security forces conducted peacekeeping exercises as part of the Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative. The exercise’s drills ranged from rescuing victims from a collapsed building to battling an insurgent attack.
  • May 12 marked the 20th anniversary of the ceasefire agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The chairperson of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the OSCE Minsk Group, tasked with helping to resolve the conflict, released statements this week calling for a renewed commitment to peace negotiations. While the ceasefire ended the outright war between the two countries, incidents of violence occur regularly in the disputed territories. Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate Thomas de Waal also noted that a stronger presence by the OSCE in the disputed areas could reduce casualties, though this would require both countries to agree to expand the mandate of the OSCE monitors.
  • May 13 marked the ninth anniversary of the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan, in which Uzbek security forces shot and killed hundreds of protestors. Tensions between the U.S. and Uzbekistan after the massacre led the Uzbek government to expel the U.S. from its airbase in the country. On the anniversary, Human Rights Watch called on the international community to press Uzbekistan to form an independent commission to investigate the massacre and hold those responsible accountable. The U.S. embassy in Tashkent released a short statement on May 13, encouraging “reconciliation, accountability and respect for the rights of all citizens as the best means to ensure future peace and stability.”
  • DVIDS detailed the process of discarding Department of Defense (DoD) equipment from the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan ahead of its July 11 closure. The DoD will ship out much of the equipment via air or land routes, while possibly leaving some property behind for the Kyrgyz government. Military equipment deemed too important to hand over, but too expensive to ship out, will get recycled on the ground.
  • China elevated its relationship with Turkmenistan to a “strategic partnership” during a visit by the Turkmen president to China. While China’s relationship with Turkmenistan is largely focused on energy, security issues were also discussed in meetings between the presidents of both countries. This week China’s public security minister visited Turkmenistan and pledged stronger cooperation between the security agencies of both countries.
  • RIA Novosti reports that NATO is set to open a liaison office in Uzbekistan today to coordinate the alliance’s activities and partnerships in Central Asia. There is reason to question the importance of the story however, since when similar news stories emerged last year, it turned out that the creation of a “new office” was merely a regular rotation of officials.
  • French President Francois Hollande announced on Tuesday that Georgian troops would begin their peacekeeping deployment to the Central African Republic in June as part of the European Union mission to the country.
  • On Thursday Kazakhstan’s upper house of parliament ratified a joint air defense agreement with Russia. During the parliamentary debate, Kazakhstan’s deputy defense minister also reportedly indicated that Tajikistan might join the air defense system in the future.