Week in Review - October 17, 2014

Latin America and the Caribbean
Central Eurasia
Middle East and North Africa

Middle East & North Africa

  • Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), plan to create a joint naval force to defend waterways in the Gulf, according to a Kuwaiti official. This comes as the U.S. Department of State approved a major arms deal with the UAE worth $2.5 billion for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles and according to U.S. officials, the MRAPs may be used for peacekeeping operations by a joint GCC security force in regional conflicts. In 2011, GCC forces led by Saudi Arabia were deployed to Bahrain to stop the protests against the Khalifa government during the the Arab Spring.
  • Smoke rises after an apparent U.S.-led coalition airstrike on the Minaze village near Kobane, Syria, as seen from the Turkish side of the border on Wednesday. (EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU)As clashes between rival factions continue in Libya, the Associated Press reported that Egypt had conducted airstrikes that hit militants there. Although Egyptian and Libyan officials denied the report and have previously promised to not intervene in Libya’s domestic politics, such airstrikes are not unprecedented as it is believed that Egypt and the UAE coordinated airstrikes in Libya in late August.
  • The United States’ airstrikes on Islamic State militants around Kobani has left Turkey in a precarious situation in which it has agreed to assist in the anti-IS coalition, but will not act in ways that could support Syrian Kurds allied with the PKK, a Kurdish militant group that is banned in Turkey. In response to attacks on a Turkish military outpost by the PKK, Turkey conducted airstrikes against the group, but has still not engaged IS militants in Iraq or Syria. Turkey has agreed to base U.S. drones, but would not allow for manned flights based in Turkey to attack targets in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, Senator Carl Levin, head of the Senate Arms Services Committee, agreed that the establishment of a “buffer-zone” in Syria is needed in the anti-IS campaign.
  • The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama requested a classified report from the C.I.A. on the success of past covert train and equip programs for rebel forces. The report found that such programs rarely worked, but nevertheless as the conflict in Syria deepened, the Obama administration approved a covert equip program of Syrian rebels in June. This week, retired Marine General John Allen, who is in charge of coordinating the coalition effort against IS, announced that the U.S. and allies will build a moderate rebel force from, but will not formally coordinate with the Free Syrian Army.


Sub-Saharan Africa

  • The Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group, an eight-member panel of independent experts that oversee compliance with United Nations sanctions included in its annual report a damning accusation that Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s advisor is linked to arms trafficking to al-Shabaab. The advisor, prominent businessman Musa Haji Mohamed Ganjab has denied the allegations. In addition, the report said that Somali Army weapons and ammunition continue to be sold on the open market despite government pledges to stop this. Meanwhile, analysts are downplaying the recent military victories over the al-Shabaab terrorist group, explaining that peace is not imminent and it is far too soon to discount future gains by al-Shabaab in the war torn country.
  • Chadian U.N. peacekeepers patrol in Aguelhok, MaliAustralia’s News Limited reported that Mali is now the most dangerous country in the world for U.N. peacekeepers, with 31 deaths and 91 injuries in the last fifteen months alone. With the return of Mali’s jihadists, the U.N. peacekeepers-- one of the more active forces in the region-- have become increasingly targeted by Malian terrorists. Meanwhile, the head of the peacekeeping mission to Mali, U.N. Envoy Bert Koenders, announced his plan to step down to take over as Foreign Minister of the Netherlands.
  • Anneli Both, a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa argued that Kenya and other East African countries must understand the fundamental reasons young Africans are joining Islamist groups to create more effective, holistic counterterrorism strategies. For example, Botha argued that Muslim youth joined extremist groups in response to the Kenyan government’s “collective punishment” and counterterrorism policies and that “mass arrests and racial profiling are counterproductive.”


Latin America

  • At the 2014 Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did not use the word “drugs” in his opening speech and mentioned "crime" only once. Instead of focusing on traditional security threats, Hagel used the occasion to highlight the Pentagon's new 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap. According to the Ssecretary, "Climate change is a 'threat multiplier'…because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today – from infectious disease to armed insurgencies – and to produce new challenges in the future.” Under President Obama's second term, the Pentagon has expressed that the effects of climate change are factored in when making national security policy.
  • Supporters of Uruguay's legalization initiativeActivists and organizers in Mexico have threatened to “paralyze” the country with marches and strikes to express their dissatisfaction with government efforts to solve the case of 43 students in Guerrero state who went missing after a confrontation with police last month. Protests in the area turned violent earlier in the week when demonstrators set fire to the state capitoaal building in Chilpancingo. Federal authorities have identified a local mayor, his wife, and the citiy’s chief of security as the prime suspects in the disappearance of the students. Although the students have not yet been located, the search effort has turned up several mass graves.
  • In an October 9 press conference at the United Nations, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield stated that the United States was open to accepting a more “flexible” interpretation of international anti-narcotics agreements. He cited the decisions of Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana as part of the reason for federal authorities’ moves toward a more tolerant approach to drugs. Many Latin American countries have shifted away from prohibitionist drug control strategies in recent years, including Bolivia, which legalized the cultivation of coca plants in 2012, and Uruguay, which approved legislation allowing for cultivation of marijuana plants in the country.


Central Eurasia

  • The U.S. State Department released a statement urging the government of Azerbaijan to release human rights defenders Arif and Leyla Yunus. According to the statement, Leyla Yunus is still being held in pretrial detention and does not have access to medical care, despite her deteriorating health. The well-known human rights activist was arrested in late July on what Human Rights Watch (HRW) described as trumped up charges. The Yunus’ cases are part of a larger ongoing crackdown; according to HRW, the government of Azerbaijan brought or threatened unfounded criminal charges against at least fifty independent activists over the past two and a half years. Despite these allegations, the State Department has requested over $3 million to fund various security assistance programs to Azerbaijan in FisArif and Leyla Yunuscal Year 2015.
  • It appears that Germany will not allow Airbus to sell military helicopters to Uzbekistan, as was planned under an existing contract. The German government blocked a sale permit for a small sub-componentused in the aircraft’s optical system, prompting Airbus CEO Tom Enders to tell reporters about the possible relocation of the company’s helicopter development from Germany to France. Meanwhile, in 2012, the White House restarted military aid to Uzbekistan after the the security assistance relationship was significantly reduced for several years due to human rights concerns.