Week in Review - October 24, 2014

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

Middle East & North Africa

  • Security Assistance Monitor published its first Country Profile analyzing U.S. security assistance to Yemen in light of President Obama’s announcement of Yemen as one of the U.S. counterterrorism success stories and the country’s ongoing turmoil.

  • The United States began air dropping medical supplies and arms to Syrian Kurds as well as securing Turkish permission for Iraqi Kurds to travel through Turkey to aid in the fight for Kobani. However, of the 28 bundles dropped, one was retrieved by the Islamic State. Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials said that training programs for Syrian rebels will focus on defending territory, not retaking territory from IS or other rebel groups.

  • Coalition and Iraqi forces are planning to take the offensive against IS in Iraq, but Iraqi forces will not be ready for months according to U.S. officials. As the U.S. attempts to rebuild Iraqi forces, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke with Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al Obeidi to discuss the future of Iraq’s military and the importance of an inclusive force. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department approved a sale of tank ammunition worth $600 million to Iraq, and the Iraqi government requested 800 more Hellfire Missiles.

Sub-Saharan Africa

  • The U.S. military is stepping up its fight against Ebola in West Africa, pledging at least 3,000 troops. At the moment, slightly more than 500 troops are in Liberia with another 115 in Dakar, Senegal. This scale-up comes at the same time that the United Kingdom is set to deploy an additional 150 of its troop to Sierra Leone to assist in Ebola efforts. Major General Darryl Williams said that he saw progress in U.S. efforts as the new American built hospital will open shortly and the U.S. Transportation Command Joint Task Force-Port Opening teams are widening the pipeline necessary to move forces, humanitarian aid, medical supplies and portable hospitals into Liberia. However, these reports come at the same time as a critical Daily Beast story that U.S. troops are inadequately prepared for their humanitarian mission, claiming troops are receiving just four hours of Ebola training.

  • South Sudanese rival factions signed a framework for future peace talks. This is distinct from actual peace talks and merely served to highlight agenda items for future negotiations. At this meeting, both Kiir and Machar, the two leading rivals, accepted responsibility for the country’s 10-month civil war. A host of East African leaders, notably those of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, continue to push the parties towards peace talks and eventual cessation of hostilities. During the same week of negotiations, Chinese officials announced that some 700 peacekeepers would be arriving in South Sudan at the start of 2015, with the goal of protecting civilians amidst the ongoing civil war.

Latin America

  • Public demonstrations continued across Mexico this week as thousands of citizens took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the lack of basic human security in their country. Amidst the protests, the mayor of Guerrero state stepped down and the federal government ordered the arrest of the former mayor of the town of Iguala and his wife, alleging that they played major roles in the recent disappearance of 43 students from the area. On the same day, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission found that soldiers had murdered up to 15 out of the 22 suspected gang members killed by the army in June. 

  • Following the murder of a local Paraguayan journalist, who was apparently targeted for his investigations into the illegal drug trade, the national government approved a law allowing authorities to shoot down airplanes suspected of trafficking drugs in the country’s airspace. Violence and corruption related to the drug trade are major problems in Paraguay, which is the world’s second-largest producer of cannabis. The country’s top anti-narcotics chief recently proposed legalization and regulation of cannabis as a potential alternative solution to these issues.

  • El Salvador has registered more than 3,000 murders nationwide this year. The figure is already higher than the total observed in 2013 when the country’s main gangs maintained a tenuous truce that appears to be unraveling. Rodolfo Garay Pineda, former Director General of the country’s prison system, argued in a September 2014 media interview that the recently-abandoned practice keeping gang members assigned to exclusive prisons helped minimize violence between powerful gangs.

Central Eurasia

  • The U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Marie Harf welcomed the release of four civil society activists, stating that the U.S. hopes to see more positive steps like it in the future and continues to call on the government of Azerbaijan “to fully respect the rights of all citizens.” The statement did not include any reference to Leyla Yunus, an Azerbaijani human rights activist who was a finalist for the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Leyla Yunus did not receive the prize, however, raising concerns that activists will be unable to successfully pressure government officials from both inside and outside Azerbaijan to work toward her release.

  • Defense News reported this week that Russia is reasserting itself into the Middle East arms market after a decade of significantly decreased weapons sales to the region. Algeria, Russia’s biggest customer, has purchased $7.5 billion worth of military equipment from Russia since 2006. While more recently, Russia has signed deals for over $10 billion with Egypt and Iraq for aircraft, rockets and missile systems. In addition, Defence Web reported that Russian special forces are training 1,200 Nigerian troops in counterinsurgency warfare. Upon completing the four-month long training course in Russia, Nigerian personnel will form the nucleus of a new special forces brigade that will lead the Nigerian army’s offensive against the terrorist group Boko Haram.