Week in Review - September 19, 2014

Middle East and North Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Latin America and the Caribbean
Central Eurasia

Middle East and North Africa

  • The U.S. Congress passed a Continuing Resolution to fund the government through December 11 which included the McKeon amendment to train and equip “moderate” and “vetted” Syrian rebels to combat the Islamic State (IS). The amendment requires Congressional oversight including a requirement by the Secretary of Defense to provide a 15 day notification to Congress prior to any training programs, background checks of personnel being trained, as well as regular 90 day status updates. The training of Syrian rebels would likely take up to 12 months according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey.
  • Part of the Obama Administration’s anti-IS strategy is to train and equip Sunni Iraqi National Guard units in order to give Sunnis increased security and “win the allegiance of local Sunnis.” However, some Sunni tribal leaders are speaking out against the policy, which they say only reinforces the current segregation of the Iraqi military along sectarian lines.
  • French President Francois Hollande ruled out air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria, but carried out the first non-American air strikes in Iraq on an IS depot. Germany will send 40 military trainers to northern Iraq to train the Kurdish Peshmerga following up on its promise to provide small arms and Australia announced it would position air units in the United Arab Emirates to support the coalition’s air campaign. Following Dutch withdrawal of Patriot missile systems on the Syrian border in Turkey, Spain has agreed to support the NATO ally with its own patriot missile batteries and soldiers. As the international coalition seeks to increase the security and military capacity of surrounding states, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced a bill that would increase U.S. military assistance from approximately $400 million to $1 billion.


Latin America

  • The White House released its annual list of “Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries.” Of the 22 countries named under the designation, 17 are located in Latin America, including major recipients of U.S. security assistance like Mexico, Colombia and Peru. Among the countries listed in the designation, only Bolivia and Venezuela were found to “have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.”
  • Although the White House’s annual list singled out Venezuela as one of the few countries failing to combat illicit drugs, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield credited Venezuela for its recent efforts to combat narco-trafficking. And Jay Bergman, head of Andean operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said he hopes to visit with Venezuelan officials to discuss bilateral cooperation on the issue.  
  • Colombian Senator Ivan Cepeda managed to raise a discussion in Parliament regarding the alleged ties between politicians and illegal paramilitary groups in Colombia. Senator Cepeda used the event to publicly accuse former President and current Senator Alvaro Uribe of having deep and longstanding ties to criminals and paramilitary groups. These allegations have been corroborated by former paramilitary leaders like Salvatore Mancuso and Don Berna. More than 10,000 Colombians, including politicians, members of the military and private citizens are believed to have been involved in "parapolitics."


Sub-Saharan Africa

  • President Obama pledged 3,000 troops to Liberia and other West African countries to help fight the growing Ebola epidemic. In order to help provide additional resources, U.S. Africa Command will set up a Joint Force Command Headquarters in Liberia, led by Major General Darryl A. Williams.
  • Vice News argues that France and the United States have been combining efforts recently to combat terrorism in Africa, including increasing joint operations between France’s Operation Barkhane and U.S. operations in Niger, Chad, and Mali. The increased cooperation comes amid growing concern that Africa remains vulnerable to the Islamic State and other terrorist groups spreading throughout the region. Meanwhile, Namayanja Rose Nsereko, an Ugandan Minister suggested that only a homegrown “African answer to terror” like the African Union Mission in Somalia can ultimately defeat terrorism on the continent.


Central Eurasia

  • The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) unanimously passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014. If the bill becomes law, it would give major non-NATO ally status to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Another section of the bill authorizes $350 million for military and non-military assistance to Ukraine in 2015, including anti-tank and anti-armor weapons that Ukranian officials have repeatedly requested. Unlike the SFRC, the White House chose not to provide lethal aid in a new $46 million security assistance package to Ukraine, which includes body armor, helmets, vehicles and night vision goggles. Explaining the absence of lethal aid, a senior Obama administration official stated the administration believes “Ukraine has enough such equipment.”
  • NATO joint military exercises called Rapid Trident 2014 kicked off in Western Ukraine on Monday. Troops from 15 nations including Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Moldova are participating in the exercises. Armenia was originally scheduled to take part in Rapid Trident 2014, but Joshua Kucera explains that Armenia, as a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, deemed training alongside NATO undesirable. Azerbaijan’s choice to participate in the exercises this year is a significant one, since the country has to walk a foreign policy tightrope to avoid provoking its stronger neighbors, Russia and Iran. In their coverage of Rapid Trident 2014, official U.S. military and NATO sources stressed that the exercises occur annually and were planned before the current crisis in Ukraine, which seems to be language designed to diffuse adverse reactions from Russia.    
  • Azerbaijan is facing criticism for building up its military capacity amid increased violence along line of control with the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijan has sought out foreign sources for its defense acquisition beyond its domestic capabilities. The Government of South Africa exported arms to Azerbaijan disregarding the recent uptick in human rights abuses and international criticism. Baku also recently expressed interest in Russian attack helicopters.