Week in Review - September 26, 2014

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

Middle East and North Africa

  • The United States continued airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and expanded its campaign into Syria. U.S. airstrikes in Syria targeted IS and the Khorasan group, a lesser-known militia which, according to reports, is made up of senior al-Qaida members who relocated from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region to Syria, as well killing militants from al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria. Meanwhile, Rear Admiral John Kirby, Press Secretary for the Pentagon, said the mission against IS is costing approximately $7-10 million per day and is being paid for through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.
  • Pentagon officials confirmed that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain contributed to the air campaign through airstrikes, support flights and bases. American partnership with conservative Gulf States, which have previously been accused of fueling the crisis in Syria and Iraq through direct or indirect financing and arming of extremist groups, is now being criticized by some human rights organizations as legitimizing Gulf States’ domestic policies that violate human rights. Sebastian Payne of the Washington Post compiled a list of publicly announced contributions to the anti-IS campaign from over 60 countries forming a part of the coalition.
  • Following the announcement that the Obama administration would train and equip Sunni Iraqi militias as part of a National Guard, Carnegie Endowment’s Frederic Wehrey and Ariel I. Ahram argued this strategy is only the “best of a bad set of options.” Meanwhile, now that Congress approved President Obama’s request to train and equip “vetted” Syrian rebels, Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Margon is calling on the administration to include the so-called Leahy Law’s human rights vetting into the vetting process for Free Syrian Army groups (the umbrella organization chosen to receive U.S. support).


Sub-Saharan Africa

  • The Kenyan government, concerned with al-Shabaab spreading from Somalia into Kenya, pledged to “stay the course” until the terrorist group is sufficiently weakened.  With memories of the Westgate Mall terrorist attack by al-Shabaab still fresh in Kenya’s memory, the government wants to ensure such an attack will not occur again.  The Kenyan government’s announcement came alongside a similar pledge from the African Union to increase the amount of AU troops present in Somalia.
  • While Nigeria continues to grapple with Boko Haram, experts are torn as to whether the country is succeeding or failing in successfully halting the terrorist groups efforts. The Nigerian government claimed to have successfully killed Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. However, this would be the third time the leader has allegedly been killed. Regardless, analysts such as John Cambell argue it may be irrelevant if Shekau is dead or not as it will not stop Boko Haram’s activities.
  • Security analysts are concerned with growing terrorist activity in other African countries. Experts like Andre LeSage at the National Defense University warn of the rising terrorist threat in Tanzania that should soon be addressed. Also, the Chadian government accused UN peacekeepers both of failing to relieve their own troops and for allowing pockets of insurgents to remain active in the country.  


Latin America

  • Mexican authorities detained an army officer and seven soldiers in connection with the killing of 22 people on June 30, 2014. The military initially claimed that the deaths had resulted from a shootout with a gang, but one witness told Esquire magazine and the Associated Press that the troops had targeted individuals who were either wounded or attempting to surrender. The Attorney General and Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission are investigating the case.
  • The Colombian government and the rebel group known as the FARC decided to make public for the first time the text of agreements reached by negotiators at ongoing peace talks in Havana, Cuba. The documents provide an outline of the planned illicit crop substitution and land reform programs. Negotiators still must reach agreements on the issues of victims’ reparations and demobilization of the guerrillas before submitting a final proposal to the public for a referendum.
  • The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will train police from the “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in anti-gang tactics. The agency will also train agents from Panama, El Salvador, Peru and Brazil in combating human trafficking. The sharp rise in gang violence in Central America in recent years has been cited by the United Nations as a major factor in the increasing rates of emigration from the region.


Central Eurasia

  • Foreign Policy’s The Cable reported on Monday that Georgian officials offered to host a training facility for Syrian rebels. According to the initial report, Georgian officials made the offer when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visited Tbilisi earlier this month to discuss defense ties and possible sales of U.S. Blackhawk helicopters. However, various Georgian official sources have since denied the report. Georgia’s State Security and Crisis Management Council issued a statement refuting that any training center or Georgian military contingent were under consideration.        
  • Human Rights Watch published a report examining the cases of political prisoners in Uzbekistan who are subject to abuses by guards and beatings from fellow prisoners. The sheds light on U.S. and E.U. unwillingness to pressure Uzbekistan over its human rights record, linking reticence amongst Western officials to the fact that Uzbekistan is part of an important military supply route to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan is under scrutiny for forced disappearances and torture of prisoners and the State Department recently designated Turkmenistan a “country of particular concern” (CPC) for its severe violations of religious freedoms.
  • The State Department approved a possible $500 million arms deal with Poland that would include cruise missiles and F-16 upgrades. Meanwhile, Rostech, a Russian state-owned company hit by Western sanctions, will sell a small arms factory to a businessman who is not blacklisted in order to allow further sales to Europe and the United States. The factory in question produces hunting rifles and sporting guns, but Rostech is also currently the owner of Kalashnikov, the producer of the AK-47 assault rifle used in conflicts around the world.