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The Siege of Marawi City: Some Lessons

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This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 22 August 2017.

Synopsis

As the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) closes in on the dwindling number of IS militants in Marawi, various terrorist tactics learned from the wars in Iraq and Syria are being replicated to worsen the conflict in southern Philippines and spread IS influence in the region.

Commentary

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has managed to recapture most of Marawi back from the Maute Group and its acolytes despite the military’s lack of familiarity with urban warfare and the terrain. Westmincom has made “great advances” addressing the “complicated” issues on the ground even though it missed the deadline for retaking Marawi fully or wiping out terrorism from Mindanao by June 2017.

However, for the Maute Group and other terrorist groups in Mindanao, the eventual loss of Marawi will not be so much of a setback as the beginning of bolder military moves to capture territory, even if briefly, to demonstrate their fighting capability and rally support for the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the region, especially in the wake of IS military defeats in Iraq and Syria.

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Russia in Libya: War or Peace?

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This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) on 2 August 2017.

Europe must use its diplomatic leverage to ensure that increased Russian involvement does not come at the cost of further destabilisation on Europe’s southern border.

Libya is increasingly a target for Russia’s growing ambitions to influence the Middle East and North Africa, but, judging by the Kremlin’s actions thus far, Putin is either hedging his bets or has not yet decided on his objectives for this file. European decisions – particularly those by the most active players, France, the UK, and Italy – could yet tip the scales in one direction of the other. Watching closely will be the new UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, who officially starts work this week after attending last Tuesday’s Paris summit between the internationally-recognised Libyan Prime Minister Faiez Serraj and his main rival, General Khalifa Haftar.

Torn between war and peace

On the one hand, Russia is naturally drawn towards supporting General Haftar, who opposes the Western-backed Prime Minister Serraj and is considered by many in Moscow as ‘the strongman of eastern Libya’. Haftar’s anti-Islamist stance makes him an attractive counterterrorism partner, and support for the general also strengthens Russia’s relationship with his main sponsor, Egypt. Limited support for Haftar also drags the conflict out, enabling Russia to point to the folly of the West’s intervention in 2011 and make the case that regime change, in Libya as in Ukraine, only breeds chaos.

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Al-Shabaab Holds its Ground against Somalia’s Amnesty Deal

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This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 4 August 2017.

Most al-Shabaab members refused Farmajo’s offer – he must now defeat the group within two years as promised.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo) has employed a classic carrot-and-stick approach to al-Shabaab since taking office in February. In early April, Farmajo announced a 60-day amnesty for al-Shabaab militants, while also offering to open discussions with the movement’s leadership.

At the same time, he noted that Somalia was in a state of war, and promised to eradicate within two years those who didn’t take advantage of his offer to surrender. With the presumed expiration of that amnesty, it is clear which path most of al-Shabaab has chosen, but what is less clear is the Somali government’s ability to respond.

The provision of an amnesty was not a novel concept, as it followed on similar offers by previous Somali governments. With the election of the popular, less clan-inclined, and seemingly incorruptible Farmajo, however, there was some speculation that there may be a genuine opportunity for engagement with al-Shabaab. At an official level this was quickly squashed by top al-Shabaab leaders.

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Studying Conflict and Practicing Peacebuilding

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 20 July 2017.

What can one say about the academic study of violent conflict and its implications for the practice of peacebuilding? There is no reason to assume a necessary relationship between these two spheres of activity; the study of armed conflict may or may not have any practical significance for peacebuilding. Of course many scholars in this field are motivated in part by the hope and expectation that their findings will make a contribution, however slight, to the building and maintenance of peace. The editors of Journal of Peace Research articulated this same expectation when, in the inaugural issue of the journal some 50 years ago, they expressed the view that ‘[p]eace research should … concern itself with [the] reduction of violence and [the] promotion of integration.…and should, preferably, have relevance for peace policy’ (Editorial 1964, 2,4). There are two aspects to this question: one is the relationship between the study of war and the study of peace, which other scholars have addressed (Gledhill and Bright 2017); the other is the relationship between the study of war and the practice of peacebuilding. This essay is concerned with the latter aspect and, more specifically, with how the academic study of armed conflict may be able to further enrich the practice of peacebuilding.

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Nigeria: How to Solve a Problem Like Biafra

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This article was originally published by the International Crisis Group on 29 May 2017.

50 years after Nigeria’s then Eastern Region declared itself the Republic of Biafra, sparking a brutal and costly three-year civil war, the country again faces a separatist challenge. Across the Igbo south east, there is resurgent agitation for an independent Biafra state.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s forceful response to the agitation has been counter-productive, inflaming passions and boosting separatist sentiments. The government needs to change course and prioritise dialogue over coercion.

The starting point of any response is to understand the agitation’s roots. They include political and economic grievances, a deep sense of collective victimisation among the Igbo, and the failure of south east politicians to provide good governance and development.

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