Courtesy of Boris Savluc / Flickr
This article was originally published by the IPI’s Global Observatory on 18 October 2016.
There was little media coverage of last month’s United Nations ministerial meeting on Mali—opened by Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon—held on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York. This was in stark contrast to four years ago, when United States presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned the conflict in northern Mali during a debate with Barack Obama. Does this mean that Mali is falling off a busy multilateral agenda dominated by the refugee crisis, Syria, and the transition to a new UN secretary-general?
The optimists would see it as a sign that the situation is not as bad as it once seemed, and that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), deployed in July 2013, is—alongside French counterterrorist force Barkhane—helping to prevent terrorist groups reoccupying northern Mali. Yet this goes against observations of “a doubling in the number of attacks perpetrated by violent extremist groups in northern Mali” and the fact that “attacks have spread to the center of the country” as Ban noted in his most recent Mali report to the Security Council.
This article was originally published by Saferworld on 26 July 2016.
The US Department of State and USAID have laid out how American development and diplomacy agencies will work together to reduce violent extremism abroad. David Alpher urges caution in the melding of development and security agendas – a prospect that risks undermining the objectives of both.
The Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) agenda has grown so rapidly in American policy that, “at this point,” one government official jokes, “even the lunch ladies in the cafeteria are doing CVE.” The White House held a head-of-state level summit on the subject in 2015, and the State Department recently merged its CVE and counter-terrorism work into one combined bureau—but until May 2016, the term had never been officially uttered by USAID. Alternative phrasing like The Development Response to Violent Extremism, for example—the title of the last USAID report on the subject — helped insulate American development and peacebuilding efforts from the securitized aspects of the rapidly growing CVE agenda.
The Department of State & USAID Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism – released at the end of May, officially changed all that. The strategy sets out how American development and diplomacy will work together to help to reduce violent extremism. Navigating this cooperation is a complicated and at times dangerous path, and following the upcoming election, the next US administration will have a good deal of work ahead to decide whether it is really progress or not. My thoughts on that are here.
Pallets of 155 mm artillery shells containing “HD” mustard gas, courtesy US Government/wikimedia
This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies on 4 April 2016.
On 18 February, Moroccan police reportedly found chemical or biological agents while raiding a ‘safe house’ linked to Daesh in the province of El Jadida, on the Atlantic coast. It is presumed that the agents, possibly toxins, were intended for terrorist purposes.
Investigations are currently underway, spearheaded by the Moroccan Ministry of Interior’s Direction Générale de la Surveillance du Territoire. Official information remains scarce, but if confirmed, the discovery of a terrorist plot using chemical or biological weapons would mark a new milestone as extremists resort to more lethal and more devastating weapons, to spread violence with maximum casualties and the highest impact.
This development is not a surprise. Jihadist literature has, for a while, called for the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction – encouraging the production of ricin, botulinum and sarin. (An example of this can be found in the third edition of the magazine disseminated by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.)
Destruction in Bab Dreeb area in Homs, Syria, courtesy Bo yaser/WikimediaCommons
This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 23 February 2016.
Last summer, the situation in the war-torn Syrian republic pointed towards entrenched fragmentation of the state. Different parties—including President Bashar al-Assad—controlled parts of the country, and neither seemed strong enough for military victory or significant advancements. Russia began air support to the Syrian Army to fight what they labeled terrorists last September, in hopes of tipping the scales.
Now in its fifth year, the war in Syria is particularly complex. What started as (and still is, to some degree) an uprising against a dictatorship has also developed into a sectarian battle between Syria’s Sunni majority and the Shia-Alawite minority; between moderate and extremist Sunnis; between the regime and the Kurdish pursuit for independence; and between regional interests where Sunni Turkey and Saudi Arabia are fighting for influence against Shia Iran by using the Syria war as a proxy. It is also providing the theater for a geopolitical challenge from Russia against the USA.