International Crisis Group

Sep 12

U.S. Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels With Loyalties All Over the Map | BEN HUBBARD, ERIC SCHMITT and MARK MAZZETTI
BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Obama’s determination to train Syrian rebels to serve as ground troops against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria leaves the United States dependent on a diverse group riven by infighting, with no shared leadership and with hard-line Islamists as its most effective fighters.
After more than three years of civil war, there are hundreds of militias fighting President Bashar al-Assad — and one another. Among them, even the more secular forces have turned to Islamists for support and weapons over the years, and the remaining moderate rebels often fight alongside extremists like the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
“You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don’t exist,” said Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is a very dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer.”
FULL ARTICLE (The New York Times)
Photo: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Liesl Marelli/The National Guard/flickr

U.S. Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels With Loyalties All Over the Map | BEN HUBBARD, ERIC SCHMITT and MARK MAZZETTI

BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Obama’s determination to train Syrian rebels to serve as ground troops against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria leaves the United States dependent on a diverse group riven by infighting, with no shared leadership and with hard-line Islamists as its most effective fighters.

After more than three years of civil war, there are hundreds of militias fighting President Bashar al-Assad — and one another. Among them, even the more secular forces have turned to Islamists for support and weapons over the years, and the remaining moderate rebels often fight alongside extremists like the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

“You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don’t exist,” said Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is a very dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer.”

FULL ARTICLE (The New York Times)

Photo: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Liesl Marelli/The National Guard/flickr

Sep 11

“As Aleppo goes, so goes Syria’s rebellion. The city is crucial to the mainstream opposition’s military viability as well as its morale, thus to halting the advance of the Islamic State (IS). After an alliance of armed rebel factions seized its eastern half in July 2012, Aleppo for a time symbolised the opposition’s optimism and momentum; in the following months, it exposed the rebels’ limits, as their progress slowed, and they struggled to win over the local population. Today, locked in a two-front war against the regime and IS, their position is more precarious than at any time since the fighting began.” — From Crisis Group’s report Rigged Cars and Barrel Bombs: Aleppo and the State of the Syrian War

Water Pressures in Central Asia
Bishkek/Brussels  |   11 Sep 2014
Growing tensions in the Ferghana Valley are exacerbated by disputes over shared water resources. To address this, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan urgently need to step back from using water or energy as a coercive tool and focus on reaching a series of modest, bilateral agreements, pending comprehensive resolution of this serious problem.
Political rivalries, economic competition, heightened nationalism and mistrust hamper the search for a solution to the region’s growing water and energy needs. In its latest report, Water Pressures in Central Asia, the International Crisis Group examines the impact of water issues on shared border areas in the volatile Ferghana Valley; water shortages in urban areas; and competing water and energy needs among the three riparian states of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The report also analyses the international community’s potential to contribute to national and regional stability in Central Asia.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
Kyrgyzstan is looking at a bleak winter of energy shortages because of low water levels at the Toktogul reservoir and hydropower plant. Energy insecurity and resentment are growing and have proved to be major catalysts in the downfall of successive Kyrgyz administrations. Only mass labour migration and authoritarian tactics have prevented similar upheavals in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Attempts at comprehensive regional solutions have foundered on mistrust. The three countries (and international backers) should act in the Ferghana Valley border areas to end annual competition and conflict over water by seeking step-by-step solutions rather than an all-inclusive resource settlement. If Uzbekistan will not join, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan should work bilaterally.
Uzbekistan’s irrigation system desperately needs modernisation. Researchers suggest that 50 to 80 per cent of water used for agricultural irrigation is lost.
The failure in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to provide basic services greatly increases the perception that their governments are weak and corrupt and provides a rallying point for opposition movements that seek to oust them.
The donor community, including China, the EU and Russia, should support the region in modernising its water infrastructure, building in effective anti-corruption measures and focusing on direct impact at community levels.
“Corruption, hidden interests and inflexible positions in all three states hinder a mutually acceptable solution. A common development strategy focusing on reform of agricultural and energy sectors would be in their interest”, says Deirdre Tynan, Central Asia Project Director, “but such an initiative requires a radical shift in the way regional leaders think”.
“The failure of Bishkek, Dushanbe and Tashkent to resolve cross-border water problems shows a worrying disregard for stability in their common area. Strained ethnic relations and competition over water and land could be a deadly mix. Conflict in this volatile part of Central Asia risks rapid, possibly irreversible regional destabilisation”, says Paul Quinn-Judge, Europe and Central Asia Program Director.
FULL REPORT

Water Pressures in Central Asia

Bishkek/Brussels  |   11 Sep 2014

Growing tensions in the Ferghana Valley are exacerbated by disputes over shared water resources. To address this, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan urgently need to step back from using water or energy as a coercive tool and focus on reaching a series of modest, bilateral agreements, pending comprehensive resolution of this serious problem.

Political rivalries, economic competition, heightened nationalism and mistrust hamper the search for a solution to the region’s growing water and energy needs. In its latest report, Water Pressures in Central Asia, the International Crisis Group examines the impact of water issues on shared border areas in the volatile Ferghana Valley; water shortages in urban areas; and competing water and energy needs among the three riparian states of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The report also analyses the international community’s potential to contribute to national and regional stability in Central Asia.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

“Corruption, hidden interests and inflexible positions in all three states hinder a mutually acceptable solution. A common development strategy focusing on reform of agricultural and energy sectors would be in their interest”, says Deirdre Tynan, Central Asia Project Director, “but such an initiative requires a radical shift in the way regional leaders think”.

“The failure of Bishkek, Dushanbe and Tashkent to resolve cross-border water problems shows a worrying disregard for stability in their common area. Strained ethnic relations and competition over water and land could be a deadly mix. Conflict in this volatile part of Central Asia risks rapid, possibly irreversible regional destabilisation”, says Paul Quinn-Judge, Europe and Central Asia Program Director.

FULL REPORT

Obama promises a long and limited war on Islamic State | Tony Karon
President Barack Obama used the broadest of brushstrokes on Wednesday night to describe his “comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State insurgency, providing few details and skirting discussion of key dilemmas facing any such plan.
The United States will lead a “broad coalition,” Obama said, but its war plan “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.” Instead, the campaign would rely on U.S. air power and support for “partner forces on the ground” to put the Islamic State (IS) to flight. The U.S. would supply intelligence, weapons and logistics and training. But it would be up to those forces to drive out the IS.
It was telling that the example he cited as the model for confronting the IS was the approach “we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” That comparison underscores the message that “ultimately” is the operative word in Obama’s promise to “ultimately destroy” the IS. In both Yemen and Somalia, America’s enemy remains very much intact and active, and the U.S. approach has thus far succeeded in managing and containing the threat, but not in destroying it.
FULL ARTICLE (Al Jazeera America)
Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA via NASA HQ Photo/flickr

Obama promises a long and limited war on Islamic State | Tony Karon

President Barack Obama used the broadest of brushstrokes on Wednesday night to describe his “comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State insurgency, providing few details and skirting discussion of key dilemmas facing any such plan.

The United States will lead a “broad coalition,” Obama said, but its war plan “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.” Instead, the campaign would rely on U.S. air power and support for “partner forces on the ground” to put the Islamic State (IS) to flight. The U.S. would supply intelligence, weapons and logistics and training. But it would be up to those forces to drive out the IS.

It was telling that the example he cited as the model for confronting the IS was the approach “we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” That comparison underscores the message that “ultimately” is the operative word in Obama’s promise to “ultimately destroy” the IS. In both Yemen and Somalia, America’s enemy remains very much intact and active, and the U.S. approach has thus far succeeded in managing and containing the threat, but not in destroying it.

FULL ARTICLE (Al Jazeera America)

Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA via NASA HQ Photo/flickr

Sep 10

Northern Nigerians live in fear of Boko Haram | Hilke Fischer
At night he lies awake and hears gun shots from a distance. “Nobody can sleep anymore,” explained a DW listener from Maiduguri, who wanted to remain anonymous. Over one million people live in the city of the northern Nigerian state of Borno and Boko Haram fighters are moving ever closer.
Gwoza, Bama, Gulak, Michika, Duhu, Shuwa, Kirshinga – the Islamists have been capturing new cities on an almost daily basis. They arrive in hijacked army vehicles, fight off the Nigerian troops and terrorize the residents. “Boko Haram are committing all kinds of atrocities killing and raping. At the same time they are taking young girls in batches and the city is littered with dead bodies,” says Ahmed Zanna, a member of the Nigerian Senate for the town of Bama says. Bama is just 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) from Maiduguri and fell to the Islamists four days ago. Zanna recounts how the soldiers who were supposed to defend Bama, refused to advance any further. “They were ill equipped and they just stayed in Kondudga.”
FULL ARTICLE (Deutsche Welle)
Photo: OxfamNovib via European Commission DG ECHO/flickr

Northern Nigerians live in fear of Boko Haram | Hilke Fischer

At night he lies awake and hears gun shots from a distance. “Nobody can sleep anymore,” explained a DW listener from Maiduguri, who wanted to remain anonymous. Over one million people live in the city of the northern Nigerian state of Borno and Boko Haram fighters are moving ever closer.

Gwoza, Bama, Gulak, Michika, Duhu, Shuwa, Kirshinga – the Islamists have been capturing new cities on an almost daily basis. They arrive in hijacked army vehicles, fight off the Nigerian troops and terrorize the residents. “Boko Haram are committing all kinds of atrocities killing and raping. At the same time they are taking young girls in batches and the city is littered with dead bodies,” says Ahmed Zanna, a member of the Nigerian Senate for the town of Bama says. Bama is just 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) from Maiduguri and fell to the Islamists four days ago. Zanna recounts how the soldiers who were supposed to defend Bama, refused to advance any further. “They were ill equipped and they just stayed in Kondudga.”

FULL ARTICLE (Deutsche Welle)

Photo: OxfamNovib via European Commission DG ECHO/flickr

Rigged Cars and Barrel Bombs: Aleppo and the State of the Syrian War
Beirut/Brussels  |   9 Sep 2014
Syria is sliding toward unending war between an autocratic, sectarian regime and the even more autocratic, more sectarian jihadi group that has made dramatic gains in both Syria and Iraq. Without either a ceasefire in Aleppo or greater support from its state backers, the mainstream opposition is likely to suffer a defeat that will dash chances of a political resolution for the foreseeable future.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the battle for greater Aleppo: continued gains there by the regime and Islamic State (IS) threaten the viability of the mainstream opposition as a whole, the defeat of which would be an unprecedented boon to IS and would render a negotiated resolution of the conflict all but impossible. In its latest report, Rigged Cars and Barrel Bombs: Aleppo and the State of the Syrian War, International Crisis Group focuses on Aleppo’s importance, analyses regime and IS strategies and examines the decision-making and political evolution of rebel forces.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
There are two means of averting Aleppo’s fall. The first – immediately negotiating and implementing a ceasefire there between the regime and anti-IS rebels, including a regime withdrawal from recently captured territory – is unlikely because it would require a fundamental shift in Damascus’ objectives and strategy. The second – improving and increasing support by the opposition’s Western and regional state backers to local, non-jihadi rebels in Aleppo – is risky.
Risks notwithstanding, augmenting support to mainstream rebels would offer potential benefits such as shifting the intra-rebel balance of power toward non-ideological groups and encouraging greater pragmatism among other factions. Their backers must jointly apply carrots and sticks to promote pragmatic political engagement with the regime and respect for local civil society, while penalising criminal behaviour, indiscriminate tactics and sectarian rhetoric.
Calls for Western partnership with the Assad regime against jihadis are ill-conceived, unless Damascus and its allies fundamentally revise their postures. As long as the regime’s strategy strengthens the ji-hadis it claims to combat, a rapprochement would redound to IS’s advantage.
At least in the absence of a coherent strategy to empower credible Sunni alternatives to IS, proposals for expanding U.S. airstrikes into Syria are similarly problematic; the resulting boost to IS recruitment might outweigh the group’s tactical losses.
“At stake in Aleppo is not regime victory but opposition defeat” says Noah Bonsey, Syria Senior Analyst. “If that occurs, the war would continue, pitting regime and allied forces lacking capacity to reconquer north and east Syria against an emboldened IS strengthened by recruits from rebel remnants”.
“If the regime and its Iranian and Russian backers truly wish to diminish jihadi power in Syria, they must change their strategy from pursuing the military defeat of the mainstream opposition to identifying jihadis as the primary threat”, says Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Crisis Group’s President. “Otherwise, they are leaving it to the opposition’s backers to determine whether and how to fight IS”.
FULL REPORT

Rigged Cars and Barrel Bombs: Aleppo and the State of the Syrian War

Beirut/Brussels  |   9 Sep 2014

Syria is sliding toward unending war between an autocratic, sectarian regime and the even more autocratic, more sectarian jihadi group that has made dramatic gains in both Syria and Iraq. Without either a ceasefire in Aleppo or greater support from its state backers, the mainstream opposition is likely to suffer a defeat that will dash chances of a political resolution for the foreseeable future.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the battle for greater Aleppo: continued gains there by the regime and Islamic State (IS) threaten the viability of the mainstream opposition as a whole, the defeat of which would be an unprecedented boon to IS and would render a negotiated resolution of the conflict all but impossible. In its latest report, Rigged Cars and Barrel Bombs: Aleppo and the State of the Syrian War, International Crisis Group focuses on Aleppo’s importance, analyses regime and IS strategies and examines the decision-making and political evolution of rebel forces.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

“At stake in Aleppo is not regime victory but opposition defeat” says Noah Bonsey, Syria Senior Analyst. “If that occurs, the war would continue, pitting regime and allied forces lacking capacity to reconquer north and east Syria against an emboldened IS strengthened by recruits from rebel remnants”.

“If the regime and its Iranian and Russian backers truly wish to diminish jihadi power in Syria, they must change their strategy from pursuing the military defeat of the mainstream opposition to identifying jihadis as the primary threat”, says Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Crisis Group’s President. “Otherwise, they are leaving it to the opposition’s backers to determine whether and how to fight IS”.

FULL REPORT

Sep 09

Grace Mugabe poised for political power in Zimbabwe | David Smith
Even as he received red carpet treatment in Beijing last month, lauded by China as an “old friend” and “renowned leader”, Robert Mugabe was in danger of being upstaged by a colourful, charismatic presence at his side. His first lady, Grace Mugabe, sporting a series of vivid outfits during the official visit to China, was once a lowly member of the presidential typing pool. Then she caught Mugabe’s eye. Now the woman better known to headline writers as “DisGrace” or “First Shopper” is making a surprise entrance on to the political stage and, it is speculated, might be central to her autocratic husband’s plan to build a dynasty.
The 49-year-old was recently nominated as leader of the ruling Zanu-PF’s women’s league, as well as having a place on its central committee. She insists she is ready. “The time has come to show people what I am made of,” she told a crowd in Mazowe, the Zimbabwe Standard reported. “People should learn to wait for their time… I had never dreamed of entering politics, but you have approached me and I am ready to go.”
FULL ARTICLE (The Observer)
Photo: GovernmentZA/GCIS/flickr

Grace Mugabe poised for political power in Zimbabwe | David Smith

Even as he received red carpet treatment in Beijing last month, lauded by China as an “old friend” and “renowned leader”, Robert Mugabe was in danger of being upstaged by a colourful, charismatic presence at his side. His first lady, Grace Mugabe, sporting a series of vivid outfits during the official visit to China, was once a lowly member of the presidential typing pool. Then she caught Mugabe’s eye. Now the woman better known to headline writers as “DisGrace” or “First Shopper” is making a surprise entrance on to the political stage and, it is speculated, might be central to her autocratic husband’s plan to build a dynasty.

The 49-year-old was recently nominated as leader of the ruling Zanu-PF’s women’s league, as well as having a place on its central committee. She insists she is ready. “The time has come to show people what I am made of,” she told a crowd in Mazowe, the Zimbabwe Standard reported. “People should learn to wait for their time… I had never dreamed of entering politics, but you have approached me and I am ready to go.”

FULL ARTICLE (The Observer)

Photo: GovernmentZA/GCIS/flickr

Conflict Alert: Unrest in Sanaa
Sanaa/Brussels  |   8 Sep 2014
Yemen’s troubled transition is at a crossroads more dangerous than any since 2011. The Huthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement also known as Ansar Allah, are mobilising in the capital, organising demonstrations calling for the government’s demise and reinstating the fuel subsidies that were lifted in July. More worrying, their tribal supporters, many of whom have ties to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, ousted in the 2011 uprising, are setting up protest camps on the outskirts of the city, implicitly threatening a siege or military invasion. The situation is tense and the possibility of violence real. Overcoming the impasse requires returning to the basic principles agreed upon in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) that concluded in January 2014: rejecting political exclusion and resolving differences through peaceful negotiation.
FULL CONFLICT ALERT

Conflict Alert: Unrest in Sanaa

Sanaa/Brussels  |   8 Sep 2014

Yemen’s troubled transition is at a crossroads more dangerous than any since 2011. The Huthis, a Zaydi Shiite movement also known as Ansar Allah, are mobilising in the capital, organising demonstrations calling for the government’s demise and reinstating the fuel subsidies that were lifted in July. More worrying, their tribal supporters, many of whom have ties to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, ousted in the 2011 uprising, are setting up protest camps on the outskirts of the city, implicitly threatening a siege or military invasion. The situation is tense and the possibility of violence real. Overcoming the impasse requires returning to the basic principles agreed upon in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) that concluded in January 2014: rejecting political exclusion and resolving differences through peaceful negotiation.

FULL CONFLICT ALERT

Somalia’s Shebab wounded but dangerous, unpredictable | Agence France-Presse
The US missiles that smashed into Somalia’s Islamist chief this week ended the life of the one of the world’s most wanted men, but not the danger of his Shebab insurgents, analysts warn.
Ahmed Abdi Godane, declared dead by the United States after an air strike earlier this week, was a ruthless kingpin of Al-Qaeda’s main African affiliate.
As he had purged potential rivals, there is no clear leader for the fighters, although the Shebab have survived before: Godane himself took power after the last Shebab chief was also slain in a US missile strike in 2008.
"Removing him will significantly weaken the Shebab, at least in the short term," said Cedric Barnes of the International Crisis Group.
FULL ARTICLE (AFP)
Photo: UN PHOTO/STUART PRICE/flickr

Somalia’s Shebab wounded but dangerous, unpredictable | Agence France-Presse

The US missiles that smashed into Somalia’s Islamist chief this week ended the life of the one of the world’s most wanted men, but not the danger of his Shebab insurgents, analysts warn.

Ahmed Abdi Godane, declared dead by the United States after an air strike earlier this week, was a ruthless kingpin of Al-Qaeda’s main African affiliate.

As he had purged potential rivals, there is no clear leader for the fighters, although the Shebab have survived before: Godane himself took power after the last Shebab chief was also slain in a US missile strike in 2008.

"Removing him will significantly weaken the Shebab, at least in the short term," said Cedric Barnes of the International Crisis Group.

FULL ARTICLE (AFP)

Photo: UN PHOTO/STUART PRICE/flickr

West widens contacts with Syria’s Kurds but suspicion remains | TOM PERRY
(Reuters) - The fight against Islamic State could at last win Syria’s Kurds the Western help they have sought, but they must first clarify their relationship to President Bashar al-Assad and reassure Turkey that they won’t cause trouble on its border.
The United States has entered the war against Islamic State fighters in Iraq with air strikes, but is still trying to decide a strategy for fighting the group on the other side of the frontier in Syria.
In Iraq, Kurds are one of the main Western allies against Islamic State. But in Syria, where Kurdish militia have carved out a swathe of northern territory and repeatedly battled against Islamic State during a three-and-a-half year civil war, Kurds have yet to win the West’s acceptance as partners.
FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)
Photo: Chris De Bruyn/flickr

West widens contacts with Syria’s Kurds but suspicion remains | TOM PERRY

(Reuters) - The fight against Islamic State could at last win Syria’s Kurds the Western help they have sought, but they must first clarify their relationship to President Bashar al-Assad and reassure Turkey that they won’t cause trouble on its border.

The United States has entered the war against Islamic State fighters in Iraq with air strikes, but is still trying to decide a strategy for fighting the group on the other side of the frontier in Syria.

In Iraq, Kurds are one of the main Western allies against Islamic State. But in Syria, where Kurdish militia have carved out a swathe of northern territory and repeatedly battled against Islamic State during a three-and-a-half year civil war, Kurds have yet to win the West’s acceptance as partners.

FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)

Photo: Chris De Bruyn/flickr