Here’s all you need to know from the world of gen prev from 9/7 to 9/12.
In an address to the American public on Wednesday evening, President Obama outlined his intentions to launch airstrikes on Syria, broadening his campaign to eliminate the Islamic State (IS). Declaring that the United States would “degrade and destroy” the Islamist organization, the President for the first time committed to strikes to halt the group in Syria. The President’s decision comes after three years of shying away from any attack on Syria, reluctant to embroil America in what could be perceived as another fruitless overseas conflict.
Obama will now face the challenges of organizing regional partners like Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the fight against IS, trying to bring about the destruction of IS while at the same time not aiding the brutal and dictatorial Assad regime, and training and arming Syrian moderate factions that will be able to stand against both IS and the Assad regime. Some analysts have stated that previous American reluctance to engage in the conflict, particularly after the chemical weapons attacks last year that the American government believes to have been perpetrated by the Assad regime, has caused skepticism over American objectives in the conflict.
Some – including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – have accused Obama of doing too little too late. Indeed, in an August interview with The Atlantic, Clinton was quoted as saying, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad… left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”
While many in Congress have been critical of the President’s plan, Republican House leaders have largely argued in favor of supporting President Obama’s call for military action in Syria. House and Senate hearings are scheduled for early this week, with a vote on military action to follow after. The date for any such vote has not yet been set. The White House, however, has argued that it does not need Congressional approval to begin any such strikes. The Obama administration has stated that attacks against the Islamic State are covered under the existing authority for military action against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks, al-Qaeda. While the Islamic State has officially parted ways with Al-Qaeda, White House officials argue that they are still covered under the language of the A.U.M.F., the 2001 authorization of military force against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
Inside Syria, a blast on Tuesday killed the leader and several other top figures of Ahrar al-Sham. Ahrar al-Sham is among the most powerful extremist insurgent groups in Syria. The Syrian government announced Tuesday that it has canceled a deal to sell 200,000 tonnes of wheat to Iraq due to the Islamic State’s rapid advance since June in the areas straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border.
**Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault**
The umbrella of opposition groups in Sudan, the National Consensus Forces (NCF)announced Thursday that it only accepts dialogue with the government that will lead to genuine change. The umbrella group emphasized that previous agreements have failed to repeal laws restricting freedoms or set forth a plan to dismantle the one-party rule of the National Congress Party (NCP). Opposition groups also called for President Omar al-Bashir of the NCP to release all political prisoners. Meanwhile, the head of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) announced that talks have been finalized between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-North), and between the government and Darfur rebel groups. The former talks are scheduled for 12 October and the latter for 15 October. While the armed opposition alliance of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) insists on negotiating a comprehensive humanitarian ceasefire for Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states, the government insists on using the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) to negotiate separately with holdout rebel groups.
South Sudan has criticized the Sudanese government for including the oil-producing Abyei region in its plans for 2015 elections, saying that the decision contravenes the status of the disputed region. South Sudan also requested that the East African regional bloc, IGAD,intervene to help it resolve its disputes with Khartoum.
The International Criminal Court announced Thursday that it has changed a Darfur rebel figure’s court summons to an arrest warrant, stating that the suspect may not arrive voluntarily for his trial scheduled for next November. Meanwhile, reports emerged earlier this week that Janjaweed militiamen have shot 5 people and kidnapped 2 in Darfur. On Thursday, a spokesman for the rebel group Liberation Movement for Justice (LMJ) announced that his forces attacked and killed 17 government troops in North Darfur in coordination with forces from the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM).
The spokesman for the Darfur Displaced and Refugees Association has called on the international community to enter the camps and investigate the various diseases spreading throughout the camps. The spokesman for the North Darfur camps also called on the international community to international community to act to aid the displaced with their hunger needs as well as health care, and to protect Darfur’s displaced from the Janjaweed and Rapid Support Militia, whom he called “the cause of the instability in the insecurity in Darfur.” The Secretary for Women’s Issues of North Darfur’s Kabkabiya camps also called for the UN and the international community to protect the women of the camps from rape, noting that eight women from the camps in the past four months have been attacked and raped. Meanwhile, a hospital in Central Darfur was forced to close down on Monday as employees have not received payments in six months. In West Darfur, reports have emerged that the health situation of Murnei Camp has rapidly deteriorated over the past two months. A lack of food rations, health care, and medicines has caused the death toll in the camps to rise significantly.
Mixed reports surfaced over the deployment of Chinese peacekeepers in South Sudan last week. The Wall Street Journal reported the deployment of 700 Chinese soldiers to a UN peacekeeping force in Unity and Upper Nile States. The report indicated that the soldiers were being deployed to protect oil fields as well as Chinese workers and installations. China is the largest investor in South Sudan’s oil industry. However, the UN spokesman for UNMISS, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, later denied the report, saying that the soldiers are to be deployed later this year to protect civilians.
Reports emerged Tuesday that several Nuer employees of different oil companies were denied payment and subsequently fired by the government. The SPLM in Opposition, one of the main armed opposition group, is led by Riek Machar, a Nuer and South Sudan’s vice president. President Salva Kiir is of Dinka ethnicity, and the conflict has seen severe ethnic violence and civilian targeting. The government has dismissed the reports.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) requested earlier this week for donors an additional 17 million francs (approximately 19 million USD) due to alarmingly high malnutrition rates in South Sudan, prolonged displacement, and the intense pressure on health-care facilities. The ICRC aims to distribute food to 150,000 people with the additional money.
Central African Republic (CAR)
A new UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic will begin next week. The mission will include 1,500 additional peacekeepers to join the 4,800 troops of the African Union-led MISCA peacekeeping mission, which includes a sizable French presence with 2,000 French troops. Together, the peacekeepers will operate under the UN as the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Meanwhile, the White House announced that 20 US Armed Forces personnel were deployed Wednesday to CAR to support the resumption of activities at the US Embassy in the capital of Bangui.
Also on Wednesday, the Special Envoy to the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the Great Lakes Region, Said Djinnit, met with Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos to discuss military and political stability in the region. In the meeting, Special Envoy Djinnit stressed the desire of the UN to strengthen its work in creating peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Meanwhile, CAR’s former Prime Minister called on the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) for further support on Tuesday. The former Prime Minister asked the AfDB to assist CAR through advocacy with international bodies to obtain their support.
Earlier this week, the international medical humanitarian agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, was forced to cease its activities in the northern city of Batangafo due threats against MSF staff and the repeated raiding of the organization’s staff house. The organization states that suspension of activities will likely affect hundreds of people daily.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
In a statement issued on August 26, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) expressed concern at limited progress shown by a six-month voluntary repatriation program for the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a militant group responsible for large-scale atrocities in Congo’s eastern provinces. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo commented that the FDLR interprets this six-month window as an opportunity to postpone previously scheduled demobilizations. FDLR combatants, among the parties responsible for the large-scale massacre of Tutsis during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, remain in Congo’s eastern provinces and continue to commit war crimes against civilian populations. Given the regional and domestic threat posed by the FDLR, the UNSC has encouraged the Congolese military and UN forces in the Congo to use military force against FDLR commanders who refuse to demobilize.
UN Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) Force Commander General Dos Santos Cruz presented a cache of over 250 arms to the press. According to Dos Santos, MONUSCO recovered the weapons between the beginning of May and the end of August. The mission recovered the caches in abandoned 23 March Movement (M-23) militia strongholds in the Rutshuru territory of North Kivu. M-23 combatants occupied the city of Goma, provincial capital of North Kivu, for nearly two years before UN and Congolese forces pushed the militia out of the city. Dos Santos added that civilians played a large role in alerting MONUSCO about the existence of arms caches in abandoned camps, and the commander encouraged locals to continue to cooperate with MONUSCO to ensure the seizure and destruction of all M-23 weaponry.
Unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV or “drone”) technology will cost MONUSCO an estimated 15 million USD in 2014. UNSC Resolution 2098 (March 2013) grants MONUSCO the authority to use UAVs strictly for surveillance purposes. Proponents of the technology cite the comparative affordability of the technology relative to the mission’s annual budget (8 billion USD) as well as the deterrent effects that drones have on militia groups in the region and the ways in which drone presence helps reassure local civilians. Human rights groups reason that with this enhanced surveillance technology, the UN mission will no longer be able to “plead ignorance” in the face of attacks on civilian populations and will instead be forced to act. Officials in neighboring Rwanda expressed privacy concerns with MONUSCO’s use of drones. MONUSCO spokesman Colonel Félix Basse assured skeptics that drone cameras would not be used on Rwandan soil.
Emerging Conflicts: Nigeria
The radical Islamist group Boko Haram has made dramatic advances in northeastern Nigeria. It took the town of Madagali in Adamawa state on 23 August, and has also takenBuni Yadi and Bara in Yobe state. The bulk of its operations, however, have come in Borno State, where Gamboru Ngala, Banki, Ashigashya, and Gwoza have all fallen under Boko Haram control. While Boko Haram captured Damboa in July, it appears to have been retaken by the Nigerian military. Boko Haram has also launched a number of attacks across the border into Cameroon. As of 11 September, Boko Haram had the main city in Borno State, Maiduguri, surrounded. Nigeria Security Network says that “if Maiduguri falls, it will be a symbolic and strategic victory unparalleled so far in the conflict.” Boko Haram has already caused extensive civilian costs, where along with the many dead the UN has estimated that 650,000 people have been displaced.
These events mark a major shift in Boko Haram’s strategy. They had previously operated as a terrorist organization, with the bombing of a World Cup viewing center and the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls serving as high-profile examples. While they continue to operate in a similar fashion outside of northeastern Nigeria, these recent events demonstrate that Boko Haram is becoming increasingly territorial. Reports of the appointment of an Emir in Gwoza and leader Abubakar Shekau’s declaration that the townis now ruled by Islamic law have led some to believe that Boko Haram is beginning to set up their own caliphate.
The Nigerian government has not appeared to be organized enough or taking the problem seriously enough to counter Boko Haram’s advances. There are reports of soldiers only having enough bullets to last a few minutes, and these problems led over 400 soldiers to flee and some to refuse to fight until they received better equipment. Soldiers have also blamed corruption within the army as being a major obstacle to efficient operations. President Goodluck Jonathan has been severely criticized for his response to the kidnapping of 276 girls in April that prompted the hashtag “Bring Back our Girls.” Still, supporters of Jonathan appropriated the phrase for the hashtag “Bring Back Goodluck 2015” in support of his reelection, although Jonathan asked his supporters to no longer use the hashtag after intense criticism.