Iraq’s Oldest Militia Is Its Most Worrisome

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He is a student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College. He focuses on the relationship between Islam and conflict in Syria and Sudan.

Head of the Badr Organisation Hadi al-Amiri looks over military plans in Anbar province in May 2015.

Head of the Badr Organisation Hadi al-Amiri looks over military plans in Anbar province in May 2015.

Iraq’s Shia militias have earned notoriety as some of the country’s most-potent but least-welcome allies in the war against the terror organization “Islamic State” (IS). The militias fall into three categories: the first generation, which challenged the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran–Iraq War; the second generation, which fought Western soldiers during the Iraq War; and the third generation, which is resisting IS in the north of the country. The Badr Organization, the oldest of Iraq’s Shia militias, has built a legacy fighting all Iraq’s perceived occupiers from Saddam through the Americans to IS.

Hadi al-Amiri, an Iraqi politician, has led Badr for decades. He has maintained a close relationship with the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (also known as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; IRGC), the religious vanguard of the Iranian military. “I love Qassem Suleimani!” al-Amiri told The New Yorker. “He is my dearest friend.” Suleimani commands the Quds Force, which conducts the IRGC’s operations in the Middle East and the rest of the world. Badr and the IRGC share a long history. While the Iranian Revolution propelled Iran’s Shia clergy to power 1979, Iraq’s militant, restless Shia minority benefitted from its larger neighbor’s revolutionary know-how. The IRGC started arming and training the future members of Badr as early as 1983. According to Stanford University, “the Badr Organization is heavily influenced by Iran. At its inception, the organization operated out of Iran for two decades. The organization still receives funding and ideological guidance from the country.” From the start, Iran has used Badr to fight its proxy wars in Iraq and later Syria.

Like Iraq’s other Shia militias, the Badr Organization has done little to contain sectarianism. In fact, many of its members — no longer constrained by Saddam’s police state — used the anarchy of the Iraq War to enact retaliatory violence on the country’s Sunni minority. Journalists uncovered files documenting a paramilitary prison holding Badr’s Sunni enemies. “The documents show how Washington, seeking to defeat Sunni jihadists and stabilize Iraq, has consistently overlooked excesses by Shi’ite militias sponsored by the Iraqi government,” reported Reuters. “The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both worked with Badr and its powerful leader, Hadi al-Amiri, whom many Sunnis continue to accuse of human rights abuses.” Since the start of the war against IS, Badr has joined the People’s Mobilization (Hashd), an umbrella organization for the Shia militias. Amnesty International asserts that paramilitaries have been abducting and executing Sunni civilians, blaming them for the power of the terrorist organization that has overtaken much of Iraq’s north and west. Badr’s history implies that it has likely partaken in these sectarian abductions and executions.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qasem Soleimani uses a walkie-talkie at the front line during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba, Iraq, March 8, 2015.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qasem Soleimani uses a walkie-talkie at the front line during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba, Iraq, March 8, 2015.

Despite military and paramilitary notoriety, Badr has always remembered the importance of politics. The Globe and Mail noted at the end February 2015, that the militia had twenty-two of its politicians in the Council of Representatives of Iraq. The Washington Post observed that — as irony would have it — the Iraqi government appointed in October 2014 a Badr member to chair the “the Human Rights Ministry”. Badr’s political ambitions have managed to endanger not only Sunnis but also the stability of the country, for the Shia militias are competing for power in a government that depends on them.

Badr has struggled to distinguish its military goals from its political ones: “I worked for four years every day [as an politician] and people never recognized that. Now, just four months as a fighter and all the people are talking about is Amiri. […] It’s because people love the one who defends them,” al-Amiri told Foreign Policy. If al-Amiri seeks to resolve all his problems on the battlefield, he may face new difficulties. Earlier this year, the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has his own militia in the Hashd, almost crippled the Iraqi government when he encouraged protesters to breach the Green Zone and assault the Council of Representatives. Badr assembled its militiamen to protect Baghdad during the chaos. An extremist militia, meanwhile, threatened to attack Kurdish security forces and destroy a truce between Badr and the Kurds if they refused to return disputed territory to Baghdad. As Badr tries to balance its Iranian relationships with its Iraqi ones, the goals of different militias in the Hashd may contradict one another. Diplomats fear that, once the Shia militias have confronted the Kurds and defeated ISIS, they will use their Iranian weaponry against one another. Badr will need to decide where it stands.

The competition for authority in Iraq extends from the quiet proxy war between America and Iran to the subtle discord between the country’s Shia militias. Whether al-Amiri and al-Sadr will clash or, as politics demands for now, oppose each other in secret but support each other in public, remains a mystery. Till Iraqi security forces retake Mosul, the war against IS will unite them. Al-Amiri and Badr, however, have worrisome ambitions and goals for the future of Iraq.

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone at the end of April, 2016.

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone at the end of April, 2016.

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Turkey’s growing domestic arms industry

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards.

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards.

Back in 2013, after Turkey was criticized for the police brutality employed during its crackdown of demonstrators, there were international calls to suspend shipments of tear gas to Turkey, since police were using them against unarmed crowds, sometimes causing casualties. In response to this attempt to, albeit mildly, sanction it for its behaviour Turkey considered domestically produce tear gas, so it would not be susceptible to outside pressure to amend its policies.

This was an interesting reaction. Since the war began in Syria, Turkey has made many questionable moves, in its bid to bring the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad to bear Turkey backed many questionable Islamist groups. Indeed for quite some time it acquiesced to the rise of the likes of Islamic State (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra since they were opposed to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK)-affiliated Syrian Kurdish groups and were also believed by Ankara to be a lesser evil to that group and the Assad regime. Indeed it didn’t even join the US-led campaign against ISIS until July 2015, just under a year after that campaign began.

Its shooting down of a Russian bomber last November has seen it pay a heavy price in loss of business with a hitherto major trading partner — the vast majority of Turkey’s gas, for example, was imported from Russia. The instability caused by increased ISIS attacks on its cities, coupled with renewed war with the PKK, arguably caused by Ankara’s unwillingness to go the extra mile to bring about a lasting peace arrangement, has also alienated tourists and further damaged Turkey’s economy and its image. However the more Ankara feels the pressure the more it perceives itself to be the victim. Which is why it is stubbornly determined not to amend its policies, even if those policies cause it harm.

There is a good chance that the recent deal between Turkey and the European Union aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Turkey to the latter, in return for Brussels granting visa-free travel to Turkish citizens, could fall through given the fact Turkey doesn’t want to reform its anti-terror laws which are ambiguous and sweeping and seen as Ankara’s way of legalizing crackdowns on dissent.

The 2013 tear gas story is worth referring to and may give some indication to broader Turkish efforts in the future. Rather than amend its questionable domestic policies Turkish officials sought to ensure that outsiders could not pressure it to use less brutal tactics by producing the necessary tools to do so.

There is a hidden civil war going on in the southeast region of Turkey after a two-and-a-half-year-long peace process between the Turkish government and various Kurdish insurgent groups failed. During a military operation by the Turkish Armed Forces against PKK fighters, which started in December 2015 and lasted for months, several houses in the in the southeastern town of Cizre in Sirnak province were heavily damaged.


There is a hidden civil war going on in the southeast region of Turkey after a two-and-a-half-year-long peace process between the Turkish government and various Kurdish insurgent groups failed. During a military operation by the Turkish Armed Forces against PKK fighters, which started in December 2015 and lasted for months, several houses in the in the southeastern town of Cizre in Sirnak province were heavily damaged.

On the military front it appears this may become also soon turn out to be the case. Perceiving itself to be threatened by terrorists on the home front and viewing itself as the destined and rightful regional power, Turkey cannot be seen as dependent on outside powers to arm its military, which may be one reason why its pursuing the domestic production of a variety of armaments.

Turkey is producing the Altay main battle tank. It hopes to put it into service in the Turkish Army by 2018 and also export other models. Next year they will begin building 250 of the tanks which will cost around $2 billion. Two similar sized batches are likely to be in the pipeline too. Mass production of these tanks could gradually replace Turkey’s inventory of US-made M48 (according Military Balance 2016 around 2’850 pieces) and M60 tanks (about 930 pieces) and its European Leopard tanks (397 Leopard 1 and 325 Leopard 2).

In the sky Turkey has plans to build a fifth-generation air superiority fighter jet called the TAI TFX. It is expected to gradually replace Turkey’s US-made fleet of F-16’s (about 260 aircrafts). In this case however there are doubts the plane will fly by 2023.

When Turkey perceives itself to be right and the world to be wrong when it comes to its policies its willing to alienate the latter, which is what it did when it intervened forcefully in Cyprus in 1974, an action which led to the US imposing an arms embargo on Ankara. No matter, it got to pursue a policy it believed to be right regardless of what the outside world thought about it … and of course if you have an arms industry which can produce weapons and ammunition that significantly lessens the impact of an arms embargo. As Turkey grows more forceful and aggressive in pursuing policies it deems to be justified possessing a largely domestic military arsenal could well prove to be a major asset and enabler for its controversial military and police policies, both foreign and domestic.

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Imagery of the Week: IAF still Flying UAVs from India’s Tezpur

CSBiggers (27OCT2015) Tezpur

Commercial satellite imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe confirms that the Indian Air Force still flies the IAI Heron from Assam’s Tezpur. The airbase is located less than 20km from the disputed territory of Arunachal Pradesh. Space snapshots from October 2015 show the Israeli-built platform parked near a new drive through maintenance hangar constructed since 2014. There’s been no official reporting of a UAV squadron deployed at the airbase which may suggest that this is a rotation. Alternatively, the new hangar could suggest this is a permanent deployment. Future imagery may provide more insight. The last time the aircraft was spotted at Tezpur was in November 2009, prior to the airbase renovations.

The Heron, a medium altitude long endurance UAV, can perform of variety of roles including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, target acquisition, ELINT, COMINT and data relay. IAI payloads to support those missions include SAR/GMTI or the EL/M-2022U maritime surveillance radar, capable of tracking up to 32 targets. Other payloads can include the Elta EL/K-7071 COMINT, EL/L-8385 ESM/ELINT, Ku-band SATCOM, or customer-provided payload. Multiple payload options allow for both day and night operation.

The twin-boom, unarmed aircraft has a range of 350km, an endurance of 45 hours as well as retractable landing gear for unobstructed coverage by onboard sensors. India is one of the largest operators of the Heron and the world’s largest importer of UAVs.

About Tezpur
The Royal British Indian Air Force first constructed an airfield at Tezpur during the Second World War. By 1959, it was further developed by the Indian Air Force and classified as a “full-fledged” air force base. According to the Economic Times, it has been one of the most active bases in the Northeast hosting a variety of aircraft including a MIG-21 training unit. By 1993, the base also took on civilian flights as it was the only feeder airport for the nearby state of Arunachal Pradesh. Between 2007 and 2009, flight operations were halted and the base underwent extensive runway repair and extensions. Since reopening in early 2009, the base reportedly received a Su-30MKI detachment of five aircraft in June of the same year. Since the deployment of the Su-30MKI, the airfield continues to see further renovations with new hangars and additional support buildings.

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A Dangerous Courtship: Somalia’s Appeal to Russia

by Paul Pryce. With degrees in political science from both sides of the pond, Paul Pryce has previously worked as Senior Research Fellow for the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Canadian Armed Forces program, as a Research Fellow for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. He has also served as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces.

2016420635967483959851706cumar_lavrov_660Somalia has been on something of a diplomatic tear recently. On April 17, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on the side-line of Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia to discuss the potential for a common market encompassing the Horn of Africa region, which would ostensibly include the countries of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan. Two days later, a meeting with a much more practical theme took place in Moscow – on April 19, Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (see image above). According to media reporting regarding the meeting, Prime Minister Sharmarke requested Russian assistance in the fight against al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has sought to wrest control of Somalia from the internationally recognized government, to which Lavrov responded, “I know that during your visit to Russia, you would like to talk in particular about equipping the Somali security forces with all that is necessary to fight terrorists. Such an approach is fully consistent with the interests of the international community, in line with UN Security Council decisions, and Russia will be ready to consider a request on the matter.”

This form of Russian engagement in the Horn of Africa is not without precedent. In recent years, the Russian Federation has supplied the Eritrean Defence Forces with Kornet-E anti-tank guided missiles (80 missiles in 2005 according to the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database) and 9K38 Igla shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (50 missiles in 1995 and 200 missiles in 1999 according to the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database). During the Ogaden War in 1977-1978, the Soviet Union and other communist bloc countries, such as Cuba and South Yemen, supported Ethiopia against Somalia with arms and the deployment of approximately 1,500 Soviet “military advisors”.

But the Lavrov-Sharmarke meeting sets into perspective the growing great power rivalry in the Horn of Africa, which carries the potential to fuel regional conflict. China’s engagement in the region has been well-documented, including financing the construction of the African Union headquarters building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the potential establishment of a naval base in Djibouti. When South Sudan’s civil war began to interfere with the oil field operations of PetroDar and the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, both of which have China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) as a major shareholder, China committed to deploy a substantial number of its troops to participate in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

Source: Monte Reel, "Djibouti Is Hot: How a forgotten sandlot of a country became a hub of international power games", Bloomberg Businessweek, 23.03.2016.

Source: Monte Reel, “Djibouti Is Hot: How a forgotten sandlot of a country became a hub of international power games“, Bloomberg Businessweek, 23.03.2016. Klick on the image to enlarge it!

Already in 2011, Japan established a naval base in Djibouti, intended to support Japanese efforts to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Camp Lemonnier – which is located in the town of Ambouli, Djibouti – is the US military’s only base in Africa, having been refurbished in 2001 after spending quite some time as a base for the French Foreign Legion and later the Djibouti Armed Forces. The French have by no means left the Horn of Africa; one of the French military’s three largest African military bases is located in Djibouti, providing support to approximately 1,900 French soldiers deployed in the country. Even Italy has a naval base in Djibouti, supported by approximately 300 Italian Navy personnel.

This external military presence can potentially, and indeed does, have a stabilizing effect on the region. In 1996 and again in 2008, Eritrean forces attacked Djibouti in an effort to seize disputed lands in the Ras Doumeira area. The presence of so many bases operated by major military powers is no doubt a deterrent for the Eritreans, who might otherwise mount a more vigorous offensive against their neighbour. There are also, of course, economic benefits that this extensive military presence brings to Djibouti, creating jobs for locals in a country that otherwise enjoys an annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of just $1.5 billion US. But the Russian involvement in the region is of an entirely different character, which is what makes the Lavrov-Sharmarke meeting in Moscow so worrisome.

The cockpit section of a Belorussian TransAVIAexport Airlines Il-76 shot down over the city in 2007, causing the death of all eleven crew members. The photo was taken in May 2013 by Petterik Wiggers / Panos Pictures / Felix Features.

The cockpit section of a Belorussian TransAVIAexport Airlines Il-76 shot down over the city in 2007, causing the death of all eleven crew members. The photo was taken in May 2013 by Petterik Wiggers / Panos Pictures / Felix Features.

In March 2007, it was reported by international media that a cargo plane (an Ilyushin Il-76), operated by Belarusian company TransAVIAexport, was shot down while departing Mogadishu International Airport in Somalia. Apparently, the plane’s left wing was struck by a missile fired by an aforementioned 9K38 Igla that had been sold by Russia to Eritrea but had somehow found its way into the hands of al-Shabaab. A similar arms deal with Somalia’s new government carries the same risks – arms could flow to the same terrorist organization they are intended to combat. Additionally, a ready supply of Russian arms could embolden the Somali authorities to over-extend in the fight against al-Shabaab. Some areas of southern Somalia remain under the control of the Islamist group, despite the efforts of Somali government forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). An overly ambitious strike against these areas could result in the defeat of Somali government forces and a land grab by al-Shabaab, imperiling the legitimacy of the new government among Somalis. Less likely, but still worthy of concern, Somali government forces could launch a disastrous offensive to annex the secessionist regions of Somaliland and Puntland.

As such, this request for Russian assistance is risky business. A preferable option would be to request an expanded scope for the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Somalia, which is responsible for the development of a professional Somali military force capable of not only combating al-Shabaab but also upholding the rule of law wherever these troops are deployed. Without an adequate investment in the troops and their skills, any arms provided will not be used effectively.

Posted in Djibouti, English, Ethiopia, Paul Pryce, Russia, Security Policy, Somalia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rosige Zeiten für Diktatoren

von Peter Dörrie.

Hände waschen nicht vergessen! Der libysche Herrscher Muammar Gaddafi und US-Präsident Barack Obama schütteln am G8-Gipfeltreffen im Juli 2009 in L'Aquila, Italien die Hände.

Hände waschen nicht vergessen! Der libysche Herrscher Muammar Gaddafi und US-Präsident Barack Obama schütteln am G8-Gipfeltreffen im Juli 2009 in L’Aquila, Italien die Hände.

Es gab tatsächlich eine kurze Zeit, in der es aussah, als ob die offene Verbrüderung mit autoritären Herrschern außer Mode kommen könnte — besonders in Afrika. Mit dem Ende des Kalten Krieges musste der Westen mit einem Mal nicht mehr auf die Suche nach “our Son of a Bitch” gehen und Russland hatte schlicht und einfach keine Mittel mehr dazu. Gleichzeitig brachten die brutalen Bürgerkriege der 1990er und 2000er die tödlichen Konsequenzen von Diktaturen zum Vorschein, und eine neue Generation von Herrschern, etwa Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, Meles Zenawi in Äthiopien und Paul Kagame in Ruanda, versprach in vielen Ländern Afrikas den Übergang in eine Mehrparteien-Demokratie.

Im Gegensatz zur Situation im Mittleren Osten hatten die meisten afrikanischen Länder darüber hinaus keine strategischen Relevanz. Um dem ganzen die Krone aufzusetzen diskreditierte der Arabische Frühling die westliche Strategie in Nordafrika und entlarvte zweifelhaften Geschäfte mit Personen wie Muammar Gaddafi in Libyen, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunesien und Hosni Mubarak in Ägypten.

Westliche Regierungen versprachen darauf hin aus ihren Fehlern gelernt zu haben und schwörten, von nun an wirklich und ohne Kompromisse Demokratie in Afrika fördern zu wollen (als Beispiel siehe die Rede von US-Präsident Barack Obama über die U.S. Strategie im Mittleren Osten und in Nordafrika im Mai 2011 am Ende des Artikels).

Tja – diese Gefühle waren von kurzer Dauer. Mit dem Atem rechter Populisten im Nacken und angetrieben sowohl von der Flüchtlingskrise als auch von Rüstungsunternehmen, die nach der Finanzkrise verzweifelt nach neuen Aufträgen fahnden, sind mit einem Mal die Autokraten wieder zurück im Spiel.

Die Europäische Kommission machte dies Ende März in einer Sitzung ihrer Mitgliedsstaaten mehr als deutlich: Sie will mit ostafrikanischen Machthabern über eine Rückführung und Rückübernahme von Migranten verhandeln — und dies unter Ausschluss der Öffentlichkeit. “Die Kommission betonte die Sensibilität der Inhalte, die unter keinen Umständen an die Öffentlichkeit gelangen dürften”, hält das Protokoll der deutschen Delegation fest, welches später geleakt und an das deutsche Fernsehen weitergegeben wurde. Bei diesem Treffen ging es um die Beziehungen der Europäischen Union zu den Staaten Sudan, Eritrea, Äthiopien und Somalia im Licht der Flüchtlingskrise. Dabei diskutierten die Delegationen darüber, wie eine höhere Anzahl von Immigranten von Europa zurück nach Ostafrika geschickt werden können.

Diese Möglichkeit wurde ernsthaft besprochen, trotz der Tatsache, dass die ostafrikanischen Regierungen unter die autoritärsten in ganz Afrika fallen. Eritrea ist faktisch ein Gefängnisstaat, in dem der Stand der Menschenrechte und Pressefreiheit auf etwa dem gleichem Niveau wie Nordkorea steht. Sudan wird von einer militärischen Eliteregiert, die ideologisch im Lager der Islamisten zu verorten ist und mehrere brutale Bürgerkriege antreibt, von denen einige genozide Züge tragen. Das äthiopische Regime hat sämtliche parlamentarische Opposition ausgeschaltet und zuletzt Demonstrationen der Oromo-Minderheit brutal niedergeschlagen, wobei mindestens 140 Menschen umgekommen sind. Darüber hinaus hackte die Regierung die Computer äthiopischer Journalisten in den Vereinigten Staaten. Und Somalia stellt nur noch den Schatten eines Staates dar, dessen größten Teile von der islamistischen Al-Shabaab und rivalisierenden Milizen kontrolliert wird.

Doch all das hält die Kommission nicht davon ab, über “Anreize” für Äthiopien nachzudenken, um im Gegenzug mehr Flüchtlinge zurückschicken zu können (siehe Punkt 4 “Possible incentives” im “Joint Commission-EEAS non-paper on enhancing cooperation on migration, mobility and readmission with Ethiopia“). Auch soll dem Sudan angeboten werden, das Land von der Liste terrorunterstützenden Staaten zu streichen, was dessen Diplomaten eine größere Bewegungsfreiheit ermöglichen würde – trotz des offenen Haftbefehls gegen Präsident Omar Al-Bashirs wegen der Anklage auf Völkermord und Kriegsverbrechen (siehe Punkt 4 “Possible incentives” im “Joint Commission-EEAS non-paper on enhancing cooperation on migration, mobility and readmission with Sudan“).

great-year-for-censorship-6-1024Nicht zuletzt Deutschland, repräsentiert von Vize-Kanzler und Wirtschaftsminister Sigmar Gabriel, spielt eine wichtige Rolle, das ägyptische Regime von Abd al-Fattah as-Sisi zu legitimieren. Menschenrechtsorganisationen klagen zurzeit, dass unter as-Sisi sogar mehr Menschen unrechtmäßig eingesperrt und gefoltert werden als noch unter seinem Vorgänger Hosni Mubarak. Die Arbeit deutscher politischer Stiftungen in Ägypten, wie auch in Äthiopien, wurde von den dortigen Regierungen systematisch erschwert. Doch während seines dritten Besuches in Ägypten innerhalb eines Jahres nannte Gabriel, der von einer großen Delegation von Wirtschaftsvertretern begleitet wurde, as-Sisi “einen beeindruckenden Präsidenten“. Gabriels Sprecher betonte später, dass der Kommentar des Ministers lediglich seinen Respekt für as-Sisis Bereitschaft über die Menschenrechtslage zu diskutieren, ausdrücken sollte. Und tatsächlich hat Gabriel auch vor und nach seinem Besuch Bedenken am Umgang mit der Opposition in Ägypten geäußert.

Doch ist es schwer vorstellbar, dass as-Sisi deshalb allzu sehr unter schlaflosen Nächten leiden wird, wenn Deutschland gleichzeitig dabei ist, Ägypten U-Boote und High-Tech-Ausrüstung zur Grenzkontrolle zu verkaufen. Ägypten ist übrigens auch ein großer Kunde von Rüstungsgütern aus Frankreich und den USA.

Westliche Mächte rüsten außerdem verschiedene Regime in Westafrika aus. Frankreich stellt unter anderem den Regierungen des Tschad und Kamerun, wichtige Verbündete im Kampf gegen den Terror im Sahel, umfangreiche militärische Unterstützung zur Verfügung. Beide Länder werden dabei von Präsidenten regiert, die bereits mehr als 25 Jahre an der Macht sind und denen immer wieder vorgeworfen wird, dass sie ihre Sicherheitskräfte dazu verwenden, die Opposition zu unterdrücken. Der Tschad spielte ebenfalls eine bedauerliche Rolle beim Zusammenbruch der Zentralafrikanischen Republik im Jahr 2013, als Streitkräfte des Tschad Rebellen aus dem Norden Unterstützung leisteten.

Westliche Außenpolitik scheint wieder einmal ganz auf “Sicherheitinteressen” konzentriert zu sein. Islamistischer Terrorismus und Massenmigration haben dabei den Kommunismus in seiner Rolle als Schreckgespenst westlicher Gesellschaften abgelöst, doch die Reaktion westlicher Anführer ist die gleiche geblieben: starken lokalen Herrschern wird anvertraut, Kritik und Aufstände zu unterdrücken — “Stabilität” um jeden Preis.

Weitere Informationen

• • •

So we face a historic opportunity. We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility. It’s not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo – it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it’s the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome.

Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region. But we can, and we will, speak out for a set of core principles — principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months: The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.

The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders — whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.

And we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.

Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest. Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.

— Barack Obama, “Obama’s Speech on U.S. Policies in Middle East and North Africa“, Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa”, 19.05.2011.

Posted in Migration, Peter Dörrie | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Imagery Update: ROK Jeju Island Naval Base

CSBiggers (27MAR2016) Jeju Island Annotated

As South Korea readies to boost naval diplomacy in the region by hosting Pacific Reach 2016, new satellite imagery of the recently inaugurated Jeju island naval base was made available in Google Earth. The recent space snapshots acquired in March show several completed site improvements including new administrative and support buildings, athletic fields, roads, an extensive peninsular breakwater and a partial underground Petroleum, Oil, & Lubricants storage area. Several lengthy berthing areas are noted with the largest, located on the peninsular breakwater, measuring 685 meters. No ship repair facilities were observed at this time, which means vessels will return to the Korean mainland for routine maintenance. However, there appear to be sections of unutilized land for future expansion. Press reporting states that the facility is capable of docking up to 20 combat ships and two of the biggest cruise ships, larger than 150,000 tons.

Infrastructure aside, two identified vessels were visible on imagery including one Chang Bogo-class submarine, a variant of the diesel-electric Type 209/1200, and a Gumdoksuri-class (PKG) patrol vessel. The boats arrived since the facility was commissioned in February. Prior to opening, the Navy sent the Sejong Daewang (DDG-991) guided missile destroyer to test the port facilities in September. It had either departed or was out on patrol at the time of capture. Two small patrol boats and four tugs were also visible in the March imagery.

According to the Korean press, the Navy intends to homeport the strategic mobile fleet on the island in order to bolster its blue water operational capability. “The establishment of this mobile fleet heralds the ROK Navy’s development into a blue-water force,” then Chief of Naval Operations Adm Jung Ok-keun said in 2010. Naval assets based at the facility will reportedly include the 7,600-ton KDX-III Sejong the Great-class, 4,500-ton KDX-II Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin-class, Incheon-class FFX, Dokdo-class LHD and AIP-fitted submarines. The fleet will also be supported by P-3C maritime patrol aircraft already located on the north side of the island at Jeju International Airport. Imagery shows a naval ramp and a maintenance hangar which has supported as many as six P-3C in the past. The ramp was expanded in 2011 prior to which it hosted a single aircraft.

According to Navy statements, the goal of the mobile fleet is two-pronged: to secure important sea lines of communication and defend against any hostile acts by North Korea.

Posted in Chris B, English, General Knowledge, Intelligence, South Korea | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

From Afghanistan to Yemen: How the US is trying to destroy ISIS

Following the overthrow of the regime of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi by a group of ragtag militants and rebels the term “lead from behind” entered the lexicon for a brief time. Here for a short moment, it seemed to some, was regime change made easy: where armed rebel groups could be a substitute for “boots on the ground” which could be given direct support by western air and firepower to help them overthrow their oppressive regimes and sort out the future of their own countries.

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Unfortunately, Libya hasn’t proved to be an ideal model given the tumult and chaos which followed the aftermath of Gaddafi – many of the rebels who had briefly coordinated for the ad-hoc goal of removing that hated tyrant turned their guns on each other as they struggled to grab the reins of power for themselves. Amid this chaotic instability Islamic State (ISIS) was, unsurprisingly, able to seize large swaths of territory around the coastal city of Sirte.

They did the same in Iraq two years ago and have exploited internal political-sectarian fissures in that country to capture the country’s second-city Mosul. The Iraqi Army’s failure to stop their initial thrust into Iraq has seen them having to undergo thorough reforms and re-training before they can final mount a successful counterattack to retake that city.

In Afghanistan ISIS has tried to get a foothold and is fighting both the Taliban and the Afghan army. A war which will truly test the ability of the Afghan government to defend the country against internal terrorist threats as the US-led coalition in that country winds down after a 15-year presence.

All three of these cases share one conspicuous commonality, they are states which have been on the brink of collapse where unpopular and very brutal regimes were overthrown by the United States and the ensuing power vacuum contested by many odious groups. How this has come to be is interesting in its own right as is how the US is trying to defeat ISIS in these countries. While there are many differences – Iraq is the only country where there is a real concerted effort to destroy ISIS at the moment – there are also some very striking similarities.

In each country the US is attempting to establish a central authority and build an army which can effectively counter the likes of ISIS and al-Qaeda. In Iraq despite billions of dollars spent on building a large and strong army in the post-Saddam Hussein-era, after completely dismantling the pre-2003 Iraqi state army, ISIS was able to invade over a third of the country and retain hold over it for nearly two years and counting.

Even though the Iraqis have mounted successful ground offensives with US air support, most notably in Tikrit and Ramadi, in the latter case it was Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism forces who led the fight against jihadists in that city with the regular army playing a supporting role (see also the video above). While not perfect it got the job done, and the US seeks other competent ground allies to work with against ISIS in Afghanistan and Libya.

In April it was revealed by The Washington Post that the US has launched over 70 airstrikes against ISIS in the first three months of 2016, most of them in the mountainous eastern Afghan province of Nangahar where ISIS have been struggling to erect a mini-state including that provinces capital Jalalabad. US Brigadier General Charles H. Cleveland revealed that in many of these cases the US would bomb ISIS positions and then Afghan commandos, trained by US special forces, would then storm those same areas. “What we were able to do is have US unilateral strikes against Daesh [ISIS] targets, and then the [Afghan forces] specifically their [commandos], were able to move in and essentially clear part of a valley,” Cleveland told reporters.

Again a strategy reminiscent of Iraq where the US has devoted substantial resources to building-up a formidable ground army to assist in countering such terrorist groups. In Libya they don’t have such an army to work with, they don’t even have an established central government yet, but they are working on it. US officials have said time and again when central governance is restored in Libya they will support them in any military effort to uproot ISIS from that country. And even though they have launched a handful of airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya they have not launched a sustained campaign against the group there, likely given the lack of any ally on the ground to coordinate operations with.

The UN-backed unity government of Faiez Serraj that the US wants to work with is trying to be that power in Tripoli, it recently discouraged the warring militias from attacking ISIS in Sirte until they can properly unify. Last Friday it announced the establishment of a counter-ISIS task force but did not specify how many were in it or how many they planned to recruit nor how.

While the US would lend air support to counter-ISIS operations mounted by this nascent force in the future, likely along with Britain and France, it is Italy who has volunteered to lead operations, likely due to the fact it is closest to Libya and would have the most to lose if ISIS were to get any larger a foothold in that country.

Yemeni security forces look at smoke billowing from a controlled detonation of explosives laid by al Qaeda militants. The Pentagon said Friday, May 6, 2016 that it sent a small number of U.S. special coalition forces back to Yemen to provide assistance to an Arab coalition fighting al Qaeda.

Yemeni security forces look at smoke billowing from a controlled detonation of explosives laid by al Qaeda militants. The Pentagon said Friday, May 6, 2016 that it sent a small number of U.S. special coalition forces back to Yemen to provide assistance to an Arab coalition fighting al Qaeda.

In Yemen, too, where the Saudis have led a coalition air campaign against the Shiite Houthis, the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) organisation has gotten a large foothold along the coast and built their own mini-state there. The US has deployed a small number of special forces to Yemen to assist special forces from the United Arab Emirates to combat AQAP. They may advise larger forces in the future and give more close air support to their allies on the ground to help them force AQAP from Yemen.

All of these trends are worth evaluating since they give a clear indication of the current strategy the US is using in tandem with its numerous allies to destroy such groups wherever they seek to erect the black flag of jihad.

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Zwei Jahre kein Piraten-Angriff vor Somalia – welchen Sinn macht die Operation Atalanta noch?

von Björn Müller (Facebook / Twitter). Er ist Journalist in Berlin mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheits- und Geopolitik.

Die MV Kestrel der Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) der UN setzte im November 2015 vor der Küste Somalias Fischsammelgerät aus. Damit soll die Fangquote der somalischen Fischer verbessert werden. Geschützt wurde die MV Kestrel und ihre Crew durch die Operation Atalanta.

Die MV Kestrel der Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) der UN setzte im November 2015 Fischsammelgerät vor der Küste Somalias aus. Damit soll die Fangquote der somalischen Fischer verbessert werden. Geschützt wurde die MV Kestrel und ihre Crew durch die Operation Atalanta.

Am kommenden Donnerstag, dem 12. Mai, steht im Deutschen Bundestag die Entscheidung an, ob das Atalanta-Mandat der Deutschen Bundeswehr erneut verlängert wird. Die Marine-Operation am Horn von Afrika ist so etwas wie das Aushängeschild der Europäischen Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik. Auslöser der Mission war 2008 die grassierende Piraterie vor Somalia. Regelmäßig hatten somalische Piraten Handelsschiffe gekapert und deren Besatzungen als Geiseln genommen.

Seitdem kreuzt ein Flottenverband der EU vor Somalia mit zwei Hauptaufgaben. Erstens: Atalanta-Kriegsschiffe eskortieren UN-Transporte mit Hilfsgütern für die Menschen in Somalia. Zweitens sollen Piratenüberfälle in dem Seegebiet verhindert werden. Die Strategie dafür: Präsenz und Kontrollen auf dem Meer sollen die Piraten abschrecken und deren Operationsräume einschränken. Das Lagebild heute: die Piraterie vor Somalia ist de facto nicht mehr vorhanden Sebastian Fischborn, Sprecher im Einsatzführungskommando der Bundeswehr für maritime Einsätze: “Der letzte Angriff im Seegebiet datiert auf den Februar 2014. 2015 hat es also keinen einzigen Piratenangriff mehr im Einsatzgebiet am Horn von Afrika gegeben, verglichen mit 176 im Jahr 2011. Und deshalb werten wir auch die Mission Atalanta als eine sehr erfolgreiche Mission.“

EU-Marinemission: nicht das effektivste Mittel gegen Somalias Piraten
Wenn es keine Piratenangriffe mehr gibt, muss die Frage gestellt werden, inwieweit die Operation Atalanta noch Sinn macht, beziehungsweise, wie die Marineoperation künftig aussehen soll. Schließlich ist nicht nur die Deutsche Marine mit anderen Aufgaben bereits an der Grenze der Belastbarkeit. Rainer Arnold, verteidigungspolitischer Sprecher der SPD-Bundestagsfraktion hat da eine klare Position: “Zum Kampf gegen Piraterie ist dieses Mandat kaum mehr notwendig. Und deshalb ist es gut, wenn jetzt schon im Mandat steht, dass es zu überprüfen ist, umgewandelt wird, oder, vielleicht noch besser, ganz ausläuft.”

Für Arnold ist der Rückgang der Piraterie keineswegs in erster Linie auf die EU-Militäroperation Atalanta zurückzuführen. Dass die Piraten in der Region nicht mehr aktiv sind, hat für den SPD-Politiker einen ganz anderen Grund: “Seit die privaten Reeder Sicherheitsfirmen an Bord haben, die eben, wenn ein Schlauchboot mit Piraten naht, sich wehren können, auch mit Waffeneinsatz und Androhungen wehren können, seitdem ist die Piraterie tatsächlich nicht zur zurückgegangen, sondern hat aufgehört.” Fakt ist: Ein Schiff mit bewaffneten Sicherheitskräften an Bord ist von den somalischen Piraten noch nie geentert worden. Diese Eigensicherung der Seefahrer ist offensichtlich höchst effektiv. Trotzdem könnte es ein Fehler sein, bei der Piratenabwehr vor allem auf die Initiative der Reeder zu setzen, warnt Kerstin Petretto, Expertin für Piraterie am Hamburger Institut für Friedensforschung und Sicherheitspolitik: “Es fahren zwar meistens private Sicherheitskräfte mit; aber deren Zahl wurde auch schon wieder herunter gefahren. Zum anderen werden auch schon wieder die Geschwindigkeiten der Schiffe herunter gefahren und die Schiffe fahren wieder näher an der Küste Somalias entlang und die Reeder denken eben auch: es gibt ja keine Angriffe mehr, die Piraten sind nicht mehr aktiv, also können wir hier wieder unsere Kosten senken.”

Eine Übersicht der Piraterie des laufenden Jahres (Januar-April 2016). Die aktuelle Übersicht ist unter einer Webseite des Commercial Crime Services der Internationale Handelskammer zu finden.

Eine Übersicht der Piraterie des laufenden Jahres (Januar-April 2016). Die aktuelle Übersicht ist unter einer Webseite des Commercial Crime Services der Internationale Handelskammer zu finden.

 
Piratenbekämpfung wird zurückgefahren
Auf das Betreiben der Schifffahrtsverbände wurde die sogenannte “High-Risk-Zone” vor Somalia Ende letzten Jahres um die Hälfte verkleinert. Die Versicherungsgesellschaften verlangen von den Reedereien bei Fahrten in der “High-Risk-Zone” höhere Prämien und empfehlen, dieses Seegebiet nur mit Sicherheitskräften an Bord zu passieren, so der Verband Deutscher Reeder gegenüber NDR-Info.

Doch nicht nur bei der maritimen Wirtschaft geht die Bereitschaft zurück, gegen Piraten vorzugehen. Auch die internationalen Staatengemeinschaft hat ihre Anstrengungen mittlerweile reduziert. Für die Operation Atalanta, die zurzeit unter deutschem Kommando steht, waren 2009 noch 13 Kriegsschiffe aufgeboten worden. Aktuell sind es nur noch zwei Fregatten ein Tanker und ein Patrouillenboot. Hinzu kommen zwei Aufklärungsflugzeuge, stationiert in Djibouti. Das Einsatzgebiet dieser Miniflotte ist wohlgemerkt anderthalbmal so groß wie Europa.

Für die Piratenbekämpfung gibt es neben Atalanta noch die Combined Task Force 151 unter US-Führung und den NATO-Flottenverband “Ocean Shield“. Der NATO-Operationsplan sah einst zehn Kriegsschiffe vor; inzwischen existiert der Verband nur noch auf dem Papier. Auf Nachfrage von NDR Info erklärte die NATO, zurzeit patrouilliere kein einziges Schiff für “Ocean Shield” vor Somalia. Auch wenn es seit langer Zeit keine Piratenüberfälle mehr gegeben hat: Für die Konfliktforscherin Kerstin Petretto könnte sich das Problem sehr schnell wieder stellen, wenn die internationale Gemeinschaft ihr langjähriges Engagement immer weiter zurückfährt: “Die somalischen Piratennetzwerke sind sogar immer noch zur See aktiv. Das heißt, man kann immer wieder beobachten, wie sie auch rausfahren und die Lage peilen, also was für sie möglich ist. Ansonsten sind sie — soweit wir wissen — aktiv im Waffen-, Drogen- oder Menschenschmuggel. Sobald sie wieder die Freiräume und Möglichkeiten haben, zur See anzugreifen ohne eine starke Gegenwehr befürchten zu müssen, werden sie dies auch tun.”

Dennoch ist die Versuchung groß, das Piratenproblem am Horn von Afrika als erledigt zu betrachten. Denn die Kosten für ein bewaffnetes Sicherheitsteam an Bord sind hoch. Sie schlagen für eine einzige Passage durch das Hochrisikogebiet mit rund 100’000 US-Dollar zu Buche — so die Angaben des Verbandes Deutscher Reeder. Die Handelsschifffahrt gilt als hart umkämpfter Markt; das Interesse die Kosten zu senken, ist groß. Und bei EU und NATO haben der Konflikt mit Russland und die Flüchtlingskrise das maritime Interesse auf den Nord-Atlantik und das Mittelmeer verlagert. Hier mit Flottenverbänden präsent zu sein, hat inzwischen Vorrang.

Hinzu kommt: Anti-Piraten-Missionen wie ATALANTA bekämpfen nur das Symptom, nicht aber die Ursache des Problems. Somalia ist ein gescheiterter Staat, ein sogenannter Failed State. Die schwache Regierung ist weit davon entfernt, landesweit funktionierende Ordnungskräfte aufzustellen. Und wo es sie gibt, bleiben sie weitgehend wirkungslos. Der Somalia-Kenner Stig Jarle Hansen: “Zurzeit erhalten die Sicherheitskräfte des Landes rund 100 Dollar im Monat. Kann man davon leben? Nein! Wird man durch so eine niedrige Bezahlung korrupt? Ja! Und das hat natürlich Folgen für das Vorgehen gegen Piraten. Denn wenn man reiche Leute vor Gericht bringen will, die Ermittler aber monatlich 100 Dollar verdienen, dann ist das verdammt schwierig.”

Im März 2011 wurde bei der Befreiung eines gekaperten Fischerbootes auf einen Schlag 61 Piraten festgenommene -- jedoch nicht am Horn von Afrika, sondern etwa 1'100 Kilometer vor der Küste von Kochi im Süden Indiens.

Im März 2011 wurde bei der Befreiung eines gekaperten Fischerbootes auf einen Schlag 61 Piraten festgenommene — jedoch nicht am Horn von Afrika, sondern etwa 1’100 Kilometer vor der Küste von Kochi im Süden Indiens.

 
Stehende EU-Flottille am Horn von Afrika?
Die Piratennetzwerke haben sich inzwischen andere Einnahmequellen erschlossen. Und die schwache Zentralregierung in Mogadischu hat praktisch keine Möglichkeiten, das zu verhindern. Notwendig wären vor diesem Hintergrund im Zusammenhang mit der Operation Atalanta ganz neue Ansätze der EU. Die Hamburger Piraterie-Expertin Petretto schlägt vor, künftig einen anderen Schwerpunkt zu setzen: “Also ich denke auch, dass es tatsächlich eine Möglichkeit wäre, so etwas wie eine stehende Präsenz dort aufzubauen, auf geringem Niveau natürlich, aber mit einem breiteren Aufgabenspektrum, wie Waffenschmuggel, Menschenschmuggel und Drogenschmuggel. Aber natürlich soll es auch um eine Evakuierung von Personen aus den Krisenregionen dort gehen.”

Atalanta als stehende EU-Flottille am Horn von Afrika, die von der Basis Dschibuti aus operiert. Das könnte eine sinnvolle Strategie sein, um die Sicherheitsinteressen Europas in der Region zu wahren. So vorzugehen hätte drei Vorteile. Erstens: Die EU-Staaten müssten nicht mehr mit jeweils ein- oder zweijährigen Mandaten arbeiten, sondern könnten langfristig planen und so ihre begrenzten militärischen Fähigkeiten effektiver als bisher einbringen. Zweitens: Mandate können auslaufen, wenn es dafür in den Parlamenten keine politische Mehrheit mehr gibt. Die Abschreckungswirkung wäre schlagartig weg. Eine permanente Flotte würde dem vorbeugen und könnte weiterhin Piratenüberfalle verhindern. Und Drittens: Atalanta gilt inzwischen als ein Leuchtturmprojekt der europäischen Sicherheitspolitik — weil die EU in der Piratenfrage erstmals geschlossenen aufgetreten ist. Aus der Atalanta-Mission eine stehende EU-Flottille am Horn von Afrika zu machen, wäre daher der nächste logische Schritt auf dem Weg zu einer gemeinsamen Europäischen Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik. Ob die EU diesen Weg gehen wird, bleibt allerdings vorerst noch offen. Klar ist aber auch: Obwohl es lange keine Überfälle mehr gegeben hat – Das Piratenproblem am Horn von Afrika hat sich noch nicht erledigt.

Den Beitrag gibt es auch als Radiopodcast auf “Streitkräfte & Strategien” von NDR-Info oder kann direkt hier angehört werden:

 
Weitere Informationen
Ende 2008 schrieb offiziere.ch optimistisch: “Eigentlich ist der Einsatz schon beinahe beschlossene Sache: der Bundesrat will die Schweizer Hochseeflotte unter den Schutz der EU stellen und im Gegenzug stellt die Schweiz im Rahmen der Operation Atalanta Spezialkräfte — höchstwahrscheinlich aus dem Armee-Aufklärungsdetachements 10 (AAD 10) — für Spezialaktionen zur Verfügung.”

Anfangs 2009 konkretisierte sich dann das Vorhaben: “Der militärische Einsatz der Schweiz ist auf 30 Personen begrenzt. Folgende Personen werden der Mission NAVFOR Atalanta zur Verfügung gestellt: Ein medizinisches Team, dem ein Arzt und Pflegepersonal angehört, höchstens vier Stabsoffiziere, zwei Teams des Armee-Aufklärungsdetachements 10 (AAD 10) und drei Spezialisten für juristische Fragen.”

Daraus wurde dann aber schliesslich doch nichts. Im September 2009 stimmte der Nationalrat zwei Mal gegen die Teilnahme an der EU-Operation Atalanta und versenkte das Geschäft damit definitiv.

Posted in Armed Forces, Björn Müller, Piracy, Sea Powers, Somalia | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Women Are Giving ISIS Hell on Multiple Fronts

by Darien Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh is a contributor for War is Boring and Reverb Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for Auntie Bellum.

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian town of Kobanî (also known as Ain al-Arab) on January 30, 2015 (Photo: Bulent Kilic).

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian town of Kobanî (also known as Ain al-Arab) on January 30, 2015 (Photo: Bulent Kilic).

When all-female units of Kurdish fighters helped retake the Syrian city of Kobanî from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in early 2015, they didn’t just help capture a strategic piece of real estate from the most loathsome international terrorist group operating today. They also captured the attention of international media. The fighters were members of Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), all-female equivalents of the People’s Protections (YPG) units that lead Kurdish efforts against ISIS in the Kurdish strongholds of northern Syria, a region known as Rojava (“the west”) to many Kurds.

London’s Independent reported that the YPG were “a vital force” in the battle for Kobanî. Slate highlighted the comparatively progressive role of women in both military and civilian life in Rojava, due in part to women being equally included at every level of government and a constitution that guarantees gender equality. Al Jazeera likewise noted that the women of the YPG are “[N]ot just wielding guns […] They’re wielding ideas, leading a feminist movement for parity in politics and society.” NBC.com published a photo essay by Erin Trieb in which Trieb writes, “Most of the YPJ soldiers are unmarried and have chosen to dedicate themselves to the struggle, adopting practices of discipline, training, austerity, charity, and, most importantly, ‘Haval’, their motto, which means ‘friendship’ in the Kurdish language.”

There are up 10,000 women, or roughly one-third of the Kurdish fighting force in Syria, enlisted in YPG units. They’ve seen action in Kobanî, Al-Houl, and several other towns and villages. Units of Kurdish women are also fighting alongside male Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq.

YPJ soldiers outside of Kobani in February of 2015.

YPJ soldiers outside of Kobani in February of 2015.

 
Does Getting Killed by a Woman Also Kill a Jihadist’s Hopes of Eternal Paradise?
The fact that ISIS, a group notorious for its extreme oppression of women and the deplorable violence it commits against them, is facing a formidable fighting force of women on the ground carries a sense of poetic justice with it. That sense is heightened, and at times perhaps even sensationalized, by a belief among YPJ members and other female combatants that the conservative brand of Islam some ISIS fighters adhere to makes them especially terrified of being killed by women.

“They think they’re fighting in the name of Islam,” a 21-year-old YPG soldier fighting under the nom de guerre “Telhelden” (Kurdish for “revenge”) told CNN. “They believe if someone from Daesh [ISIS] is killed by a girl, a Kurdish girl, they won’t go to heaven. They’re afraid of girls.” Another female Kurdish fighter named Haveen, who is stationed in Sinjar, put it more harshly. “I like that when we kill them they lose their heaven,” she told the Independent in a recent article. “I don’t know how many of them I’ve killed. It’s not enough. I won’t be happy until they’re all dead.”

There’s some dispute over whether or not ISIS fighters actually suffer from this fear, but even the British Ministry of Defense is pushing the rumor. Regardless of whether or not a majority or any ISIS fighters share this anxiety, one thing remains certain: Women combatants are definitely killing ISIS fighters, and more and more of them are signing up to do so. The YPG in Syria might be the most famous women fighting ISIS, but they’re certainly not the only ones. There are also all-women units of Yazidi militias in Iraq, the Coalition also just finished training a unit of 120 Kurdish women to assist in the impending assault to wrest Mosul back from ISIS, and at least one female fighter pilot has participated in airstrikes against ISIS.

The Syrian government’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enlists women as snipers and commandos, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main rebel group fighting against the Syrian regime, also has all-women fighting units. There is scant evidence that female soldiers with either the SAA or the FSA have engaged directly with ISIS to any considerable extent. It appears that, for now, those units remain on fronts in western Syria, where they’re more likely to engage each other than ISIS. However, should the fronts or demands on the ground shift, it’s reasonable to assume women from either of those forces would also see action against ISIS.

In other words, women are playing a huge role in combat operations in Iraq and Syria, and ISIS is taking fire from them on multiple fronts.

A member of a Female Commando Battalion of the Syrian Arab Army prepares a weapon at the frontline in the government-controlled area of Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, March 19, 2015 (Photo: Omar Sanadiki / Reuters).

A member of a Female Commando Battalion of the Syrian Arab Army prepares a weapon at the frontline in the government-controlled area of Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, March 19, 2015 (Photo: Omar Sanadiki / Reuters).

 
Death from Above, Courtesy of the UAE’s First Female Fighter Pilot
When the United States and several Arab nations began their air campaign against ISIS targets in Syria in September of 2014, Major Mariam Al Mansouri led aircraft from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Mansouri, who pilots a F-16, was one of the first women to graduate from the UAE’s air force academy, according to the New York Times. She then became the nation’s first female fighter pilot.

UAE ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba described Mansouri by saying, “She is a fully qualified, highly trained, combat-ready pilot, and she led the mission.” He couched his discussion of Mansouri’s and the UAE’s involvement in the strikes in the language of the struggle between moderate and radical Islam. “I think it’s important for us moderate Arabs, moderate Muslims, to step up and say this is a threat against us,” he said of ISIS. His comments hinted at the stark differences between the lives and roles of women in ISIS society and that of the UAE. The latter is still conservative by Western standards when it comes to gender politics, but the differences between the UAE and the ISIS “caliphate” in those regards are enormous nevertheless.

There are female fighter pilots in the U.S. Air Force, but there is little evidence that women have flown in any of the missions targeting ISIS to date. That could change as all branches of the U.S. military, including the Air Force, prepare to welcome more women into their ranks.

 
Kurdish Women Have Been Fighting on the Ground in Iraq as well as Syria
All-female units of Kurdish soldiers have been fighting ISIS in Iraq for the past couple of years, just as their counterparts in Syria have. In 2014 War is Boring’s Matt Cetti-Roberts reported on the crucial role Kurdish women play in the grueling sniper warfare in towns and villages along the Iraq-Syria border. “The women here are constantly on watch,” writes Cetti-Roberts. “At all times, at least one of them is peering through the firing holes in the wall.”

He describes a woman sniper taking a shot on a suspected ISIS fighter: “One of the YPJ fighters grabs the Dragunov sniper rifle. Apparently, she’s seen something. Something that could be an Islamic State sniper changing position […]. Her finger rests lightly on the trigger. Slowly, she takes up the slack until the rifle fires […]. Whatever the sniper saw … doesn’t move again.”

More Anti-ISIS Women’s Boots on the Ground in Iraq
Women may soon begin to play a more direct and substantial role in anti-ISIS combat operations in Iraq. British and Dutch military advisers in northern Iraq recently completed training a class of 120 female Kurdish soldiers to join the fight to retake the embattled city of Mosul. The women were given infantry, counter-IED, and first aid training and will fight alongside units of male Kurdish Peshmerga on the front lines.

And Kurdish women won’t be the only women opposite ISIS on the frontlines in Mosul. There is also at least one battalion of Yazidi militia women ready to take the fight to ISIS in that city. The “Force of the Sun Ladies” is a brigade comprised entirely of former Yazidi sex slaves who escaped their ISIS captors and now want to help other captive women do the same. Yazidi women have been treated particularly cruel by ISIS.

The brigade consists of 123 Yazidi women aged 17 to 37. They will be fighting alongside Kurds in the battle for Mosul. There are supposedly another 500 Yazidi women waiting to be trained. Even if ISIS fighters don’t actually believe that being killed by a women will send them to hell, there can be few things more earthly terrifying than facing off against those you formerly enslaved.

 
There’s no shortage of women who are ready and willing to take on ISIS, but some of their male comrades have not always been so eager for them to join the fight. Kurdish culture is somewhat moderate for the region, but there are still conservative tendencies when it comes to gender roles. Fighting has long been associated with masculinity in much of the Middle East. In 2014 Colonel Viyan Pendroy, a female Iraqi Kurdish officer, told reporter Vager Saadullah that she and her soldiers wanted to fight ISIS but were often denied the opportunity. “We went to front lines many times to fight against ISIS, but our superiors usually tell us that there are enough men,” she said. Pendroy said some of the women returned the frontlines several times to assert that they were ready to fight, only to be turned away again and again.

As the war has dragged on, casualties have mounted, and women have proved themselves in combat time and time again, it seems that reluctance to allow them to participate is waning. That’s a moral victory for the women who want to fight ISIS, but, as they are fully aware, the battle ahead of them is a particularly brutal one. The horrific manner in which ISIS treats its prisoners is widely known, and women potentially face even worse treatment than men who are captured.

Tales of Courage and Tragedy
In October of 2014, as ISIS surrounded Kobanî and the city was about to fall, a YPG commander named Arin Mirkan found herself surrounded by ISIS militants and out of ammunition in the eastern outskirts of the city. Rather than surrender, she ran towards the militants blew herself up with a hand grenade, reportedly taking several ISIS militants with her.

It was the first reported instance of a Kurdish women acting as a suicide bomber against ISIS, and Mirkan became revered among Kurds for her sacrifice inspired the YPJ fighters who retook Kobanî months later. “Arin’s epic action […] was a symbol of our resistance and a manifestation of spirit of resistance,” Viyan Peyman, another YPJ commander, told the International Business Times in February of 2015 after ISIS had retreated from the city.

Around the same time that Mirkan sacrificed herself in action, ISIS militants beheaded three YPJ fighters captured during fighting near the Turkish border. The brutality women fighters face at the hands of ISIS militants has not been the only potential downside to their involvement in combat operations. On at least one occasion it appears that ISIS turned the Kurdish population’s familiarity with seeing female fighters against the local population.

In June of 2015, only a few months after Kurdish fighters retook Kobanî, dozens of ISIS militants disguised themselves as YPJ and YPG fighters to infiltrate the town and go on a killing spree. “It was around 4am when we heard loud gunshots and explosions,” a witness from Kobanî told Al Jazeera. “When we ran outside we saw [ISIS] fighters disguised as Kurdish forces yelling in Kurdish, ‘We are with you. We are from your side,’ then shooting randomly at people.” The militants used suicide car bombers and also randomly opened fire people in the streets. “They [ISIS] were disguised as Kurdish forces and had women disguised with them too,” the witness said. It was a bold and effective raid. Up to 300 people were killed. The raid would have undoubtedly still taken place and inflicted casualties without ISIS using women in the attack, but it does seem like the use of women disguised as YPJ fighters was strategic and probably contributed to the confusion on the ground.

Photo courtesy of BijiKurdistan/Wikimedia

A YPJ sniper takes aim from her position.

 
Another Chapter in the Long History of Women Combatants
Women have repeatedly proved themselves in combat throughout history. In modern warfare, the women who fought for the Republic during the Spanish Civil War, Russia during World War II, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces during the Cuban Revolution stand out as just a few of the many examples of women playing a crucial rather than supportive role in combat operations.

The YPJ and their female comrades-in-arms are the latest entry in this growing list of women warriors. As even more women gear up to join the fight for Mosul, the ISIS fighters currently holding the city must certainly be feeling a sense of dread, be it earthly or spiritual.

Posted in Darien Cavanaugh, English, International, Iraq, Syria | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Imagery of the Week: Cam Ranh Airport Developments

CSBiggers Cam Ranh Bay APT Annotated

The latest commercial satellite imagery available in Google Earth shows some new developments at Vietnam’s Cam Ranh (Nha Trang) Airport (CXR). In March, the north eastern support area appeared complete and new aircraft environmental shelters were erected on the parking apron. The southwest support area still showed construction activity at several new support and administrative buildings. As noted previously, the aircraft shelters erected on the southern section were complete by last July and at least two Ka-28 ASW helicopters have been observed in front of the hangars. The helos are thought to support the Russian-built Gepard class frigates and other coastal patrol vessels berthed at the nearby naval base. The Gepard class does not have a built-in hangar for its deployed helos.

Perhaps most importantly, the recent imagery shows a new Petroleum, Oil, & Lubricants area, maintenance  on the parallel taxiway and levelling activity for a second runway. Back in 2014, the press reported that the Vietnam Airlines Corporation had been planning to expand the airport due to the arrival of an increasing number of passengers. The airport, designed to receive 1.6 million per year, was nearing capacity according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam. The last report regarding the tender said US-based ADC&HAS Airport had received OPIC approval for a $250 million project for the airport. A quick search over at OPIC’s site however yielded no results.

Apart from ADC&HAS Airports, another US-based airport investor Airis Holdings previously announced plans to put investment dollars into Danang (DAD) and Noi Bai (HAN) airports under the public-private partnership model. Satellite imagery has shown no change with Danang while Noi Bai has received an extensive 139,000 sq meter terminal. The new facility reportedly cost $900 million and doubled the airport’s capacity to 10 million passengers a year. It went into operation by January 2015.

Vietnam has 24 airports and most need to be upgraded to meet growing air transportation demand. Despite the lack of reform, U.S. firms remain increasingly bullish on the country which could provide other opportunities for collaboration.

Posted in Chris B, English, General Knowledge, Politics in General, Vietnam | Tagged , , | Leave a comment