World leaders meeting at the G20 Summit in Russia remained divided over military action in Syria. The Syrian crisis, and prospect of military action, has overshadowed the official agenda of the summit, which was intended to focus on the world’s top economies and emerging markets in order to stimulate growth and battle tax avoidance. While talks on Syria dominated the first day of the summit, it was not immediately clear if the leaders would have another chance to discuss the issue on the summit’s second day or if the main session would focus on purely economic issues. What does remain clear is that tensions between the United States and Russia have reached a new low.
Despite not being on the original agenda of the summit, which is hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg, global leaders discussed the Syria crisis over a working dinner on Thursday, which lasted into the early morning hours. However there was no breakthrough during the dinner as leaders, including US President Barack Obama, presented their positions on the Syria crisis. The discussions, which failed to bridge the divisions over US plans which are seeking military action against the Syrian regime, also confirmed the extent of global divisions on the issue. A Kremlin spokesman was quoted as saying that “some states were defending the view the rushed measures should be taken, overlooking legitimate international institutions. Other states appealed not to devalue international law and not to forget that only the UN Security Council has the right to decide on using force.” While a high-ranking source close to the talks indicated that there was a disappointing lack of ambition at the dinner on the Syria issue, noting that Putin as host was keen not to aggravate tensions further, a French diplomatic source highlighted that while discussions indicated a sharp divide amongst the leaders, the overall objective of the dinner “was an exchange between the top world leaders and not to come to an agreement.” Outside of the summit, several Western states share Mr. Putin’s opposition to military action, and after last week’s vote in the British parliament, which resulted in the UK government voting against strikes, France is the only power to have vowed that it will join American intervention if US officials go ahead with military action.
Mr. Putin has emerged as one of the most inflexible critics of military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has been accused of allegedly using chemical weapons in an attack that was carried out on 21 August. Putin’s comments that any move without the UN’s blessing would be an aggression, remained unchanged throughout the Summit. China also insists that any action without the UN would be illegal.
Meanwhile on Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that military strikes could spark further sectarian violence in the country which he said is suffering from a humanitarian crisis “unprecedented” in recent history, adding that “I must warn that ill-considered military action could cause serious and tragic consequences, and with an increased threat of further sectarian violence.” The UN is also appealing for more aid for the estimated two million Syrians who have fled their country, in which another 4.25 million are internally displaced. UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Friday that the UK would provide an additional £52 million (US $80 million) in aid for Syrian, in which much of it will go towards medical training and equipment in order to help those civilians who have been targeted by chemical attacks.
Arab League to Pass Resolution on Syrian Chemical Weapons
Arab League ministers will meet in Cairo next week (September 2-3), and are expected to pass a resolution which blames Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the wide-scale chemical weapons attack near Damascus last week. A representative of the League said, “The Arab foreign ministers will affirm the full responsibility of the Syrian regime for the chemical weapons’ attack that took place in Eastern Ghouta.” The representative also indicated that the League will ask for those responsible for the attack to be taken to the International Criminal Court. The Arab League is expected to call for the UN to adopt tougher sanctions on Syria, and to urge Russia and China not to block resolutions which propose action against Assad.
Permanent representatives within the Arab League have already placed responsibility for the attack on the Assad regime. The announcements provided regional political cover in the event of a U.S.-led military strike on Syria.
Supporters of the resolution are expected to include Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which both back anti-Assad rebels in Syria’s civil war. Iraq, Lebanon, and Algeria are likely to oppose or abstain from any vote which condemns Syria. Syria has been suspended from the Arab League since November 2011.
Three Algerian troops killed in bombing
Three members of the Algerian army were killed and four injured following a bomb explosion in the Beni Milleuk Mountains in Tipaza Province. This marks the second attack in six weeks; in mid-July, four soldiers were killed after two bombs detonated in western Tipaza.
The Algerian military has been searching the region connecting Ain Defla and Tipaza provinces after receiving reports of terrorist activities in the area. Sources indicated that a terrorist group had planted a mine on a road that the army vehicles were using.
Egyptian Authorities Detain Families of Muslim Brotherhood Leaders
Within 24 hours, Egyptian authorities detained over 60 people who were associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), including relatives of the group’s leaders. Police have arrested the son of MB deputy Khairat el-Shater. The elder el-Shater was arrested on charges related to the killings of protesters outside the group’s headquarters in June. According to officials, el-Shater’s son, Saad, was reportedly arrested for threatening to release documents allegedly showing ties between his father and U.S. President Barack Obama. In addition, the brother-in-law of fugitive Brotherhood figurehead Mohammed el-Beltagy also was arrested. He was charged with violent protests aimed at toppling the interim government.
The crackdown on the Brotherhood intensified following the clearing of pro-Morsi protesters at Raba’a mosque in Cairo. In the ensuing unrest, over 1,000 people, including more than 100 officers were killed within a few days. As protesters turned violent, they were in turn met by neighbourhood watch groups. Authorities and local media have called the actions of the Brotherhood and their supporters “acts of terrorism.” Many among the arrested have been charged with inciting violence. While many of the MBs senior and mid-level leaders have been arrested, still others remain in hiding while encouraging protestors to ignore the protests and continue to rally against the removal of former president Morsi.
Many Egyptians suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood and its political allies could be barred from politics, forced underground once again as under the Mubarak regime. However, Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has said dissolving the group is not a solution, and urged against making dramatic decisions during turbulent times. Beblawi instead opts to monitor political parties rather than forcing them to operate covertly.
Meanwhile, interim president Adly Mansour issued a decree changing the nation’s military oath, removing a line that makes soldiers pledge allegiance to the presidency. Soldiers are now only required to pledge loyalty to their leadership and the country.
The security clampdown appears to have weakened the Brotherhood-led protests, which have been much smaller across the country this past week. There are planned protests Friday and calls for civil disobedience.
Coordinated bombings kill 65
A wave of bombings in the predominantly Shiite Muslim areas in and around Baghdad has killed at least 65 people and wounded many more. The blasts came in quick succession and targeted residents who were out shopping or on their way to work.
Unknown attackers deployed explosives-laden cars, suicide bombers and other bombs. They assailants struck parking lots, outdoor markets, and restaurants. In Kazimiyah, two bombs detonated in a parking lot, followed by a suicide car bomber who struck onlookers who had gathered at the scene. Ten people were killed and 27 wounded in that attack.
Car bombs went off in outdoor markets across the region. In Sadr City a car bomb was detonated, killing 5 and wounding 20. In Shula, a car bomb killed three and wounded nine; in Jisr Diyala a bomb killed eight and wounded 22; and one in New Baghdad area, killing three and wounding 12. Blasts in Bayaa, Jamila, Hurriyah and Saydiyah, resulted in 12 deaths. In Mahmoudiyah a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a restaurant, killing four and wounding 13. Finally, in Madain, a roadside bomb struck a passing military patrol, killing four soldiers and wounding six others.
In addition, seven Shiite family members killed when gunmen raided their home and shot them as they slept. Three children, ages eight to twelve, were killed along with their parents and two uncles in that attack.
It is suspected that the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda is responsible. Over 500 people have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of August.
Gadhafi Son and Chief Spy Charged
Moammar Gadhafi’s, son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and former Gadhafi-regime Intelligence Chief Abdullah al-Senoussi have been charged with murder in relation to the country’s 2011 civil war. The trial will start on September 19 and will also include 28 former regime members who will face charges ranging from murder, forming armed groups in violation of the law, inciting rape and kidnappings.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Seif al-Islam Gadhafi with murder and persecution of civilians. If convicted in that court, Seif al-Islam could face life imprisonment. This summer, ICC judges had ruled that Libya cannot give Seif al-Islam a fair trial. However he remains held in captivity by a militia group that has refused to turn him over to the Hague. Seif al-Islam was as he attempted to flee to Niger.
In Libya, he will be tried on charges of harming state security, attempting to escape prison and insulting Libya’s new flag. Seif al-Islam wants to be tried for alleged war crimes in the Netherlands, as the ICC does not issue a death sentence. He claims that a Libyan trial would be tantamount to murder. The remaining Gadhafi family, including his mother, sister, two brothers and others, were granted asylum in Oman in 2012.
AQ Offshoot Threatens Revenge Over Chemical Weapons Attack
An al-Qaeda affiliate, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has announced plans to coordinate with other Syrian rebel groups to take revenge for the chemical weapons attack last week outside of Damascus.
The ISIL released a statement on Twitter that was signed by seven other militant groups. The signatories all have operations in Eastern Ghouta, where the attacks occurred. The statement indicates that the organizations have agreed to conduct joint operations after a meeting called for by the ISIL “for all the jihadi factions in Eastern Ghouta.”
The operation, dubbed “Volcano of Revenge,” will target “the main joints of the regime in imprisoned Damascus, including security branches, support and supply points, training centres, and infrastructure.”
The groups that signed the statement include:
- Ahrar al Sham Islamic Movement (Independent group)
- Ahrar Dimashq Battalion, or Muhajireen Army (AQ linked)
- Abu Dhar al Ghafari Brigade, (ISIL unit)
- Al Habib Al Mustafa Brigades (FSA unit)
- Al Furqan Brigade (FSA unit)
- Umm al Qura Battalion (presumed independent)
- Deraa al-‘Asima Brigade (Lebanon Capital Shield Brigade)
The statement was released as US officials deliberate plans to conduct strikes against the Syrian government, ironically putting them on the same side as the ISIL.
Yemen police foil potential terrorist attack
Police in Yemen have stopped an attempt to smuggle explosive materials through Sana’a airport, confiscating a package of explosives disguised as juice and soft drink. More details on the date of confiscation or the sender’s identity were not available.
Khalid Al Shaif, deputy director of the airport, has told reporters that airport police have previously aborted many bids to smuggle weapons, chemicals, and explosive materials, using tactics which include honey bottles or dismantling weapons and wrapping them with tin.
The United Kingdom announced this week that it will put forth a resolution to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday “authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians” in Syria. The move comes after intelligence reports indicated that chemical weapons were likely used by the Assad regime against civilians in Syria. During an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the UK’s Prime Minister stated that the “world should not stand by” after the “unacceptable use” of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. The Syrian government has denied any involvement in the suspected chemical attack which was carried out in Damascus on 21 August. Instead, the regime blames the attack, which resulted in hundreds of people dying, on the opposition.
According to UK Prime Minister David Cameroon, the draft resolution, which will condemn the “chemical weapons attack by Assad,” will be put forward during a meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council which will be held in New York later on Wednesday. The Prime Minister also indicated that “we’ve always said we want the UN Security to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that.” If such an intervention is passed through a UN resolution, it is likely that the United States, France and the UK, along with other regional and international states, will be involved. Furthermore, the UK, the US and France already have the necessary forces and military equipment stationed in the region which could be diverted to focus on the intervention in Syria.
The announcement of a possible intervention comes as a team of UN weapons inspectors resumed their work on Wednesday, investigating a suspected chemical weapons attack that occurred in Damascus on 21 August. It currently remains unclear which districts the inspectors were scheduled to visit. Their work had previously been called because of security concerns after they were shot at by unidentified snipers on Monday. According to UN officials, one of their cars came under fire from unidentified gunmen as it crossed the buffer zone between the government and rebel-controlled areas. With their work resuming, and with pressure for an international intervention mounting, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed for the team to be given “time to do its job,” citing that the UN inspectors would require another four days in order to complete their probe and that more time would be needed in order analyze their findings. He also called on the Council’s permanent members, China France, Russia, the UK and the US, to act together, stating that “the body interested with maintaining international peace and security cannot be ‘missing in action’…the council must at least find the unity to act. It must use its authority for peace.” Meanwhile joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has stated that “it does seem clear that some kind of substance was used…that killed a lot of people” on 21 August. However the envoy emphasized that any military action in Syria would require the UN Security Council’s authorization.
Possible Models for an Intervention in Syria
Although limited information pertaining to the draft resolution is currently available, signals from Washington and London over the past few days suggest that military action against Syria is a strong possibility. If the resolution is passed, over the following weeks, contingency plans will be drawn and potential target lists will be reviewed. However a number of models for the possible intervention in Syria already exist, and will likely aid officials in narrowing down their options.
Codenamed Operation Desert Storm, also known as the Gulf War, the 1991 US-led global military coalition in Iraq was tasked with removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Today, the mission is considered as a perfect case study in international intervention as it had clear and limited objectives, was fully anchored in international law and had an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council. The Balkans during the 1990’s in which US supplied arms to the anti-Serb resistance in Croatia and Bosnia in defiance of a UN-mandated embargo. A US-led air campaign against Serb paramilitaries was later carried out.
In December 1992, in response to a humanitarian disaster which was followed by the complete failure of the Somali state, the UN Security Council authorized the creation of an international force with the aim of facilitating humanitarian supplies. Although initially the US was not involved, Americans gradually began to contribute to the operation in Somalia.
However the US military’s involvement without a clear objective culminated in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, also known as Black Hawk Down, in which eighteen US servicemen died on 3 – 4 October. The tragedy had an immediate impact on American public opinion and resulted in US troops withdrawing from Somalia despite the civil war continuing. While elements of this model were not used in any future interventions, the mission coupled with the lack of a clear objective has become a classic example of how not to conduct an international operation.
In 2011, France and the UK sought UN Security Council authorization for a humanitarian operation to save the residents of the rebel city of Benghazi from being massacred by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Russia and China abstained by did not veto the resolution. An air offensive continued until the fall of Gaddafi.
Western Military Options
Western leaders will be faced with a number of military options that range from a short, sharp punitive strike against targets in Syria to a full-scale intervention to end the country’s civil war. This option would involve both on-the-ground troops and air forces. With long-lasting military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with the recent French-led military intervention in Mali, Western leaders will likely be inclined to focus on a short but deadly strike in Syria, fearing that a full-scale operation may result in Western forces being drawn into an open-ended military commitment.
An unclassified assessment of the military options as seen by the Pentagon was released in mid-July in a detailed letter to Senator Carl Levin that was written by Gen Martin Dempsey. In the letter, Gen Dempsey lists a number of options that may be used if an intervention in Syria becomes possible.
The first option involves punitive strikes which would aim to get President Assad’s attention in a bid to persuade him not to resort to the use of chemical weapons in the future. The attraction of this option is that it could be mounted quickly and would result in limited risk to the forces that are involved. Possible targets in such a mission could include military sites that are linked closely to the region, including headquarters, barracks or elite units. Although missile production facilities may be targeted, increased caution would have to be exercised if striking chemical weapons production facilities as any leakage of toxic chemicals could lead to significant damages in the area. In turn, air defense sites and command centers may be hit as a demonstration of the West’s capabilities.
The second option would be to increase support for the Syrian opposition through training and advice. This option would involve the use of non-lethal force and would effectively be an extension of some of the effort that has already been underway. At its current scale, this option has already failed as the opposition has seen a growing number of divisions. It is therefore unlikely that an increase in aid would have any effect. A third option would be to establish a “no-fly zone,” that would effectively prevent the Syrian regime from using its air forces to strike rebels on the ground. This option however would involve an increased risk to the US and allied aircraft and it would require the assembling of a significant force, one that would have to be maintained over time.
The fourth option is to focus on preventing the use of chemical weapons, which could be done by destroying portions of Syria’s stockpiles coupled with obstructing the movement of such weapons and seizing key installations. This option however would result in an increased international involvement, including troops stationed on the ground. This would also result in forces being stationed in Syria for an indefinite period.
While these are currently just options, and combinations of these varying options may be employed in Syria, what does remain clear is that if a resolution is passed by the UN Security Council, swift action is likely to occur. Furthermore, the United States, France and the UK already have forces available in the area that can easily be prepared for a strike on Syria.
The US has four destroyers – USS Gravely, USS Ramage, USS Barry and USS Mahan – stationed in the eastern Mediterranean which are equipped with cruise missiles. It also has two aircraft carriers, the USS Nimitz and the USS Harry S. Truman. Cruise missiles could also be launched from submarines in the region. If more firepower is needed, US airbases in Incirlik and Izmir, Turkey could also be used in order to carry out strikes. The US Navy is reportedly re-positioning several vessels, including its four cruise missile-carrying destroyers and possibly a missile-firing submarine.
The UK’s Royal Navy’s response force task group, which includes helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and frigates HMS Montrose and HMS Westminster, is also in the region on a previously-scheduled deployment. An airbase in Cyprus may also be used while cruise missiles could be launched from a British Trafalgar class submarine.
France’s aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is currently stationed in Toulon however Raffale and Mirage aircraft can operate from the Al-Dhahra airbase in the UAE.
Following major ethnic violence and rioting last week, Chinese authorities appear to beginning a security crackdown in the remote and fractious Xinjiang province, in the far west of China. Xinjiang is the site of sporadic violence between the local Muslim Uighur population and authorities.
Paramilitary police and armoured vehicles have flooded the streets of Urumqi, the capital, and access to information in the province is even more strictly controlled than usual. Given that the 4 year anniversary of rioting that killed nearly 200 people is in 3 days, more violence and disorder is expected in the coming week. Though not commonly targeted in attacks, any foreigners in the region should exercise caution at all times and in particular avoid any demonstrations.
The most recent unrest began on Wednesday last week, in the township of Lukqun, about 200km southeast of Urumqi. Reports say a large mob, armed with knives, attacked several police stations and a government building, attacking individuals and setting police cars alight before the authorities opened fire. 35 people, including 9 security personnel, were killed in this incident. This was followed by an incident on Friday, in which more than 100 people riding motorcycles and armed with knives attacked a police station in the town of Hotan, though no-one was killed in this second incident.
Recent months have seen more occurrences of normally sporadic unrest. Of particular note is an incident at the end of April in the town of Selibuya, Kashgar province, in which 21 people died. 12 police officers were reportedly burned alive in this incident. The most serious unrest in recent years was in 2009, when nearly 200 people, mostly Han Chinese, were killed in widespread rioting.
Chinese authorities strictly control all media and information in Xinjiang, and accurately verifying facts surrounding incidents can be very difficult. Officially, Beijing blames ‘terrorists’ for any and all unrest, attributing it to separatist groups who want to establish an independent state of ‘East Turkestan’. It also typically attributes violence to the influence of foreigners in the province. In this recent incident, it has explicitly implicated the Syrian rebel movement, suggesting that the unrest was precipitated by Uighurs who have trained and fought in the Syrian civil war.
Despite the obvious bias of Chinese authorities in this matter, there is some truth to their claims that some Uighurs are connected with jihadist groups and similar. Al Qaeda has in the past threatened to attack Chinese targets following the deaths of Uighurs in Xinjiang, and over 20 Uighurs were detained following the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and held in Guantanamo Bay. The small East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM) is reportedly affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and is classed as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations.
Nevertheless, the attitude of the Chinese authorities is also very likely a major contributing factor in ethnic unrest. While Xinjiang province has seen major investment following China’s economic growth, little of this appears to have benefited the ethnic Uighur population. Massive resettlement of Han Chinese has dramatically changed the ethnic demographics of the province, and Uighurs complain of losing jobs, confiscation of their land, an erosion of their traditional culture and of being deprived of their religious rights.
Xinjiang is in the far west of China, and has been controlled by various Chinese empires sporadically throughout history. Following a brief period of independence, it was brought under communist Chinese control in 1949. The province is extremely rich in resources, a fact that has brought increased investment by also increased immigration. Xinjiang’s population is now 43% Uighur and 40% Han.
While not commonly targeted in any unrest, foreigners in Xinjiang should maintain caution while in the province. Any demonstrations or protests should be avoided, particularly as the authorities typically respond harshly to any unrest. Foreigners may also encounter harassment and intimidation from state authorities, and should avoid taking pictures of sensitive incidents or locations.
Just days after rebels took over the capital city in the Central African Republic, Michel Djotodia, who has named himself the new President of the African country, has confirmed that his government will be examining all mining contracts that were signed with Chinese and South African companies while President Francois Bozize’s government was in power.
Michel Djotodia, a former civil servant turned rebel leader whose forces took control of the capital Bangui over a week ago, has indicated that petroleum and mining licenses awarded to Chinese and South African companies would be reviewed, indicating that he “will ask the relevant ministers to see whether things were badly done, to try to sort them out.” During his tenure in power, former President Bozize had awarded China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) the rights to explore for oil in Boromata, which is located in the northeastern region of the country, near the border with Chad. The contract was signed in a bid to tap the country’s under-exploited mineral wealth. In turn, South Africa’s DIG oil is also prospecting in the southeast of the country, near the town of Carnot. The review of contracts with South Africa and China may also signal that Djotodia and his government are marking a change from his predecessor Bozize’s close ties with South Africa, with which he had signed a fresh bilateral defence agreement in January.
However while the Central African Republic has large deposits of minerals, including diamonds and gold, decades of conflict coupled with mismanagement, have left the country’s people amongst the world’s poorest.