Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on the European Union (EU) and North African countries to do deals modelled on a controversial agreement that was signed with Turkey earlier this year to stem migrant flows to Europe.
Under the EU-Turkey agreement, Ankara agreed to take back one Syrian who made it to Greece in return for being allowed to send one from its massive refuge camps to the bloc in a more orderly redistribution programme. The agreement also pledges billions of euros in EU aid to Turkey, along with visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens and accelerated EU membership talks.
Last week, the German Chancellor told regional daily Neue Passauer Zeitung, “we must agree on similar deals with other countries, such as in North Africa, in order to get better control over the Mediterranean Sea refuge routes.” She further stated, “such agreements are also in the interest of the refugees themselves,” pointing to the huge risks that migrants take in crossing the Mediterranean in rickety vessels, as well as the large sums that they have to pay smugglers for the perilous sea passage. She added, “it is safer for them and there are good reasons for them to remain in Turkey, close to their homeland, where the cultural and language barriers are lower,” defending the agreement with Turkey as “correct, as before,” and stating, “we should work to ensure that it lasts.” Merkel has also urged EU partners to stop up to their responsibilities in taking in refuges who had arrived in Greece. Prior to the EU-Turkey agreement taking effect, some 45,000 refugees had arrived in Greece as Macedonia closed its borders to the migrants.
There are increasing concerns across the EU that the pact with Turkey to curb migrant flows could collapse as a rift deepens over Ankara’s crackdown following a failed coup. Turkey angrily rejects EU criticism that its post-putsch purges might violate rights norms that Ankara must meet under the agreement in return for visa-free travel for Turks and accelerated negotiations for bloc membership. Hungary has already announced that it will build a second fence along its southern border with Serbia that would effectively enable it to keep out any major new wave of migrants should the EU-Turkey agreement collapse.
In recent weeks, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group has suffered a series of setbacks in Syria, including the loss of access to the Syria-Turkey border and the killing of a number of top leaders. Analysts however warn that the terrorist group remains a potent force – a fact that has been demonstrated by a series of deadly attacks.
The growing pressure on IS, which includes Turkey’s decision to launch an operation against it in northern Syria, has seen the militant group lose ground at an unprecedented pace. IS however continues to maintain the capacity to obtain weapons, attract recruits and deploy fighters to carry out devastating attacks abroad.
On 4 September, the Turkish operation reclaimed the last stretch of the Syria-Turkey border from IS, effectively sealing off its self-styled “caliphate” in Syria and neighbouring Iraq and forcing the group to rely on smuggling networks instead. For IS, this was just the latest setback as the group is now under attack from Syrian and Iraqi troops, as well as Kurdish fighters, Syrian rebels, Turkish Forces, Russian warplanes and a US-led coalition. Experts believe that IS now controls just 20 percent of Iraq and 35 percent of Syria. At the height of its expansion, after it seized Syria’s Palmyra in May 2015, IS controlled around 240,000 square kilometres (more than 92,000 square miles) in both countries – an area roughly the size of Britain. Today however experts indicate that this number has fallen by more than a third to around 150,000 square kilometres, adding that the population it now controls has also declined from some eight million people in mid-2015 to 4.5 million people today. In another major blow to the group’s mobility, in August, IS lost Jazirat al-Khaldiyeh, an area in Iraq’s western Anbar province that was a key crossroads. Meanwhile in Libya, IS is on the verge of losing its stronghold of Sirte. Along with the territorial losses, IS has been affected by a number of high-profile assassinations of its key leaders, which include senior commander Omar al-Shishani and spokesman and top strategist Abu Mohamed al-Adnani.
While these setbacks paint a picture that IS is on the decline, analysts are increasingly warning that the group is far from finished, noting that its focus may simply be shifting from territorial expansion to consolidation of population centres, such as Syria’s Raqa and Iraq’s Mosul, and to launching new attacks against civilians in the region and the West. IS has proven capable of adapting to the changing territory, and it likely that it will do the same this time around. The loss of the border with Turkey will hamper the group’s abilities to import new weapons and recruits, as well as to export resources such as oil. However this challenge is hardly a new one as pressure from Kurdish forces coupled with a Turkish crackdown on the border had already forced IS to mainly rely on smuggling networks. In regards to attaining weapons, IS has always relied to some degree on purchasing from corrupt individuals among its enemies, or capturing arms from defeated opponents.
The United Kingdom and France have pledged to work together and to “step up” moves to improve the migrant situation in Calais, France.
A statement released shortly after UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd met with her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve indicates that both countries would resolve the situation through “close co-operation,” adding that the UK and France would also further secure the port and tunnel in the city.
In the statement, France and the UK further agreed to:
- Bear down on the organized crime gangs exploiting the vulnerable. In 2015, twenty-eight criminal networks were disrupted while since the beginning of this year, an additional 28 have been disrupted.
- Address the humanitarian challenges in Calais as around 7,000 migrants are now present, including 5,000 who are without housing.
- Work together in order to return illegal migrants in Calais who are not in need of protection.
- Further secure the port. A total of 100 million Euros have already been provided by British authorities to reinforce security while French authorities have been providing 1,000 police day and night to prevent intrusion. This scheme has just been recently reinforced by an additional 160 officers.
Ms Rudd and Mr Cazeneuve further disclosed that “the two countries recognize the humanitarian situation in Calais that affects both countries and the need to stop up joint efforts to improve the situation in Calais.”
The show of unity follows calls to allow migrants to lodge UK asylum claims on French soil, something that a source at the Home Office has dismissed as a “complete non-starter.” On 29 August, Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Hauts-de-France region where Calais is located, disclosed that Calais migrants should be allowed to lodge UK asylum claims in France. Under the 2003 Le Touquet agreement between France and the UK, Britain can carry out checks in Calais on people heading to the UK while French officials can do the equivalent in Dover. Mr Bertrand however has stated that he wanted a “new treatment” for asylum seekers trying to get to the UK, adding that people living in the Calais camp known as the Jungle should be able to apply at a “hotspot” in France rather than waiting to reach Britain. He added that those who failed would be deported directly to their country of origin. Under the current rules, which is known as the Dublin Regulation, refugees must register in the first European country that they reach. This country usually takes charge of their asylum claim. While Mr Bertrand does not have the power to change the treaty, some of the candidates looking to win next year’s presidential election in France, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, agree with him that it should either be reformed or scrapped.
The Jungle camp in Calais, which has about 7,000 people living there, has become the focal point of France’s refugee crisis. Many attempt to reach the UK by hiding inside vehicles entering the nearby port and the Channel Tunnel. Debate over border controls was a key issue during the EU referendum campaign. At the time, former prime minister David Cameroon claimed that the Jungle could move to England if the UK left the EU. However jest weeks after the warning, the then-PM and French President Francois Holland agreed a “mutual commitment” to keep it in place. After the Brexit vote, new UK Prime Minister Theresa May and President Hollande have reiterated that commitment.
After months of fighting, militants of the so-called Islamic State (IS) are on the verge of being completely ousted from their stronghold in Libya’s central coastal city of Sirte.
In May of this year, milita groups aligned to the UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) launched an operation aimed at forcing IS from Sirte and regaining control of the city. More recently, after weeks of stagnating, the battle to expel the jihadist group has achieved more success with the held of US air strikes, which were launched at the beginning of this month at the request of the GNA. As of 29 August, the US has carried out 77 air strikes on the city, and while it has damaged the jihadists’ position in Sirte, it does not mean the end for their presence in the North African country.
Why is Losing Sirte Important?
IS took complete control of Sirte in June 2015 after being pushed out of its initial stronghold of Derna, which is located in Libya’s far east, by rival militias aligned with al-Qaeda. The loss of Sirte, which is IS’ stronghold in Libya, would effectively be a blow to the group’s image. In IS propaganda, the jihadist group has repeatedly portrayed the city, which is close to Western Europe, as a key position outside its main areas of operation in Iraq and Syria. As it has held control of the city, IS has transformed buildings in Sirte into its own institutions and prisons and has used the local radio station to air its propaganda. Control of the city also brought IS close to the country’s oil-rich area.
Does IS Have Any Other Strongholds in Libya?
No it does not, however IS remains present elsewhere in the country. In the second city of Benghazi, IS militants have long been fighting other forces and have recently launched a number of attacks on its western outskirts.
How Many IS militants are in Libya?
While there are no reliable figures about the number of IS militants currently in Libya, it has been estimated that the group has about 5,000 fighters in th country, man y of whom are thought to have been deployed in Sirte.
What Does IS Do Next?
IS has been caught on the back foot and the militant group may initially move into desert areas, revert to earlier tactics. Prior to losing its stronghold in Derna, the group made its presence felt elsewhere in Libya by carrying out repeated bombings in the key cities of Tripoli and Benghazi as well as targeting oil installations partly run by Western companies. As it puts up resistance, IS has again been employing suicide bombings as a means of attack.
Where Might IS Go Next?
Some analysts believe that IS fighters may flee to remote areas in the southern region of the country. If they choose this route, they could head for the Sahel-Sahara area, where other jihadists are present and operate relatively freely. However Libya’s importance to IS effectively means that the militant group may eventually regroup and emerge in another part of the country, seeking again to take control of land, which they can then showcase as a major gain. Analysts believe that the town of Bani Walid is one option for IS fighters, with local media recently reporting that air strikes hit a road in th city’s southeast, which reports disclosed was “often used” by is fighters.
The militants make seek to boost their forces in and around Benghazi, or they may head west towards Sabratha. While IS used to run a large training camp in that region, the site may no longer appeal the jihadist group as it was the target of a US air strike in February 2016. Yet another option is the town of Ajdabiya, which is located between Sirte and Benghazi. IS previously had a presence in the town, however it is believed that if they were to establish themselves there, the would have to confront al-Qaeda-linked rivals and the Libyan National Army of the Tobruk-based parliament.
What is evident is that IS is facing mounting pressure and US airstrikes in Libya, which may result in them struggling to create a new stronghold in the country.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) group confirmed on 30 August that one of its most prominent and longest-serving leaders, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was killed in what appears to be an American air strike in Syria, effectively depriving the militant group of the man in charge of directing attacks overseas.
IS’ Amaq News Agency has reported that Adnani was killed “while surveying the operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo.” While IS holds territory in the province of Aleppo, it does not control the city, where rebels are fighting Syrian government forces. Amaq did not say how Adnani, born Taha Subhi Falaha in Syria’s Idlib Province in 1977, was killed, however it did publish a eulogy dated 29 August. A US defense official has also disclosed that the United States targeted Adnani in a Tuesday strike on a vehicle that was travelling in the Syrian town of al-Bab. The official however stopped short of confirming Adnani’s death. Such US assessments usually take several days to confirm and often lag behind official announcements made by militant groups.
Adnani was one of the last living senior members of IS, along with self-appointed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who founded the group, which would later go on to seize huge parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014. He was a Syrian from Binish in Idlib, southwest of Aleppo, who pledged allegiance to IS’ predecessor, al-Qaeda, more than a decade ago. He was once imprisoned by US forces in Iraq. He was from a well-to-do background however he left Syria to travel to Iraq in order to fight US forces there after the 2003 invasion. He returned to his homeland after the start of its own civil war in 2011. According to the Brookings Institution, he once taught theology and law in jihadi training camps. He had been the chief propagandist for IS since he declared in a June 2014 statement that it was establishing a modern-day caliphate spanning swaths of territory that it had seized in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. As IS’ spokesman, Adnani was its most visible member, often being the face of the militant group, such as when he issued a message in May urging attacks on the US and Europe during the holy month of Ramadan and as in September 2014, when he called on supporters to kill Westerners throughout the world. As the group’s head of external operations, he was in charge of attacks overseas, including in Europe, which this year have become an increasingly important tactic for the group as its core Iraqi and Syrian territory has ben eroded by military losses. Under Adnani’s auspices, IS launched large-scale attacks, bombings and shootings on civilians in countries outside its core area of operations, including France, Belgium and Turkey. According to one US official, Adnani’s roles as propaganda chief and director of external operations had become “indistinguishable” because the group uses its online messages in order to recruit fighters and to provide instruction and inspiration for attacks.
According to SITE Intelligence monitoring group, which monitors jihadist activity online, a statement in the group’s al-Naba newspaper has indicated that the group reacted by stated that his death would not harm it and that his killers would face “torment,” adding “today, they rejoice for the killing…and then they will cry much when Allah will overpower them, with His permission, with affliction of the worst torment by the soldiers of Abu Muhammad and his brothers.” A US counter-terrorism official, who monitors IS, has disclosed that Adnani’s death will hurt the militants “in the area that increasingly concerns us as the group loses more and more of its caliphate and its financial base…and turns to mounting and inspiring more attacks in Europe, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”
On the ground, advances by Iraq’s army and allied milita towards IS’ most important possession in the country, Mosul, have put the group under new pressure at a time when a US-backed coalition has cut its Syrian holdings off from the Turkish border. These setbacks have also been due to air strikes, which have killed a number of the group’s leaders and which have undermined its organizational ability and dampened its morale.
Amongst senior IS officials killed in air strikes this year are Abu Ali al-Anbari, Baghdadis’ formal deputy, and the group’s “minister of war,” Abu Omar al-Shishani.