A country destroyed by war, almost entirely eclipsed by the conflict in Syria. Referred to as the forgotten war due to its lack of media attention, the situation in Yemen is dire.
In Yemen, 80% of the population need humanitarian aid.
Yemen’s situation is a complex one. It is not simply one conflict; it is mixed with and indistinguishable from conflicts of the past. This is a likely cause for its lack of media attention: there is no clear bad guy and no good versus evil story to tell the public. Leaving the Yemeni people to suffer in silence.
The issue can be followed back to the Arab Spring. Following the Tunisian revolution in 2011, there was a call for change in Yemen. The then President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted and replaced by his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi on February 27th 2012. At this time Yemen was plagued with many domestic issues including separatist movements in the South, terrorism and extreme poverty. Houthi rebels used this time of instability to occupy large areas of the country. The Houthi are a Shia Muslim group made up of around 40% of Yemen’s Muslims. The rebels seized the capital and caused President Hadi to flee and call for support in March 2015. In response to the uprising, and because of accusations of links to Iran, Saudi Arabia began a campaign, with assistance from the US, the UK, France and eight other Arab states. Their goal, they claimed, was to drive out rebel forces and reinstate Hadi.
The future of Yemen is unclear; the war rages on with no visible end. Peace talks come and go. Ultimately, after nineteen months of constant battle, the country is near the edge of collapse. The UN estimates the war has killed 10,000 Yemeni people and over 36,000 have been injured, but there are fears this number could be much higher. Even before the conflict, the country, with a population of nearly 28 million is larger than Syria, was the poorest in the Middle East. Now, over 14 million are described as food insecure, with 1.5 million children suffering from malnutrition. Before the war, 90% of Yemen’s food came from outside its borders. Now, Saudi blockades and rebel sieges on cities are restricting supplies getting to civilians. Alongside this, the Yemeni heath system is heavily damaged and war survivors are facing different threats. 10,000 children under five years old have died from preventable diseases since the war began. Less than half of the health facilities remain open and there is a severe shortage of doctors. In the capital, Sana’a, less than half of the residents are connected to the water supply. Even then, the water only runs one every four days. In some cities in the South, water comes once a month. Another threat to the people of Yemen is a recent cholera outbreak that has over 2000 suspected cases.
There is a glimmer of hope for the people Yemen, the World Bank has pledged to commit $400 million of aid to Yemen, starting immediately. But, for the next generation of Yemeni children, where over 3.4 million have been forced out of education and the only employment is behind the barrel of a gun, the future looks bleak.
Germany’s plan of conducting security investigations of all military recruits appears to be more and more a concrete reality.
German media reported on 5 November that the military counter-intelligence service (MAD) identified 20 Islamists in the country’s armed forces. An agency’s spokesman confirmed the figure later, adding that other 60 potential cases are under investigation for suspected links to Islamist militants.
Early in 2015, MAD had already warned that extremists could have potentially taken advance of the German Military to gain skills that they could then take to groups such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Reportedly, in fact, Daesh and other terrorist organizations were actively encouraging their followers to join states military forces to get training. This seemed to be confirmed, according to MAD President Christof Gramm, by the fact that, for example, the killers who launched an attack on the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo had military skills.
Two months after this attack, Gramm proposed for the first time an initial check for applicants to armed services.
After multiple Islamist militant attacks that shook Germany in July this year, the German government decided in August to allow preliminary background checks on recruits to be done starting in July 2017. At that time it was reported that more than 300 German soldiers were being investigated for some forms of suspected extremism: 268 suspected right-wing extremists, 64 suspected Islamists and six suspected left-wing extremists.
According to MAD it has been decided to speed things up after recruitment offices across the country have reported increasing individual inquiries from applicants expressing a commitment request to join the German Military (Bundeswehr) of only few months and expressly interested in intensive weapons and equipment training.
Currently, under German military law, recruits only need to present their police records and formally agree to comply with the German constitution to enlist; moreover just service members that have already enlisted, including soldiers and officers, are vetted.
The new measure, if adopted, would allow conducting comprehensive background checks on all applicants as of January 2017 and it would result in at least 20,000 screenings annually, causing some €8.2 billion in additional expenditures.
The German army is regarded as one of Europe’s most capable in terms of training. During army boot camp, recruits are taught shooting and marksmanship skills, map reading and topography, and the fundamentals of woodland and urban warfare, as well as to give emergency aid. Having said that, it is evident that Islamic infiltrations in the national army constitute a serious risk not only for insider attacks in country but also for the rest of Europe.
However, this measure has received critics from several parts of the public opinion, both in Germany and outside. The Measure is, in fact, considered in line with the questioned new state defence plan put in place in August, which entails for citizens to stockpile food and water enough to last for at least ten days, in the event of a major disaster or armed attack.
According to its critics, the German government seems concentrating its efforts just on radical Islam, when the country is relatively safe in comparison to France and other nations. There would be instead other areas that need particular attention like right and left wing extremists.
This month, France appeared to accept that it would need to keep thousands of troops in Africa’s Sahel region for an indefinite period because of the ongoing instability and preponderance of Islamist militants.
Speaking to lawmakers, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault sought to reassure regional allies that Paris would not abandon them despite pressure on its military, which has not only seen it increase its operating in the Middle East, but also on home soli in the wake of a series of Islamist attacks in 2015 and this year. Speaking at a parliamentary debate on his country’s overseas operations, Ayrault disclosed that “France remains committed as long as the jihadist threat continues to weigh on the future of these countries,” adding, “what message would we be sending if we envisaged a reduction of our effort? We do not have the right to abandon our African brothers at the exact moment when they need us the most to consolidate the fragile balances.”
After deploying troops to Mali, France has since spread some 4,000 soldiers across the West African region in a bid to hunt down Islamists. United Nations peacekeepers have also been deployed to ensure Mali’s stability however the UN’s forces have lacked equipment and resources making a political settlement between Tuaregs and the Malian government increasingly fragile and paving the way for Islamists and traffickers to exploit a void in the northern region of the country. According to Ayrault, “we know it will be long and difficult (because) the national reconciliation process is taking time to come into effect, securing the north is slow and terrorist groups continue to destabilize the region by carrying out attacks on Mali’s borders at the entrances to other countries like Niger and Ivory Coast.”
At the end of this month, France will seek to discuss Mali when it hosts a ministerial meeting on UN peacekeeping operations in French-speaking countries to see how to increase and improve their efficiency.
The region, which spans from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east, is host to a number of jihadist groups and is seen as being vulnerable to further attacks after strikes on soft targets in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast earlier this year. The region’s security concerns have further been highlighted by a recent spike in violence in northern Mali, where France intervened three years ago in a bid to drive out al-Qaeda-linked militants who took control of a rebellion in 2012 by ethnic Tuaregs and attempted to take control of the central government in Bamako. More recently, insecurity in northern Mali seems too have spread in the region, particularly into neighbouring Niger where a string of incidents this month, including the kidnapping of a US NGO worker, has prompted officials across the region to enhance security measures.
On 31 October, France formally ended Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic, almost three years after the military mission was launched in December 2013 in a bid to quell inter-ethnic unrest in the country.
The operation initially ran alongside an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission, which was known as MISCA and which later morphed into the UN’s MINUSCA force, which aimed to help restore stability in the capital city Bangui. The mission has however, for the most part, failed to end violence elsewhere in the country, as clashes have continued to erupt in recent weeks and tensions remain high.
At its height, France had more than 2,500 troops from various French units that took part in the mission. In June 2016, France indicated that it had reduced its force in the CAR to 350 soldiers, who would serve as tactical reserve force for the UN peacekeepers, effectively announcing the end of its military mission there. The number of soldiers is due to fall below 300 by early next year with the remaining troops deployed as part of a European military training mission, to support UN drone operations or as a rapid reaction unit supporting the national army.
France’s withdrawal has effectively left security largely in the hands of MINUSCA, the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission, however in recent weeks, criticism of the force has increased, with local people accusing the peacekeepers of not doing enough in order to protect them. The National Assembly president, Abdoul Karim Meckassoua, has expressed concern that the French troops’ departure would exacerbate a deteriorating security climate.
About 3,500 French troops are currently stationed in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger as part of Operation Barkhane in order to fight militancy in West Africa and the Sahel region.
Overview of Operation Sangaris
- 5 December 2013 – Widespread clashes erupted in Bangui, leaving hundreds dead in the streets.
- Christian milita groups, known as anti-Balaka (anti-machete) attacked a number of areas in the capital city, targeting Muslims and triggering revenge attacks by the mainly-Muslim Seleka rebel alliance. Seleka fighters has already targeted the majority Christian population, a key reason as to why the anti-Balaka group emerged. Attacks by both sides, mostly targeting civilians, plunged the CAR into a humanitarian, political and security crisis.
- Several hours after the violence broke out, a French operation force began deploying across the country as part of a UN-mandated effort to quell the deadly wave of sectarian violence. The operation was named “Sangaris” after a small red butterfly that is common the region.
- At the time, French President Francois Hollande disclosed that the troops would remain in the country “as long as necessary,” noting however that the operation was “not designed to last.” Paris, which had already deployed troops to Mali in January of that year in order to battle jihadist groups, watched the situation in the CAR continue to deteriorate following the overthrow in March of Francois Bozize by Seleka rebels who were led by Michel Djotodia.
- An initial force of about 1,200 French marines, paratroopers and engineering units was official deployed to back up the AU’s MISCA force, however they quickly found themselves on the Front line. Their mandate was to “disarm all milita and other armed group s that have terrorized the population” and the fist objective was to secure the capital city and tis 4.5 million inhabitants.
- Between February to September 2014 – Combat troops also secured a road link from Bangui to neighbouring Cameroon.
- September 2014 – Un soldiers from MINUSCA took over the MISCA troops.
- 14 February 2016 – Faustin-Archange Touadera is elected president, effectively capping a chaotic political transition. Three months later, President Hollande visited Bangui, declaring that stability “has been restored.” Elsewhere in the country however armed groups continued to plague the population. Former Seleka units remain active and a total disarmament of militia groups appears to be unlikely.
- Since July 2014, the force has been under growing pressure following the emergence of allegations of child rape by French soldiers deployed in the CAR. French prosecutors opened an investigation, however the allegations did not become public until April 2015. Since then, other reports have emerged about troops’ alleged involvement in sexual attacks and giving children food and sometimes small amounts of money for sexual services. Currently, the Sangaris force is subject to three investigations into separate allegations of sexual abuse of children in the CAR. In June 2016, Paris prosecutors also opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that French troops beat up, or stood by while others beat up two people in the CAR.
- France has intervened military in the CAR a number of times. The CAR, which is a former French colony, won independence in 1960.
On Thursday 20 October, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi disclosed that the offensive to seize back Mosul from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group was going faster than planned, as Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a new military operation to clear villages around the city.
Speaking via a video conference call to senior officials who met in Paris in order to discuss the future of Iraq’s second-largest city, the Prime Minister disclosed “the forces are pushing towards the town more quickly than we though and more quickly than we had programmed.” Four days into the assault on Mosul, Iraqi government forces and allied Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are steadily recovering outlying territory before the main push into the city begins.
According to Kurdish and Iraqi military statements, on Thursday, an Iraqi army elite unit and Kurdish fighters started trying to take back villages north and east of Mosul. Sources on the ground have disclosed that howitzer and mortar fire started at 6:00 AM (0300 GMT), hitting a group of villages held by IS about 20 km (13 miles) north and east of Mosul, while helicopters flew overhead. In a statement announcing the launch of Thursday’s operations, the Kurdish general military disclosed that “the objectives are to clear a number of nearby villages and secure control of strategic areas to further restrict ISIL’s (IS) movements.”
Sources have disclosed that dozens of black Humvees of the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) mounted with machine guns, headed towards Bartella, which is a Christian village whose population fled after IS took over the region. The town is the main attack target on the eastern front. A CTS spokesman at a nearby location has reported that the militants are fighting back, using suicide car-bombs, roadside bombs and snipers in a bid to push the attack back, adding that they are pounding surrounding areas with mortar. Over the past year, the US-trained CTS has spearheaded most of the offensive against IS, including the capture of Ramadi and Falluja, west of the capital Baghdad. The force is deployed on a Kurdish frontline, marking the first joint military operation between the government of Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq.
On the northern front, Kurdish Peshmerga shot down with machine guns an unmanned drone aircraft that came from IS lines in the village of Nawaran, which is located a few kilometres away. It was not clear if the drone, which was 1 – 2 metres (3 – 6 feet) wide, was carrying explosives or just on reconnaissance. According to Halgurd Hasan, one of the Kurdish fighters deployed in a position overlooking the plain north of Mosul, “there have ben times when they dropped explosives.”
The Iraqi Prime Minister announced the start of the offensive to retake Mosul on 17 October, two years after th city fell to the militants, who declared from its Grand Mosque a caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Mosul is the last big city stronghold held by IS in Iraq. Raqqa is the capital of the group in Syria. A US-led coalition, which includes Britain, Canada, France, Italy and other Western nations, is providing air and ground support to the forces who are closing in on the city. The battle for Mosul is expected to be the biggest battle in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, which toppled Saddam Hussein. Around 1.5 million people still live in Mosul and the battle is expected to last weeks, if not months.
The warring sides are not making public their casualty tolls or the number of casualties amongst civilians. Iraqi officials and residents of Mosul however have reported that IS is preventing people from leaving the city, in effect using them as shields to complicate air strikes and the ground progress of the attacking forces. The administration of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province is now one of the main topics of discussion for world leaders. There are growing concerns that the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni group would cause new sectarian and ethnic violence, fuelled by a desire to avenge atrocities that were inflicted on minority groups.