According to a US military official, at least 50,000 militants from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group have been killed since the US-led coalition was launched in Syria and Iraq two years ago.
The senior official has described the figure as a “conservative estimate,” adding that it showed that air power and a small number of US figures supporting local forces were having an impact. He further disclosed that the ongoing US campaign was beginning to damage IS. The US however has repeatedly warned that IS can replace fighters quite quickly.
While the US has often been reluctant to provide figures on enemy causalities, in August, Lt Gen Sean MacFarland was quoted by the AP news agency as stating that about 45,000 enemy combatants had been killed. Meanwhile in February, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest disclosed that IS had about 25,000 fighters operating in Syria and Iraq, citing a US intelligence estimate.
The senior US military official further disclosed that coalition airstrikes could be intensified in places such as Mosul, which Iraqi troops are now battling in order to recapture. He notes however that this would have to be offset against the risk of civilian casualties.
During a seven-month campaign to seize control of Sirte, the only Islamic State (IS) stronghold in Libya, IS has lost senior figures in what is now an unsuccessful battle to defend its coastal stronghold. However there have been growing signs that the militant group has already moved on to try to fight back through sleeper cells and desert brigades.
For months now, Libyan officials have been warning that hundreds of IS militants may have escaped before the battle for Sirte was launched in May or during its early stages. This has prompted concerns of a counter-attack or insurgency campaign that could allow the militants to show that they are still in business despite losing control of Sirte, which comes as the group is also under intense military pressure in its core territory of Iraq and Syria.
According to some experts, some cells have already been active and it is now thought that the militant group is behind at least two dozen attacks or attempted attacks that have occurred to the south and west of Sirte since August.
Before the launch in May of the operation to gain back Sirte, IS was thought to have several thousand fighters stationed in Sirte. It should be noted that estimates of the exact number have varied widely. According to residents of Sirte and security officials in Misrata, the city that led the campaign to retake the militant group’s stronghold, both leadership and rank and file had a heavy presence of foreigners, adding that the group drew on recruits from northern and sub-Saharan Africa. It is believed that much of that force has been killed in the past seven months as IS was also targeted by nearly 500 US air strikes since 1 August. Local officials have reported that amongst those killed were a number of high-level Libyan figures, including preacher and commander Hassan al-Karami and senior official Abu Walid al-Ferjani. According to messages of mourning that were posted on social media accounts close the militant group, a number of foreign commanders were also killed, however it currently remains unclear how far up the hierarchy they were or how important to the group’s future operations. While Misrata officials have refused to disclose on reports of IS militants being killed after capture, fighters and commanders have indicated that they took few, if any, prisoners. Ibrahim Baitulmal, head of Misrata’s military council, has disclosed that an estimated 1,700 jihadist’s bodies had been recovered during the campaign, noting however that the number killed is much higher as militants retrieved some of their own dead. He noted that those killed in the final days of the battle for Sirte included Abu Habib Jazrawi, a Saudi who is thought to have taken the name Abdul Qadr al-Najdi before being named as IS’ leader in Libya in March. While IS has not announced his death, regional media reported that Najdi was replaced in September by a Tunisian, Jalaludin Al-Tunsi, who was possibly appointed to carry on the fight outside Sirte.
What is clear is that IS has made no secret of its plans to continue the fight. In August, the new leader of IS’ Libyan branch, Abu Musab al-Farouq, disclosed that high-level figures who had escaped from Sirte were helping it regroup not far away. Months later in late October, the head of the west Libyan branch, Abu Hudhayfah al-Muhajir, acknowledged that the group had been suffering, stating however that it would continue its campaign for “conquest and empowerment” and that it was still attracting a steady flow of foreign fighters.
This month, the new head of MI6 disclosed that the scale of the terrorism threat to the United Kingdom is “unprecedented.”
According to Alex Younger, UK intelligence and security services have disrupted twelve terrorist plots since June 2013, adding that many of the threats came from ungoverned spaces in the Middle East – namely Iraq and Syria. He further warned that “hybrid warfare,” which included cyber attacks and subverting democracy, was becoming an “increasingly dangerous phenomenon,” noting, “the risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty…They should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.”
In his first public speech since taking up the post of “C,” Mr Younger warned of the impact of Russia’s alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in casting all opponents of President Assad as terrorists. He disclosed, “I believe the Russian conduct in Syria – allied with that of Assad’s discredited regime – will, if they do not change course, provide a tragic example of the perils of forfeiting legitimacy.” He went on to say that “in defining as a terrorist anyone who opposes a brutal regime they alienate precisely that group that has to be onside if the extremists are to be defeated,” adding “we cannot be safe from the threats that emanate from that land unless the civil war is brought to an end.”
Speaking to journalists at MI6 headquarters in London, Mr Younger disclosed that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group had exploited the situation in Syria to fortify its stronghold in the region and to wage a war on the West, adding that IS had a “highly organized external attack planning structure” that was plotting attacks against the UK and its allies “without ever having to leave Syria.”
In describing the risks that MI6 agents face in the field, Mr Younger disclosed that “encountering terrorism, some of our agents operate in the most dangerous and hostile environments on earth,” adding, “they know that the result of being identified as an MI6 agent could be their death. But they do what they do because they believe in protecting their country – and religion – from the evil that Daesh (IS) and other terrorist organizations present.”
Since August 2014 the threat level for international terrorism in the UK has been severe, effectively meaning that an attack is highly likely. There are five threat levels – low, moderate, substantial, severe and critical – which are set up by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.
A report released on 16 November indicated that deaths from terrorism in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries decreased last year by 650 percent despite a marked fall globally as Nigerian-based Boko Haram militants and the so-called Islamic State (IS) Group suffered military defeats at home but carried out more attacks abroad.
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has reported that worldwide, there were 29,376 deaths that were caused by terrorism in 2015. This figure represents a decline of 10 percent, adding that this is the first decrease in four years. GTI disclosed that his decline was due to action against IS in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria, which cut the numbers killed there by a third. IS was the deadliest group in 2015, overtaking Boko Haram. Last year, IS carried out attacks in 252 cities that led to 6,141 deaths. The index however has noted that Boko Haram’s move into neighbouring countries – Cameroon, Chad and Niger – saw the number of fatalities in the se countries increase by 157 percent.
The report however notes that the groups have spread their actions to neighbouring states and regions, where they have caused a huge increase in fatalities amongst OECD members, most of which are wealthy countries, such as the United States and European countries. According to GTI, of the 34 OECD member countries, 21 had witnesses at least one attack with most deaths occurred in Turkey and France. Last year’s terror incidents included coordinated attacks carried out by IS gunmen and suicide bombers at the Bataclan music venue, a soccer stadium and several cafes in Paris in November, which killed 130 people. The index also noted that Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey all suffered their worst death tolls from terrorism in a single year since 2000, adding that in total twenty-three countries registered their highest ever number of terrorism deaths. Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, which accounted for 72 percent of all deaths, were the top five ranked countries in the GTI. The United States ranked 36th, with France coming in 29th, Russia in 30th and the United Kingdom in 34th.
According to Steve Killelea, executive chairman at the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) think-tank, “while on the one hand the reduction in deaths is positive, the continued intensification of terrorism in some countries and its spread to new ones is a cause for serious concern and underscores the fluid nature of modern terrorist activity,” adding that “the attacks in the heartland of western democracies underscore the need for fast-paced and tailored responses to the evolution of these organizations.”
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.