America

The Afghan Success Story (Or Lack Thereof)

The Afghan Success Story (Or Lack Thereof)

 I recently read an article (in Forbes, no less) entitled “Five Signs Afghanistan is Becoming an American Success Story”, written by Loren Thompson. It argued that while Afghanistan has been a hard place to stabilise, the steadfastness shown by the US (and to a lesser extent its coalition partners) has provided numerous signs that they have “succeeded in making Afghanistan a more peaceful, progressive place”. Thompson pointed out several of these signs, including the good performance of its military/police forces and its hugely improved economy. He continues this rose-tinted view by stating that the trends in country are favourable, and that if only the US can deliver on its remaining funding commitments then they can “keep Afghanistan in the win column”. I began wondering fairly early on in this article whether Thompson was observing the same Afghanistan as I was; does it perhaps have a more amiable doppelganger of which I am unaware?  If this was an isolated incident I would undoubtedly have paid little attention, possibly muttering to myself but nonetheless moving on with my life. However, this has been just one of a number of recent occasions in which I have read accounts of the ‘Afghan success story’ that seem at odds with the reality.

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STABBINGS AND SHOOTINGS IN SAUDI AND THE UAE: A RAISED TERRORIST THREAT TO WESTERNERS?

STABBINGS AND SHOOTINGS IN SAUDI AND THE UAE: A RAISED TERRORIST THREAT TO WESTERNERS?

On 17 December 2014, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, a UAE security official, announced that “security in the Gulf will continue to be immune to the events surrounding it”. Despite this reassurance, two recent instances of terrorism in Saudi Arabia and the UAE suggest that the threat of jihadist violence is now spreading to parts of the Middle East which are usually considered stable. Furthermore, what is especially notable is that Westerners seem to have been the victims of both of these attacks. These two examples suggest that expats and visitors from the West face a distinct exposure to this kind of risk, from groups of people with clear links to established terror organisations, as well as apparently lone operators acting on the inspiration of jihadist beliefs.

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NORTH KOREA’S PARADOXICAL POLICY, PART TWO: HUNGRY TO BE HEARD

NORTH KOREA’S PARADOXICAL POLICY, PART TWO: HUNGRY TO BE HEARD

As examined in part one of this blog post, North Korea has these past few weeks displayed a notable contradiction between its actions and words. Although its rhetoric has remained fiery as ever, unusually this has been repeatedly flanked with cool behaviour. While a fragment of the explanation might lie in the Pyongyang leadership’s desire to evade mounting legal challenges, as we have seen, Chinese support means that Kim Jong un and his retinue are not likely to set foot in a courtroom any time soon. So why has there been this recent change in tack from Pyongyang?

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FOREIGN FIGHTER TERROR THREATS TO THE WEST: SOME LIGHT FROM THE PAST

FOREIGN FIGHTER TERROR THREATS TO THE WEST: SOME LIGHT FROM THE PAST

On 16 November 2014, a recording which presents itself as the latest execution video produced by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group surfaced on the Internet. As well as showing what appears to be the murder of a number of captives in graphic detail, the video also contains a direct threat to many of its viewers. In his London accent, the host tells the camera that “the Islamic State will soon, like your puppet David Cameron said, begin to slaughter your people in your streets”. During the video, the masked executioner gesticulates with a knife clutched in his hand, the fresh blood on its blade emphasising the apparent sincerity of the threat he makes. These latest words from the man beneath the black cloth mark a noteworthy new entry in a debate which has been taking place for some years.

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Back into the Fray: An American Re-entry into the Iraqi Quagmire

Back into the Fray: An American Re-entry into the Iraqi Quagmire

The past week has been an extremely busy one in Iraq, with a number of serious developments occurring across the country. On 07 August 2014, US President Barack Obama announced that he had authorised the US military to carry out targeted airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) forces in Iraq. The following day, 08 August 2014, US military aircraft began limited operations in the country’s north. In what is believed to have been one of the first attacks, two F/A-18 aircraft reportedly dropped several laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece that was attacking Kurdish forces not far from Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This was followed up over the weekend by a series of targeted attacks by both manned and unmanned US aerial vehicles; largely hitting specific small-scale IS assets, less in an effort to destroy militant forces, but rather to stall their advances into Kurdish-held territory. But why has Obama – who has made no secret of his hesitation to consider military operations to counter the Islamists gains in Iraq – chosen this moment to reverse his previous stance? The answer lies in a number of recent events, which constitute a clear deepening of the conflict, particularly the IS advances into areas held by the Kurds, its targeting of embattled religious communities (like the Yazidis), and its seizure of large amounts of heavy weaponry from Iraqi military bases. In parallel to these military developments, Iraq’s political crisis has also worsened, as incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s struggle to hold onto power continues to exacerbate divisions in the nation’s capital.

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CAN AFGHANISTAN HOLD A FREE AND FAIR ELECTION?

CAN AFGHANISTAN HOLD A FREE AND FAIR ELECTION?

On 05 April 2014, Afghanistan will go to the polls, to hold elections for a new president and over 400 provincial councillors. This will be the fifth national election held since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, but will be the first to be held on a constitutionally established election schedule, and also the first to be overseen by a permanent and independent entity, the IECC, rather than the controversial temporary bodies set up to monitor previous votes. Without a doubt, this upcoming election is an important moment in Afghanistan’s modern history, particularly in relation to its often problematic, decade-long democratic transition. A successful election that establishes a legitimate government would deal a substantial blow to the aspirations of Afghanistan’s militant groups. However, a failed election, combined with a coordinated push by Taliban forces, could provide an impetus and a rallying cry to these same extremist groups, potentially reinvigorating the insurgency that has caused so much bloodshed over the past decade. Although the elections could be crucial to the future stability of Afghanistan, the process is likely to be far from smooth, as there are a number of important obstacles that could significantly impact the chances of a successful outcome.

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