Military Activity

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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WILL THERE BE A RESURGENCE OF INDONESIAN TERRORISM?

WILL THERE BE A RESURGENCE OF INDONESIAN TERRORISM?

Indonesia is commonly viewed as a counter-terrorist success story, and it is hard to argue against the view that the government’s policies designed to contain the threat posed by extremist groups have yielded tangible results. Although sporadic, low-level incidents have persisted, Indonesia has been untouched by mass-casualty Islamist terror since two Western hotels in Jakarta – the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton – were targeted by suicide bombers in 2009. In recent years, the Indonesia authorities have ruthlessly and efficiently cracked down on hard-line groups, and the country’s jihadist movement has become weakened and fragmented as a result. However, the continuation of this trend is by no means assured. Many of the underlying grievances that helped fuel the rise of religious radicalism in Indonesia in recent decades remain potent, and the very victories posted by the government against terrorist networks have made those that remain more difficult to detect and destroy. Further, there are growing concerns that the rise of the Islamic State (IS) could rejuvenate militancy in the country, particularly after growing numbers of Indonesian nationals currently fighting with the group in Syria and Iraq return to their homeland.

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STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: ARE AL QAEDA THE REAL WINNERS OF YEMEN’S COUP?

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: ARE AL QAEDA THE REAL WINNERS OF YEMEN’S COUP?

The political and security situation in Yemen – never the most stable of states – has spiralled out of control in recent months, sending shockwaves worldwide. A resurgent popular secessionist movement wracks the south, armed tribal groups are engaged in a campaign of sabotage and unrest in the east, and Sunni militant organisations run rampant across much of the country. However, all eyes are currently on events in the capital, where a Shi’ite rebel group, the Houthis, have seized power in what many domestic and international actors described as a coup d’état. The rise of the Houthis is causing considerable concern in the West, not only because of their close ties to Iran, but because the wider conflict and instability likely to follow will be of particular benefit to the region’s most active al Qaeda affiliate.

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“HEALING THE BELIEVERS’ CHESTS”: THE TWIN PURPOSES OF THE ISLAMIC STATE’S NEW VIDEO

“HEALING THE BELIEVERS’ CHESTS”: THE TWIN PURPOSES OF THE ISLAMIC STATE’S NEW VIDEO

On 03 February 2015, a video appeared on the Internet which purports to show the murder of Muath al Kasasbeh. The Jordanian pilot had been held hostage by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group since his aircraft went down over Syria in December 2014. The IS offered to refrain from harming him if a prisoner exchange was held with Jordan, but the deadline passed on 29 January 2015, without this taking place. This proposed swap seems to have been a deception, as according to Jordanian state media al Kasasbeh was probably killed as early as 03 January 2015, suggesting that this film has been in the works for some time. Indeed, the IS is known for the high level of post-production it applies to its videos, but this latest example is particularly stylised. Healing the Believers’ Chests has evidently gone through a lengthy and laborious editing process. Its producers, in other words, intended for this video to convey an important message. The IS seems to have had two direct purposes for releasing this film.

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REPRESSION, SUPPRESSION AND MARGINALISATION: WAS THE GROZNY ATTACK INEVITABLE?

REPRESSION, SUPPRESSION AND MARGINALISATION: WAS THE GROZNY ATTACK INEVITABLE?

Although regional attention has of late been focused elsewhere, particularly on the ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s longstanding conflict within its own borders was again highlighted recently, when a group of Islamist militants launched a major attack in the Chechen capital of Grozny in December 2014. Despite the high number of casualties, the incident prompted “little more than a flicker of international interest” compared to shootings at the Charlie Hedbo offices in Paris and the subsequent hostage dramas. However, the attack was the most serious Islamist insurgent event in the Chechnya in recent memory. It has stoked fears that there could be a potential return to the high levels of violence seen in Chechnya in years past, particularly as ever-more radicalised North Caucasian Islamists return to their homelands from fighting with groups like the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

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SYRIA’S OVERLOOKED MENACE?

SYRIA’S OVERLOOKED MENACE?

The Islamic State (IS) continues to dominate Western media discourse regarding the Syrian conflict, and it remains true that they are the preeminent, and most deadly extremist force in much of the north and east of the country. However, the incessant focus on IS has overshadowed the threat posed to local and regional stability by other militant groups involved in the war in Syria. These include Jabhat al Nusra (JaN), which is one of the most successful, well-trained and well-equipped of the myriad rebel groups that have sprung up during the conflict. JaN is arguably the primary armed movement in a number of key Syrian regions, including the north-western Idlib province, the mountainous Qalamoun area along the frontier with Lebanon, and the Quneitra/Deraa zone to the immediate east of the Golan. While sharing an almost identical and uncompromising extremist ideology with the IS (although with an arguably more limited focus), JaN is a very different animal, as it combines an ability to adjust its activities to local realities and power structures, with an willingness to work with others. This brief analysis will seek to outline the group’s genesis and growth, and to identify what it is that makes JaN so dangerous, particularly, its pragmatism and its efforts to remain receptive to other Syrian rebel organisations, on occasion even with its dire enemies. First, it is worth examining just how the extremist movement evolved out of the maelstrom of the Iraq war to become such a major player in Syria.

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