Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the Syrian government and opposition rebels agreed to the terms of a ceasefire. This latest agreement represents a possible turning point in a conflict that has ravaged Syria for nearly six years. While the full details of the pending rapprochement remain unclear, leaders of Syria’s military and Armed Forces indicated, in a report from the state-run news agency SANA, that their operations would officially end Friday, at midnight (1).
The agreement comes at a time when the Syrian government has regained strategic ground in the conflict, forcing the rebel opposition––a depleted, fragmented confederation––to compromise. Last week, the Syrian regime took full control of Aleppo. The successful surge was the subject of considerable international attention, as news reports highlighted the mounting humanitarian crisis in Syria. The year-long battle in east Aleppo, alone, is a story of near-daily attacks, including airstrikes, explosive barrels and bombs loaded with chlorine gas. Civilians––men, women and children––are among Aleppo’s thousands of victims. Since the civil war began 2011, more than 400,000 Syrians have been killed, and nearly 5 million have fled the country, according to the United Nations (2). The UN Security Council has repeatedly attempted to resolve the war and the consequent humanitarian crisis; however, Russia––a permanent member of the council and ally of the Syrian regime––has vetoed such attempts.
Thursday’s agreement, which also includes measures to oversee the ceasefire and plans for peace talks among the warring parties, does not include the UN. The United States, in particular, has been sidelined from conversations. Previously, the US has tried and ultimately failed to orchestrate a lasting ceasefire in Syria. Despite Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s insistence that the US remain out of this possible resolution, the US has already expressed optimism regarding the agreement. The US State Department described the deal as a “positive development” that it hoped would be “implemented and fully respected by all parties” (3).
The parties involved will indeed determine the success of the ceasefire and subsequent agreements. The deal, which excludes jihadist groups, was confirmed by the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), a body regarded as Syria’s main opposition. The HNC functions as an umbrella organization comprised of various actors, such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and a number of other political and armed oppositional factions. In total, 13 armed opposition factions have signed on to the ceasefire, according to FSA spokesman Osama Abu Zaid. Several of the rebel groups that have signed the deal have received American military aid. The rebels’ influence and control reaches from the northwest along Syria’s border with Turkey, to the south along the country’s border with Jordan (4). Although the agreement was negotiated by officials from Russia, Iran and Turkey, alongside the Syrian government and rebel representatives, opposition groups insist that they have not had direct talks with the Assad regime and maintain their position that President Assad should have no place in the future of Syria.
If the cessation of hostilities continues into the new year, then the parties will meet for talks in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, before the end of January. By this time, US President-Elect Donald Trump should be sworn into the presidency. Trump has said that his administration would not support Syrian rebels and has claimed that fighting terrorism would be his Syrian policy. In response, Assad has referred to Trump as a “natural ally.” Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said Thursday that the Trump administration––unlike the Obama administration––would be welcome to join the peace process in Astana after Inauguration Day (5).
(1) Dewan, Angela. "Syria Ceasefire Deal Reached between Regime and Rebels, Russia Says." CNN. Cable News Network, 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/29/middleeast/syria-ceasefire-talks-turkey-russia/index.html>.
(3) "Syria Conflict: Ceasefire Agreed, Backed by Russia and Turkey." BBC News. BBC, 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38460127>.
(5) Hubbard, Ben, and Neil Macfarquhar. "New Cease-Fire Begins in Syria, but Violations Are Reported Within Hours." The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 Dec. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/world/middleeast/syria-cease-fire.html>.
Image: © Radekprocyk | Dreamstime.com - Series Of Portraits Of Children Syrian Refugees Photo
In late July, Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, embarked on a 4-state tour of West Africa, including Nigeria, Guinea, Mali, and Ghana. The Foreign Minister and a delegation from the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran (TPOI) met with businesspeople, investors, and economic officials in the hopes of creating a plan to increase economic and trade relations between Tehran and its West African counterparts. Iran’s potential trading partners could include companies from various sectors: health; energy; finance; agriculture; and engineering. Upon completion of this six-day diplomatic trek, Zarif declared his efforts had been “successful,” as new trade centers were established and future plans to expand Iran’s export of goods and services were announced (1).
Following the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last January and the subsequent removal of U.S. sanctions, the Islamic Republic has sought to engage African states both politically and economically, and chart its expanding influence over the developing continent. Although the removal of certain sanctions has largely made this strategic pivot possible, more recent international developments have facilitated the ease with which Iran has stepped into the global economy (2).
By pivoting to Africa, Iran is strategically occupying a gaping void of influence, which Great Britain left, upon the country’s decision to leave the European Union last June. In a country such as Somalia, the European Union has been the single-largest donor, responsible for an average of $80 million per year in aid and credited with stabilizing the historically fragile state. In the past, London has led these efforts, as it has not only shouldered an outsized portion of aid relief but also championed Somalia’s national security with its support for multinational forces that protect the federal government from extremist groups, like al-Shabaab. However, ‘Brexit’ –– an assault to a traditional culture of multilateralism in the international community –– means that such assurances, like aid or security forces, tenuously hang in the balance. With regard to trade, Britain, as a result of its decision to leave the EU, must negotiate new trade deals with 52 African states –– a mammoth task that an overextended British government will likely neglect in the coming years. Moreover, in the absence of Britain’s dependably anti-protectionist influence within the EU, African states face the prospect of European trade policy that is less accommodating of their interests (3).
Thus, Iran has emerged as a beacon of hope in Africa, promising security –– both political and economic –– in the midst of insecurity. Foreign Minister Zarif’s claim that Tehran will join West African states, such as Mali, to combat terrorism and extremism is among the most notable of Iran’s promises.
“Iran is ready to cooperate with Bamako in the fight against terrorism and extremism,” Zarif said during his meeting with Mali’s Prime Minister Modibo Keita in Bamako. Zarif specifically added that Iran could offer its considerable experience effectively targeting the drug-trafficking operations of violent political groups (4).
However, contrary to Foreign Minister Zarif’s claims, the U.S. State Department released a report last June that listed Iran as the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) –– Tehran’s formidable military-industrial-financial complex –– has evolved within the last three decades into a “mafia cartel” responsible for the country’s vast underground economy, known for its illicit trade of drugs and weapons and its support for terrorist proxies, like Hezbollah and Hamas. A 2012 report from the U.S. Treasury Department described the IRGC’s commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Baghbani, as the mastermind behind Iran’s export of drugs, particularly heroin, to the West. The IRGC’s support for drug-trafficking operations is, in part, responsible for Iran’s thriving underground economy, which –– according to estimates –– accounts for approximately 36 percent of Iran’s GDP. By placing IRGC leaders on the U.S. sanctions list for drug trafficking, the United States has attempted to combat the group; however, with its ties to drug cartels in Central and South America through Hezbollah, the IRGC maintains its financial independence, despite U.S. sanctions and despite opposition from some Iranian civil politicians (5).
If Iran cannot contain the export of extremism, weapons, and drugs from within its own borders and tacitly supports the organization responsible for this unbridled phenomenon, what incentive draws the country to a continent equally plagued by insecurity?
Beyond the economic benefits of expanding trade, the incentive for Iran appears two-fold. First, Iran would like to broaden its influence in the international community, especially in light of persistent opposition from the West –– the gatekeepers of decision-making bodies, like the United Nations. In the eyes of Tehran, African countries could potentially provide invaluable support that would counter U.N. or U.S. policies that target Iran. Second, Africa represents an untapped source of terrorist networks that could support Iran in the event of an attack from the United States or Israel. For years, Iran has been building its relationship with African states, such as Nigeria, where a considerable Shi’a, extremist community resides (6).
Rather than attempting to solve the ills of an entire continent, Iran –– before the country can become an effective member of the international community –– must focus first on addressing its innumerable internal problems. Grassroots organizations, in particular, will play an important role in the healing and transformation that must occur within the country. For example, the Aftab Society, Iran’s largest non-governmental organization, works tirelessly to provide communities with programs focused on drug-demand reduction. The Aftab Society’s efforts are part of a new, innovative strategy to build internal resilience and undermine the corrupt work of groups, like the IRGC. Going forward, international and regional partnerships, outfitted with exceptional resources and expertise, must come alongside Iran’s NGO community (7). Until such a concerted effort emerges, one must realistically expect that Iran’s insecurity will persist.
(1) "Iranian Businessmen Talking Trade in Africa." Tehran Times. Tehran Times, 26 July 2016. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.
(2) "Iran Sees 'New Chapter' in Ties with West African States." Press TV. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, 28 July 2016. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.
(3) De Waal, Alex. "Brexit Is Bad News for Africa. Period." Foreign Policy. The FP Group, 27 June 2016. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.
(4) Kazimov, Khalid. "Iran Expresses Support for Mali in Fight Against Terrorism." Trend News Agency. Baku Network, 28 July 2016. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.
(5) Ghasseminejad, Saeed. "How Iran's Mafia-Like Revolutionary Guard Rules the Country's Black Market." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 10 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.
(6) Zenn, Jacob. "The Islamic Movement and Iranian Intelligence Activities in Nigeria." Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. CTC Sentinel, 24 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.
(7) Calabrese, John. "Iran's War on Drugs: Holding the Line?" Middle East Institute. Middle East Institute, 01 Dec. 2007. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.
Image: © German Vogel | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/editorial-photo-iran-foreign-ministry-building-imitating-persepolis-architecture-columns-staircase-to-one-buildings-iranian-image47445636#res14972580">Iran Foreign Ministry building - imitating Persepolis architecture</a>
According to a New America report titled ISIS in the West, jihadists exporting their distinct brand of militant Islam and wrangling with state powers for control of the region have drawn more than 4,000 Westerners to Iraq and Syria (1). Of the 4,000 who have either attempted to join or successfully joined the Islamic State, more than 500 of these individuals are women from Western countries (2). Although many Western countries do not have available data on the number of women leaving their respective communities, estimates indicate that nearly one in seven ISIL members from the West are female, with a trend toward rapid growth in female membership (3). When one imagines a disaffected jihadi who has abandoned the West for the promise of glory in the Mideast, the stereotypical image that comes to mind follows a set of characteristics, generally including ‘male’ and ‘young.’ However, the profile of the Western jihadi is changing. The rate at which Western women have joined ISIL’s campaign confounds popular assumption and prompts one to ask: Why do women from the West support and join the Islamic State?
Ostensibly, the reasons why women in the West support and join the Islamic State appear to be the same reasons why men in the West leave their homes for jihad: The Islamic State provides the disaffected with a sense of purpose and belonging, having suffered alienation in his or her Western community. However, how ISIL recruits women and the roles women assume once they have joined the group differ, compared to men. These differences indicate that efforts to combat the Islamic State should not treat terrorism as a monolith without respect to gender. If the international community, particularly the West, hopes to effectively combat the proliferation of global terrorism, it must begin to employ gender-specific methods that target women.
II. A Brief Case Study: The United Kingdom
For more than 150 years, Muslims––immigrants, the British-born, and converts––have constituted a growing and integral part of British society. Muslim migration to the United Kingdom suddenly boomed after the Second World War, as the state sought to rebuild its economy. Immigration acts in the 1970s steadied what was once a burgeoning flow of Muslim migrants; however, second and third generation British Muslims were already born, thus naturally increasing the population (4). Today, ethnic and religious Muslims comprise nearly 3 million of the UK population, with approximately 33 percent of the population aged 15 years or younger, according to The Muslim Council of Great Britain (5). Raised in a Western culture, second and third generation British Muslims have experienced a life quite unique, compared to their parents and grandparents. Young Muslims, in particular, feel the strain of multiculturalism, as they are forced to reconcile a Muslim identity and a British identity (6). Racial tensions, following domestic and international events concerning British Muslims, have exacerbated this internal dissonance, especially for women.
The national debate over the right of Muslim women to veil themselves in Islamic dress emerged in 2005 after the 7/7 London bombings when four Islamist suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured several hundred more (7). Following the attack, a 2007 directive announced that UK schools, courts, and other British institutions may decide their dress code and ban women and young girls from wearing certain forms of Islamic dress, including the niqab and headscarves. Then Prime Minister Tony Blair even described the veil as a “mark of separation” that conveyed a lack of integration into British society (8). Feminist legal scholar Katherine Brown describes the backlash against women wearing Islamic dress as an indication of eroding multiculturalism in the UK and a pretext for violence against Muslim women (9). A 2010 report from The European Research Centre titled Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: A London Case Study found that women were more often the victims of violent, anti-Muslim attacks (10). The erosion of multiculturalism and consequent violence against Muslim women represent one of many ‘push factors,’ contributing to the radicalization of not only more than 50 British women who have joined the Islamic State but also Western women, in general.
III. Push Factors
Traditionally, governments have viewed the issue of radicalization through a socioeconomic lens concerning inequality. To the contrary, researchers have found that the women who support and join the Islamic State “defy easy categorization on socioeconomic grounds” (11). Although nearly 50 percent of British Muslims, for example, live in the most deprived areas of the UK (12), the Institute for Strategic Dialogue discovered that the most salient push factors, encouraging women to leave their Western homes and emigrate to ISIL-controlled territories, are as follows: First, feelings of social and/or cultural isolation, including questioning their identity; second, perceived persecution of the international Muslim community, or the ummah; third, resentment toward the international community for its lack of response to this persecution (13). The first push factor indicates that the erosion of multiculturalism has engendered an ‘identity crisis’ of epidemic proportions. Psychologist Erik Erikson defines an ‘identity crisis’ as the period during adolescence when a young person feels an internal conflict between individual identity and purpose (14). Young Muslim women living in the West find themselves trapped between the traditional culture of their families and a secular society that violently rejects them. Concurrently, as the second and third push factors suggest, Western women driven to join the Islamic State have found a sense of belonging and identity in the ummah. The ummah refers to the global Muslim community, which Islamists believe is under attack. ISIL promises an escape from the degradation of secular society and the hope of a “pure” religious society in which the ummah’s unity will be restored (15). Although push factors, such as the promise of the ummah, are likely to make a person more vulnerable to Islamist propaganda, they, on their own, provide governments with an incomplete explanation of the radicalization and recruitment of Western women.
IV. Pull Factors
Too often, Western analysis and responses to the radicalization and recruitment of Muslim women living in the West have lacked an understanding of related ‘pull factors.’ The most significant pull factors are the Islamic State’s adept use of technology, particularly social media, and a derivative of the ummah narrative known as the ‘Brand Caliphate’ (16). Using sophisticated media production techniques and social media––such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube––the Islamic State has gained access to young females living in the West. The Internet has become a conduit for recruitment, as ISIL social media campaigns include all of the necessary steps to successfully recruit Western Muslim women, including indoctrination, incentive for joining the ‘Caliphate,’ and information regarding travel, becoming ‘jihadi brides,’ and their future roles in ISIL-controlled territories (17). Like any advanced media operation, the Islamic State knows how to produce online material that is “relevant, localized, and targeted” to its intended audience (18). One of the most important strategies ISIL employs to create this tailored message is the use of female members as the group’s recruiters. Western women who the Islamic State has already recruited are responsible for selling the ‘Brand Caliphate’ to young and vulnerable women, like the British trio––Shamima Begum, then 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15––believed to have traveled to Syria last year (19). Various media outlets reported on August 11 that Sultana is believed to have died in an airstrike last June (20). For young girls, like Sultana, the ‘Brand Caliphate’ represents the creation of an ‘Islamic utopia’––a state-building project in which women are promised a sense of purpose. On social media, radicalized female propagandists, already living in ISIL-controlled territories, post pictures and write blogs, portraying their daily lives as “a sort of ‘Disneyland for Muslims’” (21). Female recruiters, through targeted social media campaigns, have essentially crafted a sisterhood promising everything Western Muslim women feel they have been denied––spiritual fulfillment, belonging, and adventure.
V. Female Roles in IS Territory
The social media output of female recruiters has provided governments and researchers with new insight into the roles Western women assume once they have arrived to ISIL territory. A common misconception about pro-jihadist groups is that women “play little to no role in their activities” (22). Although females in the Islamic State are typically confined to domestic roles (i.e., reproducing children to populate the ‘Caliphate’ and caring for their husbands), social media suggests that women may adopt activist roles. In addition to their role as recruiters, female ISIL members are known to run women’s organizations, produce Islamist magazines, and engage in fundraising (23). Women from the West often subvert traditional roles as mothers and wives, offering their skills as doctors, nurses, and engineers (24). Understanding how women are radicalized and the roles they embrace once they have joined the Islamic State is imperative, as Western states seek to improve prevention methods.
Moreover, recognizing women not only as victims, but also as the perpetrators of extremism, is the first step the international community must take in its effort to combat global jihadist groups, like the Islamic State. One should avoid the essentializing narrative that reductively paints women as the victims of extremism and denies that women can become the agents of violence. As the aforementioned roles these women assume reveal, women are among the most passionate supporters of ISIL, using social media to not only expand the ‘Caliphate sisterhood’ but also goad men into action (25). Indeed, there are thousands of women who the Islamic State has unjustly abused and victimized; however, evidence indicates that women who participate in political violence and who are recruited on the Internet are rarely coerced (26). Although the Islamic State currently does not allow women to occupy combatant roles, Western governments worry that lone female returnees or radicalized women who are unable to travel overseas to ISIL-controlled territories could engage in violent acts at home (27).
The case of Roshonara Choudry demonstrates several issues with popular conceptions of violent radicalization. In May 2010, Choudry, a British Muslim and female university student, stabbed Member of Parliament Stephen Timms. Choudry’s actions confound mainstream assumptions. First, she is a woman in a world where men monopolize jihadi violence, and second, her lone attack appeared to be the product of online radicalization, rather than the result of a “collective real-world phenomenon” (28). Choudry’s case confirms that addressing the radicalization of Western women begins with reevaluating one’s preconceptions about violence and gender. Traditional theories of radicalization do not account for the broader range of actors (i.e., women) participating in global politics (29). To effectively combat extremist groups, like the Islamic State, the international community must adopt a new security paradigm that recognizes women, not just men, as politically motivated actors capable of violence.
Once this shift has occurred, governments can begin to address the radicalization of Western women in ways that are not only strategic but also gender-specific. This effort first requires a proportional soft power strategy that can match the Islamic State’s sophisticated, well-resourced, and global propaganda campaign that drives its recruitment success (30). In the battle of ideas, where hearts and minds are won and lost, Western states cannot content themselves with a single Twitter campaign delivered through a government counter-messaging center. Rather, these states––like the UK, which spent £40 million on ‘prevention’ in 2014––must employ a soft power strategy that combines their aid budgets with diplomacy. Put simply, countering extremism must become a coordinated, international effort. Moreover, on a strategic level, Western states must undermine the ‘Brand Caliphate’ that has so gainfully drawn women to ISIL. Providing financial support to local individuals and organizations that “speak authoritatively about the heresy and inauthenticity” of the ‘Brand Caliphate’ is one step toward disrupting ISIL’s monolithic vision of Islam (31).
Next, Western states must focus on promoting credible counter-narratives to the Islamic State’s ideology. This campaign to reach would-be recruits should focus on highlighting credible voices––like those who have escaped and defected from the Islamic State––and should specifically target the girls and young women most vulnerable to recruitment. The participation of female survivors and defectors would be invaluable in the promotion of this counter-narrative. In order to effectively facilitate this counter-narrative, governments must improve their intelligence gathering, providing the comprehensive data about potential female ISIL recruits, which these survivors and defectors need (32).
Finally, Western states should promote the participation of women in counter-extremism networks. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that there are so few female practitioners in countering-violent-extremism (CVE) sectors, while female-directed counter-narratives are noticeably absent from the CVE space. Increasing the number of female practitioners in CVE is imperative for cultivating a gender perspective and human rights approach. Currently, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue is working together with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to create a more robust network of women from around the world working in CVE. Through its One2One Initiative and Extreme Dialogue program, the Institute has connected young people expressing extremist sentiments on social media networks with former extremists, and developed online critical thinking programs to aid teachers and social workers in their efforts to reach young people sensitive to extremist propaganda (33). Western governments must cooperate with such efforts by distributing these programs in their schools and communities (34). Ultimately, government coordination with civil society and the private sector will be critical to effectually contest ISIL’s cyber exploitation of social media sites, and carry this gender-specific counter-messaging campaign to vulnerable young women and girls.
No single prevention method is more important than the other. Each method represents an integral part of an overall strategy to defeat the Islamic State’s influence in the West. If protecting not only national security but also global security is a priority for Western governments, they must, as the aforementioned strategy suggests, begin this initiative by considering first the individual. In the case of radicalized Western women, these states must prioritize this concern for the individual by employing gender-specific methods in response to the Islamic State’s campaign. Until the West collectively understands how gender affects radicalization and consequently adopts a new human security paradigm, the growing phenomenon of women joining and supporting the Islamic State will persist.
(1) Ford, Albert, Alyssa Sims, Peter Bergen, and David Sternman. ISIS in the West. Rep. New America, Mar. 2016. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(2) United States. Cong. House. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Women under Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Rule. 114th Cong., 1st sess. H. Rept. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(3) Ford, Albert, Alyssa Sims, Peter Bergen, and David Sternman. ISIS in the West. Rep. New America, Mar. 2016. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(4) Pooley, Elizabeth. A New Sisterhood: The Allure of ISIS in Syria for Young Muslim Women in the UK. Diss. Arizona State University, 2015. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(5) Ali, Sundas. British Muslims in Numbers. Rep. The Muslim Council of Britain, Jan. 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(6) Pooley, Elizabeth. A New Sisterhood: The Allure of ISIS in Syria for Young Muslim Women in the UK. Diss. Arizona State University, 2015. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(7) Rodgers, Lucy. “7 July London Bombings: What Happened That Day?” BBC News. British
Broadcasting Corporation, 03 July 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(8) Pearson, Elizabeth. “The Case of Roshonara Choudhry: Implications for Theory on Online
Radicalization, ISIS Women, and the Gendered Jihad.” Policy & Internet 8.1 (2016): 5-33. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(9) Brown, Katherine. “Realizing Muslim Women’s Rights: The Role of Islamic Identity Among British Muslim Women.” Women’s Studies International Forum 29 (2006): 417-30. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(10) Githens-Mazer, Jonathan, and Robert Lambert. Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: A London Case Study. Rep. European Muslim Research Centre, Jan. 2010. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(11) United States. Cong. House. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Women under Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Rule. 114th Cong., 1st sess. H. Rept. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(12) Ali, Sundas. British Muslims in Numbers. Rep. The Muslim Council of Britain, Jan. 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(13) United States. Cong. House. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Women under Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Rule. 114th Cong., 1st sess. H. Rept. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(14) Dekmejian, R. Hrair. Spectrum of Terror. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2007. Print.
(15) Pooley, Elizabeth. A New Sisterhood: The Allure of ISIS in Syria for Young Muslim Women in the UK. Diss. Arizona State University, 2015. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(16) United States. Cong. House. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Women under Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Rule. 114th Cong., 1st sess. H. Rept. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(17) Peresin, Anita, and Alberto Cervone. “The Western Muhajirat of ISIS.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 38.7 (2015): 495-509. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(18) Ní Aoláin, Fionnula. “The ‘War on Terror’ and Extremism: Assessing the Relevance of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.” International Affairs 92.2 (2016): 275-91. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(19) Reding, Randal G. Terror's Tangled Web: Assessing the Islamic State's Cyber Recruiting Strategies in Western Countries. Diss. Utica College, 2016. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2016. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(20) Grierson, Jamie, and Vikram Dodd. "British Girl Believed Killed in Syria ‘Was Too Scared to Flee Isis’." The Guardian. Guardian Media Group, 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(21) Peresin, Anita, and Alberto Cervone. “The Western Muhajirat of ISIS.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 38.7 (2015): 495-509. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(22) Huey, Laura, and Eric Witmer. “IS_Fangirl: Exploring a New Role for Women in Terrorism.” Journal of Terrorism Research 7.1 (2016): 1-10. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(24) Peresin, Anita, and Alberto Cervone. “The Western Muhajirat of ISIS.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 38.7 (2015): 495-509. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(25) Bloom, Mia M. “She-hadis? Online Radicalization and the Recruitment of Women.” Violence and Gender in the Globalized World. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2016. 225-52. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(27) Peresin, Anita, and Alberto Cervone. “The Western Muhajirat of ISIS.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 38.7 (2015): 495-509. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(28) Pearson, Elizabeth. “The Case of Roshonara Choudhry: Implications for Theory on Online Radicalization, ISIS Women, and the Gendered Jihad.” Policy & Internet 8.1 (2016): 5-33. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(29) Sjoberg, Laura. Women, Gender, and Terrorism. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(30) United States. Cong. House. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Women under Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Rule. 114th Cong., 1st sess. H. Rept. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(32) Ní Aoláin, Fionnula. “The ‘War on Terror’ and Extremism: Assessing the Relevance of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.” International Affairs 92.2 (2016): 275-91. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(33) United States. Cong. House. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Women under Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Rule. 114th Cong., 1st sess. H. Rept. U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
(34) Reding, Randal G. Terror's Tangled Web: Assessing the Islamic State's Cyber Recruiting Strategies in Western Countries. Diss. Utica College, 2016. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2016. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Garudeya | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/editorial-photo-five-hundred-indonesians-join-isis-official-erasing-islamic-state-iraq-syria-flag-graffiti-solo-java-indonesia-image51873681#res14972580">FIVE HUNDRED INDONESIANS JOIN ISIS</a>
On July 19, the African Union (AU) summit convened in Rwanda to discuss recent events in South Sudan. Earlier in the month, deadly fighting—threatening a renewed civil war—erupted between supporters of South Sudan’s president, Kiir Mayardit, and the country’s former rebel leader and vice president, Riek Machar. At the summit, leaders met to discuss the possibility of sending a coalition force, including troops from Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya, to support the struggling UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) (1). The principal source of disagreement between the warring parties –– a 2015 peace deal that precipitated Vice President Machar’s ascension to power last April –– has all but disintegrated in light of recent news that Taban Deng, chief negotiator of the peace agreement for the armed rebels, has replaced Machar. Despite a ceasefire, Machar fled the capital city of Juba to avoid last week’s fighting that left 300 dead (2). As a peace deal, which the international community intervened to create, tenuously hangs in the balance, one must question whether international intervention can solve this latest bout of instability.
Amidst the threat of further violence, members of the international community, especially human rights organizations, have called for an arms embargo on South Sudan. In addition to his support for a coalition force to aid UN peacekeepers, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged the UN Security Council to implement an arms embargo in South Sudan and impose sanctions on the factions responsible for the deadly fighting earlier in the month (3). Human rights organizations have echoed the Secretary General’s recommendations, as concerns mount over an unmitigated refugee crisis, in which thousands are currently fleeing South Sudan (4). At the peak of last week’s conflict, which began July 8 in Juba, an estimated 42,000 civilians –– mostly women and children –– were displaced (5). Estimates from the UN refugee agency suggest that the number of South Sudanese refugees displaced in other East African countries this year could exceed one million (6). In a letter sent to the UN Security Council on July 21, thirty human rights groups –– including Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International –– condemned both attacks on civilians and the fighters’ disregard for the law of war. Attacks on civilians, which have forced thousands to leave their homes, have included sexual violence against women and girls and looting of humanitarian aid, according to Secretary General Ban during his July 21 speech (7). Countries such as Uganda that are resistant to international intervention may complicate the Secretary General’s request to the UN Security Council for an arms embargo and targeted sanctions to address South Sudan’s current woes.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni –– a close ally of South Sudan’s President Kiir –– expressed his opposition to an arms embargo during the AU summit in Rwanda. He maintained that such a decision would weaken the South Sudanese army during a crucial time in which violence has resurged (8). At the height of the violence, Uganda deployed its own troops to rescue Ugandan citizens in South Sudan, and in the wake of the violence, the country has accepted more than 3,000 people who have fled there (9). Regional leaders, such as President Museveni, appear generally wary of international intervention, especially considering the 2015 peace deal, which the UN brokered, is partly responsible for the current situation in South Sudan. The most salient source of opposition to this latest bid for an arms embargo, however, will likely be two permanent members on the UN Security Council: Russia and China. Both countries not only generally oppose sanctions and embargoes for strategic, political reasons but also profit generously from the sale of arms to South Sudan. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has tracked global arms sales and found that Russia was the main supplier of arms to South Sudan in 2011, the year the country gained independence from Sudan. Moreover, according to SIPRI, China was the largest supplier of arms to South Sudan in 2014. China did, however, cease shipments once fighting resurfaced that year (10). As of now, while the embargo proposal is under review, it is unclear what position either Russia or China will take.
In the meantime, East African countries opposed to the embargo, particularly Uganda, are calling for a revision to the UN peacekeeping mission. On July 11, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) –– an East African group –– proposed a revised mandate to UNMISS operations. This revised mandate emphasizes the need for a regional force to intervene in South Sudan, acknowledging South Sudan’s insistence that it no longer wants international troops fighting within its borders (11). GAD and the AU would like to model this regional force on the Force Intervention Brigade, which was deployed to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to confront rebel groups there. This force, in coordination with the UN and the South African Development Community, was able to defeat the M23 rebels (12). There is indeed a certain irony to the current situation in South Sudan: The international community that approved the creation of this nascent state might contribute to its demise, if it does not cooperate with regional powers and reach a consensus, detached from strategic interests.
(1) "South Sudan: African Leaders Support Plan to Deploy Regional Troops." Stratfor. Strategic Forecasting, Inc., 19 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(2) "South Sudan Opposition Replaces Missing Leader Machar." Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Media Network, 23 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(3) "In Rwanda, Ban Meets with African Leaders On Situation in South Sudan." UN News Center. United Nations, 15 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(4) The Associated Press. "Human Rights Groups Urge South Sudan Arms Embargo." The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(5) Mahla, Deepmala. "The World Cannot Afford to Turn Its Back on South Sudan." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(6) "UN: South Sudan Refugees Could Hit One Million." Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Media Network, 15 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(7) The Associated Press. "Human Rights Groups Urge South Sudan Arms Embargo." The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(8) "Ugandan President Opposes South Sudan Arms Embargo." Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Media Network, 18 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(9) Dobbs, Leo. "Thousands Flee to Uganda After South Sudan Flare-Up." UNHCR News. The UN Refugee Agency, 19 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(10) Ferrie, Jared. "Would an Arms Embargo on South Sudan Work?" IRIN. Integrated Regional Information Networks, 12 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(11) Long, Nick. "AU Backs Call for 'Robust' African Force in South Sudan." ReliefWeb. United Nations, 18 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
(12) "South Sudan Conflict: African Union Approves Regional Force." BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation, 19 July 2016. Web. 25 July 2016.
Image: © Paskee | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-fleeing-fights-mingkama-awerial-lakes-state-south-sudan-january-refugees-arriving-mingkama-port-coming-boat-over-image37881423#res14972580">Fleeing the fights</a>
The death of three French soldiers whose plane was shot down in Benghazi last week has renewed reflection on international intervention in Libya (1). In 2011, with hopes of facilitating a democratic transformation, Western powers under the patronage of NATO deposed the former Prime Minister of Libya, Moammar Gaddafi, who rebels later captured and killed. Since Gaddafi’s fall from power, civil war between rival factions has ravaged the country. The Islamic State –– the most prominent extremist group to occupy Libya –– has exploited the power vacuum that persists and established strongholds throughout the country, including one in the coastal city Sirte (2). In a recent turn of events, reports on July 25 announced that armed forces for the UN-backed Libyan government based in Tripoli seized control of security headquarters in Sirte, with the intention of finally wresting control of the city from ISIL (3).
As UN-recognized forces begin to advance upon an ISIL stronghold, members of the international community, such as France, find themselves forced to answer uncomfortable questions regarding their possible role in an advance, like the one ongoing in Sirte. For France, there are two particularly important issues the country must address: First, its clandestine support for rival factions that the UN does not recognize, and second, the growing insistence that Western powers not intervene in Libya’s affairs. News reports have revealed that the French special forces killed in Benghazi last week were embedded in an armed Libyan faction, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar –– a rival of the Tripoli government, which the UN and, as a consequence, France exclusively endorse (4). Outraged by this support, Libya’s UN-backed government announced that France’s presence in the country was an affront to its sovereignty –– a sentiment which Islamists and African leaders have echoed (5).
On July 26, at an Arab League summit in Mauritania, Egypt’s Prime Minister Sherif Ismail expressed his frustration with foreign intervention, particularly its role in the rise of the Islamic State and the radicalization of young people. “Foreign intervention in Arab affairs is one of the major reasons for the current crisis, therefore we should work together to cement our domestic fronts in order to be able to stand up to these foreign interventions,” Ismail said (6).
In the wake of this revelation, Libya’s unity government has summoned the French ambassador, Antoine Sivan. Although Sivan has been in Tunisia for security reasons, he is expected to arrive in Libya any day in response to the summons. In the interim, Sivan has reaffirmed France’s support for the unity government and encouraged Libyan forces to come together in the fight against violent extremism (7). Despite the ambassador’s diplomatic response, this summons, which reinforces Tripoli’s insistence that France respect Libya’s sovereignty and condemns France’s support for a rival force, represents a certain contradiction from the unity government, which has willingly welcomed Western support in the fight against extremist groups.
There are an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 Islamic State fighters currently occupying Libya. From intelligence to combat, Western powers –– such as France, the United States, and the United Kingdom –– have willingly lent their support to Libya’s campaign against the Islamic State. In particular, about two dozen U.S. Special Operations have been stationed in eastern and western Libya since late 2015 (8). Even Mohamed Taher Siyala, the government’s foreign minister, has said that Libyan forces fighting the offensive to retake Sirte must rely on foreign military advisers in Libya for intelligence and logistics assistance (9). Although Siyala has declined to name the countries that have provided these foreign advisers, the Middle East Eye news site, from interviews with government militiamen, has confirmed that British soldiers have provided intelligence, logistical, and combat assistance in the ongoing battle to remove the jihadist presence from Sirte (10).
Rather than decrying foreign intervention, the Misrata Brigades, a force loyal to the Libyan government, has complained of insufficient support from the international community (11). The UN Security Council’s arms embargo against Libya is one cited example of inadequate assistance from the international community. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, Martin Kobler, has specifically stressed Libya’s need for modern weapons obtained legally, rather than the illegal ones currently smuggled into the country, and has emphasized the role the UN must take to ensure arms land in the right hands (12). The United States, among other world powers, has indicated its readiness to supply the Libyan government with the arms needed to successfully combat the Islamic State. However, given the fractured nature of control in Libya, the United States is extremely hesitant to even partially lift the arms embargo in a country of six million people with some 20 million arms (13). At a Vienna meeting in May, the permanent UN Security Council members, including the U.S., and more than 15 other states present indicated their readiness to meet the government forces’ requests for equipment and training; however, the states decided that the overall arms embargo would remain enforced (14).
Although the international community may not provide Libyan forces with modern arms, it is still focused on efforts to combat the trade of illegal arms. In June, the UN Security Council authorized Operation Sophia. Operation Sophia is an EU naval mission that patrols the Mediterranean surrounding Libya’s coast to intercept ships suspected of transporting weapons. This effort to insulate Libya’s Mediterranean border from the penetration of illegal arms is part of the international community’s larger effort to strengthen the authority of the UN-backed government (15). However well-intentioned the international community might be, Amnesty International has voiced concern that closer coordination with the Libyan government threatens to fuel the indefinite detention and abuse of thousands of refugees and migrants (16). Despite an estimated 3,000 people to have died or gone missing, this year, while crossing the Mediterranean, refugees told Doctors Without Borders, a medical charity, that they would rather “die at sea” than return to Libya, where torture and other violence would likely await (17). Before any Western power proceeds in support of the Libyan government, it must seek to ensure the protection of human rights in the country. If the international community proceeds, without such guarantees, any hope of stability and peace must be realistically dismissed.
(1) "Libya Attack: French Soldiers Die in Helicopter Crash." BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation, 20 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(2) Scarborough, Rowan. "CIA Caught Off Guard by Islamic State’s Rise in Post-Moammar Gadhafi Libya." Washington Times. The Washington Times, 3 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(3) El-Ghobashy, Tamer. "Libyan Forces Advance in Islamic State-Held City." WSJ. News Corp, 25 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(5) "Libya Attack: French Soldiers Die in Helicopter Crash." BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation, 20 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(6) "Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya Top Arab League Summit Agenda." Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Media Network, 26 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(7) Press, Angela Charlton Associated. "French Ambassador to Libya Summoned Over Military Presence." ABC News. ABC News Network, 24 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(8) McAuley, James. "France Says 3 Soldiers Were Killed During Mission in Libya." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 20 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(9) Ryan, Missy. "In a Pivotal Battle, Libyan Forces Laying Siege to Islamic State in Sirte, Official Says." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 20 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(10) Dettmer, Jamie. "Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government." VOA. Broadcasting Board of Governors, 25 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(11) El-Ghobashy, Tamer. "Libyan Forces Advance in Islamic State-Held City." WSJ. News Corp, 25 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(12) Nichols, Michelle. "U.N. Approves High Seas Crackdown on Libya Arms Smuggling." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 14 June 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(13) "UN Authorises EU Naval Operation to Enforce Libya Arms Embargo." Middle East Eye. M.E.E. Ltd., 14 June 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(14) Wintour, Patrick. "World Powers Prepared to Arm UN-Backed Libyan Government." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 16 May 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(15) "UN Authorises EU Naval Operation to Enforce Libya Arms Embargo." Middle East Eye. M.E.E. Ltd., 14 June 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
(17) Ghoneim, Natasha. "Refugees: Better to 'Die at Sea' Than Return to Libya." Al Jazeera English. Al Jazeera Media Network, 18 July 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.
Image: © Andrew Chittock | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-free-libyan-army-image23803213#res14972580">A Free Libyan Army</a>
In early July, the United States released its official count of civilian casualties in counterterrorism operations under the Obama administration. The July 1 announcement arrived after years of sustained pressure from government watchdogs and human rights organizations, imploring the Obama administration to provide greater transparency. In the wake of this announcement, more questions than answers have appeared, as independent groups compare their estimates with the White House’s claims. According to the Pentagon, which oversees CIA and military operations, the United States inadvertently killed between 64 and 116 civilians in drone and other air attacks from 2009 to 2015 in countries where the U.S. is not at war –– namely, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. However, organizations such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimate that between 380 and 801 civilian noncombatants have been killed in counterterrorism operations (1). The apparent dissonance between these incongruous claims not only mandates greater transparency from the Obama administration, particularly with regard to the legality of its drone policy, but also casts doubt upon the efficacy of drone operations.
Although President Obama’s recent executive order promises greater transparency with regard to civilian casualties and increased measures to prevent civilian deaths, the administration has remained reticent on the legality of its drone policy. In a report released earlier this year, the Stimson Center –– a nonpartisan research organization –– gave the Obama administration an “F” for neglecting to provide the public with a clear legal justification for its drone policy against al-Qaida and ISIL targets in countries where the United States is not at war (2). The use of drones in targeted killings against suspected terrorists is riddled with troublesome legal questions. Finding an answer to these questions has become nearly impossible since the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) largely took over operations of the U.S. drone program, now shrouded in secrecy. Under the Bush administration, two parallel drone programs –– one operated by the military and one covertly operated by the CIA –– carried out drone attacks. However, since 2009, the Obama administration has consolidated the U.S. drone program into one covert operation under CIA control. As a result, the legal and normative framework under which the drone program operates, and whether drone operators are lawfully implementing the program, both remain unknown. Defining where the U.S. is at war, and the applicability of the law of war; determining the identity of targets and their status as combatants or noncombatants under international law; drawing consensus on the legality of targeted killings under international humanitarian law; ascertaining the location and status of drone operators: these are just a few of the most salient legal questions that the U.S. has failed to reconcile, amidst public outcry and pressure from the international community (3). As the U.S. fails to reconcile these issues, it readily undermines the rule of law, thus setting a dangerous precedent for the international community. As a global leader ostensibly committed to the rule of law and the protection of human rights, the United States cannot expect other countries to honor the obligations of international law if it continues to act without regard to its own legal commitments.
Over the years, the Obama administration has attempted to justify its drone campaign by highlighting its supposed success. With the number of noncombatants killed in drone strikes estimated to be at least 64, the White House touts over 2,000 strikes against terrorist targets between January 20, 2009, and December 31, 2015 (4). However, evidence suggests that drone strikes breed anti-Western sentiment, which, in turn, creates more jihadi militants. Indeed, terrorists use drone strikes as a recruitment tool. As innocent men, women, and children have become the victims of U.S. drone operations, entire communities in Yemen and Somalia, for example, have become important stores of anti-Americanism, which terrorists can exploit to their own ends (5). On December 12, 2013, a U.S. drone strike killed 12 Yemeni civilians, resulting in about $1 million in condolence payments from the U.S. government. Amnesty International, which analyzed 45 drone strikes in Pakistan between January 2012 and August 2013, reported that one U.S. drone strike in July 2012 killed 18 laborers and injured 22 others (6). Deplorable events such as these demand a new human security paradigm. If the U.S. wants to successfully combat the growth of violent extremism, it must seek to address the root causes of radicalization, rather than fomenting its creation. A new human security paradigm that addresses the root causes of radicalization would “[focus] on the person, rather than the state, through promotion of sustainable development, equality, political and economic security, and the alleviation of poverty in troubled regions” (7). The use of force must be applied as a last resort, limited in scope and duration, and determined by consensus in the international community. Unilateralist behavior that violates the territorial sovereignty of weaker states undermines the “global institution-building perspective” that prioritizes human security (7). For the U.S., the first step in adopting this reformed paradigm will be a movement toward even greater transparency. The public cannot properly scrutinize the U.S. drone policy until the government is willing to reveal the details of its operations. Until then, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups, and constituents must press the administration to pursue policies that honor its commitment to a more equal and secure world.
(1) Serle, Jack. "Obama Drone Casualty Numbers a Fraction of Those Recorded by the Bureau - The Bureau of Investigative Journalism." The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 01 July 2016. Web. 16 July 2016.
(2) De Luce, Dan. "Obama's Drone Policy Gets an 'F'." Foreign Policy. The FP Group, 23 Feb. 2016. Web. 16 July 2016.
(3) Sterio, Milena. "The United States' Use of Drones in the War on Terror: The (Il)legality of Targeted Killings Under International Law." Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 45.1 (2012): 197-214.ProQuest. Web. 16 July 2016.
(4) Zenko, Micah. "Do Not Believe the U.S. Government's Official Numbers on Drone Strike Civilian Casualties." Foreign Policy Do Not Believe the US Governments Official Numbers on Drone Strike Civilian Casualties Comments. The FP Group, 5 July 2016. Web. 16 July 2016.
(5) Abbas, Hassan. "How Drones Create More Terrorists." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 23 Aug. 2013. Web. 16 July 2016.
(6) De Luce, Dan, and Paul McLeary. "Obama's Most Dangerous Drone Tactic Is Here to Stay." Foreign Policy. The FP Group, 5 Apr. 2016. Web. 16 July 2016.
(7) Shah, Sikander Ahmed. "War on terrorism: self defense, operation enduring freedom, and the legality of U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan." Washington University Global Studies Law Review 9.1 (2010): 77+. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 July 2016.
Image: © Banol2007 | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-sky-warrior-aircraft-patrol-image17264422#res14972580">Sky Warrior aircraft on patrol.</a>
The United States’ latest strategy in containing the spread of terrorism, particularly in North Africa, has focused on reinforcing border security –– a response to growing regional instability since the Arab Spring. Following the 2011 NATO coup that deposed President Moammar Gaddafi, ISIL insurgents have filled the resulting power vacuum in Libya, establishing several bases throughout the fragile country, including one in Sabratha, next to the Tunisian border. In 2015, ISIL claimed responsibility for three violent attacks in Tunisia, including one that killed 38 foreign tourists (1). Like Tunisia, neighboring Egypt must contend with the evolving insurgency of ISIL and al-Qaida affiliates in the Sinai Peninsula –– a development that has prompted Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to advocate for a regional military task force to intervene in Libya and combat transnational terrorist groups there (2). Through the provision of multi-million-dollar aid packages that enhance border security, the U.S. has not only symbolically expressed support for its two allies, Tunisia and Egypt, but also insulated two countries indeed responsible for the spread of global terrorism.
In Tunisia, the issue of terrorism is largely homegrown; however, with the support of the U.S., the country has embarked on an ambitious project to protect its borders from the infiltration of terror. The government has erected a barrier covering 200 kilometers of its 459-kilometer border with Libya, in order to halt the uninhibited flow of fighters, weapons and trafficked goods out of Libya. In July of 2015, news surfaced that the United States had agreed to fortify this barrier with a $24.9 million project to install an electronic security surveillance system. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) reportedly awarded the contract to two American contractors –– the construction group BTP, and the consulting and engineering firm AECOM (2). Over the past three years, Tunisia has received significant aid from the United States. Washington has provided aircraft, patrol vehicles, training and arms to Tunisia’s anti-terrorism defense units, in an effort to meet the exigencies of a country in such close proximity to a war-torn state, where ISIL- and al-Qaida-affiliated combatants are fighting two opposing governments wrestling for control of Libya (2). What remains missing from the multi-million-dollar agreements and other efforts to contain outside threats is the recognition that an estimated 7,000 Tunisians are fighting jihadist wars in the Middle East and North Africa, including Ansar al-Sharia and the Katibat Uqba Ibn Nafi (KUIN) –– two Tunisian Islamist groups that have established a following in Libya (2). Indeed, such numbers would suggest that, for Tunisia, an effort to effectively combat terrorism begins neither abroad nor along its borders but, rather, at home.
The Tunisian government must seek to uncover the causal factors that have encouraged the growth of terrorism within the country’s borders. Active disregard for human rights and economic disenfranchisement have been largely responsible for the radicalization of the Tunisian population. ISIL has particularly focused its recruitment of Tunisians in the country’s interior and southern regions, where unemployment and under-funded education among youth are most pronounced (3). Economic reform that prioritizes quality education and employment with dignity will be the beginning of an effort to successfully mitigate the issue of homegrown terrorism. But the government must not stop here. The government must recognize that its own abuse of human rights undermines counterterrorism efforts. In an open letter entitled “No to Terrorism, Yes to Human Rights,” published by Human Rights Watch last April, 46 national and international human rights organizations highlighted the myriad ways in which the Tunisian government actively violates human rights, consequently promoting radicalization. The use of torture to extract confessions from terror suspects, along with repressive counterterrorism laws that target innocent civilians, were just a couple of the listed grievances (4). Pressure from the international community and, more specifically, the United States, which has willingly remained silent despite its stated intention to combat terrorism, will be necessary for any fundamental changes to occur.
Across Libya to the eastern end of the continent, Egypt, like Tunisia, suffers from the threat of terrorism, while the United States allows the government to act with impunity and foments the growth of extremism. In addition to $1.3 million in annual military and security assistance, Washington signed a $100 million deal with Cairo last summer to provide the country with a mobile surveillance sensor security system along its border with Libya. The agreement, which Congress approved, promises mobile surveillance sensor towers, new communication equipment and training from American defense contractors on how to use the equipment (5). In a news release distributed last summer, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency referred to Egypt as a “friendly country” and “an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East” (6). While the United States and Egypt alike fear the growth of extremist factions of ISIL and al-Qaida in Libya and the Sinai Peninsula, both countries readily turn a blind eye to injustice occurring within Egyptian borders. One might argue that the authoritarianism of Sisi’s regime is the primary reason why extremism threatens Egypt today. Where oppression rules and the hope of democracy has vanished, ISIL has appealed to the victims of Sisi’s regime, thus providing an alternative that promises power and an escape from marginalization. Defeating ISIL and al-Qaida in either Egypt or Tunisia will require a fundamental paradigm shift in the foreign policy of the U.S. and its regional allies. Coalition strikes and raids will not stop groups like ISIL. Rather, support for civil society institutions that advocate for democratic transformation will most effectively address oppression and authoritarianism, and consequently diminish the spread of radical ideologies.
(1) "Tunisia Calls for Wage Donations 'to Fight Terrorism'." AJE News. Al Jazeera Media Network, 12 Mar. 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
(2) Nkala, Oscar. "Tunisia, Egypt Boost Libyan Border Security." Defense News. Sightline Media Group, 26 July 2015. Web. 14 July 2016.
(3) Yerkes, Sarah. "Fixing Tunisia's Terror Problem Should Begin at Home." Lawfare. Brookings Institute, 18 Mar. 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
(4) "Tunisia: Uphold Rights While Fighting Terrorism." Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, 28 Apr. 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
(5) Lamothe, Dan. "Egypt, Facing Terrorism, Wants High-tech American Border Security System." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 8 July 2015. Web. 14 July 2016.
(6) "Egypt – Border Security Mobile Surveillance Sensor Security System." Defense Security Cooperation Agency, 8 July 2015. Web. 14 July 2016.
Image: © Paul Prescott | Dreamstime.com - <a href="https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-egyptian-police-car-patrol-image2825474#res14972580">Egyptian police car patrol</a>
In early June, an uncomfortable tension arose in the international community, as Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, announced that Saudi Arabia’s armed forces would not remain on a list of armies accused of violating the rights of children in 2015. Saudi Arabia has been the subject of criticism from human rights organizations for indiscriminately striking nonmilitary targets in Yemen and killing innocent civilians, including children. The Secretary General’s announcement arrived shortly after Saudi officials threatened to defund humanitarian programs (1). This decision, discussed in a meeting last month between Ban Ki-moon and Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, underscores the increasingly problematic relationship between the United States, a member of the UN Security Council, and Arab allies, like Saudi Arabia, responsible for human rights violations.
The Obama Administration’s support for its Arab allies not only undermines regional security, but also threatens human security. The recent Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, illustrates the growing dissonance between the United States’ strategy in the Middle East and the result of its efforts to contain regional terrorism and counter Iranian influence. Saudi executions reached a record high when in early 2016, authorities carried out 47 death sentences, including that of Nimr al-Nimr. The 47 sentences marked the largest mass execution in the country since 1980 (2). In customary fashion, the United States remained silent upon news of this atrocity, choosing instead to fan the flames of regional insecurity by allowing Saudi Arabia to act with impunity. Hostilities between Saudi Arabia and Iran have increased in the aftermath of these executions. To protest the execution of the al-Nimr, Iranians set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and in response, Saudi Arabia, along with Sunni-led allies, like Bahrain, severed diplomatic ties with Iran. As a result, efforts to end the wars in Syria and Yemen and to contain the Islamic State and other regional terrorist groups have come to a halt. Just before the January executions, Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers met together in a series of talks organized by the United States and Russia to establish a plan for peace in Syria Now, as diplomatic ties have deteriorated, hopes of an immediate settlement to regional, armed conflicts have diminished.
As recent events indicate, a regional strategy that emphasizes human security would best serve the United States and its European allies. When it has so forcefully inserted itself into the region, the U.S. has no choice but to interact with volatile regimes. However, the U.S. does have a choice as to how it responds to human rights abuses, like the Saudi executions, which undermine efforts to establish peace. Adopting a new lens that prioritizes human security will not only address the root causes of radicalization and destabilization but also create a sustainable peace.
(1) Sengupta, Somini. “Saudis Question U.N. Leader Over Report on Rights Violators.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 22 June 2016. Web. 27 June 2016.
(2) Robins-Early, Nick. “Saudi Arabia’s Rights Abuses Have Only Gotten Worse Since Obama’s Last Visit.” The World Post. The Huffington Post, 20 April 2016. Web. 27 June 2016.
(3) “Saudi Arabia’s Barbaric Executions.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 04 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 June 2016.
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As civil war and an ISIL insurgency ravages Syria, the United States and Jordan –– two perennial allies –– are strengthening their strategic ties. Included in Washington’s annual military aid to the Hashemite Kingdom is an increased focus on maintaining border security between Syria and Jordan. With news of recent ISIL attacks targeting refugee encampments along this 160-mile divide, Jordan’s treatment of refugees and abandonment of human rights –– a neglected narrative in itself, hidden beneath U.S.-Jordanian efforts to combat extremism –– are receiving greater international attention.
This summer, a US-funded partnership between Jordan and Raytheon, an American defense contractor, is nearing completion. Known as the Jordan Border Security Project and supported by the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the $100 million deal intends to fortify Jordan’s respective borders with Syria and Iraq, where militant extremist groups like ISIL and al-Qaida have infiltrated and taken up residence. By August, the Raytheon industry team is expected to fully transition operational control to the Jordanian Armed Forces. The Jordanian military will then be responsible for guarding the country’s borders, which the U.S. has outfitted with rapid response vehicles, watchtowers, ground radars, and more (1). By the end of 2017, the final $18.6 million phase of this deal should be complete. This phase will focus on securing Jordan’s northeastern border –– an area that has changed hands several times since the start of the Syrian Civil War five years ago. Although forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad once controlled this region, forces linked to al-Qaida and ISIL have, in recent years, assumed de facto control (1). U.S. cooperation with Jordan extends, however, beyond border control. In February 2015, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed, in which the United States promised up to $1 billion per year in economic and security assistance to the Hashemite Kingdom. The U.S. has historically prioritized its relationship with Jordan for its strategic value, as Jordan is perhaps the most active Arab participant in the anti-ISIL coalition, striking extremist targets in Syria and Iraq, and the country has often collaborated with the U.S. in the past (2). Close diplomatic relations between Jordan and the U.S. have facilitated coordination in these strikes (3).
Coordination, indeed, comes at a price. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a June attack on the border between Jordan and Syria that left 7 members of the Jordanian security forces dead and 13 others wounded (4). The car bomb was detonated near the Rukban refugee camp, which currently houses an estimated 60,000 displaced Syrians (5). In response to this latest deadly attack, the Jordanian government has completely sealed its borders with Syria –– a decision that relief agencies report has blocked the flow of food and water to the 60,000 refugees. Andrew Harper, the representative to Jordan for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), wrote to his followers on Twitter that with harsh weather conditions, including temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, “unfortunately, no water reached the site again (6).”
Critics of the Jordanian government have suggested that terror attacks targeting refugee populations, like this latest one, have become useful pretexts for stemming the flow of refugees. Jordanians and their American counterparts seem intent on securing Jordan’s northern and eastern borders, not just to mitigate the spread of violent extremism and the transfer of arms, but to complicate the ability of Syrian war exiles to seek refuge (7). Such a suggestion would not be the first time Jordan has come under criticism for violating human rights. Since 2006, the Jordanian government has used an “anti-terror” law to target and prosecute journalists and activists. This law significantly broadened the definition of “terrorism,” prohibiting “acts that expose the kingdom to risk of hostile acts, disturb its relations with a foreign state, or expose Jordanians to acts of retaliation against them or their money.” In 2015, Jordan was ranked 143rd out of 180 on the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. The Jordanian government has been particularly active in suppressing journalists and activists who have spoken out against the country’s treatment of its refugee population. Musab al-Shawabkeh, an investigative reporter with the news website “Amman Net,” is one example amongst many. After Shawabkeh criticized the government, claiming that Jordan’s interior minister suppressed information regarding instances in which Jordan forcibly returned Syrian refugees back to Syria, Jordanian officials recommended that Shawabkeh and three of his colleagues be tried in court for damaging Jordan’s image abroad (8). If the reason for U.S. intervention in the Middle East is to see democratic transformation occur, this transformation must begin with its allies. If American allies are not expected to honor human rights, then one should not expect peace and regional stability to ultimately prevail.
(1) Opall-Rome, Barbara. "Raytheon-Jordan Border Defense Against ISIS Enters Final Phase." Defense News. Sightline Media Group, 26 May 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
(2) "U.S. Security Cooperation With Jordan." U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, 12 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
(3) Karadsheh, Jomana. "Jordan: 6 Killed in Attack on Syrian Border." CNN. Cable News Network, 21 June 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
(4) Sweis, Rana F. "ISIS Is Said to Claim Responsibility for Attack at Jordan-Syria Border." The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 June 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
(5) McCleary, Paul, and Adam Rawnsley. "Another Terror Attack in Jordan; U.S. Carriers Flexing Muscles." Foreign Policy. The FP Group, 21 June 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
(6) Sweis, Rana F. "ISIS Is Said to Claim Responsibility for Attack at Jordan-Syria Border." The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 June 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
(7) Arkin, William M. "The Great Wall of Jordan: How the US Wants to Keep the Islamic State Out." VICE News RSS. VICE Media, 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.
(8) Alami, Aida. "Jordan's 'Anti-Terror' Law Cracks Down on Journalists." Al Jazeera English. Al Jazeera Media Network, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 14 July 2016.
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This fall, South Korean and American allies are expected to negotiate a new OPCON transfer plan that could potentially return wartime control of the South Korean military to Seoul. In 1950, American troops took operational control of South Korea’s military during the Korean War. Forty years later, in 1994, the Republic of Korea (ROK) reassumed peacetime control of its forces; however, in the event of war, the U.S. maintains the obligation to command a combined force of American and South Korean troops. American presence in Yongsan, the heart of Seoul, has been a source of consistent discord among rival political parties (1). Conservative South Koreans largely remain committed to a firm alliance with continued U.S. support and presence on the Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, detractors of this alliance regard this military arrangement as an affront to national pride that not only violates South Korean sovereignty but also further provokes the most salient threat to national security: North Korea.
Although elected on the promise that South Korea would retake wartime control of the Peninsula by 2015, current ROK President Park Geun-hye sat down with the Pentagon last November, ultimately deciding, like her predecessors, to delay an OPCON transfer. The DPRK’s recent nuclear test, ballistic missile ejection tests, and other asymmetric capabilities, like cyber-warfare, are frequently cited concerns responsible for continued delays (2). South Korean officials expect a transfer by the mid-2020s, during which time the ROK can modernize its defensive and offensive capabilities. However, in the interim, persistent threats from Pyongyang have only strengthened the ROK’s reliance on the U.S. Nearly 30,000 American troops are situated in the South, conducting annual joint-war games with a South Korean military of 650,000 troops (3). Supporters of a U.S.-ROK alliance argue that sudden changes to the security structure may push South Korea toward internal balancing and nuclear deterrence, rather than a regional alliances, such as with Japan. Moreover, they contend that, in an geopolitical environment where tensions are escalating, the resources, training and preparation of American troops are more vital than ever (4). Those who support abandoning this alliance first established by the Mutual Defense Treaty, like Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, point to the United States’ role in exacerbating regional tensions. The argument follows that an American presence in the ROK not only encourages South Korea to become more confrontational with its northern neighbor, but also prompts the DPRK to bolster its own forces, which, in turn, creates greater regional insecurity (5).
Detractors and supporters of this alliance generally agree that a movement toward greater autonomy for the ROK military is positive. Disagreement arises over the urgency of this prospect and what shape an amended military relationship between the U.S. and South Korea might take. The onus falls on both South Korean and American leaders to remain committed to their stated intentions without further delay. As a transfer begins to take form in the next decade, the focus cannot remain solely upon the ROK’s plans for modernization. The United States, South Korea and, most importantly, the international community must, where diplomacy fails, induce China to use its economic leverage to counter North Korea.
(1) Sang-Hun, Choe. “U.S. and South Korea Agree to Delay Shift in Wartime Command.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 5 July 2016.
(2) Pinkston, Daniel A. and Clint Work. “New Realities, Old Fears: Escalation on the Korean Peninsula.” The Diplomat. Trans-Asia Inc., 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 5 July 2016.
(3) Sang-Hun, Choe. “U.S. and South Korea Agree to Delay Shift in Wartime Command.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 5 July 2016.
(4) Pinkston, Daniel A. and Clint Work. “New Realities, Old Fears: Escalation on the Korean Peninsula.” The Diplomat. Trans-Asia Inc., 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 5 July 2016.
(5) Bandow, Doug. “Time for U.S. To Retire Outdated Alliance with ROK.” The World Post. The Huffington Post, 14 Nov. 2015. Web. 5 July 2016.
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Bailee Ahern has been the Director of Human Security for Global Intelligence since the summer of 2016. In this position, she strives to find the nexus of international affairs and human-interest stories. Outside of GIT, Bailee is a student at the University of Southern California, where she studies political science and international relations. Her research interests are varied. Bailee has spent time in Washington, D.C., studying nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction; at the University of Oxford, researching humanitarian action and peacemaking; and on campus, assisting a professor with political-risk analysis of inter-state conflicts. Both the Columbia Undergraduate Law Review and the USC Journal of Law & Society have published her research. The one through line in all of Bailee's work is a passion for writing. Her column for the Daily Trojan––USC's only student-run newspaper––has become an invaluable outlet to engage her campus and a confluence of all her greatest passions––writing, politics, and social justice.