Killing of al-Shabaab Leader Throws Future of Militant Group into Question

AMISOM's Brig. General Dick Olum speaks to his soldiers before the launch of the military Operation Indian Ocean against al-Shabaab in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, August 29, 2014. (AMISOM/Tobin Jones)

On September 1, the leader of the Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabaab, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed in a US-led drone strike in an al-Shabaab stronghold in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region. The drone strike coincided with an ongoing military offensive launched August 25 by the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali government forces in southern and central Somalia, dubbed Operation Indian Ocean.

Godane’s death and the simultaneous territorial losses faced by the group in the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions have raised various concerns over al-Shabaab’s response and how the militant group—which controls most of southern and central Somalia, and has carried out several terrorist attacks in the region—will function under its newly-appointed leadership. While the killing of Godane may represent a significant victory to some, the impact of his death may result in an increase in terrorist assaults in the region in the short term. Long-term implications are harder to assess.



As UN Troops Withdraw from Syrian Golan Heights, Stakes Increase for Israel and Lebanon

In June 2013, Syrian opposition forces attempted to take control of the Syrian side of the Syria-Lebanon-Israel border, and in particular, the Quneitra border crossing, recognizing its strategic and symbolic importance. More than a year later, they finally succeeded. On August 27, the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate Syrian organization, took over the Syrian side of the border-crossing after fierce fighting with the regime’s army and abducted 45 Fijian United Nations peacekeepers, releasing them on September 11 only after Qatar paid a large ransom. The Irish and Filipino battalions of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were spared a similar fate thanks to the direct involvement of the Israeli army which, by providing intelligence and guidance, helped them cross the border unharmed into Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. This week, more UN forces withdrew from the Syrian side as armed groups made further advances on peacekeepers’ positions.

Twenty miles north in Lebanon, there is increasing concern the activities of the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State will surge in ‘Arqub, an area on the northern slopes of Mount Hermon, and in particular, the village of Shebaa, the largest in the region. The region has been hosting thousands of Syrian citizens who fled their country because of the civil war, and there are grave concerns in Lebanon that Shebaa might meet the same fate as Arsal, the predominantly Sunni village in northern Lebanon that, since early August, has been the site of a series of violent clashes between radical Islamists and the Lebanese Army, causing the killing of scores of soldiers, the abduction of nineteen others, and the public beheading of one them, dragging Lebanon deeper into the Syrian quagmire.



Does Xi Jinping's Visit to India Signal a Shift in Sino-Indian Relations? Q&A with Hardeep Singh Puri

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk along the river Sabarmati in Ahmedabad, India, September 17, 2014. (Ajit Solanki/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Today, Chinese President Xi Jinping began his first official visit to India. The visit comes against a backdrop of increased efforts by India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to boost ties with regional partners and is expected to reaffirm the two countries’ commitment to shared trade ties. The visit is also expected to address a delicate border dispute in the western and eastern Himalayas, which India and China have grappled with since the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

On September 15, I sat down with India’s former Permanent Representative to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri to discuss the upcoming visit. Ambassador Puri, who is now a Non-Resident Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute and a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, acknowledged the need for settling the border dispute, and pointed to how the current positive mood in both capitals could lead to the establishment of one of the most important relationships of the 21st century. What follows is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.



Calls for Military Action Bring Troubling Dimension to Political Crisis in Lesotho

From left: South African President Jacob Zuma, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Lesotho's Prime Minister Tom Thabane, and Botswanan President Ian Khama following an emergency meeting on the situation in Lesotho on September 15, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)

An alleged coup attempt in Lesotho a few weeks ago has put the regional hegemon South Africa in a very delicate position. This no doubt explains why President Jacob Zuma has been resisting calls from the Lesotho government for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to provide military support to the beleaguered government in Maseru, Lesotho’s capital.

South Africa has a history in Lesotho, most notably the military intervention in 1998, when SADC troops (the vast majority South African) invaded Maseru in an attempt to curb post-election violence. More than 60 deaths later, with Maseru turned into a burned-out wasteland, the intervention was generally regarded as disastrous and deeply embarrassing to Pretoria. Consequently, military intervention is very much seen as the measure of last resort by South Africa, despite claims by the government in Lesotho that “the last resort” has already been reached.



Transforming Peacebuilding: Can the Internationals Put the Locals First?

A group in northern Rwanda uses community-based sociotherapy to bridge deep rifts created by the 1994 genocide. (Insight on Conflict)

Despite so many efforts to make internationally designed peacebuilding and development projects sustainable after the outsiders have left, international NGOs and donors still struggle to realize the goal of “local ownership” in practice. Now, a new approach called “local first,” led by the UK-based organization Peace Direct, aims to go beyond efforts to merely transfer ownership of a program to a local organization—it seeks to put local people in the lead.

Carolyn Hayman, chief executive of Peace Direct, spoke to the Global Observatory about what this means in practice, how it can deliver powerful results, and how international donors and peacebuilding organizations can adapt. What follows is an edited version of the interview, conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, policy analyst at the International Peace Institute.



With Battle of Ideas Won, Debate on Responsibility to Protect About Action: Q&A with Simon Adams

Violence forced South Sudanese to seek shelter at the United Nations compound in Bor, South Sudan, March 29, 2014. (Flickr/Sudan Tribune)

There is no longer serious debate whether or not the international community has a responsibility to protect people from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing, said Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. He said that is a sign of great progress around the responsibility to protect (RtoP), the international security and human rights principle adopted ten years ago at the World Summit.

“We’ve won the battle of ideas,” Mr. Adams said. “I think the debate now is how we meaningfully implement it in specific circumstances.”

While he remains optimistic, he said, “we’ve still got very far to go,” and cited Rwanda as an important turning point when the United Nations (UN) had to “accept its inability to live up to the promises it made in the charter.”



Is an EU Force in the Cards for the Gaza Strip?

The Rafah border crossing, August 25, 2014.

It's been two weeks since Israel and Hamas reached an understanding to stop hostilities after 50 days of fighting that caused more than 2,150 deaths on the Palestinian side and 73 deaths on the Israeli side, and the ceasefire seems to be holding. Since August 26, the various Palestinian militias have not shot a single mortar or rocket against Israel, nor have the Israeli Defense Forces struck any targets within the Gaza Strip. However, the prospects of both sides resuming indirect negotiations in Cairo by September 26—which happens to be Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year holiday—seem rather slim at the moment, due to increasing rumors that Hamas might be trying to rebuild its offensive tunnels network.

Moreover, under pressure from far-right members of his ruling coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his unwillingness to free the detainees who were liberated after the Shalit exchange in October 2011 and later re-arrested, as well as another two thousand Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The decision came in retaliation for the kidnapping and subsequent assassination of three Israeli teenagers on June 12 (the two main suspects in this triple crime, Marwan Kawashmeh and Amer Abu Eisha, remain at large). Netanyahu has also said that he won't allow Gazans to build a seaport or reconstruct their airport, which were two of the main demands set by Hamas at the negotiating table in Cairo that would have transformed the current ceasefire into a long-lasting truce.



Polls Key to Understanding—and Defeating—ISIS

The map shows ISIS-led activity.  Areas controlled by the group are in orange. (Institute for the Study of War)

When the Islamic State (ISIS) suddenly began to dominate headlines, their quick takeover and brutal acts surprised the world–but they shouldn’t have. Earlier this year, as ISIS slowly gained ground in Iraq and Syria, polls had revealed a sea change in attitudes that opened the door to the movement’s seizure of Mosul in June and subsequent sweeps across northern and western Iraq. Insecurity was rampant in those Sunni regions; economic conditions were deteriorating; and alienation from the Shia-majority government was increasingly pervasive.

The security collapse in the Sunni regions was dramatic by early 2014, as shown by polling by IIACSS, an Iraqi market research firm, for Gallup International’s World Social Values Survey. Some 21% of residents in Diyala and fully 25% of people in Nineveh said a family member had suffered a crime in the past year. In contrast, just 1% of families in Basra in the mostly-Shia south had experienced such violence. Sentiment was strong that security was deteriorating in the mostly-Sunni west (a massive 84%) and north (55%), while more than two-thirds said it was improving in the south, a Greenberg poll found.

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