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.

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.

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.

What Role for UN Peacekeepers in Tackling Ebola?

A Jordanian doctor serving with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) inspects a young woman during a medical outreach event in Monrovia, Liberia, December 12, 2012. (UN Photo/Staton Winter)

The spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa is “racing ahead” of efforts to control it, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued an “international rescue call” for a surge in assistance, including doctors, beds, supplies, and vehicles needed to halt the spread of the outbreak in West Africa. Of all the countries affected by the virus, Liberia is one of the hardest hit, with 1,698 reported cases and 871 deaths as of August 31.

Understandably, international media attention is focusing on the efforts of frontline health and humanitarian organizations such as the WHO, UNICEF, and Médecins Sans Frontières. However, UN peacekeepers currently stationed in Liberia as part of the UN mission there known as UNMIL could also play a role.

To Build Regional Community, Southeast Asian Leaders Advocate for “Responsibility to Protect”

The headquarters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Gunawan Kartapranata/Wikipedia)

States belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) joined the whole membership of the United Nations in making a solemn commitment to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle at the World Summit in 2005. As ASEAN now seeks to integrate more closely by 2015, a High Level Advisory Panel chaired by the former ASEAN secretary-general and foreign minister of Thailand, Surin Pitsuwan, is arguing that R2P offers an important pathway to the establishment of an ASEAN Community. The panel (for which I serve as secretary) will launch its report on Mainstreaming the Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia at UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday, September 9.

Operation Barkhane: A Show of Force and Political Games in the Sahel-Sahara

French President François Hollande (R) and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) review French troops at Kossei military base near N'Djamena, Chad, on July 19, 2014, after visiting Operation Barkhane's headquarters in the capital. (ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)

On July 15, 2014, French President François Hollande launched Operation Barkhane, a counterterrorism force intended to hunt down terrorist groups in Sahel countries and prevent them from re-forming. This new mission is the continuation of Operation Serval, which was launched on January 11, 2013 in Mali and had the following three objectives: to stop terrorist groups’ offensives; to ensure security in Bamako in order to protect French nationals; and to preserve Mali’s territorial integrity. According to Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, France has fulfilled its mission, but has to prevent “the emergence in another regional state of a threat similar to that which prompted the 2013 intervention.”

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