22 Maggio, 2024

Mediterranean Security Update

Iraq. On 17 August the Iraqi army has killed 28 members of ISIS, after carrying out two air strikes on eastern Syria near the Iraqi border. The F-16 fighter jets targeted a meeting of potential suicide bombers who intended to target various locations in Iraq during next week’s Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday. ISIS remains a significant threat between Iraq and Syria as a recent UN report states. According to the report between 20,000 and 30,000 Islamic State militants remain in Syria and Iraq despite the group’s recent losses, among them is “a significant component of the many thousands of active foreign terrorist fighters”. The UN report says IS still controls small pockets of territory in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zour, where it has been able to extract and sell some oil, and to mount attacks, including across the border with Iraq. IS does not fully control any territory in Iraq, but it remains active through sleeper cells that have primarily targeted security force bases. That the Islamic State group is still a threat is also demonstrated by the releasing of an audio message purporting to come from its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In the message, the first since September last year, the voice addresses IS supporters. Although the audio is undated, it appears to refer to recent events, including the detention of a US pastor in Turkey. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Sairoon Alliance led by Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr is in talks to form a coalition with the Nasr alliance led by outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, along with two other parliamentary groups. The parliamentary blocs of Sadr-backed Sairoon and Abadi’s Nasr met on 19 August with the Hikma bloc led by Shia cleric Ammar al-Hakim and the Wataniyya bloc led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi, in Baghdad to discuss forming the largest alliance that would form a government for the next four years. Despite the fact that they announced late on Sunday a preliminary agreement the potential alliance has 137 seats, 28 seats short of a majority bloc.

Libya. The situation in South Libya is very volatile. On 17 August rebel groups from Sudan’s Darfur region were strengthening their foothold, building up their military strength in a bid to return to Sudan and fight on. The report by a UN panel of experts said: “In recent months, most of the Darfur rebel groups have consolidated their presence in Libya”. Many of them have joined Libyan armed groups and are “reportedly building up their military capabilities in order to be ready to return to Sudan when the environment becomes more conducive.” As a consequence, Libya’s southern area of Fezzan is suffering from an influx of foreign fighters that are gradually taking over the country’s tribes. Three main tribes have controlled Libya’s southern Fezzan area: Tuareg, Tebu, and Awlad-Sliman. These tribes have always had a unique ethnic and cultural identity in Libya. Following the 2011 revolution, the tribes have been in violent conflict over the control of oil rich areas and key cities in Libya’s south. Most recently, Tebu and Awlad-Sliman have been used as proxy powers in the war between the two main governments now controlling Libya. However, the eastern government, controlled by the army general Khalifa Haftar, has recently gained more sympathy in southern Libya in large part because of his pledge to fight Islamists that have gained increasing power in the country since the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011. Moreover, Haftar is now also fighting another war: eradicating the increasing number of Nigerien and Chadian mercenaries and militias that have been taking control over Libya’s southern Fezzan area. Haftar has been always a strong ally of Russia and it was not a coincidence that he payed an unannounced working visit for talks with local officials in Moscow on 23. The general security situation in Libya is also volatile: on 23 a surprising armed attack carried by a suicide attacker with arms and grenades targeted a security checkpoint in Wadi Kaam area between the western cities of Al-Khums and Zletin leaving four of security personnel from Al-Sahel Protection Force killed and three others injured; on 25 near the capital Tripoli several brigades, mostly under the Presidential Council’s government Interior Ministry, including Nawasi and Tripoli Revolutionaries clashed more than once with forces securing Qasar Bengashir – Seventh Brigade of Defense Ministry based in Tarhouna.

Syria. On 18 the US Department of State has announced it will cut funding worth more than $200m for projects promoting stabilization in Syria. Major contributions from other countries led to the decision to shift the money “to support other key foreign policy priorities”, according to the state department. Around $6.6m from the pledged amount was released in June to continue funding for the White Helmets, a voluntary civil defence organization rescuing people after air strikes. According to Nauert, two major contributions to make up for loss of US funds came from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who pledged $100m and $50m respectively over the last couple of months.”This decision does affect neither US humanitarian assistance nor the training of local forces by US troops.
Algeria. On 18 August there were significant military movements and reinforcements following suspicions of the infiltration of a terrorist group into the Algerian territory. Activity focused on the border between Tunisia and Algeria, and in particular the governorates of El-Tarf, Souk Ahras, Tébessa and the El-Oued. The day after, two children were killed and four others wounded when an improvised explosive placed by armed groups to delay the advance of security forces pursuing them in the mountainous region of Ahnif exploded. Algeria has also serious problems concerning corruption. The Algerian presidency is preparing for significant changes pertaining to army and intelligence personnel following anti-corruption judicial proceedings which have led to the dismissal of civil servants. The presidency is in the process of dismissing Major General Saeed Shankarijah, commander of the third military zone (southwest of the country near the Moroccan border) and Colonel Kamal Bin Mouldi, who is in charge of the military security in the capital, and Maj.

Russia Focus
On 18 August German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for their first bilateral summit in Germany since Russia annexed neighbouring Ukraine’s Crimea region four years ago. The meeting offers the leaders an opportunity to strengthen ties in the face of aggressive trade policies from US President Donald Trump, including US tariffs on European Union steel and aluminum and expanded US sanctions against Russia. Merkel and Putin last met in the southern Russian city of Sochi four months ago for talks that focused on the Ukraine crisis as construction began for an expansion of a natural gas pipeline directly from Russia to Germany.
On 20 August a series of coordinated attacks against security forces hit Russia’s volatile autonomous republic of Chechnya. The attackers were aged between 11 and 16 demonstrating that ISIL has increasingly focused on teenagers in its efforts to recruit supporters. Officials in Russia confirmed several policemen were wounded and at least five attackers killed in the capital Grozny and Shali. One of the attacks saw a suicide bomber detonate his explosives in Mesker-Yurt, on the outskirts of Grozny. The attack injured several policemen, but the attacker survived and was taken to a hospital. In another incident two men armed with knives attempted to enter the district police department in the town of Shali before being shot dead.In another attack in Shali, two assailants tried to blow up a truck loaded with gas canisters in a suicide mission, but the vehicle failed to explode.
Russia is also strengthening its alliance in the Mediterranean region. On 20 Moscow announced that it will begin S-400 missile system deliveries to Turkey in 2019 – a year earlier than previously announced. The United States in recent weeks imposed sanctions against Turkey in an effort to effect the release of a US pastor allegedly linked to plotters of the country’s failed 2016 military coup. The sanctions have played a role in sending Turkey’s economy into a tailspin. On 22 Serbia’s air force received two Russian MiG-29 fighter jets as part of an arms purchase. In October, Serbia received six MiG-29s from Russia, which has also promised the delivery of 30 battle tanks and 30 armoured vehicles.
The Russian defence ministry said that Russia has sent over 63,000 troops to Syria over the course of its involvement in the conflict. This number includes 25,738 ranking officers and 434 generals as well as 4,349 artillery and rocket specialists, it said. The ministry also said that the Russian air force had conducted more than 39,000 sorties that killed “over 86,000 militants” and destroyed 121,466 “terrorist targets”. It said its forces had tested 231 types of modern weaponry in Syria including aircraft, surface-to-air systems, cruise missiles and others.
On 21 August Russia and Central African Republic signed during the forum “Army 2018” in Moscow a military agreement for the training of military personnel. Since the beginning of 2018 Russia has deployed 175 military advisers with the goal to train local security forces. Moreover, Russia also stated that it has shipped small arms and light weapons to Central African Republic thanks to an agreement with UN.

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