New Uighur jihadist group emerges in Syria
While Katibat al Ghuraba al Turkistan (KGT) appears to be small, it is yet another group in northwestern Syria containing ethnic Uighurs.
The Trump administration has backed away from its description of a planned security force in northeastern Syria amid escalating threats by Turkey to launch a cross-border assault against the Kurdish group involved. - Washington Post
Syria said on Thursday its air defense would shoot down any Turkish jets that carry out attacks within Syria, a stark warning as tensions soar over apparent preparations by the Turkish military to invade a northern Syrian Kurdish enclave. - Associated Press
Turkey says it is planning for military intervention in Syria’s Kurdish-controlled Afrin and Manbij regions in response to a “threat” posed by U.S.-backed Kurdish militia fighters. - Radio Free Europe
The U.S. State Department urged Turkey on Thursday not to take military action against Afrin region in Syria and called instead for Ankara to remain focused on fighting Islamic State militants in the region. - Reuters
Turkey’s largest defense company has signed a contract with the Turkish government for the serial production of missile hunters. Aselsan said in a statement that the contract with Turkey’s defense procurement agency involves the serial production of an air-defense fire-control center, modernized 35mm towed guns and air-defense systems, and 35mm airburst ammunition. Aselsan said the systems produced under this contract will be delivered to the Turkish Army and Air Force. - Defense News
Pakistan’s opposition parties unite in drive to defeat government
BY F.M. SHAKIL
Co-operation between the PPP and PTI parties would have been laughed at just weeks ago; now they are committed to a 'combined opposition' assault on the PML(N) ahead of Senate elections in March.
The Pakistan Conundrum
By Richard N. Haass, The Strategist (ASPI): “ ... From the U.S. government’s perspective, the state of current relations with Pakistan is remarkably similar: when we support Pakistan, they do things we don’t like; and when we sanction Pakistan, they do things we don’t like.”
US drone strike inside Pakistan targets ‘Afghan extremist’
The last five US counterterrorism strikes have all taken place inside Pakistan's Kurram tribal agency. The Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, is known to operate inside Kurram and use it as a base to attack Afghanistan.
Below are the takeaways from the week:
CTP’s Threat Update series is a weekly update and assessment of the al Qaeda network and its affiliates in Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and the Maghreb and Sahel.
The Fleeting Soft Power Opportunity in Yemen
By Ajit Maan, RealClearDefense: “The apparent execution of Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in December provides a window of opportunity for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS to join forces and gather the support of the desperate and ungoverned civilian population. That would be a deep blow to U.S. counterterrorism efforts.”
U.S., AFGHANISTAN: Marine Corps Task Force Wraps up Afghanistan Mission
By Carlos Munoz, The Washington Times: “The first Marine Corps task force to deploy to southern Afghanistan’s violent Helmand province since the Corps pulled out of the region in 2014, officially ended their nearly yearlong mission on Monday.”
The Afghan president’s standoff with the 54-year-old ethnic Tajik and a leader of the Jamiat-e-Islami party has become a crucial test of his resolve to end the power of the country’s warlords, regional chieftains and local potentates, and build a functioning Afghan state. - Wall Street Journal
Samuel Ramani writes: Russian policymakers support engagement with Taliban factions that support a diplomatic settlement in Afghanistan, while eschewing factions that seek to destabilize the war-torn country. Moscow’s selective engagement strategy toward the Taliban contrasts markedly with Washington’s historical resistance to engagement with the Afghan militant group. - Washington Post
THE MIDDLE EAST FORUM: MOST WIDELY READ ARTICLES FROM 2017 & LEBANON ENVELOPED BY IRAN FOR MAY ELECTIONS
In his first interview with a U.S. news organization since withdrawing the resignation he made under Saudi pressure in November, Mr. Hariri also told The Wall Street Journal that he was open to Hezbollah continuing to participate in the government following elections slated for May. - Wall Street Journal
The Pakistan Conundrum
Richard Haass thinks the US aid cutoff is misguided, though even a transactional relationship is impossible.
Mubarak-era general to run against Egypt’s Sisi
A close ally of former President Hosni Mubarak, Gen. Sami Anan, on Thursday announced his candidacy in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections. Anan, who served as Egypt’s armed forces chief of staff under Mubarak from 2005 to 2011, was dismissed in August 2012 by then-President Mohammed Morsi. The first round of the elections is scheduled to take place between March 26 and March 28. An anonymous Egyptian source told the New Arab news website that Anan is supported by “Saudi circles,” although the Saudis are also largely supportive of current President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.Sisi's government is reportedly detaining Ahmed Shafik, a retired air force general widely regarded as Sisi’s most viable challenger, at a hotel in Cairo. Also on Thursday, an Egyptian court overturned a prison sentence and ordered a retrial for Mubarak’s former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, who was accused of killing protesters during the 2011 Arab Spring.
Tunisians fear another bread revolution
Tunisians took to the streets to protest the government’s state budget and austerity measures, leading to violent clashes that raised concerns about a repeat of the bread riots of the 1980s.
Nearly 800 detained in Tunisian protests
Tunisian authorities announced today that about 800 people have been arrested following several nights of anti-austerity protests across the country. Tunisia’s Interior Ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani said 778 protesters were detained, including 151 on Thursday, for acts of violence during the demonstrations against tax hikes amid rising prices. Tunisian troops were also deployed near the border with Algeria after police retreated when protesters burned down a regional security headquarters. Read More
Widespread protests force Tunisian army deployment
The army will be protecting government installations, following an incident in which protesters burned a security headquarters near the Algerian border, prompting police to flee.
US killed three ‘key’ AQAP leaders in Yemen
CENTCOM identified the AQAP operatives who were killed as "key Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leaders." Their responsibilities included "external operations facilitator," an operative who paves the way for attacks outside of Yemen, an arms facilitator, and a member of its proselytizing council.
Tunisian protesters burned down a regional national security headquarters near the Algerian border, prompting authorities to send in troops after police retreated, witnesses said, as unrest over prices and taxes raged on nationwide. - Reuters
The 'Indo-Pacific' — Redrawing the Map to Counter China
President Donald Trump, national security advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have begun using the term “Indo-Pacific” in recent months to refer to the region that extends from the west coast of the U.S. to the west coast of India. For decades previously, American leaders had called this swath of the globe the “Asia-Pacific,” or more recently as the “Indo-Asia-Pacific.”
As Rear Admiral (ret.) Paul Becker explains, "The new turn of phrases is significant, and it calls for strategic communications practices to reinforce this strategic concept."
Becker says the shift reflects the Trump administration's acknowledgement of the following:
Pakistan’s main opposition party allies with ‘Taliban seminary’
BY KUNWAR KHULDUNE SHAHID
Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and Darul Uloom Haqqania have agreed on an alliance on 'ideological' grounds, presenting a new threat to secular forces
Senior Pakistani officials warned that the U.S. suspension of security aid announced last week will push their country closer to China, Washington’s main rival for influence in Asia, as regional alliances realign. - Wall Street Journal
U.S. commanders have launched an investigation into video footage that appears to show an American service member firing into the cab of a civilian truck as the two vehicles pass on a road in Afghanistan, an action that could have violated the military’s rules of engagement and may hamper the alliance with the Afghan government. - Politico
Pamela Falk writes: Ending the 16-year conflict in Afghanistan has been fraught with trouble for two U.S. presidents and the leaders of its allied governments. Now the Trump administration is trying to get United Nations help, after reversing course on campaign promises to end the $700 billion conflict. - The Hill
Pakistan frees jihadist leader behind deadly uprising
Sufi Mohammed was responsible for the Taliban uprising in Swat and the peace agreement that put jihadists in control of a significant area of Pakistan from 2007 to 2009.
Pakistan has stopped sharing key intelligence with the US in the first sign that Washington’s decision to suspend military aid to Islamabad could hamper its war effort in Afghanistan. - Financial Times
Don’t expect Trump to send in the cavalry if MBS has to circle wagons
BY PEPE ESCOBAR
The new relationship between the president and the Saudi crown prince might be showing signs of wear and tear
AEI'S CRITICAL THREATS PROJECT: NORTH AFRICAN ISLAMISM & EMERGING THREATS THROUGHOUT ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION
al Qaeda network and Iran.
CTP’s Threat Update series is a weekly update and assessment of the al Qaeda network and its affiliates in Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and the Maghreb and Sahel. CTP’s Iran team follows developments on the internal politics, military capabilities, and regional conflicts closely.
2018 Forecast: U.S. Faces Converging Threats
By Katherine Zimmerman and Emily Estelle
The United States faces significant threats from the global strengthening of the Salafi-jihadi movement, the collapse of states in Africa and the Middle East, and the convergence of local wars with regional and global conflicts. The combination of these trends could rapidly and seriously harm American interests abroad, especially in understudied areas in Africa, in 2018. The Critical Threats Projectat the American Enterprise Institute provides forward-leaning insight into the complex threats from Iran and the Salafi-jihadi movement that confront the United States today.
The Salafi-jihadi movement, which includes both al Qaeda and ISIS, will survive ISIS’s territorial losses in Iraq and Syria and will continue insinuating itself in local conflicts to build a popular support base.
Salafi-jihadi groups operate across the Muslim world but have notably reemerged in mainland Egypt and are establishing themselves in Bangladesh. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb developed the capability to conduct attacks from the Gulf of Guinea to the Mediterranean in 2016 and is focused on building its base in the Sahel, which will continue to grow in the next year. Salafi-jihadi groups will use Libya as a regional hub with an increasing focus on Egypt. A premature drawdown of UN-backed African Union peacekeeping troops in Somalia could enable al Shabaab’s reexpansion into southern and central Somalia. The continuation of civil wars in Syria and Yemen will enable al Qaeda to further enmesh itself within these populations, and al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban will exploit security gaps in Afghanistan. The Salafi-jihadi movement will also become more prominent in South Asia, where al Qaeda and ISIS compete for influence.
The collapse of states that began during the 2011 Arab Spring jeopardizes both weak states and their stronger neighbors, including several large states that could undergo destabilizing transitions in 2018.
Current failed states—Yemen, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Syria, and Afghanistan—will remain unstable and in need of international support in the next year. In Africa, insecurity emanating from failed states pressures weak states like Tunisia, Niger, and now Kenya. These vulnerable states require ongoing international support to stave off collapse. Regional powerhouses like Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, which provide crucial security, are themselves at risk of government collapse due to succession crises or popular unrest. Similarly, the war in Yemen has become a cross-border war with Saudi Arabia and is now drawing in Oman, adding to the regional disorder already wrought by crises in Syria and Iraq. Ongoing humanitarian emergencies and local conflicts would magnify the impact of these worst-case scenarios. The consequences include the expansion of Salafi-jihadi groups, as well as mass migration or humanitarian crises that will further strain the international community.
Local conflicts are converging with regional and global struggles to the benefit of American enemies and adversaries, including Iran and Russia, and the Salafi-jihadi movement.
This convergence will continue through the next year, especially as Iran and Russia consolidate their gains in Syria. The Saudi-Iranian regional conflict has overtaken the Yemen war, which began among Yemeni actors. Russia could seek to coopt international negotiations to resolve the Yemeni conflict, drawing on its Syria playbook, in order to secure positions near the Bab al Mandab Strait, a key maritime chokepoint. Russia is also negotiating a military agreement with Egypt and pressing for greater influence in Libya, heralding a significant leap toward reconstituting Russian influence in the Middle East lost at the end of the Cold War.
A competition for influence between Gulf States in East Africa will add to instability in the region, as will a proxy fight between regional rivals in Libya. Regionalized conflicts like those in Syria, Yemen, and Libya are fertile environments for Salafi-jihadi groups, which capitalize on local grievances to gain popular support.
The Critical Threats Project warned of these trends over the course of the past year and will continue to produce prescient analysis of developments related to Iran and the Salafi-jihadi movement in 2018.
The Critical Threats Project.
U.S., PAKISTAN: U.S. Wants 'Decisive Action' From Pakistan Against Terrorism
By James LaPorta, UPI: “The Pentagon has clarified what the United States expects of Pakistan after suspending the delivery of security funds and miiltary equipment, and what needs to happen for delivery of both to start back up..”
Pakistan’s FATA reforms stuck amid civil-military friction
BY F.M. SHAKIL
Abolition of the century-old Frontier Crime Regulation, responsible for gross violations of tribals' human rights, is being held up
In public, Saudi Arabia has been gloating over the spate of anti-government protests in arch-nemesis Iran. In private, Saudi teeth are chattering. The dominant feeling among policymakers must surely be that protests in Iran could be replicated – maybe even on a greater scale – inside Saudi Arabia. - Forbes
Now that religious control is coming under its sharpest challenge in modern times. Saudi leaders, spurred by the need to diversify the oil-dependent economy, are moving faster than any of their predecessors to unravel the legacy of Islamic conservatism that had taken hold of the country four decades ago and shaped the education of generations. - Wall Street Journal
The eight-month-old TV interview had taken on a new significance: Violent protests were spreading across Iran. It’s not clear whether Saudi Arabia helped stir them up, as the Islamic Republic’s leaders claimed. What is clear is that the de facto Saudi ruler has made several regional moves against Iran -- and has yet to score a win. - Bloomberg
Iran has reopened an investigation into the death of its former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, according to members of his family who say his body had unusually high radiation levels. - The Guardian
Thomas Friedman writes: The biggest question about the recent protests in Iran — combined with the recent lifting of religious restrictions in Saudi Arabia — is whether together they mark the beginning of the end of the hard-right puritanical turn that the Muslim world took in 1979, when, as Middle East expert Mamoun Fandy once observed, “Islam lost its brakes” and the whole world felt it. - New York Times
Tunisian police arrest 200 protesters as prime minister urges calm
Tunisian police have arrested at least 200 protesters on charges of carrying weapons and causing material damage to property, Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said today. Dozens of others were wounded in a second night of clashes between protesters and security forces. Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called for calm on Tuesday as fresh protests broke out across the capital and several other towns, one day after violent demonstrations left one person dead.
Tunisians took to the streets on Monday in response to the government’s austerity plan to raise taxes starting Jan. 1 amid rising prices. The Popular Front, the country's main opposition party, has urged protesters to continue until the government scraps the “unjust” 2018 budget. Read More
Tense protests have erupted across Tunisia since a new budget took effect on Jan. 1 that raised taxes on gasoline, phone cards, internet usage, hotel rooms and even fruits and vegetables. The demonstrations have claimed at least one life, and have revived worries about the fragile political situation in Tunisia, the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings with the semblance of a stable democracy. - New York Times
A Jewish school on a Tunisian island was attacked late on Tuesday as police battled violent unrest elsewhere in the country, arresting more than 200 people, witnesses and the interior ministry said. - Reuters
Tunisia’s prime minister promised Tuesday to crack down on rioters after violent protests over price hikes left one person dead and raised fears of broader unrest in the country that was the birthplace of the Arab Spring. - Associated Press
Libyan militias, aided by U.S. Special Forces and airstrikes, drove out Islamic State militants from their stronghold of Sirte in December 2016, ending their brutal rule and aspirations for an alternate capital in North Africa. A year later, this sprawling coastal city remains deeply scarred physically and psychologically. - Washington Post
Egypt’s election commission on Monday said voting in the country’s presidential election will be held over several days in March, with a possible runoff in April, setting in motion a campaign that so far has only one eligible contender with any chance of victory: President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. - Wall Street Journal
A 55-year-old man has died after a protest over government austerity measures in Tunisia, the country's state news agency Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) has reported. - Al Jazeera