MENA & Africa Intel Blog: The Max Spotlight
The Max Spotlight blog offers the latest insight and analysis on pressing geo-political issues across the world, straight from Max-Security's intelligence division.
By: Oded Berkowitz
Recently, media outlets throughout Egypt raved about the creation of a new paramilitary force in the Sinai Peninsula meant to help the Egyptian Armed Forces tackle the growing security threat of the Islamic State’s Wilayat Sinai (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis). This new force allegedly united 30 Bedouin tribes on May 10, to form the “Sinai Tribal Federation”, or STF, and was meant to provide volunteer intelligence about the militant group’s activities.
The creation of the STF was preceded by several acts of animosity between Wilayat Sinai and mainly members of the Tarabin tribe, including localized harassment, and tit-for-tat killings of militants and tribesman. These every-day run-ins gradually escalated, causing the Tarabin tribe to stage a large scale raid on a Wilayat Sinai stronghold south of Sheikh Zuweid on April 26, as well as to issue a one million Egyptian Pound (EGP) bounty for the killing of Wilayat Sinai’s leader, Shady al-Meneiey, who may have fled to Gaza. On the day of the STF’s creation, Wilayat Sinai kidnapped, raped, and beheaded a woman of the Tarabin tribe, leaving her body with a warning against any cooperation with the Egyptian regime.
Despite sensational media reports subsequently heralding the end of the troubles in the Sinai Peninsula, the STF had very little actual effect on the ground as of yet, and is expected to have even less in the future. Throughout the two months that have passed since its formation, the STF has had only one direct confrontation with Wilayat Sinai, when on May 23 it arrested three militants carrying weapons and explosives, and turned them into police custody. While it is true that the force was meant less to carry the everyday burden of counter-militancy operations in the Sinai Peninsula, and more to provide quality intelligence information by covert means, results on the ground bring into question whether there were any contributions in this field as well.
For example, during the night of June 9-10, members of Wilayat Sinai were able to bombard the Multinational Force of Observers (MFO) airfield in El Gorah with mortar shells and surface-to-surface rockets. Despite the attack not being particularly impactful, it represented an escalation in the group’s activities by directly attacking a multinational force in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as an increase in its capabilities, as it was the first time that it deployed rockets in an attack against targets on Sinai soil. This latter point, combined with reports of a possible infiltration from Gaza the night before, affirms that the group is still able to move across the Sinai-Gaza border to bring men and material. All this combined points very clearly to a massive failure on the strategic intelligence level, of which the STF was deemed to be a major pillar.
With this in mind, Bedouin-army and Bedouin-militant relationships in the Sinai Peninsula are likely based more on personal interests and tribal cost-benefit analysis, rather than on any ideological reasons. These tribal interests are derived from a number of factors that can lead tribes to support either the military or militants such as Wilayat Sinai. This includes on the one hand, a long period of mistreatment of the Bedouins by the current Egyptian regime (and its similar predecessor), while additionally, tribes may fear that opposing the militants will risk the tribe’s safety and means of livelihood. On the other hand, tribes such as the Terabin hold ongoing blood feuds with militants, while smuggling activities upon which they depend have been threatened by Wilayat Sinai’s activities.
As a result, while it is possible that additional low-scale, or passive resistance to Wilayat Sinai exists among the Bedouin tribes, the general animosity towards the regime is probably higher, leading the locals to support the militants. This trend is expected to continue, unless the Egyptian regime will be able to significantly change the local Bedouins view of it, and therefore be able to recruit their support. That said, such a change will likely require years and significant governmental reforms in order to be successful, with little impact expected in the immediate time frame. Until that time, the Egyptian government will likely continue to find it increasingly difficult to counter Wilayat Sinai’s momentum through the STF.
Oded Berkowitz is a senior intelligence analyst at MAX security, specializing in the North African region. Oded holds a B.A in Political Science and Middle Eastern StudIes and is currently pursuing graduate studies in Counter Terrorism and Homeland Security, while also serving as an infantry captain in the Israel Defense Forces.
MAX Analysis Egypt: January attack by militant group Wilayat Sinai underscores increased capabilities February 24, 2015
- The January 29 coordinated and simultaneous attack against multiple targets in northern Sinai, by the militant organization Wilayat Sinai, highlights an ongoing shift in militant tactics, as well as an upgrading of their capabilities and the potential for additional attacks.
- Meanwhile, renewed accusations that the Muslim Brotherhood was involved in the attack and subsequent crackdowns on the group will likely continue to create a divide in the organization over the use of violence to “retaliate” against alleged police and military brutality.
- This divide will likely perpetuate near-daily militant attacks across Egypt, while carrying with it the risk of further expanding the operational areas of “Wilayat Sinai” to Muslim Brotherhood strongholds and other regions across the country.
- We advise against nonessential travel to Cairo and Alexandria at the time due to the persistent risk of militant attacks and civil unrest in major cities. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.
Current Events in Egypt
On January 29, the Islamic State (IS) affiliate in Sinai, Wilayat Sinai (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis), carried out multiple coordinated attacks on several targets in Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah, and al-Arish, with the main attack carried out in the latter. In al-Arish, reports indicate that militants attacked the Egyptian Armed Forces’ 101 Battalion headquarters, as well as multiple other targets, including a local hotel, various checkpoints, and the security directorate. Militants used multiple car bombs, in addition to mortars and gunfire to overwhelm local security forces. Reports indicate that at least 32 people were killed and 100 injured. Wilayat Sinai claimed to have used more 100 fighters in the attack, as well as three explosives-laden vehicles, while claiming to have staged the attack during the night hours so as to “minimize” civilian casualties.
- Additionally Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made a public statement regarding the January 29 attacks and unrest, vowing to defend Egypt’s Sinai against “terror” and stating, “I have said it before and I will say it again, we are fighting the strongest secret organization of the last two centuries,” likely referring to the Muslim Brotherhood. Reports indicate that al-Sisi also created a new military entity to combat militancy in Sinai, following a meeting held by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Al-Sisi reportedly named General Osama Roshdy, the current head of the Third Army, as the head of the entity and promoted him to Lieutenant-General.
- Meanwhile, following the attack in Sinai, the Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement in English declaring, “We unequivocally condemn all acts of violence” and reaffirming the group’s “commitment to peaceful and political civil resistance”. However, the group also released an article on January 27, quoting Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, urging its supporters to “prepare” for a new phase where “we summon all our strength and evoke the meaning of Jihad”. The statement also refers to the Secret Apparatus, a paramilitary operation created by al-Banna to fight the British mandate in the 1920s. The Muslim Brotherhood distanced itself from the organization on several occasions, and the existence of the organization remains subject to controversy. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a document using the statement to show the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged “double speak”.
- A Turkish-based television channel, affiliated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement, aired a statement coming from the “Revolutionary Youth” issuing an ultimatum to all foreign nationals in Egypt during the morning hours of January 31. According to the ultimatum, all foreign citizens should leave Egypt by February 11, all foreign companies operating in Egypt should close down by February 20, and all foreign diplomats should leave and close down their embassies by February 28. In addition, the warning was extended to all tourists planning to visit Egypt, saying they should cancel their plans as they are not welcome. According to the broadcast, whoever chooses to ignore the warning will be targeted.
- The statement was then condemned by the Muslim Brotherhood in English; however, no such condemnation was issued in Arabic. The Egyptian authorities have reportedly requested that Turkey halt broadcasting the channel; however, unconfirmed reports suggest that no official complaint was lodged in Turkey at this time.
Assessments: Attack in al-Arish underscores heightened militant capabilities, while highlighting possibility for additional attacks in coming months
- While attacks in the Sinai Peninsula have been carried out on a near-daily basis, the recent attack in al-Arish is notable as it underscores militants’ increased capabilities despite ongoing military operations and the deployment of troops in the Sinai Peninsula. A similar attack was carried out in Sheikh Zuweid on October 24, with militants detonating a car bomb at a heavily protected checkpoint near the city, placing roadside bombs near the site to prevent reinforcements from arriving and then storming the checkpoint with several vehicles and simultaneously firing rocket propelled grenades (RPG). Such attacks underscore militants’ ability to gather intelligence, predict Egyptian military tactics, and carry out multi-stage attacks meant to overwhelm the main military strongholds in the peninsula.
- In this context, the October 24 and January 29 attacks underscore a shift in militant tactics. Militants had thus far used “hit-and-run” attacks against the Egyptian military, using either car bombs, roadside bombs, localized mortar or rocket attacks, or RPG and shooting attacks. However, the October 24 and January 29 attacks demonstrate militants’ ability to efficiently use a combination of all of these techniques to maximize casualties. Furthermore, the attack on January 29 underscores militants’ ability to drag the Egyptian military into hours-long ground clashes, as well as their willingness to directly confront the military. Such tactics, which are also riskier for militants, are likely a direct result of the increased militarization of northern Sinai, as militants need to use heavier firepower to attack highly defended military positions. Furthermore, it is possible, in light of the group’s allegiance to IS, that several tactics developed and used in Syria and Iraq were learned by Wilayat Sinai from IS.
- Despite statements from the military promising a harsh response and claiming the attack was the result of military successes in Sinai, the multi-layered attack likely raised doubts over the efficiency of the Egyptian military’s counterinsurgency campaign in Sinai. In this context, the attack followed a January announcement of the extension of the three-month long state of emergency in Sinai, which was initially declared in the aftermath of the October 24 attack, for an additional three months, as well the launching of the “second phase” in the establishment of a buffer zone with Gaza. With this in mind, the timing of the attack highlights the possibility that militants sought to demonstrate the failure of such measures, while further capitalizing on discontent among locals stemming from these measures. Finally, in light of the main target of the attack, the 101 Battalion headquarters, considered to be one of the most secured and fortified military bases in Sinai, the militants may have sought to “shame” the Egyptian military, and thus heighten the chances for a disproportionate crackdown on the peninsula, and on Islamists in general in the country. Such a crackdown is further likely, in turn, to alienate the local population and legitimize further attacks.
- Overall, we assess that the militancy threat will likely remain elevated in northern Sinai, in light of the persistent clashes reported after the attack. However, heavy military deployments in this specific area of the Sinai Peninsula, may also encourage militants to relocate and stage attacks in other locations of the peninsula and, to a lesser extent, of the country. In this context, while the positioning of militants in the triangle between al-Arish, Rafah, and Sheikh Zuweid was likely strategic for the group in light of the smuggling of weapons to and from the Gaza Strip, increased military pressure on smuggling activities likely have prompted the group to develop other tactics.
- These may include, for instance, the use of boats to smuggle weapons and militants, given that despite the maritime blockade on the peninsula, the Egyptian navy’s capacities remain limited when compared to its ground counterpart. The group may thus attempt to develop ties with Bedouin tribes in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula, while previous upticks in military activities in northern Sinai have also resulted in militants fleeing to other parts of the country. As a result, we assess that in addition to the militancy threat in northern Sinai, the coming months may see an uptick in Wilayat’s Sinai activity in southern Sinai, as well as in the Nile Delta and potentially at the border with Libya.
Assessments: Sinai attack, resulting crackdowns on Brotherhood likely to perpetuate divide in organization
- In light of the declarations made by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as past attacks in Egypt since the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi, the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood will likely be widened following the attack in Sinai, as has previously been witnessed. In this context, while this trend is not new, the continuing accusation and crackdown has likely created a divide inside the organization between those who continue to advocate for peaceful protests to denounce the regime and those who advocate “self-defense” in light of the security forces’ use of violence to disperse the protesters.
- In addition, to increase pressure for the group to legitimize “self-defense”, several elements, namely the mass arrest of most of the Brotherhood’s leadership in Egypt, its relocation outside the country, and changes inside the organization, have further intensified this divide. This is further underscored by unconfirmed reports that the Brotherhood held two-month worldwide elections that led to leaders of the youth movement as well as reformist movements assuming a broader role, suggesting that new leaders are seeking to reform the group.
- Should the group’s leadership in Turkey or in other countries maintain its policy of nonviolence, it bears the risk of being increasingly sidelined and losing its remaining influence over the group’s supporters on the ground. On the other hand, should it decide to shift its stance and overtly promote violent actions, even those deemed to be “self-defense”, the group will likely face increased pressure both inside and outside Egypt, as the military-backed regime will likely use such statements against it. This likely explains the current ambiguity of the Brotherhood’s statements, and the fact that condemnations of violence have been made in English but not in Arabic. The recent statement on the Brotherhood-affiliated channel as well as the article advocating violence likely stem from this divide. Such a divide may further increase the chances that members of the group will leave if they do not agree with the group’s line, or that they will feel that attacks are justified, in light of recent aforementioned statements.
Assessments: Near-daily militant attacks likely to continue, while IS-affiliated group may take advantage of internal Brotherhood divide to further expand operational areas
- Overall, we assess the attack in al-Arish will likely prompt an uptick in violence in Egypt, both in Sinai and across the country, as a result of the likely impending crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and, as aforementioned, in light of precedent. Such violence will likely continue to materialize in continued IED attacks against the country’s security forces, infrastructure, and transportation system. However, as indicated by an uptick in attacks and threats against foreign companies, such attacks may increasingly expand to civilian targets deemed to be legitimate if they are deemed as “collaborating” with the regime.
- Moreover, we assess that low-level militant groups may increasingly serve as a gateway for disenchanted and former members of the organization to join the other more radicalized groups. While prior to the ouster of Mohammed Morsi, the ideological gap between the Muslim Brotherhood and militants groups, such as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis at the time, was significant, disillusioned members of the organization can now gradually radicalize by passing from group to another, given the wide variety of groups using violence, including local Popular Resistance Committees that often claim IED attacks against security forces, the Ajnad Misr militant group, and finally Wilayat Sinai.
- Furthermore, as several elements of the Brotherhood may leave it and become increasingly radicalized, the operational areas of Wilayat Sinai in Egypt may expand to officially include a group in mainland Egypt. Regardless, the recruitment of disillusioned former members of the Brotherhood, as well as the fact that several members of the group may flee from Sinai to the Nile Delta, the border with Libya, or Libya itself, may increase the potential for sophisticated attacks to be witnessed in these areas other the coming months, as well as in major cities such as Cairo and Alexandria.
MAX Analysis India & Pakistan: Cross-border hostilities likely to continue as Islamabad seeks to intensify Kashmir debate January 23, 2015
- Clashes on the border between India and Pakistan have escalated again since December, leaving around a dozen dead and tens of thousands displaced.
- Pakistan is likely seeking to increase pressure on India to renew negotiations over Kashmir through a controlled escalation.
- Despite both side’s efforts to ensure relatively localized hostilities, risk of more widespread border conflict remains.
- We advise against all nonessential travel to Pakistan given the ongoing threat of militancy, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country. We advise against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir state, with the exception of Jammu and Srinagar cities.
On January 13, in a joint conference with Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on national security and foreign affairs, visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry asked Pakistan to work with India to resume peace talks. However, Aziz ruled out any dialogue with India if the disputed Kashmir region was not part of negotiations. Kerry made the comments after holding talks in India, where President Obama will visit later this month. The Pakistani stance comes as tensions have escalated considerably between India and Pakistan since the last quarter of 2014. The said tensions have been most clearly evident with the surge in violence on the border between Indian and Pakistani troops in parts of the disputed regions of Jammu and Kashmir. Both sides have accused the other of being behind the escalation. Since December, around a dozen fatalities on both sides have been recorded. The most serious incident came on December 31, when five soldiers on both sides were killed. Much of the recent fighting has been focused to the International Border between India and Pakistan, on the southern flank of Jammu and Kashmir. The International Border is a relatively smaller border portion in the overall disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. Both sides say hundreds of ceasefire violations were recorded in 2014, with unconfirmed reports indicating that the year saw the most border incidents since the current ceasefire came into being in 2003.
- In that context, in late December, India’s defense minister instructed commanders stationed along the border with Pakistan to intensify retaliations against Pakistani fire.
- As a result of cross-border fire, which occasionally lasts for hours on end, Indian officials in New Delhi have reportedly asked local authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to construct fortified bunkers for local populations. Over ten thousand Indian civilians have fled their communities along the border with Pakistan as a result of cross-border fire, which has mostly involved mortar and small-arms fire. Pakistani reports have also alleged Indian fire into Pakistani civilian areas.
- Furthermore, the latest tensions come on the heels of ongoing negotiations to form a government in Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir. India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaigned heavily for the region’s state assembly elections. After performing reasonably well, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP are now trying to form a government. Turnout was deemed a success for the BJP, especially given calls by pro-Pakistani separatists in Jammu and Kashmir to boycott the elections.
- Meanwhile, and in conjunction with cross-border hostilities, the threat of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, and inside major Indian cities, persists. During the morning hours of January 14, two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants reportedly encountered Indian security forces in the Chankhan area of Sopore, 40 kilometers northeast of Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir. Reports suggested that LeT commander Abu Huzaifa, was one of the two militants.
- On January 15, reports indicated that Indian military officials believe approximately 200 Pakistan-based militants may attempt to infiltrate in order to attack what the government referred to as “soft targets,” including schools, civilian areas, and religious places. The Indian Army believes the militants are poised at 36 launch points throughout the Pakistani controlled area across the Line of Control (LoC) in the Pir Panjal range. Meanwhile, five militants were killed by Indian security forces in Gader in Shopian, Jammu and Kashmir on January 15. The five were reportedly affiliated with the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen. Indian forces conducted a search of the forested area after intelligence reports indicated militants had entered the region. Unconfirmed reports suggest the Division Commander of (JeM), Mohammad Toyib, was among the militants killed.
Assessments: Internal Pakistani strategic considerations driving volatility in Jammu and Kashmir; Obama’s visit provides opportunity for Islamabad to press territorial claims
- Tensions between India and Pakistan are longstanding and this has necessitated a highly militarized border between both countries. At present, the conflict between India and Pakistan is highlighted chiefly by continuous allegations that both sides are using militancy to undermine the others’ security, along with border clashes in Jammu and Kashmir. We assess that both issues are linked. On top of their historic rivalry, we assess that there are several new factors that have further undermined bilateral relations between the two nuclear armed states and exacerbated instability along their shared borders.
- First and foremost, Pakistan is highly volatile and under a heightened state of alert for militant attacks. Attacks occur daily, throughout the country, including in major cities. Warnings of militant attacks have also escalated following the December 16 high-casualty attack in Peshawar. As a result, Pakistan has intensified its counter militancy operations nationwide, especially in the northwest tribal regions. Pakistan claims it has killed over a thousand militants from its now intensified operations in the northwest, named Khyber 1 and Zarb-e-Azb. Pakistan may be aiming to balance its military activity, given the relative controversy of targeting militant Islamists within traditional Islamic Pakistani society, while hostility to India remains a popular policy domestically. Therefore, internal Pakistani concerns regarding the prestige of the military following the launch of campaigns targeting Islamist militants could be bolstering an interest to escalate tensions with India.
- Strategically speaking, Pakistan is also likely concerned over the continued American so-called pivot to East Asia. As a major strategic ally of America, Pakistan is likely concerned that the pivot, along with the end of American military operations in Afghanistan, could leave it increasingly isolated, thus forcing it to become more reliant upon American rivals like China and Russia for various kinds of support. Conversely, it is also likely that Pakistan is wary of growing ties between India and the US, highlighted by Obama’s upcoming visit. This could necessitate Pakistan to take steps in order to ensure its interests are secured.
- As tensions with India have been a major focus of John Kerry’s visit to the region, it is possible that Pakistan aims to cite the increasing tensions with India to place the US as a mediator between the two sides. Additionally, Pakistan is likely to cite India’s growing military and economic prowess, along with the threat from internal Pakistani militants, when requesting further American assistance.
- We also assess that Pakistan likely has an interest to reinvigorate the Jammu and Kashmir debate, especially on the global stage. Islamabad is likely concerned that the regions will eventually be perceived as de-facto Indian or a non-conflict. As Pakistan ultimately aims to reclaim these areas, this may warrant hostilities in order to showcase Pakistan’s claim. Targeting the International Border could also be a Pakistani attempt to show that all of Jammu and Kashmir is under dispute, not just certain border markings. The lack of international concern resulting from India’s elections in the disputed regions only likely enhanced Islamabad’s views on this matter. Those elections were widely perceived by Indians as a referendum on Indian rule in the disputed regions.
- Despite the tensions with India, we assess that national security and foreign affairs advisor Aziz’s statement indicates a possible Pakistani interest in renewing talks with India over Kashmir. Direct military pressure could be a method to achieve this goal, especially as President Obama could use his visit to urge India to engage in fresh negotiations with Islamabad. PM Modi of India, however, is a Hindu nationalist and likely wary of entering negotiations meant to retake territory under Indian control. The elections in Jammu and Kashmir likely served to further cement his hesitation towards negotiations over these disputed regions. Also, Modi is likely cognizant of the strategic ramifications of bending to Pakistani demands at a time of rising concerns of future tensions with China. Both China and India have active border disputes in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, which led to a brief war in 1962. Furthermore, the recent cases of Pakistani mortar shelling of Indian border villages, as opposed to fighting positions, may have been an effort to exert further pressure on the Indian government to ultimately force it to the negotiating table.
Assessments: Both sides taking efforts to control escalation, indicating lower potential for sustained high-intensity conflict
- In that context, the Indian threat of severe retaliation was likely meant to deter Pakistan from taking more aggressive steps that could force India into another border war. The current BJP government is likely keen to avoid an escalation at this time, as this could complicate the establishment of a new government in Jammu and Kashmir, and counter an overall national security strategy to reach strategic parity with China. As mentioned above, Pakistan may be hoping that PM Modi will choose negotiations to ease the fighting in Kashmir.
- If negotiations are the goal, Pakistan is likely of the impression that a certain and calculated level of force is required to achieve this. This assessment is bolstered in that much of the recent fighting has taken place along the southern border of Jammu and Kashmir, which is manned mostly by the Indian Border Security Force. Their positions are less fortified when compared to the regular and better-armed Indian army troops positioned in the rugged mountains of northwest Kashmir. Moreover, tactical analysis from recent clashes points to efforts by both sides to control the level of escalation. They have refrained from using airpower and heavy artillery.
- Altogether, we assess that tensions will remain high along the border in the coming weeks. Further clashes should therefore be expected, along with the possibility of a more widespread escalation. Such an escalation could result incidentally from unacceptably high casualties suffered by either side during bouts of cross-border shelling. Nonetheless, we assess that much of the fighting, even the possibility of an escalation, will remain localized to Jammu and Kashmir, most likely the southern sector, over the coming weeks. Efforts to avoid such a development are likely as well, as both sides likely aim to keep the situation under control in order to protect their respective interests.
Assessments: Increased risk of militancy within India from Pakistan-based fighters during period of heightened cross-border hostilities
- In conjunction with the threat of border hostilities, there is a heightened threat of militant attacks in India emanating from Pakistan-based militants. For example, India routinely accuses Pakistan of attempting to infiltrate militants into India, under the cover of border shelling. Numerous warnings have been sounded in recent months, the latest being mentioned above concerning possible attacks on ‘soft targets’.
- India will therefore maintain heightened deployments in the coming weeks, especially ahead of and during President Obama’s visit, in order to prevent infiltrations across the LoC. However, the latest clashes between militants and security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, including the detention and elimination of Pakistani militants, points to an initial and successful infiltration of some fighters. Still, India has claimed to have thwarted several infiltrations. Nonetheless, mass casualty militant attacks inside major Indian cities, or in Jammu and Kashmir, could serve to seriously erode security conditions along the border and bilateral relations between New Delhi and Islamabad.
MAX Analysis Nigeria: Chadian deployment records positive momentum against Boko Haram militants, February 3, 2015
- Chad’s military deployment to northern Nigeria and Cameroon has yielded a quick succession of defeats for Boko Haram’s militants, given the Chadian soldiers’ superior training, discipline, and supplies.
- While Chad is focused on securing its border and interests along Lake Chad, longer term momentum against Boko Haram will necessitate an expansion of the commitment by regional forces to aid the Nigerian military’s counterinsurgency.
- Travel to Abuja and Lagos can continue while maintaining heightened vigilance and following heightened security measures regarding criminal and militant activity.
Current Situation on the Nigerian Border with Chad & Cameroon
Starting on January 27, Chadian military troops, including contingents of armored vehicles and air force, have been engaging forces of the Islamist militant sect Boko Haram in the Nigerian towns of Malam Fatori and Gamboru, along the northeastern borders of Borno State. Reports on February 2 indicate that Nigerian military officials claim to have recaptured the towns of Abadam, Malam Fatori, Gamboru, Mafa and Marte, with the assistance of local vigilantes and regional forces of the Multinational Joint Task Force (JTF).
- In recent months, there has been an increase in Boko Haram’s insurgency along the Chadian border. This includes a large scale paramilitary mobilization against Malam Fatori and other communities in the Abadam Local Government Area (LGA) in November 2014, in which the militants were able to gain control of the area. On January 3, a militant force captured the town of Baga and adjacent communities, reportedly killing at least 150 people.
- A substantial Chadian force, said to number 2,500 soldiers, has reportedly deployed to Cameroon’s Extreme North Region in recent weeks. Reports on January 29 indicated that the force was positioned in the city of Fotokol, across the border from the Nigerian town of Gamboru, which is under militant control.
- Boko Haram staged coordinated paramilitary attacks against Maiduguri, Borno State capital, on January 24-25 and February 1. Both attacks were repelled by Nigerian security forces in the city.
Assessments: Chadian deployment of troops targets immediate interests, incurs positive momentum against Boko Haram, yet long term paradigm shift necessitates prolonged commitment
- The recent Chadian deployment has been propelled by the surge of Boko Haram activity near its border. While Boko Haram was active in the vicinity of the Chadian border, particularly in Malam Fatori, prior to the Baga attack ,the majority of the militants’ operational effort concentrated along the borders with Cameroon and Niger. In contrast, the militant attack in Baga was directed at a base of the multinational JTF, in which Chadian and Cameroonian forces were allegedly slated to be positioned. The attack garnered widespread international attention as it was rumored to have killed 2,000 people and was described by an international NGO as the militants’ deadliest attack thus far. According to recent reports, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that as many as 15,000 Nigerian refugees have arrived in Chad. Elevated militancy in such close proximity to its border inevitably threatens Chadian interests in the oil abundant Lake Chad, while the direct assault on multinational JTF installations exposed the inadequacy of Chad’s standing deployment in Nigeria. Together, we assess that these considerations propelled Chad to commit greater force to the regional counterinsurgency campaign.
- With this in mind, in the short term the Chadian deployment is likely to focus on securing the country’s immediate interests along the border. This assessment is further corroborated by the first locales targeted by the new force in Malam Fatori and Gamboru, which represent the northern and southern militant strongholds capping Lake Chad. Following from this, we assess that the next target for Chadian efforts will be Baga and potentially the town of Monguno which was captured by militants on January 24-25, still within approximately 50 km from the border. In so doing, the Chadian forces would have secured the immediate vicinity of Lake Chad. Revamped Chadian presence in the area as part the multinational JTF may also suffice to maintain relative security near the border in the short and medium term.
- Over and above securing its border area, the Chadian deployment has the potential to drastically alter the strategic balance in the conflict with Boko Haram. Chadian forces are regarded as well-trained, disciplined and supplied, and have proven capable in counterinsurgency campaigns elsewhere in the continent, most notably in northern Mali. In contrast, the Nigerian military struggled to contain the expansion of Boko Haram, with multiple reports indicating that Nigerian soldiers fled during clashes with the militants. Moreover, the Chadian deployment has already prompted renewed discussion of a greater regional force, said to total 7,500 troops. Should such a force be able to undermine the presence of Boko Haram along Nigeria’s northeastern borders, they will cut off cross border supply and smuggling routes for the group which have been essential for its sustained insurgency.
- As a result of the recent Chadian deployment, the counterinsurgency campaign in Nigeria already enjoys a positive momentum, with Boko Haram militants driven out from several key stronghold over the past few days. This comes in the face of prolonged momentum enjoyed by the group. However, the extent to which this positive momentum can be translated into a paradigm shift in the conflict still remains to be seen. Largely, we assess that such a paradigm shift will depend on Chad’s commitment to contribute substantial resources, both of manpower and equipment, to fight Boko Haram outside the immediate proximity of its border with Nigeria on Lake Chad. This is likely to incur greater costs on the Chadian forces and yield smaller rewards in the short term. As such, should Chad effectively secure its border area it may choose to avoid a more prolonged campaign deep into Borno State.
- In the meantime, the Chadian deployment affects the decision making process of both Boko Haram and the Nigerian government. For the militants, we assess that the two repelled large scale offensives on Maiduguri have been propelled by the imminent Chadian mobilization as the group recognizes that near term direct confrontations with the Chadian military will challenge the group’s territorial control. Thus, Boko Haram is likely to continue to try and secure strategic locations in Borno State, chiefly the capital, as well as fortify its existing strongholds. The Nigerian Federal Government will likely seek to capitalize on the current positive momentum against the militant group ahead of the February 14 presidential elections. As most of the Chadian effort is concentrated in the north of Borno State, Nigerian forces are likely to target militant strongholds in northern Adamawa and southern Borno, potentially making their way towards the city of Gwoza. Such a campaign is likely to be prolonged, and its success will necessitate an ongoing commitment of Chad and other regional countries.
- Finally, while such a paradigm shift in the conflict may undermine Boko Haram’s paramilitary campaigns, the sect is likely to maintain resilient militant capabilities. Boko Haram is deeply entrenched in the northeast with both local support networks and operational infrastructure, and has proven able to adjust and diversify its modus operandi in light of evolving strategic landscapes. Moreover, the sect may be inclined to demonstrate its resilient abilities by executing high profile attacks in key locations outside its core theater of operations in northeast Nigeria. Thus, we assess that in spite of the recent increased regional counterinsurgency campaign, Boko Haram militancy is likely to continue over the coming months.
- An Islamic State-subgroup based in Iraq’s Anbar Province issued a statement on January 5 claiming responsibility for targeting the Iraqi side of Saudi Arabia’s Arar border crossing, which came under attack during the early morning hours of January 5. Three Saudi Border Guards were killed in the attack and two wounded, while four attackers were also killed.
- Despite an ideological interest in targeting Saudi Arabia, we do not assess that the January 5 incident represents an alteration in the security situation along Saudi Arabia’s border with Iraq, but rather a likely opportunistic attack, while IS in Iraq (formerly ISIS) remains primarily focused on consolidating its territory amidst increasing difficulties connected to, among others, anti-IS coalition airstrikes.
- We assess that the interest in targeting Saudi Arabia is liable to be primarily pursued by radicalized Saudi citizens, including those that support IS, against which the country continues to crack down upon.
- In Saudi Arabia, travel to Riyadh, Dammam, and Jeddah can continue as normal while adhering to basic security precautions and adherence to cultural norms.
- In Iraq, travel to areas outside of Baghdad and Basra should be avoided at this time, particularly to the north and west of the country, including the Anbar, Nineveh, Salahuddin, Kirkuk, and Diyala Governorates due to ongoing combat operations.
Current Security Situation at the Saudi-Iraq Border
During the evening hours of January 5, the Saudi Ministry of Interior (MOI) security spokesperson provided further details regarding the early morning attack at the Suyef Center border crossing with Iraq in Jadida Arar. The report provided by the country’s official news agency stated that four militants were intercepted attempting to enter Saudi Arabia via the aforementioned border crossing, causing two of the four to open fire. One was killed by retaliatory gunfire from Saudi Border Guards while a second detonated an explosive belt. The remaining two were then killed by gunfire and the detonation of an explosive belt or vest after being pursued by the Border Guards into the Arar Valley.
- As a result, three members of the Border Guards, including the commander of the Border Guard in the Northern Region, were killed. Two others were injured, with the official news agency reporting their condition as stable.
- Reports further indicate that an automatic weapon, pistol, grenades, and explosive belts were seized, along with an unspecified amount of cash. As previously noted, reinforcements were reportedly dispatched to the border crossing following the incident.
- In addition, the Islamic State (IS)-subgroup based in Iraq’s Anbar Province, known as “Wilayat Anbar”, issued a statement on January 5 claiming responsibility for targeting the Iraqi side of the border crossing with Saudi Arabia. In the photos included, at least 12 militants appear to be involved in the attack.
- Even without the statement by IS claiming responsibility for the attack on the Iraqi side of the border, we continue to assess that there are few other parties that would conduct, or have the capabilities to conduct such an operation. This is due to a number of reasons, including the modus operandi of the attack, involving suicide attackers, which is commonly utilized by IS, as well as the targeting of Saudi Arabia itself. In this context, when IS’s self-declared Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, accepted oaths of allegiances from various IS groups in a November 13 audio recording, he stated that the “serpent’s head and the stronghold of the disease” is located in al-Haramayn”, referring to Saudi Arabia. He then listed those that should be targeted, namely, Shiites, the Al-Saud ruling family, and security force.
- Moreover, Iraq’s restive Anbar Province, in which the Iraqi side of the Arar border crossing is located, continues to witness ongoing IS activity, with significant areas reported to be under the group’s control. Although the Iraqi government reportedly maintains control of areas immediately along the shared border with Saudi Arabia, reports indicate that IS has a firm presence in al-Nukhayb, located along a road that leads directly to the Iraqi side of the Arar border crossing and is approximately 119 km away. Taking into account the ideology of IS and the fact that the militants were equipped with suicide belts/vests, IS likely did not feel threatened by Iraqi government forces in crossing territory reportedly under their control. In this context, confrontations with Iraqi government forces other than those stationed at the border crossing was likely also perceived as an acceptable battle and, thus, IS may not have been concerned with being intercepted along the way. Meanwhile, the IS claim refers solely to the Iraqi side of the border, suggesting that its aim were Iraqi forces stationed there. This suggests that the four of those involved in the Saudi incident were able to bypass the Iraqi side of the crossing and enter into the Saudi border post, particularly given the proximity of the two. Thus, the January 5 incident would appear more of an opportunistic attack rather than one aimed specifically at Saudi Arabia.
- However, it cannot be ruled out that IS had other ambitions. This could include testing the capabilities of the Saudi Border Guards, conducting a sensational attack with the aim of increasing its media profile and gaining supporters, and/or creating fear among the country and other anti-IS coalition members. In this context, amidst increasing difficulties faced by the organization in Iraq, including due to coalition airstrikes, IS may be looking for a successful attack to boost morale. Along with the symbolism of a border crossing, Arar is home to an airport. In August, following the landing of the mortars near the city, unconfirmed reports stated that an IS “supporter” described the airport as “within reach of [the group’s] missiles” and would be targeted if it was used as a base for US missions in Iraq. During the 2003 Iraq War, reports that the US utilized Saudi facilities suggest that this airport was one such facility. Moreover, the timing of the attack, that is, coming amidst the dispatch of a Saudi delegation to Iraq to finalize the reopening of an embassy and consulate may be intended as a message to Saudi Arabia that, if it can attack them at their border, it can certainly target them in Iraq.
- Regardless, we assess that this attack does not represent a substantial shift in the security situation in Saudi Arabia along the Iraqi border. Even if specifically aimed at attempting to infiltrate Saudi Arabia, there are a number of reasons as to why the country remains prepared and capable of defending this border area. In addition to the substantially increased security that has been implemented, including as part of Phase 1 of the “project for border security” inaugurated in September 2014 that involves, among others, a 900 km security fence and additional monitoring towers, the country introduced a 20 km expanded buffer zone in November. Moreover, while three mortars impacted near Arar in July, two incidents over a period of approximately six months does not point to a pattern. There is also no indication that one successful attack means that the Iraqi government has lost some or all of control over certain border areas with Saudi Arabia.
- In addition, the Saudi Border Guards have demonstrated a capability in preventing attacks from moving past the border areas. In this context, the January 5 incident was contained to the immediate border area, causing the death of three despite the presence of two suicide bombers. Similarly, in July 2014, an attack against the southern Wadia border crossing claimed by the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) also saw an attack contained to the border crossing area. During this incident, two Saudi Border Guards were reportedly killed and a third was injured, later succumbing to his wounds, while three attackers were also killed and a fourth was wounded and arrested. A fourth Saudi was then killed when the remaining two militants hiding in a building and holding ten individuals hostage detonated the explosives they were wearing. As on January 5, the relatively limited number of non-militants killed despite the presence of at least two suicide attackers demonstrates the Border Guards’ capabilities to prevent deeper infiltrations and reduce casualties.
- We also continue to assess that IS’s interest in opening a front with Saudi Arabia remains limited at this time. While their ideological desire to target the country certainly exists, as underlined by al-Baghdadi’s speech, the presence of two of Islam’s holiest sites in the country, and Saudi Arabia’s participation in the international anti-IS coalition, it is likely that they will defer to locally-based supporters rather than those operating in Iraq and Syria to further this aim. This is connected to our assessment that one of their primary goals at present is to consolidate territory in Syria and Iraq, particularly given increasing difficulties faced by coalition airstrikes and support offered to anti-IS forces.
- In this context, we further continue to assess that the primary threat facing Saudi Arabia remains that stemming from radicalized locals and Saudi citizens, including those that have potentially returned from fighting abroad, and that have sympathies to IS or other militant jihadist groups. The presence of such individuals is known and underscored by a number of factors, including an uptick, albeit relative, of attacks conducted by individuals with links or sympathies to IS. This refers to two known incidents, that is, a November 3, 2014 shooting of Shiites in al-Ahsa and a November 22, 2014 shooting of a Danish national in Riyadh. Regarding the former, 77 subsequent arrests announced on November 24 by the MOI stated that the core group involved had “direct links” to IS, while, on December 11, 2014, the official news agency announced that three people, who stressed their strong sympathies to IS, were arrested for the shooting of the Dane. Their presence is also underscored by the significant percentage of Saudis in the recent militancy-related arrests. This includes 109 out of 135 arrests announced on December 7, 2014, 73 out of the aforementioned 77 announced on November 24, 84 out of 88 announced on September 2, 2014, and 59 out of 62 announced on May 6, 2014.
- That said, despite this threat, we also continue to assess that Saudi Arabia’s counter-militancy capabilities remain high, underlined by the number of arrests, particularly those conducted and announced relatively shortly following attacks. Some of the 77 arrests announced on November 24, 2014, for example, were conducted in operations reported on November 4, one day following the al-Ahsa shooting. Similarly, following the November 22, 2014 shooting of the Danish national, arrests were recorded on December 11. Given Saudi Arabia’s interest in mitigating this threat and maintaining their security situation, including due to the presence of foreign companies operating in the country, we assess that similar arrest campaigns should continue to be recorded. In addition, while reinforcements were sent to the Arar border crossing following the attack, security precautions along the border have been increased to a particularly high level before this incident, underscored by the existing buffer zone. Thus, while a heightened presence may remain specifically at the border point, substantially changed measures along the border with Iraq are unlikely.
MAX Analysis Iran News: Agreement to seven month extension of talks on Iran’s nuclear program underlines interest in reaching consensus while highlighting existence of ongoing disputes November 27, 2014
- On November 24, the P5+1 and Iran announced a seven-month extension of the interim Joint Plan of Action following an inability to reach a final status agreement by the deadline.
- The extension itself, along with the presence of Iran’s and all P5+1 Foreign Ministers during the conclusion of this last round of talks, underscores the continued interest in reaching a final status agreement, while Tehran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, as well as sanctions relief, likely remain key points of contention in talks.
- An interest in reaching an agreement prior to the allotted seven-month deadline is likely encouraged further by calls for more sanctions against Iran from the US Congress, which will be controlled by the Republicans in January, and concerns that a lack of significant day-to-day economic improvement in the country may result in opposition to talks.
- Western nationals are advised against all nonessential travel to Iran due to persistent negative sentiment toward the United States and other North American and Western European nations.
Iran Nuclear Talks: Current Situation
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on November 24 the deadline for the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPoA) agreed between Iran and the P5+1, that a further seven month extension of talks had been agreed upon during this round of negotiations in Vienna, Austria. Although a seven month extension would bring the new deadline to June 24, 2015, Iran’s official news agency reported that it will be June 30, while British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond stated that the interim deal will be extended “until June next year”. At the conclusion of this round of talks, the foreign ministers from all P5+1 countries, as well as EU’s Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, were in attendance.
- During his statement, Kerry also stated that “in these last days in Vienna”, the P5+1 and Iran “made real and substantial progress” and “new ideas surfaced”. He went on to state that the extension comes with “the very specific goal of finishing the political agreement within four months and with the understanding that we we will go to work immediately, meet again very shortly, and if we can do it sooner we want to do it sooner”. If, at the conclusion of these four months, the negotiating parties “have not agreed on the major elements… and there is no clear path, we can revisit how we then want to choose to proceed”. Unconfirmed reports state that the parties will meet again in December.
- As part of this extension, as it was with the previous extension agreed upon in July, Iran will reportedly be receiving a portion of its frozen funds, paid out in installments and totaling 700 million USD per month.
- This extension follows the issuance of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on November 7 regarding the status of Iran’s nuclear program and agreements. According to the report, Iran has not enriched uranium higher than five percent “at any of its declared facilities” while “all of its stock” of higher-enriched uranium “has been further processed through downblending or conversion into uranium oxide”. It further stated that “no additional major components have been installed at the IR-40 Reactor” referring to the reactor at the Arak Heavy Water Plant”, and that “Iran has continued to provide the Agency with managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities”.
- On November 10, the IAEA issued a correction to the November 7 report, stating that enrichment of up to five percent uranium has increased to 8290.3 kg (the November 7 report placed this figure at 8390.3 kg).
- The report also states that Iran has not provided additional information to allow the IAEA “to clarify the outstanding practical measures, nor has it proposed any new practical measures”, which was requested by the agency on September 4 as well as again on October 8. This is connected to “five practical measures” agreed upon as part of the November 11, 2013 “Framework of Cooperation”, to be implemented by August 25. However, at the time of writing, only three have been implemented, including two of the three after the deadline. This is despite two “technical meetings” between the IAEA and Iran on November 2 and October 7. Reports indicate that resolution of this issue was temporarily postponed ahead of the final round of talks in Vienna.
- The agreed-upon extension, along with reports, including statements from Kerry, that progress was achieved prior to the extension’s announcement, underline the parties’ continued interest in reaching a final status agreement. Such interest was further highlighted by the attendance of the foreign ministers from all involved parties, along with the EU’s Catherine Ashton. This included the last-minute arrival of the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers, reportedly during the evening hours of November 23 and the morning of November 24, respectively. This suggested an effort to make a final push toward an agreement or at least progress on the remaining contentious issues. In this context, while an agreement was unable to be reached by the now-extended November 24 deadline, the four month “deadline within a deadline” also points to an interest in resolving this issue prior to June 2015. This is also underscored by Kerry’s statement that they “will go to work immediately” as well as Zarif’s iteration that they “do not intend to use the whole period”. This all serves to suggest that the unconfirmed reports of talks resuming in December are credible.
- Amidst reports of progress, upcoming talks are likely to continue to focus largely on Iran’s enrichment capabilities, which has reportedly been one of the main ongoing contentious issues. In this context, we continue to assess that, for the P5+1, enrichment capabilities involves ensuring that Iran’s breakout capability is limited, referring to the amount of time in which Tehran could produce a sufficient amount of “bomb-grade” material. For Iran, this capability needs to be at a level able of maintaining what its perceives as a sufficient civilian nuclear program, with previous reports indicating that Iran has estimated its requirements at 190,000 separative work units (SWU), which refers to a standard measure of enrichment. Reports indicate that discussions have focused on the number of permitted centrifuges, rather than SWUs, with reports from a government-linked Iranian news source previously reporting that Iran was offered as part of an agreement, and rejected, to operate 4,700 first generation (IR-1) centrifuges. Researchers on this issue have reported that the IR-1 reactors have an enrichment capability of between 0.7 and 1.0 SWU per year. With this in mind, it cannot be ruled out than any final agreement will include enrichment capabilities based on SWUs rather than numbers of centrifuges.
- Moreover, Iran’s negotiating team needs to mitigate perceptions of excessive capitulation to the P5+1 demands, given that the civilian nuclear program maintains widespread support and the presence of hardliners, some of which are opposed to the negotiations themselves. This is underlined by reports that approximately 200-300 hardliners protested near Tehran’s Research Reactor on November 23 criticizing the nuclear negotiations. The protest reportedly received official approval and the participants, in addition to chanting “Death to America”, demanded that negotiators refuse to give into excessive Western demands.
- Other disputed topics will be discussed as well, with reports that sanctions relief, and particularly the speed of such relief, has been one such topic. The P5+1, and particularly Western parties, may be aiming for a more gradual removal dependant on Iranian adherence to the final agreement, while Iran is likely looking for the opposite given its interest in improving its still struggling economy. In this context, Tehran is liable to see sanctions on its banking, oil, and gas industries as the most essential for removal. Conversely, sanctions that were implemented by certain parties, including the US, for humanitarian issues or Iran’s support for militant groups, are likely to remain in place even in the event of an agreement.
- Iran’s aforementioned failure to implement two of the five practical measures agreed upon with the IAEA is liable to also remain an overarching issue. While the Framework of Cooperation is a separate agreement signed with the IAEA, much of the information requested in such practical measures have been part of the JPoA, pointing to the connection between the two. Moreover, given that the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program was what triggered the initial sanctions and ultimately talks to begin with, the failure to provide information requested by the IAEA may raise concerns and suspicions among negotiating parties, while likely does not serve to instill confidence. That said, given the postponement of this issue until the November 24 deadline, we assess that meetings between the IAEA and Iran will resume in the coming months with the aim of implementing the final two measures and agreeing to more. Iran’s interest in achieving a final status agreement, underlined in previous assessments and highlighted by the IAEA report that confirms its continued adherence to the JPoA, is liable to serve as encouragement in this regard. Moreover, it is also possible that any such final agreement will include a provision stipulating continued Iranian adherence to the Framework of Cooperation.
- Moreover, we do assess that, while talks have, thus far, steadily continued without significant interruption, there remain events that could serve to directly affect talks. This includes reports that Republicans in the US Congress, who will have a majority in both houses in January 2015, have called for action with regard to Iran come January. A joint statement, for example, was released by three Republican Senators on November 24 stating that they “believe the latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal with Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval”. That said, the JPoA states that “the US Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions”, while Iran would certain perceive such action as being in violation. Despite this, we assess that US President Barack Obama’s interest in achieving an agreement, coupled with his previous statement that he would veto any legislation involving new sanctions, reduces the potential for congressional activity to derail talks.
- Finally, the effort to reach an agreement in a shorter time span than the seven months allotted may also be connected to a recognition that, in addition to the previously-discussed alteration in the makeup of US Congress, patience with the ongoing talks, that will hit a year’s mark in January, could diminish. This includes in Iran, with reports that day-to-day economic difficulties have persisted. While the official news agency reported on November 26 that inflation has reduced to 17.8 percent in the month ending November 21, reports suggest that the cost of food has increased in 2014 and unemployment remains relatively high. This includes among the 16-24 age group, with reports that the official unemployment rate is nearly 23 percent among this population and allegations that unofficial rates are higher. In this context, the release of frozen funds and limited sanctions relief, along with policies implemented by Rouhani, have worked to gradually assist in improving the country’s economic situation, particularly macroeconomically and especially when compared to previous months when inflation was as high as 40 percent.
- That said, the aim of such sanctions relief and release of frozen assets was likely intended to allow some improvement to Iran’s economy, but not so much that motivation to reach a final status agreement would be removed. Thus, while some of the population may perceive the improvement witnessed as indicators that a final status agreement would spur further developments, the absence of significant day-to-day improvement may also trigger reduced support for talks. Potential opposition to Rouhani’s policies from this sector, in conjunction with the aforementioned existing discontent among more conservative, anti-Western, and hardline members of society, could increase pressure on negotiators. At this point however, and amidst persistent anti-Western rhetoric, the country’s Supreme Leader continues to demonstrate support for Rouhani, while the interest in removing sanctions may serve to overcome any emerging or growing opposition.
- Western nationals are advised against all nonessential travel to Iran due to persistent negative sentiment toward the United States and other North American and Western European nations. For non-Western nationals, travel to Tehran, Esfahan, and other major cities in Iran may continue while adhering to basic security precautions regarding civil unrest and adherence to cultural norms.
- We advise against all nonessential travel to outlying border areas with Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Iraq, and Armenia due to ongoing militant activity.
- Those traveling to Iran should anticipate prolonged questioning by customs officials. Refrain from traveling with sophisticated cameras or other features affiliated with journalists. Cooperate with all security officials and respond to questioning in a respectable and calm manner.
- Refrain from discussing the current political situation, Iran’s nuclear program, or tensions with the United States and Israel with local residents as a basic precaution. Be advised that authorities may monitor communications from hotels and other facilities frequented by foreigners, while internet access may be limited.
In the event that embassy services are required, it is advised to check the operational status of pertinent embassies and consulates. Consular services for US citizens are provided through the auspices of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, while those for British citizens are provided through any EU embassy.
MAX Analysis Morocco: Threat of regional militancy and local jihadist presence in Syria, Iraq likely to require bolstered security measures August 24, 2014
- The July 9 decree included an order to regional governors to heighten security measures within their jurisdictions, an expanded security presence at vital installations throughout the country, and the launching of a public relations campaign to warn Moroccans against the potential security threat. Also on July 9, Morocco heightened its security protocols at its international airports following a recommendation from the American government.
- Additionally, on July 18, an “orange alert” was declared for all American-owned restaurants operating in Morocco in anticipation of a possible militant attack. On July 21, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) updated its travel advice for Morocco, warning of an “increased threat of terrorism.” The FCO cited Moroccan authorities’ warnings of an increased threat connected to Moroccan national militants operating in Syria and Iraq.
MAX Analysis CAR & Uganda: UPDF involvement in CAR due to security, economic, geostrategic considerations; may hinder peace process, credibility of MISCA August 18, 2014
Uganda is a prominent contributor to peacekeeping missions in Africa, with UPDF contingents stationed in South Sudan, DRC, and Somalia. UPDF troops were deployed to the CAR in 2012 in order to hunt down LRA leader, Joseph Kony, in cooperation with US Special Forces. However, in March 2013, the Ugandan military was compelled to exit the country by Seleka rebels following the overthrow of former CAR President Francois Bozize, who had given the UPDF a relatively free hand to conduct counter-LRA operations in vast swaths of territory in the eastern CAR. In December 2013, the UPDF was re-deployed to CAR as a peacekeeping contingent, as part of the MISCA mandate.
MAX Analysis Mali: Government, Tuareg relations deteriorate ahead of July 16 meeting; revamped French mission likely to improve security in long term July 15, 2014
A meeting between Tuareg separatists and the Bamako government is scheduled to take place on July 16 in Algiers. This will be the first meeting between the Tuareg rebels and the Bamako government since violent protests in May during the visit of Prime Minister Moussa Mara to Kidal, which was followed by the Malian army’s attack of rebel positions, in which 50 government troops were killed.
- Despite the planned holding of an international dialogue in Algiers on July 16, there has been a clear deterioration in the security situation in the north of the country and militants have reportedly deployed to key locations, stockpiling weapons and food in an apparent preparation for a return to conflict.
- Clashes were reported in Anefife, near Kidal on July 11 in which at least 35 combatants were killed. Anefife was previously under the control of the Tuareg rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). An MNLA statement claimed that the group attacked a coalition of pro-Bamako militias including the Arab Movement for Azawad (MAA), elements of the Malian Army, and militants of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). Military sources have denied these claims, attributing the violence to in-fighting amongst separatists, and claiming that the majority of those killed were members of the MNLA and the MAA.
MAX Analysis Somalia: Factionalism within al-Shabaab unlikely to result in dissolution, as uptick in attacks underscores group’s sustained capabilities July 14, 2014
- On June 29, al-Shabaab issued a threat to escalate their operations throughout Mogadishu during Ramadan. Subsequently, an estimated 42 assassinations of individuals associated with the government have been recorded in the capital city.
- Reports from June 8 indicate that Mohamed Saed Atom, a known warlord and principal supplier for al-Shabaab in Puntland, defected from the group and surrendered in Mogadishu to the Somali FG, which has welcomed his renunciation of violence. Atom stated that his decamping was prompted by the group’s leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane’s, excessive use of violence towards civilians and the manipulation of the Quran’s law to justify the group’s strategy.
Max Security Analysis Iran: June 20 IAEA report, indications of progress on contentious issues highlights adherence to agreements, effort to reach deadline June 29, 2014
On June 20, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report comprised of 14 points delineating Iranian adherence to the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPoA) signed between Iran and the P5+1 on November 24, 2013 and implemented on January 20. Key points include the following:
- The IAEA states that Iran has not enriched uranium above five percent at its declared facilities.
- Iran has completed the requisite dilution of half (104.56 of 209.1 kg) of its higher-level (20 percent) enriched uranium to five percent. It has also converted 100 kg into uranium oxide, leaving approximately 4.54 kg to be converted by the JPoA’s July 20 deadline.
- There have been no “further advances” to Iran’s activities at the Fuel Enrichment Plant, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant, or the Arak Heavy Water Plant.
- Iran has also begun the commissioning of the “Enriched UO2 Powder Plant (EUPP)”, which will be utilized for converting uranium newly enriched to five percent during the six month interim period to oxide.
- In addition, according to reports from June 27, the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Iran concluded that Iran was the source of a weapons shipment destined for Sudan and seized by Israel’s navy in the Red Sea in March in a Panamanian-flagged ship called the Klos C. The shipment reportedly included M302 rockets and fuses, 120 mm mortar shells, and 7.62 caliber ammunition. Reports indicate that the panel concluded that the shipment is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1747.
Max Security Analysis Nigeria: Boko Haram continues high-casualty raids in rural northeast while increasing car bombing attacks in major cities nationwide June 27, 2014
Reports indicate a bomb exploded at the Emab Plaza shopping center on the Aminu Kano Crescent in the Wuse 2 area of Abuja at 16:00 (local time) on June 25. At this time 21 deaths and 17 injuries have been confirmed by police.
- Reports indicate that over 100 people were killed in attacks on two villages in the Sanga Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State in the overnight hours of June 23-24. Gunmen simultaneously entered the Kabami and Ankpong villages at approximately 22:00 (local time) and began shooting automatic weapons indiscriminately at villagers and destroying property. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the attackers were wearing police uniforms.
- A large explosion was heard in Kano University’s School of Hygiene, located in Kano city’s Sabon Gari district, during the afternoon hours of June 23. Sources indicate that at least eight students were killed and a further twelve injured as a result of the explosion, which was reportedly caused by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). On May 18, a VBIED exploded in the Sabon Gari district, killing five civilians according to official reports. However, these reports are contradicted by witness statements claiming that as many as 25 people were killed.
- Unconfirmed reports indicate that between 60 and 91 women and children were abducted and 30 men were killed, in Borno State during June 19-22 raids, which were allegedly perpetrated by Boko Haram fighters.
- Reports indicate that during the evening of June 16, a taxi laden with explosives was detonated at the entrance of a World cup viewing center in Damaturu, the capital of the northeastern state of Yobe, resulting in the death of at least 21 civilians and over 27 others injured, according to hospital sources. The explosion took place at 20:15 (local time) at the Crossfire venue, in the Nayi-Nawa area of Damaturu.
- On June 1, suspected Boko Haram militants attacked a well-attended football viewing venue in the northeastern village of Mubi, Adamawa State killing at least 40 people through the use of explosives.
- At least 130 people were killed in the vicinity of the Jos Market and Jos University Teaching Hospital in the Plateau State capital on May 20, when two explosions occurred within 30 minutes of each other.
- On April 14 a bomb at a bus station in the Nyanya Area of Abuja resulted in over 80 deaths. On May 1, a further bomb at the same location caused an additional 17 deaths. Responsibility for these two attacks was claimed by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.
Max Security Analysis Kenya: President Kenyatta’s government under increased pressure over rising threat of militancy amidst growing ethno-political animosity. June 22, 2014
- The Somali militant group al-Shabaab’s spokesman, Sheikh Abdulaziz Abu Musab, reportedly claimed responsibility for the Mpeketoni attacks through the group’s Somali radio channel, Andalus FM. The man alleging to be Abdulaziz Abu Musab stated that the “Mujahideen who carried out the Mpeketoni attack are all safe,” and that they killed 70 “enemies” while denying previous rumors of abductions.
- Witness statements indicate that the Mpeketoni assaults were conducted by predominantly Somali speaking assailants allegedly carrying al-Shabaab flags. The attackers specifically targeted non-Muslim males, mainly of the Kikuyu tribe, as well as people watching the World Cup. The Kenyan government has subsequently urged citizens to watch the competition at home instead of in “crowded and unprotected open places.”
- However, President Kenyatta refuted al-Shabaab’s claim of responsibility, and instead implicitly accused opposition leader Raila Odinga and his CORD faction of the attacks, which were allegedly aimed at sparking instability and ethnic tensions. In response, Odinga rejected these allegations, stating that the Mpeketoni attacks are a result of the Jubilee government’s inability to curb growing militancy.
- On June 19, a pro al-Shabaab social media account that Kenyan police allege claimed responsibility for the attacks was closed down. The account’s owner, Ishmael Omondi, who is a Kenyan national, was arrested in Nairobi, and subsequently released following questioning.
- The attacks have had deep political ramifications, and the opposition CORD’s rally slated for June 21 in Nakuru County, as part of Odinga’s campaign for national dialogue, was reportedly cancelled following the discovery of hate leaflets. The leaflets urged Odinga’s local Luo tribe to vacate the Rift Valley region or face consequences. Subsequently, the government has banned all political or tribal rallies in the town of Naivasha, Nakuru County, out of fear of ethnically motivated violence.
- George Aladwa, the former Nairobi Mayor and Nairobi County Chairman for Raila Odinga’s party Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was reportedly arrested on June 21, allegedly after calling for the swearing in of Odinga as President on July 7 (Saba Saba Day), if the government refuses national dialogue.
- Additionally, nine Senators and MPs affiliated with CORD were summoned on June 20 by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) over allegations of hate speech.
Max Security Analysis South Sudan: Formation of transition government to face impediments from inflexibility on key issues; limited hostilities likely to continue. June 12, 2014
During talks facilitated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa on May 9, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar agreed to a ceasefire to the internal conflict between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Machar-led Sudan People’s Liberation Army – in Opposition (SPLA-IO) that commenced in mid-December 2013. Kiir and Machar met in Addis Ababa again on June 11, agreeing to complete the dialogue process regarding the formation of a transitional government within 60 days. The two leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to previously signed agreements.
Ivory Coast & Liberia: Security concerns increasing as rising instability along shared border region emphasized by UNMIL troop deployment [May 26, 2014]
- Reports additionally indicate that armed individuals, believed to have carried out similar attacks in the past, remain present in the border region’s forested areas within the Ivory Coast, occasionally harassing and physically attacking local farmers.
- On March 18, soldiers belonging to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) officially left Liberia’s Gbarpolu County and redeployed to Grand Gedeh, along the border with the Ivory Coast, in an effort to support the present Liberian/UNMIL security force in the wake of increasing violence in the area.
- On February 22, an estimated twenty armed assailants, suspected by the Ivorian government to be Liberian bandits, attacked residents in the village of Fetai and Grabo, located in the Ivory Coast. Clashes with security forces ensued, resulting in the death of four Ivorian soldiers and one assailant.
- Despite Ivorian claims that the attackers were Liberian militiamen in the February 22 incident,Liberian Defense Minister Brownie Samukai disputed the reports and challenged the Ivorian government to produce evidence that the attacks were carried out by assailants originating in Liberia. Only recently has the Ivorian government retracted its claims, announcing that the assailants were not Liberian.
- Meanwhile, on February 24, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf accused Ivorian forces of exploiting border attacks in order to enter Liberia to arrest and forcibly repatriate Ivorian refugees. This, according to Sirleaf, is likely the reason for the attacks which she has deemed to have been carried out by Ivorian refugees within Liberia.
Guinea: Heightened political tensions between opposition, Conde government expected to persist; potential for renewal of protests
- A letter sent by opposition leaders to Prime Minister Mohamed Said Fofana, requesting dialogue sessions about respecting an agreement signed on July 3, 2013, which led to the September legislative elections and outlined the rules that would dictate the behavior of both sides, was dismissed on May 2, seventeen days after having been sent. The opposition added that the dialogue would address several issues that have led to a virtual halting of activity at the National Assembly. Fofana stated that the opposition should ensure its goals are met through the National Assembly, thus rejecting the request for dialogue.
- Opposition leaders are slated to hold a meeting in the coming days in an effort to determine what options they have left to ensure that these issues be addressed, stating that a resumption of protests is being considered. That said, the leaders added that this option would be the last resort, as it carries the risk of violence.
- Aboubacar Sylla, spokesperson of the opposition, announced that political attempts would first be made in an effort to ensure that the government follows through on the July 2013 agreement. This includes proposing the adoption of a law at the National Assembly deeming all parties responsible to fulfill previous legal agreement. Sylla added that the main issues discussed in the letter are the overdue local elections that were originally slated to be held in the first few months of 2014. The ruling government has refuted this demand, saying that the holding of local elections is not part of the July 2013 agreement.
- Additionally, the opposition criticized the lack of progress in the forming of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), with operators not having received the material needed to begin creating the voters’ lists. An additional issue broached by the opposition includes the alleged lack of legal action against perpetrators of violence targeting opposition supporters and officials.
- Diallo further accused the leader of the presidential majority, Amadou Damaro Camara, of making decisions in lieu of ministers and the president of the National Assembly. According to the opposition, this puts the National Assembly’s neutrality in question, which counters part of the July 2013 agreement that called for all government bodies to remain neutral and be equally accessible to all parties.
- Moreover, opposition spokesperson Sylla announced that the international community would be asked to intervene and send mediators, while other government institutions would be used to increase pressure on the ruling party.
Syria: Opening of expatriate voting on May 28, June 3 presidential elections underline increasing stability in regime-held areas of Syria
- At the time of writing on May 28, heavy traffic has been reported in Beirut, Lebanon, resulting from the significant influx of Syrians to the city to vote in the polls. Congestion has particularly been reported in the cities southern suburbs. Lebanon presently hosts
over 1 million Syrian refugees.
- In Jordan, a heavy security presence has been reported in the vicinity of the Syrian Embassy. On May 26, Amman declared Syrian’s Ambassador to Jordan persona non grata, ordering his departure from the country within 24 hours. In response the Jordanian Charge d’Affaires was expelled from Damascus. However, Jordan has indicated that Syria will be permitted to appoint a new ambassador, and that elections would not be disrupted. Syria’s ambassador was expelled after “repeated insults to Jordan and its leadership, institutions and citizens”. Jordan presently hosts over 600,000 Syrian refugees.
- The UAE, as well as France, Germany, and Belgium have barred the elections from taking place. Over 30,000 Syrians living in the UAE registered to vote. Semi-official media sources in Syria have indicated that at least 200,000 Syrians abroad are slated to vote at 39 different embassies.
Kenya: Uptick in militant attacks underlines security forces’ inability to effectively combat militancy, fresh radicalization of Muslim youth [May 13, 2014]
A wave of bombings has taken place in Nairobi and Mombasa since the beginning of May, leaving seven people dead. The attacks are the manifestation of the growing threat of militancy in the country and underline the backlash from failed counter-militancy operations in Kenya as well as the ongoing successful military campaign of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) against al-Shabaab. Moreover, security officials warned on May 13 of fake messages circulating through text messages and social media regarding false alarms for militant attacks, which is indicative of a growing public obsession with and fear of the threat of militancy.
- On May 3, coordinated attacks occurred in Mombasa, the country’s most important port city and a locale popular among foreign tourists. The first bomb attack targeted the Reef Hotel in the Nyali area of Mombasa, leaving only property damage. The second attack was conducted by unknown militant who threw a grenade at a gathering of people at a local bus station, leaving four people dead. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
- During the evening hours of May 4, twin bomb attacks on public transportation buses in northeast Nairobi killed three people and injured at least 86. Both buses were scheduled to travel outside of the capital along the Thika Superhighway and were reportedly blown up by the use of remotely detonated explosive devices.
- On May 2, security forces engaged an estimated 30 militants, killing two, as the insurgents, armed with firearms and explosives, attempted to launch an attack on the Mandera power station in northeast Kenya . The incident occurred a day after a similar reported attack against a power station in nearby Wajir County.
- Garissa County police forces and Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) thwarted a possible attack during the afternoon hours of May 5, after detonating a grenade noticed by bystanders at the Boystown Primary School playground.
- In the aftermath of the recent attacks, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared that the ongoing security crackdown in the country carried out by security forces against al-Shabaab affiliated militants will be intensified in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Nigeria: Boko Haram continues effective insurgency in Borno State despite international intervention, emergence of local vigilantes [May 18, 2014]
“Bring Back Our Girls” protests have drawn international attention to the abduction of school girls from Chibok Government Girls’ Secondary School in Borno State by the Boko Haram Islamist militant group. The governments of the U.S., the U.K., France, China, and Israel have sent military and counterinsurgency teams to aid Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram. Despite the recent counter offensives launched in cooperation with international forces and the surfacing of local vigilante groups, the Islamic militant group continues to operate successfully in the outlying areas of Borno State by rapidly adapting its tactics. The group has effectively targeted outlying villages and gained control of crucial access points throughout the State.
On May 7, Boko Haram militants attacked Gamborou Ngala town, located on the border between Cameroon and Nigeria, in the Ngala Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State, reportedly killing 300 locals. Meanwhile, a further attack was recorded on the same day in Askira LGA where an additional 125 civilians were killed.
- Citizens of Rann town in the Kala-Balge Local government Area (LGA) in Borno State repelled a Boko Haram attack on May 13, reportedly killing 200 militants.
- On May 17, Boko Haram militants killed at least 29 civilians in a market located in Ngurosoye Village, Bama Local Government Area (LGA), 56 kilometers from Maiduguri, in the northeastern Borno State. In addition, 40 civilians were killed a result of a further attack in the village of Dalwa-Masuba in the Damboa Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State on the same day.
- According to Amnesty International, Boko Haram attacks were responsible for over 1,200 deaths in 2013. An Amnesty report issued on March 30 of this year reports that at least 1,500 have been killed in Boko Haram-related violence in the first three months of 2014 alone.
Tunisia: Unprecedented ground operation to eradicate militant strongholds in Chaambi Mountains likely to increase jihadist efforts to stage attacks
On April 21, the Tunisian Defense Ministry announced that security forces in the Chaambi Mountains were “gaining ground” against jihadists located in the region, as the military started joint operations involving both ground forces, fighter jets, and helicopters, as well as artillery and mortar shelling. According to the statement, the goal of the operations is to seize control over the entire area that fell under militant control in 2012. Such militant groups include the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, as well as Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), with AST considered the most active of the three in the country.
On April 11, the Tunisian President extended the closed military zone in Chaambi to neighboring mountains of Sammama, Salloum, and Meghila while on April 16 ground reinforcements were reportedly sent to the region. On April 21 Prime Minister Mehdi Ben Jemaa pledged to eliminate jihadist groups threatening the country while stating that security forces were “moving to the highest point of the mountains”. On May 6 during a visit in the region, President Moncef Marzouki offered amnesty for jihadists “without blood on their hands”.
On April 18 following clashes with militants and security forces in the region, an officer was killed during the explosion of a mine as he and three other soldiers were patrolling the area in a military vehicle. The Tunisian air force then carried several airstrikes on suspected militants positions in the region, while clashes were reported outside the closed military zone, near the industrial area in Kasserine on April 23.
The operation follows intermittent artillery strikes on the area on April 9-11, March 25, February 4-6 and December 31-January 1. However, following deadly clashes between Tunisian ground forces and militants in August 2013, ground operations were halted.
According to an April 28 official government statement, Tunisian anti-terrorist brigades arrested nine suspected jihadists following a security raid in Douar Hicher in the La Manouba District and in the Ettadhamen District near Tunis. According to a communique published by the Interior Ministry, the suspected jihadists were reportedly planning attacks and are linked to other wanted militants remaining at large.