MENA News Brief: Regional Low Intensity Conflicts, April 9th to April 15th – Current as of April 16, 2018. This week’s report covers Jordan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Iraq, Somalia.
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Dozens killed in alleged chemical-weapons attack in Syria – Read John Sjoholm’s “Syria chemical weapons attack is not without skeptics.“
16th April; Amman, Jordan
Nearly 3,600 US troops, including Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU, arrived to Jordan as part of the coming two-week long joint exercise known as Eager Lion. The 11 day exercise is a yearly event. A variety of scenarios, including long-range bomber missions to maritime security operations and a ground force attack of a fictitious adversary, will occur throughout Jordan during the exercise.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, “Eager Lion focuses on increasing U.S.-Jordanian security and warfighting capabilities, allowing the two nations to better address common threats to regional security.”
— 26th MEU (@26MEU) April 16, 2018
Last year, in 2017, the Eager Lion exercise was launched from the Zarqa Jordanian military base, located near the Syrian border and roughly 100 miles from the Syrian capital of Damascus.
A staunch ally of the US, Jordan has for a long time been a reliable recruiting ground for jihadist entities. In 2017, US aid to Jordon topped $1.3 billion.
Recommended reading: “Jordan, a Middle East crossroads in crisis.“
US in MENA
-April 10th; Pentagon, Washington D.C., USA
US Defense Secretary James Mattis met with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, at the Pentagon on April 10th. The meeting was to discuss mutual security interests, and to reaffirm the strategic security partnership between the US and Qatar.
April 7th-10th; Iran
Iran suffered a nationwide cyber attack that affected over 3,500 routers and froze several computers in government affiliated data centers with the image of a US flag, and the text “Don’t mess with our elections” on their screens. “The attack apparently affected 200,000 router switches across the world in a widespread attack, including 3,500 switches in our country,” the Communication and Information Technology Ministry said in a statement released through IRNA, the government news agency. The attack was said to still be ongoing on April 10th.
Security forces have continued their nationwide crackdown on safe houses and individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State. Several raids were carried out this past week, resulting in at least 73 individuals believed to have Islamic State affiliations having been detained, the majority of which have been described as foreigners.
Security forces also continued their long-standing nationwide crackdown on safe houses and on individuals believed to be affiliated with the Kurdish political and/or militant opposition. Several raids were carried out this past week, resulting in at least 8 arrests. Along with these arrests, the security forces have also been increasing their operational tempo against members from political groups of socialist/communist leanings, which are often affiliated to some degree with Kurdish nationalist movements. The Turkish state has elected to label such groups as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) as having terrorist affiliations.
The Turkish military offensive operation “Olive Branch”, which began on January 19th, continues with varying degrees of support by Turkish civilians. The operation seeks to eradicate Kurdish controlled enclaves in Syria, and Iraq that might endanger Turkish security and stability. As of yet, ground operations have been limited to the Afrin Canton, part of the Afrin Region, in Syria, while Turkish Air Force air-to-ground strikes have been carried out across Syria, and northern Iraq.
Turkey has made good use of their affiliated and state-supported militia groups, primarily the current incarnation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The operation has so far mainly targeted the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party in Syria (PYD), its armed wing People’s Protection Units (YPG), and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) positions surrounding the Syrian city of Afrin. Officially the Turkish operation also aims at attacking the remaining fortifications and remains of the Islamic State in the region, and Turkey has carried out a modicum of air-to-ground operations to that effect.
-April 16th; Brussels, Belgium
The European Commission has warned Turkey that it is moving in the “wrong direction.” The commission intends to issue a statement in regard to its upcoming progress report on prospective EU member states. According to the report, the first excerpts of which were published Sunday in the German weekly Welt am Sonntag, Ankara has “suffered serious relapses in the areas of justice, rule of law, fundamental rights and freedom of expression.” The commission concluded in its statement that Turkey’s hopes for joining the European Union is at an all-time low.
Egyptian security forces continued their nationwide operations against safe houses and individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State. At least 5 individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State were killed by government forces in the past week, with a further 3 having been detained. The Egyptian armed forces counter-Islamic State operations have primarily been focused in the Libyan border region and the Northern Sinai Peninsula, and had varying degrees of success.
Security forces continue their operations against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and associated organizations, throughout the country. In the past week several raids have been conducted against believed safe houses and individuals with alleged MB affiliations. According to reports, the raids have resulted in at least 3 individuals arrested.
Security operations continue along the Egyptian-Libyan border area with the Egyptian Air Force striking Salafist-Jihadist groups convoys crossing from Libya to Egypt. The border land, on the Libyan side, have become a haven for emerging new militia groups, including the al Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Islam.
Violence against Egyptian Coptic Christians has seen yet another nationwide surge in recent months. While the government has attempted to curtail the violence, and has had fair success in preventing large scale attacks, attacks against Christians in their homes and on the streets continue to be on the rise. In light of this, the recent Easter holidays, and the recent Egyptian election, security forces have been on high alert against terror attacks throughout the country. Churches and government installations have received additional security personnel stationed to them, and the presence of military Quick Response Forces (QRF) has been increased at the major hubs.
-April 9th; Cairo, Egypt
Egypt’s Minister of Transport, Hesham Arafat, announced a 55 billion EGP (~3.1 billion USD) investment to renovate the national railway network. The investment in to infrastructure, stations, and train carriages will begin on July 1st, 2018, and continue until 2022. The ministry has signed deals to purchase 100 new tractors from US company General Electric, and renovate a further 100 of their existing tractors. The ministry is also seeking to sign purchase orders for over 1,300 passenger train carriages in the coming months. Minister Arafat said that the changes will begin being noticeable by early 2019.
The large investment into the nation’s ailing train infrastructure comes as part of the recently announced construction of a new high-speed railway to link the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Additionally, Egypt plans to construct an electric train connecting Cairo and the new Administrative Capital with construction to be completed by 2020.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)
The Shi’a al Houthi militia in Yemen continue to send ballistic missiles aimed at population centers in Saudi Arabia. The majority of incoming missiles are reportedly shot down by the Saudi surface-to-air system (SAM), operated by the Royal Saudi Air Defense forces, which consists primarily of a series of US provided MIM-104 Patriot systems. The al Houthi tend to utilize variations of Soviet-era designed ballistic missile systems. One such example is the Qaher-1 missile, which is an improved variation of the Soviet SA-2 short to medium range ballistic missile design. One civilian was reported injured this week due to al Houthi shelling.
-April 9th; Riyadh, KSA
Saudi Arabia announced plans to dig a 60 kilometer (37.5 mile) canal, measuring 200 meters wide and up to 20 meters deep, along the entire length of the Saudi-Qatar border. The project i set to cost 2.8 billion riyal ($750 million), and is awaiting licensing, with construction expected to be completed within 12 months of approval. If enacted, the plan would turn the peninsula of Qatar into an island. The stated intent with the plan is to create a large border military base, and nuclear dumping site.
-April 12th; Madrid, Spain
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Madrid on his first official visit to Spain. This stop will be the last announced stop on the crown prince’s world tour of allies. During the visit, the crown prince met with Spanish defense minister Maria Dolores Cospedal. Five memorandums of mutual cooperation in the areas of culture, science, employment, air transport and defense were signed between the two countries during the visit.
Various Shi’a affiliated militia movements continue to claim to have carried out various attacks against Bahraini security forces and installations. Few of these attacks ever receive an official confirmation from the Bahrain government. This week a handful of alleged attacks were claimed to have been carried out by a wide array of groups, including the Iran/Hezbollah affiliated Popular Resistance Brigades (Saraya al-Muqawama al-Shabiya) group.
Bahrain is quickly finding itself on the forefront of the increasingly active low intensity conflict between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Iran. Several incidents, particularly a recent surge in Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks, in the past few months have been attributed to Shi’a militia organizations that allegedly have direct or indirect ties to Iran.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
-April 14th; Sharjah, UAE
Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah announced a pay raise of 10% for non-Emirati employees of the Sharjah state. 600 million UAE Dirhams have been allocated to increase the salaries, which will occur retroactively from January 1st, 2018.
April 13th; the village of Asdira, south of Sharqat, northern Iraq
At least 25 people were killed and 18 injured in two Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks on a funeral for 5 Iraqi militants who had died fighting Islamic State militants. The IEDs exploded as the funeral procession entered the cemetery. The village of Asdira is a Sunni village that remains one of the last enclaves of the Islamic State. The funeral was held for 5 members of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary militia which is allied with the central Baghdad government against the Islamic State. The attack was the deadliest attack in Iraq since a January 16 double suicide bombing in Baghdad which claimed 31 lives.
April 13th; Barawe, lower Shabella region, southern Somalia
An explosion killed 5 spectators at a soccer game. The Jihadist militant group al Shabaab is suspected to be behind the attack, but has not yet claimed responsibility for the incident.
LIMA CHARLIE, MENA Desk
Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.
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