Extended Middle East and Northern Africa News Composition Briefing: Regional Low Intensity Conflicts, January 8th to January 14th – Current as of January 15th, 2018. This week’s report covers Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Jordan, and Syria.
Shia government opposition groups continue to call for nationwide protests, but have so far failed to reach a critical mass, with the majority of resulting public gatherings containing less than fifteen people. Security forces made minor arrests relating to Shia opposition groups. The government is however reporting that a noteworthy increase of Shi’a militia and government opposition violence occurred throughout 2017. This trend is expected to continue throughout 2018.
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.
Egyptian security forces continued their nationwide operations against safe houses and individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State. At least eight individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State were killed by government forces in the past week, with a further twelve having been detained.
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 resulted in at least two individuals killed, and a further four individuals detained.
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, has become a haven for emerging new militia groups, including the al Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Islam.
-January 9th, Talkha, Dakahlia Province, Egypt
Two individuals on a motorbike opened fire against a police vehicle. The two individuals escaped the scene. Reports indicate that the vehicle was unmanned at the time of the attack, and there have been no reports of injuries. The attack has been, by government sources attributed to a unidentified Muslim Brotherhood offshoot.
-January 9th, Cairo, Egypt
The former prime minister Ahmed Shafik has publically announced that he will not run for President in the upcoming national election. “I saw that I will not be the ideal person to lead the state during the coming period,” a statement posted on Shafik’s Twitter account read on January 9th.
-January 11th, Cairo, Egypt
Former military chief of staff General Sami Anan has confirmed his candidacy in the upcoming national presidential election. Sami is set to run on the Arabism Egypt Party platform. An election commission said on January 11th that Egypt would hold the vote on March 26-28, with a run-off on April 24-26. All candidates must be registered between January 20 and 29.
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 fifty five individuals believed to have Islamic State affiliations having been detained, the majority of which have been described as foreigners.
-January 10th, Ankara, Turkey
Turkey’s foreign ministry has summoned the US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Philip Kosnett, the currently highest ranking US diplomat in Ankara, to express Ankara’s “discomfort” over Washington’s support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG is the military arm of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), in the fight against the Islamic State and in the Syrian civil war.
-January 11th, Bagcilar, Istanbul, Turkey
Security forces detained two individuals with claimed affiliation with the Islamic State. The Turkish government alleges that the two individuals were each planning to carry out suicide bombing attacks against civilian targets.
-January 12th, Ankara, Turkey
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has released a statement which warns Turkish citizens from traveling to the United States. The statement says that Turkish citizens may face arbitrary arrest upon arriving to the US. “Turkish citizens traveling to the United States may be subjected to arbitrary detentions based on testimony of unrespected sources,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in the statement. The Foreign Ministry’s statement comes in light of a similar statement having been made by the US State Department, which said that US citizens risk “terrorism and arbitrary detentions” in Turkey.
-January 12th, Ankara, Turkey
Turkey reinstated more than 1,800 civil servants after having cleared them of suspicions of involvement in the failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan. The primary reason that the civil servants were detained, and suspended from public service, was their use of the ByLock messaging app. The ByLock messaging app was used, along with WhatsApp, by members of the military forces that carried out the coup d’etat attempt. Turkey outlawed ByLock in the coup aftermath.
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. There were no casualties reported this week in relations to al Houthi missile strikes.
Cross-border activities between Saudi and Yemeni militia groups continue to be an ongoing concern. The so called “no man’s land” that makes up the border between the two countries is riddled with landmines from past conflicts, which often cause collateral for patrolling border units. The positions of the landmines are largely unknown even by the organizations that placed them, as the movement of the sand often displace the mines. Al Houthi forces often use the area to launch rocket attacks against Saudi targets. Three members of the Saudi Border Guards were killed by a landmine in the Najran Province border area on January 8th.
The Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) has stated that it had detected eleven new cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) between January 7th and January 14th.
Somalia and Somaliland:
US air assets have increased its air-to-ground operations against Islamic State, and affiliated organizations operatives and hubs. AFRICOM has carried out more than twelve strikes in Somalia targeting al-Shaabab and Islamic State fighters since it initiated its new, intensified, strategy on November 3rd. Since the intensified strategy was deployed, US air assets have carried out at least sixteen attacks, resulting in an estimated one hundred and forty deaths. The latest known major strike was against the so called “Raso Camp” in the Bulobarde province, roughly 100 miles north of Mogadishu and was coordinated with the central Somali government.
The number of US military forces in Somalia has more than doubled during 2017 to over five hundred people, this according to a recently released Pentagon report. The majority of men deployed are described as special operations personnel on a mission to advise local forces in the US-supported fight against Islamic militants throughout Somalia. The men largely fall under the command of AFRICOM. The total contingent of US military personnel in Somalia is now the largest it has been since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident, where eighteen US soldiers died.
US air assets have increased its air-to-ground operations against Islamic State operatives and hubs. In the past week, US drones have carried out a series of attacks in recent months, resulting in the deaths of at least a hundred individuals. The majority of these attacks have been against targets, and individuals described as being affiliated with the Islamic State. Since January, 2017, the US has carried out more than 120 strikes against ground targets in Yemen.
A report by the United Nations Human Rights watchgroup states that the Saudi-led military coalitions air to ground assaults in Yemen killed 136 civilians and non-combatants between December 6th, 2017 and December 18th, 2017.
-January 8th, Sana’a, Sana’a Province, Yemen
The al Houthi militia group claimed to have shot down an Saudi Air Force F-15 whilst it was operating over the Yemen capital Sana’a. The Saudi air force responded in a statement saying that the plane went down due to “technical failure”, and that both aircrew were rescued. Al Houthi followed up on their claim a day later, on January 9th, by releasing a video of the airplane being downed by ground-to-air fire. The video makes it appear that the F-15 went down due to a proximity explosion which caused the plane to experience a mid-air event.
-January 5th, Tehran, Iran
The Iranian government began a “counter-protest” movement, dispatching thousands onto the streets to protest in favor of the Tehran government.
-January 6th, East China Sea, China
The Iranian oil tanker Sanchi burst into flames and sunk after having collided with the Chinese cargo ship CF Crystal. The Iranian tanker carried a crew of thirty, all of which are believed to have died in the incident. The Sanchi carried 136,000 tonnes of light crude oil from Iran, and was heading to South Korea.
-January 7th, Tehran, Iran
Reports, primarily from Saudi Arabian affiliated news sources, has emerged that the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been detained for having incited unrest. The arrest supposedly occurred in Shiraz city, and was officially in response to a public statement that the former President did earlier in the week while in Bushehr. In the statement, the former President accused the current government of “mismanaging” the country, and ignoring the wishes of the people. Ahmadinejad is affiliated with the hardliners, and stood against the reformist Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in the 2017 national election.
-January 8th, Undisclosed location, Iran
A 22-year old Iranian protester, identified as Sina Ghanbari, died in custody after having been detained for his participation in the ongoing pro-reform protests against the Tehran government. Iranian authorities have arrested 1,200 people in the past two weeks in relations to the protests. At least twenty five people have been killed during the events. Reformist parliamentarian Mahmoud Sadeghi has called for an investigation into the death of Ghanbari.
-January 12th, Washington D.C., USA
US President Donald Trump waived nuclear-related sanctions on Iran as per the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, aka “Iranian Deal”). The President indicated that this will be the last time that he intends to reaffirm the JCPOA. The reaffirmed JCPOA agreement will now stand for three months, until it needs to be either reaffirmed or sent back to Congress.
-January 8th, Zarqa, Zarqa Governorate, Jordan
Security forces have detained seventeen people believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State militia group. The detained individuals are believed to have been part of a terror cell that was planning a string of attacks on security and civilian infrastructure. Security forces reportedly also uncovered vast amount of weapons and explosives during the operation.
“At least 100,000 people have fled Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, one of the last regions controlled by rebel forces, since Bashar al-Assad’s regime began an assault on the stronghold and adjacent districts in Hama and Aleppo in November 2017.” Read more at Lima Charlie News.
According to the United Nations Human Rights watchgroup Syrian government forces and affiliated militia groups have killed at least 85 civilians since December 31st in the besieged zone of Eastern Ghouta. Among the dead civilians were 21 women and 30 children, this according to statements made by the UN human rights observer Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.
LIMA CHARLIE, MENA Desk
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