Extended Middle East and Northern Africa News Composition Briefing: Regional Low Intensity Conflicts, January 15th to January 22nd – Current as of January 23rd, 2018. This week’s report covers Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, and Lebanon.
| For the latest about the Turkish military offensive, named “Operation Olive Branch,” on Kurdish controlled enclaves in Syria from Lima Charlie News check out John Sjoholm’s article, or LCN’s wire service article.
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 group 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 19th; Cairo, Egypt
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt, announced his intent to stand in the coming national presidential election in March.
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 four individuals believed to have Islamic State affiliations having been detained, the majority of which have been described as foreigners.
-January 15; Ankara, Turkey
The Ministry of Transport has announced the route of a new planned canal which would reduce shipping traffic on the busy Bosphorus Strait. The current canal has long been deemed insufficient, with 42,000 vessels passing through it in 2016. By comparison, the Suez Canal “only” saw 16,800 vessels in the same year. The new route would transform the European half of Istanbul into an island. The ministry statement also said that the canal would be 45-km (28-mile) long, 25 meters (82 feet) deep and 250-1,000 meters (825-3,300 feet) wide, and be referred to as the Kanal Istanbul project. It will link the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara west of the Bosphorus. The project is set to begin by summer, 2018. It will be part of the country’s most expensive construction project ever.
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 mans 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 displaces the mines. Al Houthi forces often use the area to launch rocket attacks against Saudi targets.
The Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) has stated that it had detected three new cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) between January 15th and January 20th.
-January 15th; al Awamiyah area, al-Qatif, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia
The Ministry of Interior confirmed that a man named Abdullah Mirza al-Qallaf was killed during a shootout with security forces. Qallaf was wanted in relation to a fatal shooting of a security officer in the al-Qatif area.
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.
-January 20th; undisclosed location near the Algerian border, Tunisia
Tunisian special forces killed Bilel Kobi, aid to one of the commanders of al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), during counter terrorism operations. Bilel was the top aide to Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, widely considered the primary leader of Okba Ibn Nafaa. Okba Ibn Nafaa is the local branch of AQIM and based out of the Semmama and Chaambi mountain ranges, which runs alongside the Tunisian-Algerian border.
-January 17th; Beirut, Lebanon
Prime Minister Saad Hariri overrode the government media censorship board’s ban to allow screenings of the movie “The Post”. The media censorship board had earlier in the week announced that it would not permit screenings of the film because it perceived it as having pro-Zionist/pro-Israeli themes in it. Other reasons listed were that the film was directed by Steven Spielberg, who is of the Jewish persuasion. Hariri stated that he overrode the ban “because he is opposed to the idea of banning movies.”
LIMA CHARLIE, MENA Desk
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