Conflicts and wars of crisis zones 2015/2016 (1)

2016-08-01
Author: János Isaszegi

 

Maj Gen (Ret.)  János Isaszegi: Conflicts and wars of crisis zones 2015/2016 (1)[1]

 

A summary of the events of 2015, and an analytic forecast for 2016 and the subsequent period of time

 

INTRODUCTION

 

In 2015 the events presenting major threats to global or regional security included:

-         Bloody events in nearly all Middle East countries, long-lasting wars in several states, the controversial Arab Spring with its consequences endangering Europe as well through a large-scale refugee crisis, and prolonged crisis-management stemming from conflicting great power interests;

-         The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, escalating from a regional power rivalry into bloody wars (of course, blood is not shed in the two large countries but in other Middle East states, such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, or Yemen);

-         In Asia, the Afghanistan security situation is still brewing and has no prospects of being settled, inside fighting in neighbouring Pakistan is going on, a renewed conflict in the South China Sea, and North Korea, surprising the world with detonating its experimental H-bomb;

-         The ongoing Ukrainian-Russian armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine (with the involvement of foreign mercenaries, “Ukrainianised” since 5th November 2015);[2]

-         Repeated actions of African terrorist organisations and other extremist factions, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria,[3] al-Shabaab in Somalia,[4] the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda,[5] the AQIM (al-Qaeda in Maghreb[6]) in Northwest Africa, several of which were sworn in to the leader of Jihadist terrorist organisation Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Caliph;

-         Analysing the increasing risks and challenges, in the case of Africa it should be highlighted that the continent (whose 90% was under colonial rule in 1900, where the rate of cultivated lands is only 6% although Africa has 25% of the World’s hydropower) has a rapidly increasing population from the present 1 billion to 1.5 billion, unstable governments, significant corruption, high unemployment rate, and hundreds of millions stricken by starvation. These factors clearly explicate the terribly high number – up to 120 million – of demographic and environmental (climatic) migrants arriving from Africa;

-         The well organised and horribly uncontrollable wave of refugees and migrants, unhindered even by the cold winter, which threatens the security of the region and entire Europe due to the weakness of Europe and of the European Union. Meanwhile, the United States, watching the decline of its economic rival, Turkey, striving for EU-membership and not refraining even from blackmail, Russia, exploiting the Syria operations for demonstrating its might, and of course, China, waiting for the right moment to gain economic advantages, all benefit from the refugee crisis;

-         In the southern neighbourhood of Hungary fairly unstable Bosnia and Herzegovina with its three ethnic groups, Kosovo, supported by the EU, yet struggling with hard internal issues, the challenges posed by the refugee crisis affecting the entire Western Balkans, the increasingly active Islamic State in the Balkans with its recruitment activities – creating a situation worrying Hungary as well. This is why – first time since 1989 – the preparation for country defence missions and practicing both in domestic and allied frameworks have grown paramount and since 2015 they have been a priority (The troops of the Hungarian Defence Forces took part in more than 70 such exercises).

 

Wars, violent acts, and terrorist attacks hit many parts of the World in 2015, which are not discussed in details in the present study due to limitations of space and because they have little effect on Hungary. Here are some of the “more remote” conflicts:

-         the so called war over water, waged among post-Soviet republics in Central Asia (e.g. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan);

-         the conflict, often referred to by the media as the Third Sudan Civil War, between Sudan and South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011;

-         the guerrilla war in Columbia, which has been waged for more than 50 years between radical leftist guerrillas and the government forces and causing the death of over 200,000 people. A decision made by the leaders of Saudi Arabia in 2015 on the recruitment of seasoned Columbian soldiers by the American Blackwater company, well known for its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan;

-         a more than 45-year-long armed conflict between an Islamist rebel movement and the government forces on the Philippines, taking the lives of nearly 150,000 people.

 

In 2016 none of the above detailed hotspots of the conflict-stricken regions, affecting Europe closely and dramatically, can be expected to calm down. Regardless of the frequently cited agreements signed in Geneva, Vienna, Washington, London, Riyadh, or Minsk the interests of the warring parties are so very different that the option of a rapid settlement of the conflicts, with a chance for lasting peace can be completely excluded. This is particularly true for the Middle East, where Israel’s problems ranging from the knife-attackers to the increasing Hezbollah presence in Syria, to the issue of an independent Palestine recognised by more and more countries (plus the Vatican and the UN General Assembly) may not decrease in 2016. Although there has been an international agreement among the great powers and Iran, that cannot be regarded as a deconflicting factor for Israel.

 

This also refers to Ukraine, where the social tensions generated by subsistence troubles were further increased by the decision of the Ukrainian Government to purchase military equipment from the United States of America with the IMF loan, which is a huge burden for the future of the country. The problems of Africa generated by climate change and growing desertification are expected to increase and there is no sign of a real intervention of the great powers in order to eliminate the root causes of the conflicts there. The crisis management, such as EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia launched by the EU in order to block the naval routes of miserable migrants, stuck at treating the symptoms instead of promoting a more liveable way of life for them in Africa.

 

The MENA[7] region also remains in the focal point, including Libya, where two governments and two parliaments contested for power in 2015. Thus, with the armed intervention of the Islamic State, practically three military forces clashed for the control of the coast and other oil-rich territories. Although a statement on the establishment of the unity government was issued by the nine-member Libyan presidential body headquartered in Tunis (!) on 19th January 2016, its details are widely debated even by the rivalling Libyan parties, not to mention the Jihadist organisation. It may not be by accident that there is more and more talk about the next military intervention and peace-making mission of the great powers, with regard to Libya. The only problem is that there are quite many unfinished missions older than a decade, burdening the international community, and it is not clear who has sufficient resources to get involved in a conflict – with any chances to win.

 

Cold War conflicts among great powers seem to continue, just like proxy (or client) wars[8], which is particularly true for Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

 

After this retrospective and forecasting summary let us examine the security policy situation of some increasingly important regions, crisis-stricken countries and regions, analyse crises and/or wars.

 

 

AFGHANISTAN

 

The year of the withdrawal of UN-mandated and NATO-led ISAF troops[9] from Afghanistan – equally full of many-many hoped for and unexpected events – is over. During the period of time after 31st December 2014 the ANSF[10] were tested (their new name is ANDSF[11]) and so was tested the national force responsible for the national sovereignty of Afghanistan, for the central, provincial, and local governments in Afghanistan, and for the Afghan independence itself. In the past few years the stakes were very high in Afghanistan and not only with regard to the country but also to the region, and in the global sense of the word. What did 2015 bring to the lives of the Afghans, who and what can they rely on in 2016, and what can they hope for in the following years?

 

As it had been expected, in the last quarter of 2014 Ashraf Ghani, the new Afghan President, took his office and in the very last moment he signed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States of America.

 

The UN-mandated and NATO-led ISAF completed its mission in Afghanistan on 31st December 2014, then on 1st January 2015 another NATO mission – with a different designation though – codenamed Resolute Support, was launched. One of its pre-conditions was – apart from signing the above mentioned American-Afghan agreement – to have an agreement on the legal status of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, that is the signing of the NATO SOFA,[12] by the new Afghan political leadership. As it is well-known, after the BSA was signed, the security agreement between NATO Afghanistan was also signed.

 

The death of Mullah Omar in 2013 (kept in secret for a long time though) followed by the death of his successor Mullah Mansur in 2015 triggered an internal rivalry among the leaders of the Taliban and the previously suppressed tribal leaders. It is a well-known fact that Mullah Mansur was killed not by the American-led international coalition or the NATO forces but during a meeting with Taliban leaders, when a debate with an internal rival for power escalated into an open conflict resulting in the death of the still new leader of the Taliban.

 

The situation of the Al Qaeda is not any better: Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor of Osama bin Laden as leader of the terrorist organisation, was unable to unite the “Base” (the English for the word “Al Qaeda”), they did not carry out any spectacular actions, did not even pose any significant threats. In the past period of time, the will of the leader was not clear, it was impossible to enforce, moreover, the organisation is getting increasingly marginalised while the terrorist organisation Islamic State, almost despised by the Taliban before, is more and more present and visible in Afghanistan, particularly in the eastern part of the country. It is no accident that the Afghan Government initiated negotiations with the Taliban on the basis of the principle: “the enemy of my enemy is my ally” – temporarily.

 

The most important precondition of the withdrawal of the NATO-led ISAF, completed on 31st December 2014, was a successful transfer of responsibilities for maintaining security from the international community to the Afghan security forces. In December 2014 this transfer process was forced to stop as for more than a year the new NATO Resolute Support Mission (NRSM) has been carrying out its activities in Afghanistan, however, with strength and equipment insufficient for executing a complex military operation. The objective of the UN-mandated and NATO-led mission is to ensure the proper training and further training of Afghan troops, and law enforcement forces.

 

No doubt, of course, that the United States of America – on the basis of the security agreement with the Afghan leadership, signed in late 2014 – continues counterterrorist operations in Afghanistan (the so called Kill or Capture Ops[13], conducted by the US Special Forces and the CIA) but according to information from the region the American leadership did not sign or make any promise to provide assistance to Afghanistan if it was attacked from Pakistan or any other country.

 

General Joe Dunford, who served as Commander-in-Chief of ISAF in 2013 and has been top leader of the American military, the CJCS[14] since 1st October 2015, tries to maintain the maximum of the allowed “appropriate strength and capability” in Afghanistan due to the clear presence and actions of Jihadist organisation Islamic State and its collaborators, and doe to the war waged against them. For the American military contingent the declaration of President Obama in December 2015 was an important event, as it stated that the American troops in Afghanistan were also issued the policy shoot to kill in order to eliminate the fighters and supporters (!) of the Islamic State in the country.

 

When assessing the security policy situation, in the case of each country, including Afghanistan, it is particularly important to take into consideration that affairs in the neighbouring states may significantly influence the events in that particular country.

 

In the case of Afghanistan the occurrences in Pakistan (and the affairs in Persian Iran) are determining, because in 2015:

-         regular attacks were carried out against the members of the Afghan government, the Afghan Security Forces and the NRSM, starting from the semiautonomous tribal areas (FATA[15]) near the Afghan-Pakistani border;

-         the Tehrik-i-Taliban Group, Talibans in Pakistan fighting for the introduction of the Sharia, Islamic law, fought for the overthrow of the central government too (although in several factions due to power struggles inside the group), and for the establishment of a hardliner, fundamentalist Islamic state;

-         a terrorist attack was carried out in Charsadda, 50 kilometres from Peshawar: Islamist extremists, terrorists broke in the Bacha Khan University, blew up explosive charges, then went in classrooms and killed students and teachers there. Firefight broke out between the terrorists and the security staff of the university campus but the extremists continued the rampage until the Pakistani army units’ arrival and got into firefight with the state security forces too. In the police action with the involvement of the snipers and helicopters of the Pakistani army four terrorists were killed while the extremists killed 21 people and the number of wounded was over 50 (note: this attack reminds everybody of the most serious terrorist attack in the history of Pakistan since 1947, when in a Peshawar military school 134 students were killed by armed Taliban terrorists.)

-         the Pakistan Talibans were some role models for their counterparts in Afghanistan, who want to achieve similar positions for negotiating after the presidential elections in spring 214, then the autumn inauguration, and the ISAF withdrawal on 31st December 2014 like their Pakistan comrades.

 

IRAN

What changes has the activities of the new and more moderate Iranian leadership brought along for the country and the World since it came to power in 2014? What dual role does Iran play in its actions against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq? What can Iran and the crisis-stricken World gain from the Geneva agreement of great powers on the nuclear issues of the Persian state, entering into force in January 2016? Which tendencies may intensify?

 

The series of air strikes and the following land war promised by the United States of America and Israel against Iran with 545,000 active service and 650,000 reserve troops, 1,030 combat aircraft, and nearly 2,000 main battle tanks would have been useful only for defence industry and companies trading in military equipment. Most security policy experts focused on the real objective of an attack against Iran: gaining control of the natural resources of the region, or decreasing the great-power role of Iran, for the sake of Saudi Arabia?

 

What can be the consequences of an attack against Iran: a limited and manageable clash, or a global escalation of the conflict? What can be the responses: blocking the Strait of Hormuz, where 24 tankers with 17.5 million barrels of oil pass daily? 2015 saw the analysis of such questions – which were a little dwarfed by the escalation of the events relating to the Islamic State Jihadist terrorist organisation in Syria and Iraq – but the possible outbreak of a war against Iran cannot be completely excluded for several reasons.

 

As it is well known, in June 2013 new Iranian president Rouhani was inaugurated. His speech delivered at the UN General Assembly in New York lacked all the threats and the use of aggressive rhetoric so very typical for the previous president of Iran. This style, way of thinking, and the actions underpinning them continued in 2015. The agreement on the joint settlement of the Iranian nuclear case, signed by Iran, Germany, and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in Geneva on 24th November 2013, and the freezing of certain chapters of the Iranian nuclear program – such as the uranium enrichment for a set period of time – promoted regional stability in 2015 as well.

 

The region of the Strait of Hormuz was one of the locations of serious conflicts between Iran and the great powers in 2015 too: one third of the crude oil produced in the World is transported across the Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and Oman. It was no accident that similarly to the previous years, fleet demonstrations were conducted in the region in 2015. Under the leadership of the United States of America the naval forces of the western countries patrolled the area. Iran did not wish to lag behind in the demonstration of power and in 2015 it conducted a joint military exercise with the involvement of its naval units and those of friendly Pakistan (including submarines) in the eastern part of the Strait of Hormuz, near the port of Iran’s Bandar Abbas on the Persian (Arab) Gulf.

 

Iran, as the supporter of the Shiite Government of Iraq, takes part in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq, plus it provides maximum support to the Hezbollah and the Shiite Houthi insurgents in Yemen.

 

Another important point in the events is that in the intelligence centre established in Baghdad besides Russian, Syrian, and Iraqi experts Iranian specialists are also present. After the nuclear deal the Persian State seems to be advocating peace in the region but the fact remains that its great power ambitions make Iran confront Sunni great power Saudi Arabia, and the eternal conflict with Israel does not cease to exist for one moment.

 

IRAQ

How was 2015 for the Iraqi government forces in the war against the Islamic State? Why was the Mosul offensive cancelled? What role did the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters play in the defence of Northern Iraq against the Jihadist terrorist organisation? Who could they rely on and who could they fear of? What were the achievements of the international coalition force CJTF-OIR commanded by Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland in 2015? What strategic missions will they have to accomplish in the war against the Islamic State in 2016?

 

2015 brought only partial successes for the US-led coalition forces in Iraq in the war against the Jihadist terrorist organisation called Islamic State. In 2014 the Islamic State held some 35% of Iraq’s territory under its control, including the most important oil fields and refineries, providing its necessary financial support. In 2015 the Islamic State had the previously occupied territories under control with various levels of success, but it managed to keep Mosul, the second largest city of Iraq, (and the Iraqi capital of the Islamic State) under its control, while it managed to maintain different positions in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in Sunni territories.

 

In 2015, upon the initiative of the American and Iraqi governments – on the basis of the latter’s request – and in accordance with the relevant resolution of the Hungarian National Assembly Hungary also joined the US-led counterterrorist coalition forces established against Islamic State. In the framework of the US-led Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) the nearly 130-strong Hungarian military contingent, including those assigned to staff positions, trains the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters at a training base near Erbil (Irbil) in Northern Iraq.

 

By late 2015 the Islamic State had lost large territories in Iraq (and Syria) under its rule, partly thanks to the advance of the Iraqi armed forces but mainly because of the offensive of the Iran-supported Shiite units and the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters supported by the US Air Force.

 

However, the warring parties were equally affected by the international oil crisis and this time it was not the increase of the international oil price: because of the fall of the oil prices in the international market not just the income of the Islamic State but the financial background of the Kurds also weakened. This is why in 2015 the Kurds in Northern Iraq requested the United States of America to contribute to the costs of war through covering the pay of Peshmerga fighters (the precedent was the pay of the Iraqi soldiers during my Iraqi mission in 2003-04), and to cover the expenses of supporting the nearly 2 million refugees in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, thus contributing to the successful actions against the Islamic State in Iraq. In 2016 the need for further funding may continue as the oil prices in the world market are still at record low and the coalition forces still badly need the participation of Kurdish Peshmergas in the war against the Islamic State. This is why – in spite of the approaching presidential elections – the United States of America may be continuing the financial support of the Kurds, which costs around USD 1.5 billion a year.[16]

 

Unfortunately, in the framework of the American presidential election campaign, which accelerated in February 2016, and the media events involving theatre commanders and organised by the Pentagon, the candidates also touched upon the issue of the efficiency of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq. If only they have not done that ... The public statements and propositions – such as carpet bombing of the settlements under the rule of the Islamic State – were made immediately accessible through the broadcast of CNN and only added fuel to the fire because that would have meant the indiscriminate killing of the civil population in the affected areas. It is not by accident that in his (exemplary) statement on 2nd February 2016 General Sean MacFarland[17], Commander-in-Chief of the American and coalition forces in Iraq highlighted that “Indiscriminate bombing (...) is just inconsistent with our values, (...) We are bound by the laws of armed conflict.”[18]

 

The fact remains that in Iraq the Shiite Head of Government and his staff need to be more sensitive towards the fate of the Sunni part of the population in their country, as his predecessors seriously neglected that in the past 10 years. The US-led coalition of 28 nations tries to efficiently assist the Iraqi armed forces overcome their weaknesses, however, the corruption, which is still significant in the country, and the conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis and between Arabs and Kurds do not facilitate these efforts.

 

By late January 2016 the number of air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had reached 10 thousand since August 2014 and September 2014, respectively (2/3 in Iraq). Thanks also to the airstrikes, in 2015 the Islamist forces could be prevented from invading Baghdad, and the Islamic State was denied the complete control over Iraq. Although the forces of the Islamic State took Ramadi (and Palmyra in Syria) in the summer of 2015 the Jihadist organisation was unable to occupy new territories. If add to this situation the launch of the Russian air strikes in Syria in September 2015 – resulting inter alia in the destruction of 6,000 of the 8,500 tankers of the Islamic State, which was a serious blow at the income options of the terrorist organisation – it can be clearly seen that the international forces made great progress in the destabilisation of the rear areas of the Islamic State. In the past 6 months the coalition forces completed the training of 17,500 Iraqi soldiers and that of 2,000 Iraqi police officers and in the spring of 2016 the training of another 3,000 soldiers and police officers is expected. In all – realistically assessing the capabilities, opportunities, and reserves of the actual enemy – it can be forecast that the liberation of Mosul (also known as the Iraqi capital of the Islamic State) and Raqqua (the IS capital in Syria), the two big cities with strategic significance, can be expected as a result of the military operations planned for late 2016 of more likely for 2017, instead of the irresponsible statements on offensives heralded for the spring of 2015.

 

SYRIA

How to evaluate the 2015 events in Syria, with special regard to the counterterrorist operations and actions against the Islamic State conducted by the US-led coalition forces in Iraq then in Syria since June 2014? What changes took place after Russia’s entering in the multifactor war in Syria in the autumn of 2015? What role did Israel play through its involuntary assistance to the Syrian opposition by its Damascus actions? What national interests did Turkey enforce against the Kurds in Syria (and of course in Iraq) and what were its strategic benefits from the huge “Syrian” migration wave and the European and EU incompetence?

 

In order to understand and clearly evaluate the chaotic 2015 events in Syria – which are hard to follow and interpret, as indicated by the Turkish downing of a combat aircraft of Russia involved as a coalition partner in fighting the Islamic State – a brief historical overview of the civil-war torn country, the Middle East region, and the relations of great powers is necessary.

 

The Syrian Arab Republic (al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-Sūrīyah) is a Muslim Arab state with significant Christian religious, and Kurdish, Armenian, Turkmen, and Assyrian ethnic minorities. After 1920 the country was under French Mandate, and in 1946 the independent Syrian Arab state was established. In 1970 Alawite Hafez al-Assad (previous minister of defence), the father of the current President of Syria, declared an “improvement movement”. Between 1972 and 1977 Syria, Egypt, and Libya constituted the Federation of Arab Republics. In 1973 Syria, on the side of Egypt, participated in the  Yom Kippur “liberation” war. Between 1976 and 2005 Syria stationed troops in Lebanon at civil war. In 1982 President Hafez al-Assad suppressed the uprising against his rule. In 1991, as an ally of the United States of America, the country participated in the first Gulf War against Iraq. In 2000, after the death of President Hafez al-Assad, his younger son (whose brother was killed in a suspicious accident) came to power. Bashar al-Assad obtained his medical degree in London and married Asma a London-born Sunni lady, nicknamed “Desert Rose” by the British. The Syrian armed forces are conscription based with 300,000 active duty personnel and 350,000 reservists (with 30-month mobilisation period). The most important procurements of the Syrian forces in the past 10 years include the Russian-made 3K55 Bastion (SSC-5 Stooge) coastal missile system (in the Syrian port of Tartus there is a Russian naval base), and Kvant 1L222 Avtobaza radar system, capable of taking over the guidance of unmanned aerial vehicles as it has already been proven in Iran.

 

Besides the civil war and the bloody conflict with the Islamic State since 2014, Syria is also involved in a religious conflict, fuelled by the interests of great powers, between the Sunni bloc of Islam (supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, with the backing of the United States of America) and the Shiite bloc (supported by Persian Iran, the southern part of Arab Iraq, the western part of Syria, and Lebanon [the so called Shia Crescent] – backed by Russia). The conflict involves more than 100 extremist militias, fighters of terrorist organisations, hundreds of thousands of victims, millions of refugees, and opposition forces also fighting each other.

 

Back in June 2013 President Barack Obama authorised the CIA to provide training and armament for the Syrian anti-government forces, after the Lebanon Shiite organisation of Hezbollah joined the Syrian civil war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.

 

By 2015 it had been clear for the US Administration that the majority of the anti-government forces armed by the United States of America are practically terrorist organisations maintaining close relations with the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or even with the Islamic State. This realisation shocked the American Administration and its allies fairly much and the inefficiency generated by the seriously mistaken judgement resulted in the United States of America’s “permission” or even request to Russia to participate in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.

 

In the summer of 2015 the United States of America and its allies did not really contemplate that in the case of such a request Russia would not consider the Islamic State as its top target in Syria but focus on the destruction of the opposition groups presenting a threat to the re-establishment of the Syrian Government headed by President Bashar al-Assad, the most important ally of the Russians in the region. The information published on the air strikes indicate that the combat missions of the Russian Air Force are targeting the opposition of President Assad and the Syrian bases of the Islamic State at a ratio 10:2. Ironically, a most unusual move happened on 24th November 2015, when in Syrian airspace a Turkish Air Force fighter plane shot down a Su-24 fighter-bomber of Russia, which is member of the same coalition against the Islamic State. The extremely critical Turkish-Russian relations were further deteriorated by the fact that Turkish guerrillas were also involved in terrorist acts in Russia in the past two decades, moreover, one of them, the leader of the right-wing extremist group Grey Wolves (Allarslan Celik) took responsibility for the organisation of the explosion on the Russian airliner which crashed in the Sinai Peninsula on 31st October 2015, and for shooting dead the ejected pilot of the downed Russian Su-24.

 

The chances of success of the umpteenth Syrian conference held again in Geneva in February 2016 (the previous one was organised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, by the United States of America, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia in the winter of 2015, with the participation of only Sunni groups and without the representatives of President Assad) offered little progress. One significant step forward was the fact that the Syrian anti-government force did not set any pre-conditions with regard to the presence of the representatives of the Syrian government at the conference.

 

Meanwhile the NATO/Turkey-Russia debate about another airspace violation goes on: in a statement of 30th January 2016 Turkey repeatedly accused Russia of penetrating Turkish airspace from Syria by its fighter-bomber. Of course, the Russian Ministry of Defence – similarly to the fatal downing of the Russian plane on 24th November 2015 – immediately denied the information about the violation of Turkish (and NATO) airspace. But the situation is tense: near the Syrian town of Latakia the Russian military established an S-400 surface-to-air missile system (SA-21 Growler) and a Turkish (that is NATO) aircraft countering Russian planes within the range of the SAM system may immediately turn into a legal target triggering a military conflict or even a limited war between NATO and Russia, which could have unforeseeable consequences.

 

NORTH- AND CENTRAL AFRICA

How can the 2015 processes in Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Congo, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic be characterised? Can anything certain be forecast in these countries? What are the main risk factors in Africa in 2016 and the following years, with special regard to the arrival of the Islamic State in Libya and the thousands and millions of migrants leaving the continent?

 

6-7 million years ago human evolution began in Africa. By now, however, the living conditions of the majority of the population of over 1 billion on the continent, exploited for centuries then re-colonised, had grown unacceptable and impossible by now.

 

Africa, with its 54 independent states, four so called dependent territories, two unrecognised de facto states, and with a territory of uncertain status, is characterised by real political diversity. The second most populated and third largest continent of the World is extremely rich in rivers and lakes but the living conditions are deteriorated by the fact that the proportion of the cultivated lands comprises only 6% (!), and the methodology of farming and stock-raising has not changed much for centuries. Half of the continent’s population lives on less than USD 1 a day. Africa is rich in mineral resources, however, both its heavy industry based on processing minerals, and the transportation infrastructure are underdeveloped.

 

In 2015 poverty, corruption, unemployment, and the number of bloody terrorist acts increased. There is a huge lack of education on the continent. Since 1990 one third of the 40 UN-initiated peace support missions have been conducted in Africa, alas with moderate successes.

 

In 2015 other factors hindering efficient conflict management in Africa included the slow response of the UNSC, the increasingly brutal local conflicts, the indifference or conflict of interests of the countries of the international community, and serious logistic challenges. These were coupled with infamous acts of the blue helmets, such as the information aired in the summer of 2015 on sexual crimes committed by the peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.

 

Where has all the overwhelming optimism of the 2011 Arab Spring gone, relating to the changes in the fate of the populations in the North African and Middle East states? All that could be seen and recognised even at that time was that neither the leaders of the affected countries, then in opposition, nor the great powers supporting the change of political power prepared an “End-state Strategy”[19] for the period of time after the dictators and their supporters were toppled.

 

This refers to Libya, freed from Kadhafi, divided, and ungoverned, Yemen, liberated from President Salekh, which turned into an Al Qaeda headquarters (where the Saudi Arabia-led Sunni coalition conducted brutal air strikes and ground operations in 2015, occasionally unwillingly cooperating with the Al Qaeda organisations operating in the Arabian Peninsula against the Shiite Houthi rebels fighting against Yemen government forces), or Egypt governed by the Muslim Brotherhood after the removal of President Mubarak, where in a short while President Mursi could also experience his removal, arrest, and gloomy trial. Egypt saw a historical restructuring in 2013 but that did not help the government, busy with fighting the increasingly active extremists, with resolving the problems of growing unemployment and the country is still in crisis. Events like the destruction of the airliner carrying Russian tourists home from a famous Egyptian resort town in October 2015 cut back the number of holidaymakers visiting the country, even though tourism is one of the major sources of income of Egypt.

 

In Mali (where 2012 saw Tuareg actions, plans to introduce Sharia, a military coup d’état, followed by the implementation of the relevant UNSC Resolution, then in 2013 the French intervention forces carried out their three-week-long blitz combined with air strikes, ground operations, and further air strikes) the government needed significant foreign assistance for successfully combating the extremists in 2015 too. Since 2013 the European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) has been conducted in the country.

 

In connection with the crisis in Somalia the new London conference also failed to bring a breakthrough. Terrorist organisation al-Shabaab, active in the Horn of Africa, placidly loots aid supplies to the refugee camps in the region in 2015. The European Union Training Mission in Somalia (EUTM Somalia) – which operated in Uganda because of security considerations between 2010 and 2013 – assisted with the training of a significant strength of Somali security forces, although they did not prove very efficient in the struggle against al-Shabaab, which swore loyalty to the Islamic State in 2015. On the other hand, in 2015 there was some progress achieved in countering pirates off the coasts of Somalia, thanks to the naval operations of the EU and NATO, and to the more precise operational authorisation. This and the objective to halt the uncontrolled wave of migrants across the Mediterranean may have motivated the EU to divide its naval forces and establish a task force for participation in EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia.

 

However, the international community failed to make any progress in the fight against the terrorist organisations active in the continent for long time, even for decades, responsible for bloody terrorist acts committed more and more frequently in Africa. These organisations are:

-         the mentioned al-Shabaab (the „Young”) in the Horn of Africa;

-         the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda active in Uganda’s neighbourhood, led by Joseph Kony;

-         Boko Haram, murdering civilians in Nigeria;

-         AQIM (Al Qaeda In Maghreb) active in the Maghreb region.

 

The root causes of the bloody conflicts all over Africa are mostly struggles for living space and the risk factors below will remain in 2016 too:

-         disputes escalating into bloody clashes, relating to the use of pastures, the continuous desertification and limited life space;

-         increasingly frequent clashes among peoples involved in traditional farming and animal raising;

-         issues of water sharing, e.g. of Blue Nile, decrease of drinking water (see: poor state of the Chad Lake Basin in 2015);

-         growing poverty, terrible living conditions;

-         frequent epidemics, and crises.

 

These factors may be added corrupt governance which are typical for most African countries, endless epidemics, illegal trafficking in humans, human organs, weapons, drug, medicine, and food in 2016 too.

 

THE BALKANS

What did the conflicts erupted all over the Balkans in 2015 indicate? How can the current situation be described? Can any change be expected in 2016? What role will the Hungarian Defence Forces play in enforcing Hungary’s interests in the Balkans?

 

In 2015 the security policy qualification of the Balkans was influenced by factors like the delayed extension of the Schengen area to Romania and Bulgaria[20], new incidents in Kosovo, troubles in the governance of still un-unified Bosnia and Herzegovina, decreasing capital investments and large number of aborted investments in the region, China’s gaining ground as an investor in the region, and the multiplication of the number of refugees moving westward at the region’s borders.

 

In 2015 Hungary played a determining role in the EU-led Operation Althea and our added value in Bosnia and Herzegovina is expected to increase – due to the migrant crisis – in 2016. Regardless of the fact that according to analyses of international surveys the majority of the population believes (or wants to believe) in the peaceful coexistence of Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks there are doubts about its feasibility. Analysing the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the causes of the conflicts there it can be stated that without international supervision, the still necessary international financial and economic support the country may relatively quickly fall back into the period of violent conflicts, crises, and the ethnic clashes with.

 

The 17th rotation of the HDF EUFOR contingent returned from Sarajevo in January 2016. At the homecoming ceremony in Szentes the Commander of the Land Forces of the Joint Force Command of the Hungarian Defence Forces spoke about the peace or the renewing crisis of the region closely affecting Hungary: “From Hungary’s aspect the safeguarding of the peace in the Balkans is top priority. We must support peace in the region and for the sake of the defence of our country we must possess up-to-date information on the events there. The World changed a lot during your service there. Besides the existing ethnic tensions the unprecedented wave of migrants present an unexpected security challenge for our neighbours, our country, and also for Europe. Just during the service of this contingent returning home a terrorist attack in Paris took place in which the murderers used weapons smuggled from Bosnia and Herzegovina. During your service there a religious fanatic killed a Serbian and a Bosnian soldier, and it is also proven that extremist Islamist elements have also appeared in the region ...”[21] – said Brigadier General Gábor Böröndi, highlighting the significance of safeguarding the peace in the Balkans.

 

At the same time, for the Bosnia and Herzegovina EUFOR mission, as for every mission, the time will come to reduce the forces or divide them into those in the area of operations and others outside that, and partly into reserve forces for the unified Balkans theatre.

 

For the Hungarian Defence Forces this may mean keeping a readiness company and certain special capabilities (e.g. an EOD team) in the area of operations and in various reserve forces out of the area of operations (in the Operational Reserve Forces (ORF), in the Intermediate Reserve Forces (IRF), and in the NATO KFOR Tactical Reserve (KFOR TACRES), or perhaps in the NATO Strategic Reserve Forces (NATO SRF)).

 

The Hungarian Defence Forces have been involved in the UN-mandated and NATO-led KFOR in Kosovo since 1999. We conducted stabilisation operations aimed at preventing the escalation of conflicts between opposing parties in 2015 as well. The members of the international community will have a lot to do in 2016 too, in order to establish and maintain lasting reconciliation and normal living conditions in Kosovo, which is still far away from real independence. Accordingly, the involvement of the Hungarian Defence Forces in the KFOR is of determining importance and currently our largest mission contingent is deployed in Kosovo. In January 2016 the 13th mission of the Hungarian Defence Forces’ KFOR contingent (with the Hungarian manoeuvre company troops in subordination to Multinational Battlegroup-East (MNBG-E), and with the soldiers of the Portuguese-Hungarian KFOR Tactical Reserve Battalion) was completed.

 

Taking into consideration the growing Islamist presence in Kosovo with a 95% Muslim population, in 2016 the presence of KFOR, providing support to the Kosovo government forces, may be rather necessary. In 2014-15, similarly to Bosnia and Herzegovina, recruiters of the Islamic State appeared in Kosovo too, and hundreds of Kosovars participated in the fighting in Syria and/or Iraq. And the new year began with a new conflict as well: on 30th January 2016 four armed Islamists of Albanian nationality – according to the investigation to date, members of the Wahhabite movement – with weapons and Islamist literature in their vehicle were captured in front of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Visoki Decani Monastery by the Kosovo police and the troops of the NATO-led KFOR. The background of the case, which is more serious than an incident, is that before Kosovo’s 2008 secession from Serbia a lot of Serbs had lived in the region and the orthodox monastery is an important Serbian centre of pilgrimage.

 

So, apart from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa religious, or to be more precise, religion-motivated conflicts will continue in our close neighbourhood too.

 

“The disclosure of the root causes makes it clear that these wars are not mere religious wars at all although in some cases religious flavours are also present among the motivations of the warring factions – just for deception”, this is how Military Ordinary László Bíró, Head of the Catholic Ordinariate in the Forces summarised his thought on wars provoked with religious pretexts[22].

 

UKRAINE

Is Ukraine a buffer zone of great power interests (2013-2014) or has it grown into a less “interesting” crisis stricken country still at war?

 

In 2015 the international community’s attention and interest to the war and other conflicts in Ukraine perceptibly decreased. The causes of this phenomenon clearly include:

-         the inevitable invitation of Russia to the military operations in Syria, conducted by the western countries against the Islamic State. This is why the relations between the United States of America, NATO and the EU on the one hand and Russia on the other seemed to be easing;

-         resolutions were approved on the presence and reinforcement of the forces of NATO, or more precisely United States of America, in Central-Eastern Europe;

-         EU sanctions were introduced which secured economic profits for certain European great powers while the capacity to enforce and protect the interests of other European countries having lost markets seemed weak;

-         the OSCE is continuously present in Ukraine (the sad thing is that UN representatives have been unable to reach the eastern border region) providing the countries of the international community with sporadic information about the events in the country;

-         the circles of Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk (including former Georgian President Saakashvili, who has dual citizenship and is Head of the Odessa Region, member of Ukrainian Parliament, and a major client of the United States of America) have divided power and business world among themselves in the past 18 months and the voices of miserable pensioners and public servants are not heard even in Kiev;

-         even inside the country there is less and less talk about the annexation of Crimea;

-         the interest in the war against the separatists in Eastern Ukraine has faded and the integration of foreign mercenaries into the Ukrainian armed forces generated open international reproach;

-         in the United States of America events relating to the presidential elections have begun and neither the democrats nor the republicans have time to focus on anything else;

-         in Kiev government resolutions were approved on purchasing weapons from the United States of America on the expensive IMF loans;

-         in 2015 Ukraine was provided a significant financial support – 700 million Euros – by Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel promised a similar support to President Poroshenko at their meeting on 1st February 2016 (it remains unanswered if the Chancellor is able to keep her word due to the troubles generated by the refugee crisis in Germany …)

 

Operational situation in Eastern Ukraine

Source: Office of the Military Attaché of Ukraine for Hungary

 

It is true that all actors in the Eastern Ukraine conflict would benefit from the implementation of the Minsk Agreement on the peaceful settlement, but this is still the future. No lasting ceasefire was possible to enforce in the region (see the operational map of the positions and military equipment of the warring parties).

 

There are no pre-conditions for launching the political stage of the peace process of the conflict between Slavic peoples. Although complying with the agreements brokered by Germany and France and signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk by the representatives of Ukraine, Russia, and of the Russia-backed separatists would be useful for every party there is no inclination to compromise. However, this stalemate will prevent the opportunity to lift the sanctions against Russia, even though Russia joined the coalition against the Islamic State.

 

The conflict in Eastern Ukraine erupted between the Ukrainian forces and the Russia-backed separatists in 2014. According to official information thousands were killed (on 29th January 2016 Ukrainian President Poroshenko stated that besides civilians 2,269 Ukrainian troops had been killed in action to date). Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of deploying Russian troops into Eastern Ukraine after the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, however, the Russian Government consequently denies that.

 

The renewal of the Ukrainian armed forces is in progress. This is inevitable as since its gaining independence in 1991 – particularly in the first 20 years – the Ukrainian governments have not spent significant funds on the maintenance of the military, not to mention its development. On the basis of the regularly publicised data the Ukrainian military could be one of the most efficient armed forces of Europe but it is a well-known fact that the establishment of real capacities needs not “just” a lot of money but also time. The misleading statistics and analyses based on numbers are known, but the moment of truth comes when a device is to be used or a system is to be deployed.

 

The active participation of the Ukrainian forces in the US-led operation in Iraq (2003-2006) is not a sufficient proof of or a reason for being proud by high level Ukrainian politicians (“the Ukrainian military is one of the mightiest armed forces in Europe”). We should remember the fatal events stemming from unpreparedness and lack of equipment of our Ukrainian comrades. The assistance and advisory activities of the US forces based in Europe may help the Ukrainian military achieve their longed for objectives as soon as possible but the decades-old capability gap will not be easy to overcome.

 

“2015 was a hard year in international politics and 2016 will not be an easy one either: the Middle East situation seems almost impossible to resolve which Europe feels directly while the United States of America focuses on its own problems, and Russia is involved in a risky game” said security policy expert Péter Tálas, Dean of the Faculty of International and European Studies of the National University of Public Service, and Director of the Centre of Strategic and Defence Studies in an interview to www.honvedelem.hu, when reviewing the most important security policy issues of 2016.[23]

 

(The second part of the study is to be published in issue 3/2016 of the Defence Review.)

 

 

LITERATURE

 

Bali, József (2008): Előszó. In: A NATO és az Európai Unió szerepvállalása Afganisztánban. Issued by the Association of Economic and Scientific Societies and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, No. 3.

Bremer, L. Paul: My Year in Iraq. The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope. Threshold Editions, New York, 2006.

Guéhenno, Jean-Marie: 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2016. Foreign Policy, 3. Jan. 2016. 

Horváth, Gyula – Hajdú Zoltán (szerk.): Regionális átalakulási folyamatok a Nyugat-Balkán országaiban. MTA Centre for Regional Research of HAS, Pécs, 2011, pp. 231–246.

Juhász, József – Márkusz László – Tálas Péter – Valki László: Kinek a békéje? Háború és béke a volt Jugoszláviában. Zrínyi Kiadó, 2003.

Rostoványi, Zsolt: Az iszlám világ és a Nyugat. Interpretációk összecsapása, avagy a kölcsönös fenyegetettség mítosza és valósága. Corvina Kiadó, 2004, pp. 103–105.

Tálas, Péter: A 2016-os esztendő a Közel-Keletről szól. http://www.honvedelem.hu/cikk/54958

Tarrósy, István – Glied Viktor – Keserű Dávid (szerk.): Új népvándorlás. Migráció a 21. században Afrika és Európa között. Publikon, 2012.

Wagner, Péter: „A bukott államiság” és Afganisztán. In: Márton Péter (szerk.): Államok és államkudarcok a globalizálódó világban. Teleki Intézet, 2006, p. 1.

http://www.honvedelem.hu/cikk/55390

http://www.honvedelem.hu/cikk/55405

http://www.honvedelem.hu/cikk/55412



[1] The second part of the study, to be published in issue 2016/3 of the Defence Review, analyses primarily the refugee crisis, terror-migration, conflicts in the Far East, terrorism, climate change challenges, and the evaluations by international security organisations. – Editor.

[2] On November 2015 Ukrainian President P. Poroshenko proclaimed the Act on foreigners joining the Ukrainian forces and various militias.

[3] Organisation Refusing Western Teaching.

[4] Islamist organisation The Youth, against which neither the USA nor the UN proved to be successful.

[5] The Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony (former colonel of the Ugandan Army), a self-proclaimed religious leader, mass murderer, and commander of an army of child soldiers.

[6] The faction of the Al Qaeda active in the Maghreb regions.

[7] Middle-East and North-Africa.

[8] Proxy wars are armed conflicts between two nations where neither country directly engages the other. Such a war was waged between North and South Vietnam, where the support in manpower, military equipment and materiel provided by the USA and the USSR was continuous and permanent.

[9] International Security Assistance Force

[10] Afghan National Security Forces

[11] Afghan National Defence and Security Forces

[12] Status of Forces Agreement – An agreement on the legal status of the forces (made between the NATO command and the leaders of the host nation).

[13] American Special Operations Forces, in close cooperation with the CIA conduct their operations aimed at search for and capturing or eliminating terrorists.

[14] Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff

[15] Federally Administered Tribal Areas

[16] http://www.honvedelem.hu/cikk/55390 (Accessed: 2016. 02. 02.)

[17] The highly experienced soldier and strategist served in the Command of Operation “Iraqi Freedom” as operations officer, three years later as Division Executive Officer, in 2012 he served as ISAF Corps Executive Officer in

Afghanistan, then – as commander of the 3rd Army Corps of the US Ground Forces (Fort Hood) – the Lieutenant General was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the coalition forces in Iraq countering the Islamic State. (The author of the present study served with General Sean MacFarland in 2003–2004.)

[18] http://www.honvedelem.hu/cikk/55412 (Accessed: 2016. 02. 03.)

[19] An elaborated and approved strategic plan which is to include the conditions for the withdrawal of troops from the area of operations after the completion of operations.

[20] During the January 2016 visit of the Hungarian Prime Minister in Sofia, Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Prime Minister highlighted the importance of this sad fact as an impediment of the migration wave.

[21] http://www.honvedelem.hu/cikk/55405 (Accessed: 02. 02. 2016.)

[22] Isaszegi, János: A 21. század élettérháborúi a földért, a vízért, az élelemért, a … létezésért! Gondolat Kiadó, Budapest, 2015, p. 328.

[23] Tálas, Péter: A 2016-os esztendő a Közel-Keletről szól. http://www.honvedelem.hu/cikk/54958 (Accessed: 07. 01. 2016.) 

 

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