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Conflict Weekly, Vol.2, No.44, 26 January 2022

An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office

Coup in Africa, Continuing violence in Yemen, and an ISIS attack in Syria

Burkina Faso: Another coup in Africa
In the news
On 24 January, in a televised broadcast, a group of soldiers representing the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration (MPSR) informed that they had detained the President, citing the worsening insecurities in the country. The government has been dissolved and the constitution suspended, but the group assured that a constitutional order would be retained in "reasonable time". The whereabouts of the President and other members of the government have not been disclosed yet. The coup unravelled a week after the arrest of 11 soldiers accused of plotting to overthrow the government led by President Roch Marc Christian. The statement released by the coup leaders informs that the putsch had taken place "without any physical violence against those arrested, who are being held in a safe place, with respect for their dignity." The coup comes after days of tensions and public unrest in the capital - Ouagadougou. On 22 January, people gathered in large numbers to protest against the government and its failure to fight the growing threat of Islamist Insurgency in the country.
 
On 25 January, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the military takeover and urged the coup leaders to "lay down arms". The African Union and ECOWAS have also released similar statements holding the armed forces responsible for the current instability. Ned Price, the state department Spokesperson of the United States, condemned the coup and called for "Restraint by all actors". EU representative Joseph Borell urged for the adherence to "constitutional order" and expressed concern over the deposed President's whereabouts.
 
Issues at large
First, weak democratic institutions. The country has witnessed a maximum number of coups and attempted takeovers in Africa, indicating an unstable political context in Burkina Faso. The recent events can be attributed to the 2015 elections that brought Kabore to power. Misgovernance, corruption, and the economy undermined the country's political institutions. The elected leadership failed to recognize public demands and insecurities (Insurgency) and fell short in the deliverance of governance.
 
Second, increasing Islamist insurgency. Burkina Faso has been a haven for Islamist insurgency since 2016. Various regions in the north of the country around the tri-border region with Mali and Niger are primarily under militant groups with affiliations to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. According to observers, Kabore's government has failed to curb the threat. With an under-funded, poorly equipped and inadequately trained armed forces, the situation was exacerbated in 2021 with some of the worst attacks in recent times. This has driven millions into forced displacement and caused hundreds of deaths, making the Burkinabe conflict one of the worst of its kind.
 
Third, the mutiny by the soldiers leading to the coup. The soldiers mutinying earlier were demanding the reversal of the recent reforms in military leadership, which was brought last year due to public unrest and improved training and allocation of military resources to fight the ongoing threat of insurgency. The arrest of the mutinying soldiers, coupled with growing public sympathy and support for the military, was incentivized by MPSR to carry out the coup.
 
In perspective
The situation in Burkina Faso is inching towards a catastrophic outcome. With the military in power, Burkina Faso becomes the third country in the last 18 months to witness a military takeover in the region. The coup also marks the end of the short-lived Burkinabe democracy; the country now looks at a bleak economic future with possible sanctions and a tumultuous political atmosphere.


Yemen: The warzone expands in the Houthi-UAE face-off 
In the news
On 24 January, the defence ministry of UAE stated that the missiles fired by the Houthis targeting Abu Dhabi once again were intercepted prior to the infliction of any form of material damage. On 17 January, missiles and drones targeted Abu Dhabi, causing damage near the international airport and killing three civilians. 
 
On 18 January, as a response, the Arab coalition launched airstrikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa and other Houthi strongholds and camps. The attack killed about 14 people, including a former military official. Save the Children stated that the air raids in Hodeida killed three children and hit a telecommunications facility. On 21 January, approximately 70 people were killed and 140 wounded in an airstrike on a detention centre in Saada in northern Yemen. 
 
On 21 January, the UN Security Council issued an official statement, unanimously condemning the "terrorist attacks in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on 17 January, as well as in other sites in Saudi Arabia." The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack on UAE and the air raids by the coalition. He stated that "the attacks directed against civilians and civilian infrastructure are prohibited by the international humanitarian law." 
 
While the US condemned the attack on Abu Dhabi, it also called for calm after the deadly airstrikes by the Arab coalition. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that "the escalation in fighting only exacerbates a dire humanitarian crisis and the suffering of the Yemeni people."
 
Issues at large
First, the escalation of violence. The seven-year war in Yemen has climbed up the escalation ladder, with the Arab coalition, Giants Brigade and Iran-backed Houthis relentlessly fighting for the resource-rich Marib, al Bayda and Shabwah. The region is increasingly seeing the spillover effects of an expanded warzone. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that 839 airstrikes by the coalition, 16 drone strikes and 12 ballistic missile strikes fired by the Houthis toward Saudi Arabia. 
 
Second, the Houthis losing ground. In 2021, the Houthis seemed to have tasted much success as they moved into Marib and captured much ground, despite relentless bombardment from the coalition. However, since the UAE- backed Giants Brigade moved into Shabwah with the support of the pro-UAE provincial governor Awadh al-Awlaki, the Houthis have suffered heavy losses. The Giants Brigade and the Yemen government forces have successfully recaptured Shabwah from the Houthis and simultaneously launched operations to hold Marib, killing more than 400 Houthi fighters in both provinces. 
 
Third, the humanitarian crisis. The UN-brokered peace process has failed to de-escalate the conflict. The direct impact is on the Yemeni population. The UN estimates that more than 377,000 (seen as an undercount) people have lost lives as of 2021 due to the conflict, and approximately 60 per cent of the deaths were due to indirect factors such as famine, extreme hunger and diseases. 
 
In perspective

First, possible change in UAE's role. The UAE has significantly reduced its military involvement and is mainly confined to political backings and indirect support to the actors on the ground. The Southern Transition Council, backed by the UAE, is a separatist force fighting the Yemeni government and controlling Aden, highlighting the diverging interests of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. With the Giants Brigade actively fighting Houthis and Abu Dhabi under the line of fire, UAE may now change its course of action, once again involving itself militarily. The escalation may hint at a stronger partnership between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to meet their goals in Yemen. 

Second, the dwindling prospects for peace. The recent escalation has once again challenged the UN and Oman-backed peace process. It has also questioned the likely talks between the Arab countries and Iran and can have larger regional repercussions.


Syria: The ISIS attack on a prison
In the news
On 20 January, multiple explosives were triggered outside the Kurdish-run Ghwayran prison in Hasakeh, Syria. Immediately after the explosions, nearly 100 Daesh (Islamic State) fighters stormed the prison in an attempt to jailbreak the IS operatives. Simultaneously, a massive riot broke within the prison, dividing the prison guards. The prison houses more than 3,000 IS members, along with a few top commanders and leaders. Around 300-400 inmates were set free from the prison, and a gunfight ensued between IS militants and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
 
On 21 January, the SDF tried to gain control over the northern part of the prison to stop prisoners from escaping a second time. The SDF also engaged with the IS militants taking cover in the nearby Zuhour neighbourhood. The people in the neighbourhood were forced to leave, fearing the loss of their lives. IS militants also began to boobytrap houses and use the public as human shields to protect themselves.
 
During 22-23 January, the fighting between the SDF and IS militants intensified with multiple casualties inside the prison and in the Zuhour neighbourhood. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, nearly 123 people were killed with 85 IS militants, 45 SDF personnel and Seven civilians. The SDF also captured 136 inmates who had escaped initially. The Pentagon announced that the US supported the SDF ground forces with airstrikes on IS targets.
 
On 24 January, the IS militants were outflanked by the SDF, who surrounded the entire prison. The IS militants also took control over a few cells and dormitories within the prison that detained children who had been suspected of having IS links. The prison has nearly 850 child inmates, with a few as young as 12. The SDF released a statement stating that the lives of the children were solely in the hands of the IS militants.
 
Issues at large
First, the resurgence of the Islamic State. Since 2021, IS attacks have become frequent and potent. The recent attack in Syria has been the most significant one since it was declared defeated in 2019 by the US, Iraqi and Syrian forces. A few hours after the prison attack in Syria, in northern Iraq, 11 military personnel were killed within an army barracks in the Diyala province 
 
Second, the targeted attacks on prisons and camps. The recent attack is not the first time the IS has tried to break its members from prison. The idea can be traced back to the "Breaking the Walls" campaign during 2012-13, which primarily targeted prisons in Iraq that held a large number of IS operatives. Even after the fall of the IS in 2019, the group began targeting prisons to increase their recruitment rapidly. The prisons run by the Kurdish forces, on the other hand, were make-shift prisons created to detain suspected IS militants. At present, the Kurdish-led forces have nearly 12,000 IS fighters jailed in their prisons and about 1,00,000 family members of IS fighters in under-resourced camps. The Kurdish forces have been unable to facilitate and control the vast numbers due to a shortage of resources. These prisons and camps have also become breeding grounds for extremism making groups like the IS hard to eradicate. 
 
Third, the civilians and children in the crossfire. With IS militants entering their homes and using them as human shields, nearly 45,000 people have been forced to evacuate the area for their safety. The explosives planted by the IS in civilian buildings to target the SDF increase civilians' risk when they decide to return. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), there have already been reports of children being killed or injured in the attack. With the IS militants using the children in prison as a bargaining chip, the state of the Syrian justice and the prison system has been brought to the forefront.
 
In perspective

The Islamic State is not dead in Syria and Iraq. The attacks on Ghwayran and Diyala show that the group has managed to reorganize and strengthen its operational space in both countries. Though the success of the attack is not known since the total number of prisoners on the run is yet to be disclosed, one can safely assume that the Islamic State would continue to target more Syrian and Iraqi prisons in the future. 

With the magnitude of the recent attacks, the SDF and Iraqi forces would also be better prepared to handle a large-scale attack on their prisons. Though the IS may have a few hundred recruits now, a few wrong decisions, such as selecting the wrong target, might crush this resurgence in its infancy.


Also, from around the World
By Padmashree Anandhan, Sejal Sharma and Satyam Dubey

 
Peace and Conflict in East and Southeast Asia
Taiwan:
39 Chinese aircrafts violate the ADIZ 
On 23 January, 39 Chinese aircraft entered Taipei's air defence identification zone (ADIZ). It is the second-largest incursion after 4 October, when 56 Chinese aircraft flew into Taiwan's air defence zone in a single day. The Chinese air mission included 34 J-16 fighter jets, four electronic warfare planes and single H-6 bomber aircraft. Chinese media reports speculated that such incursions happened at this significant level to counter the US-Japan drills concluded recently. However, no shots have been fired, but Taiwan's Defence Minister described this situation as disconcerting, and the most strained in the recent 40 years.
 
China: France passes motion in support of Uyghurs
On 20 January, the French Parliament condemned the Chinese government's stance on "crime against humanity" and "genocide" against Uyghurs minorities in Xinjiang province. The motion, led by the Socialist party supported by the opposition parties, was passed by a majority of 169 votes for and one against. The Chinese embassy in France denied such accusations and phrased the "genocide" against Uyghurs as "pure lies." It said that the issues in Xinjiang was all about the fight against separatism, radicalization and terrorism and not about ethnicity or human rights. 
 
Australia:
With elections due, Morrison loses WeChat access to a Chinese controller 
On 24 January, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison lost his access to a WeChat account, which his Liberal party used as an effective social media platform to communicate with Australian voters of Chinese origin. Through Morrison's WeChat account, the liberal party had branded "Australia China New Life," aiming to pursue 1.2 million Chinese descent voters in Australia. The Beijing-based tech giant Tencent Ltd has denied many requests of Morrison and government officials to regain his WeChat account. Liberal Senator and Chair of Parliament's Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security have demarcated this incident as an example of 'censorship' and 'external interference'.  
 
Myanmar: Resistance groups force shut down of Chinese-backed nickel plant
On 18 January, after repeated attacks on the Chinese-backed Tagaung Taung nickel-processing plant, the factory decided to halt its productions and shut down temporarily. The attacks on 7 January were by the Tigyaing Township People's Defense Force (PDF), who accepted their involvement in blowing up the towers. The project is the largest nickel production site in Myanmar with an annual production with an investment of USD 800 million and an annual production capability of 85,000 tonnes of ferronickel. Since the military coup, Chinese mining companies in Myanmar have been urged to withdraw their investments. Resistance groups have been forcing Chinese-backed mines to be held accountable for indirectly funding the regime. 
 
Myanmar:
Military regime to implement new cyber law
On 24 January, the military regime announced the implementation of a cybersecurity law to jail anyone using virtual private networks (VPNs). The authorities had banned the use of social media since the military took control on 1 February 2021. However, people could bypass blocks and access the sites illegally due to VPNs. The law's adoption has been seen to curb digital freedoms and internet criticism by the resistance groups. It has also restricted the methods used by the National Unity Government of Myanmar to raise funds and provide a free flow of reliable information. Activists and rights groups have condemned the law as it violates people's freedom of expression, digital rights, and privacy.
 
Peace and Conflict in South Asia
India:
Assam and Meghalaya reach an agreement on border issues
On 20 January, the Chief Ministers of Assam and Meghalaya met with the Home Minister in Delhi regarding the decades-old boundary dispute. Both States have finally agreed to resolve the boundary disputes at six places along the border, covering about 36 villages. The Chief Minister of Meghalaya also said that the decision could be reached because of the people's willingness in those areas. He also tweeted regarding the meeting, saying: "apprised Honourable Home Minister on the outcomes of discussions held between Assam and Meghalaya governments to resolve the border disputes amicably. We're grateful for his guidance."
 
The Maldives:
Parliamentary Speaker Nasheed comments on recent India Out campaigns 
On 18 January, Parliamentary Speaker Mohamed Nasheed announced that he would do whatever it takes to keep the current Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in power. Nasheed, a former President, referred to the "India Out" campaign that had recently resurfaced. His comments highlighted the need for the MDP to stay in power to keep anti-India groups from taking control of the government. He said: "India is our neighbour and the first port of call in everything. I don't think that Indian assistance in the Maldives needs to be shadowed with something else." Nasheed has also been pushing the country to adopt a parliamentary system of governance in place of the current presidential rule.

Afghanistan: Taliban delegation in Oslo 
On 24 January, Taliban leaders met the diplomats of the EU along with representatives from the US, the UK, Norway, Germany, Italy, France, and Qatar held at Oslo, Norway. The meeting focused on various issues from economy, humanitarian aid, central bank. Women's rights defenders and representatives of Afghan civil society were allowed to attend the meeting to put forth their arguments and demands to the Islamic Emirate delegation. Overall, the meeting was seen as a positive step by all the activists. The US special envoy for Afghanistan said: "As we seek to address (the) humanitarian crisis together with allies, partners, and relief organizations, we will continue clear-eyed diplomacy with the Taliban regarding our concerns and our abiding interest in a stable, rights-respecting and inclusive Afghanistan." 
 
Peace and Conflict in Central Asia, Middle East and Africa 
Syria:
UN concerns over snowstorms on the refugee crisis
On 24 January, the UN warned about the effects of the brutal winter conditions on the 2.8 million internally displaced people living in refugee camps. The living conditions of the refugees have been drastically affected by the freezing conditions and heavy rain. The majority of them live in temporary shelters and tents, of which a thousand have either collapsed completely or have been very badly damaged due to heavy snow. Children, the elderly and the disabled suffer the most from these horrifying conditions. The UN has appealed to the international community to acknowledge the worsening of the crisis and has called for help.
 
UAE: The US and the UK authorities seize weapon smuggling boat and illegal drugs 
On 23 January, the US Navy seized an Iranian boat carrying fertilizer used for making explosives en route to Yemen. Subsequently, the British Royal Navy confiscated illegal drugs in the same region. This is the latest intervention by the US and the UK to clamp down on the illicit weapon and drugs trade that has risen in the Arabian Gulf amidst the ongoing war in Yemen. The vessel carrying the fertilizers was previously seized off the coast of Somalia and was found carrying thousands of weapons last year. The US Navy turned the vessel, cargo and crew over to the Yemen coast guard.
 
Turkey: Support for Iraq in fighting terrorism 
On 24 January, bilateral talks were held between Ankara and Baghdad over increasing cooperation in economy, trade and security. Regional support for combating the PKK terrorists in northern Iraq was emphasized in the discussion. Turkey has called upon Iraqi officials to take the required steps to eliminate the terrorist group to maintain its regional stability and security. The Turkish armed forces have carried out a series of combat operations against the PKK in northern Iraq since 2019. The latest in the series is the ongoing Operations Claw Lightning, and Thunderbolt, launched in April 2021. Operations took place in the Metina, Zap and Avashin-Basyan regions due to the ongoing Turkish-Kurdish conflict.
 
Africa: UNICEF on millions of children in dire need of life-saving treatments
On 21 January, UNICEF issued alerts regarding the threat to life for over 1.5 million children due to the unavailability of life-saving treatments for acute malnutrition in Africa's eastern and southern regions. Funding shortfalls and limited access have continued to push an estimated 3.6 million children and their families into a nutrition tragedy. Despite a positive trend in outreach programs in recent years, food insecurity continues to rise due to the climate crisis and ongoing conflicts in the region. Families are forced to function below subsistence levels causing permanent development damage in children.
 
Sudan: Three children killed while escaping armed raids 
On 25 January, the UN reported casualties, including children, from the violence that erupted in the eastern Jonglei state. The armed youths from the Murle group opened fire and torched property in the Dungrut and Machined villages, causing the civilians from the Dinka Bor community to flee. At least thirty two people were killed, including three children who drowned while escaping the raids. The UN Mission in South Sudan reported the incident condemning the attack on civilians and calling for action to avoid further escalation. 
 
Central African Republic: UN investigates recent killings with alleged Russian involvement  
On 22 January, the UN officials reported more than 30 civilian deaths in the January 16-17 violence in the town of Bria that attacked the Union for Peace rebel group. The killings were allegedly carried out by the Central African Republic (CAR) forces and mercenaries of Wagner, a Russian private military company. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Central Africa (MINUSCA) has dispatched a team to the region to assess the situation and take action. In mid-2021, concerns were raised about Wagner's involvement in the region; however, Russia rejected claims stating that the company had an unarmed involvement in the CAR military. 
 
Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
The UK:
Embassy staff withdrawn from Ukraine  
On 24 January, the foreign office announced the withdrawal of its staff from the embassies in Kyiv as the threat of Russian invasion increases. Although Russia has denied any military action against Ukraine, the UK has withdrawn its staff as a protective measure to the growing tensions in the region. The Officials assured that the embassy will remain open and significant works shall continue. Apart from the UK, Kyiv has welcomed the decision and Germany has also opted for a similar evacuation process.
 
Russia: Ireland opposes live-fire naval exercise in the EEZ 
On 25 January, Ireland has opposed Moscow's live-fire naval exercise outside its coast area. The Irish defence ministry has said it does not have the authority to stop the exercise which is set to take place on the South-west coast of Ireland. Ireland's Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs has clearly stated to the Russian Ambassador in Ireland not to welcome the naval exercise move. In terms of handling such threats, Irelands lacks as its not part of the NATOA and due to its policy of military neutrality. 
 
Mexico: Rise in femicide numbers 
On 20 January, preliminary government data reported a slight drop in murders in Mexico and consequently a rise in femicide in the past year. While murders reduced by 3.6 per cent in 2021, femicides rose by 2.7 per cent in the country accounting for more than double the numbers registered in 2015. President Lopez Obrador has been under fire for his handling of violence against women, thus the drop in murders comes as a win for him. He had pledged to bring down the levels of violence in the country when he took office in 2018. 
 
Peru: Environmental emergency was declared in the coastal area affected by an oil spill 
On 23 January, the government declared a ninety-day decree for 21 beaches tarred by 6000 barrels of oil spilled from a tanker unloading at a Repsol refinery. The decree is aimed toward sustainable management of the disaster that occurred due to the oceanic aftershock of an underwater volcanic eruption in the South Pacific. The oil spill has continued spreading, significantly affecting 147 hectares of the coastal marine ecosystem and natural reserves. The fishing and tourism industries have also suffered a major blow, sparking protests from dependent communities. 
 
The US: Conservative protestors and the "March for Life" rally 
On 21 January, the Supreme Court decision to grant states the authority to impose stricter restrictions on abortion made thousands of protestors gather to express their optimism through the "March for Life" rally. The protestors expect the Court to reverse the Roe v. Wade ruling which assures a constitutional right to abortion. For which the rally was conducted to mark the 49th anniversary of the ruling. The signboards held by the people read "the future is anti-abortion," and "I am the post-Roe generation." The White House Press Secretary said that the US administration is keen on working with Congress to pass a bill that "protects the right to provide and access abortion." 


About the authors
Rashmi BR is a doctoral scholar at the Science Diplomacy Program, School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS. Mohamad Aseel Ummer is a postgraduate scholar in International Relations and Political Science at the Central University of Kerala. Jeshil Samuel J is a postgraduate scholar at Christ (Deemed to be University), Bangalore. Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Assistant at the NIAS School of Conflict and Security Studies. Sejal Sharma and Satyam Dubey are postgraduate scholars at Pondicherry University. 

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