Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr changed his decision to run for the upcoming parliamentary elections in October. The influential cleric reversed his decision last month to boycott the parliamentary elections scheduled for next October in Iraq, and announced that he would run for the presidency starting from One of my favourites. Al-Sadr led the Sairoon political alliance in the last 2018 elections and won 54 out of 329 seats.
The influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also called for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq and the preservation of his logical brotherly relations with Iran, the visible leader of the Shiite branch of Islam in the Middle East. Its effect depends on its irritability. The 47-year-old Shiite cleric is at the head of the Sadrist movement, a diffuse bloc that includes in its orbit the Free Parliamentary Bloc. (which it considers its spiritual leader) to the militia (the theoretically disbanded Mahdi Army was reborn as peace brigades after the emergence of ISIS), through an extensive network of charitable organizations, covering the absence of the state among the disenfranchised Shiites. at the origin of its popularity.Photo/Reuters – An Iraqi man receives his new electoral card at the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) center in Baghdad on January 20, 2021.
The son and nephew of two revered ayatollahs assassinated by Saddam, Al-Sadr exploited the prestige of his lineage and acted quickly after the dictatorship fell. He used the charitable networks established by his father to establish a system of social services, similar to that run by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, in one of the poorest Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, Saddam City. Its grateful residents renamed it Sadr City. He was also quick to appoint imams for mosques abandoned by clerics associated with the ousted regime, allowing him to expand his bases and recruit militiamen.
It was precisely these help networks, established by his father during the years of international sanctions, that were the basis for the movement he launched after the US invasion and which had a special resonance among the most disadvantaged Shiites. His speeches, highly populist in accessible language, encouraged the anti-American sentiment engendered by the occupation of the country. (But without him he would not have been able to express himself freely; his father and uncle, both prominent ayatollahs, were assassinated by the dictator.)
Al-Sadr, the leader of the most representative political coalition in the Iraqi parliamentIt had been supporting the protests of the Iraqi people since October 2020, but after the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani at the hands of the United States, things changed. The North American giant carried out a drone operation in the vicinity of Baghdad airport against the commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (the elite of the Persian army), in which he and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Shiite armed groups, participated in the Popular Mobilization Forces. An act that logically led to the outrage of the absolute Shiite community in Iraq.
after this episode, Al-Sadr called for a large demonstration against the presence of foreign forces in the country, but some of his aides accused regular demonstrators of trying to interrupt his march. The cleric then decided to withdraw his support for the mobilization and later asked his followers to help the police restore life to normal, resulting in dozens of wounded in Baghdad, and at least seven dead in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. southern Iraq.
This question was one of the motives that led a large section of the population to demonstrate against the Iraqi leaders, who were accused of submitting to the Persian will and also of submitting, on the other hand, to the interests of the United States. in the region. An American country that has been disavowed by local citizens for its military presence in the region. His rejection of the American occupation, which made the difference between him and the rest of the Iraqi politicians who had recently returned from exile thanks to the intervention. In recent years, Iraq has become a battleground as the rivalry between the United States and Iran has been reflected in its greatest defense. Relations between Washington and Badgad are not at their best. In fact, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the presence of US troops in the country has not convinced the population or the country’s leaders.
currently, The United States has maintained about 2,500 troops since 2014 as part of an international coalition aimed at fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. A presence that has become somewhat uncomfortable in recent years for the Baghdad government, as it has come under heavy pressure from the most radical Shiite militias who want the disappearance of American forces, and who have also missed the assassination of a senior Iranian general. Qassem Soleimani and the commander of the Iraqi militia Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport, demanded the Iraqi parliament two days later to pass a non-binding resolution demanding an end to the US military presence in Iraq.
Two months before the legislative elections, the Iraqi prime minister hopes to regain some influence over the powerful pro-Iranian factions, which are very hostile to the American presence. The announcement of the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraqi territory represents a victory for the Prime Minister of Iraq This would satisfy the most extremist Shiite faction by paving the way for the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 10.
The ROK-U.S. alliance is at a time of transition, and a lot of changes will be required to maintain the strength and effectiveness of the alliance into the future.
Early next year, the next president of South Korea will be sworn in. The new president – whoever that will be – will face some major foreign policy and security issues, but the potential candidates have so far been focused mostly on domestic matters.
This election cycle, North Korea is causing less difficulty than usual, with the Kim Jong Un regime having been greatly affected by weather-related natural disasters and also by COVID-19. Instead, the most important foreign policy and security issues are clearly concerned with the United States and China.
There are deep diplomatic differences between President Joe Biden of the United States and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. Biden wants Moon to abandon his peace-oriented policy toward North Korea, but Moon insists on continuing to try, despite the underwhelming results so far achieved. Can the next president of South Korea make any better progress?
Another point of contention between Seoul and Washington is Biden’s desire for the South Korean military to take a more active role in the wider region, in particular by participating in various U.S.-led multilateral military exercises. The incoming South Korean president will need to finesse this issue carefully if relations with China are to remain cordial.
Can the next president of South Korea initiate any new policies toward the United States, China, and North Korea? The truth is that South Korea’s policies toward these countries are interdependent in many different ways. If there are any solutions to be found for this Gordian Knot, then the ROK-U.S. alliance is the best hope we have. So how should we envisage the future of the long-standing alliance between the ROK and the United States?
When the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system was deployed on South Korean soil, China objected vigorously and used its commercial leverage to punish South Korea. As a consequence, Moon was obliged to placate China by making three promises. Will these “three noes” cause difficulties for the next president?
The first promise was that the United States will not deploy additional THAAD systems in South Korea. The U.S. budget for fiscal year 2021 has no funding for additional THAAD systems, but there are some funds allocated for upgrading the existing one to integrate it into a remote networked command and control system, together with Patriot and other systems deployed near the Korean Peninsula. This is a third and final phase based on the U.S. adoption of the Joint All Domain Command and Control system which U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) plans to adopt shortly.
The second “no” is that trilateral security cooperation between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea will not develop into a military alliance. Given the dire state of relations with Japan, this promise is easy to keep for any South Korean president.
The third promise is that South Korea will not participate in the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) regional missile defense system. In practice the THAAD system deployed at Seongju has already been integrated into the MDA’s regional architecture. Staff at the South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) have implicitly acknowledged the fact. As for any further cooperation with the MDA, the MND has made clear that it prefers to develop its own missile defense system.
It seems, then, that Moon’s “three noes” will not seriously constrain the next president.
Hypersonic Weapons on South Korean Soil?
At the recent Biden-Moon summit, South Korea agreed to become more actively involved with the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy. Following the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in August 2021, it is appropriate to discuss the future of the ROK-U.S. military alliance.
China is continuing its military buildup, and seeking to extend and strengthen its diplomatic influence across the region. Against this background, it is time for the United States to increase its military resources to counter Chinese adventurism.
Several nations are developing hypersonic ballistic and cruise missiles, either medium-range (following Trump’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) or long-range. Chinese and Russian weapons systems are well advanced, and the United States has initiated or reactivated several hypersonic missile development projects under various names: the U.S. Navy’s Prompt Global Strike (PGS); U.S. Army’s Long Range Hypersonic Weapon; U.S. Air Force’s AGM-183 Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon and Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile; and DARPA’s Tactical Boost Glide and Operational Fires and Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept.
As commentators have noted, though, the U.S. would have to find a place to deploy its missiles. Indeed, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper explicitly suggested that U.S. allies, including Australia, Japan, and South Korea, should allow the United States to deploy hypersonic weapons to assist in the strategic deterrence of Chinese threats.
There is no particular reason why the United States needs to deploy hypersonic weapons on South Korean territory. There are no specific high-value targets in China’s northeastern provinces, and other U.S. allies seem better placed for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to manage Chinese threats, such as Japan and the Philippines, not the mention the U.S. territory of Guam.
Nuclear ballistic missiles can be identified, tracked, and classified as incoming threats by missile defense systems, for example those established by the MDA, but PGS and medium-range hypersonic missiles equipped with conventional warheads cannot be intercepted by any missile defense system. It is unclear whether the U.S. prefers hypersonic-capable and conventional PGS weapons to the existing medium-range ballistic missiles with nuclear capability. This uncertainty opens an opportunity for South Korea, now that limitations on its indigenous missile development have been lifted. New South Korean medium-range ballistic missiles would supplement U.S. capability in countering Chinese military threats to Northeast Asian security, as well as deterring the North Korean military threat.
Other Issues Affecting the Future of the ROK-U.S. Alliance
Some of the frontrunners to be the next president of South Korea have spoken about making changes to the ROK military and to the command-and-control structure of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC), but they have said very little about the future of the ROK-U.S. alliance. Some military commentators argue that South Korea should pay more attention to operational and tactical matters than to political and strategic issues. In that regard, there are a variety of topics to be considered.
An Expanding Alliance
First, from the U.S. perspective, rebuilding the alliance is a priority. During the Trump era, his transactional and populist approach opened up some deep divisions between South Korea and the United States. Biden is now working to repair the damage. More than that, however, he also wants to extend the scope of the alliance beyond its historic focus on threats to the Korean Peninsula by involving Seoul in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, a thinly-veiled project to contain China.
A related initiative targets common domain awareness, with the ROK military trying to up its game by taking new responsibility for space, electronic, information, and cyberwarfare. To this end, the first meeting of a newly established ROK-U.S. ICT cooperation committee was held on August 5. Also, the ROK Air Force has reorganized its combat development group into an air and space combat research group, so that it can share a Common Operational Picture with the U.S. Space Force. The ROK Army and the ROK Navy are also getting more involved with space; for example the Cheonro-an satellite now monitors the surrounding seas of the Korean Peninsula, including the East China Sea.
In addition, now that South Korea is explicitly committed to more involvement in regional security, including potentially acting with the USFK to contingencies in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, the scope of the ROK-U.S. alliance has broadened. Future roles and missions for the ROK-U.S. CFC will be hampered by disparities between the two militaries unless a combined combat development group is established. The Japan-U.S. alliance has benefitted from bilateral joint research and development projects, and something similar is needed for the ROK-U.S. alliance.
Second, there is widespread agreement that attempts to strengthen the capacity of the ROK-U.S. alliance should focus on doctrinal standardization. The United States is currently undergoing a great transformation of its expeditionary forces. Thus, the U.S. Army is establishing three Multi-Domain Task Forces, for the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Arctic. The U.S. Marine Corps also has a new mobile, agile, and flexible force, the Marine Littoral Regiment, designed to fight in a contested maritime environment. Likewise, the U.S. Navy has its Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept, for which it wants to build light amphibious ships, rather than large LHDs or LHAs.
These changes to U.S. forces mean that South Korea’s military will also need to change to ensure the future success of the ROK-U.S. alliance. Specifically, South Korean forces must pursue both technological and doctrinal interoperability, so that they can effectively interface with the new operational concepts of the United States. An integrated ROK Army, Navy Air Force, and Marine Corps force has been suggested, which could then operate in combined units between the ROK and U.S. militaries at the squadron and battalion level. And perhaps the United States should be invited to serve as an advisor in developing the concepts and frameworks of Defense Reform 2050, currently under development by the MND.
New Platforms, New Cooperation
Third, now that South Korea is building an aircraft carrier, close liaison with the U.S. Navy and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) is needed. With the navies of South Korea and Japan both building or refitting light aircraft carriers, close cooperation is essential to ensure maximum interoperability. The U.S.-U.K. agreement on cooperative CV operation is the obvious model to follow. A considerable degree of interoperability has already been established, due to the F-35B take-off and landing system, which is the same on the U.S. Navy’s CVs, but much more is possible. The U.S. Navy has built up a vast repertoire of skills and know-how, which should be shared with South Korea and Japan for mutual benefit in the operation of CVs.
Fourth, some operational and tactical improvements are necessary. For example, South Korea and the United States need to better coordinate their strategic assets with the JMSDF, specifically: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets such as Global Hawk UAVs; airborne early warning and control assets; air refueling tankers and heavy lift aircraft; aircraft carriers; and amphibious assets. Also, the U.S. Navy needs a permanent presence in the form of destroyers at South Korean naval bases; the current arrangements with a one-star admiral are inadequate to deter potential threats from North Korea and China. And the South Korean Agency for Defense Development should be working on more research and development projects together with the U.S. DARPA, such as how to operate Manned-Unmanned Teaming between the two fleets. NATO has a variety of cooperative arrangements between multiple countries, and some of these could be usefully emulated by the ROK-U.S. alliance.
In short, the ROK-U.S. alliance is at a time of transition, and a lot of changes will be required to maintain the strength and effectiveness of the alliance into the future. The next South Korean president will have plenty of work to do.
Most of South Korea’s presidential candidates are proposing policies toward the United States, China, and North Korea that simply rehash previous ideas from the left or right, and in any case are based on outdated and obsolete scenarios. The world has moved on, and the ROK-U.S. alliance needs to acknowledge the fact. When the next president of South Korea is inaugurated in May 2022, he or she will have a very full inbox: the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, ever worsening climate change, the regional impact of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, growing doubts about the dependability of Pax Americana, and uncertainty over the future of the global economy.
Some candidates have flirted with populism during the campaign, but South Korea’s foreign and security policy needs someone grounded in reality. Thus, it is greatly to be hoped that the next president of South Korea will have the necessary experience and qualifications in these areas, and that they will choose the very best people for the relevant cabinet appointments. It would also be helpful if he or she has clearly articulated their approach to the United States, China, and North Korea so that there is a mandate for change – because change is coming to the ROK-U.S. alliance, like it or not.
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WASHINGTON, Aug 27 (Reuters) – China, in the midst of a rapid nuclear weapons buildup, will soon surpass Russia as the United States’ top nuclear threat, a senior U.S. military official said on Friday, warning that the two countries have no mechanisms to avert miscommunication.
U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas Bussiere, the deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear arsenal, said China’s development of nuclear capabilities “can no longer be aligned” with its public claim that it wants to maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent.
“There’s going to be a point, a crossover point, where the number of threats presented by China will exceed the number of threats that currently Russia presents,” Bussiere told an online forum.
He said the determination would not be based solely on the number of Beijing’s stockpiled nuclear warheads, but also on how they are “operationally fielded.”
“There will be a crossover point, we believe, in the next few years,” Bussiere said.
Unlike with Russia, the United States did not have any treaties or dialogue mechanism with China on the issue to “alleviate any misperceptions or confusion,” he added.
Bussiere’s comments come as the United States is attempting to realign its foreign policy to put greater emphasis in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s growing economic and military might.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed deep concern about China’s growing nuclear arsenal during a meeting with foreign ministers of Asian countries and partner nations in early August. read more
Think-tank reports based on satellite imagery say China appears to be constructing hundreds of new silos for nuclear missiles, and Washington has accused Beijing of resisting nuclear arms talks. read more
China says its arsenal is dwarfed by those of the United States and Russia, and that it is ready for dialogue, but only if Washington reduces its nuclear stockpile to China’s level.
In a 2020 report to Congress, the Pentagon estimated China’s operational nuclear warhead stockpile to be in “the low 200s,” and said it was projected to at least double in size as Beijing expands and modernizes its forces.
According to a State Department fact sheet, the United States had 1,357 nuclear warheads deployed as of March 1.
China’s advances in missile technology to deliver those warheads are also a concern for the United States, and Bussiere said China last year tested more ballistic missile capabilities than the rest of the world combined.
Reporting by Michael Martina in Washington Editing by Matthew Lewis
Editor’s note:On August 26th, shortly after this article was published, two explosions outside Kabul airport killed dozens, including both Afghan civilians and American troops. This followed warnings that a group affiliated to Islamic State might carry out bombings at the airport. Our report on the explosions and their implications for the evacuation from Afghanistan can be found here. In this article we look at how the jihadist threat could spread around the world.
WHEN A NEW American president takes office, the leaders of other countries compete to be the first to speak to him. When the Taliban took over Kabul, there was a similar rush to speak to Abdul Ghani Baradar, the public face of the Afghan militant group’s leadership. The winner was Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, the Islamist group which controls the Gaza Strip. The read-out of the call posted on Hamas’s website has Mr Haniyeh congratulating Mr Baradar on his victory against the “American occupation” of Afghanistan. It would, he said, be “a prelude to the demise of all occupation forces, foremost of which is the Israeli occupation of Palestine”. Mr Baradar responded in kind, wishing Hamas “victory and empowerment as a result of their resistance”.Listen to this story
Such diplomatic niceties were matched with an outpouring of celebration from other jihadists. In the Idlib province of Syria, occupied by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group thought to have ties to al-Qaeda, the organisation which launched the attacks of September 11th 2001, fighters held a parade and handed out baklava on street corners. Three days of celebration were announced in the districts of southern Somalia controlled by al-Shabab, another al-Qaeda affiliate (pictured, training, above). On social media jihadists from all over the world shared memes celebrating the Taliban’s victory, notably a pastiche of Joe Rosenthal’s famous picture of American marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima.
America and its allies invaded Afghanistan on October 7th 2001. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11th attacks, was living there under the protection of the Taliban, who were also providing his al-Qaeda followers with training facilities. America demanded that the Taliban hand him over; they refused. Within weeks anti-Taliban forces had driven them from Kabul with the help of American air power and ground forces.
Since then America has not suffered a terrorist attack on anywhere near the same scale. And as an organised, and organising, force, al-Qaeda is a shadow of what it was. Osama bin Laden is dead, killed in Pakistan, to which he had retreated, in 2011. The fear of a similar end, delivered by drone or special forces, forces his successors to live in hiding, thus hugely complicating their operations. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian who became al-Qaeda’s leader after bin Laden’s death, has not been seen in almost a year—either through fear of death or because he has actually died. Though affiliates like al-Shabab have celebrated the Taliban’s victory, al-Qaeda’s central organisation has not said a word.
But the violent jihadist Islamism it pioneered has not been defeated. Al-Qaeda affiliates and other jihadist groups are active in conflicts not just in Pakistan and the Middle East but across the African Sahel and in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. Not all those who embrace the label truly see themselves as part of a global struggle; many are more focused on their “near enemies” than the “far enemy” of America and its Western allies. But struggles with near enemies still bring about suffering, destroy livelihoods and force people to leave their lands, becoming refugees. They breed instability.
The ability to mount outrages like that of September 11th has apparently been curtailed by better intelligence, pressure on finances and a drumbeat of raids and drone strikes. But jihadist doctrines continue to inspire attacks by loner jihadists in America and Europe, though currently not at the rate seen in the mid-2010s. And the fight against jihadism entails, or acts as a pretext for, all manner of human-rights abuses—most notably in western China, where it is used as justification for the systematic oppression of the Uyghur and other largely Muslim groups.
As jihadist ideology has been espoused ever more widely, Western countries have sent troops, advisers and money to more and more places. Counter-terrorism and “countering violent extremism” have become worldwide industries. In 2020 America had 7,000 active troops stationed in a dozen or so African countries, plus training missions in 40 more, with militant Islamism the predominant focus.
The Taliban’s return to power is undoubtedly the most trumpetable moment for jihadists since Islamic State (IS) took advantage of Sunni disaffection to create a “caliphate” in western Iraq and eastern Syria in 2014. That inspired terror attacks in Europe and Indonesia. This victory is in some ways a greater one. For the first time since the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1989, Islamists have taken a country from a superpower. “Everyone else is saying, wow, if those guys can do it, so can we,” says David Kilcullen, a former soldier and counter-terrorism expert at UNSW Canberra, the military academy of the Australian Defence Force. “They’re dazzled, amazed and impressed by what the Taliban have achieved,” says Mina Al-Lami, who follows media used by violent and non-violent Islamists alike for BBCMonitoring.
What that means in practice will depend on how things play out in Afghanistan, how well the morale boost is transformed into victory on the ground, and how the countries the jihadists are targeting respond.
It’s cold outside
Militant Islamism did not start with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Its intellectual origins go back to the 1950s and 1960s, when radicals in Egypt began to develop a new ideology based on the rejection of socialism and capitalism and the secular, nationalist regimes in thrall to them. Sayyid Qutb, a leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, became the movement’s great theorist. In America, to which he had fled to escape the attention of the Egyptian secret police, he was radicalised by his disgust at the natives’ morals and sexual mores, which represented “the nadir of primitiveness”. His driving motivation was the idea that Muslims were being brutalised by the regimes in their own countries which aped the materialism of such irreligious others.
Qutb was executed by the Egyptian authorities in 1966; the Muslim Brotherhood which he had reshaped continued in various countries, often underground. But in the Soviet-occupied Afghanistan of the 1980s his ideas took on a new form, going beyond resistance to individual regimes to become a worldwide armed struggle sometimes known as Salafi jihadism.
The Soviet Union’s invasion in 1979 had prompted hundreds of fighters from across the Muslim world to head to Afghanistan to join the mujahideen, or “holy warriors”. Bin Laden, a young Saudi who had inherited a fortune from his father’s construction firm and who studied under Qutb’s younger brother Mohammed, was one. So was Aden Hashi Farah Aero, one of the founders of al-Shabab. Abdelmalek Droukdel, one of the founders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a group that fights in Niger and Mali, was there too, as was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the founders of what became IS. In Afghanistan they saw the beginnings of a jihad that would eventually lead to a truer, purer existence in submission to God.
Their common origin and faith, and their shared espousal of a lofty goal and barbarous tactics, does not make the world’s jihadis a united front. The fighters in Iraq who founded IS did so because they thought al-Qaeda too soft: the Afghan branch of IS has been in a bitter war with the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan for years. It was one of the few Islamist groups not to express admiration after the fall of Kabul, instead denouncing the Taliban as, in effect, American lackeys. The group’s newsletter, al-Naba, sneered that “Supporting Islam does not pass through the hotels of Qatar nor the embassies of Russia, China and Iran”, referring to the Taliban’s political offices in Doha and its relations with infidel states. As The Economist went to press, there were warnings that an IS-affiliated group was planning an attack on Kabul airport.
The animosity is reciprocated. The only execution the Taliban have admitted to since taking over was of Abu Omar Khorasani, IS’s leader in South Asia. But IS is an outlier. Mr Kilcullen is not alone in fearing that the Taliban may again allow Afghanistan to become a base for other jihadis. In the deal negotiated with America in Doha in 2020 the Taliban promised to disavow al-Qaeda and its international mission. They never did so. According to a UN estimate there may be between 400 and 600 members of al-Qaeda in the country, many sheltered by the Taliban.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s deputy leader, runs a particularly brutal semi-autonomous outfit called the Haqqani network which, among other things, used to serve as Mr al-Zawahiri’s connection to the Taliban. (If the al-Qaeda leader is still alive it may well still do so.) Members of the Haqqani branch of the Taliban have been prominent in patrolling Kabul since it fell to the militants.
Such connections do not mean that al-Qaeda will be able to swank about with impunity rebuilding its operations. The Taliban are unlikely to want anyone to start planning attacks on America or Europe, certainly not straight away. “For now al-Qaeda is lying low due to instructions from the Afghan Taliban,” says Asfandyar Mir of Stanford University. But the Afghan regime change could nonetheless spread jihad to targets closer by.
A particular concern is Pakistan. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a jihadist group commonly called the Pakistani Taliban, waged a savage war there from 2007 until around 2014, when they were for the most part pushed back into Afghanistan. Having licked its wounds and regrouped, the TTP, many members of which are affiliated to al-Qaeda, has recently been stepping up its activities, with 120 attacks in Pakistan last year and 26 last month. The return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan has already emboldened the TTP, and could well see it better supplied.
The Pakistani government has long backed the Taliban in various ways. It will welcome the weakening of Indian influence in Afghanistan heralded by their return to power. Militants it supports in Indian-administered Kashmir may well get a boost from Afghan fighters flowing back over the Hindu Kush. On Pakistani television on August 23rd the chairman of the party of Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, said that “the Taliban say they’re with us and they will come and liberate Kashmir for us.” Though a renewed TTP poses a problem, Pakistan probably thinks it can be kept in check by diplomatic and economic pressure. Afghanistan depends on Pakistan for a lot of imported goods. That said, now that the Taliban are back in power, they may feel they need Pakistan less.
A direct flow of materiel or soldiers from Afghanistan to conflicts beyond South Asia seems less likely. The al-Qaeda affiliates in Africa and the Middle East may have been founded by men who fought in Afghanistan, but they have fewer direct links to the country today. Travelling to and from Afghanistan is harder than it was in the 1990s, says Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute, an American think-tank, and harder than it was to travel to Syria when ISwas in its pomp.
Dunes and dooms
Even if it does not lead to direct support from the Taliban, though, America’s departure from Afghanistan will be a huge morale boost to jihadis. This may be especially true in conflicts where outsiders are involved on the government’s side. Keep on fighting, the lesson runs, and eventually the foreigners will give up and leave—even if they have been there for decades. And then you will win.
That may be right. In June Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, promised that French forces in the Sahel, the region defined by the southern edge of the Sahara desert, would not remain there “eternally”. The deployment of the country’s force there, a mission known as Operation Barkhane, began in 2013 after jihadists seized the northern half of Mali. The Sahel’s jihadis have kept the force, which now numbers 5,100, busy ever since.
America has been part of the same fight. It built a huge military base in Agadez in Niger, another of the “G5” countries in the Sahel facing jihadist insurgents. (The other three are Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania.) It also deployed around 800 fighters in its special forces to Somalia, where they carried out raids on al-Shabab and co-ordinated more than 200 drone strikes.
Last December Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of most American troops from Somalia. Drone strikes were also stopped, though in July they started up again, under tightened rules of engagement. European funding for African troops in Somalia has been cut; Ethiopia, which has occupied parts of Somalia since 2009, is pulling its soldiers out to fight its own civil war in Tigray. France has begun a process by which Barkhane will have be halved in size and focusing more on killing terrorists than on protecting towns and cities. “As Africans, we face our day of reckoning just as some sense the West is losing its will for the fight,” wrote Muhammadu Buhari, the president of Nigeria, in the Financial Times on August 15th.
The Western withdrawal is not from a position of success. What happened in Kabul could be re-enacted in Mogadishu. Al-Shabab has been using Taliban-like tactics for some time, says Samira Gaid, the director of the Hiraal Institute, a security think-tank in Mogadishu. They undermine the government and international forces with terrorist attacks, while running a shadow government, even in government-controlled areas, to pay their fighters.
Much like the Taliban, they thrive on providing residents with a modicum of security beyond the gift of a failing state. Their violence is not popular, says Hussein Sheikh Ali, also of Hiraal, but their efficiency is admired. “If there is a man with a checkpoint and he gives you his word, you get it; if there’s a judge in their court and he says something, it will be enforced.” By contrast, the internationally recognised Somali state is repeatedly ranked as the world’s most corrupt.
In the Sahel over 700 people have been massacred by al-Qaeda and IS so far this year. The latest attack, in a Malian village near the border with Niger on August 8th, killed 51. This somewhat undercuts the opinion of Marc Conruyt, the French general who commanded Barkhane until July, that “the Sahelian forces are [today] able to cope with the armed terrorist groups.”
Worse than the old boss
Since the militants tend to recruit among the Tuareg and Fulani minorities from the north of Mali, men from those groups are often crudely profiled by soldiers from the south of the country, where the militants are less pervasive. Ethnicity is not the only thing which can lead to an attack. So can wearing underpants (most Malians do not, so this is seen as evidence of having been in Libya). “People I know who have had fathers, brothers and sons killed then joined the militants,” says Corinne Dufka, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, a charity based in New York.
The response to Islamist terrorism promoted by the West has often focused far too tightly on training security forces, says Michael Keating, a former British diplomat who has worked in both Somalia and Afghanistan and is now the director of the European Institute of Peace, a think-tank. It would be better to provide political space for them to operate in. “There’s this tremendous focus on training, comms, all of the technical stuff,” he says. But “actually if you’re going to build a sustainable institution, you’ve got to make sure that the institutions are extremely well grounded.”
In Somalia, where British and Turkish troops have been training the security forces, getting them to fight is not only a question of their technical abilities. It is a matter of building up local institutions worth fighting for. The same is true of the defence forces fighting in the G5 countries.
So what happens if the jihadists succeed? Few Islamist militants anywhere in the world have got as far as being able to govern much more than villages and rural districts. When they spread more widely, popular support is often vital. When IS took over the Iraqi city of Mosul they were initially welcomed by mostly-Sunni residents, who saw them as an alternative to the violence and corruption of the Shia-dominated Iraqi security services. Governments supported by America or Europe tend towards corruption as their officials look to make money from the spending being pumped in long-distance.
The new bosses provided services long neglected by the government, such as streamlined electricity bills and rubbish collection. And their installation saw a welcome fall in terrorist violence, since they had been responsible for much of that which had been going on before.
Nevertheless, they were also committed to a caliphate run along what they took to be the lines of the earliest Muslim civilisation. They quickly banned women from travelling outside alone, cracked down on vices such as smoking and drinking and started persecuting religious minorities. The level of popular dissatisfaction with those in power soon surpassed that which had originally seen them welcomed.
Money matters, too. While fighting, jihadists are able to extort revenue by taxing traffic on the roads and illicit industries; the Taliban have done well from opium production. In power they typically need more revenue and cannot raise it in the same ways without delegitimising themselves. In Syria and Iraq IS developed a lucrative taste for ransoming foreigners. In Mozambique the jihadists who took over Cabo Delgado in early August have subsequently relied on looting banks and running extortion rackets on businesses. This means that they can pay their fighters, procure arms and continue the struggle. But the money gathered by looting or hostage-taking dries up. Foreign currency ceases to flow. Things get desperate.
Some of the same fate may await the Taliban. Before Kabul fell, the teachers who worked in schools and the doctors in clinics in Taliban-occupied territories were still paid by the central government in Kabul—and in turn by foreign donors. Taxing the transport of, say, fuel only works if there is foreign currency to pay for it. Afghanistan’s reserves, which are largely held with the Federal Reserve in New York, are now frozen; it is not clear whether bilateral aid to the government will continue. There will still be ways to bleed the economy. But those giving the blood are liable to resent doing so.
Pen and sword
Jihad is not, in principle, the only way to get the strict Islamist states its followers desire. They could in theory be voted for. Governments with significant Islamist representation have had success in parts of Asia. But attempts to institute fully Islamist governments in the Arab world have proved strongly susceptible to backlash when their initial popularity wanes. The Muslim Brotherhood ruled Egypt for less than two years before a coup returned them to powerlessness, jail and worse. Last month, Tunisia’s president sounded the death-knell on Islamism’s participation in politics by dissolving the parliament in which an Islamist leader was speaker.
Tempting, then, to see the sword as mightier than the pen. Islamists who recall Egypt’s former Muslim Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Badie, appealing to his followers to face down tanks with peaceful activism say such ideas are now mocked and denounced online. “The Taliban is capturing the popular imagination. When you express your thoughts against this violence, many attack you. It’s a bit worrying,” says Osama Gaweesh, an Egyptian journalist exiled in London. With poverty soaring and politics constrained in many Middle Eastern states, frustrations crave an outlet. Some speak of a renewed faith in mass action, this time carrying guns modelled on the Taliban. “They’ve given up trusting bankrupt and elite Islamist parties and organisations,” says Naim Tilawi, a Jordanian Islamist who fought in Syria. “They want mass jihadism instead.” ■
This article appeared in the Briefing section of the print edition under the headline “A new model for the armies”
Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadrsays he will participate in Iraq’s upcoming general election, walking back a decision last month to boycott the October poll.
Sadr announced the reversal during a televised address Friday, saying that participating in the elections was “now acceptable” as a means of putting an end to the Iraqi government’s rampant corruption.
“We will enter these elections with vigor and determination, in order to save Iraq from occupation and corruption,” Sadr said.
Sadr commands the powerful Sairoon political bloc, which won the most seats in the last parliamentary election in 2018. Sadr himself doesn’t hold a position in the government, but wields significant influence in Iraqi politics. He is a fervent critic of both US and Iranian interference in Iraq.
In July, the firebrand clericannounced he would be boycotting the October elections and withdrawing support from the future government “in order to preserve what is left of the nation.”
The early elections called by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi were one of the main demands of the anti-government protest movement that swept Iraq in October 2019. Kadhimi’s predecessor, Adel Abdul Mahdi, resigned under pressure from tens of thousands of protesters fed up with the political establishment and Iranian influence in Iraq’s government.
Iraqis are scheduled to head to the polls Oct. 10 to select the Council of Representatives’ 328 members, which will then elect the president and prime minister. Across Iraq, a total of 3,249 candidates have registered, of which 29% are women.
Sadr’s announcement Friday comes after the United Nations’ envoy to Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, urged Iraqis to vote.
“By not casting your vote, you are gifting your silence to those you may disagree with,” she said in a UN Security Council briefing Wednesday.
Baghdad (Agenzia Fides) – Thanks to the campaign of the Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr, more than eighty properties – land and houses – have been returned to their rightful owners, including mostly Christians, citizens and Mandaeans after they have been victims of arbitrary and unlawful appropriation of their property by individuals or in recent years organized groups. Hakim al Zamili, a leading member of the “Sadrists” (supporter of the political group led by Muqtada al Sadr), who also previously chaired the Iraqi Parliamentary Committee on Security and Defense, reported on the results achieved so far thanks to the iniziative inspired by Muqtada al Sadr. In a statement released by various Iraqi media on Wednesday, August 25, Al-Zamili stated that the last of the properties returned to their rightful Christian and Mandaean owners are in the Baghdad area, and that the committee set up ad hoc on the instructions of Al-Sadr to accompany the return has so far collected more than 140 return requests from Christian and Mandaean citizens who had been the victims of illegal expropriation of their real estate in recent phases of Iraqi history. At the beginning of the year (see Fides, 4/1/2021), the Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr ordered the establishment of an ad hoc committee. This committee was tasked with collecting and reviewing information and complaints about cases of abusive expropriation of real estate by Christian and Mandaean owners in different regions of the country in recent years. The aim of the initiative launched by the Shiite politician was to restore justice and end the violation of the property rights of “Christian brothers and sisters”, even if these violations were committed by members of his own movement. The request to report cases of illegal expropriations has been extended to include Christian families who have left the country in recent years, with a request to submit reports of fraudulent expropriations to the committee by the end of next Ramadan. The phenomenon of illegal theft of Christian homes was able to spread thanks to connivance and cover-ups of corrupt and dishonest officials, who put themselves at the service of individual impostors and organized groups of fraudsters (See Fides, 23/7/2015). Last but not least, the “legalized” theft of property from Christian families is closely related to the mass exodus of Iraqi Christians, which has intensified since 2003 after the US-led military interventions to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime. Houses and properties that were unguarded were seized because it was assumed that none of the owners would return to claim their property. The controversial Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr is also known to have been the founder of the Mahdi army, the militia – officially disbanded in 2008 – created in 2003 to fight the foreign armed forces present in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Analysts have seen several changes over the past decade by the leader, who dissolved his militia in 2008 and does not appear to be aligned with Iran. In the past, in the Iraqi political scenarios of recent years, Muqtada al Sadr has also tried to profile himself as a potential mediator. His visit to Saudi Arabia in July 2017 to meet Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was also interpreted in this perspective. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 26/8/2021)