Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rwanda and Uganda arming rebels in DR Congo - YouTube

UN: Rwanda and Uganda arming rebels in DR Congo - YouTube: ""

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DR Congo rebels seize military airport - YouTube

DR Congo rebels seize military airport - YouTube: ""

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Israel and Gaza: Then and Now - Stratfor

Four years ago on Nov. 4, while Americans were going to the polls to elect a new president, Israeli infantry, tanks and bulldozers entered the Gaza Strip to dismantle an extensive tunnel network used by Hamas to smuggle in weapons. An already tenuous truce mediated by the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak had been broken. Hamas responded with a barrage of mortar and rocket fire lasting several weeks, and on Dec. 27, 2008, Israel began Operation Cast Lead. The military campaign began with seven days of heavy air strikes on Gaza, followed by a 15-day ground incursion. By the end of the campaign, nearly 1,000 poorly guided shorter-range rockets and mortar shells hit southern Israel, reaching as far as Beersheba and Yavne. Several senior Hamas commanders and hundreds of militants were killed in the fighting. Israel Defense Forces figures showed that 10 IDF soldiers died (four from friendly fire), three Israeli civilians died from Palestinian rocket fire and 1,166 Palestinians were killed -- 709 of them combatants.

The strategic environment during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead was vastly different from the one Israel faces in today's Operation Pillar of Defense. To understand the evolution in regional dynamics, we must return to 2006, the year that would set the conditions for both military campaigns.

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Setting the Stage

2006 began with Hamas winning a sweeping electoral victory over its ideological rival, Fatah. Representing the secular and more pragmatic strand of Palestinian politics, Fatah had already been languishing in Gaza under the weight of its own corruption and its lackluster performance in seemingly fruitless negotiations with Israel. The political rise of Hamas led to months of civil war between the two Palestinian factions, and on June 14, Hamas forcibly took control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah. Just 11 days later, Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalt and killed two others, prompting a new round of hostilities with Israel.

In what appeared to be a coordinated move, Hezbollah on July 12 launched its own raid on Israel's northern front and kidnapped two additional soldiers, kicking off the month-long Second Lebanon War. As Israel discovered, Hezbollah was well-prepared for the conflict, relying on an extensive tunneling system to preserve its launching crews and weaponry. Hezbollah made use of anti-tank guided missiles, improvised explosive devices that caught Israel Defense Forces by surprise and blunted the ground offensive, and medium-range rockets capable of reaching Haifa. Hezbollah incurred a heavy toll for the fight, with much of the infrastructure in southern Lebanon devastated and roughly 1,300 Lebanese civilian casualties threatening to erode its popular support. Casualty numbers aside, Hezbollah emerged from the 2006 conflict with a symbolic victory. Since 1973, no other Arab army, much less a militant organization, had been able to fight as effectively to challenge Israel's military superiority. Israel's inability to claim victory translated as a Hezbollah victory. That perception reverberated throughout the region. It cast doubts on Israel's ability to respond to much bigger strategic threats, considering it could be so confounded by a non-state militant actor close to home.

At that time, Hamas was contending with numerous challenges; its coup in Gaza had earned the group severe political and economic isolation, and the group's appeals to open Gaza's border, and for neighbors to recognize Hamas as a legitimate political actor, went mostly unheeded. However, Hamas did take careful note of Hezbollah's example. Here was a militant organization that had burnished its resistance credentials against Israel, could maintain strong popular support among its constituents and had made its way into Lebanon's political mainstream.

Hezbollah benefited from a strong patron in Iran. Hamas, on the other hand, enjoyed no such support. Mubarak's Egypt, Bashar al Assad's Syria, Jordan under the Hashemites and the Gulf monarchies under the influence of the House of Saud all shared a deep interest in keeping Hamas boxed in. Although publically these countries showed support for the Palestinians and condemned Israel, they tended to view Palestinian refugees and more radical groups such as Hamas as a threat to the stability of their regimes.

While Hamas began questioning the benefits of its political experiment, Iran saw an opportunity to foster a militant proxy. Tehran saw an increasingly strained relationship between Saudi Arabia and Hamas, and it took advantage to increase funding and weapons supplies to the group. Forces from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, along with Hezbollah, worked with Hamas to expand the group's weapons arsenal and build elaborate tunnels under the Gaza Strip to facilitate its operations. Israel soon began to notice and took action toward the end of 2008.

Operation Cast Lead

Hamas was operating in a difficult strategic environment during Operation Cast Lead. Hezbollah had the benefit of using the rural terrain south of the Litani River to launch rockets against Israel during the Second Lebanon War, thereby sparing Lebanon's most densely populated cities from retaliatory attacks. Hamas, on the other hand, must work in a tightly constricted geographic space and therefore uses the Palestinian population as cover for its rocket launches. The threat of losing popular support is therefore much higher for Hamas in Gaza than it is for Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. At the same time, operating in a built-up urban environment also poses a considerable challenge for the Israeli military.

During Operation Cast Lead, Cairo did little to hide its true feelings toward Hamas. Though Egypt played a critical role in the cease-fire negotiations, it was prepared to incur the domestic political cost of cracking down on the Rafah border crossing to prevent refugees from flowing into Sinai and to prevent Hamas from replenishing its weapons supply. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, then in the opposition, took advantage of the situation to publicly rally against the Mubarak regime, but its protests did little to change the situation. Hamas was boxed in by Egypt and Israel.

The rest of the region largely avoided direct involvement. Turkey was focused on internal affairs, and Saudi Arabia remained largely aloof. Jordan's Hashemite rulers could afford to continue quietly cooperating with Israel without facing backlash. The United States, emerging from an election, was focused on shaping an exit strategy from Iraq. Many of Hamas' traditional wealthy Gulf donors grew wary of attracting the focus of Western security and intelligence agencies as fund transfers from the Gulf came under closer scrutiny.

Iran was the exception. While the Arab regimes ostracized Hamas, Iran worked to sustain the group in its fight. Tehran's reasoning was clear and related to Iran's emergence as a regional power. Iraq had already fallen into Iran's sphere of influence (though the United States was not yet prepared to admit it), Hezbollah was rebuilding in southern Lebanon, and Iranian influence continued to spread in western Afghanistan. Building up a stronger militant proxy network in the Palestinian territories was the logical next step in Tehran's effort to keep a check on Israeli threats to strike the Iranian nuclear program.

In early January 2009, in the midst of Operation Cast Lead, Israel learned that Iran was allegedly planning to deliver 120 tons of arms and explosives to Gaza, including anti-tank guided missiles and Iranian-made Fajr-3 rockets with a 40-kilometer (25-mile) range and 45-kilogram (99-pound) warhead. The Iranian shipment arrived at Port Sudan, and the Israeli air force then bombed a large convoy of 23 trucks traveling across Egypt's southern border up into Sinai. Though Israel interdicted this weapons shipment -- likely with Egyptian complicity -- Iran did not give up its attempts to supply Hamas with advanced weaponry. The long-range Fajr rocket attacks targeting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the current conflict are a testament to Iran's continued effort.

The Current Geopolitical Environment

Hamas and Israel now find themselves in a greatly altered geopolitical climate. On every one of its borders, Israel faces a growing set of vulnerabilities that would have been hard to envision at the time of Operation Cast Lead.

The most important shift has taken place in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood carefully used the momentum provided by the Arab Spring to shed its opposition status and take political control of the state. Hamas, which grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, then faced an important decision. With an ideological ally in Cairo, Egypt no longer presents as high a hurdle to Hamas' political ambitions. Indeed, Hamas could even try to use its ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to achieve political legitimacy. When unrest spread into Syria and began to threaten Iran's position in the Levant, Hamas made a strategic decision to move away from the Iran-Syria axis, now on the decline, and to latch itself onto the new apparent regional trend: the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist affiliates across the Arab world.

This rise of the Muslim Brotherhood spread from Egypt to Syria to Jordan, presenting Israel with a new set of challenges on its borders. Egypt's dire economic situation, the political unrest in its cities, and the Muslim Brotherhood's uneasy relationship with the military and security apparatus led to a rapid deterioration in security in Sinai. Moreover, a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo on friendly terms with Hamas could not be trusted to crack down on the Gaza border and interdict major weapons shipments. A political machine such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which derives its power from the street, will be far more sensitive to pro-Palestinian sentiment than will a police state that can rule through intimidation.

In Syria, Israel has lost a predictable adversary to its north. The balkanization of the Levant is giving rise to an array of Islamist forces, and Israel can no longer rely on the regime in Damascus to keep Hezbollah in check for its own interests. In trying to sustain its position in Syria and Lebanon, Iran has increased the number of its operatives in the region, bringing Tehran that much closer to Israel as both continue to posture over a potential strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

To Israel's east, across the Jordan River valley, pressure is also growing on the Hashemite kingdom. An emboldened Muslim Brotherhood has been joined by disillusioned tribes from the East Bank in openly calling for the downfall of the king. High energy costs are severely blunting the kingdom's ability to contain these protests through subsidies, and the growing crisis in Gaza threatens to spread instability in the West Bank and invigorate Palestinians across the river in Jordan.

Beyond its immediate periphery, Israel is struggling to find parties interested in its cause. The Europeans remain hostile to anything they deem to be excessive Israeli retaliation against the Palestinians. Furthermore, they are far too consumed by the fragmentation of the European Union to get involved with what is happening in the southern Levant.

The United States remains diplomatically involved in trying to reach a cease-fire, but as it has made clear throughout the Syrian crisis, Washington does not intend to get dragged into every conflagration in the Middle East. Instead, the United States is far more interested in having regional players like Egypt and Turkey manage the burden. The United States can pressure Egypt by threatening to withhold financial and military aid. In the case of Turkey, there appears to be little that Ankara can do to mediate the conflict. Turkish-Israeli relations have been severely strained since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. Moreover, although the Turkish government is trying to edge its way into the cease-fire negotiations to demonstrate its leadership prowess to the region, Ankara is as wary of appearing too close to a radical Islamist group like Hamas as it is of appearing in the Islamic world as too conciliatory to Israel.

Saudi Arabia was already uncomfortable with backing more radical Palestinian strands, but Riyadh now faces a more critical threat -- the regional rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamist political activism poses a direct threat to the foundation of the monarchy, which has steadfastly kept the religious establishment out of the political domain. Saudi Arabia has little interest in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood encouraging Hamas' political rise, and Riyadh will thus become even more alienated from the Palestinian theater. Meanwhile Gulf state Qatar, which has much less to lose, is proffering large amounts of financial aid in a bid to increase its influence in the Palestinian territories.

Iran, meanwhile, is working feverishly to stem the decline of its regional influence. At the time of Operation Cast Lead, Iran was steadily expanding its sphere of influence, from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. A subsequent U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf and an intensifying U.S.-led economic warfare campaign slowed Iran down, but it was the decline of the al Assad regime that put Iran on the defensive. An emboldened Sunni opposition in Syria, backed by the West, Turkey and the Arab Gulf states, could spill into Lebanon to threaten Hezbollah's position and eventually threaten Iran's position in Iraq. With each faction looking to protect itself, Iran can no longer rely as heavily on militant proxies in the Levant, especially Palestinian groups that see an alignment with Iran as a liability in the face of a Sunni rebellion. But Iran is also not without options in trying to maintain a Palestinian lever against Israel.

Hamas would not be able to strike Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with long-range rockets had it not been for Iran, which supplied these rockets through Sudan and trained Palestinian operatives on how to assemble them in Gaza. Even if Hamas uses up its arsenal of Fajr-5s in the current conflict and takes a heavy beating in the process, Iran has succeeded in creating a major regional distraction to tie down Israel and draw attention away from the Syrian rebellion. Iran supplied Hezbollah with Zelzal rockets capable of reaching Haifa during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hamas was limited to shorter-range Qassam and Grad rockets in Operation Cast Lead but now has Iranian-made Fajr-5s to target Israel's most cherished cities.

Hamas is now carrying the mantle of resistance from Hezbollah in hopes of achieving a symbolic victory that does not end up devastating the group in Gaza. Israel's only hope to deny Hamas that victory is to eliminate Hamas' arsenal of these rockets, all the while knowing that Iran will likely continue to rely on Egypt's leniency on the border to smuggle more parts and weaponry into Gaza in the future. The Hamas rocket dilemma is just one example of the types of problems Israel will face in the coming years. The more vulnerable Israel becomes, the more prone it will be to pre-emptive action against its neighbors as it tries to pick the time and place of battle. In this complex strategic environment, Operation Pillar of Defense may be one of many similar military campaigns as Israel struggles to adjust to this new geopolitical reality. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hezbollah Remains Wary amid Israeli Operations in Gaza - stratfor.com

November 17, 2012

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  • Hezbollah's Contingency Planning
  • Hamas' Rocket Strategy
  • The Relevance of Israel and Gaza
While Hamas is preparing for an Israeli ground assault into Gaza, Hezbollah's movements on Israel's northern frontier bear close watching. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Nov. 17 called on the Muslim world to retaliate against Israeli actions in Gaza. Naturally, many are looking in the direction of Lebanon, where Hezbollah, Iran's most capable militant proxy, could open a second front against Israel.

Though Iran would welcome the opportunity to demonstrate the spectrum of its militant proxy strength, especially after supplying Hamas with the long-range Fajr-5 rockets that have been targeting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Hezbollah will likely be extremely cautious in deciding whether to participate in this war. The group's fate is linked to that of the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad; should Syria fracture along sectarian lines, Lebanon is likely to descend into civil war, and Hezbollah will have to conserve its strength and resources for a battle at home against its sectarian rivals. Indeed, Hezbollah has already been preparing for such a scenario by seizing control of villages along the Orontes River Basin in order to maintain connectivity with Syria's Alawite community.

At the same time, if Hamas is able to bog down Israeli ground forces by drawing them into a war of attrition in densely populated Gaza City, Hezbollah may see a political opportunity to burnish its credentials as the region's leading "resistance" movement. In this case, Hezbollah would likely monitor the situation until it could be assured that Israeli forces are sufficiently constrained on the Gaza front before it begins attacks on the northern front. Hezbollah is not looking for a major confrontation with Israel, and the tens of thousands of additional Israeli reservists called up compared to Operation Cast Lead suggest that Israel is already preparing for a two-front contingency. If Hezbollah does decide to participate in the war, it would be carefully timed to drive an already embattled Israel toward a cease-fire so that Hezbollah could claim a largely symbolic victory at relatively little cost.

With Hezbollah uncertain how the Israeli-Hamas battle will play out, the group appears to be taking a cautious approach. Stratfor has received indication that Hezbollah has prevented radical Palestinian groups in southern Lebanese refugee camps from firing rockets into northern Israel. In addition to an increase in the number of patrols by the Lebanese army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Hezbollah has been deploying numerous operatives in plainclothes along the border to monitor the situation. Hezbollah has also installed cameras around the Ain al Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon to monitor traffic from the camp to its outside environs. Whereas Hezbollah completely controls movement into and out of Palestinian refugee camps in the deep south, Ain al Hilweh lies completely within a Sunni neighborhood. For this reason, Hezbollah has rented a number of apartments around the camp, especially in al Ta'mir area, to keep a close watch there.

For now, Hezbollah appears intent on not allowing the battle in Gaza to spill into southern Lebanon. It remains to be seen whether that calculus would shift should Hamas succeed in wearing down Israeli ground forces.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Update on the Israel-Gaza Conflict | Stratfor

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
An Israeli rocket fired from the Iron Dome in Tel Aviv on Nov. 17
New intelligence indicates forces in Gaza may be manufacturing long-range rockets locally. If this is the case, a significant ground force offers the Israelis the best chance of finding and neutralizing the factories making these weapons. Meanwhile, Israel continues its airstrikes on Gaza, and Gaza continues its long-range rocket attacks on major Israeli population centers, though Israel claims its Iron Dome defense system has intercepted most of the rockets.
Israel appears to be positioning itself for a ground operation, perhaps as early as the night of Nov. 17. The Israeli Cabinet on Nov. 16 approved Defense Minister Ehud Barak's request to call up 75,000 reservists, significantly more than during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. The Israeli army meanwhile has also sought to strengthen its presence on the borders with Gaza. Primary roads leading to Gaza and running parallel to Sinai have been declared closed military zones. Tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery and troops continue to stream to the border, and many units already appear to be in position.
During Operation Cast Lead, the Israelis transitioned to the ground phase around 8:00 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2009. Going in during dark hours allows the IDF to take advantage of its superior night-fighting equipment and training, including the use of night vision goggles and thermal optics.
The Israeli air force remained active throughout the night of Nov. 16-17, striking at targets across the Gaza Strip including key Hamas ministries, police stations and tunnels near the border crossing with Egypt. The IAF reportedly carried out strikes in Rafah's al-Sulan and al-Zahour neighborhoods, as well as east of the al-Maghazi refugee camp. According to IDF reports, the air force carried out a rapid and coordinated military strike, targeting approximately 70 underground medium-range rocket-launching sites in the less than an hour. The IDF claims direct hits were confirmed. The IAF will increasingly target Hamas militant defenses ahead of any ground invasion. Already the IAF has bombed militant defensive positions, particularly in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Hamas and other militant factions in Gaza have been actively striking back at Israel. More than 80 rockets have been launched from Gaza over the past 24 hours. Of the rockets launched Nov. 17, approximately 57 landed in Israel. According to the IDF, a total of 640 rockets have been launched since Nov. 14, with 410 landing in Israel. A long-range rocket was fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv at approximately 4:45 p.m. local time Nov. 17 but was successfully intercepted by the recently deployed Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system in the area. Hamas continues to target areas around Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheva, with the Iron Dome system intercepting five rockets over Ashkelon at 5:15 p.m. The majority of rockets launched from Gaza appear to be of shorter range than the Fajr-5. The IDF has stated its Iron Dome interceptors have so far successfully intercepted 90 percent of the rockets, though this may be an exaggeration.
One of the long-range rockets was intercepted by the newly installed Iron Dome battery in the Tel Aviv area. A Stratfor source has indicated that the rocket was not a Fajr-5, but was a locally manufactured long-range rocket in Hamas' arsenal.
If militants in Gaza are now able to locally manufacture their own long-range rockets that can target Tel Aviv and other major Israeli cities, it would be a worrisome development for Israel. Thus far, Israel has been able to focus its efforts on limiting the supply of these rockets to Gaza through interdiction efforts, such as the alleged Oct. 23 strike on the Yarmouk arms factory in Sudan. But if Palestinian militants can manufacture long-range rockets in Gaza, it will be much more difficult for Israel to restrict Gaza's inventory of these rockets. Beyond rocket launch sites and caches, which Israel is currently targeting with its airstrikes, it would need to target production sites and those who would be responsible for manufacturing the rockets.
Furthermore, it will be significantly harder for Israeli intelligence to form an accurate picture of the number of these rockets locally constructed in Gaza. We have already seen that Israeli intelligence likely did not anticipate how many long-range rockets had escaped its first wave of strikes, and the fact that Hamas may have been producing these weapons could explain Israel's lack of complete information.
Hamas recognizes that these long-range rocket attacks have only increased the likelihood and intensity of an Israeli ground incursion. A significant ground force offers the Israelis the best chance of finding and neutralizing the factories making these long-range rockets as well as the shorter-range Qassams. Hamas and the other militants therefore are actively preparing their defenses for the anticipated incursion and are likely laying improvised explosive devices, setting up road blocks and defensive emplacements and sorting out their ranks and tasks.
Hamas has already announced that its Al Murabiteen units, consisting of five brigades spread across Gaza, will be concentrated in the border region to limit Israeli penetration into the Gaza Strip. Learning from Hezbollah's example in 2006, special units of Hamas are relying heavily on tunnels to maintain communications. Should Israel be drawn into more densely populated areas of Gaza in pursuit of weapons storage and manufacturing facilities, Hamas has also reportedly prepared its suicide bombers, known as Istishadiyeen, to raise the cost for Israel in an urban battle.

Read more: Update on the Israel-Gaza Conflict | Stratfor 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

African Union seeks U.N. approval for military action to route al Qaeda-linked militants from Mali - CBS News

African Union seeks U.N. approval for military action to route al Qaeda-linked militants from Mali

Some 300 Malian civilians receive military training from an army instructor on August 20, 2012 at a camp near the central city Mopti to fight Islamists who have been occupying the north of the country for the last five months.
Some 300 Malian civilians receive military training from an army instructor on August 20, 2012 at a camp near the central city Mopti to fight Islamists who have been occupying the north of the country for the last five months. /GETTY
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIAThe African Union is asking the United Nations Security Council to endorse a military intervention to free northern Mali from Islamist extremists affiliated with al Qaeda.
The African Union's Peace and Security Council late Tuesday endorsed a plan to send 3,300 soldiers to Mali and called on the U.N. Security Council to authorize the deployment for an initial period of one year. Leaders from the West African bloc known as ECOWAS agreed on the plan Sunday.
Mutinous soldiers overthrew Mali's democratically elected president in March, creating a power vacuum that paved the way for Islamists to grab the north, an area the size of France. Since then, Islamic fundamentalists have imposed strict Shariah law, banning music and whipping, amputating and stoning to death people convicted of crimes.
According to the African Union and ECOWAS military plan, some 5,000 Malian troops would be joined by 3,300 African troops. The largest number of foreign troops would be about 600 to 700 from Nigeria. The country of Niger would send about 500 and the remainder of troops would come from other African countries.
Air power and technical and logistical support would be provided by France or the United States, as long as the plan is approved by the United Nations.
Many in the West fear that northern Mali and the arid Sahel region could become the new Afghanistan, a no-man's-land where extremists can train, impose hardline Islamic law and plot terror attacks abroad. France, former colonial ruler to countries across the Sahel, is a prime target. That is why France and neighboring African countries are planning the joint military intervention in northern Mali.
While these plans for an international military intervention in northern Mali proceed, diplomats are trying to resolve the Mali crisis through negotiation.
The U.N. special envoy for West Africa, Said Djinnit, met Tuesday with Ansar Dine, one of the three Islamist extremist groups controlling northern Mali, to urge them to join political dialogue to end the crisis in northern Mali. The U.N. envoy met in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso with an Ansar Dine delegation led by Algabass Ag Intalla.
Djinnit said that talks are being tried to find a peaceful solution to Mali's crisis, force will be used against those who refuse.
"We want to give priority to dialogue. We hope that the dialogue takes place as soon as possible because all the peoples of northern Mali are anxious to rejoin the Mali republic and its values," said Djinnit, after meeting with Blaise Compaore, the president of Burkina Faso who is also the Mali mediator for the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, the 15-nation bloc that wields considerable influence in the region.
Djinnit urged Ansar Dine to uphold "the values ??of tolerance" and warned that "those who advocate terrorism and religious extremism will face whatever action the international community deems appropriate."
When it began the mediations last week, Ansar Dine announced it was giving up terrorism and organized crime and was ready to join political dialogue. ECOWAS and the international community have been urging Ansar Dine, which is occupying the Kidal region of northern Mali, to cut ties with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.
Ansar Dine is believed to be made up mostly of Malian fighters whereas the two other groups — AQIM and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO — are said to be primarily composed of foreign fighters, some allegedly from as far afield as Pakistan. Mediators are hoping to weaken the Islamic rebel front by peeling off the more moderate members.
© 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Ogaden Problem: Will an Old Insurgency Tip the Balance in East Africa? | TIME.com

Hopes that one of the Horn of Africa‘s longest running conflicts could soon come to an end foundered when peace talks between the Ethiopian government and ethnic Ogadeni rebels recently broke down. Due to the Ogaden National Liberation Front’s alleged ties with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s troublesome neighbour, and rumored links to al-Qaeda affiliated militia al-Shabab, many fear the failure of the negotiations could fuel instability and conflict in the region.
The ONLF have been fighting over a territory officially called the Somali region due to its proximity to Somalia. Predominantly Muslim and culturally closer to Somalia, the residents of the region have long felt detached from the Orthodox Christian ruling government in Addis Ababa. While most of the ONLF’s political wing is based in western countries, its military units operate on the fringes of Ethiopian sovereignty, entering the region across its borders with Somalia and Eritrea using hit and run tactics. On the back of years of underdevelopment and mistreatment, the ONLF claims to represent a population that seeks independence from Ethiopia—and some even who desire a union with neighboring Somalia. “Now our people are like slaves, under a humanitarian siege with no right to anything,” says Abdirahman Mahdi, the ONLF’s founder and foreign secretary based in the U.K.
The most recent talks come at a time when Kenyan and Ethiopian forces are engaged in a military operation to push al-Shabab out of key Somalian towns. The militant outfit has attempted to impose a strict form of sharia law across stretches of Somalia under its control, and is implicated in a string of terrorist attacks throughout East Africa. At the end of September they were forced to retreat from Kismayo, a strategic port, the latest setback suffered by al-Shabab since August 2011, when they were forced out of Mogadishu. Breaking eight years of rule by a corrupt transitional government, a new government was sworn in last month with the first female foreign minister in the country’s history. In a recent statement the ONLF voiced it’s support for the new government.
Despite operating in the same region, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has vehemently rejected allegations they have supported al-Shabab, and has in fact clashed several times with them in the past on the Ethiopian-Somalia border. According to Ogadeni expert Tobias Hagmann the ONLF is actually a competitor of al-Shabab. “With al-Shabab busy trying to safeguard their people and interests from the intervention I don’t think the failure of the talks will effect al-Shabab so much,” Hagmann told TIME.
There are concerns, though, from analysts in Ethiopia that the continued inability to reconcile ONLF could push the rebel group into al-Shabab’s arms. “Some ONLF factions have long collaborated with al-Shabab,” says Abel Abate an analyst at the state funded think-tank, the Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development (EIIPD) in Addis Ababa. “If the talks fail, al-Shabab, also increasingly desperate for support after the intervention, could push for more alliances with ONLF commanders.”
Last month’s talks fell apart over the ONLF’s refusal, thus far, to recognize Ethiopia’s constitution. Should they have succeeded, Hagmann argues, they would have boosted Kenya’s role as a “regional powerbroker,” capable of putting out one fire peacefully while attempting to squelch another through force of arms. Eritrea, on the other hand, will be sure to lose out. ONLF troops have long operated out of Eritrea, with most of the main bases believed to be on the Eritrean side of the border. ONLF intellectuals were based in the Eritrean capital Asmara for a number of years, and Eritrea has used the ONLF as a proxy against its old foe Ethiopia.
Eritrea is not the only country to have supported the rebels. In 2008, it was alleged that ONLF rebels were being trained in Qatar. Unsurprisingly diplomatic ties were quickly severed between petro-rich emirate and Ethiopia. The reestablishment of relations on October 24, however, could be a sign of dwindling international support for the ONLF. According to Abate, regime change in Egypt and Libya has also had a significant effect on their funding. “It is common knowledge that [Muammar] Gaddafi heavily financed the ONLF. Without this income, I believe they have lost a lot of money,” says Abate.
The peace talks were originally started in March by Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Despite being criticised for his government’s human rights record, Zenawi was highly respected internationally for his ability to raise his country out of abject poverty and lead his government. Following his untimely death in August the peace talks were continued in September but soon fell apart.
Ethiopian political analyst Jawar Mohammed argues that, without Meles, the negotiating team had no clear leadership. “Now the government is divided about how to deal with the ONLF,” Mohammed told TIME. “One faction in the government wants to continue the talks, the other does not. It appears the latter has got the upper hand.”
While Somali region is closed off to journalists and independent observers, human rights groups have long accused the government of committing human rights abuses against Ogadeni citizens. One major fear is a stalled political process will escalate fighting and lead to an exodus of refugees. “We may see a surge of violence as the ONLF needs to remain politically relevant in the eyes of Ethiopia and the international community,” says Ethiopia expert Kjetil Tronvoll. If the disillusioned separatists do take that route—seeking to assert their agenda through a heightened military campaign—then the whole Horn of Africa is in for more trouble ahead.

Read more: http://world.time.com/2012/11/07/the-ogaden-problem-will-an-old-insurgency-tip-the-balance-in-east-africa/#ixzz2BcbGhYqD