The Islamic State: Dawn of a new Caliphate in Nigeria?

 

Opinion, Nigeria,

Gabby Ogbechie. The Property Gazette 

Nigeria, the largest country in the West African sub-region, in terms of population, and the richest in economic terms, owing to the abundance of Crude oil and Gas reserves in its Niger-Delta or south-south region, is currently experiencing an influx of, or invasion by heavily armed militants (terrorists) whom the Federal Government described as ISIS, suggestive of an imminent, planned uprising that would inevitably culminate in the establishment of another Islamic Caliphate in Africa.

It is no longer news that the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has been so degraded and depleted, and all its territories in Syria and Iraq recaptured that one would presume that both the Caliphate and ISIS as an ignoble entity are finished. Moreover, attempts by Al-Shabaab to establish an African caliphate have been creditably resisted by the Somali government.

However, the obnoxious fact that stares the world in the face is that the leadership of ISIS, notably Abu Bakar al Baghdadi and his close and immediate associates, with a few exceptions, are well and alive. With some state sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East still willing and able to make things happen for the cause of jihad and Islam, Baghdadi could be anywhere right now. And no one, it seems, not Syria, not Iraq, not Russia which ascribes to itself alone, the credit of defeating ISIS and bringing the Syrian war to a close; and certainly not the United States which dithered and redrew the ‘’red-line’’ several times before the emergence of President Trump, is interested in either capturing or having Baghdadi neutralized.

Aside from having so many countries in the Middle East that would readily host him, an option, for Baghdadi, could be the establishment of another caliphate. In terms of where an alternative caliphate could be situated, Asia is simply out of it; predominantly Islamic countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc. would not allow it under the open glare of the world, especially the United States.

With options for the relocation of its caliphate running thin, it is not inconceivable that ISIS may, once more, turn its gaze towards Africa, having some years back been expelled from Mali by France. And the obvious choice of the country where it would find support and sustenance is Nigeria from which Boko Haram had hitherto pledged allegiance.

Moreover, unlike Chad which banked on the support and assistance of its erstwhile colonial master France to come to its rescue, Nigeria does not currently have any Defence Pact with any of the world powers to come to its assistance. If anything, most Nigerian leaders have leaned towards the OIC, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and like most African countries, had out-rightly declined participation in Africom (African Command Defense Pact ), a joint African and American force to be headquartered in any African country. At the time in question, circa 2009, under the President George W. Bush administration, Muammar Gadhafi of Libya led the resistance against the establishment of Africom in Africa for the purpose of fighting terrorism.

Why Nigeria? One may be tempted to ask

In terms of perception, Nigeria, a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference which the erstwhile military President, Ibrahim Babangida foisted on the nation, is largely divided in terms of ethnicity and religion: In the core north, you have the north-west states of Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi,and Niger made up of Muslim Hausa-Fulani, and Kwara state which was mostly Yoruba, but was subsumed into Hausa-Fulani oligarchy through the imposition of an emir by the settler Hausa-Fulani; north-central Hausa-Fulani states of Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Bauchi, and Gombe who are Muslim, and Kaduna, whose south-end is peopled by the Christians that are currently being subjected to ethnic cleansing. *

The north-east states, consisting of Adamawa, Bornu, Taraba and Yobe states which are peopled by mostly the Junkun and Kanuri, and within which zone Boko Haram birthed its insurgency with a view to forcefully converting the indigenous people to Islam, are non-Muslims; the middle-belt, mostly Christian states of Benue and Plateau, and mostly Muslim Nasarawa state peopled by the Hausa-Fulani, and Plateau, Benue and Kogi states peopled by the Igarra, Tiv, Idoma, Egere and settler Fulani.

The south-east states, namely Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Imo, and Ebonyi are Christian Ibo states; the south-west, Yoruba states made up of Ekiti, Lagos, Ondo, Osun and Oyo are two-third Christians, and the rest Muslims; and the south-south states of Cross River, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo states consist of a hotchpotch of Ibos, Efik, Ibibio, Edo, Urhobo, Itsekiri and Ijaw are mostly Christians. Incidentally, the south-south states are the most deprived, despite the fact of being the cash-cow of the economy from where oil and gas are extracted.

The core Fulani-Hausa north who have been in power in the Federal Government for over 80% of the life of the republic, have foreclosed the option of including religion on Census menu because that would have revealed the percentages of Christians, Moslems and Traditional religionists within the land space of the federation.

Since the north-west and north-central are the core Muslim states; the middle-belt states mainly Christian; the north-east mainly Christian and partially Muslim; the east and south-south Christians; the west, mainly Christian and partially Muslim, it is ridiculous to have Nigeria referred to as a Muslim country. In objective truth, Nigeria, although politically dominated by the Muslim Hausa-Fulani, is by no dint of the imagination a Moslem country.

As the whole world now knows, one of the most vicious, Islamic terrorist groups the world has seen is Boko Haram, which translates into ‘’Western Education is forbidden.’’ As should have been expected, the Boko Haram insurgency did not emanate from the predominantly Muslim states; it was conceived within the north-east where the cattle-Fulani settlers settled, mainly in Bornu state.

In more ways than one, the plot of the ethnic-religio crises in the process of imploding was hatched by the British colonialists who, in spite of their experience with the Palestinian quagmire which neither the Balfour Declaration, the Oslo Accord nor any other conceived solution could solve, went ahead to create the deadly Christian-Islam country named Nigeria, instead of creating two separate countries; one in the north and the second in the south. For the frivolous reason of cutting its administrative costs, the British merged the Northern and Southern Protectorates, which had neither cultural nor religious ties into one huge imminently explosive country.

The Boko Haram Quagmire

It was in 2002/2003 in the last days of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency that the nation and the entire world heard the stirrings of Boko Haram. First was the incident when this small band of Islamic fundamentalists attacked a Police unit in Maiduguri in Bornu State; killed some policemen and carted away small arms. Several of such incidents, such as attacking churches and few mosques followed until the major event which marked the arrival of the Boko Haram insurgency; the attack and bombing of the UN building in Abuja during the inception of the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2006.

The Olusegun Obasanjo administration did virtually nothing to stamp out the insurgency because the inception of Boko Haram coincided with the period it was engrossed in its ‘’third term agenda.’’ Just like he did with the institution of the Sharia Islamic Law in Zamfara State which he later characterized as ‘’Political Sharia’’; ignoring it as if it wasn’t happening, he ignored this ogre at its incipient stage when it would have been wiped out relatively easily, and progressed to the stage when attacks occurred almost two or three times every week all over the northern states.

Up to date, it is estimated that over 25 thousand souls have been wiped out; thousands of homes burnt; scores of villages destroyed; and millions displaced through the terrorism Boko Haram unleashed on the nation and adjoining countries such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Boko Haram’s abduction of nearly 300 adolescent schoolgirls from the Federal Government Girls Secondary School from the small town Chibok, with the active connivance politicians bent on discrediting the Goodluck Jonathan Administration was what finally announced Boko Haram to the world, and unleashed the #BringBackOurGirls movement.

Typically, the thoroughly organized slaughter which political correctness in Nigeria define as ‘’herdsmen/farmers’’ clashes usually begin with Fulani herdsmen trespassing into farmsteads, destroying the huts constructed by farmers, and then proceeding to chopping yam and cassava tubers into tiny bits for the consumption convenience of their cattle. If unfortunately such farmers dare to challenge such herdsmen, their usual reaction is to shoot such farmers for having the temerity to question their actions. From there, they usually bulldoze their way into the village or town; destroy and set as many homes as they can on fire. As residents of such home struggle out of their burning homes, they are met with gunfire.
As Nigerians were adjusting to a new life of seeing churches, markets, mosques, motor parks and police stations firebombed, leading up to the elections which brought the President Buhari government to power, another rude awakening came by way of incessant killings by the itinerant ‘’Janjaweed militia’’ locally known as Fulani herdsmen. Prior to this latter day development, the nation had gotten used to the so called ‘’Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes’’ in Plateau and Benue States especially, but of a sudden, about a year to the general elections which was headlined by the Presidential election, the Fulani herdsmen began to unleash terror in most middle-belt, north-east and southern non-Muslim states; and have been observed to be upping the ante towards the 2019 elections.

To date, Fulani herdsmen have surpassed Boko Haram in terms of the number of people killed in the non-Fulani states. A very important aspect of these attacks is that as soon as they enter farms, after destroying the barns and whole farmsteads, they condition such farms for imminent grazing by setting the farms and bushes on fire under the notion that the past season’s bushes and brushes must give way for grass to grow unhindered with the first rains. The great Nigerian novelist, Cyprian Ekwensi detailed the havoc Fulani herders wreak on land in his epic novel, Burning Grass. Were the lessons outlined in that book to have been taken to heart by successive governments, the current menace would have been avoided. 

While it is commonplace to find whole villages and communities entirely razed by herdsmen, village heads, important personalities are kidnapped and ransomed before they are released by herdsmen. A former Head of Service and Presidential Candidate, Chief Olu Falae was kidnapped by Fulani Herdsmen; his farm ransacked; and some of his farm workers slaughtered and lots more beaten up and wounded. It took the intervention of the Buhari administration before Olu Falae was released. The Obi of Ubulu-Uku was abducted, and after ransom money was paid, he was still killed. 

As lately as on 6th instant, Governor Ortom of Benue had his farm destroyed. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state has disclosed that his farm located at his village in Gbajimba, the headquarters of Guma local government area has been attacked by Fulani mercenaries destroying the farm products.

The governor who disclosed this while fielding questions from journalists at the government house in Makurdi also said that the corpse of a policeman who was killed by armed Fulani herdsmen and dumped in the bush had been discovered by the traditional rulers in Guma and handed over to the police authorities in the state.

Governor Ortom regretted the continued unwarranted attacks on people of the state despite the relocation of the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari to the state saying the quantum of destruction on his farm cannot be ascertained as manager of the farm had run away for his dear life leaving the entire farm at the mercy of the invaders.

The testimony of a former member of the Federal House of Representatives from southern Kaduna sums up the whole gamut of the scourge of Fulani herdsmen. He said among many other things that whole villages and communities in southern Kaduna are being systematically subjected to ethnic cleansing, and denied every imaginable amenity by the Federal and State governments, while making such amenities available to the settler Fulanis who are gradually taking over their land. Furthermore, because Christians and churches are the primary targets of fundamentalism, the Church, which has remained taciturn and mealy-mouthed has been forced to start speaking up. While the Pastors of most of the big churches have kept mum, a few have been speaking out, irrespective of what it may result to. Among the few who have been vocal against Fulani herders’ killings are Rev. Issa Buba, Joseph Okechukwu, etc.Ben Murray-Bruce

 

On his part, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, speaking in the Senate Chamber, informed the Senators that there were developments within the polity that defied explanation. He stated that they were all in shock to hear Senator Marafa voice his agitation over the presence of heavily armed strangers who may not be Nigerians in Zamfara state. He went as far as stating that it didn’t make sense for the Senate to pass resolutions time after time and yet nothing gets done. (Please watch). He further wondered that with the incessant killings in the north-east, middle-belt, south-east, south-west and south-south by marauding Fulani herdsmen, Nigeria was fast becoming a ‘’lawless country’’. 

On the 6th instant, a report on Daily Post online stated that a former minister of Aviation, Femi Fani Kayode has reacted to the killing of Officer-in-Charge of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, Saki Unit in the Oyo State Police Command by Fulani herdsmen.

The SARS boss was reported to have been macheted to death by the Fulani herdsmen during an operation in a forest on the Saki-Ogbooro Road in Oke-Ogun area of the state.

Reacting , Fani Kayode said law and order had been broken in the country as no one was safe, even security agents, from Fulani herdsmen whom he described as ‘bloodsucking’.

On his official twitter page, he wrote: “A SARS police officer was cut into tiny pieces with machetes by Fulani terrorists in Saki, Oyo state yesterday. Law and order has broken down and even our security agents are being targeted and slaughtered in open daylight by these bloodthirsty and bloodsucking Fulani herdsmen.‎”

On a personal note, many people in the Press and the Social Media have consistently reported an obvious build-up of strange people all over the south. On the average, one finds that for every street on property security personnel, there are on the average well over five to ten others who either loiter around, or have become itinerant cobblers, tailors, etc. Many believe that what we are witnessing is the rapid deployment/spread of Boko Haram and Islamic fundamentalist terrorists all over the country, by whom, no one seems to know.

The fact that the Legislature and the administration had been considering the Grazing Bill which tends to elevate the ‘’rights’’ of cattle and their owners above that of the average citizen by according proprietary rights to graze to cattle over user rights by citizens, and that the Federal Government had remained taciturn over the menace of Fulani herdsmen, and finally, President Buhari’s resolve to create ‘’Cattle Colonies’’ in every state emphasized the impression that the government valued the life of cattle above human life.

The only positive development in all of these is that the President finally spoke concerning the vexatious subject. He tweeted:
The recent killings in Benue, Adamawa, Taraba, and Zamfara states are all regrettable, and saddening. But even more importantly, I am very much aware of all the issues at stake, and doing my best to ensure that justice is done and the security of lives and property guaranteed.
56 replies96 retweets93 likes
The security agencies have standing instructions to arrest and prosecute any and all persons found with illegal arms. In addition, quite a number of arrests have been made so far, in relation to the killings, and all these persons will be duly prosecuted.
32 replies90 retweets102 likes
Bukola Saraki
The Nigerian Senate, in its bit to halt the embarrassing state of killings within the economy, convened a two-day Security summit. The Senate President, Senator Olusola Saraki tweeted:

”Following the spike in the bloodletting over the New Year period, today, the Senate convened a #SecuritySummit to review the entire security architecture of the country”.

In his opening address, he said amongst other things:

”The spike in the bloodletting over the New Year period injected another note of urgency into the matter, and further served to augment the mandate of the Committee, whose members suspended their recess to conduct a fact-finding visit to Benue State, scene of one of the recent killings. From that visit on 12th January 2018, the Committee had a report ready for the Senate upon resumption on 16th January. It was on the back of that, that we passed the Resolution to organise this Summit – to review the entire security architecture of the country. I would like to thank the members of the Committee – Chaired by Senate Leader, Distinguished Senator Ahmed Lawan – for their hard work and commitment to this national assignment, and the expedient manner in which they discharged their functions.

The sharp increase in murderous violence, over and above the relatively manageable level of insecurity that has plagued our country for some time, jolted us out any last vestiges of complacency or denial. There can be no denying the horrific reality in many parts of our country today. People who should be neighbours are turning on one another and taking up arms. These attacks and reprisal attacks are an intolerable cycle of hell that must be broken. Killings, kidnappings, mayhem and general lawlessness cannot be the new normal. We must take this country back and restore order.”

The implication of a Nigerian Islamic Caliphate

The foremost implication of an islamic Caliphate being established in Nigeria means firstly a replication of the Syrian situation multiplied five-fold. However, whereas Europe and the world welcomed Syrian and Iraqi refugees with open arms, no one is willing or ready to welcome refugees from another ”Muslim country” given the current notion that the refugee path has become an avenue for Muslim invasion of Europe.

We must decide as a nation whether which we treasure more; our ethnic and spiritual affiliations, or the continued existence of our nation.

 

‘Real risk’ of Islamic State fighters on migrant boats, Italy warns

Mediterranean migrant boats headed for Europe could be carrying fugitive Islamic State fighters, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano has asserted. He’s been hosting African, EU and UN officials at a Rome conference.

Migrants, most of them from Eritrea, jump into the water from a crowded wooden boat

The recent military evictions of the Islamic State militia — in the likes of Syria — presented an “absolute and real risk” of jihadi fighters trying to slip into Europe, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano told a conference on migration and security in Rome Tuesday.

“It is in our interests to defeat the business model of traffickers whose profits are used to finance organized crime and, we have the evidence for this, terrorism,” Alfano said.

Angelino Alfano Defeat traffickers, urges Alfano

At the same time, he warned against “exploitation of the immigration issue in order to stir up fears and gain easy consensus.”

Represented at Tuesday’s conference were 13 European and African countries, including partly lawless Libya.

Alfano’s remarks precede Italy’s March 4 parliamentary election in which the arrival of more than 600,000 migrants over the past four years is a key issue — underscored by last Saturday’s drive-by attack in Macerata by an Italian neo-Nazi.

Watch video01:53

Racial motive suspected in Italy drive-by shooting

Italy coordinates the vast majority of sea rescues between northern African and its southern coast, including islands such as Lampedusa.

On Monday, former prime minister and Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi blamed part of the problem on populist former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose center-right opposition alliance is polling strongly.

“If in Italy migrants are arriving, it’s because someone made war with Libya, and the premier was Berlusconi,” Renzi said, referring to NATO’s 2011 air strike campaign against the late Moammar Gadhafi regime.

On Sunday, Berlusconi claimed Italy had been left with a “social bomb ready to explode” by center-left Democratic Party governments, once led by Renzi.

Watch video00:52

Silvio Berlusconi on immigration in Italy

Last week, the EU’s border agency, Frontex, launched a replacement Mediterranean operation called Themis, removing the obligation of the previous mission, Triton, to bring all those rescued only to Italy, to include, for example, Malta.

Frontex spokeswoman, Izabella Cooper, said no rescued migrants would be taken [back] to transit non-EU nations such as Tunisia and Libya, where conditions have been widely deplored but instead to the “nearest place of safety” in accordance with international maritime law.

Under an Italy-led deal to assist Libya’s coast guard, arrivals in Italy from the largely lawless Mediterranean nation dropped 26 percent last year — while an EU deal with Turkey largely shut down the so-called Balkan route.

Instead, pressure has shifted west to Algeria and Morocco as migrants, still intent on reaching Europe, head for Spain, some via its African outposts of Ceuta and Melilla.

Watch video07:25

Refugees in Italy as Europe’s new slaves

More than 26,300 migrants reached Spain last year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Spain, which a decade ago began costly deterrence and repatriation deals with sub-Saharan countries, faces a new situation, according to non-governmental groups.

Flows will intensify “along the Western Mediterranean route,” warned Estrella Galan, secretary general of the asylum-assistance group Commission for the Protection of Refugees (CEAR) last month.

“If we don’t change our policies we are going to continue an endless cycle of replicating migration patterns from one location to another,” she said.

ipj/rt (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)

COURTESY: DW

German intelligence part of secret anti-terror unit targeting returning IS fighters – report

Germany’s secret service has reportedly joined a US-led unit targeting jihadis returning to Europe from Iraq and Syria. Officials have warned that many families of “Islamic State” fighters have already returned home.

Fighters from rebel factions in Damascus prepare their ammunition (Getty Images/A.Almohibany)

Germany’s intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND),  has been taking part in a secretive US-led anti-terror operation known as “Gallant Phoenix,” which targets European jihadis returning home from Syria and Iraq.

According to a report in German weekly Der Spiegel on Saturday, the BND joined the secret operation back in October.

Read more: Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warns of IS sympathizers

Led by a US Joint Special Operations Command center in Jordan, Gallant Phoenix collects intelligence on fighters who fought for the likes of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) and other Islamist militia groups. Relevant information includes documents, data, DNA traces and fingerprints that have been retrieved from former IS strongholds.

Watch video03:55

Steinberg: About 1,000 IS fighters have returned to Europe

Twenty-one countries are reportedly part of the operation.

Der Spiegel said it had received information on the BND’s role in Gallant Phoenix from a source in the German Left party. Both the German government and BND refused to comment on the report.

German fears over returning jihadis

Back in 2016, the BND initially declined a US offer to join Operation Gallant Phoenix out of fear that Washington would use the information to strike against German jihadis in the Middle East.

However, Berlin’s alleged change of heart coincides with concerns expressed by senior officials over the wives and children of IS fighters who were back in Germany or slated to return soon.

Read more: German intel chief warns of potential threat posed by wives, children of German jihadis

In December, Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), warned that many of the women repatriated to Germany from former IS bastions “had become so radicalized and identify so deeply with IS ideology that, by all accounts, they must also be identified as jihadis.”

Listen to audio04:35

Inside Europe: The threat from IS in Belgium

Maassen also warned that children had been “brainwashed” in IS schools and could grow up in Germany as second-generation jihadis. “It’s a problem for us because many of these kids and teenagers can sometimes be dangerous,” he said.

Around 950 German jihadi-sympathizers are thought to have traveled to Syria and Iraq since 2014 to fight or serve on behalf of IS. Around 20 percent of them are reportedly female.

However, with the Sunni militant group suffering heavy losses in resources and territory, the German government expects to see an imminent increase in the number of radical Islamists returning home.

So far, around one-third of German jihadis who traveled to the Middle East have already returned.

The BND has said it has identified 705 living in Germany who are considered to be at risk of committing a terrorist attack on German soil — more than five times as many as in 2013.

Watch video03:32

“Islamic State” recruits return to Europe – Q&A with Maxim Bratersky

COURTESY: DW

Taliban attacks cast doubts on US’ Afghan strategy

It seems as if there is no end in sight to the spate of deadly attacks occurring relentlessly in Afghanistan, killing scores and throwing lives in disarray. Is the new US strategy responsible for this spike in terror?

Watch video01:04

Afghanistan: IS militants attack Kabul military base

A string of brutal attacks over the past several weeks, killing and injuring hundreds of innocent Afghans, have shown the world the fragile and worsening state of security in Afghanistan and made it once again a staple of international headlines.

The incidents have plunged war-weary Afghan citizens into a state of despair and highlighted the limitations faced by the government in Kabul in ensuring public security.

Both the Taliban and the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) have claimed responsibility for the violence.

A bloody start

2018 did not start on a positive note for the nation ravaged by the vagaries of conflict and turmoil over the past several decades. Many Afghans believe the attacks they have witnessed in January mark only the beginning in the latest bout of violence. Fears abound about the number of casualties rising in the coming months. The alleged peace talks that were mentioned only a few weeks ago are now but a distant memory.

Watch video00:40

Deadly blast in Kabul

What are the reasons for this surge in violence?

The latest attacks can be regarded as a response to the recent US military offensive in the Afghan provinces Helmand, Nangarhar, Kunduz and others, said A.D. Mohammad Arif, an Afghan security expert.

“The Taliban usually start their offensive after the winter (as a spring offensive), but they have now brought it forward in response to the US’ new Afghanistan strategy. They want to show that they are far from being defeated,” Arif told DW.

Unlike in previous years, the US, along with Afghan security forces, began its offensive against the insurgents in the winter this year. The move is part of the US’ new Afghan strategy, unveiled by President Donald Trump in August 2017.

Trump then affirmed that he would increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan and remain engaged in the country until it no longer needed them. The US president also blamed Pakistan as the main reason for the lack of progress in Afghanistan.

To lend weight to his words, Trump even froze US military aid to Islamabad.

Washington’s stated objective is to put pressure on Pakistan until Pakistani authorities revoke their alleged support to outfits like the Afghan Taliban and other insurgent groups.

The right solution?

At a press conference on Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani indirectly blamed Pakistan for the recent series of attacks. “(The Taliban) have claimed responsibility without hesitation, as per their masters’ wish. These masters have made it clear that they will not bow to pressure from the outside,” said Ghani.

Read more:

–  Trump is good for Afghanistan, tough on Pakistan, say experts

– What Donald Trump can really do to ‘rein in’ Pakistan

Nicole Birtsch, an Afghanistan expertat the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), is also of the view that the recent attacks could be a reaction to the air strikes and anti-insurgent operations the US military and Afghan security forces have been jointly carrying out against the Taliban.

Birtsch is unconvinced about the effectiveness of the US strategy to pressure Pakistan. “The strategy does not lead to a conducive environment for the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan to hold talks on an equal footing.”

The analyst says she is not optimistic about the near future, suspecting that the coming weeks will continue to be characterized by escalating violence. “I fear that people in Kabul, in particular, are losing hope for a more stable future because of the violence. They are therefore merely surviving rather than living.”

 

COURTESY: DW

The legacy of the ‘Islamic State’

The terrorist organization “Islamic State” has largely been defeated in a military sense. But its ideologies live on, for example, in children who grew up under its regime. Other challenges remain as well.

IS member training child with gun (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Habibi)

The terrorist “Islamic State” (IS) militia is mostly defeated in Syria and Iraq. According to the US military, the jihadis have pulled out of 98 percent of the areas they used to control in both countries. And Syrian, Iraqi and US forces plan to take the remaining 2 percent from them as well.

To reach this goal, the US military conducted 58 airstrikes in the week from December 29 to January 5 alone, according to the US Department of Defense. Those strikes involved fighter jets, helicopters, drones, rockets and heavy artillery.

“[The physical caliphate] has been broken and fractured, but the work still continues,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said in a press briefing on January 11. “We are going to continue our operations because we ultimately have to ensure we have conditions on the ground that ISIS can never re-emerge,” she added, using an alternate acronym for the terrorist group.

Picture of a medic tending to an injured child (picture-alliance/dpa/Zumapress/C. Guzy)Some children of IS supporters in Iraq have been orphaned and left injured

But this is a tough goal to reach, especially for one reason: IS might be close to physical defeat in Iraq and Syria, but its ideology lives on. The organization is set up to endure long-term, the Pentagon states on its website. It secures its survival through a sort of “franchising system.”

“Even though they failed as a caliphate, there are global manifestations of their brand that we see pop up,” Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told reporters in the press briefing.

Read more:

Russia: Syria now ‘liberated’ from ‘Islamic State’

Iraq declares ‘end of war’ against ‘Islamic State’

Fighting the IS image

That’s why the focus will now be on combating the IS’ image, officials said. And according to the Pentagon, the chances of winning that battle as well are pretty high.

“[IS’] global brand is fading with the defeat of the physical caliphate and as stories about the horror of life under ISIS are disseminated,” officials state on the Defense Department’s website.

And yet, IS is far from being completely defeated. Instead, the jihadi organization is just returning to its roots in guerilla warfare, news outlet Al-Jazeera reports. Al-Jazeera says volunteers are still trying to join but that crossing the secured border from Turkey into Syria is now harder than it used to be.

Read more: ‘Islamic State’ seeks new foothold in Africa

Minds in ruins

In addition to the challenge posed by volunteers who come from abroad to join IS, security authorities in Syria and Iraq are facing another problem: the ideological and psychological legacy that the IS regime left in its former area of influence.

In most regions, IS was not in power for more than three years. But three years are a long time, particularly for young people. That’s especially true for little children who had to witness the jihadis’ violence, including brutal public punishments and executions, at a very early age.

Girl amid ruins in Mosul, Iraq (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Dana)Many children in Iraq, like this girl in Mosul, have known little but war

“Even if they weren’t trained, they may have memories of living in a war zone,” Daan Weggemans, a terrorism researcher at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University, told online magazine AI-Monitor.

A lost generation

The young people growing up during these years were robbed of an education. Many of them learnt how to use weapons instead of how to read and write.

“There might actually be a lost generation,” Nadim Houry, the director of the terrorism and counterterrorism program at Human Rights Watch, told Al-Jazeera.

Many adults have difficulties leaving the IS regime behind as well, Houry said. They are “just still trying to comprehend what happened.”

Watch video05:17

Children of IS in Belgium

The problem of an IS-produced “lost generation” is likely to reach Europe soon –  in the form of hundreds of children who were taken to Syria or Iraq by their parents or who were born there in the camps of IS fighters.

It’s not clear yet how European states will deal with these children. Rules vary from country to country. Belgium, for example, plans to let children younger than 10 enter the country automatically. However, that only includes those who have taken a DNA test proving that they are actually children of Belgian IS fighters.

In December 2017, three French children of alleged IS fighters were returned to Paris by airplane after having been in the custody of Iraqi authorities.

In the Netherlands, children of IS fighters are generally allowed to return as well. But right now, the government is not planning on granting them Dutch citizenship.

No concrete measures in Germany yet

Germany also wants to bring back children of German IS fighters. But experts are already warning that the return of older children, in particular, could pose risks.

Read more: Children of ‘Islamic State’ struggle to integrate in Germany

“We see the danger that children were socialized by jihadis along Islamist lines and will return to Germany from these war zones having been indoctrinated,” said Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic security agency. “This could lead to the rise of a new jihadi generation here, too.”

Torsten Voss, head of Hamburg’s state Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said that this problem had to be solved before security authorities could start to act.

It’s not clear yet what steps will be taken. Foreign policy experts of all parties are looking for solutions. But concrete measures can only be taken once Germany has a new government.

COURTESY: DW

Why is ‘Islamic State’ targeting Shiites in Afghanistan?

“Islamic State” has once again chosen to target Shiites in its latest Kabul bombings that killed at least 40 people. Experts say the group is trying to create sectarian rifts in the country and use them to its advantage.

Attack in Kabul on Thursday, December 28 (Getty Images/AFP/S. Marai)

Afghan officials first acknowledged Islamic State (IS) as a security threat as early as 2015. IS, officials claimed at the time, was confined only to the eastern Nangarhar province, where it controlled most parts of the Achin district.

The government subsequently launched military operations in the area and declared victory against the militant group in March 2016. In August of the same year, Washington and Kabul confirmed that Hafiz Saeed Khan, IS’s regional chief for the group’s so-called Khurasan branch, which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Central Asian countries, had been killed in a US drone strike.

The Pentagon confirmed in July 2017 that Abu Sayed, head of the IS terror group in Afghanistan, had been killed in a US airstrike in Kunar province. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sayed’s death was a significant blow to IS.

In , almost 700  were killed in the first 9 months of the year (2017), @UNICEFAfg

Clashes with the Taliban, a much stronger and older Islamist group in Afghanistan, also hindered IS’s progress in the war-torn country. Due to these reasons, Afghan officials were hopeful that IS would not be able to establish itself in their country.

But things haven’t turned out exactly the way the Afghan government had hoped for. IS fighters continue to launch deadly attacks in the country.

The group claimed the Thursday suicide bomb attacks in the capital, Kabul, which killed at least 40 people and wounded over 30. The target of the assault was a public gathering at a Shiite cultural center.

Watch video01:04

Kabul: Dozens killed in IS-claimed attack

Sectarian divisions

It was not the first time that Islamic State, a largely Sunni militant group, targeted Afghan Shiites. Afghanistan’s Shiite minority has witnessed several attacks in 2017. Hundreds of people have been killed in attacks on their mosques and religious ceremonies. Among them were three attacks on Shiite mosques in Kabul in August, September and October.

Kabul-based security analyst Wahid Muzhdah believes the jihadist group is trying to create sectarian rifts in Afghanistan.

“IS is facing a huge challenge from the Taliban, who are a potent militant force in the country,” Muzhdah told DW.

“To establish itself in Afghanistan, IS needs support from local extremist Sunni groups. IS is targeting Shiites to distinguish itself from the Taliban,” Muzhdah added.

“This gruesome attack underscores the dangers faced by Afghan civilians. In one of the deadliest years on record, journalists and other civilians continue to be ruthlessly targeted by armed groups” – @birajpat

Afghan security experts fear IS could divide the country along sectarian lines. Muzhdah, however, believes it won’t be an easy task for the jihadist group.

“After each IS attack on Afghan Shiites, religious leaders from all Islamic sects have come forward in support of the victims,” he said. “But if the government doesn’t do anything to stop such attacks, the sectarian split could deepen,” Muzhdah warned.

Read more: Donald Trump’s Afghanistan strategy raises the stakes

Bildergalerie IS in Afghanistan (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Habibi)IS fighters continue to launch deadly attacks in Afghanistan

From Middle East to South Asia

The IS focus on Afghanistan was quite inevitable after the group suffered heavy losses in Syria and Iraq in 2017. After IS’s defeat in Iraq, experts had warned that a large number of its fighters could move into Afghanistan and Pakistan from the Middle East.

“As a result of setbacks in Iraq and Syria, we will most likely experience a major influx of IS fighters into Afghanistan and Pakistan looking for new areas of operations,” Siegfried O. Wolf, a South Asia expert at the University of Heidelberg, told DW.

IS presence in Afghanistan is no longer confined to Nangarhar province. According to new reports, the group has increased activities in other parts of Afghanistan as well, including the relatively safe northern regions.

IS or IS-linked attacks have also spiked in Pakistan. Experts say the group could get support from Pakistan-based militant outfits that are against Shiites and the Iranian influence in their country.

Read more: Shias in Pakistan’s Parachinar caught in the middle of proxy wars

Afghan authorities have repeatedly accused Islamabad of supporting the Taliban and other militant groups and sending them into Afghanistan to destabilize the government. Experts say that although Pakistan does not consider IS an ally or a group which can fulfill its strategic interests in the region, things could change in the future as the hardline Saudi Wahhabi ideology could be a binding factor.

Read more: What is Pakistan’s militancy issue all about?

COURTESY: DW

Syria Is Currently Host to Thousands of Foreign Troops: Who Are They and Will They Leave?

Assad’s rule is extremely reliant on continued assistance from Iranian-sponsored militias, which have spread across the war-ravaged country

The Associated Press Nov 28, 2017 12:56 PM
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This Tuesday, March 7, 2017 file frame grab from video provided by Arab 24 network, shows U.S. forces take up positions on the outskirts of the Syrian town, Manbij Arab 24 network, via AP, File
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Syria’s long-running civil war may be winding down slowly, but the country is awash in weapons and a confounding array of local militias and thousands of foreign troops, some of which may never leave.
With crucial aid from allies Iran and Russia, President Bashar Assad has regained control over large areas of Syria in advances that appear to have put to rest the possibility of a military overthrow, at least for now. But his rule is extremely reliant on continued assistance from Iranian-sponsored militias, which have spread across the war-ravaged country.

The fight against the Islamic State group, which proliferated soon after the conflict began in 2011, has provided a convenient justification for foreign troops to be deployed in Syria with the pretext of fighting the extremists. Now that IS no longer holds any significant urban territory in Syria, the numbers of some forces may be scaled down, but foreign powers with longer-term ambitions and interests will try to maintain a presence in the country for years to come. That will further complicate prospects for a peace settlement.
Some countries have already indicated that they plan to stay for the foreseeable future.
The Americans
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The presence of U.S. troops in northern Syria was initially meant to help train and support Kurdish-dominated local forces fighting the Islamic State group.
The number of troops has grown gradually. Although the official limit on U.S. troops has remained at 503 since shortly before President Barack Obama left office, the actual number is now believed to be more than 1,500, including special forces, a Marine artillery unit, forward air controllers and others. They are spread across more than a dozen bases in northern Syria.

The end of the fight against IS takes away any legal justification for the presence of U.S. troops in Syria, but U.S. officials are now suggesting they plan to maintain a U.S. troop presence in the north until an overall settlement for the war is found. That has raised concern about a more permanent project that risks drawing the U.S. into a conflict with Syria and Assad’s ally, Iran.
“We’re not just going to walk away right now before the Geneva process has cracked,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said earlier this month, referring to the U.N.-backed political talks.
Kurdish officials have asked the U.S. to stay on, fearing that a quick withdrawal would facilitate Assad’s forces swooping in on Kurdish-held territory in the north.
Earlier this month, the Syrian government called on the United States to withdraw its forces now that the fight against the Islamic State group is nearly over. The Foreign Ministry statement said the presence of U.S. troops will not force a political solution to the conflict.
The Russians
Russia has never said how many of its military personnel, warplanes and other weapons are in Syria. Turnout figures in voting from abroad in the September 2016 parliamentary election indicated the number of Russian military personnel in Syria at the time was about 4,300. The Russian presence has likely increased, as Moscow this year deployed its military police to patrol so-called “de-escalation zones” in Syria.
Open-source materials — including video from the Hemeimeem air base, the main hub for the Russian military in Syria since its campaign began in September 2015 — indicate that Russia has several dozen jets and helicopter gunships there.
Russia also has deployed special forces to conduct intelligence and coordinate airstrikes. Senior Russian military officers also have helped train and direct Syrian government troops. In recent months, Russian military police have become increasingly visible in Syria.
The chief of the Russian military general staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, said last week that Russia will “significantly” reduce its military foothold in Syria as the campaign nears its end.
At the same time, he indicated Russia will maintain a presence at both the Hemeimeem air base and the navy supply facility in Tartus. Gerasimov added that the military’s Reconciliation Center, a group of officers who have helped negotiate and maintain truces in Syria and coordinated the delivery of humanitarian aid, also will stay.
Syria has allowed Russia to use Hemeimeem air base indefinitely without cost. Moscow also has signed a deal with Syria to use the Tartus base for 49 years, which could be extended if both parties agree.
The Russian military plans to modernize the air base to allow it to host more warplanes. It also intends to expand the Tartus facility significantly to make it a full-scale naval base capable of hosting warships, including cruiser-sized vessels.
The Iranians
Of all the foreign troops in Syria, perhaps none have been as widespread and potentially lasting as the Iranians. The Islamic Republic of Iran has made an enormous effort to keep Assad in power, providing extensive military and financial support throughout the six-year civil war.
It has deployed Islamic Revolutionary Guards in Syria as well as Iranian officers who provide military and political support. Iranian officials say more than 1,000 Iranian fighters have been killed in Syria and Iraq after they were deployed to defend Shiite holy shrines.
Tens of thousands of Iranian-sponsored pro-government local militias known as the National Defense Forces are deployed across Syria, in addition to Iraqi Shiite militias and thousands of Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon who have been key factors in turning the war in the government’s favor. Hezbollah is deployed in wide areas along Syria’s border with Lebanon, where the Shiite group has built military facilities and long-term bases it is unlikely to leave anytime soon.
Iran’s strategy aims to ensure it can continue to pursue its vital interests after the war, using parts of Syria as a base and making certain that a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut remains open.
The Turks
Turkey first sent ground forces into Syria last year in a campaign dubbed “Operation Euphrates Shield.” It was aimed at fighting the Islamic State group, although Turkey also seeks, above all, to limit the expansion of Syria’s Kurds along its border with Syria. Ankara perceives the Syrian Kurdish fighters to be an extension of the Kurdish insurgents who have waged a three- decade insurgency in Turkey.
Turkish officials have not disclosed how many Turkish soldiers are deployed in Syria but security experts estimate that at least 2,500 troops are stationed in a swath of territory revolving around the towns of al-Rai, al-Bab and Jarablus — a border zone that Turkey and Turkey-backed rebels took back from IS last year under “Euphrates Shield.”
An estimated 400 more Turkish troops are in the Idlib region as part of an agreement reached among Turkey, Russia and Iran to create a “de-escalation zone” in the area.
Turkey is building schools and hospitals in areas liberated under “Euphrates Shield” to encourage the return of refugees, and it was unclear how long the Turkish troops would stay in the zone.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that the Turkish troops could target a Syrian Kurdish group that Turkey considers to be a security threat in the Afrin region, north of Idlib, once the “de-escalation” mission is over.

The Associated Press

Courtesy: Haaretz