Bolstering Brunei’s Defences: A Small State’s Strategic Guidance and Procurement

by Paul Pryce. Paul Pryce is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. With degrees in political science from universities on both sides of the pond, he has previously worked in conflict resolution as a Research Fellow with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces. His current research interests include African security issues and NATO-Russia relations.

The Darussalam-class offshore patrol vessel of Brunei that took part in Exercise Pelican 2011.

The Darussalam-class offshore patrol vessel of Brunei that took part in Exercise Pelican 2011.

Brunei Darussalam turned some heads with its recent acquisition of four Darussalam-class off-shore patrol vessels in 2011-2014 from German shipbuilder Lürssen Werft, as well as its demonstrated willingness to send these vessels on port visits and multilateral exercises, such as Brunei’s 2014 debut at the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). Brunei might garner international attention once again in 2015 with a revision of its national security strategy.

In 2004, Brunei issued its first Defence White Paper, identifying this small Southeast Asian country’s most significant security challenges and the Brunei government’s commitment to resolving disputes peacefully through multilateral institutions. Though never identified explicitly in the document, this doubtless referred to negotiations on the delimitation of Brunei’s land border with Malaysia and numerous maritime disputes in the South China Sea. An updated Defence White Paper issued in 2007 re-iterated many of the same key points while emphasizing the need for Brunei to expand its maritime surveillance capabilities.

Brunei certainly followed through on the priorities identified in its strategic documents. Talks on the delimitation of the border with Malaysia have been progressing well since November 2014. Meanwhile, aside from the aforementioned acquisition of four Darussalam-class off-shore patrol vessels, Brunei has also enhanced its maritime surveillance with the purchase of four Itjihad-class patrol vessels from Lürssen Werft and a Singapore-manufactured Mustaed-class fast interceptor. Reports suggest Brunei is also currently shopping for six new heavy landing craft to replace its decommissioned fleet of Balkipapan-class landing ships.

Of particular interest, however, are the priorities identified in the 2011 Defence White Paper. Aside from acknowledging emerging trends in international security, such as the need to address cyber security issues and defend Internet infrastructure, the document identifies a need to strengthen the Royal Brunei Armed Forces’ (RBAF) capacity to defend the country’s airspace. Although the air branch of the RBAF, the Royal Brunei Air Force, does have some limited assets, it is by no means equipped to fend off any determined incursion into Brunei airspace. In fact, Brunei’s military aircraft is limited to a lone CN-235 transport plane and an array of 26 transport/utility helicopters of various designs.

The 33rd and 38th Squadrons of the Air Regiment, Royal Brunei Air Force, are equipped with air defence equipment, including Mistral and Rapier missile launchers. This leaves Brunei with some capacity to track and destroy hostile aircraft at low and medium altitudes. But the lack of any air superiority fighters leaves a glaring gap in Brunei’s defences. Such aircraft would allow Brunei to deter aggression by any other regional competitors, intercepting any suspicious aircraft or maritime vessels approaching Brunei territory.

Royal Brunei Armed Forces

Royal Brunei Armed Forces

Just as the strategic documents of previous years signaled Brunei’s intention to expand its maritime forces, the reference to defending Brunei’s airspace in the 2011 Defence White Paper may indicate a contract for air superiority fighters in the near future. The exact design remains elusive, however. During a visit to Busan, South Korea, Brunei officials requested and received a briefing on the capabilities of the KAI FA-50 fighter. That South Korean design has proved particularly popular among ASEAN members, as the Philippines signed a contract to obtain 12 FA-50 fighters in March 2014 and the Indonesian Air Force has also employed this design. With increased focus on interoperability of ASEAN forces, particularly as the establishment of an ASEAN Political-Security Community is expected by the end of 2015, the FA-50 would be an ideal choice for Brunei.

Yet, at recent arms shows including the Brunei Darussalam International Defence Exhibition (BRIDEX), Brunei officials showed a keen interest in both the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon and the Saab JAS 39 Gripen. Evidently, Brunei is still considering its options. This is understandable, given that the purchase of a modern air superiority fighter would be a procurement project of unprecedented scale for Brunei. The 2014-2015 defence budget was approximately $400 million US, while the unit cost of the JAS 39 Gripen is roughly $70 million US. Acquiring even a flight of four fighters would mean an estimated 70% increase in Brunei’s defence expenditures, although the impact could be mitigated by staggering the payments and delivery of the aircraft over several years.

KAI T-50i Indonesian Air force version after landing in an Indonesian Airbase (Photo by KAI, 2013).

KAI T-50i Indonesian Air force version after landing in an Indonesian Airbase (Photo by KAI, 2013).

Brunei is expected to produce a revised Defence White Paper in 2015, which might clarify the military’s objectives. If securing Brunei’s airspace figures less prominently in the document, it may indicate that officials are no longer actively seeking to obtain air superiority fighters, having recognized the challenges associating with maintaining such a fleet of aircraft. Alternatively, given Brunei’s focus on multilateral solutions to regional security challenges, the strategic update could include a call for ASEAN to adopt an approach similar to NATO’s “Smart Defence” concept. That is to say, much like NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission, those ASEAN members with more robust air forces could occasionally extend their patrols to Brunei’s airspace. Such an approach would not be unprecedented for Southeast Asia; faced with a rash of pirate attacks, Indonesia once relied upon the Indian Navy for joint patrols to secure Indonesian waterways. But an ASEAN air policing mission is unlikely, as few member states would be able to spare the necessary resources.

The 2015 update may also provide some insight into the extent to which the Royal Brunei Land Forces have developed a rapid response capability. This was another priority highlighted in the 2011 Defence White Paper and seemed to imply an interest in cultivating a Special Forces unit able to respond quickly to acts of terrorism or insurgency in Brunei territory. The Ghurkha Reserve Unit enjoys some special status within the military, but it largely serves in a ceremonial role and provides personal protection to members of the Royal Family. Officially, no other unit enjoys special status within the RBAF, though that does not necessarily mean Brunei has not made progress since 2011 in developing a training regimen and standard operating procedures for a future counter-terrorism unit.

All in all, the rapid development of the Brunei military reflects a regional trend. Whether Brunei continues to build on that momentum, however, remains to be seen. For those following Southeast Asia’s security dynamics, the degree to which Brunei is able to fine tune its objectives in 2015 will offer much insight into whether the small state can punch above its wait or continue to take a back seat in ASEAN decision-making.

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Iran’s Mock-up Aircraft Carrier Returns to Bandar Abbas

DG (16MAR15) Carrier Mockup Bandar Abbas

DG (16MAR15) Carrier Mockup Bandar Abbas

New satellite imagery shows that Iran’s mock-up aircraft carrier was not destroyed during naval exercises but was towed back to Bandar Abbas.

Imagery captured in mid-March shows what Western sources have called a “barge” berthed at the naval base with extensive damage visible to the deck. The 16 mock aircraft previously visible on handhelds and satellite imagery were nowhere to be found. The mock-up returned to its previous position at 27.141731 56.201896 where it was observed in late January during mobilization.

During the Great Prophet 9 exercises Iran targeted the vessel with a range of offensive equipment including swarms of fast attack craft, anti-ship missiles and ballistic missiles. Strikes were reportedly launched from both Bandar Abbas and Jask. Phase 2 of the exercise saw Iranian Special Forces fast-rope from helicopters onto the barge surface and attack the mock-up’s superstructure. A final wave included targeting by a suicide vessel and a coastal cruise missile.

The whole show was an important propaganda piece demonstrating Iran’s anti-access/area denial strategy fitted to Iran’s unique operating space. “We are sending all the Persian Gulf countries a message of the might of the Islamic Republic of Iran — a message of security and peace in the Persian Gulf region and the Strait of Hormuz,” commented Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the force responsible for security of the Strait (Middle East Media Research Institute, “In ‘Great Prophet 9′ Naval Maneuvers, IRGC Practices Destroying U.S. Nimitz-Class Aircraft Carrier“, Special Dispatch No. 5975, 25.02.2015).

Iran Mockup Great Prophet 9

Iran also boasted to have had more than 400 “shells” hit the mock-up during the exercise within a 15 minute period, according to domestic reporting translated by Memri. However not surprisingly, Iran’s firepower failed to sink the barge which is largely due to the way it was constructed. Historical satellite imagery from August 2013 shows that Iran built a hollow shell on a lattice structure similar to material used to build Iran’s offshore oil platforms. As a result, there was very little solid structure to actually strike and sink.

At this point, it’s still difficult to say what Iran has in store for the mock-up. It seems likely Iran may eventually drag this thing back to the ISOICO shipyard, repair the damage and use it again in future exercises. With the recent addition of two new dry docks, Iran isn’t running short of any space for repairs.

Posted in Chris B, English, Intelligence, International, Iran, Sea Powers, Security Policy | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Venezuela’s Aframax Tanker Still at Iran’s Sadra Shipyard

DG (28JAN15) Bushehr

Looks like Iran was unable to deliver the Sorocaima, its first indigenously-built Aframax tanker, to Venezuela after all.

Previously, we thought that Iran may have pulled it off. Historical imagery from April to October 2014 did not show the vessel berthed at the shipyard suggesting it had been delivered. But instead, it apparently dropped anchor off the coast of Bushehr appearing at 28.91586 50.72755, according to a record from the ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) in early November. Various online tracking platforms validated the location.

Shortly after the AIS blip, satellite imagery from 16 November 2014 showed the tanker’s return to the Sadra island shipyard (28.983044 50.864167). Imagery from 2015 continues to confirm its location.

Given Venezuela’s lackluster economy, it seems likely that the South American country was unable to pay for the vessel. By extension, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the country’s state-owned oil company which created the ship order, was already in the middle of financial difficulties.

The situation was further compounded by the country’s economic mismanagement. Venezuela’s weak currency, the Bolívar, lost more than 60% of its value against the US dollar in the last six months (Kejal Vyas, “Venezuela’s Bolívar Currency Hits Record Low on Black Market“, The Wall Street Journal, 30.09.2014). Things were so bad last year the government began slashing imports increasing shortages for a range of everyday goods.

Then comes the debt. Between sovereign debt and PDVSA’s debt, the Maduro government will have to find USD 10 billion per year over the next three years to meet its repayment obligations.

Of course that won’t be easy. Venezuela took a major hit last year when OPEC decided not to cut oil output in the face of the supply glut created by increased US production. As a result, the price of oil per barrel plunged from its June 2014 price of USD 111 to below USD 70 in November, substantively cutting Venezuela’s export earnings. Oil exports account for around 95% of all Venezuelan exports and are the only source of hard foreign currency.

To make matters worse, January saw Moody’s downgrade the rating on Venezuela’s Government bonds from Caa1 to Caa3 and shift the outlook to negative. That move further constrained the country’s access to international capital as reflected in the price of credit default swaps, (i.e. debt insurance), which is now one of the most expensive in the world.

With increasing risks Moody’s expects that investors could lose more than 50% of its debt holdings, pushing investors further away from the “sick man of Latin America”. At the same time, oil prices dropped to a four-year low of USD 47.

Since then, there’s been little to suggest that Venezuela’s risk profile has changed, although China has pledged another USD 20 billion – on top of the more than USD 45 billion lent since 2007. Even if the government slashes imports further, depending on oil prices, it’s highly likely Venezuela could still see a USD 30 billion financing gap this year, according to Tamara Herrera, a senior economist with Caracas-based research firm Síntesis Financiera. While oil prices have begun to climb slowly due to conflict in the Middle East, current oil spot market prices are hovering around USD 60 per barrel.

But modest gains may do little to save Venezuela’s finances. According to Barbara Kotschwar, research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Venezuela needs oil prices near USD 100 per barrel in order to balance the budget — an unlikely development even with the recent volatility. (Other economists put that figure much higher). We also can’t forget that if the Iran nuclear deal pans out, Iran could almost double oil exports pushing nearly 2 million bpd into the market impacting any potential market rally.

Then there’s US unconventional oil, the new swing factor in world energy trade. Even with a cut in the capital plans of many major companies extracting from US shale plays, things are far from positive for oil exporters. The US, an important energy export destination for Venezuela, has relied less on the country for energy imports, reporting output of over 9 million barrels per day (bpd). For Venezuela, export destination still matters in the long run when longer sea voyages start cutting into earnings. In the meantime, other oil giants like Saudi Arabia defend market share increasing production to over 10 million barrel per day (bpd) while Russia, even with sanctions, also expects to maintain production over 10 million bpd — though TASS suggests a 1.4% drop during 2015.

With no major oil suppliers backing down, Venezuela should expect to see further GDP contraction during 2015 and possibly worse, hyperinflation. As for Iran’s Aframax, options for transfer are limited due to Western sanctions. Iran’s best bet: have the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines buy the vessel. Until something like that happens, it will probably remain at Bushehr.

For now, satellite imagery helps watchers confirm what many have been saying for a while: Venezuela’s Aframax deal is dead and with it, deepened Iranian-Venezuelan relations.

Posted in Chris B, English, Iran, Politics in General, Venezuela | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Schism in the South: Will South Sudan Achieve Lasting Peace? 3/3

of Cameron Reed. Cameron Reed is a graduate student of International Relations and Public Policy in the US and Germany. He has worked extensively on security and conflict analysis of the Middle East and Africa. Christopher Thompson, an expert on South Sudan and Africa relations, contributed significant sections of this report.

An overview of key conflict drivers in South Sudan illustrates politically steeped motivation, but which manifest through ethnic or resource-oriented violence. The following report sheds light on the root causes, as well as instrumental means for conflict in South Sudan. The first section covered a historical overview of the country and the current situation. The second addresses the major threats of ethnic conflict and security of oil installations. The third section evaluates economic dependence of South Sudan and human insecurity of its people. A clearer understanding of the threats to stability will facilitate stronger foundations for peace.

Black water dam at Unity oil Field - South Sudan inherited this environmental challenge when they became independent in 2011 after the oil Production had been under Khartoum's control the decade prior to this. (Photo: ngari.norway).

Black water dam at Unity oil Field – South Sudan inherited this environmental challenge when they became independent in 2011 after the oil Production had been under Khartoum’s control the decade prior to this. (Photo: ngari.norway).

Economic Dependence on Oil & Foreign Aid
When South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, it became the world’s newest petro-state. Inheriting 75% of the oil reserves from Sudan in the deal, South Sudan is wholly dependent on oil, deriving 98% of its national revenues from these reserves (“South Sudan“, CIA World Factbook, 21.04.2015) and 60% of its gross domestic product. South Sudan’s non-oil economy is primarily agricultural — subsistence farming and livestock ranching — and the nation has an underdeveloped economy, leaving it dependent on foreign imports for essentials such as food, even as an enormous percentage of its budget (26%) is allocated to security.

Compounding its economic plight, Sudan benefits to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in pipeline and processing fees from South Sudan’s continued extraction of oil, especially in light of US sanctions, and Sudan frequently has threatened to cut off its oil pipelines in order to pressure South Sudan during negotiations over oil barrel prices and debt repayment. Essentially, South Sudan can only extract oil, but the refineries and pipelines for exporting the oil exist in Sudan. This precarious economic relationship depended for many years on agreements governing nearly the 500,000 barrels of oil pumped out per day, profits of which (from 2005 to 2011) were split evenly between Sudan and what would become South Sudan — but now these agreements are a point of contention.

Furthermore, as the third largest producer of oil in sub-Saharan Africa, South Sudan’s actions affect the global economy and its private investors. In 2010, the combined production between Sudan and South Sudan was around 495,000 barrels per day (bpd). After South Sudan’s independence, the production dropped to 453,000 bpd over worker disputes and sovereignty in the oil regions. In May 2012, tensions mounted over transshipment fees, royalties, and unsettled demands for payment from South Sudan, resulting in the cutting of production to just 113,000 bpd. The largest bilateral provider of foreign assistance and aid ($400 million in 2011), the US, supported South Sudan’s plea for help in their last-ditch effort to counter Sudan, but South Sudan’s power play had the effect of raising inflation by 80%, further damaging its economy (Gabe Joselow, “S. Sudan Oil Shutdown Chokes Economy“, Voice of America, 20.06.2012). By May 2013, Sudan and South Sudan reached an agreement on oil payment schemes, and since then both countries have begun to slowly recover. Nevertheless, the government of South Sudan appears willing to use oil as a weapon against Sudan, at the expense of its economy, population, and the interests of donor countries.

Internationally, the harmony of the Sudan and South Sudan’s oil relations and the internal stability of South Sudan means profit for private foreign interests. In a report by Leriba Consulting, private investment in oil accounts for 67% of its gross fixed capital formation (“South Sudan: A Petro State in Turmoil“, Leriba Consulting, 22.01.2014). Three major oil companies entered South Sudan after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005: China National Petroleum Corporation, Malaysia’s Petronas, and India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (Katrina Manson and Javier Blas, “South Sudan’s Factions Vie for Control of Oilfields“, The Financial Times, 24.02.2014). Also, as a US State Department “Investment Climate” Report notes, “French oil company Total and Kuwaiti company Kufpec have an exploration and production sharing agreement in Block B, a geographic area covering most of Jonglei state and parts of several other states, but have not yet been allowed to start operations”. Though on hold due to the outbreak of violence in 2013, the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining recently signed agreements for construction of two small refineries as well (Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, “2014 Investment Climate Statement – South Sudan“, US State Department, June 2014).

Chinese employee of Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau (ZPEB) of Sinopec teaches Sudanese workers reading the Chinese characters shown on a board, which means Hello China, We Are Friends, at a jobsite for oil drilling in Sudan, Africa, 15 June 2008.

Chinese employee of Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau (ZPEB) of Sinopec teaches Sudanese workers reading the Chinese characters shown on a board, which means Hello China, We Are Friends, at a jobsite for oil drilling in Sudan, Africa, 15 June 2008.

Regional neighbors Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda also have designs to profit from future pipelines running through their countries, diversifying the export routes of oil pumped from South Sudan. Some future plans include the construction of an oil pipeline to the Kenyan Port of Lamu or to the Port of Djibouti through Ethiopia, agreements which were made between foreign investors and the government. All of these prospects, current or planned, are dependent on the security situation and require the consent of the government of South Sudan. For instance, although oil-rich fields that run beneath the Jonglei have been flagged as potential new extraction sites, fighting and lawlessness rule out that prospect for the near future. Also, fighting has put oil facility workers, especially the Chinese, in danger in the past—many workers have had to evacuate to neighboring countries and many have died.

Economic Dependence on Oil & Foreign Aid – Implications
A report by the US Energy Information Administration notes that South Sudan has 3.5 billion proven barrels of oil. Wide interest in South Sudan from the international community and several private investors points to a truism of South Sudan’s most coveted natural resource — it has tremendous economic potential. Hindered by recent conflict, bordering nations of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan, as well as private oil investors, including China, India, and Malaysia, are all eager for violence to subside in South Sudan — there is still an overwhelming amount of untapped oil beneath the ground that infrastructure, such as small refineries, connecting pipelines, new export pipelines, and extraction sites can fully realize. Also, many areas have been targeted, but not formally agreed upon for development — yet another attractive prospect for oil companies. Despite the conflict, South Sudan’s Government is still insistent on keeping the oil flowing and oil production is on the rise; South Sudan cannot operate without its oil production. If conflict in South Sudan subsides, security of oil (for the integrity of the state) will become one of South Sudan’s primary concerns. South Sudan will remain dependent on oil for the long-term. In the next ten years, South Sudan, and secondarily Sudan and other regional neighbors, will remain dependent on external private actors for advancement of its oil infrastructure and production. Essentially, South Sudan’s oil has grown into the central, dynamic link for several powerful actors to exploit.

South Sudan has experienced frequent disruptions to production over the past few years. In January 2012, the country voluntarily halted its production because of a dispute over transit fees with Sudan. South Sudan's production was partially shut down again at the end of 2013 because of civil conflict. (Source: US Energy Information Administration).

South Sudan has experienced frequent disruptions to production over the past few years. In January 2012, the country voluntarily halted its production because of a dispute over transit fees with Sudan. South Sudan’s production was partially shut down again at the end of 2013 because of civil conflict. (Source: US Energy Information Administration).

Human Insecurity
A country slightly smaller than Texas with a population of 8.26 million, South Sudan is considered by Laurence Chandy of the Brookings Institution, “[T]he world’s newest country, but its newest fragile state” (Laurence Chandy, “Aiding Stability: Improving Foreign Assistance in Fragile States“, Brookings Institution, September 2011). Lacking institutional and infrastructural capacity to provide basic services to its people, its government cannot solve its human insecurity problems when it is perpetually hindered by conflict, violence, and killing. Despite a fertile landscape and the existence of plentiful oil reserves, South Sudan fails to effectively distribute gains among its people. Furthermore, hundred of millions of dollars in aid from the US are little benefit when corruption diminishes distribution, as President Salva Kiir Mayardit admitted when he said that “[…] corrupt officials had stolen $4 billion in oil revenue from government coffers” (Sudarsan Raghavan, “With Oil At Stake, South Sudan Matters To Its Customers“, The Washington Post, 20.02.2014). Yet, the World Bank notes, “South Sudan has vast and largely untapped natural resources and opportunities abound for visible improvement in the quality of peoples’ lives” (“South Sudan Overview“, The World Bank, 05.03.2015).

Several indicators illustrate that South Sudan has very low human development conditions. 51% of the population lives below the poverty line on less than a dollar a day (John Daly, “South Sudan: The World’s Newest, Fragile, Oil-rich Petrostate“,, 11.07.2011). The mortality rate of 2,054 per 100,000 live births represents the highest in the world. There is a lack of road infrastructure to absorb even light climate variation, such as annual flooding. In 5 out of the 10 states, food insecurity is at crisis level. Furthermore, South Sudan has some of the poorest health indicators in sub-Saharan Africa. Diseases that have been reduced in other areas still run rampant in South Sudan, such as kala azar (leishmaniasis), which is compounded by the lack of clean water circulation — only 67% of the population has access to water (“South Sudan: Water“, USAID, 14.01.2014). Other human development indicators, such as education, are appalling in South Sudan — just 27% of the population above the age of 15 is literate.

Moreover, South Sudan is literally steeped in oil. Consistent fighting in the Unity state, especially around Bentiu, between the government forces and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) has left oil facilities, like in the Thar Jath oilfield, derelict and deteriorating. All oil facilities in the Unity state were rendered non-operational since 2013, but the fields are still detrimental to the livelihoods of people living in the surrounding area and will only worsen. The results of a six-year study by Sign of Hope and African Water Ltd. indicates that the oil contamination of the groundwater beneath the soil may affect as many as 250,000 people (“Soaked in Oil: The Cost of War in South Sudan“, Al-Jazeera, 25.04.2015).

Recently, politics, factional fighting, and ethnic tensions have magnified systemic human insecurity problems and stunted the flow of humanitarian aid. Over two days of fighting in Malakal (April of 2015), nearly 1,500 people were displaced to UNMISS shelters where 26,000 people already seek refuge. USAID pledged $16.45 million for the 2015 Fiscal Year, focusing now on long-term, rather than provisional types of goods, such as agriculture, water sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition, which suggests preparation for an even longer duration of fighting (“South Sudan Crisis Fact Sheet #7“, USAID, 27.04.2015). The most recent UNHCR report, as of April 24th of 2015, indicates that over 260,000 refugees lie within South Sudan, about 530,000 South Sudan refugees lie outside of South Sudan in bordering countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda), and the total number of internally displaced people reached just over 1.5 million (“South Sudan Situation“, UNHCR, 24.04.2015). Due to protracted conflict, these numbers continue to rise and delivery of aid will become increasingly difficult.

Sadly, humanitarian infrastructure is becoming a target for killings, which signals a transformation of violence from strategic bargaining to out-and-out ethnic killing. In an NPR news report from February 27, 2014, Doctors without Borders’ Sarah Maynard mentioned that a long-standing medical facility had been looted and patients shot in their beds (David Greene and Sarah Maynard, “Violence in South Sudan Targets Hospitals“, NPR, 27.02.2014). Maynard did not provide details regarding the reasons for the attack, but the location of the facility in Leer suggests it was the target of an ethnic group. This kind of attack indicates that humanitarian groups, such as Doctors without Borders, will have a more difficult time operating in South Sudan in the near future.

A girl pumps water from a well provided by the Catholic Church in Leu, a village in the contested Abyei region along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. The village was looted and burned in 2011 when soldiers and militias from the northern Republic of Sudan swept through the area, chasing out more than 100,000 Dinka Ngok residents. A few thousand families have returned since northern combatants withdrew in 2012, yet their life is precarious. (Photo: Paul Jeffrey).

A girl pumps water from a well provided by the Catholic Church in Leu, a village in the contested Abyei region along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. The village was looted and burned in 2011 when soldiers and militias from the northern Republic of Sudan swept through the area, chasing out more than 100,000 Dinka Ngok residents. A few thousand families have returned since northern combatants withdrew in 2012, yet their life is precarious.
(Photo: Paul Jeffrey).

Human Insecurity – Implications
South Sudan’s uneven development, or the Government’s concentration on economic benefits of oil to solve the other problems of the state, has pushed the South Sudanese people deeper into dire conditions of human insecurity. Rising incidences of conflict in South Sudan, which affect hundreds of thousands innocent civilians, also contribute to this insecurity. For the near future, South Sudan will require security, especially of humanitarian operations, to even reach a point of stability to improve in core areas of insecurity. At the same time, internal instability stemming from South Sudan’s human insecurity disasters, which the UN and Doctors Without Borders are attempting to placate, is inextricably tied to the stability of its surrounding countries, most notably the Central African Republic (CAR). The unceasing conflict in the CAR between Muslims and Christians, the early stages of which have been likened to the Rwandan genocide and ethnic cleansing, coupled with the displacement of South Sudanese people outside of the country has dangerous implications. Considering South Sudanese displaced peoples are primarily Christians, some may certainly become entangled in peripheral violence in CAR. Again, external pressures from the CAR add to the fragility of South Sudan’s internal situation and compound the difficulty of international efforts to ensure the safety of the mass exodus of people from the region. For the immediate future, international humanitarian organizations and the UN, especially as factions are targeting hospitals and UN camps are bursting at the seams, will need improved security measures to execute their operations successfully.

Other processes in South Sudan, such as transnational organized crime, human trafficking, and the presence of terrorist groups, namely the Lord’s Resistance Army, are likely to thrive in this state of conflict. The CIA World Fact Book indicates that, as of 2013, South Sudan has made progress in reducing child soldier conscription, but stand on the Tier 2 Watch List because South Sudan has not demonstrated evidence of increasing effort to address other forms of trafficking, such as sex or forced labor trafficking. The current state of South Sudan is an opportunity for illicit activity to grow and thrive. Human insecurity is the underlying driver of instability that tends to provide a fertile environment for other known processes in South Sudan to exist, such as the harboring of terrorist groups and human trafficking. A holistic approach that balances both immediate and long-term solutions to human insecurity will in turn stem the flow of illicit activity and conflict.

Domestic Rebel Groups
Several rebel groups currently active in South Sudan pose the greatest threat to South Sudan’s peace and stability. The current crisis has strengthened, weakened, or aligned various groups in new ways, but it is worth distinguishing a few of the groups because they pose a threat that may outlast the current Civil War. There are a large number of rebel groups in South Sudan, ranging from small bands of rebellious youths to highly professional militias led by defected Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) generals.

• South Sudan Democratic Movement (SSDM) under George Athor
Since the signing of the CPA in 2005, rebel groups have popped up and disbanded in various regions of the country. The SPLA has taken military action against a number of groups since 2005 in order to dismantle their forces or kill their leaders. Notably, South Sudanese government forces killed warlord George Athor on Dec. 20, 2011, decapitating one of the fiercest rebellions in the country. Athor was a former SPLA lieutenant general who formed a rebellion called the South Sudan Democratic Movement (SSDM) in 2010 after losing an election to become the governor of Jonglei state. Border guards killed Athor while he was attempting to reenter South Sudan for what the government called a recruitment drive (“South Sudan Rebel George Athor Killed“, BBC, 20.12.2011).

• Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-North)
Both Sudan and South Sudan have accused each another of providing financing and armaments for rebellions in their country. Sudan has accused South Sudan of supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-North), a rebel group active in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. The SPLM-North split off from the SPLM after the signing of the 2005 CPA left the Nuba Mountains on the Sudan side of the border. South Sudan’s government is a natural patron for the group because of the historical ties between the organizations, but it is unclear how much support is being given as of now. The Sudanese government also has accused South Sudan of supporting Darfuri rebel groups in their fight against the government. In response, South Sudan has accused the Sudanese government of supporting various destabilizing militias in the South such as the Yau Yau rebellion in Pibor County, Jonglei state. These accusations added repeatedly added to tensions between the two nations in negotiations.

South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra faction soldiers stand guard as You You visits. South Sudanese government and the SSDM under David Yau Yau South signed a final peace deal in May 9th, 2014 in Addis Ababa.

South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra faction soldiers stand guard as You You visits. South Sudanese government and the SSDM under David Yau Yau South signed a final peace deal in May 9th, 2014 in Addis Ababa.

• South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM)
Formed in 1999 during the Second Sudanese Civil War, the South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) declared its intention to protect and defend the interests of certain Nuer populations in Unity and Upper Nile states by maintaining a non-aligned posture in the conflict (“South Sudan Liberation Movement Press Announcement“, Reliefweb, 31.01.2000). The SSLM was unimpressed with the signing of the CPA and its implementation from 2005 and 2011, and the group subsequently released a statement in November 2011 that called for a more inclusive government, development of the northern states, and reduced corruption (Peter Gadet Yak, Carlo Kol and Bol Gatkouth Kol, “The Mayom Declaration“, Sudan Tribune, 18.04.2011). The statement coincided with an increase in hostilities by the SSLM. One attack against government forces in Unity state in late October 2011 left 75 people dead (the SSLA claimed they killed 700 government troops; “South Sudan Rebel Group Attacks Town in Oil-rich State“, BBC, 29.10.2011). The SSLM rebellion is particularly sensitive because Unity and Upper Nile states are the location of a vast amount of oil reserves and production facilities. The SSLM accepted an amnesty offer from President Kiir in April 2013, temporarily ending its rebellion after a peace deal between Sudan and South Sudan included an agreement to stop support of rebel groups. The SPLA reported that around 3,000 rebels, many of them SSLM, vacated their rear positions in Sudan and crossed the border to surrender (Hereward Holland, “Thousands of South Sudanese Rebels Surrender After Thaw With Sudan“, Reuters, 26.04.2013). The SSLM remained demobilized until late December 2013, when a commander declared himself governor of Bentiu, dislodging the elected Nuer governor (“Ex-rebels Issue Three-day Ultimatum for Surrender of Dissident Unity State Commander“, Sudan Tribune, 23.12.2013). Quickly, 5,500 former SSLM fighters banded together and demanded that the SPLM commander leave the city. The force has remained active in the region throughout the ongoing crisis, issuing political statements and generally defending the interests of the Nuer in Unity state. It is unclear whether this new incarnation of the SSLM will remain intact if a settlement is reached to end the current crisis, but if the group renews its rebellion it could become a significantly destabilizing force in the Nuer-populated regions of northeastern South Sudan.

• Murle Rebellion (SSDM under David Yau Yau)
Another iteration of the SSDM is also called the Yau Yau or Murle Rebellion, launched by David Yau Yau after he failed to win election to the Jonglei state legislature in 2010 at the same time as George Athor (see above). Yau Yau initially claimed his motive for rebellion was election irregularities, even though he lost to the SPLM candidate by a wide margin, but he later claimed that his group’s rebellion was a result of political and economic marginalization of the Murle in Pibor County. Yau Yau is known to have had a relationship with now-deceased SSDM leader George Athor, and he emerged as the leader of the SSDM following Athor’s death. However, Yau Yau has occasionally accepted amnesty deals from the government (SPLA), each time reportedly defecting again because of displeasure with his integration package (“SSDM/A Cobra Faction“, Human Security Baseline Assessment for Sudan and South Sudan, 06.11.2013). Yau Yau defected from the SPLA most recently in mid-2012 to rejoin the Murle Rebellion after SPLA abuses during the disarmament operations against Murle fighters aggravated the community. The SSDM released a manifesto in April 2013 outlining grievances that included ethnic inequality, corruption, and lack of access to justice. The manifesto also called for the current government in Juba to step down and the establishment of a transitional government until the 2015 elections. The SSDM has remained active during the current crisis, representing Murle interests in Jonglei state and occasionally engaging in hostilities.

Posted in Cameron Reed, English, Security Policy, South Sudan | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US-China dispute in the South China Sea: the issue of EEZ

by Darshana M. Baruah. She is a Junior Fellow at the New Delhi based think tank, Observer Research Foundation, is working on the South China Sea and has completed her Masters in International Relations from Cardiff University in 2012.

9_dotted_lineIt is well established and known that the South China Sea is an important trading route connecting some of the Asian powerhouses to the rest of the world. Home to critical Sea Lanes of Communications, the strategic importance of this waterway connecting the Malacca Strait to the Indian Ocean cannot be overstated. Therefore, it is no surprise that the global community insists on keeping the South China Sea free of conflict in order to guarantee freedom of navigation. Increasing tension between China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei makes the South China Sea a hostile maritime hotspot. China claims most of the waters within its “nine dash line” (the green dashes in the image on the right side) forming almost 80% of the South China Sea. Changing Asian geo-politics and an emerging security architecture in the Indo-Pacific only adds to the geo-strategic dimension of the waters.

At a regional level, the South China Sea disputes boils down to the issue of territory and sovereignty between the claimant nations. For the international community however, it is the right to freedom of navigation in high seas that brings attention to the South China Sea. Apart from being a critical commercial route, access to the South China Sea is strategically important for key actors in the Indo-Pacific. Furthermore, underlying the freedom of navigation issue is the real issue of freedom of military navigation that concerns nations like the United States leading Washington to closely monitor the developments in the South China Sea.

Beijing asserts that foreign militaries must acquire China’s permission before operating in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This account is opposed by the US and many other European nations stating that freedom of navigation (for both military and commercial ships) in high seas is applicable to functioning within an EEZ. Underpinning the US position on rights within an EEZ, a report prepared by the US Congressional Research Service states that:

The position of the United States and most countries is that while the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which established EEZs as a feature of international law, gives coastal states the right to regulate economic activities (such as fishing and oil exploration) within their EEZs, it does not give coastal states the right to regulate foreign military activities in the parts of their EEZs beyond their 12-nautical-mile territorial waters. — Ronald O’Rourke, “Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress“, Congressional Research Service, 24.12.2014, p. 3f.

Article 56.1 of the UNCLOS (Rights, jurisdiction and duties of the coastal State in the Exclusive Economic Zone), states that

In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has: (a) sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds; (b) jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to: (i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures; (ii) marine scientific research; (iii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment; […].

Additionally, Article 58 of the UNCLOS talking about “Rights and duties of other States in the exclusive economic zone”, states that

In the exclusive economic zone, all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy, subject to the relevant provisions of this Convention, the freedoms referred to in article 87 of navigation and overflight and of the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms, such as those associated with the operation of ships, aircraft and submarine cables and pipelines, and compatible with the other provisions of this Convention […].

While the issue of territorial disputes is separate from the issue of China’s rights within its EEZ, it ultimately converges should the international community recognise China’s claims in the South and East China Seas. Control over various islands within its “nine dash line” enables Beijing to expand its EEZ and regulate military activities in large parts of the South China Sea. Article 56.1 [(b), (i)] of the UNCLOS allows coastal state to establish artificial islands and structures, further complicating the issue. As pointed out by various news reports, Beijing is constructing artificial islands in waters claimed to be within its sovereignty, which otherwise is disputed and considered as international waters. Creating strategically located artificial islands in the South China Sea, Beijing is consolidating its assertions in those waters subjecting all military activities in the region to future regulations. This difference in interpreting the rights of a coastal state in its EEZ has led to incidents between US and Chinese ships in international waters such as USNS Bowditch, USNS Impeccable and USNS Victorious.

Beijing’s unilateral action in creating artificial islands to expand its EEZ affects other regional powers beyond the US. Such activities aim to alter the current power dynamics increasing geo-political regional tension. However, despite major concerns regarding this dispute over rights in the EEZ, the issue attracts little attention. Most countries including the US refer to freedom of navigation as a right and avoid using the term “freedom of military navigation”. Beijing in response maintains that China has never interfered in innocent passage of ships and that “freedom of navigation and over flight there [South China Sea] has never seen any problem and will never see any in the future with the concerted efforts of China and relevant ASEAN countries” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People’s Republic of China, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference on January 27, 2015“, 27.01.2015). There are two main reasons for US to maintain its distance from talking about freedom of military passage in international forums.

Airbus Defence and Space imagery shows land reclamation ongoing at Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea. Images released by the Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 15 May 2014 (left) show the progress of construction on the reef from 13 March 2012 to 11 March 2014 (Source: IHS Jane).

Airbus Defence and Space imagery shows land reclamation ongoing at Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea. Images released by the Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 15 May 2014 (left) show the progress of construction on the reef from 13 March 2012 to 11 March 2014 (Source: James Hardy, “China building artificial island in South China Sea“, IHS Janes, 15.05.2014).

One, many regional countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam subscribe to the Chinese school of thought as far as regulating foreign military vessels in its own EEZ is concerned. Washington perhaps realises that the issue will not garner as much support in the region since these nations too reserve the right to monitor foreign military activities in its own EEZ. It is although important to note that most of these nations are not perceived as hostile and assertive as the People’s Liberation Army Navy. For instance, India and Bangladesh too had a maritime territorial dispute which was resolved through the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Philippines took the same approach and Beijing refused to participate in the proceedings. Two, Washington’s inability to ratify to the UNCLOS is a massive challenge in putting forward its position on the EEZ issue to the international community.

Therefore, while it is true that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved at a bilateral level; its outcome has great strategic implications. Without being in any territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, Washington is embroiled in a serious conflict with Beijing over the issue of rights within an EEZ. Recognising China’s claims in the waters would mean that Beijing would be able to create islands and further strengthen its claims leading to imposition of domestic laws in international waters. The South China Sea is an important and busy route and no one country should have the power to control or alter existing international norms and customary laws.

Posted in Basics, China, Darshana M. Baruah, English, Sea Powers, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Satellite Imagery Confirms Iran Deploying Additional UAVs along the Coast

Iran’s southern coastline remains an important deployment location for the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Iran’s southern coastline remains an important deployment location for the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe shows a probable Mohajer-4 UAV attached to a pneumatic rail launcher on the side of an unmarked airstrip located near a naval base at Konarak. The airstrip is located on the coast of Iran’s southeast-most province of Sistan and Baluchistan. Support vehicles and the associated ground control station were parked nearby.

Mohajer-4 (Photo:

Mohajer-4 (Photo:

The development of the 600 meter-long airstrip was observed in late 2009 and the first aircraft hangar was built in early 2012, with the latter signaling the intention to support a regular deployment of UAVs at the airstrip. Iran announced in 2010 that it would equip all the country’s bases along the border with UAVs.

Located in an ideal position to monitor shipping near Chahbahar, the UAVs may support the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy base less than 5 miles to the southeast. Various fast attack craft and Iranian auxiliary vessels are based at this facility.

According to satellite imagery, Iran’s German-built Bander Abbas and Pakistan-built Delvar class support ships have been consistently deployed to the base. Iran’s Ghadir coastal submarines, an export version of North Korea’s Yono class, have also made an appearance during naval exercises. In December 2011, up to six were deployed from Bander Abbas for Velayat-90, a 10-day military exercise in international waters spanning the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman.

DG (12NOV14) Konarak Airstrip

Iranian UAVs probably support the base in maintaining situational awareness around areas of increasing economic importance. Last June, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari called the southern coast stretch along the Sea of Oman the country’s “Golden Gate”.

Chahbahar, the country’s only deep-water port, is located less than 10 nautical miles to the east and is currently in the process of being upgraded. Satellite imagery shows a cutter suction dredger reclaiming land for a new container terminal. Future plans would see the port become a major hub for Central Asian exports. China and India both have proposals for the site.

Growing recognition of the region’s importance may eventually see further improvements to the airstrip, similar to those observed on Qeshm. Until that occurs, current infrastructure constraints suggest Iran probably deploys its smaller UAVs with short range and endurance from this location.

Posted in Chris B, Drones, Intelligence, International, Iran | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flying F-35s Over the NFL Pro Bowl Was a ‘Moderate Risk’

by Joseph Trevithick, a freelance journalist and researcher. He is also a regular contributing writer at War is Boring and a Fellow at

The U.S. Air Force’s flyover at the National Football League’s 2015 Pro Bowl game was a “moderate risk”, an official assessment says. But the troublesome F-35A stealth fighters involved weren’t the reason.

On Jan. 24, four F-35As from the 56th Fighter Wing flew over the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona before the start of the NFL’s annual all-star game (see the video below). This flight was the first time these troublesome aircraft had performed any sort of public demonstration — a major public relations boost for the controversial program.

Officials with the 56th put the sorties in the moderate risk category, according to data from the unit’s internal risk management tool the author obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The outing was also a “complex mission” conducted at “low level”, the readout explains. The moderate risk level is the second lowest of four classifications that start at “low” and go up to “severe”. For missions that fall in the first two categories, the supervising officer can approve the plan. When a severe risk is involved, the commander of the 56th Operations Group has to sign off on the flights. A “complex mission” is any operation that involves more than four aircraft. However, the tool doesn’t explain how close to the ground aircraft have to be before a mission is considered “low level”.

These risk assessments are routine, but perhaps especially prudent when F-35s take to the skies. In June 2014, all of the high-tech jets were grounded after the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine in one of the planes burst into flames at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The accident was just the latest chapter in the jet’s troubled development. After numerous delays, the Pentagon says the Air Force variant will cost almost $150 million each—and experts expect the final price tag to be much higher.

A month later, the aircraft returned to the skies, but with significant limits on how long they could stay up in the air and what maneuvers they could perform. As a result, the Pentagon and their counterparts at the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense canceled plans to send the fifth-generation fighter jets to the prestigious Farnborough Air Show. “While we’re disappointed that we’re not going to be able to participate in the airshow”, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear admiral John Kirby told reporters, “we remain fully committed to the program itself and look forward to future opportunities to showcase its capabilities to allies and to partners.” (Jim Garamone, “F-35 Returns to Limited Flight, Officials Rule Out Farnborough“, US Department of Defense, 15.07.2014).

All three F-35 variants: The F-35A on the right side is the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant intended for the U.S. Air Force and other air forces. The F-35B in the middle is the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft. The F-35C carrier variant on the left side features larger wings with foldable wingtip sections, larger wing and tail control surfaces for improved low-speed control, stronger landing gear for the stresses of carrier arrested landings, a twin-wheel nose gear, and a stronger tailhook for use with carrier arrestor cables. This variant is intended for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps.

All three F-35 variants: The F-35A on the right side is the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant intended for the U.S. Air Force and other air forces. The F-35B in the middle is the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft. The F-35C carrier variant on the left side features larger wings with foldable wingtip sections, larger wing and tail control surfaces for improved low-speed control, stronger landing gear for the stresses of carrier arrested landings, a twin-wheel nose gear, and a stronger tailhook for use with carrier arrestor cables. This variant is intended for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Pentagon’s restrictions on high speed aerobatics remain in place, a public affairs officer at the 56th told the author. But despite these and other vexing problems, the dangers encountered during the Pro Bowl spectacle do not appear to have had anything to do with the aircraft themselves. The 56th had no alternate pilots or aircraft on standby. “It’s a matter of being on time when you’re flying this type of flyover”, Major Michael Artiges, the assistant director of operations for the F-16-flying 308th Fighter Squadron, told military reporters after the operation. “The type of aircraft and formation plays an important role as well.”

In fact, a total of six aircraft — with the call sign “Top Dog one through six” — actually took off from Luke Air Force Base in the morning primarily for training, the public affairs official explained. The risk assessment would have covered this “air combat maneuvering” too. Just practicing aerial combat can be quite dangerous. Four months ago, two F-16 fighters from the Oklahoma Air National Guard collided during a training session. One jet crashed and the other lost a wing. Thankfully, both pilots survived the accident.

A U.S. Navy Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) conducts it's first arrested landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in the Pacific Ocean in November 2014. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelly M. Agee / U.S. Navy).

A U.S. Navy Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) conducts it’s first arrested landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in the Pacific Ocean in November 2014. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelly M. Agee / U.S. Navy).

After finishing their maneuvers, four of the F-35s broke off for the flyover. The other two planes returned home. With the stadium sitting less than 10 miles from Luke Air Force Base, the pilots didn’t get much extra flying time out of the detour. “We can see the stadium from our tower,” the officer at the 56th noted. And while the risk report describes the timing of the flight as “Night (High Illum)” — short for illumination — the fliers had the benefit of significant daylight when they zoomed over.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits the Pentagon from performing any of these demonstrations 30 minutes after the official “civil twilight” time has passed. Civil twilight is the FAA’s official definition of when the night begins, but light from the sun still brightens the sky from over the horizon for some time afterwards.

Still, the F-35s had to deal with blimps and small planes all while crossing over unfamiliar territory during the short flight. Civilian air traffic controllers would have been in charge of clearing the path for the Air Force’s jets.

Given all of these factors, most Air Force demonstration flights — including performances by the famous Thunderbirds (see the video below) — are probably at least moderately risky. On the other hand, the mission also doesn’t seem to have been especially taxing. With the F-35’s current litany of issues, maybe that was the point.


Posted in English, International, Joseph Trevithick, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Die Geschichte von Maarof Kabays – einem Peshmerga-Kämpfer, der um sein Überleben kämpfen musste

von Vager Saadullah. Vager Saadullah (Twitter / Facebook) ist ein kurdischer Journalist und Editor in Dohuk, Irak. Er absolviert einen Masterstudiengang in Internationale Beziehungen an der Girne American University in Zypern. Die englische Version dieses Artikels wurde auf War Is Boring veröffentlicht. Übersetzung:

Maarof Kabays

Maarof Kabays

Am 2. August 2014 griff die Terrororganisation “Islamischer Staat” (IS) kurdische Stellungen an und überrannte die Städte Kaske und Zummar. Der Angriff durchbrach die Verteidigungslinien der Peshmerga und zwang die kurdischen Truppen, sich zurückziehen und sich neu zu gruppieren. Maarof Kabays, ein 42-jähriger Peshmerga-Kämpfer, war in einer Einheit, welche die Hauptlast des Angriffs der Dschihadisten trug. An Waffen und Zahl unterlegen flohen Kabays und sieben weitere Soldaten zu Fuß durch das vom IS kontrollierte Gebiet. Nur zwei Soldaten – unter ihnen Kabays – überlebten und flohen zu den kurdischen Linien zurück.

“An diesem Tag griff uns der IS mit gepanzerten Fahrzeugen und Panzern an”, erinnert sich Kabays. “Wir hatten keine schweren Waffen um uns zu verteidigen.”

Seine Einheit verteidigte ein Dorf in der Nähe von Zummar. Die kurdischen Kämpfer hatten ein schweres sowjetisches DShK-Maschinengewehr und einige Granatwerfer, aber diese Waffen konnten die Panzer des IS nicht außer Gefecht setzen — es blieb ihnen nur der Rückzug übrig.

Die Peshmerga versuchten, in ihren Fahrzeugen zu fliehen, der Fluchtweg wurde jedoch durch die schnelle Offensive der IS-Kämpfer abgeschnitten. Zu diesem Zeitpunkt umfassten die Peshmerga ungefähr hundert Soldaten. Damit die IS-Kämpfer nicht die gesamte Gruppe auf einmal einholen konnten, entschieden die Peshmerga-Einheiten ihre Fahrzeuge aufzugeben und sich aufzuteilen. Sie wollten nicht wie die irakischen Truppen enden, die in Mosul massakriert wurden.

Der IS blockierte alle Straßen; wir konnten sie deshalb nicht für unseren Rückzug benutzen. Darum ließen wir unsere Fahrzeuge zurück und versuchten, zu Fuß zu entkommen. […] Ich war mit sieben anderen Peshmerga zusammen, und wir wählten unseren eigenen Fluchtweg. Wir gingen etwa zwei Kilometer, als der IS uns mit Humvees und Pickups umzingelte.

Als sie flohen, brach einer aus der Gruppe vor Erschöpfung zusammen. Die acht Peshmerga versteckten sich vor den IS-Kämpfern und warteten, bis sich ihr Kamerad erholt hatte. Als sie sich sicher fühlten, setzten sie ihren Rückzug fort, wurden jedoch von den IS-Kämpfern wieder eingeholt und mussten sich wieder im hohen Gras verstecken. Dabei sahen sie wie IS-Kämpfer in der Ferne einen Mann einholten und versuchten ihn gefangen zu nehmen. Gefangene des IS sind in der Regel Misshandlungen und Folter ausgesetzt und oft werden brutale Hinrichtungen für Propagandazwecke gefilmt. “Wir glaubten, dass er ein Peshmerga war, aber wir waren nicht sicher, weil seine Kleidung mit Schlamm bedeckt war” erinnert sich Kabays. Wer dieser Mann auch war, die Peshmerga wollten nicht, dass er das schreckliche Schicksal vieler anderer Gefangener erleiden musste. “Deshalb beschlossen wir, die IS-Kämpfer zu bekämpfen, obwohl wir sicher waren, dass wir dadurch unsere Position verraten würden” sagte er.

Gefangene des IS sind in der Regel Misshandlungen und Folter ausgesetzt und oft werden brutale Hinrichtungen für Propagandazwecke gefilmt - beispielsweise der jordanische Pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh. Auf diesem Foto halten Familienmitglieder und Freunde des Piloten zu seiner Ehre sein Bild und Kerzen in die Höhe.

Gefangene des IS sind in der Regel Misshandlungen und Folter ausgesetzt und oft werden brutale Hinrichtungen für Propagandazwecke gefilmt – beispielsweise der jordanische Pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh. Auf diesem Foto halten Familienmitglieder und Freunde des Piloten zu seiner Ehre sein Bild und Kerzen in die Höhe.

Als die Milizionäre dem Mann näher kamen, eröffneten Kabays und seine Kameraden das Feuer. Sie töteten zwei IS-Kämpfer, darunter einen, der ein aufmontiertes schweres Maschinengewehr bediente. Der vom Schlamm bedeckte Mann entkam, aber der IS schlug schnell gegen die Peshmerga zurück.

“Es war nicht nur der IS, der gegen uns kämpfte, auch viele Araber aus dem Dorf schossen auf uns.”

Während die Peshmerga die IS bekämpften, näherte sich ein zivil erscheinender PKW – ein Opel Omega. Im Inneren war eine Frau. Die kurdischen Kämpfer schossen nicht auf das Fahrzeug. Als das Fahrzeug näher kam, nahmen die Fahrzeuginsassen zwei BKC (leichte Maschinengewehre) und schossen auf die kurdischen Kämpfer. Die Peshmerga versuchten in eine neue Stellung zu fliehen. Als sie sich zurückzogen, töteten die IS einen Peshmerga-Kämpfer namens Herish Abdullah. Nicht lange danach töteten die IS-Kämpfer ein weiteres Mitglied der Gruppe, einen Mann namens Attar Aziz. “Sein Kopf fiel auf meine Schulter,” erinnerte sich Kabays.

Der Bruder von Aziz – Arif Aziz – war der Kommandant der Gruppe und er lehnte es ab, Attars Leiche zurückzulassen. Kabayz griff zu seinem Mobiltelefon und rief seinen älteren Bruder, einen Peshmerga im Ruhestand, an und fragte ihn um Rat. “Er sagte mir, dass ich so bald es möglich sei, den Kommandanten vom Leichnam seines Bruder wegbringen solle. Bis dahin hatten die Milizionäre vier weitere getötet. […] Nur ich und der Kommandant waren am Leben geblieben. ”

Die Schützen der IS schossen mit weitreichenden BKC- und DShK-Maschinengewehren aus der Ferne auf sie. Die Peshmerga hatten nur ihre AK-47 mit kürzerer Reichweite und waren nicht in der Lage, das Feuer wirksam zu erwidern. Kabays gelang es, Arif zu überzeugen, seinen Bruder zurückzulassen, damit sie fliehen konnten.

Ich tarnte mich mit Gras wie in amerikanischen Filmen, und sagte dem Kommandanten, dass ich loskriechen werde. Falls ich wohlbehalten ankäme, würde ich meine Mütze in die Luft werden, damit er es sehen und mir folgen könnte.

Kabays sagte, dass er etwa 500 Meter in Sicherheit kroch und seine Mütze in die Luft warf. Der Kommandant sah es und versuchte dann, seinem Weg zu folgen. “Unglücklicherweise verlor er auf halbem Weg die Grastarnung und wurde erkannt. Die IS-Kämpfer schossen mit drei BKCs auf ihn”, erzählte er. “Das brachte ihn dazu, aufzustehen und auf mich zuzurennen.” Der Kommandant überlebte.

“Wir haben versucht, uns wieder zu verstecken, deshalb gingen wir zum ersten Ort zurück, von dem aus wir weggerannt waren. Dort nahm ich die SIM-Karte aus meinem Telefon und setzte eine andere Karte ein. Weil der Kommandant beim Rennen sein Telefon verloren hatte befürchtete ich, dass IS-Kämpfer anrufen könnten oder mit Anrufen an mich unsere Position herausfinden könnten.” Die beiden Soldaten versteckten sich, bis es anfing dunkel zu werden. Sie beschlossen, über die nahe gelegenen Städte Ainfors und Tobneh nach Osten zu gelangen. Aber sie kannten die Gegend nicht gut. Erschwerend kam hinzu, dass der Kommandant auf dem Bauernhof, auf dem sie sich früher am Tag zu verstecken versucht hatten, verdorbene Nahrungsmittel gegessen hatte und ihm davon schlecht wurde.

“Wir erreichten um zwei Uhr morgens eine Wasserfirma namens Jizeereh. Wir schlichen unter dem Zaun durch, um uns dort zu verstecken”, sagte Kabays. Die beiden hatten Hunger. Deshalb riskierten sie es, zu einem nahe gelegenen Dorf zu gehen und an einer Haustüre zu klopfen. Ein junger Mann mit einem Schnurrbart antwortete. “Wir baten um Wasser, und er brachte es uns, dann baten wir ihn, uns Essen zu bringen. Er sagte, dass er in das Haus seines Onkels gehen würde, um uns Essen zu bringen. Ich sagte ihm, dass er nicht gehen solle. Er fragte mich, ob ich Angst hätte und ob ich ihn deswegen nicht gehen ließe”, erinnerte sich Kabayz. “Ich habe ihm gesagt, dass ich keine Angst hätte — dabei hatte ich wirklich Angst und mein AK-47 lag schussbereit in meinen Händen.”



Kabays fragte den Mann, ob die irakische Polizei, die Peshmerga oder der IS die Stadt kontrollierten. Der Mann erzählte ihnen, dass das Haus zu ihrer Linken von der IS benutzt würde. Kabays sagte ihm, dass sie Peshmerga seien und fragte ihn, was sie tun sollten. “Er legte seine Hand an seinen Schnurrbart und sagte, dass er uns beschützen würde”, erinnerte sich Kabays. “Wir ließ ihn zum Haus seines Onkels gehen und er kam mit zwei Brotstücken für uns zurück. Als er uns das Brot gab, bat er den Kommandanten, ihm sein Gewehr zu geben”, sagte Kabays. “Wir trauten ihm nicht und sagten ihm, dass wir ihm ein Gewehr gäben würden, falls wir ihn anderswo sehen würden.”

Kabays und der Kommandant verließen das Haus und erreichten nach rund eineinhalb Stunden ein Gebiet voller Zuckerrohrpflanzen. Sie versteckten sich dort, stellten aber schnell fest, dass sie kein Wasser mehr hatten. Sie entdeckten einen nahe gelegenen Bauernhof. “Ich sagte dem Kommandanten, dass ich Wasser von diesem Haus holen würde und bat ihn, mir Deckung zu geben”, sagte Kabays. “Ich ging hin und sah einen Mann, der gerade Tomaten erntete. Ich stahl eine Flasche Wasser und zwei Garnituren Zivilkleidung und ging zurück zum Kommandanten.” Sie hielten sich bis zum nächsten Abend in dem Zuckerrohrfeld versteckt; dann brachen sie in Richtung des Mosul-Staudamms auf.

Sie sahen 15 Boote unten auf dem Fluss. Kabays versuchte, die Motoren all dieser Boote zu starten, aber kein einziger funktionierte. “Ich rief wieder meinen Bruder an – vor 18 Stunden hatte ich das letzte Mal angerufen. Ich habe ihm gesagt, dass wir am Mosul-Staudamm wären “, erinnert er sich. “Dann legte ich meine alte SIM-Karte – die ich zuvor herausgenommen hatte – in das Telefon.” sagte Kabays. “Ghazwan Mohammed, einer meiner Freunde bei der Peshmerga, rief mich an und sagte uns, wir sollten dort bleiben, bis um 10.30 Uhr ein Boot von ihnen käme.”

Aber das Boot kam nicht rechtzeitig an – und die IS-Kämpfer kamen näher. Mohammed rief wieder an und sagte, sie sollten bis Mitternacht warten. Das Boot erreichte sie während drei weiterer Stunden nicht. Um 3.00 Uhr morgens kamen ihre Kameraden und retteten sie schließlich. Kabays und der Kommandant waren überrascht einen der Soldaten auf dem Boot wiederzuerkennen. “Es war der mit Schlamm bedeckte Mann, den wir zuvor vor den IS-Kämpfer gerettet hatten […] Sein Name war Husam.” Der 22-jährige Husam sagte, dass er ein Peshmerga-Freiwilliger sei. Weil er mit der Umgebung vertraut war, bat er den Kommandeur des Soldatenregiments, bei der Rettung der Männer zu helfen, die ihn gerettet hatten.

Heute leben Kabays and Aziz wieder in ihrer ursprünglichen Stadt, die später von den Peshmerga befreit wurde. Kabays sagte, dass sich ihre Situation sehr verbessert hat, weil sie jetzt bessere Waffen hätten (siehe auch “Deutsche Waffen für ‘kurdischen Sicherheitskräfte’“,, 02.09.2014). Husam ist weiterhin als Freiwilliger an der Front bei den Pershmerga. Er nahm später an der Sinjar-Offensive teil.

Posted in International, Iraq, Vager Saadullah | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Devil’s Bargain: Wahhabism, Foreigners, & Power

by Major Chad M. Pillai. He is a Strategist in the U.S. Army who received his Masters in International Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

The House of Saud and the state of Saudi Arabia maintain a complex relationship with two forces that tug at the heart of the regime, Wahhabism and the support of Foreign Powers. Both forces were products of a Devil’s Bargain that gave rise to the House of Saud and which keep it a hostage to those forces threaten to undermine it. The question for the King and the ruling elite is how they balance these two forces which represent polar opposite interests.

The rulers of the House of Saud (click on the image to enlarge).

The rulers of the House of Saud (click on the image to enlarge).

The Wahhabi Price
In the mid-1700s, a Islamic reformer by the name of Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab who preached a strict interpretation of the Koran by insisting in the belief of one God, payment of Zakat (a form of tax), and call for Jihad (“Holy War”). He had a growing flock of followers; however, his preaching of reforms ran counter to the belief and interests of local rulers such as Uthman Ibn Muammar who expelled him under pressure from the Chiefs of Hasa. After his expulsion, Muhammed Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab moved to Diriyyah where his reputation preceded him and sought protection from Muhammad Ibn Saud. In return for his protection, Muhammad Al-Wahhab declared Muhammed Ibn Saud “Iman” of the Muslim community while Muhammad Al-Wahhab would be the spiritual-religious leader. With this agreement, a pact was signed and sealed in 1744 that signified the bond between the House of Saud and its future generations with the Wahhabi movement. With the pact between Muhammad Ibn Saud and Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, the first of the devil’s bargain was made by the Saud family in its pursuit to increase its power and wealth over Arabia.

A painting of Abdullah bin Saud, convicted and executed after losing the war in September 1818.

A painting of Abdullah bin Saud, convicted and executed after losing the war in September 1818.

The alliance between the Saudi family and the Wahhabist allowed them to spread their power and influence through the emirate. It is unclear whether the Saudi family could have succeeded without the appeal to the people of the Wahhabist doctrine that preached the idea of purifying the land of unorthodox religious and social practices. The people were drawn to the concept of living under Shari’a law. In addition, the Wahhabi movement transcended the sedentary and nomadic tribes by the concept of Tawhid (Oneness of God) that appealed to everyone. This allowed the Saudi Family to rise in prominence. The ascent of the Wahhabist and the Saudi Family came to an end when it was force to surrender and submit to Ibrahim Pasha with his Egyptian (Ottoman) Army on September 11, 1818 (Ottoman–Wahhabi War).

Less than a century later, the Saudi family made its return in its quest for supremacy for Arabia. The second movement was led by Abd Al-Aziz Ibn Abd Al-Rahman Al Saud, known as Ibn Saud. By using the religious framework of Wahhabism to consolidate his rule, Ibn Saud gained the legitimacy to rule as long as he championed the cause and became the guardian of ritualistic Islam. Ibn Saud supported the Mutawaa’a (religious specialists) and the Ikhwan (Muslim Tribal Force) within his realm to expand his conquest. In addition, he incorporated them into his expanding state apparatus by paying for them in kind which earned him submission by the population as the recognized leader of the Muslim Community. From 1902, the recapture of Riyadh, to 1932 when Ibn Saud announced the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud had utilized the Mutawaa’s and especially the Ikhwan to gain control of the land; however, Ibn Saud and his family would later regret and fight against their creation.

From 1927 to 1930, the Ikhwan led by Faysal Al-Duwaysh staged a rebellion against the house of Saud. After the capture of Hijaz, the Ikhwan leaders held a conference in Artawiyyah in which they criticized Ibn Saud for his association with the British, the nature of his kingship, the legitimacy of his Islamic taxes, and his personal conduct such as his serial marriages to over 100 women. To suppress the rebellion, Ibn Saud had turned to the British, the same force that helped him expel the Ottomans. Ibn Saud attacked the Ikhwan in the battle of Sibila and on their Hujjar (village settlements) mainly in Artawiyyah and Al-Ghatghat. The British supported Ibn Saud by attacking the Ikhwan with the Royal Air Force (RAF) which caused many to flee to Kuwait. The British fearing the Ikhwan’s destabilizing factor in Kuwait, fought them until the Ikhwan surrendered in Kuwait in 1930. In addition to defeating the Ikhwan militarily, he also scored a religious victory when the Ulama (religious scholars) and Mutawwa’a clarified its ruling concerning the relationship between the Ra’i (Shepard/leader) and the Ra’iyya (Followers) and the obligations to one another. As a result, Ibn Saud invoked the Wahhabi concept of submission to the leader of the Muslim community to seal his legitimacy and supremacy. While the Ikhwan rebellion may have been defeated in 1930, it would make a revival again in different manifestations to challenge the authority of the House of Saud such as the Siege of Mecca in 1979 and the emergence of Al-Qaeda.

In 1916, three years after Ibn Saud won control of the Arabian Gulf coast, he met with British political officers Sir Percy Cox and Gertrude Bell to strengthen the Saudi-British ties that had been formalized by the Anglo-Treaty the year before (Photo contibuted by Saudi Aramco).

In 1916, three years after Ibn Saud won control of the Arabian Gulf coast, he met with British political officers Sir Percy Cox and Gertrude Bell to strengthen the Saudi-British ties that had been formalized by the Anglo-Treaty the year before (Photo contibuted by Saudi Aramco).

On November 20, 1979, Juhayman Ibn Muhammad Al-Otaybi and Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Al-Qahtani with their supporters seized the Mosque in Mecca in order to challenge the authority and supremacy of the House of Saud. As had been the case with the Ikhwan rebellion, Juhayman and Al-Qahtani attacked the House of Saud for its relationship with “Infidel Powers”, its lavish lifestyle, and relationship between the Ulama and the ruling family. An example of the House of Saud creating something it later would regret is its support for many of Juhayman’s followers who were students at the Islamic University of Medina where the Egyptian Brotherhood had a considerable influence. The Egyptian Brotherhood would spread their influence throughout many Saudi Universities and lay the foundation between the Egyptian Brotherhood and Al Qaeda’s spiritual leader Osama Bin Laden. Similar to the Ikhwan Rebellion, the House of Saud relied on the religious scholars to denounce the Juhayman’s and Al-Qahtanni’s siege of the Mosque in Mecca that allowed for military intervention within the holy site which defeated the rebels in December 1979. The rebel’s mistake which the House of Saud capitalized on was the naming of Al-Qahtanni as the Mahdi (the one who guides) which was a controversial move in Sunni Islam.

The siege of 1979 in Mecca was not the only major event to challenge the House of Saud. That same year, the Soviet Union launched an invasion of Afghanistan to support the Afghan Marxist Government. Besides the threat of a domestic Ikhwan challenge to the ruling Saudi family, the biggest threat came from the global communist movement which was presented as a social, political, and religious challenge to Islam. In order to counter the Soviet threat, the Saudis provided money to the mujahidin resistance fighters and allowed Saudi citizens to go and fight as volunteers. The Saudis would support the mujahidin until the Soviet Union retreated from Afghanistan in 1988; however, due to their support of the mujahidin, they had unwittingly created another monster that would come to haunt them. The training these Afghan-Saudi volunteers had received predisposed them towards a fundamentalist Islamic ideology which turned their attention back towards the House of Saud and challenged the legitimacy of its authority to rule. The Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait in 1990 would give ammunition to these Afghan-Saudis, led by Osama Bin laden, as a result of the King’s decision to allow “Infidel armies” to fight in the land of the holy places in order to defeat another Muslim army (Iraq). The invitation to the Americans, British, and other Western forces “shattered the myth of Saudi non-alignment, Islamic Politics, and self-reliance” (Madawi Al-Rasheed, “A History of Saudi Arabia“, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 162).

This decision gave rise to Osama Bin Laden who had already made a name for himself in the Soviet-Afghan War and had established Al-Qaeda to fight Jihad against unbelievers. Osama Bin Laden had attended King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia and had been influenced by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian who Bin Laden later had killed, and from his association with the Egyptian Brotherhood (Egyptian Islamic Jihad) and Islamic Group who were spiritually led by the “Blind Sheikh”, Omar Abdel Rahman, who the US would later implicate in the 1993 World Trade Center Bombings. The association of the rebels of the 1979 Siege of Mecca to the Egyptian Brotherhood would come full circle when Egyptian Surgeon, Ayman al-Zawahiri, would join his faction of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad with Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda to fight the “Infidel forces” in the Middle East and to challenge the authority of the House of Saud. In order to understand the challenge that the Ikhwan, the 1979 rebels, and Al Qaeda represented to the House of Saud, one must understand the other Bargain the House of Saud made with the Devil; its relationship with the “Infidels” in order to come into and maintain power.

Map of ground operations of Operation Desert Storm from February 24-28th 1991.

Map of ground operations of Operation Desert Storm from February 24-28th 1991.

The Foreigners Price
Ibn Saud utilized the Wahhabi movement to acquire political and religious legitimacy, but it was the military and financial muscle of foreign “Infidel powers” of Britain and the United States that ensured his hold on power. Ibn Saud’s relationship and alliance with Britain proved crucial in the early 20th century as he fought against his rivals the Rashidis and the Sharifians (Hashemites) who were aligned with the declining Ottoman Empire. Upon the outbreak of World War I, the British turned to Ibn Saud as an ally to undermine the Ottoman Empire which was supporting the German and Austria-Hungarian Empires. In 1915, Ibn Saud signed the Anglo-Saudi Treaty which resulted in Britain recognizing Ibn Saud’s claim to the Najd, Hasa, Qatif, Jubayl and other territories ruled by Ibn Saud while promising military aid if they were attacked by outside powers. In return, Ibn Saud agreed to recognize the British domains of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the relationship with Britain continued, but had fractures due to Britain’s support of the Sharifian family which established the Hashemite Kingdoms of Trans-Jordan and Iraq. It was this relationship with Britain and the establishment of the Hashemite Kingdoms which limited Ibn Saud’s conquest of the Arabs that would later lead to the Ikhwan Rebellion. As a result of Britain’s relationship with Ibn Saud and the British northern dominions of Trans-Jordan and Iraq, the British and Ibn Saud signed the Treaty of Jeddah in 1927 thereby recognizing the absolute independence of Ibn Saud as the leader, but not the Saudi State. That slight omission in the treaty would ensure British interference in the affairs of the Saudi State.

The British suspension of funding for Ibn Saud after his campaign in Asir would eventually lead to the British being replaced by the Americans as the key strategic partner. Due to Ibn Saud’s debts as a result of his campaigns to unify Arabia and defeat the Ikhwan Rebellion, Ibn Saud’s Finance Minister Abdullah Ibn Sulayman signed an agreement with American Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL; today Chevron) which was the predecessor to Aramco. To justify this agreement, Ibn Saud cited the Sura Al-Kafirun which allowed for the possibility of separation/co-operation between Muslims and Non-Muslims thereby provided the religious cover for the Americans to come to Arabia to search for oil. Ibn Saud’s concession to the Americans came at a time Saudi Arabia was experiencing several financial turmoil which could have undermined the Saudi Regime.

Aramco pioneers Tom C. Barger, geologist and later CEO of Aramco, and Khamis ibn Rimthan, legendary Bedouin guide, and other field party members in’Ain al-Tarfa, Eastern Province, February 1938.

Aramco pioneers Tom C. Barger, geologist and later CEO of Aramco, and Khamis ibn Rimthan, legendary Bedouin guide, and other field party members in’Ain al-Tarfa, Eastern Province, February 1938.

The final blow to the British was their lack of support for Ibn Saud’s campaign against Yemen which Britain did not see as a strategic interest like Iraq. As a result, Ibn Saud aligned with the Americans who were considered neutral and at the time without obvious imperial ambitions. After World War II a weakened British Empire, which continued its support for the Hashemite Kingdoms that represented a challenge to Saudi Arabia, was replaced by the Americans as the foreign power most involved in Saudi Affairs. As a result, Aramco became the institution that helped Saudi Arabia modernize its infrastructure and the tool in which the Saudi regime solidified its power.

The relationship with the Americans was strained in 1973 after the start of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Yom Kippur War). Initially, Saudi Arabia stated that it would not use oil as a weapon; however, King Faysal eventually made a statement that he could not support countries that were helping the Israelis and thereby agreed to the OPEC embargo. This move helped Saudi Arabia eclipse Egypt in the region that was losing to the Israelis; however, this move put it in direct conflict with the US which hinted at threats of invasion to secure its energy security. This caused Saudi Arab to threaten to destroy its oil fields in retaliation for an invasion (a threat made by Al Qaeda today to cause an economic collapse for the US; cf.: Khalid R. Al-Rohan, “The Impact of the Abqaiq Attack on Saudi Energy Security“, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 27.02.2006). The Saudi’s backed down after the US threatened an embargo of grains to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Regimes. After the end of the Oil Embargo, Saudi Arabia moved closer to the US as a result of its perceived vulnerabilities which ensured low oil prices for the US and Europe while the US provided security. This vulnerability would be exposed in 1990 when the Saudis invited the US for protection against the Iraqis despite its immense wealth and spending on military hardware. It was this contradiction that gave Osama Bin Laden the material he needed to attack the Saudi Regime for being corrupt.

The 1990/91 Gulf War proved a shock for the Saudi people. They had been aware of the Saudi-US relationship, but were not prepared for half a million US and Western Soldiers, especially women, on their lands. While some supported this, a minority saw this as a violation of Islamic Principles. This caused some to argue that the involvement of non-Muslims to fight Muslims demonstrated the illegitimacy of the Saudi Royal Family. This claim grew stronger after the defeat of Iraq in Kuwait that left thousands of Americans on Saudi soil to continue their no-fly zone military operations against Iraq until the start of the second Gulf War in 2003. As a result, domestic dissent grew against the Saudi state which saw a series of attacks against US targets around the world and in Saudi Arabia (Khobar Towers 1996). This would eventually boil over into the attacks of 9/11 and Al Qaeda’s operations inside Saudi Arabia in 2003 in their attempt to bring down the Royal Family.

The Curse of September 11th
The Attacks on September 11, 2001 was Osama’s Bin Laden’s quest to attack the US and draw it into a war in the Middle East against Muslims. In addition, his goal was to draw the corrupt Islamic Regimes into the conflict and cause their downfall, especially the Saudi Royal Family. It is ironic that it was September 11, 1818 that brought down the first Saud regime by a foreign power (Ottomans). Is it possible that Osama Bin Laden chose 9/11 as a symbolic date to signify the fall of the third Saud regime? The attacks brought an angry glare from the US against Saudi Arabia after 15 of the hijackers identified were from Saudi Arabia. Had the devil come to claim his due by having both the Wahhabi and the Foreigners turn on the House of Saud? Saudi Arabia had become the problematic ally for the US as the regime was locked in a mortal struggle with Al Qaeda, but a population that supported and gave rise to it. Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia’s third creation during the Soviet-Afghan War had come back to haunt it. As in the Ikhwan Rebellion, the Saudi Royal Family turned to its foreign patrons for support to defeat Al Qaeda militarily and to its support from the Ulama to discredit Osama Bin Laden. Today and in the near future, Saudi Arabia faces another offshoot of its support for extremist groups – the Islamic State which seeks to re-establish the Caliphate.

Distribution of Shia and Sunni Muslims across the Middle East (Source: The Gulf/2000 Project).

Distribution of Shia and Sunni Muslims across the Middle East (Source: The Gulf/2000 Project).

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and today in Syria created other problems for Saudi Arabia by the unintended consequence of these wars empowering Iran, the historical regional hegemon and enemy of the Arabs. As Robert Baer claims, the failure of the Sunni Order in defeating Israel, its ties to the “Infidel West”, and creation of Sunni extremist makes Iran the likely successor for the soul of Islam (Robert Baer, “The Devil We Know: Dealing With the New Iranian Superpower“, Crown Publishers, 2008, p. 198f). As King Abdullah II of Jordan claims, a Shia Crescent is rising from Persia to Lebanon. The recent collapse of Yemen to Iranian sponsored Houthi Shi’a rebels adds further credence to the fear of rising Shi’a Crescent which had led Saudi Arabia to lead a Sunni Arab coalition to defeat the Houthis and roll back Iran’s influence. While the fear of a Shi’a Crescent may be debatable, the truth of the matter is that it is likely and only Saudi Arabia’s internal reform can prevent it from losing its title as defender of the two holy places.

If it was a Shia-led Iraq that had a special relationship with Iran, and you look at that relationship with Syria and with Hezbollah-Lebanon, then we have this new crescent that appears that would be very destabilising for the Gulf countries and actually for the whole region. — King Abdullah II of Jordan, Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC News, 09.12.2004.

In order for Saudi Royal Family to retain their power, they must not only balance the two forces of Wahhabism and the Foreigners as part of their Devil’s Bargain, but they must also provide hope for their people. The new generation of Saudis will redefine the political and religious landscape while confronting the realities of globalization. The regime will have to inspire and lead the pragmatists who have interacted with the outside world and see the need for reform, but also see the limits and the need to preserve their unique culture (Mani Yamani, “Changed Identities: The Challenges of the New Generation in Saudi Arabia“, Brookings Institute Press, 2000, p. 1). The House of Saud can continue balancing the gift the Devil gave it or it can cast aside that old bargain and seek a new bargain of its own choosing. What it might just need is a Saudi led Islamic Reformation to challenge the old Wahhabi 7th century philosophy and recast Islam for the 21st Century.

• Madawi Al-Rasheed, “A History of Saudi Arabia“, Cambridge University Press, 2006.
• “The 9/11 Commission Report“, August 2004.

Posted in Chad M. Pillai, English, Saudi Arabia, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Securitization of everything or how to lose the sense of security at all

by Patrick Truffer. He graduated from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs and completes a Master of Arts program in International Relations at the Freien Universität Berlin.

2015-001We live in a VUCA-world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (Judith Hicks Stiehm, “The U.S. Army War College: Military Education in a Democracy“, Temple University Press, 2002, p. 6). In this world, “security” seems to have been lost: the economic carelessness of some European countries threatens social security, the war in Ukraine could endanger public order and therefore the security of Europe, the terrorist organisation “Islamic State” threatens regional security in the Middle East, jihadists returning to the West endanger the security of social cohesion and epidemics, such as Ebola, endanger health security. This list could be continued, which symbolises the underlying problem: The original narrowly defined term “security” has been used since the 1980s in an extended sense (Ole Wæver, “Securitization and Desecuritization” in On Security by Ronnie D. Lipschutz, Columbia University Press, 1995, p 46f). Based on the Copenhagen School, a topic is attributed to “security” in international relations if it deals with an existential threat that needs to be addressed immediately with extraordinary measures, which may also legitimise the use of force. Accordingly, the prioritisation of a non-existentially threatening issue, which is addressed subsequently with extraordinary measures, is referred to as securitization (Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, and Jaap de Wilde, “Security: A New Framework for Analysis“, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998, p. 21ff).

With the example of the securitization of the US aid deployment to combat Ebola this article shows how it is possible to securitize nearly everything with the purpose to enable the implementation of extraordinary measures.

Securitization of the Ebola epidemic by the US government
There have been repeated outbreaks of Ebola in Africa since 1976, but the number of deaths per outbreak was limited to a few hundred until 2014. With over 24,000 cases and nearly 14,000 deaths until end of March 2015, the epidemic that has existed for nearly a year represents a new dimension, and has affected countries, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, that were previously spared from Ebola (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Outbreaks Chronology: Ebola Virus Disease“). Carried via air traffic, four “uncontrolled” cases occurred in the US, with one death. The securitization of the Ebola topic in the US took place after four American citizens in West Africa were infected, evacuated to the US and treated, but before the first “uncontrolled” Ebola case occurred in the US.


On 16 September 2014, US President Barack Obama delivered a speech at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before he met “with some of these men and women, including some who recently returned from the front lines of the outbreak”. According to the Copenhagen School, Obama’s address at the CDC was a main securitizing speech act, which was aimed at three recipients: the US congress, to grant extraordinary measures to combat the disease, the US population, to put the US congress under pressure to grant the extraordinary measures, and the international community of states, to mobilise them to contain the epidemic.

In his speech, Obama noted that this epidemic “is not just a threat to regional security – it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic”. He therefore justified his decision, to treat Ebola as a “national security priority“, to provide extraordinary measures to combat the epidemic and to deploy military resources in Liberia at their request. The US forces were therefore meant to introduce “their expertise in command and control, in logistics, in engineering”, which are better at this “than any organization on Earth”. For this purpose, he urged the US congress to grant the necessary funds for the deployment.

Through this securitization, the US congress was pressured to grant the requested funds. Since Ebola was presented to the US population as an existential threat, which endangers global security and therefore also one’s own safety, a member of congress would think twice about whether he would vote against the approval of funding. Obama’s strategy was in fact successful: in October 2014, the US congress approved 750 million US dollars for the deployment of 4,000 US soldiers.

At the international level, the UN Security Council resolution 2177 was adopted on 18 September 2014. The resolution called for immediate assistance and to end the isolation of the affected states. However, the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) – the first-ever UN emergency health mission – is not part of resolution 2177, it was decided upon in the same session of the UN Security Council. While the consequences of HIV/AIDS for the security of Africa were discussed in the UN Security Council on 10 January 2000, resolution 2177 first dealt with a health issue under the context of international peace and security (Gian Luca Burci, “Ebola, the Security Council and the securitization of public health“, Questions of International Law 10, 23.12.2014, p. 32). As a consequence of the resolution, the states concerned were provided with around 1.2 billion US dollars available until mid-November 2014. These funds helped to slow down the spread of the Ebola epidemic.

A U.S. Air Force Airmen part of the Joint Task Force assigned to the 628th Medical Group at Joint Base Charleston checks the temperature of personnel gaining access to Roberts International Airport as a safety precaution (Photo: Staff Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez).

A U.S. Air Force Airmen part of the Joint Task Force assigned to the 628th Medical Group at Joint Base Charleston checks the temperature of personnel gaining access to Roberts International Airport as a safety precaution (Photo: Staff Sgt. Gustavo Gonzalez).

With the securitization of Ebola, the Obama administration achieved the granting of extraordinary means. Due to the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives and the small Democratic majority in the Senate, these extraordinary means would hardly have been approved without securitization. At the international level, the assessment is difficult, because the US is only one of the members of the UN Security Council. If the securitization was also not crucial for the mobilisation of additional funds at the international level, it at least increased the pressure on other member states and UN organisations.

Despite the importance of Ebola, the designation as a “threat to global security” is hardly justifiable. By comparison, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic claimed an estimated 284,000 lives world wide. With a securitization, possible negative side effects must also be weighed, for example panic reactions, such as those that were fueled by the media after the first “uncontrolled” Ebola cases in the US, discrimination against groups of persons or the unnecessary restriction of basic rights (cf.: Burci, p. 35ff). For example, the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Illinois announced at the end of October 2014 that they wanted to subject all medical personnel from West African countries affected by Ebola to a 21-day quarantine and some US politicians have requested a restriction of freedom of travel to and from the West African countries affected by Ebola.

Another side-effect of securitization is the unnecessary implementation of extraordinary measures. In case of the deployment of US troops of a size of a brigade it is questionable if it was the most efficient use of the available resources. Until April 2015, the US has spent 1.4 billion US dollars on its Ebola mission in West Africa, with most of it going to Liberia. Deploying the military alone cost 360 million US dollars, not including the construction, staffing and operating expenses at the treatment centers it built. After all, the US ended up creating facilities that have largely sat empty: Only 28 Ebola patients have been treated at the 11 treatment units built by the US military – 9 centers have never had a single Ebola patient. The wasted money, for example, could have been put toward rebuilding Liberia’s shattered health care system or backing the efforts of local communities. Unfortunately, in case of a securitized issue, resources are often used where they generate a positive public relation for the securitizer instead where they may have the biggest impact to solve underlying problems (Norimitsu Onishi, “Empty Ebola Clinics in Liberia Are Seen as Misstep in U.S. Relief Effort“, The New York Times, 11.04.2015),

Last but not least, health issues traditionally are not part of the responsibility of the UN Security Council. They should be reserved primarily for the WHO or the UN General Assembly. An extension of the responsibility of the UN Security Council could overburden this institution and undermine its credibility due to lack of effective measures. UN resolution 2177 therefore lists no effective measures, but rather it is more a symbolic incitation.

A Liberian soldier in the Ebola Task Force tried to enforce a quarantine in August 2014 by confronting a woman in Monrovia (Photo:  John Moore).

A Liberian soldier in the Ebola Task Force tried to enforce a quarantine in August 2014 by confronting a woman in Monrovia (Photo: John Moore).

The problem with securitization is that nearly everything (not only Ebola, also HIV/AIDS and other diseases, Cyberspace, electrical power supply, terrorist attacks and so on) can be placed in a context of a hypothetical existential threat. This exaggerates a real threat potential, generates – under the impression of an immediately necessary response – pressure on people in power, and unnecessarily enables the use of extraordinary measures. The associated medial coverage creates a sense of a continuing state of emergency as it was after the September 11 attacks (interestingly that wasn’t the case after the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the 7 July 2005 London bombings). Jumping from one alleged existential threat to another, people will finally lose the sense of security at all – or who still speaks about the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa anymore?

Posted in Basics, English, Patrick Truffer, Security Policy | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment