Friday, April 21, 2017
Even in Afghanistan, a country that has seen four decades of bloodshed and destruction, the ravages of a relatively small contingent of the so-called “Islamic State” extremist group have been shocking: Men, women and children beheaded, individuals blown up with explosives strapped to their bodies, children indoctrinated to commit atrocities. So the U.S. military’s “Mother of All Bombs” dropped onto a remote warren of ISIS tunnels and caves was welcomed in some quarters. But there is more that the Afghan government and the U.S. can do to reduce the frustration and despair that drives so many, especially the young, into the radical fold.
Nigeria’s military appears to have the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram extremist group on the run. But a different kind of conflict now threatens to undermine the government’s gains in reducing violence in Africa’s most populous country. Armed clashes between mostly Muslim herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers are fueling a new, and even more intensive, era of instability. The conflict over land and natural resources has drawn little notice internationally and urgently needs more attention from Nigeria’s federal government.
Nigeria’s overstretched military will be pleased that the U.S. is moving ahead with plans to sell the country a dozen small attack planes for its fight against Boko Haram. The high-tech gear on the single-engine Embraer A-29 Super Tucano should improve precision targeting by the Nigerian forces to chase scattered fighters and help avoid disastrous mistakes such as the Jan. 17 bombing of a displaced persons camp that killed as many as 236 people. But with Boko Haram already in retreat and attention shifting to more permanent safety and security, the aircraft also might be of limited use.
Defeating ISIS was the singular goal of the Trump administration in Syria until the Assad regime provoked U.S. missile strikes with its use of sarin gas. The broadening of U.S. objectives, and extending military action in the country to include a direct hit on Syrian forces, could now complicate the fight against the Islamic State to a dangerous degree.
Yesterday’s air strikes drove a bigger wedge between the American and Chinese positions on Syria. Although China has eschewed military engagement and lacks political leverage over major players in Syria’s conflict, Beijing could do more to provide humanitarian aid. Playing a proactive role now would not only help the Syrian people, but would also help Beijing expand its global leadership on conflict management and alleviate concerns about its intentions.
The cold-blooded assassination of prominent constitutional lawyer U Ko Ni, an advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi, is emblematic of the deep political and social divisions that challenge democratic governance and political stability in Burma. As information has emerged about the case, the impact is inevitable on efforts to reform the country’s structures and unify its people.
North Korea tested a ballistic missile this morning, just one day before President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet for the first time. The U.S. and China each blames the other for failing to curb North Korea’s missile and nuclear threat, and Pyongyang is testing their will to compromise. This summit is an opportunity for both leaders to commit to a serious discussion about meaningful action.
China is sending an unmistakable signal about its future plans for Africa. Economics may still be first, but that’s no longer the only tool the Chinese are ready and able to employ.
The Taliban’s threat to Sangin, a strategic district of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, is a sobering reminder of the challenges that Afghan forces face and the risks that continue to plague the U.S. campaign against terrorism.
Developing sustainable responses to the return of foreign fighters is a critical and complex challenge, not least because of the high numbers that will be coming back to countries with weak criminal justice systems.