Middle East – North Africa News Brief
| Suggested reading:
“Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda and the Salafist Dilemma” – Part 3 of the “American Foreign Policy Review” series – Lima Charlie News, Feb. 12, 2018
“New photos support evidence of China’s militarization of South China Sea” – Lima Charlie News, Feb. 10, 2018
“The 2018 Winter Olympics: U.S. soldier athletes, Russian doping and a temporary peace on the Korean Peninsula” – Lima Charlie News, Feb. 8, 2018
Security forces have continued their nationwide crackdown on safe houses and individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State. Several raids were carried out this past week, resulting in at least forty-eight individuals believed to have Islamic State affiliations having been detained, the majority of which have been described as foreigners.
Security forces also continued their long-standing nationwide crackdown on safe houses and on individuals believed to be affiliated with the Kurdish political and/or militant opposition. Several raids were carried out this past week, resulting in at least 120 arrests.
The Turkish military incursion into Kurdish controlled enclaves in Syria, which began on January 19th, is still ongoing. Turkey and its backed militia groups face fierce resistance from members of various battle hardened Kurdish militias, not least of which is the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG claims to have repelled a number of Turkish-backed offensives against Kurdish lines.
In the past week, Turkish military operations have maintained the fierce operational tempo set in the previous days. Air-to-ground strikes have increased. While reports indicate that Turkish forces have managed to secure a handful of areas throughout the border region of the Afrin Canton, it appears that the YPG/SDF militia forces have been able to hold on to the majority of the contested area. The YPG has only non-specific statements in regards to territory lost to the advancing Turkish forces.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has claimed to have downed a Turkish weapons platform, i.e. helicopter, in Rajo, in the northwestern Afrin Canton. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that the helicopter was shot down in Hatay, which is closer to the Turkish border.
Forces not officially described as belonging to the SDF, but rather the YPG were engaged against the Turkish-affiliated militia group Free Syrian Army (FSA) during a series of clashes throughout the week in the Sheikh Khurus area.
Turkish air resources intensified air-to-ground activities, striking the SDF controlled Menagh Air Base, as well as ground targets in Ayn Daqnah and Maranaz, several times throughout the week.
Turkish ground forces launched a wide scale operation against YPG/SDF positions in the town of Sirinjak. YPG affiliated reports indicate that the Turkish ground offensive was supported by heavy armor, tanks, and that at least two tanks were destroyed.
Turkish media reported on February 10th that eleven soldiers were wounded, and ten killed, during military operations on that day. Turkey has claimed that 900 “terrorists” had been “neutralised” during the operation so far. As both sides are only haphazardly reporting their casualty numbers, and then always low numbers, it is at present difficult to grasp the casualty rates. However, eyewitnesses reports state that both sides are suffering heavy casualty rates.
Egyptian security forces continued their nationwide operations against safe houses and individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State. At least four individuals believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State were killed by government forces in the past week, with a further ten having been detained.
Security forces continue their operations against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and associated organizations, throughout the country. In the past week several raids have been conducted against believed safe houses and individuals with alleged MB affiliations. According to reports, the raids have resulted in at least four individuals killed, and a further fourteen individuals arrested.
Security operations continue along the Egyptian-Libyan border area with the Egyptian Air Force striking Salafist-Jihadist groups convoys crossing from Libya to Egypt. The border land, on the Libyan side, has become a haven for emerging new militia groups, including the al Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Islam.
-February 7th; Rafah crossing, Egypt
Thousands of individuals gathered at the Gaza-Egypt crossing as Egypt reopened its side of the border crossing. Egypt reopens the border sporadically, and allows transit through it on an ad-hoc basis. This is the first time in over a decade that the Palestinian side of the border is operated by the Western-supported Palestinian Authorities (PA) entity, rather than Hamas. This was made possible as part of a fragile reconciliation agreement in October, 2017, between Hamas and the Fatah movement which gave PA control of the border crossing. Last time the border crossing was open from both sides was during a 72 hour period in mid December, 2017.
The Palestinian embassy in Cairo expressed “gratitude to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for his care to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people,” and stated that it hopes that soon the border will be permanently open. The border crossing was only open for a 72 hour period again. On the first day of operations, only a few dozen people were able to cross, but several thousand of people were able to cross into Egypt on February 8th. The border closed again at 1700 hours local time on February 9th.
-February 9th; Cairo, Egypt
The Egyptian Defence Ministry spokesperson, Colonel Tamer al-Rifa, announced renewed major operations in the Nile Delta and Sinai against the surging Islamic State group-affiliated insurgency.
-February 11th; Cairo, Egypt
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived to Cairo, as part of a goodwill tour of the region. Secretary Tillerson is set to also visit Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
-February 11th; Cairo, Egypt
Thirty-three individuals affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood received prison sentences ranging from seven years to life. The individuals stood accused of not just being members of the now banned brotherhood, but also for having participated in the civil disturbances that saw three people dead in Cairo, 2014. The criminal court sentenced seventeen of the individuals to life in prison, and the remaining sixteen to varying shorter sentences. A life sentence in Egypt equals twenty-five years in jail.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)
The Shi’a al Houthi militia in Yemen continues to fire ballistic missiles aimed at population centers in Saudi Arabia. The majority of incoming missiles are reportedly shot down by the Saudi surface-to-air system (SAM), operated by the Royal Saudi Air Defense forces, which consists primarily of a series of US provided MIM-104 Patriot systems. The al Houthi tend to utilize variations of Soviet-era designed ballistic missile systems. One such example is the Qaher-1 missile, which is an improved variation of the Soviet SA-2 short to medium range ballistic missile design. Four civilian casualties were reported this week in relations to al Houthi shelling.
Cross-border activities between Saudi and Yemeni militia groups continue to be an ongoing concern. The so called “no mans land” that makes up the border between the two countries is riddled with landmines from past conflicts, which often cause collateral for patrolling border units. The positions of the landmines are largely unknown even by the organizations that placed them, as the movement of the sand often displaces the mines. Al Houthi forces often use the area to launch rocket attacks against Saudi targets.
The Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) has stated that it had detected no new cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) between February 3rd and February 8th.
Shia government opposition groups continue to call for nationwide protests, but have so far failed to reach a critical mass with the majority of resulting public gatherings contain less than fifteen people. Security forces made minor arrests relating to Shia opposition groups. The government is however reporting that a noteworthy increase of Shi’a militia and government opposition violence occured throughout 2017. This trend is expected to continue throughout 2018.
Various Shi’a affiliated militia movements continue to claim to have carried out various attacks against Bahraini security forces and installations. Few of these attacks ever receive an official confirmation from the Bahrain government. This week a handful of alleged attacks were claimed to have been carried out by a wide array of groups, including the Iran/Hezbollah affiliated Popular Resistance Brigades (Saraya al-Muqawama al-Shabiya) group.
Bahrain is quickly finding itself on the forefront of the increasingly active low intensity conflict between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Iran. Several incidents, particularly a recent surge in Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks, in the past few months have been attributed to Shi’a militia organizations that allegedly have direct or indirect ties to Iran.
-February 7th; Unspecified location, Bahrain
Bahrain News Agency (BNA), the government controlled news outlet, stated that four individuals were arrested by security forces. The four individuals have alleged ties to the Shi’a militia movement Popular Resistance Brigades (PRB), and the arrest was specifically in relations to the PRB’s involvement in the November 11th oil pipeline attack. The Bahrain government has maintained that the PRB, among other similar groups, have received extensive training and direction from the Iranian military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). BNA stated that three other individuals are still being sought for their involvement in PRB activities.
US air assets have increased air-to-ground operations against Islamic State operatives and hubs. US drones have carried out a series of attacks in recent months, resulting in the deaths of at least a hundred individuals. The majority of these attacks have been against targets, and individuals described as being affiliated with the Islamic State. During January, 2017, the US carried out a record 131 air-to-ground operations in Yemen. This increase in operational tempo equals as many carried out operations in a single year as what was carried out in the previous four years, combined.
In January, 2018, the US carried out ten air-to-ground strikes, this according to a press release by US Central Command (CENTCOM). The primary targets for these strikes, as stated in the press release, were Islamic State affiliated and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members and groups.
A report by the United Nations Human Rights watchgroup states that the Saudi-led military coalitions air to ground assaults in Yemen killed 136 civilians and non-combatants between December 6th, 2017 and December 18th, 2017.
LIMA CHARLIE, MENA Desk
Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.
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